Housing: Too Good to Be True

Reprinted from Mises InstitutePosted on 06/04/2004 by Mark Thornton.
It’s incredibly important to note the DATE on this article. This was published only a few months into the rise in subprime lending and private label securitization – which means it was written, probably, only a month or two into it. „Subprime“ was barely a thing and Thornton is already warning of a bubble.

Signs of a „new era“ in housing are everywhere. Housing construction is taking place at record rates. New records for real estate prices are being set across the country, especially on the east and west coasts. Booming home prices and record low interest rates are allowing homeowners to refinance their mortgages, „extract equity“ to increase their spending, and lower their monthly payment! As one loan officer explained to me: „It’s almost too good to be true.“

In fact, it is too good to be true. What the prophets of the new housing paradigm don’t discuss is that real estate markets have experienced similar cycles in the past and that periods described as new paradigms are often followed by periods of distress in real estate markets, including foreclosure sales, bankruptcy and bank failures.

The case of Japan’s real estate bubble is instructive. Japan had a stock market bubble in the 1980s that was very similar to the U.S. stock market bubble in the 1990s. As the Japanese stock market started to bust, the real estate market continued to bubble. One general index of Japanese real estate shows that prices rose for almost two years after the stock market crashed with prices staying above pre-crash levels for more than five years. The boom in home construction continued for nearly six years after the stock market crash. Prices for commercial, industrial, and residential real estate in Japan continue to fall and are now below the levels measured in 1985 when these statistics were first collected.

It has now been three years since the U.S. stock market crash. Greenspan has indicated that interest rates could soon reverse their course, while longer-term interest rates have already moved higher. Higher interest rates should trigger a reversal in the housing market and expose the fallacies of the new paradigm, including how the housing boom has helped cover up increases in price inflation. Unfortunately, this exposure will hurt homeowners and the larger problem could hit the American taxpayer, who could be forced to bailout the banks and government-sponsored mortgage guarantors who have encouraged irresponsible lending practices.

More Greenspam

Once again, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has created a new-age economic panacea, and earlier this year he applauded his contribution to the economic recovery: „very low interest rates and reduced taxes, have permitted relatively robust advances in residential construction and household expenditures. Indeed, residential construction activity moved up steadily over the year.“

The key to this panacea is the process of „equity extraction“ that occurs when people refinance their homes; they take equity out and spend it to increase their standard of living. However, because variable rate mortgages are so low, their payments actually go down so they have more of their income to spend, or they can upgrade to a more expensive house.  As Greenspan explained:

Other consumer outlays, financed partly by the large extraction of built-up equity in homes, have continued to trend up. Most equity extraction—reflecting the realized capital gains on home sales—usually occurs as a consequence of house turnover. But during the past year, an almost equal amount reflected the debt-financed cash-outs associated with an unprecedented surge in mortgage refinancings.

As is the norm, Greenspan hedges his statements. He also considers some of the potential drawbacks and pitfalls on the horizon for the new paradigm in housing, but in the end he concludes that we really have nothing to worry about. Low interest rates, rising home prices, and lower financing costs mean that we actually can have our cake (homes) and eat it too (equity extraction).

To be sure, the mortgage debt of homeowners relative to their income is high by historical norms. But as a consequence of low interest rates, the servicing requirement for the mortgage debt of homeowners relative to the corresponding disposable income of that group is well below the high levels of the early 1990s. Moreover, owing to continued large gains in residential real estate values, equity in homes has continued to rise despite sizable debt-financed extractions. Adding in the fixed costs associated with other financial obligations, such as rental payments of tenants, consumer installment credit, and auto leases, the total servicing costs faced by households relative to their incomes are below previous peaks and do not appear to be a significant cause for concern at this time.

The Housing Bubble

I first reported on the housing bubble in the U.S. at the beginning of this year when the bubble was already well under way, if not in full bloom. As the chart below indicates, real residential investment has jumped far above both its historical trend and even above its cyclical channel. This indicates to me that there is a bubble in residential real estate. The data for this chart stop at the beginning of 2003. We now know that investment in housing increased by 8.8% last year. This is a historically high rate of construction, but far from a record rate increase. However, 2003 marks the ninth year in a row that housing investment was positive, the first time that has ever occurred since the statistic has been collected. Frank Shostak and Christopher Mayer have also written very informative articles on the Housing bubble.

Recently I came across a piece of anecdotal evidence of a housing bubble. Last Sunday afternoon, a friend of mine put a „For Sale by Owner“ sign in the front lawn of a small house he owned on a side street. It wasn’t listed with a real estate agent or in the newspaper, but he nonetheless had a couple of calls that afternoon, with many more to follow, and within a couple of days he had multiple offers before finally accepting a bid that was over his original asking price.

Mainstream economists who discount the possibility of a housing bubble would dismiss such evidence. But they also ignore all the macro evidence of the current housing boom and see it as a positive development. For example, the number of new homes being constructed is at an all-time high, despite a „soft“ labor market. In the graph below, the annualized rate of new home construction is shown to have surpassed the two surges of the 1970s when inflation was out of control.

The prices of houses are also up, but mainstream economists have generally ignored this development as well; and as noted above, Greenspan sees this as a positive development. Some economists can even point to the Consumer Price Index which shows that the housing component in the CPI is steady or falling. And yet reports are coming out nearly every day saying that housing prices are up dramatically and setting records all across the country. Record prices have been recently reported in the San Francisco Bay Area, Denver, Boston, Las Vegas, the state of Washington, and even Buffalo, New York.

Nationally, the price of a median family home was up 15% between 2001 and 2003, with regional increases of 30% in the Northeast, 8.5% in the Midwest, 14.4% in the Southeast, and 20.4% in the West. Over the last year, increases have been reported as 18.7% in the Northeast, 1.9% in the Midwest, 3.8% in the Southeast, and 10.7% in the West, or 6.5% for the nation as a whole. Interestingly, the median price has actually dropped 7.2% in the Midwest and 7.3% in the South since peaking in the 3rd quarter of 2003, while prices have been generally flat in the West. Statistics from the last couple of quarters might therefore suggest that the housing bubble may have topped out, or at least temporarily cooled down, in most of the country.

Why have home prices been increasing? David Lereah, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors, explained: „It’s a simple matter of supply and demand…We continue to have more home buyers than sellers in most of the country, which results in tight housing inventories and higher rates of home price appreciation.“ Of course the cause of higher home prices is that the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates, and thus mortgage rates, at historically low rates so that people find it easier to finance homes. In fact, despite an 18% increase in home prices since 2001, the median monthly payment remained the same at $789/month and the „median payment as a percentage of income“ has actually fallen. This is the magic of monetary inflation, courtesy of Alan Greenspan.

Price inflation follows monetary inflation

The price of just about everything I buy is going up these days. Gasoline is higher, dairy products are higher, paper products and just about everything else—higher. Mainstream economists have sounded surprised by the recent upturn in price inflation and they have offered us every excuse to ignore signs of inflation: Ignore rising oil prices. Ignore rising food prices. Ignore rising health care costs. Ignore higher taxes and government fees. And then there is their dirty little secret about housing prices.

Higher price inflation should not have been a surprise given that the Fed has increased the money supply by 25% during the period 2001–2003. In addition, the price of basic commodities has been rising for many months and these higher commodity prices eventually turn up in the price of goods and services. One leading indicator of higher commodity prices is the Dow Jones Commodity Index (stock prices of major commodity producers). It has been rising since the fourth quarter of 2001 and has doubled in value since that time. This stock index is now higher than it has ever been, outside of the blip that occurred in mid-2002.

Only recently have commodity prices begun influencing government price indexes like the Producer Price Index and the Consumer Price Index. For the first four months of 2004 CPI-inflation increased at an annual rate of 4%, which is a higher rate than we have „experienced“ in the last few years. The Producer Price Index actually decreased in 2001, but has increased in 2002 and 2003. Over the last year, prices for finished producer goods increased 3.7% while at earlier stages of production the prices for intermediate goods increased by 5.1% and the prices of crude materials index surged 20.4%. This would suggest that there is plenty of price inflation still in the pipeline. The experience of the 1970s would suggest that price inflation adds fuel to housing bubbles because tangible assets like homes serve as a hedge against inflation.

The Dirty Secret

While this price inflation did not surprise me, the delay in its arrival did. That is, until I came across the dirty little secret in the CPI. With prices increasing all around us, there is one thing in Auburn, Alabama that seems to be in abundance with stable, if not declining prices. This „good“ is now being advertised on most streets throughout the town, whereas in the past it did not require much, if any, advertising over the twenty-plus years I have lived in this college town. This abundant good is apartments and rental houses.

It is a truly odd market when houses and apartments move in opposite directions. After all, houses and apartments are just different products in the same „market for housing.“ In Auburn, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of house you want to buy despite frantic building by construction companies, and yet rental properties (which include many smaller houses) seem to be readily available in all shapes and sizes. Has the population changed? Have people become anti-rent? Or are we just in a „new housing paradigm“? Is this a „new era“ of homes?

Greenspan’s low interest rates have driven renters to become homeowners and knocked the market out of equilibrium. Underneath this Fed-inspired distortion rests the dirty little secret of how the cost of housing has served to limit increases in measured inflation. The Consumer Price Index has underreported price inflation because the government uses the rental value of housing, rather the actual price of houses, in their index.

In the basket of goods used to calculate CPI, the goods that have increased slower than housing include food and beverages, recreation, and education, which total to about a 30% weighting of the CPI basket of goods. Housing accounts for 42% of the basket, with housing „prices“ representing almost 25% of the entire basket. However, housing prices are calculated with „Owner’s equivalent rent“ which is an estimate of the rent that people would have to pay for their houses. With home prices rising and rental rates stagnant, CPI underestimates the real rate of price inflation over the last year by about 50%.

Do Housing Bubbles Burst?

Housing prices never, or rarely, go down. That is the conventional wisdom and the conventional wisdom is correct. Housing is always a good investment, isn’t it? It’s an inflation hedge and it’s an investment that you get to use everyday, plus you get a great tax break. And the home, after all, is a big part of the American dream.

However, government can screw up just about everything. Given enough power and time it will screw up everything. Housing and real estate in America is just the latest example. The Federal Reserve and the Mac-May family (Freddie, Fannie, Sallie, etc.) have conspired to create a housing bubble in the U.S. and as the old saying goes, „what goes up must come down.“ It’s only a matter of time.

Housing bubbles typically do not pop like a balloon; they don’t even crash like stock markets. Rather, the air in housing bubbles tends to leak out slowly—painfully slowly—while in commercial real estate markets there is a more noticeable hiss. We really don’t know the current value of our homes until we sell them. They are not traded on a daily basis, like shares of stock in Wal-Mart. Some never get exchanged in the market, but are passed on within a family from generation to generation. The market value of a home may drop 20% and the owner might never realize it.

Worse yet, when the market for real estate collapses, prices are less likely to collapse because when buyers fail to make offers houses simply don’t sell. Sellers often resist cutting their prices in favor of just leaving the house on the market or taking it off the market. Traditionally the market adjustment to a collapse in real estate markets has come from the quantity side, not the price side—fewer houses are sold—while price reductions tend to come gradually. This doesn’t mean that housing bubbles can’t exist or that the bust is any less painful, only that it doesn’t make as much noise.

It is difficult to predict how long bubbles will last and when they will go bust. The best indicator is interest rates, because when the Fed forces rates down it tends to create bubbles, and when rates are forced upward bubbles tend to pop. My guess is that Greenspan will raise rates after the election. The rates of interest on long-term bonds have already „spiked“ up from their historical lows. The chart below shows the recent increase in the interest rate on 10-Year Treasury bonds to the highest levels in almost two years.

Prior to this spike up, interest rates had been falling since the early 1980s. As mentioned above, lower rates have coaxed people into refinancing their homes and drawing equity out of their homes to spend on other purchases, like cars, boats, renovations, vacations, or even investments in the stock market. As a result, owner equity as a percentage of real estate value is now at an all-time low.

Here is the unmentioned problem with Greenspan’s panacea. What happens to all these „equity poor“ homeowners if the return of monetary inflation establishes a new trend of higher prices and higher interest rates over the coming years?

An ever-increasing proportion of mortgage financing has come in the form of variable-rate mortgages, where the payment increases as interest rates increase. In my experience, variable-rate mortgages come with a „cap“ that only allows the variable rate to increase by a certain amount. Even with the cap, however, your mortgage payment could increase by around 50%. I have recently learned that many variable-rate loans are now offered without a cap. If rates were to explode upward, mortgage payments for these folks could double or triple. And if this did happen, the housing market would collapse with sellers swamping buyers.

Given the government’s encouragement of lax lending practices, home prices could crash, bankruptcies would increase, and financial companies, including the government-sponsored mortgage companies, might require another taxpayer bailout.

Of course inflation might not materialize. Interest rates could stay low. In a recent column, I reported on a new book that even predicts that deflation will reign in our financial future. Greenspan has suggested that his economic panacea has given American homeowners greater economic „flexibility.“ I would suggest that it is not flexibility he offers, but the shackles to an economic nightmare. Stick with the fixed-rate mortgages, keep the equity in your homes, or go get one of those cheap apartments.

Are the Austrians Too Harsh?

Reprinted from Mises Institute

Randall W. Forsyth, writing for Barron’s early spring 2009, wrote about Austrian economists, „Their ideas warned us of the bubble; their prescription for the bust is too harsh, however.“1 Now that the NBER has announced that the current „Great Recession“ ended in June 2009, after 18 months, let’s reexamine this claim. First, the end date clearly indicates that the 2009 stimulus had no discernable impact on either the timing or the depth of the trough. Subsequent economic activity clearly should cause one to question whether the $800 billion package sped recovery at all.

In fact a better question is the one raised by the Wall Street Journal, in „A Tale of Two Recoveries“: Did Keynesian policies do more harm than good? The Journal, sounding much like Robert Higgs, answers in the affirmative. „Our view is that hyperkinetic government policies have done more harm than good, leading to uncertainty and higher costs that have undermined business and consumer confidence and slowed the economy’s otherwise natural recuperative powers.“2

The Journal, then, granting NBER’s chronology, contrasts the current recession and „recovery“ with the almost equally long (16 months) and severe (unemployment peaked above 11 percent) recession of July 1981–November 1982 and subsequent recovery. Their conclusion is that the different policy circumstances significantly explain the drastically different recovery paths: following the trough in late 1982, the economy rapidly surpassed the prerecession levels of output. But currently, nearly 15 months past the trough, our economy is still significantly below prerecession levels.3

Most telling is the numbers on Gross Private Domestic Investment (GPDI). Approximately one year past the November 1982 trough, GPDI was up over 8 percent from the prerecession peak. In contrast, in April 2010, nearly 11 months past the June 2009 trough, GPDI was down 21 percent from the prerecession peak. The policy differences are falling marginal tax rates and reductions of regulatory burdens across the economy in the early ’80s compared to the current expansion of government, the increasing likelihood of significantly rising tax burdens, increasing burdens of regulation from Obamacare, and recent finance-reform legislation that increases the burden on firms (both financial and nonfinancial) while also adding great uncertainty. Current regime uncertainty is only increased by card check and cap and trade, which are possibilities — if not through legislation then through regulatory sleight of hand.

While what the Austrians have said about the cause of the boom and bust is, per Forsyth, gaining increasing recognition and acceptance, what the Austrians have said about recession and recovery is either ignored or grossly distorted. The distortions are based both on misunderstandings of theory and misinterpretations of the historical record. The Austrian understanding of recession and recovery is firmly rooted in the best microeconomics and tied to a capital-structure-based approach to macroeconomics.4

The Austrian understanding also has significant support in properly interpreted historical events.5  Booms are created when money and credit creation misdirect resources and production — the boom is the result of a central-bank-driven mini–calculation failure. The transition from boom to bust begins as the inconsistencies in business plans become apparent. Because of this distortion of the capital structure, „the recession periods of the business cycle then become inevitable, for the recession is the necessary corrective process by which the market liquidates the unsound investments of the boom and redirects resources.“6

Recessions are the discovery-of-error phase of the cycle. Unemployment results, not from deficient aggregate demand, but, per Hayek, from „a discrepancy between the distribution of labor (and other factors of production) among industries (and localities) and the distribution of demand among products.“7 During a recession, errors are discovered and resources are released and made available for use in potentially higher-value production processes.

Recovery is the phase of the cycle where misallocated resources are redirected to uses more consistent with consumer preferences. The process of reabsorbing an economy’s various unemployed resources into new or expanding enterprises (i.e., economic recovery) potentially begins in the same moment that the discovery of and adjustment to previous errors and resource misallocations takes place (i.e., recession). If all resources were perfectly homogenous and all prices, wages, and interest rates perfectly flexible, then the recession and recovery phases would indeed be a single process. But declines in economic activity are coupled with factors like nonhomogenous, often task-specific capital goods, price rigidities, and time lags in adjustment processes. This means that the recession phase precedes the recovery, which is a second and lagging phase. As will be discussed later, recession is even further prolonged (and recovery further delayed) by interventions, especially by policies or reforms that create an environment of „regime uncertainty.“

Recovery, like growth and development, requires forward-looking planning. Here, perhaps the best guide to policy comes from the developing literature examining the institutions that best support economic growth and development.8 What best makes societies rich is also what is most likely to bring about recovery and to return the economy to sustainable growth. Austrian capital theory implies that a significant portion of current economic activity is directed not to current, but to future consumption.9 Planning and calculation include decisions on reinvestment to maintain current levels of production into the future as well as new investment for expansion and new enterprises, all of which are future oriented.

Recovery, like sustained growth, requires an environment that facilitates the planning and development of projects (which will create current jobs), most of which will be directed toward future consumption. Austrians have historically emphasized impediments to adjustment caused by the by the nonhomogenous nature and varying specificity of many capital goods and some „human capital“ misdirected during the previous boom. These are a given aspect of any restructuring of an economy and they are unique to each crisis.

These malinvestments do have the potential to create losses and impede reallocation, but there is no necessary connection between the length of the boom, the degree of misallocations, and the actual severity of the recession and the length of the recovery process. One also has to take into consideration whether markets are being allowed to work, whether the „regime“ is certain — stable, predictable, and consistent with stated policy — and whether the policy is conducive to entrepreneurship and prudent risk taking. Policies that impede competition and impose excessive tax burdens — or that in any way simply add to costs, reduce expected returns, or increase the uncertainty of the results and returns from business activity — are seen as the most important factors in forestalling recovery and turning economic corrections into stagnation, stagflation, or depression.10

Historically, policies and actions that threaten property rights create „regime uncertainty“ or „regime worsening.“ Such policies have a two-pronged negative impact on the economy: they prolong the recession phases and they delay recovery.

Economic history and institutional analysis give us good insights into what impedes recovery and/or retards growth. Theory supported by that history indicates that an institutional framework of sound money, easy and predictable taxes, a stable legal environment built on rule of law and contract enforcement, regime certainty,11and broadly competitive markets encourage successful long-run planning and development.

What then would be the Austrian policy recommendations for today’s problems? First, according to Hayek and Rothbard, stop the credit creation and inflation.12 Then, per Hayek, prevent a secondary deflation. Further, remove all government impediments to effective entrepreneurial planning by avoiding protectionist measures and allowing prices and wages to adjust as needed to restore market equilibrium. Cut tax rates, as was done in the incomplete reforms of the 1980s and during the crisis of 2001–2003, and drastically reduce the government budget.13 To prevent future boom-bust episodes, reform the monetary system from the current government monopoly to a market-determined medium of exchange.14

What is actually being done to mitigate the recession and promote recovery? Is it consistent with a framework that promotes entrepreneurial planning and job creation? Or is it more closely aligned with failed policies of the past that have retarded recovery and promoted stagnation? The Fed balance sheet is at $2 trillion and growing. The crucial question is, does the current monetary-policy response create significant problems moving forward? Does it set up significant future price-inflation problems, a possible collapse of the dollar, stagflation, and/or another boom-bust sequence?

Complicating the picture of moving forward and „unwinding“ the Fed’s current position is pressure from some to target not price stability but a 5–6 percent inflation rate in the CPI. Some economists believe that the correct target for the federal-funds rate should now be significantly negative and with an actual effective limit of zero, pushing the Fed to undertake operations over and beyond the traditional targeting of the federal-funds rate.15

Instead of fiscal constraint and tax decreases, there is a massive expansion of government spending both actual and proposed, a guaranteed massive tax increase when the 2001–2003 tax cuts expire automatically at the end of 2010, targeted tax increases on the rich (those making over $250,000), and a proposed cap and-trade-policy to fight global warming (which policy is in fact a massive tax increase on productive and consumption activity that uses fossil fuel energy).

Instead of privatization, government is organizing takeovers and bailouts of private business in the automotive, health, and financial sectors. Many of these actions have been conducted in ways that violate contracts and the rule of law. There are proposed wasteful government misdirections of production through subsidies and directives, such as an energy policy that promises „green jobs.“ Even more significant is a concerted verbal assault on economic freedom and therefore the threat of „regime worsening“ on a large scale.16 Combined, these factors have predictable long-run negative impacts on the economy.

In the absence of real reform, Rothbard saw the alternatives for the American economy in the 1980s as a choice between a 1929-type depression and an inflationary depression of massive proportions.17 Among possible alternatives, the most likely outcome today is a return of a 1970s-style decade-long period of high unemployment and inflation. Also possible are a decade-long Japanese-style stagnation and a permanent Eurosclerosis. There is, however, still time to turn course and follow the Austrian path to sustainable prosperity. End government intervention in the economy and return to a sound money policy. Such a policy has been dubbed as harsh or too draconian; but the pain of a short, severe recession followed by renewed, sustainable growth and prosperity may actually be „comfortable and moderate compared to the economic hell of permanent inflation, stagnation, high unemployment, and inflationary depression“ that is the likely outcome of a continuation of our current policy.18

  • 1.Forsyth, Randall W. „Ignoring the Austrians Got Us in this Mess,“ Barron’s, March 12, 2009.
  • 2.„Review and Outlook: A Tale of Two Recoveries,“ The Wall Street Journal. Tuesday, September 21, 2010, p. A20. For samples of Robert Higgs’s excellent running commentary on the current economic climate, see “Credit Shortage or Regime Uncertainty.”
  • 3.See the following figures for GDP, private sector jobs, and retail sales.
  • 4.An Austrian interpretation of recession and recovery is discussed more fully in my upcoming 2010 paper: Cochran, John P. „Capital in Disequilibrium: Understanding the „Great Recession’ and Potential for Recovery.“ The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. Much of what follows draws heavily on parts of that paper, which was drafted in the spring and early summer of 2009.
  • 5.How inappropriate policy of the type discussed in this article created depressions, prolonged recessions, and delayed recovery is well documented in work by Rothbard, Higgs, Ohanian, Gallaway and Vedder, Smiley, and Murphy. This includes the great depression and the depression within a depression, the 1936–37. The „forgotten depression“ of 1920–21 (Woods) and the depression that was not — 1946 (Gallaway and Vedder and Higgs) provide strong evidence of the effectiveness of Austrian medicine as does the „German miracle“ (White). See the list of additional readings.
  • 6.Rothbard, Murray N. America’s Great Depression. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000 [1963], p. xxvii.
  • 7.Hayek, Friedrich A. Unemployment and Monetary Policy: Government as Generator of the „Business Cycle.“ San Francisco, CA: Cato Institute, 1979, p. 8.
  • 8.The period from 1980 to 2005 illustrates how well markets can perform when freed even marginally from some of the collectivists’ constraints of the past. Shleifer characterizes this period as the „Age of Milton Friedman.“ Shleifer, Andrei. „The Age of Milton Friedman.“ Journal of Economic Literature, 47:1, 2009, pp. 123–135. Per Shleifer „Between 1980 and 2005, as the world embraced free market policies, living standards rose sharply, while life expectancy, educational attainment, and democracy improved and absolute poverty declined“ (p. 123). He then asks, „Is this a coincidence?“ After reviewing competing claims he concludes, „On strategy, economics got the right answer: free market policies, supported but not encumbered by the government, deliver growth and prosperity“ (p. 135). I thank Steve Hanke for this reference. Capital structure as a key component of economic development is explored in detail and in a historical context in Shenoy, Sudha R. „Investment Chains Through History; or, An Historian’s Outline of Development: ‘Using Goods of Ever Higher Orders.'“ Indian Journal of Economics and Business, Special Issue. 2007, pp. 185–215.
  • 9.See Skousen Skousen, Mark. The Structure of Production; with a New Introduction. New York and London: New York University Press, 2007 [1990], pp. xi–xxxix) for an excellent summary. Skousen recommends moving toward a measure of Gross Domestic Expenditures to get a more realistic picture of the importance of business spending (future oriented) in total current economic activity. Whereas consumption appears to be approximately 70 percent of the economy based on GDP, measures of economic activity more in line with a capital-structure view of the economy drop this number closer to 30 (p. xvi).
  • 10.For a similar argument see Becker, Gary S., Davis, Steven J, and Murphy, Kevin M. „Uncertainty and the Slow Recovery.“ Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2010, p. A 17.
  • 11.Higgs, Robert. „Regime Uncertainty: Why the Great Depression Lasted so Long and Why Prosperity Resumed After the War,“ The Independent Review. 1 (4), 1997, pp. 561–90; Shleifer, Andrei. „The Age of Milton Friedman.“ Journal of Economic Literature, 47:1, 2009, pp. 123–135
  • 12.Rothbard, Murray N. America’s Great Depression, pp. 185–86; Hayek, Unemployment and Monetary Policy, pp. 15-19.
  • 13.Rothbard, America’s Great Depression, pp. 185–86.
  • 14.„I do not believe that we would have major industrial fluctuations if it were not for the present banking system, which in turn depends on the government monopoly of the supply of money. I have been driven into proposing the denationalization of money. “ Hayek continues, „Anyhow, depressions are not the result of the operation of the market. They are the result of government controls, particularly in the sphere of monetary policy.“ Hayek quoted in Pizano, Diego. Conversations with Great Economists. Jorge Pinto Books, 2009, p. 10. See also the concluding section in Garrison, Roger W. „Interest-Rate Targeting During the Great Moderation.“ Cato Journal, vol. 29, no. 1 (Winter) 2009, pp. 187–200.
  • 15.See Ducca, DiMartino, and Reneir. „Fed Confronts Crisis by Expanding Role as Lender of Last Resort,“ Economic Letter: Insights from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, vol. 4, no. 2, February/March 2009 for a well-presented overview of the extraordinary recent activities of the Fed. See also Ceccheti, Stephen G. „Crisis and Responses: The Federal Reserve in the Early Stages of the Financial Crisis.“ Journal of Economic Perspectives. Vol. 23, Number 1 (Winter) 2009, pp. 51–75; Garrison, „Interest-Rate Targeting“; and Taylor, John B. „The Financial Crisis and the Policy Response: An Empirical Analysis of What Went Wrong.“ Unpublished 2008.
  • 16.Powell, Benjamin. „U. S. Recession Policies: Nothing New Under the (Rising) Sun.“ The Intercollegiate Review, (Fall) 2009, pp. 13–21.
  • 17.Rothbard, America’s Great Depression. p. xxiii.
  • 18.Rothbard, America’s Great Depression. p. xxvii.

The Faulty Logic of GDP Necessitates an Economic Paradigm Shift

Reprinted from Mises Institute

Nearly 80 years ago — during the height of the Great Depression — economist Simon Kuznets envisioned a system capable of measuring productivity and economic activity. In a report to Congress, Kuznets proposed charting all economic production with a single measurement that would decrease when the economy struggled and increase when it thrived. He called it gross domestic product, or GDP.

Nations throughout the world embraced GDP as the standard for measuring economic activity; Kuznets eventually won the Nobel Prize for his creation. The popularity of GDP belies its effectiveness, however, as the measure systematically under-reports the significance of production.


The most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that the country’s GDP increased by about 1.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, which was encouraging news to some. GDP in the U.S. had increased by about 0.8 percent in the first quarter of the year. While this seems like positive news, it’s difficult to say exactly what it means for the average consumer.

GDP was the only available option for a long time, but it has always been flawed because it assumes a net contribution to consumer value through production. A business that produces a certain good is believed to add only the difference between the product’s monetary value and the cost of all inputs combined.

GDP also mistakenly places too much emphasis on business-to-consumer activity compared to business-to-business transactions, which account for a significant amount of investment and opportunity. In fact, money invested in B2B startups through the end of March increased by about 40 percent compared to 2015 figures.

Moreover, GDP is useless because it measures official statistics rather than actual value. Dollar amounts measured in statistics don’t capture the actual satisfaction — or real value — being produced. It also fails to accurately measure innovations until after the fact, meaning investments are considered a loss until they pan out. An economy investing for future production might, therefore, appear to be contracting.

Quantifying Value

By only measuring monetary values — primarily consumption data under the guise of “produced” goods — GDP ignores the fact that value is added in each step along the production chain. It also specifically tracks expenditure and income rather than well-being.

What truly matters in economic growth is how our well-being has improved: how our lives become more convenient, how we get more time for leisure, and how we can afford everything. This is a matter of perception and ability to consume.

It can be argued that we experience economic growth when prices fall but wages are steady. Those same incomes can buy more goods and services, consequently making us wealthier.

When we talk about inequality, we’re almost always speaking of income rather than well-being. But what does it matter if one person earns $1,000 and another earns $1 million if the goods they both consume are identical? If we’re unable to satisfy more wants by earning significantly more money, income becomes irrelevant.

This is often the case in Western nations, where income inequality is on the rise. The U.S. has seen income inequality increase since the 1970s, with the top 1 percent of U.S. families earning about 25 times as much as the remaining 99 percent. While income inequality is growing, well-being inequality is actually shrinking.

The price difference between a Mercedes-Benz and a Toyota is greater than the gap between having a car and not having one, but the well-being differential is reversed. A Mercedes-Benz doesn’t offer more transportation than a Toyota, but having any car is tremendously better than not having one in terms of well-being.

A Better Indicator

While GDP ultimately fails to track the size of an economy, a different measure offers a much broader view of economic activity.

Economist Mark Skousen has long advocated for gross output as a viable alternative to GDP. Gross output goes beyond finished goods and services that don’t necessarily have a final “value.”

For instance, a business breaking even without any profits still contributes to the economy through production — it consumes inputs to produce outputs, pays suppliers and employees, and provides goods, services, and capital to other businesses. A lack of profit doesn’t mean the economy is smaller or that this business isn’t contributing to the economy. Instead, consumers of its products have added to their well-being.

It’s a matter of perspective. The GDP is based on a faulty theory of the economy as consumption-driven when it’s actually more production-driven. Consumption happens where production facilitates it, through goods and services produced as well as income generated by selling those goods and services.

In a market society, we produce for market needs rather than our own benefit. This allows us to generate income to satisfy our own needs and wants by consuming the goods and services others produce. This allows us to specialize and develop expertise to innovate and simplify our own production, which eventually helps us increase our output, serve more consumers, and generate more money to spend on goods.

Reversing Course

GDP effectively ignores all attempts to improve production because they don’t result in increased consumption. It falsely assumes that consumption drives production; therefore, it’s pointless to map out and measure the latter. In other words, GDP adopts a backward economic perspective.

In reality, entrepreneurs produce what they believe consumers want to buy. The fact that they undertake uncertain production projects helps contribute to our common prosperity and standard of living.

Whereas gross output takes a broader view of economic activity, GDP misunderstands economics by simply counting what statistics capture: net consumption, net profits, net this, and net that. After almost eight decades of flawed logic, we’re due for an economic paradigm shift.

Can the State Reduce Poverty?

Reprinted from Mises Institute

From the beginning of history, sincere reformers as well as demagogues have sought to abolish or at least to alleviate poverty through state action. In most cases their proposed remedies have only served to make the problem worse.

The most frequent and popular of these proposed remedies has been the simple one of seizing from the rich to give to the poor. This remedy has taken a thousand different forms, but they all come down to this. The wealth is to be „shared,“ to be „redistributed,“ to be „equalized.“ In fact, in the minds of many reformers it is not poverty that is the chief evil but inequality.

All schemes for redistributing or equalizing incomes or wealth must undermine or destroy incentives at both ends of the economic scale. They must reduce or abolish the incentives of the unskilled or shiftless to improve their condition by their own efforts; and even the able and industrious will see little point in earning anything beyond what they are allowed to keep. These redistribution schemes must inevitably reduce the size of the pie to be redistributed. They can only level down. Their long-run effect must be to reduce production and lead toward national impoverishment.

The problem we face is that the false remedies for poverty are almost infinite in number. An attempt at a thorough refutation of any single one of them would run to disproportionate length. But some of these false remedies are so widely regarded as real cures or mitigations of poverty that if I do not refer to them I may be accused of having undertaken a book on the remedies for poverty while ignoring some of the most obvious.

The most widely practiced „remedy“ for low incomes in the last two centuries has been the formation of monopolistic labor unions and the use of the strike threat. In nearly every country today this has been made possible to its present extent by government policies that permit and encourage coercive union tactics and inhibit or restrict counteractions by employers.

As a result of union exclusiveness, of deliberate inefficiency, of featherbedding, of disruptive strikes and strike threats, the long-run effect of customary union policies has been to discourage capital investment and to make the average real wage of the whole body of workers lower, and not higher, than it would otherwise have been.

Nearly all of these customary union policies have been dishearteningly shortsighted. When unions insist on the employment of men who are not necessary to do a job (requiring unneeded firemen on diesel locomotives; forbidding the gang size of dock workers to be reduced below, say, twenty men no matter what the size of the task; demanding that a newspaper’s own printers must duplicate advertising copy that comes in already set in type, etc.), the result may be to preserve or create a few more jobs for specific men in the short run, but only at the cost of making impossible the creation of an equivalent or greater number of more productive jobs for others.

The same criticism applies to the age-old union policy of opposing the use of labor-saving machinery. Labor-saving machinery is installed only when it promises to reduce production costs. When it does that, it either reduces prices and leads to increased production and sales of the commodity being produced, or it makes more profits available for increased reinvestment in other production. In either case its long-run effect is to substitute more productive jobs for the less productive jobs it eliminates.

A similar judgment must be passed on all „spread-the-work“ schemes. The existing Federal Wage-Hour Law has been on the books for many years. It provides that the employer must pay a 50% penalty overtime rate for all hours that an employee works in excess of 40 hours a week, no matter how high the employee’s standard hourly rate of pay.

This provision was inserted at the insistence of the unions. Its purpose was to make it so costly for the employer to work men overtime that he would be obliged to take on additional workers.

Experience shows that the provision has in fact had the effect of narrowly restricting the length of the working week…. But it does not follow that the hour restriction either created more long-term jobs or yielded higher total payrolls than would have existed without the compulsory 50% overtime rate.

No doubt in isolated cases more men have been employed than would otherwise have been. But the chief effect of the overtime law has been to raise production costs. Firms already working full standard time often have to refuse new orders because they cannot afford to pay the penalty overtime necessary to fill those orders. They cannot afford to take on new employees to meet what may be only a temporarily higher demand because they may also have to install an equivalent number of additional machines.

Higher production costs mean higher prices. They must therefore mean narrowed markets and smaller sales. They mean that fewer goods and services are produced. In the long run, the interests of the whole body of workers must be adversely affected by compulsory overtime penalties.

All this is not to argue that there ought to be a longer work week, but rather that the length of the work week, and the scale of overtime rates, ought to be left to voluntary agreement between individual workers or unions and their employers. In any case, legal restrictions on the length of the working week cannot in the long run increase the number of jobs. To the extent that they can do that in the short run, it must necessarily be at the expense of production and of the real income of the whole body of workers.

Ten Fundamental Laws of Economics

Reprinted from the Mises Institute.

In the midst of so many economic fallacies being repeatedly seemingly without end, it may be helpful to return to some of the most basic laws of economics. Here are ten of them that bear repeating again and again. 

1. Production precedes consumption

Although it is obvious that in order to consume something it must first exist, the idea to stimulate consumption in order to expand production is all around us. However, consumption goods do not just fall from the sky. They are at the end of a long chain of intertwined production processes called the “structure of production.” Even the production of an apparently simple item such as a pencil, for example, requires an intricate network of production processes that extend far back into time and run across countries and continents.

2. Consumption is the final goal of production

Consumption is the objective of economic activity, and production is its means. The advocates of full employment violate this obvious idea. Employment programs turn production itself into the objective. The valuation of consumption goods by the consumers determines the value of production goods. Current consumption results from the production process that extends to the past, yet the value of this production structure depends on the current state of valuation by the consumers and the expected future state. Therefore, the consumers are the final de facto owners of the production apparatus in a capitalist economy.

3. Production has costs

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Getting something apparently gratis only means that some other person pays for it. Behind every welfare check and each research grant lies the tax money of real people. While the taxpayers see that government confiscates part of one’s personal income, they do not know to whom this money goes; and while the recipients of government expenditures see the government handing the money to them, they do not know from whom the government has taken away this money.

4. Value is subjective

Valuation is subjective and varies with the an individual’s situation. The same physical good has different values to different persons. Utility is subjective, individual, situational and marginal. There is no such thing as collective consumption. Even the temperature in the same room feels differently to different persons. The same football match has a different subjective value for each viewer as can be easily seen the moment when a team scores.

5. Productivity determines the wage rate

The output per hour determines the worker’s wage rate per hour. In a free labor market, businesses will hire additional workers as long as their marginal productivity is higher than the wage rate. Competition among the firms will drive up the wage rate to the point where it matches productivity. The power of labor unions may change the distribution of wages among the different labor groups, but trade unions cannot change the overall wage level, which depends on labor productivity.

6. Expenditure is income and costs

Expenditure is not only income, but also represents costs. Spending counts as costs for the buyer and income for the seller. Income equals costs. The mechanism of the fiscal multiplier implies that costs rise with income. In as much as income multiplies, costs multiply as well. The Keynesian fiscal multiplier model ignores the cost effect. Grave policy errors are the result when government policies count on the income effect of public expenditures but ignore the cost effect.

7. Money is not wealth

The value of money consists in its purchasing power. Money serves as an instrument of exchange. The wealth of a person exists in its access to the goods and services he desires. The nation as a whole cannot increase its wealth by increasing its stock of money. The principle that only purchasing power means wealth says that Robinson Crusoe would not be a penny richer if he found a gold mine on his island or a case full of bank notes.

8. Labor does not create value

Labor, in combination with the other factors of production, creates products, but the value of the product depends on its utility. Utility depends on subjective individual valuation. Employment for sake of employment makes no economic sense. What counts is value creation. In order to be useful, a product must create benefits for the consumer. The value of a good exists independent from the effort of producing it. Professional marathon runners do not earn more prize money than sprinters because running the marathon takes more time and effort than a sprint.

9. Profit is the entrepreneurial bonus

In competitive capitalism, economic profit is the extra bonus that those businesses earn that fix allocative errors. In an evenly rotating economy with no change, there would be neither profit nor loss and all companies would earn the same rate of interest. In a growing economy, however, change takes place and anticipating changes is the source of economic profits. Business that does well in forecasting future demand earn high rates of profit and will grow, while those entrepreneurs who fail to anticipate the wants of the consumers will shrink and finally must shut down.

10. All genuine laws of economics are logical laws

Economic laws are synthetic a priori reasoning. One cannot falsify such laws empirically because they are true in themselves. As such, the fundamental economic laws do not require empirical verification. Reference to empirical facts serve merely as illustrative examples, they are not statements of principles. One can ignore and violate the fundamental laws of economics but one cannot change them. Those societies fare best where people and government recognize and respect these fundamental economic laws and use them to their advantage.

„Австрийска” критика на банкирането с частични резерви

Почти всички съвременни икономисти от Австрийската икономическа школа са противници на централната банка като финансова институция и защитници на система на свободно банкиране. Различията се появяват в опита да се дефинира какво точно означава свободното банкиране – такова с частично резервиране или с пълно. Съвременните последователи на Мизес и Ротбард – най-известните от които са Ханс-Херман Хопе, Йорг Гуидо Хюлзман, Уолтър Блок, Хесус Уерта де Сото, Джоузеф Салерно, Лю Рокуел, Робърт Мърфи, Том Ууудс, Марк Торнтън, Филип Багус и Дейвид Хаудън са за банкиране с пълно (или 100%-ово) резервиране, докато най-отявлените поддръжници на банкирането с частични резерви без централна банка (школата на свободното банкиране) са Джордж Селджин, Лоурънс Уайт, Кевин Дауд, Лилънд Йегър, Роджър Гарисън и Стивън Хорвиц.

Какво всъщност е банкирането с частични резерви?

Нека започнем с отговор на въпроса какво са парите – това е общоприетото средство за размяна на стоки и услуги в икономиката. Те надграждат бартерната размяна и са се появили благодарение на спонтанен пазарен процес, а не на държавна намеса. Това са били стокови пари (обезпечени с определена стока), а не сегашните книжни или фиатни (необезпечени). Паричните заместители следователно са право на собственост върху точно определено количество пари. Лудвиг фон Мизес ги определя като парични сертификати. Ако паричните заместители не са обезпечени с абсолютно нищо (какъвто е случаят след 1971 г.), то тогава те се наричат фидуциарни средства. Лесно е да определим системата на банкиране с частични резерви, защото сме заобиколени от нея. Когато даден вложител отиде в банковия клон и внесе съотвената сума получателят на сумата, в частност, банковата институция има законовото задължение да запази малка част от тези средства като резерв в съответната й сметка в централната банка и да се разпорежда с останалата част както прецени за най-добре. Тази система се гради изключително на доверие у вложителите, защото ако последните поискат да получат средствата си, то те не са там. Това е и основният аргумент в полза на създаването на кредитор от последна инстанция в лицето на централна банка.

Критика на Ротбард, Хопе, Хюлзман и Блок

Тук обаче идва т.нар. title-transfer theory of contract на вече споменатия Мъри Ротбард, представена в „The Ethics of Liberty” (стр. 133) – невъзможно е двама различни притежатели на една и съща стока да са нейни собственици по едно и също време. Хопе показва този аргумент (1994 г.) изключително в сферата на отношенията между депозитор и кредитор. Банкирането с частични резерви е измамно, защото по своята същност всяко договорно взаимоотношение, което представя двете страни като едновременни собственици на определената стока (или повече от един законен собственик на определена стока) е измама. Естествено, че тук не става въпрос за някаква кооперация, чиито членове притежават определена собственост, а няколко отделни и независими един от друг собственици. Също така дори членовете на кооперацията не могат физически да притежават едновременно едно и също нещо. Един прост пример – двама собственици притежават кола, но те имат 50%-ов дял върху нея, няма как и двамата да я използват едновременно и независимо един от друг.

Независимо дали са съгласни или не с последствията от банкирането с частични резерви, в момента, в който сделката стане факт и вложителят, и банката стават едновременни собственици на вложените средства. Те се съгласяват да създадат допълнителни права на собственост върху фиксираната и реална към определения момент собственост. Създаването на повече фиатни пари не може по никакъв начин да увеличи собствеността, или имуществото, или ресурсите, които са налични в икономиката. Единственото, което постигат е преразпределение на това имущество между отделни собственици. Имуществото може да бъде увеличено единствено чрез производство, а това също така ще доведе и до увеличение в броя на правата на собственост.

Защо се казва, че банките създават пари от нищото или от въздуха? Защото фидуциарните средства символизират допълнителни права на собственост върху непроменено количество имущество. Те не са резултат от увеличено имущество на депозанта или банката, а са права върху несъществуваща собственост, търсещи налична собственост.

Следните договори между депозант и банка са възможни: „А” прехвърля средствата си в клон на банка „Б”, изправяйки се пред две възможности:

  1. запазване на собственост върху средствата;
  2. отказ от собственост върху средствата;
  3. няма трети вариант.

При 1) „А” получава разписка за определената сума, която е прехвърлил. „Б” се задължава да съхранява средствата.

При 2) „Б” получава право на собственост върху средствата, а „А” получава едно от следните:

  • настояща и съществуваща стока притежавана от „Б”;
  • право на собственост върху стока притежавана преди това от „Б”, но прехвърлена на „А”;
  • право на собственост върху бъдеща стока.

Измежду изброените алтернативи не съществува създаването на фидуциарни средства. Защо не трябва да съществуват необезпечени парични заместители? По същата причина поради която няма право на собственост върху кола или къща, която не съществува.

Критика на Багус и Хаудън

„Австрийците”, които подкрепят банкирането с частични резерви го правят с целта да постигнат по този начин парично или монетарно равновесие. Те обаче бъркат спестяванията с кешовите наличности. Според тях създаването на депозити увеличава предлагането на спестявания, с други думи създаването на кредит съставлява увеличение на реалните спестявания. Това обаче не е така. Тези новосъздадени средства не са в състояние да подкрепят един по-дълъг производствен процес. Реалните спестявания съдържат в себе си въздържане от потребление, за разлика от фидуциарни средства, които се създават ex nihilo („от нищото”). Съществува друг проблем с подхода за парично равновесие. Търсенето на пари е равносилно на търсенето на кешови наличности. Такова увеличение е породено от бъдеща несигурност. Търсенето обаче е строго индивидуално и когато се казва, че търсенето на пари се е увеличило никога не бива да забравяме, че отделните индивиди ще са повишили търсенето си по различен начин. Според школата на свободното банкиране предлаганата от тях система достига до равновесно положение, създавайки необезпечени средства. Но също така изпускат микроикономическия поглед как тези новосъздадени пари ще достигнат до индивидите в относителните им темове на увеличение на търсене на пари. Система на пълно резервиране не е пред този информационен проблем. Когато индивид поиска да увеличи своите кешови баланси той просто се въздържа от инвестиция или потребление, или пък продава част от собствеността си.

Последици от системата на частично банкиране

Банкирането с частични резерви създава кредитна експанзия. Това поражда изкривяване на производствената структура. Изкуствено бива понижаван лихвения процент, което кара предприемачите да започнат по-капиталоемки и по-дълготрайни процеси, които няма как да бъдат завършени, защото необходимите ресурси не са налични. Мизес (1928 г.) и Хайек (1928 г.) показват нагледно до какво води политиката на ценова стабилизация по време на икономически ръст. Комбинацията от ръст и постоянно парично предлагане ще породи спад в цените. Ако банките стабилизират цените лихвеният процент ще се понижи изкуствено и ще е по-нисък от пазарното си ниво, показващо истинските спестявания. Налице ще бъде икономически бум, ако бъдат стартирани повече проекти, отколкото могат да бъдат устойчиво завършени с наличните спестявания. По подобие стабилизационна политика спрямо ценовото равнище, защитавана от школата на свободното банкиране ще доведе до бум. При увеличено ниво на търсене на пари цените бележат спад, за да се приспособят към това първоначално увеличение. При равни други условия, т.е. липса на промяна във времевите предпочитания у индивидите, не е налично увеличение в спестяванията или ресурсите, които са необходими за стартиране на ново начинание. От това следва, че лихвеният процент ще остане непроменен. Банка, оперираща с частични резерви (създавайки кредит) в същата ситуация влияе върху лихвения процент и го намалява. Банкирането с частични резерви без централна банка все повече създава нуждата от създаване на кредитор от последна инстанция, както де Сото правилно посочва (2006 г.)

Исторически преглед на дебата

През 19 век в Англия се оформят две школи – банковата и валутната. Първата е защитничка на банкирането с частични резерви, докато другата е против него. Според банковата школа частичното резервиране е:

  • юридическо оправдано и носи положителни ефекти за икономиката;
  • идеалната парична система е тази, която позволява увеличение в паричното предлагане, за да регулира увеличение в населението и растежа (идея на Джон Лоу);
  • системата, създавайки необезпечени пари позволява на паричното предлагане да достигне нуждите на търговията без да създаде инфлационни ефекти и изкривяване на производствената структура.

Макар школата да допуска теоретични грешки, тя е права, за разлика от валутната, че банковите депозити изпълняват същата функция като банкнотите (понеже са техен заместител). И през цялото време на дебата икономистите от банковата школа са защитавали съвсем правилно тезата, че ако техните колеги от валутната школа са прави, то освен забраната към централната банка да създава необезпечени пари трябва да се добави и такава към търговските банки да създават необезпечени депозити.

Икономистите от валутната школа допускат според де Сото (2006 г.) три основни грешки:

  • не разбират, че банковите депозити в система на частично резервиране изпълняват същата функция като необезпечените пари;
  • не успяват да обяснят напълно бизнес цикъла поради липсата на капиталова теория. Това и поражда тяхното незнание на влиянието на кредитната експанзия върху различните етапи от производствената структура на икономиката. Не изследват в детайли връзката между паричното предлагане и лихвения процент и това е причината за тяхната хипотеза, че парите са неутрални;
  • в унисон с идеите на Д. Рикардо са считали, че наличието на централна банка е единственият начин да бъдат намалени инфлационните предпоставки.

Тези три грешки се оказват фатални и макар законът на Сър Робърт Пийл, по-известен като Bank Charter Act от 1844 г., да е с цел да бъдат стопирани кризите, то историята ни показва, че това не се случва. Причината, колкото и странно да звучи, се корени в неразбирането, че банковите депозити са парични заместители, както и Мизес в последствие пише.

Зараждане на дебат в наши дни

През 1933 г. икономисти от Чикагската школа начело с Ървинг Фишер предлагат т.нар. “Chicago Plan”. Тяхната цел е да посочат причините за Голямата депресия и достигат до извода, че тя се корени в банкирането с частични резерви. Въпреки, че идеята генерира интерес, тя е бързо забравена. В навечерието на Голямата рецесия този план отново излиза на дневен ред. Най-голямото му проучване и тестване става през месец 2012 г., когато икономисти от МВФ в лицето на Яромир Бенеш и Майкъл Кумхоф публикуват научна статия, тествайки идеята с иконометрични модели. Тяхното заключение е в полза на премахването на банкирането с частично резервиране.

Две държави в лицето на Исландия и Швейцария обръщат сериозно внимание на банкирането с частични резерви в наши дни. През 2015 г. в Исландия икономистът Фрости Сигурйонсон публикува изследване, възложено от премиера по това време на страната, в което изследва приложимостта на банкиране с пълно резервиране. Швейцария пък ще организира референдум за правото на банките да създават пари, след като са събрани необходимите 110 000 гласа.

Използвана литература

Bagus, Philipp and David Howden. 2010. “Fractional Reserve Free Banking: Some Quibbles”. The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. Vol. 13

Hayek, Friedrich A. von. 1928. “Das Intertemporale Gleichgewichtssystem der Preise und die Bewegungen des ‘Geldwertes,’” Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv 2: 36–76. Published in English in Hayek, 1984. Money, Capital and Fluctuations: Early Essays. London: Routledge, 71–118.

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. 1994. „How Is Fiat Money Possible? – or, The Devolution of Money and Credit.” Review of Austrian Economics 7, no. 2:49-74.

Hoppe, Hans-Herman, Jorg Guido Hulsmann and Walter Block. 1998. “Against Fiduciary Media”. The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. Vol. 1

Huerta de Soto, Jesús. 2006. Money, Bank Credit and Economic Cycles. Melinda A. Stroup (trans.). Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Mises, Ludwig von. 1928. Geldwertstabilisierung und Konjunkturpolitik.

Rothbard, Murray N. 1982. “The Ethics of Liberty”. New York University Press.

Държавата – голяма или малка

„Данъците са цената, която плащаме за едно цивилизовано общество” е мисъл на американския юрист Оливър Уендъл Холмс, живял през 19 и 20 век. Това ни бива набивано като наратив, особено в наши дни. Дали това обаче е така? Нужно ли е държавата да събира насилствено данъци, такси и акцизи, за да живеем в съвременно общество? Надявам се следващите редове да отговорят подобаващо на този въпрос.

Първо – какво е това данък. Това е едностранно, безвъзмездно и насилствено плащане от страна на жителите на определена територия в полза на държавата. Ако приемем т.нар. non-agression principle в либертарианството (аксиома за ненападение), то държавата, събирайки данъци, го нарушава. Но нека не бъда празнословен и разясня малко. Това е основополагащ принцип в либертарианската философия и според него всеки индивид е собственик на себе си и притежава абсолютната власт върху собственото си тяло (не е ничий роб). От това следва, както Мъри Ротбард пише, че на никого не е разрешено да напада физически (единствено е разрешено при самоотбрана). Освен това индивидът, смесвайки труда си с всеки нестопанисван ресурс, става негов пълноправен собственик. От тези две аксиоми – собственост върху себе си и първоначално придобиване на собственост – произтича основанието за цялата система на правата на собственост в едно свободно пазарно общество.

Десният клон на либертарианството е разделен на две групи – deontological или natural-rights и consequentialist libertarianism. М. Ротбард е част от групата на естественоправните либертарианци, но дори да не приемем неговата етика, а тази на консеквенциалистите, измежду които са имена като Лудвиг фон Мизес, Милтън и Дейвид Фридман и Фридрих Хайек, ние също така ще бъдем против голямата държава и високото данъчно бреме. За тях пазарната икономика и капитализмът носят положителни последици – това е и причината да са техни защитници. Според тях държавата трябва да е в ролята на „нощен пазач” – да е наш арбитър, а не да ни предоставя най-различни услуги. Присъщи са й 3 функции: съд, армия, полиция. Такива са и първоначалните функции на федералното правителство на САЩ, като дори с втората поправка на тяхната конституция от 1791 г. се разрешава на жителите да носят оръжие и да се защитават при нужда, независимо срещу кого. Кога и как държавата се разраства до сегашните си нива са тема на друга публикация.

Приемайки, че държавата трябва да ни пази и да има тези гореспоменати три функции не е равносилно на правото й да изземва част от доходите ни. Тя може да се финансира на базата на двустранен договор, което ще означава следното: макар тя да предоставя тези услуги е възможно и някои частни предприемачи да го правят и следователно да са нейна конкуренция. Монополът в абсолютно всеки един случай е нещо вредно и пагубно, докато конкуренцията е точно обратното. Конкуренция в смисъла, че всеки е способен да се съревновава с всеки и да предлага по-добър продукт по отношение на цена, качество, задоволяване на потребности.

Съвсем нормално е мнозинството хора да нямат икономически нужните знания и да се лъжат по обещанията на политиците, че последните могат да им осигурят по-добро бъдеще като вземат от богатите и предоставят на бедните. Надявам се след тази публикация прочелите я да са наясно защо това е невъзможно. Да се върнем към политиците. Тяхната цел не е да се погрижат за бедните, а да спечелят доверието на хората и да бъдат избрани/преизбрани като управници. Няма как в предизборната си реч вместо всеизвестната им реторика „големите корпорации са зли, трябва да ги спрем в опитите им да експлоатират работниците, можем да го направим единствено с високи данъци и множество регулации” те да кажат „всеки индивид гледа собствения си интерес и е съвсем рационално, както аз в лицето си на политик да ви лъжа, че мога да ви предоставя качествена и безплатна услуга, така и предприемачите да не желаят да ви платят колкото на вас ви се иска”. Изпуска се една малка, но същевременно изключителна важна подробност тук – ако взаимоотношенията бъдат оставени на произвола на пазара, предприемачите, макар да нямат никакво желание да плащат високи заплати, ще бъдат оставени в следната дилема от конкурентите си – или ще трябва да заплатят възможно най-високата и близка до желаната от работниците цена на труд, или ще ги загубят като работна ръка. И точно това се случва в някои нерегулирани от държавата пазари. Да, всеки би желал да получава много повече, отколкото е ценен неговия труд за останалите, но това не е честно спрямо останалите, нали? А капитализмът прави точно това – той е справедлив спрямо всички и насърчава можещите. Прави всички ни по-богати, защото при доброволна размяна и двете страни печелят. За разлика от него какво прави държавата? Наказва умните и можещите в опита си да изравни всички ни. Но ние сме изначално различни и имаме различни таланти и умения. Точно свободата ни прави неравни, а равенството (или стремежът към него) ни прави несвободни.

Виждали сме много примери за това как държавата е лош стопанин. Рядко обаче някой обяснява защо това е така. Нека помислим малко. Тя не е някакво измислено същество, анимационен герой, а се състои от хора с техните присъщи човешки интереси, и както теорията за публичния избор ни казва, тези техни интереси не са нашите граждански интереси. Те имат свои близки и роднини, за които желаят да се погрижат, а не за неизвестната за тях баба от някое китко българско селце. Никой няма да се погрижи за мен (може би единствено най-близките ми биха), освен ако аз сам не поема инициативата и опитам да се погрижа за себе си. Поемането на лична отговорност е първата стъпка към финалната за всекико цел финансова независимост.

И като финални думи ще обясня защо данъците са вредни, но от малко по-различна гледна точка. На повърхността всеки вижда, че данъците са приход в държавната хазна, като в последствие този приход бива преразпределян по различни направления – най-общо помощи и услуги. Но това преразпределение, освен че е тенденциозно, също така е с по-ниска номинална стойност от първоначално събраната. Все пак трябва да бъдат плащани заплати на чиновниците. На идеологическо ниво обаче същите тези насилствени плащания обезкуражават и наказват по възможно най-грубия начин личната инициатива, те са спирачка пред човешкия ум и изобретателност. На индивида му бива отнеман плода на неговия труд. И в същото време, приемайки, че социалната функция на държавата е в напреднал стадий, данъците насърчават мързела и зависимостта от другите. Както казва великият френски икономист Бастиа в „Държавата” (1850 г.): „Държавата е фикцията, чрез която всеки иска да живее за сметка на всички останали.”