The Weiner Component Vol.2 #8 – The Federal Reserve During the Bernanke Years: 2006 – 2014

English: President Barack Obama confers with F...

English: President Barack Obama confers with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke following their meeting at the White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1935, Cret designed the Seal of the Board o...

In 1935, Cret designed the Seal of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On January 31, 2006, Alan Greenspan retired or resigned as Chairman of the Federal Reserve and on February 1, 2006, Ben Bernanke became the new Chairman. He served two four year terms, initially being nominated by George W. Bush and being re-nominated the second time by President Barack Obama. Chairman Bernanke would find, among other things, the means to avoid a depression far greater than that of 1929. He would do this through the use of Creative Monetary Policy; that is, essentially by flooding the economy of the United States with money.

 

To understand in detail what he did one has to read his 2015 book, The Courage to Act. In this work he explained how the world’s economies came close to collapse in 2007 and 2008. Bernanke explained how it was the efforts of the Federal Reserve utilizing Monetary Policy and cooperating with other national agencies of the U.S. and agencies of foreign governments that prevented an economic catastrophe far greater than the Great Depression of 1929 which lasted for over ten years.

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Generally speaking: in 2008 the Housing Crash came. It had gradually been developing since the 1980s. While President George W. Bush and his Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, made large loans to banking houses to keep them from failing Bernanke bailed out AIG, the largest insurance company throughout the United States.

 

If AIG went bankrupt millions of people would have lost their insurance coverage and the premiums they had paid over the years. AIG had also insured some of the Hedge Funds that went under. They had wanted some of the profits that the banks were making from the Housing Market and their actuaries had no experience in dealing with Hedge Funds. I assume that Bernanke wanted to avoid the misery this would cause nationwide.

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It is important to keep in mind that the Federal Government under Presidents Bush and Obama were making loans to the banks, AIG and to the auto industry. These loans were repaid by all three groups with interest.

 

President Obama set a condition on the loans that Bush did not. That was to limit compensation packages for the executives of these struggling institutions. To the President it seem ridiculous that CEOs and other bank executives should continue to receive salaries of over a million dollars after bring the banking houses to the point of bankruptcy.

 

The CEO of the Bank of America complained bitterly about this. He wanted to pay off the Government loan quickly so the leading executives could go back to salaries in the multi-millions. Today in 2017, and for a number of prior years, their remunerations go from about four million up.

 

It should also be noted that the banks, taken together, have paid multimillions in fines for illegal practices. And no one has ever gone to jail but the banks have paid at times massive fines.

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The Housing Debacle and the increase in unemployment (up to 10%) that accompanied it should have been handled by both the Federal Reserve applying Monetary Policy and the Congress and the President applying Fiscal Policy, Congress passing spending bills and the President signing them. From 2011 on, when the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives there were no Fiscal Policy Bills passed through Congress.

 

The year 2011 on was an ideal time to begin rebuilding the infrastructure of the United States. Most of the infrastructure had been built in the late 19th and the first half of the 20th Century. The population had practically doubled since then and a good part of the infrastructure of the country was well out of date.

 

The National Highway System had been built by President Eisenhower in the 1950s. By 2009 most of the airports, railroads, government buildings, the electric grid, many public schools, even the education system was/is grossly out of date. In fact, for what it’s worth, President Donald Trump has defined the infrastructure of the country as a “disaster.”

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After the bank bailouts the Obama Administration expected the banks to return to a reasonable level of what they had been doing before the crash. This did not happen. The banks became ultra conservative in their lending policy. People buying new homes had to have a fairly large percentage of the cost of the new home. Chairman Bernanke lowered the interest rate the Fed charges banks to 0% giving them free money.

 

From this point on in approximately 2010 the banking houses looked for new way to make profits with their funds. What they came up with, among other things, was the Futures Market.

 

Future Markets are exchanges that buy and sell future contracts. A future contract gives the buyer an obligation to purchase an asset and the seller an obligation to sell an asset at a set price which is to be delivered at a future point in time. The purchasers are interested in selling the asset the future time at a profit. They are often blamed for big price swings in the Futures Market.

 

The assets underlying future contracts include food commodities, stocks and bonds, grain, precious metals, electricity, oil, beef, orange juice and natural gas to name a few. They are bets that the price of the product at the eventual delivery price will far exceed the earlier purchase price.

 

It can be assumed that the rise in food and gasoline prices after 2010 exceeded what they would have been if the banks had not been involved. In essence the banks exploited the general homeowner up until 2008 and from 2010 on they exploited the general public whose tax dollars had bailed them out of the economic disaster which they had caused in their perennial search for more and more profits.

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In the year 2010 the American public elected a Republican majority to the House of Representatives. With their ascension to the House in 2011 all possibilities of Fiscal Policy Bills ceased. The Republicans wanted to reduce government spending and make President Obama a one term president by not allowing him to succeed in anything. In fact what the House of Representatives did was to worsen the Housing Debacle by reducing, forcibly at the time, government spending. They even shut the government down by not funding it.

 

President Obama offered an Infrastructure Bill that never even came up in the House of Representatives. The fact that President Obama and Chairman Bernanke were able to turn the Housing Crash and limit initial unemployment to only 10% with actual opposition from the Republican House of Representatives was itself miraculous. What the Fed and the President did was to turn a possible depression into the Great Recession. Even though economic conditions were far from ideal this was truly an act of wonderment.

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What happened with the Housing Crash was a situation that looked like it might take decades to straighten out. Virtually overnight the value of homes deflated at the speed of an exploding balloon. Many people who had financed and refinanced their property more than once suddenly discovered that they were underwater, that is, that they owed more on their homes than they were worth. A percentage of these people just walked away from their property, leaving it deserted.

 

This raised an interesting problem both for these properties and for those in which the people continued living. Who owned these mortgages? Remember the mortgages had been divided up into innumerable fractional pieces. In order to control any one of these property mortgages one needed to own over 50% of it. No Hedge Fund owned that much of any one property. The records of mortgage ownership were highly inaccurate. Consequently in point of fact no one really owned these properties.

 

Most of the banks that had been charging endless fees to administer these mortgage loans felt that they could foreclose on these properties, either because they were deserted empty houses or because the inhabitants could, for one reason or another, no longer afford to make their monthly payments. A goodly number of these people had lost their jobs.

 

The banks used their computers to generate the needed documents since no real records of ownership existed. The banks had earlier been in too great a hurry to generate loans than to keep accurate records.

 

Some of these cases went to court and initially the judges felt that a solid institution like a bank would do nothing illegal. Some of the attorneys who made this point were declared to be in “contempt,” and were disbarred. Eventually after a large number of cases were determined in favor of the banks the evidence of their wrongdoing was acknowledged by the Courts. Whether the disbarred lawyers got their licenses back I don’t know, but the banks were severely fined for wrongdoing and the illegal foreclosing ended leaving a lot of people living in homes for which they were not paying.

 

The problem was left up in the air. As long as the people living in these homes paid their property taxes no one could legally disposes them even if they never made another house payment on the mortgage. Most of the Hedge Funds had gone bankrupt; they didn’t own enough of any property to foreclose on it. Of course no one knew which properties these were and which actually had owners of the mortgages. Some of the banks had owned some of the Hedge Funds.

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What generally happened across the nation from that point in time on was interesting. Numerous individuals, generally not being employed, no longer paid their mortgages. If they were reemployed or eventually got a job they still did not make payments. Why bother? No one had foreclosed on them. In essence these people now had extra cash which they tended to spend. Suddenly, among other things, eating out with their families became very popular. A good part of their housing funds were being spent. The National Cash Flow or the amount of money available in the general society increased with all this spending and it helped keep the level of national unemployment to no higher than ten percent. This was an interesting irony that was initially funded by the banks but ultimately payed by the taxpayers in the bail outs.

 

Had the House and Senate passed the Infrastructure Bill that President Barack Obama suggested then the overall effects of the Great Recession would have disappeared by the end of his first term in office and the country would have dropped to a 2 ½ percent unemployment level which is considered full employment because it is the rate generated by people normally retiring, changing jobs, and first entering employment.

 

The result would have been more taxes being paid which would have largely offset the increased government spending. But the Republicans dominated House of Representatives was penny smart and dollar stupid. By forcing down government expenditure they also cut down the Gross National Product (GDP) and shrank taxable income throughout the United States, keeping unemployment higher.

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On August 25, 2009, President Barack Obama announced he would nominate Bernanke to a second term as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. He stated, with Ben Bernanke standing at his side that Bernanke’s background, temperament, courage and creativity helped to prevent another Great Depression in 2008.

The Weiner Component Vol.2 #8 – Part 5: Alan Greenspan & the Federal Reserve

Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Gr...

Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1935, Cret designed the Seal of the Board o...

In 1935, Cret designed the Seal of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On August 11, 1987, Alan Greenspan became the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and served until January 31, 2006, when he retired from that office. There was a rumor that he had lobbied for the position.

 

After four years in office he was reappointed by President George H. W. Bush who later claimed he lost his reelection bid because of Greenspan’s Monetary Policy. Bill Clinton also reappointed him and so did George W. Bush.

 

Greenspan was a Republican conservative with a classical education in economics, who got his P.H.D. from N.Y.U. He supported privatizing Social Security and tax cuts which, according to the Democrats, would increase the deficit. In fact it has been suggested that the easy money policies of the Fed during Greenspan’s tenure there was a leading cause of the subprime mortgage crisis that occurred in 2008, after he left the Federal Reserve as Chairman.

 

Alan Greenspan was nominated by President Reagan on June 2, 1987 and was confirmed by the Senate on August 11 of that year. To Congress he quickly assumed the role of a seer, generally when he was questioned by Republican members of either House of Congress, they spoke to him with a large degree of reverence, as though his answers to their questions were the absolute ones. He was considered the maestro of economics; his words being gems of economic wisdom. This occurred throughout his entire term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

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The issue that Greenspan did not deal with, which, in fact, he stated that the Fed could not control or even really deal with was the amount of money in the National Cash Flow. His successor, Ben Bernanke did not have this problem and he both increased the amount available for over a two year period and solved an economic quagmire that the banks had created in 2008 following Greenspan’s easy money policy.

 

According to the late economist Paul Samuelson the process of splitting mortgages began during the late 1970s. For innumerable reasons banks had traditionally allowed people to take out second mortgages on their homes charging them slightly more in interest than they were paying on their first mortgage. Occasionally the banks would sell these mortgages to individuals in order to get their money back for a more profitable use. In the late 1970s many banks broke these mortgages up into large pieces in order to sell them and sold each one to a multitude of Hedge Funds who then used them as securities.

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In 1981 Ronald Reagan became President of the United States. He and his aids believed in a totally free Market where all economic decisions were made by the Market. The basis by which the Market operated was the profit motive. It had been explained by Adam Smith in his preindustrial revolution book that he published in 1776. The Reagan Administration did away with virtually all government regulation that controlled the form and actions of the banks, giving them a complete free hand in dealing with the public; but they kept the FDIC in which the Federal Government insured all bank deposits up to ½ million dollars.

 

Regulations limiting the form and actions of banks were brought in during and after the Great Depression. Among other things many bankers had abused their positions and used depositor’s money to make individual profits for their executives. When the stock market crashed in 1929 so did numerous banks and multitudes of depositors lost their savings. The Roosevelt Administration from 1933 on brought about legislation to stop this from occurring again. Apparently the Reagan Administration in 1981 on believed this was no longer a problem.

 

During the Reagan Administration the major banking houses in the United States like J. P. Morgan-Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and others decided to break up the mortgages into fractional shares, split the shares among Hedge Funds, and sell shares in the Hedge Funds. This included both first and second mortgages.

 

This was a good bet since people valued their homes. What happened was that the banks encouraged people to use the equity in their houses as bank accounts, mortgaging and remortgaging their homes. With the constant action, following the economic laws of supply and demand, the value of properties continued to rise like hot air balloons. The value of the homes kept growing, allowing people to take more and more money out of their homes to buy anything they desired. By this action the banks created trillions of dollars of new money and presumably everyone prospered.

 

On the one hand Greenspan stated he could not control the amount of money in circulation but on the other hand the Fed’s low interest rates encouraged this behavior. What the banks did was to issue and reissue mortgages which they, in turn, split into hundreds of pieces, placing them into different Hedge Funds from which these funds paid the banks endless service charges. The banks then used the money for new mortgages but serviced the accounts, charging fees for each action.

 

In essence the banks lent the initial funds, sold the mortgages to innumerable Hedge Funds, got their initial investment back, and lent it out again, endlessly repeating the process and endlessly charging innumerable fees for the continuing processing. Many banks also owned many of the Hedge Funds.

 

The bank and everyone in the bank involved in this process did well financially. As home prices rose the homeowners kept getting their equity back and could afford to remortgage their homes. It seemed like an endless Christmas!

 

Ordinarily every change in any property has to be registered in the city or county where it occurs. This is a fairly slow system. The banks were able to set up their own record keeping agency that they could use quickly. The problem here was that there was endless amounts of information. This system made innumerable errors in their bookkeeping. In 2008, when the system crashed, the records were worthless. There was no reliable information on all the transactions.

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By 2007 it was fairly obvious that the system was tottering and could fail. For the last quarter of a century this had been going on. It spanned the entire career of most bankers. They were in a state of denial that the housing bubble could burst. Some banks offered loans of 125 percent of the appraised value of homes.

 

The Housing Bubble burst late in 2008 while George W. Bush was still President of the United States. Suddenly many banks were on the verge of bankruptcy. President Bush and his Secretary of the Treasury lent some of the banks enough money to keep them solvent.

 

The new Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, authorized a loan to AIG, the leading insurance company in the United States. It seems they felt left out of all the money making and wanted their share. They insured a number of loans for high premiums. Their actuaries underestimated the risk involved. When the collapse came they didn’t have the funds to pay off the claims and without additional funds would have gone under costing a large percentage of the American public both the premiums they had paid and the protection these premiums bought.

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It is important to note that the flow of money in the United States and the rest of the industrial world, whether credit or cash, is through the banking system. If the major banks were to go under the flow of currency would be a dribble. In addition every bank account is insured up to ½ million dollars by the Federal Government.  The banks paying a small premium to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). If the banks go bankrupt the Government is still liable for those monies.

 

In addition AIG (American International Group) is the major insurance company in the nation, insuring, among many other things, millions of insurance policies throughout the nation. If it were to go under billions in premiums paid for years by countless Americans would suddenly be lost. It would be a major negative catastrophe in the country. AIG was literally too big to fail.

 

The failure of both the banks and the insurance company could easily bring down the economy of the United States. These concerns are necessary for the United States to function. They are not only too big to fail but also too important, in relation to the country.

 

This is the position in which President George W. Bush and Chairman Ben Bernanke found themselves in toward the end of 2008. And this is the position that Barack H. Obama inherited when he became President of the United States on January 20, 2009.

 

As Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan had supported an easy money policy. He retired shortly before the results of this policy exploded. Did he foresee the occurrence?   Was he responsible for it?

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From the 1980s on the American economy needed a greater Cash Flow. There literally wasn’t enough money available throughout the economy. Historically the Federal Reserve had never directly supplied money to the overall country. In fact up until 1933 all monies were comprised of gold and silver. All gold mines in the United States were required to sell all the gold they mined to the Federal Government for $16 an ounce. It was then minted into gold coins. Paper money could be issued: ones and five dollar bills were silver certificates and technically could be exchanged for silver coins at any time. Tens, twenties, fifties, and hundred dollar bills, and higher denominations could be exchanged for gold coins. From 1933 on gold disappeared and from ten dollar bills up money became Federal Reserve Notes. Later the five would also become a Federal Reserve Note. Thereafter the gold was stored in depositories and presumably stood behind the dollar.

 

In 1933 Roosevelt raised the value of money by law from $16 an ounce for gold to $32 an ounce. By doing this he doubled the available money in the United States and easily paid for the New Deal.

 

Consequently from that time on gold being behind the dollar was a fiction. Theoretically any Federal Reserve Chairman and his Board thereafter could have added money to easily to the National Cash Flow. But none did. During World War II the Federal Government spent a lot more than it took in in taxes. But it never just added money to the economy. In fact it used various devices such as War Bonds to attempt to limit the amount of money people could spend.

 

From what he has said and written Alan Greenspan did not believe that the government could just add money to the economy. That power was reserved to banks who could do so through their lending policies. Greenspan tended to understand economics as it was and had been. He ran the Federal Reserve on that basis. He lacked the imagination to do things any other way.

 

Possibly he suspected a crash in 2008 and so he retired before it came. Possibly he did not and felt he had been in that office long enough. Only he can answer that question.

The Weiner Component Vol.2 #7 – Part 4 – The Fed & the Inflationary Spiral

English: Former President Jimmy Carter and his...

English: Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, wave from the top of the aircraft steps as they depart Andrews Air Force Base at the conclusion of President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration ceremony. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: President Ronald Reagan, the 40th pre...

English: President Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States of America, delivers his inaugural address from the specially built platform in front of the Capitol during Inauguration Day ceremony. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Chairperson of the Federal Reserve heads this bank. Currently Janet Yellen is the chairwoman. She has held this position since 2014 when she was appointed by President Barack Obama. Prior to that Ben Bernanke was chairman from 2006 to 2014. He was appointed by George W. Bush and completed his term under President Obama. Alan Greenspan was the prior Chairman. His term was the second longest in the history of the Federal Reserve going from 1987 to 2006, 19 years. He was preceded by Paul Volcker, who served from August 1979 to August 1987. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter and left toward the end of the Reagan administration. Paul Volcker served as Chairman for two terms, from August 6, 1979 to August 11, 1987.

 

These are the most recent people to serve as chairpersons on the Federal Reserve. If we go back to the Presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, January 20, 1961 to November 22, 1963, the Fed Chairman was William M. Martin who had been appointed by Harry S Truman and served from April 2, 1951 to February 1, 1970.

 

The problem, when Kennedy became President, was that the country was in a recession cycle. By using fiscal policy President Kennedy was able to turn that economic phase into a recovery phase of the business cycle. At this time unemployment was slowly increasing and consumption was slowly decreasing. The economy needed an impetus. What the President proposed and Congress passed was a tax decrease. The result was that people had more money which they spent and the amount of Federal taxes collected actually increased. This move fairly quickly took the nation from recession to recovery.

 

Since that time, over fifty years ago, almost every Republican President has tried to follow that fiscal policy. In no case has it worked as announced. Instead from the time of President Ronald Reagan on it has allowed the National Debt to mushroom into the trillions of dollars. And during the last year of President George W. Bush’s presidency this tax reduction process led to the bursting of the Housing Bubble or the Great Recession in 2008. In the process of avoiding a Second Great Depression President Barack Obama was forced into excessive spending. It was the President and the Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, who enabled the country to squeak through the 2008 and 2009 Housing Crash or bubble bursting.

 

Currently President Donald J. Trump is proposing a massive tax cut for business and the wealthy. It has been suggested that this could bankrupt the U.S. Government. Whether his decrease in taxes and proposed increase in spending for the military comes about, if it does, then to what extent it will do so is still up for debate. Trump and some members of his Cabinet are claiming they can significantly lower taxes and increase production without adding to the National Debt. It should be an interesting experiment.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been President Kennedy’s Vice-President and succeeded him at his death in 1963, when he was reelected to office in 1965 massively accelerated the war in Viet Nam. He would have America, the strongest nation in existence, force North Viet Nam to accede to the wishes of the United States. And, at the same time, he would not lower the standard of living of any American. The country could both afford to fight a major war and care for its population as though it were still at peace; we would have both guns and butter. His only requirement was a small addition by everyone to their income taxes. This led to the beginnings of an inflationary spiral that would reach fifteen percent by the end of the 1970s. The inflation spiral would be broken by the Fed by taking drastic action in the very early 1980s.

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Paul Volcker was appointed was appointed Federal Reserve Chairman on August 6, 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. He began a process to end the inflationary spiral by making the borrowing of money so expensive that it would cause the percent of interest to rise to where it would cost too much to borrow. This, in turn, would cause the price of interest to drop toward zero.

 

If the inflation rate rises too high, like to 12 or 15 percent or more the way to reduce it is by raising the prime rate, the interest level the Fed charges banks, to a very high level. This forces the banks to raise their interest level to 20 percent or more. Money becomes too expensive to borrow.

 

Unfortunately many businesses have dormant periods during the year when they have to borrow money in order to meet their expenses. If the interest rate on loans is too high they cannot afford to borrow any money and consequently they go bankrupt. This causes an almost instant recession, with massive layoffs throughout the country. But it will end an inflationary spiral.

 

Early in this process President Jimmy Carter received innumerable complains from people around the country about what was happening to them and their businesses. He asked Volcker to back off and Volcker did so. The high inflation continued throughout President Carter’s term in office.

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Paul Volcker served two four year terms as Chairman of the Fed. He retired from that position on August 11, 1987, when Ronald Reagan was President of the United States. Reagan succeeded Carter in 1981 and remained in office for two terms, until 1988. He allowed Volcker to break the back of the inflationary spiral.

 

Under Reagan the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve Board led by Volcker were credited with curbing the rate of inflation and the expectations that inflation would continue. The United States rate of inflation peaked at 14.8 in March of 1980 and fell below 3 percent by 1989. The Fed Board raised the federal funds rate that had averaged 11.2 percent in 1979, to a peak of 20 percent in June of 1981. The prime rate also rose to 21.5 percent in 1981. All of this lead to the 1980-1982 recession, in which the unemployment rate rose to over 10 percent.

 

All of this elicited strong political attacks and wide spread protests. There were high interest rates on construction, farming, and the industrial sectors. U.S. Monetary Policy eased in 1982, leading to a resumption of economic growth.

 

Perhaps the most unfortunate part of this necessary readjustment of the economic base of the United States was the fact that President Ronald Reagan made a presentation on television one weekend in 1981 in which he held up the business section of the Sunday Times and stated that there were twenty full pages of job offers in the Times. If a person lost their job then they should go to where there was jobs available. President Reagan did nothing else. He could or should have set up some federal agency that could offer reliable job information. But he did not do so.

 

What followed was that sections of cities became deserted as people filled their cars with their belongings and followed rumors going from place to place looking for work. Mostly there were no jobs. Temporary agencies did a land-office business that year. I remember reading about an instance where a man with a wife and small child, having stopped for a red light, opened the passenger door, and pushed his wife and child out of the vehicle. When the light changed he drove on.

 

Cars moved from city to city that year, following rumors. While there had been some homeless before 1981 they became very visible from that year on; there were so many of them. The problem is still with us.

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What followed from 1981 on was the Fed’s tight money and the expansive fiscal program of the Reagan Administration: large tax cuts, and a major increase in military spending. While the middle class got some tax relief the tax cuts were essentially for the upper echelon of society who had their taxes reduced substantially. While the inflation rate stayed low, which it still is today, President Reagan’s spending produced large Federal budget deficits.

 

This combination of growing deficits and other economic imbalances led to the growing Federal debt and a substantial rise in Federal costs. Under Reagan’s spending the debt would reach over one trillion dollars for the first time.

 

Presumably Paul Volcker was fired or replaced in August 1987 after serving two four year terms in office because the Reagan Administration didn’t believe he was an adequate deregulator. Volcker was replaced on August 11, 1987, by Alan Greenspan.

The Weiner Component #147 Part 2 – Money & the Federal Reserve

English: Paul Volcker, former head of the Fede...

English: Paul Volcker, former head of the Federal Reserve Board . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately economics is not an exact science and different economists can hold different views about what should be done.   However there are basic principles that all economists adhere to and the overwhelming majority of economists do believe in the use of both Fiscal and Monetary Policy.  Many, if not most, Republicans do not believe in either of these processes.  Fiscal Policy has to do with Congress passing laws that enhance employment throughout the country.  This is extremely important at present because the overall unemployment rate is 5% and the country’s infrastructure is still well into the 20th Century; it desperately needs upgrading and modernizing.  Monetary Policy consists of the controls exercised by the Federal Reserve, essentially regulating the amount of currency in the National Cash Flow, its flow through the overall economy, and the use of money throughout the economy.  Many Republicans equally oppose this agency.

 

Basically one of the major difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is their positions upon these two uses of economics.  The Democrats believe in the overall principles of economics and using its tools while the Republicans do not.  They hold that an unfettered Free Market will make all the proper decisions within the society.  Their solution to recessions or depressions is to lower taxes for the rich, limit any kind of regulation and let the economy take off with this new financial investment.  This Supply Side Economics was first advocated by the Ronald Reagan Administration.  It didn’t work then and it isn’t going to work now.  Point of fact, it was this type of behavior that brought about the Bankers Depression of 1907, the Great Depression of 1929, and the Real Estate Crash of 2008.

 

But the Republicans seem to be oblivious to the past, particularly their own errors in the past; they are only interested in the near future and substantially ignore what has happened and their own mistakes, always proposing to do the same things again.  For example: not too long ago, Jeb Bush vowed to cut taxes for the very wealthy and for corporations when he became president.  He would reduce the top income tax bracket from 39.6% to 28% and corporate taxes from 35% down to 20%.  This would mean that those not in the upper 5 or so percent would be paying a higher percentage of their incomes in taxes.  His rationale, I assume, would be the application of Supply Side Economics which didn’t work earlier or ever.  The theory being that by lowering taxes for the rich the Federal Government would take in more tax revenue.  So much for reasonable thinking!

 

Of course Jeb Bush claims to have been a phenomenal success as the former governor of Florida.  He seems to have forgotten or ignores some of the disreputable things he did as governor.

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In 1964 Lynden B. Johnson, after finishing the late President John F. Kennedy’s term in office, won the Presidency on his own in 1964, running against Republican Conservative Barry Goldwater.  In his prior two years in office he had pushed through his “Great Society” legislation, extending, among other things, Civil Rights, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and his “War on Poverty,” that helped millions of Americans rise above the poverty level.

 

But Johnson also, it would seem, had an ego problem.  He saw himself as the most powerful man on earth.  He apparently decided that he would have the United States subdue North Viet Nam and make the country into a democratic democracy through the use of U.S. military power.  In 1964 he escalated involvement in Viet Nam, bringing military involvement from 16,000 advisors in non-combat roles in 1963 to 550,000 mostly military combatants by early 1968.  Unfortunately he was wrong; even with the use of American military might, he was unable to subdue the Viet Cong.

 

What Johnson attempted was what was generally referred to as a policy of “Guns and Butter.”   The Federal Government would continue its’ domestic policies within the country and at the same time fight and supply a major war.  It meant that the productivity and costs of what was going on within the United States would continue unabated while the additional costs, manpower, and productivity of a major military action would be added to this.  Johnson would supposedly finance this with a small temporary addition to everyone’s income tax.

 

The result of this great increase in productivity and manpower was the beginnings of an inflationary spiral that would continue to escalate gradually, for that and other reasons, and not be ended until the early 1980s with major disruptions throughout the U.S. economy.  In essence the competition between the non-war effort and the war effort for the production of goods and services would begin and continue the inflationary spiral.

 

During the time Jimmy Carter was President, from 1977 to 1981, the inflation rate had reached just under 14.8%, interest rates went up to 18%, and unemployment had risen to just under 10%.  Paul Volcker, as chairman of the Federal Reserve, attempted to stringently drop the interest rate.  He did this by raising it, making money too expensive to borrow.  A number of small businessmen complained strongly to President Carter that they were being forced into bankruptcy by this practice.  President Carter had Volcker back-off.  And the situation continued.

 

The next President, Ronald Reagan, allowed Volcker to carry out this policy.  There was a lot of ensuing misery throughout the United States.  President Reagan got on national television and told people that if there were no jobs in their area then they should go to where there were jobs.  He provided no other information.  Large numbers of individuals packed their cars and their families and took off, following rumors.  For a while there were all sorts of elderly vehicles going from city to city, their occupants looking for work.  Temporary agencies did well at this time.  It took around two years for the inflation rate to drop down to a low single digit, where it has remained since then.  The increase in homelessness that resulted from this is still with us.

 

What, in effect, happened was that the price of borrowing money became too expensive for many companies.  Higher interest rates brought about higher inflation, which in turn brought about a recession.  Multitudes of these smaller businesses that needed short term loans to keep operating could not afford the cost of these loans and went under increasing unemployment during President Ronald Reagan’s first two years in office.  A lesser demand for financial borrowing brought down the cost of loans significantly.    It would drop to a low single digit number, where it has generally stayed since that time.

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Shortly before withdrawing from the 2016 Republican Presidential race Rand Paul, one of the potentially Republican candidates, publically stated that he didn’t trust banks, particularly the biggest bank in the United States, the Federal Reserve.  He obviously considers them on the same basis as the commercial banks and the credit unions that deal directly with the public.  He doesn’t understand that the Federal Reserve is the banks’ bank and to a certain extent controls all the banks that deal directly with the public.  The FED controls all the money in the United States and generally how all the other banks do business.  Its purpose is to have the nation function at its highest level of efficiency and its major tool is the currency that the country uses.  This is Monetary Policy;

 

It’s obvious that Paul and the majority of the elected Republicans and probably some of the Democratic Congressmen could use and should be required to take at least a short course on Macroeconomics.  It would seem that being elected to public office does not require any specific knowledge.  Our Founding Fathers emphasized public education, believing that an educated person would elect the best possible people to public office.  It would seem that they were wrong; many people tend to vote more with their feelings than with their brains.

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The functions of the Federal Reserve can and have strongly affected the condition of the country.  If we briefly examine how the FED worked over the last forty years we get an image of this and also see some of the fallacies of their dealing with the welfare of the nation.  As we’ve seen Lynden Johnson’s enhanced police action in Viet Nam began an inflation spiral that eventually required drastic action to end it in the early 1980s.  Johnson underestimated the productive abilities of the United States to supply both “Guns & Butter” during his term as president in 1964 to 1968 and the result was a gradual growth of inflation for the American public over a sixteen or so year period to require drastic economic actions.

 

In 1979 then President Jimmy Carter appointed Paul Volcker to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  He would hold that office for eight years under Presidents Carter and Reagan.  Previously Volcker had been President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, one of the FED’s twelve regional banks.

 

We’ve considered his actions against the inflationary spiral.  Under his leadership the FED limited the growth of the National Cash Flow, limiting the money supply and increasing short term interest rates.  At the cost of a heavy recession in the early 1980s he was able to end a high two digit recession and bring about what turned out to be a prolonged period of economic growth.

 

Volcker was succeeded by Alan Greenspan, a conservative economist, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.  He chaired the FED from August 1987 to January 31, 2006 for four, four year terms, sixteen years.  Among other things he was criticized by Democrats for wanting to privatize Social Security.  The Republicans held him in awe.

 

President Reagan, who believed totally in Adam Smith’s late 18th Century concept of the Free Market, unfettered capitalism, chose a fellow conservative, economist Alan Greenspan, who shared his views on economics.  It was during this period that the banks were totally deregulated and given the freedom to act as they saw fit.  And it was during the Reagan administration that government regulation of industry was essentially done away with.   The banking institutions, whose deposits were insured by the Federal Government, were now free to act as they saw fit.  Their motivation being Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” profit.

 

It was during the Reagan years that the mortgage crisis really began.  Prior to this time mortgages were split into a small number of pieces, each held by a separate individual, but now the concept of fractionalization of mortgages into a hundred or more pieces began.  The banks discovered that they could split mortgages into a hundred or more pieces, with a separate hedge fund owner for each piece.  Basically they sold the pieces to investors but maintained control of mortgages, charging fees for every service they performed.  In addition all the banks set up their own agency to keep control of all the property dealings throughout the United States.

 

Traditionally all the property dealings were recorded in the cities and counties where the property was located.  But this was too slow a process for the financial institutions.  They created their own single record keeping institution to keep tabs on all the mortgaging and refinancing throughout the fifty states.  This bank-owned company had so much to do that their error factor was phenomenally high.  Their records became an unfathomable mess.  In essence when it came to foreclosing on a property for nonpayment it was eventually discovered that no one owned enough of the property to foreclose.

 

Throughout the country people were encouraged to continually refinance their homes taking their ever-rising equity out of the properties that were continually going up in value.  Virtually everyone who wanted to could continually take money out of their homes which kept increasing in value.  The banks meanwhile making billions in fees while continually maintaining control of the properties.

 

What was happening from the 1980s on was that the National Cash Flow, the amount of money within the economy, was increasing exponentially.  There was a constant need for money, for all kinds of economic expansion and the banks, for a price, were supplying these funds.

 

Allan Greenspan, as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, essentially sat back and enjoyed this growing prosperity.  He basked in his treatment by Congress.  There was a need for an increase of money in the National Cash Flow on a rational level but Greenspan and his Board of Directors ignored this.  I imagine they felt that if something was going well, don’t change it.  But conditions weren’t really going well, the country was moving toward 2007 when it became obvious the Real Estate Market was headed for a crash.  This was met by denial at the banks.  Many of them raised the amount of money they would lend on a property to 125% of its appraised value.  The crash came in late 2008, toward the end of President George W. Bush’s last year in office.  By then Alan Greenspan had retired as Chairman of the Federal Reserve and been replaced by Ben Bernanke.

 

The easy money policies of the FED and the tax cuts during Greenspan’s chairmanship, which increased the National Debt, have been suggested as a leading cause of the sub-prime mortgage crisis.  Greenspan served for sixteen years.  He resigned on January 31, 2006.  Was he aware at that time of what the future held?  An interesting question, which will never be answered.

 

Ben Bernanke was appointed by George W. Bush on February 1, 2006 as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  He started as a registered Republican and had been chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.  He was reappointed by President Barack Obama in 2010.  Under his guidance the country went through the Real Estate Crash in late 2008.  Working with President Obama and by the use of Creative Monetary Policy, the two were able to pull the country out of a disaster that could have been greater than the Great Depression of 1929.

 

In his 2015 book Bernanke asserted that it was only through the novel efforts of the FED, cooperating with other agencies of both the U.S. and of foreign governments that they were able to prevent an economic catastrophe far greater than the Great Depression.

 

It is interesting to note that the U.S. House of Representatives, from 2011 on, after the Republicans gained control of that body, not only did no pass any legislation to alleviate the economic crisis but they did push through bills that intensified the effects of the conditions of the sub-prime mortgage crisis by increasing unemployment.

 

Bernanke requested numerous times, both formerly and informedly, to Congress that it pass Fiscal Policy Bills, but was ignored to the point that the subject wasn’t even brought up in the House of Representatives.  This meant that any action to divert a major depression had to be taken by both the President and by the Federal Reserve.  President Obama bailed out the banks and the auto industry and, where possible, used his power of executive privilege.  For his part Bernanke after gradually lowering the interest rate the FED charged banks to 0 to encourage the banks to lend money; he came up with Creative Monetary Policy.  Meanwhile the FED continually added sums of money to the National Cash Flow.  They did this by having the FED in open market operations sell less bonds than they cashed out when they became due.

 

There were two major problems facing the nation at this time.  One was the need for more currency available throughout the economy.  It was first believed that the banks would start again financing mortgages and refinancing homes; but that didn’t happen.  Suddenly the banks were very restrictive in the way they used their funds.  It seemed almost as though the banks got burned by mortgages and didn’t want to deal with them again.  Suddenly the banks had become very stingy with their funds.

 

The second problem dealt with the millions of fractionalized mortgages.  Initially the different banks generated papers from their computers and foreclosed upon multitudes of properties that they didn’t own.  These were homes that they administered for the assorted Hedge Funds.  Initially the courts assumed that the banks would not do anything dishonest.  If fact a number of attorney’s were disbarred for stating that the banks were dishonest.  Eventually the truth came out and the different banking houses paid heavy fines and stopped their foreclosures.  Every major banking house was included in this process and eventually, taken together, the banks paid well over a trillion dollars in fines.

 

The problem was that it was almost, if not totally impossible, to put together 50.1% of many of these mortgages.  Basically no one owned the mortgages for a large percentage of these properties.  In many cases the property values had dropped far below the current debt value of the homes and the former owners had walked away from their properties leaving them vacant.  It was a major disaster that left to itself would take well over one or two decades to straighten out.

 

The major question here was: Who owned what?  These conditions virtually destroyed the housing industry.  Builders could not borrow the funds to build new homes.  And a good percentage of the older homes were so tied up that they couldn’t be sold or bought.  The effect of this was to reduce employment to every industry that was effected by new and older homes and properties.

 

What Chairman Ben Bernanke came up with was his creative Monetary Policy.  Every month for a period of well over two years, ending in 2015 the Federal Reserve spent 85 billion dollars a month.  Forty-five billion was spent on the fractionalized mortgage paper and forty billion dollars was added to the National Cash Flow.  In 2015 the expenditures were reduced 10 billion dollars a month, five billion in mortgages and five billion to the National Cash Flow.

 

By the time Bernanke’s tenure in office had ended as of February of 2014 and Janet Yellen had become the new Chairperson in charge of the Federal Reserve.  It was she who gradually ended the bond buying.  It should also be noted that the Housing Crisis is essentially over.  There is new construction and older homes are selling.  AS of February 2016 all the employment that goes along with this is now in place.  The unemployment level in the United States is down to 4.9%.  Its lowest level since the Real Estate Crash of 2008.

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This blog began with the concept that economics is not an exact science.  Using hinder sight it is easy to pick out the major trends of the last few decades but living through that period and being able to make specific recommendations as to what was needed is not always that easy.  Alan Greenspan was the FED chairman for 16 years, and according to his theories he did what was necessary to keep the country functioning properly.  But he missed the greatest problem during that period and allowed the banks endlessly and with no restrictions, to add money to the economy, bringing about a crisis that could easily have been worse than the Great Depression of 1929.

 

Ben Bernanke was the right economist at the right time to be chairman of the Federal Reserve; but despite the fact that the Republican led House of Representatives absolutely refused to go cooperate with him, he and President Obama were able to mitigate, what has been called, The Great Recession and avoid a Greater Depression than that of 1929.

 

On February 3, 2014 Ben Bernanke completed his second term of four years as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  The new chairperson was Janet L. Yellen.  She was appointed on that same date and had served as Vice Chair from 2010 to 2014.  Prior to that she was CEO of the Federal Reserve Band of San Francisco and had been Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton.  Also she was the first Democrat appointed to that office.  Ms. Yellen is credited with the ability to connect economic theory to everyday life, actually to connect abstract theory to concrete living.

 

Yellen was the one who reduced the $85 billion that was added to the economy monthly by $10 billion, $5 billion from mortgage paper and $5 billion from being added to the National Cash Flow, until 0 was reached in each account.  At that point Ms. Yellen made conditional statements that these accounts could be reopened if the need arose.

 

Presumably she had agreed with Bernanke that the time was right for these changes.  The mortgage crisis was essentially resolved, the amount of currency flowing through the economy was adequate, and inflation was low, by the beginning of 2016 it had dropped to slightly below 1%.  The issue of what to do next seems to have been raising the prime lending rate, which had been at 0% for a number of years since 2008.

 

Janet Yellen had been cautiously putting this off and then toward the end of 2015 the FED raised the discount rate ¼ of 1%.  The discount rate is what the Federal Reserve charges banks for monies borrowed from it.  This establishes the base for what banks charge the public and pay the public for money that the public deposits in them.  The banks translated this increase into a 2 to 3% increase in the interest they would charge on many long term loans.

 

There is an interesting note of irony here.  The monies that the banks lend out and from which they essentially make their profits is all the deposits made by the general public, many of whom have their pay checks automatically deposited into their accounts.  This was the basis of the monies loaned out prior to the 2008 Real Estate Crash which was also insured by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).  If these banks has gone under then the Federal Government would have been responsible for replacing all these funds up to ½ a million dollars per account.

 

Prior to the FED raising the discount rate the banks paid most of their depositors 1/10th of 1% interest for their deposits.  The overall interest that the general public received on their bank deposit accounts was under $10.00 a year, too small an amount upon which to even pay income taxes.  That translates into 1 cent in interest for every 10 dollars held by the bank for one year.

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Janet Yellen, the new Chairperson of the Federal Reserve, now has to bring the country back to prosperity, which would be full employment; but there currently are multi-forces pushing the country in different directions at the same time.  All this seems to begin with the international drop in oil prices from over $100 dollars a barrel of oil to what is currently under $30 a barrel.  What has happened with oil is that there are new methods of searching for it and the amount discovered has greatly increased the available supply.  (There are other economic costs.  Fracking tends to increase the possibilities of earthquakes by destabilizing the soil.)

 

This drop in oil prices has economically hurt many of the countries which depend upon their oil revenue to maintain their levels of prosperity.  Some examples would be Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Algeria Ecuador, and Egypt.  As the price of oil goes down so do their overall standards of living.  And many of these nations in order to make up the difference pump more oil, which, in turn, lowers the price per barrel even further.  While the lower price of oil noticeably lowers the inflation within many nations it also upsets the balance of trade between nations.

 

Another problem is that the dollar, despite nearly 19 trillion dollars of National Debt is currently considered the strongest currency in the world today.  Within the last few years it has slowly increased in value against all other currencies.  This means that American exports are increasing in price in other countries while their exports become less expensive in the U. S.  This, in turn, hurts American exports, which decrease, and causes the balance of trade to tilt in the direction of the other countries trading with the U.S.

 

Apparently the Japanese Government is now selling bonds within its country with a negative interest rate.  This means that for every $100 borrowed the borrower pays back less than the original amount when the debt becomes due.  China is apparently thinking along those lines with its Central Bank’s discount rate.  They want to bring their overall productivity back up to 8%.  For most countries 2 to 4% is considered a positive growth rate.

 

Within the last few months the Stock Market has gone down well over 100 points, with each point being one dollar in value.  That is the extent that many stocks have decreased in value.  Usually that indicates an oncoming major recession or depression.  What is causing the current drop?

 

Yet gradual economic growth is still occurring in the United States.  Real Estate construction is slowly still improving.  Inflation is very low.  Ultimately the United States uses 22% of the world’s productivity.  The inflation rate is in February of 2016 is 7/10ths of 1%.

 

The basic question is: What should the FED do?  Raise the discount rate another ¼ of 1%?  Leave things as they are?  What?  It would seem to be a major dilemma.  I would currently hate to have to make the decision.

 

On Wednesday, February 10, 2016, Janet L. Yellen, the Chair of the Federal Reserve Board gave her semi-annual report to the standing House Financial Services Committee on the economic condition of the nation and what the actions of the FED will or will not be.