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 #154 – President Obama & the Republican Party

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Traditionally the Republicans stand for smaller government and the Democrats for a system responsible for the welfare of it citizens.  This means that the Republicans want more individual freedom and choice for the citizens, including the right to starve or go without proper medical care through a lack of funds.  The Democrats are more socially responsible and feel a need to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.

 

Perhaps one of the most ardent Republicans was President Ronald Reagan who continually talked about “government being the problem.”  He voiced a desire for less government but left Washington at the end of his two terms in office with a far larger government than that with which he had begun eight years earlier.

 

In line with their desire to lower federal costs and weaken or do away with Obamacare, which was based upon a Republican model, the Republicans have recently won a pyrrhic victory against the 2010 law, Affordable Health Care.  Around May 12, 2016 a Federal Judge, initially appointed by a Republican President, found the practice of the Federal Government of helping to subsidize premium payments for those who cannot afford to make them, illegal since it was not specifically mentioned in the law.  The 38 page decision by the judge who reasoned that since the law did not specifically state this practice, the act of doing so was illegal.  The judge, however, did not put her decision into immediate operation.  Instead she allowed the practice to continue until after her decision is appealed.  Way to go Republicans, attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the poor who may lose their medical coverage!

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Watching the progress of Congress by both the Republicans and the Democrats one gets the impression that nothing ever gets done.  No necessary laws ever get passed.  The House of Representatives has given itself a 110 day legislating year; they are working a three day week, not including holidays.  The Senate will meet for a somewhat longer period.

 

The two political parties began the preliminary process of choosing their presidential candidates early in 2016.  In the Republican state preliminary elections and caucuses the initial debate between the possible candidates dealt with how bad the present administration is and how a Republican president would make the country great again.  It’s as though nothing has happened since 2009 when Barack Obama was elected to the presidency.  It would seem, according to the Republican candidates that there is no history behind the present campaign.  This, of course, is not true.  The history has been ignored or edited, particularly by the Republican Party.

 

The Great Recession, which could easily have been the Greatest Depression in our history, began under the reign of the Republican President, George W. Bush toward the end of 2008, his last year as president.  He took some action but mainly left the problem for the next President, Barack Obama.

 

During his first two years in office, 2009 and 2010, President Obama changed a potential massive depression into a recession, restored the major banking houses in the United States and the automobile industry from bankruptcy by massive government loans and signed the Affordable Health Care Bill into law.

 

At the time both the House of Representatives and the Senate had Democratic majorities.  In the 2010 Midterm Election a large number of Democrats did not bother to vote and the Republicans achieved a majority in the House of Representatives, actually killing any chance for further reform since the Republican philosophy of government tends to be the opposite of that of the Democrats .  In addition since 2010 was a Census Year, the Republicans gerrymandered the states where they controlled the governorships and the legislatures making it easier for them to keep control of the House of Representatives.  In the 2012 Presidential Election the Democrats cast a million-and-a-quarter more votes were cast for Democratic candidates than for the Republican members of the House of Representatives but the Republicans still retained control of the House.  The same thing is likely to happen in the 2016 Presidential Election.

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In the 2016 Primary Elections the Republicans are quite vociferous in stating what President Obama didn’t do.  What they don’t state is that most of the things he is blamed for not doing are functions of Congress.  Congress passes the laws in the United States.  The President can sign or veto a law.  If he vetoes a law Congress can still pass it with a 2/3 majority in both Houses.

 

Basically the current Congress, which has a Republican majority in both Houses, has done virtually nothing since they achieved a Republican majority in 2014 or since the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 2011.  Today we have the Tea Party which is an extremely conservative section of the conservative Republican Party that is totally against Big Government and sees all economics as Micro, small economics.  Unfortunately they represent a number of seats in the House and Senate.

 

Economists today understand depressions and recessions and how to properly deal with them.  Economics exists upon two major levels: one is called Microeconomics, which deals with household finances, city, state, and business funding.  The other is Macroeconomics which deals with the Federal Government, which owns the printing presses that print and issue money.  They are two totally different entities.  Except the Republicans do not understand or accept the concept of Macroeconomics.

 

Money today has nothing behind it except the word of the government that printed it.  There is no gold or other precious metal that today stands behind any currency.  The amount in circulation is supposed to be regulated so that there is enough to easily carry out all the business functions within the nation and between nations.  Unfortunately this does not always happen and inflation or deflation can occur.  In the United States the Federal Reserve controls the amount of cash in circulation.  In most other nations there is generally a National Bank that does this.  This process is Macroeconomics.

 

The National Debt, of which the Federal Government owns over 50% of its own debt and will, at times, use it to control the amount of currency in circulation.  This was done recently by the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, for over a two year period adding 85 billion dollars a month to the National Cash Flow.  It was gradually ended by the current Chairperson, Janet Yellen.

 

The members of the Republican Party do not appreciate or understand any of this.  From statements made by various Congressional members of the Tea Party and other Republicans their understanding of economics is based upon raising a family, Microeconomics.  They see everything in those terms.  One has an income, taxes, and one can spend it.  If an individual or country wants to spend more he has to borrow money which, in turn, has to be paid back with interest.

 

That seems to be the limit of their understanding.  It can lead to recessions and depressions.  Donald Trump has added another level to this misunderstanding.  He seems to think the government can renege on part of its debt as he has done in business with three bankruptcies.   Statements like that can destroy the value of the dollar, particularly if he were to be elected president.

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To say that the Republicans have done nothing is to give them positive credit.  Instead they were able to get through the Budget Control Act of 2011 which began on March 1, 2013.  This was the sequester, automatic cuts across the board on all government programs with the exception of Social Security, Medicaid, federal pensions, and veteran’s benefits.  These would cover all other military and discretionary programs every year until the year 2021.  Medicare rates were reduced 2%.  Sequestration also resulted in unpaid time off to many federal government workers, this was known as furloughs.

 

These cuts during a recession tended to shrink the economy and slow recovery.  Interestingly by 2015 the military was complaining that with the sequester cuts their effectiveness was significantly decreasing.  From that time on Congress tended to pass yearly bills ignoring the effects of sequestration upon the military.

 

Also in 2013 the House of Representatives, with hefty leadership by Senator Ted Cruz who is not even a member of the House, shut down the Federal Government from October 1st through the 16th.  Government operations resumed on October 17, 2013.  800,000 government employees were indefinitely furloughed.  1.3 million other government employees were required to report for work without a known payment date.  The Republican led House wanted to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  They attached this to the Government Funding Bill.  The Democratic led Senate removed it from their version of the Bill before they passed it.  The Conference Committee, which consisted of representatives from both Houses of Congress, reached an impasse.  The cost of this shutdown is estimated at $20 billion.  So much for Republican frugalness!

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It should be noted that our understanding of economics has come a long way since 1929 and the Great Depression.  We understand the root causes for the economic waves that bring about these changes and we understand how to deal with them when they occur to lessen or mitigate their effects upon society.  But in order to do this we need both the President and Congress acting together as a cooperating unit.  This we have not had since 2011.

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By 2008 the Real Estate Hedge Fund industry crashed in the United States.  Properties like individual homes dropped almost overnight to a fraction of their inflated values.  Millions of people, who had been encouraged by the financial institutions to use their homes like bank accounts by continually remortgaging them, were suddenly underwater on their loans, owing more on the property than it was then worth.  Employment also phenomenally decreased.  Most banking houses were over-extended and on the point of bankruptcy.  The Bush Administration in its last year in office lent public funds to some of the banks to keep them afloat.

 

In 2009 and 2010 there were both a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress.  The massive depression that would have been greater than that of 1929 was avoided by further public loans to the banking industry.  Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care or Obamacare, which incidentally was based upon a Republican plan, came into existence.  It was passed strictly on a party basis; no Republican voted for it in either House of Congress.  The American auto industry was also saved from bankruptcy by public loans.  Incidentally it should be noted that all these loans were eventually repaid with interest.

 

From 2011 on the Republicans achieved a majority in the House of Representatives.  Thereafter no bill was passed by the House that would lessen what was then the Great Recession.  In fact the bills passed by the House tended to exacerbate the unemployment by not only shrinking the Federal Government but also curtailing the amounts of monies that went to the individual states, forcing them to reduce            some of their programs and lessoning their levels of employment.

 

Mitch McConnell, the then minority leader in the Senate, stated that the Republican goal was to make Barack Obama a one term president.  The Republican attitude from that time on was to support absolutely nothing that President Obama supported.  Economic conditions in the country became secondary next to this goal.  The House Republicans did nothing that might reflect positively upon President Obama.  When he proposed a bill to create jobs by improving the outdated infrastructure of the U.S. the bill never even came to the floor of the House of Representatives for consideration; it was totally ignored.

 

President Obama continued to attempt to work with the Republicans for the next two years with no success.  By 2012, when he ran for a second term, it would seem that he understood that there was no cooperating with the Republicans.

 

President Obama and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, were able to use Creative Monetary Policy to improve economic conditions in the country.  The Federal Reserve added $85 billion a month for over two years to the National Cash Flow.  They did this by spending $45 billion a month buying up mortgage paper and also by purchasing back $40 billion in government bonds monthly for over two years.  The program was finally reduced by 10 billion a month until it was completely withdrawn.

 

The effect of this action was to buy back millions of pieces of mortgages in all fifty states, each one of which had been split into hundreds of pieces.  In essence these properties belonged to no one, as no one owned over 50% of the mortgages.  Without this action by the Federal Reserve these properties would have been lingering throughout the economy for the next decade or more before they were sold for back property taxes by the local governments.  This act gave the people who had not walked away from their underwater properties and still lived in these homes the ability to continue living in them without the possibility of foreclosure.  There was no way the government could have matched up all the pieces of all the properties in all 50 states to claim ownership of any of them.  Generally the money that would have been used in paying off the loans was spent in the overall economy creating more employment.  It was a giveaway by the Federal Government which was probably more than returned in local, state, and federal taxes.

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With the upcoming Presidential Election the Republicans are blaming President Obama and the Democrats for not doing anything to run the country properly.  They seem to have forgotten the Real Estate Crash of 2008 which took off during the Reagan Administration and continued from there until the 2008 crash.  They seem to have forgotten President George W. Bush’s unnecessary war with Iraq which destabilized the Middle East and began the situation which exists there at present.  Actually they have forgotten everything negative that can be attributed to them.  And all of these things have been blamed upon President Obama and the Democrats.

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The actual Presidential Election should be interesting.  If Donald Trump is elected president he has practically promised to get rid of ISIS quickly and make America Great Again.  He seems to feel that he can solve all major international problems, whether he understands them or not, within the first 100 days or less.

 

If Hillary Clinton is elected and she has a Democratic Congress she can be expected to move successfully in the direction of solving many of America’s domestic and international problems.  If, however, the House of Representatives retains its Republican majority then the country will probably experience the same gridlock it has under President Barack Obama.

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.