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.

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