The term ‘innocent fraud’ was introduced by Professor John Kenneth Galbraith in ‘The Economics of Innocent Fraud’, which was the last book he wrote before he died. He used the term to describe fraudulent concepts that were being sustained by the ‘conventional wisdom’ (a term he created in a previous book). The presumption of innocence by those perpetrating the frauds is characteristic of Professor Galbraith’s cynically gracious approach.
This book reviews 7 ‘innocent frauds’ that I suggest are THE most embedded obstacles to national prosperity. The first 4 concern the federal government budget deficit, the 5th addresses social security, the 6th international trade, and the 7th savings and investment.
I begin with the innocent frauds of the budget deficit because they are the most pervasive and most damaging to both the US and the rest of the world’s standard of living.
Deadly Innocent Fraud #1:
The government must raise funds through taxing or borrowing in order to spend.
In other words, government spending is limited by the government’s ability to tax or borrow.
Government spending is NOT operationally limited or in any way constrained by taxing or borrowing.
Ask any congressman (as I have many times), or private citizen, how it all works, and he will tell you emphatically that:
“The government has to either tax or borrow to get funds to spend, just like any household has to somehow get the money it needs to spend.”
Furthermore, borrowing in order to spend only delays the eventual taxation, or other income, that is needed to repay all the debt.
They get this from the popular notion that the government, just like any household, must somehow first get money to be able to spend it.
Yes, they have heard that it’s different for a government, but they don’t believe it, and there’s never a convincing explanation that makes sense to them.
What they all miss is the difference between spending your own currency that only you create, and spending a currency someone else creates.
The USD is the creation of the government. So to utilize this popular government/household analogy in a meaningful way, we need to look at a currency created by a household.
One example of the right analogy would be parents creating coupons they can then use to pay their children for doing various household chores. And to make it all work, the children would be required to give their parents 10 coupons a week to avoid punishment.
These coupons are now the new household currency. Think of the parents as ‘spending’ these coupons to purchase ‘services’ (chores) from their children.
The parents, like the government, is now the issuer of its own currency. Now you can see what it’s like when a household is the issuer of its own currency.
Can you now see that the parents must first spend their coupons by paying their children to do household chores, to be able to collect the payment of 10 coupons a month from their children? How else can the children get the coupons they owe the parents to avoid punishment?
Likewise, in the real economy, the funds we need to pay taxes must come from government spending (or government lending, which I’m saving for later).
And, neither the government nor the parents, from inception, can collect more of their own currency than they spend.
So while our politicians truly believe government needs to take our funds either by taxing or borrowing for them to be able to spend, instead, the truth is:
WE NEED THE GOVERNMENT’S SPENDING TO GET THE FUNDS WE NEED TO PAY OUR TAXES.
Beware the shredder!
Here’s an anecdote that shows the government doesn’t need our funds in order to spend.
Consider what happens should you go to the Federal Reserve to pay taxes with actual cash.
First, you hand over a pile of currency to the Fed as payment.
Next, the Federal Reserve counts it, and then gives you a receipt and a thank you for helping to pay for social security, the interest on the national debt, and the Iraq war. And as you, the taxpayer, leaves the room and closes the door behind you, they take that hard earned cash you just forked over and throw it in a shredder.
Yes, they throw it away. Destroy it! Why? They have no further use for it. Just like a ticket to the Super Bowl. As you go into the stadium, you hand the man a ticket that was worth maybe $1000, and they tear it up and throw it away.
And just like when the children pay their 10 coupons to their parents every month that were earned by doing their household chores, the parents don’t actually need those coupons for anything.
So if government throws away your cash after collecting it, how does that cash pay for social security, and the rest of their spending?
It doesn’t. Something else is going on.
Just like with the household coupons- the parents are not collecting the coupons because they need them to spend.
Now let’s look at what happens if you pay your taxes by writing a check. It’s almost the exact same thing. When your check ‘clears’, all the government does is change the number in your checking account (downward) when they subtract the payment from your bank balance.
Do they actually get anything real? No, it’s not like they get a gold coin to spend. All they did was change a number in your bank account.
Just like the household. When the children give their coupons to the parents, do the parents get richer? Of course not!
Next question: “So how does the government spend when they never actually have anything to spend?”
Good question! Let’s now take a look at the process of how the government spends.
Imagine you are expecting your $1,000 social security payment to hit your bank account which already has $500 in it, and you are watching your account on your computer screen. You are about to see how the government spends without having anything to spend.
Presto! Suddenly your account statement that read $500 now reads $1,500. What did the government do to give you that money? It simply changed the number in your bank account from 500 to 1,500. It added a ‘1’ and a comma. That’s all.
It didn’t take a gold coin and hammer it into its computer. All it did was change a number in your bank account. It does this by making entries into its own spreadsheet which is connected to the banking systems spreadsheets.
Government spending is all done by data entry on its own spreadsheet we can call ‘The US dollar monetary system’.
There is no such thing as having to ‘get’ taxes or borrow to make a spreadsheet entry that we call ‘spending’. Computer data doesn’t come from anywhere. Everyone knows that!
Where else do we see this happen? Your team kicks a field goal and on the scoreboard the score changes from, say, 7 point to 10 points. Does anyone wonder where the stadium got those three points? Of course not! Or you knock down 5 pins at the bowling alley and your score goes from 10 to 15. Do you worry about where the bowling alley got those points? Do you think all bowling alleys and football stadiums should have a ‘reserve of points’ in a ‘lockbox’ to make sure you can get the points you have scored? Of course not! And if the bowling alley discovers you ‘foot faulted’ and takes your score back down by 5 points does the bowling alley now have more score to give out? Of course not!
We all know how ‘data entry’ works, but somehow this has gotten all turned around backward by our politicians, media, and almost all of the prominent mainstream economists.
When the federal government spends the funds don’t ‘come from’ anywhere any more than the points ‘come from’ somewhere at the football stadium or the bowling alley.
Nor does collecting taxes (or borrowing) somehow increase the government’s ‘hoard of funds’ available for spending.
In fact, the people at the US Treasury who actually spend the money (by changing numbers on bank accounts up) don’t even have the phone numbers of the people at the IRS who collect taxes (they change the numbers on bank accounts down), or the other people at the US Treasury who do the ‘borrowing’ (issue the Treasury securities). If it mattered at all how much was taxed or borrowed to be able to spend, you’d think they’d at least know each other’s phone numbers! Clearly, it doesn’t matter for their purposes.
From our point of view (not the government’s) we need to first have USD to be able to make payments. Just like the children need to earn the coupons from their parents before they can make their monthly coupon payments. We don’t get to just change numbers like the government does (or the bowling alley and the football stadium), and neither do our children. Our children have to earn or somehow get their coupons to make their payments just like we have to earn or somehow get USD to make our payments.
So, collectively, at what’s called the ‘macro-level’, where do we all get the funds to pay taxes or buy government securities?
The answer, as previously stated, is that from inception, the funds to pay taxes can only come from government spending or government lending.
And, as you now understand, this is just like it happens in any household that issues its own ‘coupons’.
Imagine a new country with a newly announced currency. No one has any. Then the government proclaims a property tax. How can it be paid? It can’t until the government starts spending. Only after the government spends its new currency is does the population have the funds to pay the tax.
To repeat, the funds to pay taxes come from government spending or lending. Where else can they come from???
***For those of you who understand reserve accounting, note that the Fed can’t do what’s called a reserve drain without doing a reserve add. So what does the Fed do on settlement day when Treasury balances increase? It does repos, to add the funds to the banking system that banks then have to buy the Treasury Securities. Otherwise, the funds aren’t there to buy the Treasury securities, and the banks will have overdrafts in their reserve accounts. And what are overdrafts at the Fed? Functionally an overdraft is a loan from the government. So, again, one way or another, the funds that are used to buy the Treasury securities come from the government itself.
And because the funds to pay taxes, or buy government securities, come from government spending:
The government is best thought of as spending first and then collecting taxes or borrowing.
And government spending is in no case operationally constrained by revenues. Yes, there can be and there are ‘self-imposed’ constraints on spending by Congress, but that’s an entirely different matter.
And this all means there is no ‘solvency risk’ (the government can’t go broke in its own currency).
A few years ago I gave a talk in Australia at an economics conference. The title was ‘Government Checks Don’t Bounce’. In the audience was the head of research for the Reserve Bank of Australia, a Mr. David Gruen. This was high drama. I had been giving talks for several years to this group of academics and had not convinced most of them that government solvency wasn’t an issue. They always started with the familiar “What Americans don’t understand is that it’s different for a small, open economy like Australia than it is for the United States”, and there seemed to be no way to get it through their perhaps overeducated skulls that at least for this purpose none of that matters. A spreadsheet is a spreadsheet. All but Professor Bill Mitchell and a few of his colleagues seemed to have this mental block, and they deeply feared what would happen if ‘the markets’ turned against Australia to somehow keep them from being able to ‘finance the deficit’.
So I began my talk about how government checks don’t bounce, and after a few minutes David’s hand shot up with the statement familiar to all modestly advanced economic students: “If the interest rate on the debt is higher than the rate of growth of GDP than the government’s debt is unsustainable”. It wasn’t even a question. It was presented as a fact.
I then replied “I’m an operations type of guy so tell me, what is it you mean by the word ‘unsustainable?’ Do you mean that if the interest rate is very high, and 20 years from now the government debt has grown to a large enough number, the government won’t be able to make its interest payments and if it writes a check to a pensioner that check will bounce?”
He got very quiet, deep in thought, and said while he was thinking it through ‘you know when I came here, I didn’t think I’d have to think through how the Reserve Bank’s check clearing works’ in an attempt at humor. But no one in the room laughed or made a sound. They were totally focused on what his answer might be. Again, this was high drama- it was the ‘showdown’ on this issue.
David finally said “no, we’ll clear the check, but it will cause inflation and the currency will go down. That’s what people mean by unsustainable”. There was dead silence in the room. The long debate was over. Solvency is not an issue, even for a small, open economy. Bill and I instantly commanded an elevated respect, which took the usual outward form of ‘well, of course, we always said that’ from the former doubters and skeptics.
I continued with David, “Well, I think most pensioners are concerned about whether the funds will be there when they retire, and whether the government will be able to pay them”. To which David replied, “No, I think they are worried about inflation and the level of the Australian dollar”. To which Martin Watts, head of the economics department at the University of New Castle replied, “The Hell they are, David!” To which David very thoughtfully replied, “Yes, I suppose you’re right”.
So what actually was confirmed to the Sydney academics in attendance that day? The government can spend what they want when they want, just like the football stadium can put points on the board at will. The consequences of overspending might be inflation or a falling currency, but never bounced checks.
Government deficits can never cause a government to miss any size payments.
But as long as the government continues to believe this first of 7 deadly innocent frauds- that they need to get money from taxing or borrowing in order to spend, they will continue to support a policy that constrains output and employment, and prevents us from achieving what are readily available economic outcomes.
Deadly Innocent Fraud #2
With government deficits, we are leaving our debts to our children.
Collectively, in real terms, there is no such thing. Debt or no debt, our children get to consume whatever they can produce.
This deadly innocent fraud is often the first answer most give to what they perceive to be the main problem associated with government deficit spending. Borrowing now means paying later. Fortunately, like all of the 7 deadly innocent frauds, it is also readily dismissed in a way that all can understand.
Professional economists call this the ‘intergenerational’ debt issue. It is thought that if the federal government deficit spends it is somehow leaving the real burden of today’s expenditures to somehow be ‘paid for’ by future generations. And the numbers are staggering. But, fortunately, completely irrelevant.
In fact, the idea of our children being somehow necessarily deprived of real goods and services in the future because of what’s called the national debt is nothing less than ridiculous.
Last year I ran into former Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker of Connecticut and his wife Claudia on a boat dock in St. Croix. I asked Senator Weicker what was wrong with the fiscal policy. He replied we have to stop running up these deficits and leaving the burden of paying for today’s spending to our children.
I then asked him the following two following questions to hopefully illustrate the absurdity of his statement:
“When our children build 20 million cars per year 20 years from now, will they have to send them back in time to 2008 to pay off their debt?”
“Are we still sending real goods and services back in time to 1945 to pay off the lingering debt from World War II?”
Interestingly, it was Claudia who instantly grasped it, agreed with me, and asked her husband what he had to say to that. All he could say was he had to think about it some more.
Of course, we don’t send real goods and services back in time to pay off federal government deficits! And our children won’t have to do that either!
In 2028, just like today, the living will consume their real output of goods and services, no matter how many US Treasury securities are outstanding. There is no such thing as giving up current year output to be sent back in time to previous generations. Our children won’t and can’t pay us back for anything we leave them- even if they wanted to.
What the government deficits can influence, especially if not understood by the politicians, is the current year DISTRIBUTION of real output. Distribution is about who gets all the goods and services that are produced. But any distribution deemed unreasonable by the political forces at any time can be readily altered. Each year, for example, Congress discusses tax policy, always with an eye to the distribution of income and spending. Many seek to tax those ‘who can most afford it’ and direct federal spending to ‘those in need.’ And they also decide how to tax interest, capital gains, estates, etc. as well as how to tax income. All of these are distributional issues. In addition, Congress decides who they hire and fire, who they buy things from, and who gets direct payments. Congress also makes laws that directly affect many other aspects of prices and incomes. This is all perfectly legal and business as usual, as each year’s output is ‘divided up’ among the living. None of the real output gets ‘thrown away’ because of outstanding debt, no matter how large. Nor does outstanding debt necessarily reduce output and employment, except when policymakers decide to take measures that do reduce output and employment.
Unfortunately, that is currently the case, and that is why this is a deadly innocent fraud.
So yes, those alive get to consume this year’s output, including the decision to use some of the output as ‘investment goods and services’ which serve to hopefully increase future output. And yes, Congress has a BIG say in who consumes this year's output. And previous federal deficits that might alter distribution if left alone can be readily addressed by Congress and altered to their satisfaction.
And those worried about paying off the national debt can’t possibly understand how it all works at the operational, nuts and bolts, debits and credits level. Both ‘money’ and ‘Treasury debt (securities)’ are nothing more than accounts on the governments own books. When a Treasury bill, note, or bond is purchased by a bank, for example, the government makes two entries on its spreadsheet we call the ‘monetary system’.
First, it debits (subtracts from) the buyer’s ‘checking account’ at the Fed, and then it increases (credits) the buyer’s securities account at the Fed. As before, the government simply changes numbers on its own spreadsheet. That’s all. And when the bonds come due and need to be paid, the government again does simply changes two numbers on their own spreadsheet - they debit (subtract from) the bank’s securities account at the Fed and credit (add to) the bank’s ‘checking account’ at the Fed. That’s all- debt paid!
To repeat, paying off the national debt is but a matter of government subtracting the value of the bank’s maturing securities from one account at the Fed, and entering adding that value to the bank's other account at the Fed.
Even briefer- to pay off the national debt the government changes two entries in its own spreadsheet- a number that says how many securities are owned by the private sector is changed down, and another number that says how many USD are being kept at the Fed is changed up. Nothing more. Debt paid, all creditors have their ‘money back’. What’s the big deal? And our children will be able to change numbers on what will be their spreadsheet just as easily as we did. Though hopefully with a better understanding!
But for now, the deadly innocent fraud of leaving our debt to our children to pay continues to drive policy, and keep us from optimizing output and employment. This is a price we and our children pay. We make do with less than what we can produce and high levels of unemployment, while our children are deprived of the real investments that would have been made on their behalf if we knew how to keep our human resources fully employed and productive.
Innocent Fraud #3
Government budget deficits take away savings.
Government budget deficits add to savings.
Several years ago I had a meeting with Senator Tom Daschle and then Asst. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. I had been discussing these innocent frauds with the Senator and explaining how they were working against the well being of those who voted for him. So he set up this meeting with the Asst. Treasury Secretary who was also a former Harvard economics professor and had two uncles who had won Nobel prizes in economics, to get his response and hopefully confirm what I was saying.
I opened with a question:
“Larry, what’s wrong with the budget deficit?”
To which he replied:
“It takes away savings that could be used for investment”.
To which I replied:
“No it doesn’t, all Treasury securities do is offset operating factors at the Fed. It has nothing to do with savings and investment”.
To which he replied:
“Well, I really don’t understand reserve accounting so I can’t discuss it at that level”.
Senator Daschle was looking at all this in disbelief. The Harvard professor of economics Asst. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers didn’t understand reserve accounting? Sad but true.
So I spend the next twenty minutes explaining the ‘paradox of thrift’ step by step, which he sort of got it right when he finally responded: “so we need more investment which will show up as savings?” I responded with a friendly ‘yes’ after giving this first-year economics lesson to the good Harvard professor and ended the meeting. And the very next day I saw him on a podium with the Concord Coalition- a band of deficit terrorists- talking about the grave dangers of the budget deficit.
This third deadly innocent fraud was and is alive and well at the very highest levels.
So here’s how it really works, and it could not be simpler:
Any USD government deficit exactly EQUALS the total net increase in the holdings USD financial assets of the rest of us- businesses and households, residents and non-residents - what’s called the ‘non-government’ sector.
So, for example, if the government deficit was $500 billion last year, it means the net increase in savings for everyone else combined was exactly $500 billion. To the penny.
***For those who understand reserve accounting, that net savings of financial assets are held as some combination of actual cash, Treasury securities, and member bank deposits at the Federal Reserve.
This is economics 101. It is beyond dispute. It’s an accounting identity. Yet it’s misrepresented continuously, and at the highest levels of political authority. They are just plain wrong.
Just ask anyone at the CBO (Congressional Budget Office), as I have, and they will tell you they have to ‘balance the checkbook’ and make sure the government deficit equals our new savings, or they have to stay late and find their accounting mistake.
As before, it’s just a bunch of spreadsheet entries on the government’s own spreadsheet.
When the accountants debit (subtract from) the account called ‘government’ when the government spends, they also credit (add to) the accounts of whoever gets those funds. When the government account goes down, some other account goes up by exactly the same amount.
Yes, it’s that simple.
In July 1999 the front page of the Wall St. Journal had two headlines. On the left was a headline praising the record government budget surplus, and explaining how well fiscal policy was working. On the right margin was a headline that said Americans weren’t saving enough and we had to work harder to save more. Then a few pages later there was a graph with one line showing the surplus going up, and another line showing savings going down. They were identical, but going in opposite directions, and clearly showing the gains in the government surplus roughly equaled the losses in private savings.
There can’t be a budget surplus with private savings increasing (including nonresident savings of USD financial assets). There is no such thing, yet not a single mainstream economist or government official had it right.
So watch this year as the federal deficit goes up and savings goes up. Again, the only source of ‘net USD monetary savings’ (financial assets) for the non-government sectors combined (both residents and non-residents) is US government deficit spending.
And watch how the same people who want us to save more at the same time want to ‘balance the budget’ by taking away our savings, either through spending cuts or tax increases.
They are all talking out of both sides of their mouths. They are part of the problem, not part of the answer. And at the very highest levels.
Innocent Fraud #4
Social Security is broken
Government Checks Don’t Bounce
If there is one thing all members of Congress believe is that social security is broken. President-elect Obama says ‘the money won’t be there’, President Bush used the word bankruptcy four times in one day, and Senator McCain says social security is broken. They are all wrong. And one of the major discussions is whether or not to privatize social security. That entire discussion, too, makes no sense whatsoever, so let me begin with that and then move on.
The idea of privatization is that the social security tax and benefits are reduced and instead the amount of the tax reduction is used to buy specified shares of stock. And because the government is going to collect that much less in taxes the budget deficit will be that much higher, and so the government will have to sell that many more Treasury securities to ‘pay for it all’ (as they say).
Got it? They take less each week from your paycheck for social security and you get to use the funds you save to buy stocks. You later will collect a bit less in social security payments when you retire, but you will own stocks that will hopefully become worth more than the social security payments you gave up.
From the point of view of the individual, it looks like an interesting trade-off. The stocks you buy only have to go up modestly over time for you to be quite a bit ahead.
Those who favor this plan say yes, it’s a relatively large ‘one-time’ addition to the deficit, but the savings in social security payments down the road for the government pretty much make up for that, and the payments going into the stock market will help the economy grow and prosper.
Those against the proposal say the stock market is too risky for this type of thing, and point to the large drop in 2008 as an example. And if people lose in the stock market the government will be compelled to increase social security retirement payments to keep them out of poverty. Therefore, unless we want to risk a high percentage of our seniors falling below the poverty line, the government is taking all the risk.
They are both terribly wrong.
The major flaw in this mainstream dialogue is what is called a ‘fallacy of composition’, The typical textbook example of a fallacy of composition is the football game where you can see better if you stand up, and then conclude that everyone could see better if they only stood up. Wrong!
They all are looking at what is called the micro level for the individual social security participants rather than looking at the macro level which includes the entire population.
To understand what’s fundamentally wrong at the macro (big picture, top-down) level, you first have to understand that participating in social security is functionally the same as buying a government bond.
With the current social security program you give the government your dollars now and it gives you back dollars later. That is exactly what happens when you buy a government bond. You give the government your dollars now and you get dollars back later. Yes, one might turn out to be a better investment and give you a higher return, but apart from the rate of return, each is the same. Now that you know this, you are way ahead of Congress, by the way.
And now you are ready to read about the conversation of several years back I had with Steve Moore, then head of CATO, now a CNBC regular, and one of the first to advocate privatizing Social Security.
Steve came down to speak about social security at one of my conferences in Florida. He gave his talk that went much like I just stated- by letting people put their money in the stock market rather than making social security payments they will better off over time when they retire, and the one time increase in the government budget deficit will be both well worth it and probably paid down over time in the expansion to follow, as all that money going into stocks will help the economy grow and prosper.
At that point I led off the question and answer session.
“Steve, giving the government money now in the form of social security taxes, and getting it back later is functionally the same as buying a government bond, where you give the government money now and it gives it back to you later. The only difference is the return”.
“OK, but with government you should get a higher return than with Social Security which only pays your money back at 2% interest. Social Security is a bad investment for individuals”.
“OK, I’ll get to the investment aspect later, but let me continue. Under your privatization proposal, the government would reduce Social Security payments and the employees would put that money into the stock market”.
“Yes, about $100 per month, and only into approved, high quality stocks”.
“OK, and the US Treasury would have to issue and sell additional securities to cover the reduced revenues”.
“Yes, and it would also be reducing social security payments down the road”.
“Right. So to continue with my point, the employees buying the stock buy them from someone else, so all the stocks do is change hands. No new money goes into the economy”.
“And the people who sold the stock then have the money from the sale which is the money that buys the government bonds”.
“Yes, you can think of it that way”.
“So what’s happened is the employees stopped buying into social security, which we agree is functionally the same as a government bond, and instead bought stocks. And other people sold their stocks and bought the newly issued government bonds. So looking at it from the macro level, nothing of substance has changed? All that happened is some stocks changed hands, and some bonds changed hands. Total stocks outstanding and total bonds outstanding, if you count social security as a bond, remained about the same. And so this should have no influence on the economy, or total savings, or anything else apart from generating transactions costs?”
“Yes, I suppose you can look at it that way, but I look at it as privatizing, and I believe people can invest their money better than government can”.
“Ok, but you agree the amount of stocks held by the public hasn’t changed, so with this proposal nothing changes for the economy as a whole”.
“But it does change things for Social Security participants”.
“Yes, with exactly the opposite change for others. And none of this has even been discussed by Congress or any mainstream economist? It seems you have an ideological bias towards privatization rhetoric, rather than the substance of the proposal”.
“I like it because I believe in privatization- I believe that you can invest your money better than government can”.
I’ll let Steve have the last word here. The proposal in no way changes the number of shares of stock or which stocks that the American public would hold for investment. So at the macro level it is not the case of allowing the nation to ‘invest better than the government can’. And Steve knows that, but it doesn’t matter, and he continues to peddle the same illogical story that he knows is illogical. And he gets no criticism from the media apart from the discussion as to whether stocks are a better investment than social security, and whether the bonds the government has to sell will take away savings that could be used for investment, and whether the government risks its solvency by going even deeper into debt.
See how the deadly innocent frauds continuously compound and obscure any chance for legitimate analysis?
And it gets worse yet.
The ‘intergenerational’ story continues with something like this:
“The problem is that 30 years from the there will be a lot more retired people and proportionately fewer workers. [that part’s ok] and the Social Security trust fund will run out of money [silly, but they believe it], so to solve the problem we need to figure out a way to be able to provide seniors with enough money to pay for the goods and services they need”.
With that last statement they assume that real problem of fewer workers and more retirees, which is also known as the dependency ratio, can be ‘solved’ by making sure the retirees have sufficient funds to buy what they need.
The real problem is, however, if the remaining workers aren’t sufficiently productive there will be a general shortage of goods and services and more ‘money to spend’ will only drive up prices, and not somehow create more goods and services.
The story deteriorates further as it continues:
“Therefore, government needs to cut spending or increase taxes today, to accumulate the funds for tomorrow’s expenditures”.
And it gets even worse. Any mainstream economist will agree that there pretty much isn’t anything in the way of real goods we can produce today that will be useful 50 years from now. They go on to say that the only thing we can do for our descendants that far into the future is to do our best to make sure that they have the knowledge and technology to help them meet their future demands.
So the final irony is that in order to somehow ‘save’ public funds for the future, what we do is cut back on expenditures today, which does nothing but set our economy back and cause the growth of output and employment declines.
And, for the final ‘worse yet’ the great irony is that the first thing we cut back on is education- the one thing the mainstream agrees we can actually do that actually helps our children down the road.
Should our policy makers ever actually get a handle on how the monetary system functions, they would understand that we can pay seniors whatever we want regardless of what the balance in the Social Security trust fund happens to be. They would realize the issue is equity, and possibly inflation, but never government solvency. They would realize that if they want seniors to have more income, it’s a simple matter of raising benefits. If they are concerned about the future, they would support the education they thought would be most valuable for that purpose.
But they don’t understand so they won’t see it that way until they do understand, as the deadly innocent fraud of Social Security takes its toll.
Innocent Fraud #5
Trade deficits are detrimental.
Trade deficits directly improve our standard of living.
By now you might suspect that, once again, the mainstream has it all backwards, including the trade issue.
To get on track with the trade issue, always remember this:
In economics, unlike religion, it’s better to receive than to give.
Imports are real benefits.
Exports are real costs.
In other words, going to work to produce real goods and services to export to someone else to consume, does you no good at all.
Unless you get to import and consume the real goods and services they produce in return.
And also remember:
The real wealth of a nation is all it produces, plus all it imports, minus what it must export.
And, therefore, a trade deficit increases our real standard of living. How can it be any other way? And the higher the trade deficit the better!
Yes, the mainstream economists, politicians, and media all have the trade issue completely backwards. Sad but true.
To further make the point, if general McArthur had proclaimed after WWII that since Japan had lost the war, they would be required to send the US 2 million cars a year and get nothing in return, the result would have been a major international uproar about US exploitation of conquered enemies. We would have been accused of fostering a repeat of the aftermath of WWI, where the allies demanded reparations from Germany that were presumably so high and exploitative they caused WWII.
Yet for over 50 years, Japan has in fact been sending us about 2 million cars per year, and we have been sending them little or nothing. And, surprisingly (?) they think this means they are winning, and we think we are losing.
Same with China- they think they are winning because they keep our stores full of products and get nothing in return. And our leaders agree and think we are losing.
This is madness on a grand scheme!
Now take a fresh look at the headlines and commentary we see and hear daily:
- The US is suffering from a trade deficit.
- The trade deficit is an UNSUSTAINABLE IMBALANCE.
- The US is LOSING JOBS to China.
- Like a drunken sailor, we are borrowing from abroad to fund our spending habits.
It is all wrong. We are benefiting IMMENSELY from the trade deficit. The rest of the world has been sending us hundreds of $billion worth of real goods and services more than we send them, which they get to produce and export, and we get to import and consume.
Is this an unsustainable imbalance? Why would it be? As long as they want to send us goods and services without demanding any goods and services in return, why should we not be able to take them? There is no reason, except a complete misunderstanding of our monetary system by our leaders.
Recall from the previous innocent frauds, the US can ALWAYS support domestic output and employment with fiscal policy- even when China, or any other nation, decides to send us real goods and services that displace our industries previously doing that work. All we have to do is keep American spending power high enough to be able to buy BOTH what foreigners want to sell us AND all the goods and services we can produce as ourselves. Yes, jobs may be lost in one or more industries, but with the right fiscal policy there will be sufficient domestic spending power to be able to employ those willing and able to work producing other goods and services for our consumption. In fact, up until recently unemployment remained relatively low even as our trade deficit went ever higher.
So what about all the noise about the US borrowing from abroad like drunken sailor to fund our spending habits? Also not true! Here’s what’s really going on:
Domestic credit is funding foreign savings
What does this mean? Let’s look at an example of a typical transaction.
Assume you live in the US and decide to buy a car made in Germany.
You got to a US bank, get accepted for a loan, and spend the funds on the car.
So where do things then stand? You exchanged the borrowed funds for the car, the German car company has a deposit in the bank, and the bank has a loan to you and a deposit belonging to the German car company on their books.
You would rather have the car than the funds, or you would not have bought it.
The German company would rather have the funds than the car, or they would not have sold it.
The banks wants loans and deposits, or they wouldn’t have made the loan.
Where is the imbalance? The bank has a loan and a deposit, so they are in balance. The German car company has the $US deposit they want, so they are in balance, and you have the car you want and a car payment you agreed to, so you are happy as well.
So there is no imbalance. Everyone is happy with what they have at that point in time.
And the bank loan has funded the German desire to hold a USD deposit at the bank.
Where’s the ‘foreign capital’? There isn’t any. The entire notion is inapplicable. Domestic credit funds foreign savings. We are not dependent on foreign savings for funding anything. Nor can we be.