Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, made a bold move, pumping $40 billion a month into the US economy with the promise to continue the policy each month until his goals for unemployment are reached. The central bank announced its third round of large-scale asset purchases since 2008, but didn’t set any limit on the ultimate amount it would buy or the duration of the program. Instead, Bernanke said the stimulus will be expanded until the Federal Reserve (the Fed) sees “sustained improvement” in the labor market.
Bernanke’s concerns are valid with the struggling economy, unemployment above 8% for years, the dollar falling, and uncertainty prevalent. So, the Fed will start a fresh round of bond-buying, known as quantitative easing or QE3. But will QE3 work, in a word, no. “Monetary policy…is not a panacea. It's not by itself able to solve these problems,” Bernanke told reporters at his press conference. No kidding Sherlock! The hangovers from sloshing money into the economy may very well worsen the symptoms of a staggering economy.
Following Europe’s Lead
But Bernanke’s QE3 isn’t a new idea, it is more of the same. Following the European Central Bank’s (ECB’s) lead, Bernanke hopes for better results. The ECB President, Mario Draghi, recently said his controversial plan to buy up the bonds of struggling Eurozone countries had already calmed the markets. So now Europe is our new economic model. Theoretically, more money available in the economy will encourage more investment and construction and then more jobs will be created lowering unemployment.
Even many US economists remain optimistic and certainly the 2% bump in the stock market seemed to exceed the Europeans where markets were simply “calmed”. Blinded by optimism QE3 fails to address the underlying problems dragging down our free market economy vexing the possibility for long term success and ignoring the offsetting peril.
US Credit Downgrade a Certainty
The ratings firm Egan-Jones quickly decided to cut its credit rating for the U.S. government to "AA-" from "AA”. In the Egan-Jones opinion, quantitative easing from the Fed would damage the U.S. economy. In its downgrade statement, the firm said that issuing more currency and depressing interest rates through purchasing mortgage-backed securities does little to raise the U.S.'s real gross domestic product, but reduces the value of the dollar. In turn, this increases the cost of commodities, which will pressure the profitability of businesses and increase the costs of consumers thereby reducing consumer purchasing power, the firm said.
Inflation a Primary Concern
Inflation is defined as “a persistent, substantial rise in the general level of prices related to an increase in the volume of money and resulting in the loss of value of currency”, (dictionary.com). In layman’s terms, we see inflation occur where there is significantly more money available to purchase the relatively same amount of goods. The underlying question is how much time till we see the inflationary impact of the fed’s QE3?
Most shoppers will tell you inflation is already here driven by policies supported by the President even before he was sworn into office. During the 2008 fall presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama voted for the Wall Street bailout, indicating his support for federal intervention pumping money into the market place. By Halloween of 2008, the government was printing money and pumping it into our economy. Since then gas has nearly doubled, food prices increased and the price of services are up making it more difficult for those on fixed incomes. With more money available for relatively the same amount of goods, why isn’t inflation being reported today? The average consumer often sees the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a proxy for inflation. Shouldn’t the government’s Consumer Price Index reflect inflation?
Investopedia.com explains the controversy of the government’s measurement of inflation. As of June, 2012, the CPI was 1.7% indicating low inflation. However, gasoline is approaching $4 a gallon, higher than the price of milk, even though it was under $2 per gallon when then Senator Obama cast his vote for the first bailout. Hamburger is near $4 a pound and so on, yet the CPI average is controversially at 1.7% this year, even though the monthly average was well over 2% for each month this year through July.
Over the years, the methodology used to calculate the CPI has also undergone numerous revisions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the changes removed biases that caused the CPI to overstate the inflation rate. The new methodology takes into account changes in the quality of goods and substitution. Substitution, the change in purchases by consumers in response to price changes, changes the relative weighting of the goods in the basket. The overall result tends to be a lower CPI. However, critics view the methodological changes and the switch from a COGI (cost of goods index) to a COLI (cost of living index) focus as a purposeful manipulation that allows the U.S. government to report a lower CPI.” http://www.investopedia.com/articles/07/consumerpriceindex.asp#ixzz26T8Sdkh4).
Historically we know inflation works against building a stronger economy as the real value of the dollar fades. Today the government is reporting lower inflation than consumers experience at the pump or at the checkout counter. Soon it will be impossible to hide the inflationary effect of pumping $40 billion per month into the money supply.
Slogging Down the Free Market – Regulations
Perhaps the least reported and most influential cause of our slogging economy is the abusive, heavy hand of the federal government wielded against the private sector through excessive regulations. Last year, the Federal Register published more than 82,000 pages of new federal regulations, an average of approximately 400 pages a day. How can small businesses keep up, they simply can’t. Yet every working day the more than two million bureaucrats in the federal government continue to either write or enforce regulations, most of which drive more costs with little if no benefit.
In each business workers are taken away from producing goods and services to simply fill out paper work for the government. For manufacturing the regulatory cost is 18% of the price of goods produced according to the National Association of Manufacturers, making us less competitive in the world market place. It is not hard to understand that regulations create a barrier to growth.
The Push for Higher Taxes
High tax rates fund bigger government not a bigger economy. When measured to other industrialized countries, our corporate tax rate is the highest in the world. The individual rates in the US are also high. Money taken by the government in the form of higher taxes also robs the ability for investment in new jobs. With less money to invest in growth, the economy slogs along, vacant of growth.
Higher Cost for Energy
What America needs is energy security. What America wants is energy independence. What is achievable is energy security supported by a supply of North American energy resources.
Our slogging economy, in part, is due to the uncertainty in the access to energy resources. The Middle East is in constant turmoil, Iran is threatening the region with a nuclear imbalance, the Strait of Hormuz where a third of the world’s oil supply is shipped is also threatened by conflict, and uncertainty means risk, which in turn is a higher energy price.
Many of North America’s resources are off limits to the US economy. The Obama administration has limited drilling permits to near zero off shore and domestically. They have obstructed new pipelines from Canada and they demonized coal as an energy source by regulating coal-fired plants into closure. The Obama Administration has written new intrusive regulations for energy hoping to force the economy to more expensive wind and solar electrical power driving up the cost of doing business in America, slogging down our economy.
Higher Healthcare Costs
The Democrat House and Senate passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) that was signed into law by President Obama and upheld by the Supreme Court. Although we can’t measure the whole impact we do know the price of healthcare has gone up. It follows that the PPACA law and subsequent regulations fail to address the underlying causes of healthcare inflation. More regulations driven by PPACA mean more paperwork, less time for healthcare and higher costs. PPACA fails to address excessive lawsuits which drive higher costs in punitive damages, driving unnecessary defensive medicine practices which result in the higher cost of healthcare. It also reduces competition preventing the free markets capability to lower prices. All included, the higher healthcare costs makes the American economy less competitive in the world marketplace.
Freedom for Growth
The Fed’s QE3 is the wrong approach to economic growth. Instead of pumping more money into the economy, resulting in inflation, Bernanke should push for a freeze in regulations followed by audits that require a benefit that exceeds the cost of the regulation. And if not, the regulations must be repealed or rewritten to meet that standard. The Fed should push for competitive tax rates, energy security and addressing the causes of higher healthcare costs.
Free markets do work and can thrive with these elements addressed. But simply throwing money at economic problems without doing something to change the underlying obstructions to growth will simply result in more of the same, a slogging economy.
Todd Tiahrt is a former Member of Congress and currently a consultant in aerospace, intelligence, energy and government relations.