Rarely do I come across something intelligent from any government leader associated with a monetary or economic entity. Below, I note not just one but two brilliant pieces with which I fully agree.
The first was a speech by a region president of the Fed – of all places. As many of us who stay informed understand, the Fed has done more to ruin the U.S. economy and run up the nation’s debt than any other entity, save Congress. The Fed is run by academics who are quite bright when it comes to theory but less so in the area of common sense. Even though their theories on bringing back up the economy have continually failed, they keep trying new offshoots of the same tired programs (e.g. QE2).
Three Fed presidents disagreed with the recent Fed decision to keep interest rates near zero for the next two years. Richard Fisher, the Dallas Fed President, went further with explaining how current government policies are immobilizing business. For businesses both large and small, the uncertainly of the general economy, fiscal policy (including the debt ceiling debate), regulatory policy, etc. preclude them from being able to properly plan. Everyone knows that federal spending will have to decrease and tax revenues will need to go up, but nobody knows when these will kick in or what form that they will take. How does any business person plan in that type of environment?
As a mortgage buyer, I can relate to these concerns. Every time that I see an opportunity to buy a mortgage note come across my desk, I hesitate and have an internal debate about whether I should be buying any more mortgage notes at all. Will the real estate market crash? Will unemployment spike to such a point that many of the notes go into default? Will federal or state bureaucrats make it even more difficult to foreclose on a defaulted property, thus causing me to lose my investment? Many other businesses have similar concerns which cause them to freeze hiring and minimize new investments. I doubt that this climate of not knowing will change over the next year, and probably not even after the 2012 elections.
The second item was an article published last December by the IMF – again, of all places. The authors ran a study finding that the two major economic crises in the U.S. over the last 100 years – the Great Depression of 1929 and the Great Recession of 2007 – had the consistent themes of (1) large increase in the inequality between rich and poor, and (2) sharp increase in the household debt-to-income rations. As the top 1% of wage earners garnered a higher percentage share of total wealth and as the debt-to-income ratios of the poor and middle class increased while they tried to maintain their standard of living, the country’s economy started to fall apart. This is not a trend that can continue without hitting a threshold of an angry population.
In my view, the situations for both business and the working class are likely to get worse before they get better. The U.S. is likely to see civil unrest and outright violence, especially among youth, who are more likely to be unemployed and thus have more time on their hands. At some point, the politicians will figure out what is already obvious to many of us. Let’s hope that they don’t wait too long.
The opinions expressed in the above commentary are solely those of Alan Noblitt.