Helicopter Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve is dropping trillions of fresh paper dollars on the world economy, the President of the United States is cracking jokes on late-night comedy shows, his energy minister is threatening a trade war over carbon emissions, his treasury secretary is dithering over a banking reform program amid rising concerns over his competence and a monumentally dysfunctional U. S. Congress is launching another public jihad against corporations and bankers.
Terence Corcoran, Financial Post
Published: Friday, March 20, 2009
As an aghast world — from China to Chicago and Chihuahua — watches, the circus-like U. S. political system seems to be declining into near chaos. Through it all, stock and financial markets are paralyzed. The more the policy regime does, the worse the outlook gets. The multi-ringed spectacle raises a disturbing question in many minds: Is this the end of America?
Probably not, if only because there are good reasons for optimism. The U. S. economy has pulled out of self-destructive political spirals in the past, spurred on by its business class and corporate leaders, the profit-making and market-creating people who rose above the political turmoil to once again lift the world out of financial crisis. It’s happened many times before, except for once, when it took 20 years to rise out of the Great Depression.
Past success, however, is no guarantee of future recovery, especially now when there are daily disasters and new indicators of political breakdown. All developments are not disasters in themselves. The AIG bonus firestorm is a diversion from real issues , but it puts the ghastly political classes who make U. S. law on display for what they are: ageing self-serving demagogues who have spent decades warping the U. S. political system for their own ends. We see the system up close, law-making that is riddled with slap-dash, incompetence and gamesmanship.
One test of whether we are witnessing the end of America is how many more times Americans put up with Congressional show trials of individual business people and their employees, slandering and vilifying them for their actions and motives. And for how long will they tolerate a President who berates business and corporations as dens of crime and malfeasance? If the majority Americans come to accept the caricatures of business as true, then America is closer to the end of its life as a global leader, as a champion of markets and individualism.
But America is at risk in other ways, especially in the technical business of setting and executing policy. The presidency of Barack Obama has set out on a course that has no precedent in U. S. history. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal transformed the U. S. economy during the Great Depression, pushed America off on a sharply different political and ideological course. The Obama administration is different in many ways, not least in its supreme self-confidence in its methods and objectives.
Reform of health care, environmental policy, education, energy, banking, regulation — every nook and cranny of the U. S. economy has been put on alert for major change. Expansion of government spending, plunging the U. S. into unprecedented deficits, is without parallel. In economic policy, through regulation and control of energy output, financial services and monetary expansion, the U. S. government has embarked on a fundamental reshaping of America. It is designed, in short, to bring on the end of America.
The spillover effect of all this on the rest of the world promises to be dramatically disruptive. The greatest global risk is in monetary and currency policy. Below is a chart that graphically demonstrates the sharp deviation in monetary policy from past norms. Under the chairmanship of Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve is in the midst of a giant economic experiment, flooding the world with U. S. dollars, hoping that flood will stimulate economic activity.
The total monetary base, already at astronomical levels, is now expected to take another big hit with the new Fed policy of buying up U. S. longer-term treasury bills in a bid to drive down long-term interest rates.
Mr. Bernanke is sometimes known as “Helicopter Ben” because he once in an academic paper referred to the use of “helicopters” full of money to rescue an economy from deflation. In comments Wednesday to explain the Fed’s new policy of buying $300-billion in U. S. treasury bills, Mr. Bernanke noted that the Fed is now more worried about inflation being too low than about it getting too high in the future.
For the rest of the world, however, the worry is that America is at risk of becoming the fountainhead of a new inflationary outburst. The U. S. dollar is now in decline, gold is moving sharply higher, and new global currency turmoil is on the horizon.
It may not happen. A paper just published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, source of the chart below, says that the Fed will have to be prepared to absorb all the excess money it has poured into the U. S. economy. It will be a technical and political challenge unlike any central bank has ever undertaken. The future of America is at stake.