12 November 2011

Ron Paul Got This Exactly Right


Two key paragraphs:

The Fed fails to grasp that an interest rate is a price—the price of time—and that attempting to manipulate that price is as destructive as any other government price control. It fails to see that the price of housing was artificially inflated through the Fed's monetary pumping during the early 2000s, and that the only way to restore soundness to the housing sector is to allow prices to return to sustainable market levels. Instead, the Fed's actions have had one aim—to keep prices elevated at bubble levels—thus ensuring that bad debt remains on the books and failing firms remain in business, albatrosses around the market's neck.

The Fed's quantitative easing programs increased the national debt by trillions of dollars. The debt is now so large that if the central bank begins to move away from its zero interest-rate policy, the rise in interest rates will result in the U.S. government having to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in additional interest on the national debt each year. Thus there is significant political pressure being placed on the Fed to keep interest rates low. The Fed has painted itself so far into a corner now that even if it wanted to raise interest rates, as a practical matter it might not be able to do so. But it will do something, we know, because the pressure to "just do something" often outweighs all other considerations.

I should add (since I used the word "exactly" in this entry's headline), that I do have one small nit to pick with the way Paul expresses himself here. Not with the substance of his exposition, which is perfect, but with the jots and tittles.

He defines interest rates briefly as "the price of time." They aren't the price of time. They are defined and measured by time, just as apartment rents are defined and measured by weeks, months, or years. But a rent isn't the price of time, it is the price of occupancy. Likewise, an interest rate is the price of credit, or of the use of the principal, for a specified period of time.

What Paul means is clear enough, and his brief use of the phrase "the price of time" probably does no harm, except ... that in the days of Savonarola and in the glare of Scholasticism one of the most common objections to the charging of interest, one of the reasons given for considering all interest as the sin of usury, was this notion that it is selling time and that time is of God. I would rather not have free-market advocates play into those bad old superstitions, or we'll end up throwing our vanities into a bonfire.

Still, Paul is making sound points. The Fed isn't wrong because of this chairman or that chairman. It isn't wrong in ways that new appointments or some tweaking of the mandating statutes could fix. It is wrong because it is a central bank, and what central banks do is in essence wrong. They are central planners, just as those who would run the auto industry from Washington (and who, these days, essentially do) are central planners.

The point should be not to improve the Fed but to close it down.

In this, perhaps, tea partiers and OWS types can come together.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.