The True Gross Domestic Product

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a figure that, in itself, tells us virtually nothing about the true state of the economy. The purpose GDP is to estimate the output of factors of production inside the territory of a country.

The way this is calculated is by adding up all money prices spent on goods by domestic individuals, plus the price of goods exported to individuals abroad, minus the price of goods imported, so as to exclude products that were not produced inside the country.

The GDP adds up as follows:

GDP =
Private Consumption (sum of prices paid for consumer goods by domestic non-government Individuals)
+ Private Investment (sum of prices paid for factors of production by domestic non-government Individuals)
+ Government Expenses (sum of prices paid for consumer goods and factors of production by government individuals)
+Exports (sum of prices paid for consumer goods and factors of production sold abroad)
Imports (sum of prices paid for consumer goods and factors of production for goods produced abroad)

The main problems with this figure are the following:
– All prices are added as US dollar prices. Thus the effect of inflation is not taken into account satisfactorily. Even in the so called Real GDP, the deflator used is based upon the insufficient consumer price index.
– Government expenses are added to the total product at cost. Bureaucratic waste is not accounted for.

Thus we shall employ the following makeshifts in order to better approximate the country’s true productive capacity:

– Instead of US dollar prices we shall add up the price of goods sold in fine ounces of gold, a true and stable money.
– Government expenses shall be discounted significantly. All expenditures by the federal government shall be included at 30% of reported prices and local and state governments, due to better oversight, shall be included at 50% of reported prices.

Below please find the historical development of the True Gross Domestic Product in the United States from 1947 through 2008:

Click in image to enlarge.

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Bernanke Digs Deeper

It was deja vu time when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke today. To all those who remember his helicopter speech, but thought he was kidding: He was obviously not. He is ready to destroy the currency whose stability he is supposed to overlook, prolong the agony of this depression, and then plunge the nation into a hyperinflation of unprecedented proportions. Reuters writes:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Monday urged decisive action to protect the economy and said the central bank had alternative tools it could employ to help as interest rates approach zero.

“Our nation’s economic policy must vigorously address the substantial risks to financial stability and economic growth,” Bernanke told the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Yes, we must address the substantial risks that a reckless monetary and fiscal policy of credit expansion has created.

On a day when the arbiter of U.S. business cycles said the United States fell into recession last December, Bernanke said the economy was still under “considerable stress” and had slipped further since markets crumbled anew in September.

“Households have continued to retrench, putting consumer spending on a pace to post another sharp decline in the fourth quarter,” the Fed chief warned.

Yes, they have cut down on consumption in order to begin generating savings again. Something that the US has forgotten about over the past 30 years. Something that the US direly needs lest it keep moving toward national bankruptcy.

Bernanke said further cuts in overnight interest rates beneath the Fed’s current target of 1 percent were “certainly feasible,” but he suggested the U.S. central bank would also use other unconventional measures to spur growth.

“Although conventional interest rate policy is constrained by the fact that nominal interest rates cannot fall below zero, the second arrow in the Federal Reserve’s quiver — the provision of liquidity — remains effective,” he said.

He said the Fed could directly purchase “substantial quantities” of longer-term securities issued by the U.S. Treasury or government-sponsored agencies to lower yields and stimulate demand.

As a response, 10 yr Treasuries surged again as today and they will certainly keep going down the path I suggested. That this will do nothing but encourage more government borrowing and spending and will plunge us deeper into financial Armageddon goes without saying.

Bernanke also said the Fed could side-step institutions that are reluctant to lend and pump money directly into specific markets. The Fed has already done this in the market for commercial paper, short-term debt companies use to finance day-to-day operations, and last week it announced a program to push funds into markets for consumer-related debt as well.

Yes, the Fed is, in fact, not leaving out a single opportunity to aggravate its credit expansion.

The Fed is widely expected to lower benchmark U.S. interest rates by a half-percentage point to 0.5 percent at its next scheduled meeting on December 15-16. It is also expected to discuss what other policy tools could be used, and Bernanke’s speech was seen as a game plan for likely next steps.

Of course the Fed is well aware that reducing the Fed funds rate to .5% will have no result whatsoever since short term interest rates on the open market are already near 0.

In calling for vigorous action to support the economy, Bernanke said the economy was likely to be sluggish for some time. “The likely duration of the financial turmoil is difficult to judge, and thus the uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook is unusually large. But even if the functioning of financial markets continues to improve, economic conditions will probably remain weak for a time,” he said.

Bernanke’s prophetic predictions in the midst of this crisis are not very impressive, really. Just last year he called the economy sound. He has absolutely no understanding of what is going on.

But he said there was no comparison between the current downturn — already the third-longest since the 1930s — and the Great Depression, when the U.S. economy contracted for over a decade, one in four U.S. workers was unemployed and bank failures were rampant.

“Let’s put that out of our minds. There is no comparison in terms of severity.”

…and I guess this is true because he says so? If anything, this crisis will be much worse than what happened in 1930. Bernanke’s poor judgment is simply deplorable. He truly believes he can fix this thing. Even if he doesn’t solely share the blame for the causes of the recent credit expansions, he has surely done everything he needed to do in order to prolong and aggravate it.

Bernanke drew a distinction between the aggressive actions he and his colleagues have taken and blunders by the 1930s-era Fed, including excessively tight monetary policy and inaction as the financial system collapsed. He said he was being guided in part by his reading of history.

“I made my own mistakes, but I don’t want to make someone else’s mistakes,” he said.

Excessively tight monetary policy? If anything the monetary policy of the 20s was excessively lavish. And the Federal Reserve of 1930 didn’t shy away from continuing it until the banks started accumulating excess reserves. Sound familiar? Sorry Ben, sadly you are precisely repeating the mistakes of The Great Depression.

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The Great Depression – Now and Then

The public, these days, is cheering on a government that is repeating the mistakes of 1929 one by one.

It is thus necessary to outline the parallels between 1921-1933 and 2001-2008:

The Inflationary Periods

1921-1929:

  • A sharp recession occurs during 1920 which liquidates the previous inflation from World War 1
  • The 1920s boom is kicked off: The Federal Reserve Bank, established in 1913, inflates the money supply via credit expansion from July 1921 through December 1928 at an average annual rate of 7.7% by printing money to purchase acceptances, commercial paper, government securities, silver certificates, and foreign bonds
  • Motivations of this inflationary policy were mostly:
    • Facilitate speedy recovery of the 1920 recession
    • Support for the government of Great Britain and German states and municipalities via foreign loans
    • Support for export lobbyists in the US by making more US$ available to foreigners
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average soars from 63.90 in 1921 to 381.17 in October 1929
  • President Coolidge, in office until March of 1929, calls the American prosperity “absolutely sound”, stocks “cheap at current prices”; secretary Treasury Mellon announces “There is an abundant supply of easy money which should take care of any contingencies that might arise.”; both announce a “new era” of permanent prosperity (Ralph W. Robey, “The Capadores of Wall Street”)
  • In October 1929, a liquidation of unsound investments is kicked off by the crash of October 1929

2001-2007:

The Depression

1929 – 1933:

  • In March of 1929 President Herbert Hoover takes office
  • In October 1929, immediately after the crash, the Federal Reserve doubles its holdings of government securities, adding over $150 million in reserves, and discounts about $200 million for member banks, thus postponing necessary liquidations on the stock market and enabling NYC banks to take over brokers’ loans which other non-banks would otherwise have liquidated
  • The money supply expands by nearly 10% in one week
  • The Federal Reserve lowers the rediscount rate from 6% at the time of the crash to 4.5% by mid November
  • Secretary Treasury Mellon periodically assures the public that there is “plenty of credit available”
  • However, toward the end of 1929 all these measures prove futile and the money supply drops back to pre-crash levels
  • During November 1929 Hoover calls in White House conferences with industry leaders, getting them to pledge that wage rates will be maintained and not adjusted as lower prices for goods sold would mandate, thus postponing the necessary correction and prolonging the depression
  • On November 24th 1929 the Dept. of Commerce establishes a definite organization to join with the states in expanding public works programs
  • Hoover grants more subsidies to ship construction through the Federal Shipping Board
  • The Federal Farm Board
    • In June 1929, the Agricultural Marketing Act is passed, establishing the Federal Farm Board (FFB), furnished with $500 million by the Treasury to make all-purpose loans to farm cooperatives at low interest rates and to establish price stabilization corporations with the objective to artificially keep up farm prices
    • On October 26th 1929 the newly established FFB launches a program to lend $150 million to wheat coops and establishes the Farmers’ National Grain Corporation with $10 million capital; as farm prices continue to fall, the Farmers’ National itself begins to buy up wheat to keep up prices; the inevitable fall of prices is thus postponed as farmers are encouraged to keep producing surpluses; in 1930 prices continue to fall as the FFB keeps accumulating wheat surpluses
    • In spring of 1930 Hoover acquires from Congress an added $100 million in order for the FFB to continue lending and buying and establishes the Grain Stabilization Corporation (GSC) to replace Farmers’ National and redouble price stabilization efforts
    • By June 30 1930 the GSC has accumulated over 65 million bushels of wheat held off the market; prices continue to fall
    • On November 15, the GSC is authorized to purchase as much wheat as necessary to stop any further decline in wheat prices and buys up another 200 million bushels until mid 1931; prices continue to fall
    • The FFB finally decides to dump the excess stock abroad and prices fall even more drastically, the entire operation significantly postponed the necessary correction and prolonged the depression
    • By the end of the Hoover administration the FFB has incurred cotton and wheat losses of over $300 million
    • Other programs launched by the FFB that either failed in the same manner or proved impractical from the outset: Cotton Stabilization Corporation, National Wool Marketing Corporation, National Livestock Marketing Association, California Grape Control Board
  • July 3rd 1930: Congress approves the expenditure of a giant $915 million public works program
  • Throughout 1930 the New York Federal Reserve lowers the rediscount rate from 4.5% to 2%; the money supply remains stagnant
  • In mid 1930 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff is signed into law, raising import tariffs to record highs, and spreading protectionism all over the world – consumers and exporters suffer from the ensuing decline of international trade
  • October 1930: Hoover threatens federal regulation of the New York Stock Exchange, unless it bans the practice of short-selling, which would speed up the market correction
  • By December 1930 factory employment has fallen by 16%, manufacturing production by 20%
  • Government expenses rise from 14.3% of Gross Private Product (GPP) in 1929 to 18.2% in 1930
  • May 1931: The crisis spreads to Europe with the run on the Austrian Boden-Kredit Anstalt – the Bank of England, the Austrian government, Rothschild, the Bank of International Settlements, and the New York Fed grant millions of dollars to it
  • In 1931 unemployment in the United States rises to 16%
  • Government expenses rise from 18.2% of GPP in 1930 to 24.3% in 1931
  • The Bacon-Davis act is passed in 1931, requiring a maximum 8 hr work day and payment of at least a prevailing wage on public works projects, thus increasing unemployment
  • By fall of 1931 all agitation to preserve wage rates proves futile and wages begin to fall
  • In fall of 1931 Stock Exchange authorities restrict short selling, prolonging the necessary adjustment of prices
  • In 1931, upon Hoover threatening Federal legislation, the largest US banks establish the National Credit Corporation which quickly moves to bail out failing banks, loaning $153 over a three month period, thus prolonging the misallocation of resources
  • In 1932 sales taxes are imposed on gasoline and other articles, new taxes are levied on bank checks, bond transfers, telephone, telegraph, and radio messages, income taxes are raised from a 1.5% – 5 % range to a 4%-8% range, the corporate income tax is raised from 12% to 13.75%, the gift tax of 33.33% is reinstated
  • Government intrusion increases from 24.3% of GPP in 1931 to 28.9% in 1932
  • In January of 1932 Congress hurriedly establishes the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), equipped with $500 million of taxpayer money, and empowered to issue further debentures of up to $1.5 billion
  • During the first 5 months of operation the RFC makes $1 billion worth of loans of which about 60% are lent to banks, and 20% to railroads whose securities are held by a lot of savings banks
  • In July 1932 the Emergency Relief and Construction Act increases the RFC’s authorized capital from $2 billion to $3.8 billion
  • Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York establishes the first governmental unemployment relief authority: the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, equipped with $25 million; other states quickly follow
  • In February 1932 the Glass-Steagall act is passed which greatly broadens the assets that the Federal Reserve Bank can purchase and permits it to use government bonds as collateral for its notes, in addition to commercial paper
  • Throughout 1932, the Federal Reserve increases its reserves by another $660 million to $2.51 billion, an unprecedented increase in history; the money supply keeps falling regardless, because commercial banks begin accumulating excess reserves; excess reserves rise from 2.4% in the first quarter of 1932 to 10.7% in the second
  • In July of 1932 the Federal Home Loan Bank Act establishes 12 district banks, equipped with $125 million of taxpayer money, and the authority to purchase mortgages at as low as 50% of value
  • In the beginning of 1933 many states impose compulsory debt moratoria, debt liquidations are halted
  • In 1933, bank failures rise to 4,000 from 1,453 in 1932
  • In 1933, as a response to increasing bank runs, states impose bank holidays, allowing banks not to redeem deposits
  • In March 1933 Hoover leaves office; as a result of his unprecedented government intervention, by now production has fallen by more than half from 1929, unemployment is at 25%, and GNP has fallen almost in half; the country is in the depths of the Great Depression
  • President Roosevelt continues Hoovers failed New Deal policies of massive government intervention. The US economy remains in a miserable state with above double digit unemployment until 1938 and with a horrible war lasting from then through 1945 during which people are forced to ration consumption and pay up to 90% taxes. The Depression comes to an end after WW2 when malinvestments are liquidated, taxes are but by 1/3 and government spending is cut by 2/3
  • Bottom Line: A recession that was the correction of a boom caused by government intervention in the money and credit market, was prolonged and turned into a decade long depression, again due to government intervention as a result of an unwillingness to let the correction occur clean and quickly.

2007 – 2008:

  • From 2000-2008 the percentage of government intrusion into the private sector increases steadily
  • Throughout 2007 and 2008 the Federal Reserve Bank lowers the federal funds rate from 5.25% in September 2006 to 1% by October 2008
  • Stock and Home Prices keep falling continuously
  • In December 2007 the Federal Reserve Bank introduces the Term Auction Facility (TAF) in order to purchase short term debt from troubled banks who need funds; so far it has injected about $400 billion under this program
  • On January 11, 2008, Bank of America announces that it plans to purchase the troubled bank Countrywide Financial for $4.1 billion in stock
  • In March 2008 the Federal Reserve Bank of New York provides an emergency loan to the troubled bank Bear Stearns; the measure proves useless and the bank is sold to JP Morgan Chase at $10 per share
  • In March 2008 the Federal Reserve announces that it will inject another $200 billion to battle the problems that banks are having with unsound investments
  • On September 7th 2008 the troubled semi-public banks Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are taken over by the federal government; the banks own or guarantee about half of the U.S.’s $12 trillion mortgage market
  • In September 2008 the SEC imposes a temporary ban on short-selling
  • On September 16 2008, creates an $85 billion credit facility in order to support the troubled insurer AIG at the cost to AIG of the issuance of a stock warrant to the the Federal Reserve Bank for 79.9% of the equity of AIG
  • On October 3rd 2008 the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 establishes the Office of Financial Stability, equipped with up to $700 billion in order to buy worthless securities with the objective of stabilizing their prices, home prices continue to fall
  • So far, the combined total of all government actions taken in order to battle the depression have amounted up to $8 trillion – aggravating the crisis significantly
  • From November 07 to November 08 the Federal Reserve Bank more than doubles the amount of assets on its balance sheet by $1.2 trillion to now $2 trillion, but banks build up excess reserves and thus the effect on the money supply is minimal
  • As these lines are written the crisis spreads to the job market. All across the country people are beginning to lose their jobs and production/consumption figures are beginning to slow down significantly; due to the misguided government policy these numbers will, however, turn much worse as the crisis progresses
  • The new government, taking office in January 2009 will enact further measures of government intrusion, including public works programs, raise taxes, and increase the national debt, repeating the mistakes of the Great Depression
  • As things have played out so far 1929 has roughly resembled 2007 and 1930 has resembled 2008; 2009, 2010, and 2011 will most likely resemble 1931, 1932, and 1933

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Listen to Peter Schiff

Below please find some clips that show why one should listen to Austrian economists such as Peter Schiff, and why one should turn off the TV when he sees any of the mainstream pundits talk:

August 2006:

December 2006:

2006-2007 Compilation

Now watch Peter on a recent clip from September 2008. The guy who is trying to debate him utterly resembles the boneheads from the two clips above, doesn’t he?

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