Saturday, February 7, 2009

President Obama's Buy Signal on Stocks

The major indices' bad showing in January suggests a bad year for stocks. But there are two mitigating factors. (1) The hyper-inflation of the money supply last fall means that there is hyper-octane fuel in the stock market's gas tank and a newly built turbo charged sports car engine that will do 200 in 2 seconds. (2) President Obama announced that he would not be giving bailout money to investment banks that pay salaries over $500,000, a piddling sum that is paid to first-level supervisors. I have students in the MBA program who make more than that. Not a lot of them, but there are a few in the class.

Both Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley contributed heavily to Obama, 2 to 1 over McCain. Obama would not establish a pay limit if the investment banks were going to need it.

Obama and the I-banks both believe the market is going to soar because of the high octane fuel. This is a good time to buy stocks and gold and to borrow. When the market starts running into inflation, get out of the stocks and into the gold.

Keep borrowing. Dollars are monopoly money.

Lipset on The New York Times, Republicans and Fidel Castro

"...True, the United States worked with Batista before he was overthrown, as did the Cuban Communist party. But Castro's rise was made possible by American help and sympathy. The New York Times, the paper with closest connection with the State Department, was the first to bring Castro's struggle to the attention of the American people and world public opinion in a highly sympathetic series of articles, published at a time when his armed supporters numbered in the hundreds. Although the American military co-operated with Batista until his fall, Castro was able to secure arms from America, and the State Department clearly opposed Batista long before he left Cuba, and demanded he hold genuinely free elections and give up office. Right wing senators and organs of opinion in the United States have, in fact, blamed State Department policy for Castro's rise to power. American officials, including then Vice-President Nixon have reported that they sought to discuss financial aid to Castro during his first tour of the United States, but that he refused, a contention that has been confirmed by Castro's former finance minister and others of his entourage before they broke with him."

---Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man: the Social Bases of Politics.

Fidel Castro can truly say, "I got my job through the New York Times." And what of the difference between Republicans and Democrats? It would seem that international relations and the State Department reflect a field dominated by quacks.

E-mail to Radio Announcer Mark Simone

Dear Mark--I was listening to you on my way to NYC from Woodstock, NY. I teach at Brooklyn College. I heard a caller call in somewhat stridently claiming the need for stimulus. You did not question him. His claims about the Great Depression having been resolved by the heavy borrowing of World War II went unrefuted. This is bad.

You cannot cure America's addiction to socialism if you accept socialist monetary and business cycle theory, i.e., Keynesian economic theory. There is no reason to. Keynesian theory was refuted in the 1970s by Milton Friedman. Your caller, and today's economists, and the media, and all advocates of stimulus, the bail out and the recent inflationary monetary expansion by the socialist Bernanke Fed and Ol' Hammer and Sickle George W. Bush (not to mention his Comintern follower, Goosestepping Socialist Barack Obama) are all ignorant fools.

There is no need for stimulus. Stimulus is not the solution. It is the problem. Unemployment did not become a major problem until AFTER the creation of the Fed and stimulus. In a system of free banking and a gold standard business cycles would be muted. They only exist because of the banking system and stimulus. Trying to cure today's problems with government spending, inflation and stimulus is like trying to cure cancer by drinking a bottle of chlorine.

You might consider inviting a guest from the Cato Institute or my old friend Howard S. Katz at ( and to educate your listeners about a more realistic approach to the business cycle than the socialist crap that has become a single chorus Democratic and Republican Hammer and Sickle version of L'Internationale.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Americans Are Unfit for Self-Government

President Andrew Jackson suggested that when expedience became the basis on which the Constitution was interpreted, then Americans would no longer be fit for self governance. That day passed a century ago.

I have watched the City of New York, once a great industrial, artistic, cultural, and port center deteriorate and all of its vibrancy wither. It has become a cash cow for real estate and Wall Street interests. All of its innovative callings have fled. This was done in accordance with mandates of the City's democratic vote: urban renewal, taxes, corruption, city projects, expressways, rent control, and mismanagement.

I have watched the nation raise taxes on its citizens so that Americans are no longer free, but are wage slaves to the government, paying half or more of their incomes to corrupt, morally depraved programs like Social Security and the Department of Education.

I have watched Americans accept the debasement of their currency without effort to understand the relationships among banking, Wall Street, the Federal Reserve Bank and diminishing American expectations.

I have watched Americans allow their educational system become a plaything for extremist cranks who indoctrinate, brainwash and defraud, but do not educate.

I have watched Americans passively accept waste and failed bureaucracies: the Department of Labor; the Department of Energy; the Department of Education; the Department of Health Education and Welfare. The taxes extracted to subsidize these are paid without protest by brainwashed fools, made dull witted by the American educational system.

I have watched American culture deteriorate to the point where the flagrant stupidity that passes as entertainment and the ignorance that passes as news shocks and disorients the observer, and makes me wonder about the possibility of some widespread mental contagion.

Because Americans are unfit for self government, they have allowed a succession of special interests, Wall Street, education, employers' associations, labor unions and health care lobbies to dictate spending and taxation levels, government programs and tax systems, silently and smugly accepting the abuses of corrupt lobbies.

If future generations might look back and recall the contribution of 20th century Americans to the course of history, they will remark that this was a people that was given a great nation, and through cupidity and stupidity proved that republicanism does not work.

President Andrew Jackson on Infrastructure Improvement

"...I will not detain you with professions of zeal in the cause of internal improvements...for I do not suppose there is an intelligent citizen who does not wish to see them flourish. But though all are their friends, but few, I trust, are unmindful of the means by which they should be promoted; none certainly are so degenerate as to desire their success at the cost of that sacred instrument with the preservation of which is indissolubly bound our country's hopes...When an honest observance of constitutional compacts can not be obtained from communities like ours, it need not be anticipated elsewhere, and the cause in which there has been so much martyrdom, and from which so much was expected by the friends of liberty, may be abandoned, and the degrading truth that man is unfit for self-government admitted. And this will be the case if expediency be made a rule of construction in interpreting the Constitution...."

----President Andrew Jackson, on the veto of the Mayville Road, 1830. In Henry L. Watson, Andrew Jackson vs. Henry Clay, Boston: Bedford St. Martin's, p. 179.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Evolution of Progressivism as Elitist Paradigm

The debate between individualists and social democrats centers on the effects of centralization and the scope of rationality. Social democrats or "progressives" argue for enhanced centralization and the possibility of broad rationality in policy making. The rationality is accomplished through elite experts who claim to have superior, scientific knowledge obtained through university education. Individualists, in contrast, argue for the necessity to coordinate economic activity through decentralized, autonomous producers who are coordinated via price and motivated by private property. The debate between advocates of price versus hyper-rationalistic human planning through a centralized government agency would seem to have been settled in the 1980s. None of the socialist states was able to successfully implement centrally planned economies. Moreover, the tyranny associated with communism confirmed the worst fears of Milton Friedman and others. Yet, as late as 1972, when it had become evident that the Chinese communists had murdered approximately 25 million people, leading advocates of rational planning, John Kenneth Galbraith and Wassily Leontief, argued for the virtues of the Chinese communist system in the pages of the New York Times Magazine. Within a decade the Chinese themselves admitted that their approach to communism had failed, yet this had escaped the expertise of American universities' most famous economists. Now, 20 years after the final failure of Soviet communism, American academics and the Democratic Party continue to argue for state coordination and elitist-conceived solutions to elitist-conceived problems.

The question of centralization and decentralization has a long history in the United States. Its advocates hearken back to the ideas of Steuart and Shaftesbury and Hume, who was an anti-rationalist in epistemology and ethics but a rationalist in economics. Alexander Hamilton adopted the ideas of Hume and aimed to implement the mercantilist model. The Federalists believed that elite business people had exceptional rationality so that they could transform paper money into enhanced real wealth. This idea came from Hume. In turn, the elitist centralizing and hyper-rationalist idea was adopted by the Whigs, Henry Clay and then Abraham Lincoln, and carried forward by the Republicans in the form of advocacy of high tariffs and national banking. Although the Republicans voiced the ideology of laissez faire in the late nineteenth century, their reform impulses, as reflected in the National Banking Act, the Morrill Act, high tariffs, and the Pendleton Act reflected a centralizing interest in rationality. In turn, the early twentieth century Progressives advocated rationality and centralization, and this theme was reenforced by the New Deal.

If one looks at the social origins of the centralizing rationalists in American history there was a transformation in the late nineteenth century. Hamilton and Clay were a Federalist and a Whig who came from modest origins. Hamilton was an orphan who had won the support of businessmen in Nevis who financed his education and Clay was from a frontier middle class background, although he claimed to be poor. This was William Henry Harrison's response to the Jacksonian common man ideology of which Louis Hartz writes and that Abraham Lincoln carried forward.

A shift occurred in the Gilded Age. The Mugwumps did not identify themselves as having come from poor backgrounds. Their interest in rationalization of civil service and contempt for corruption was a reaction to Jacksonian democracy. They were college educated and saw themselves as differentiated from the mass of Americans and immigrants because of their education. They conceptualized themselves as a self conscious elite, and were other-directed. Their opposition to James Blaine in 1884 was group and media derived. It was fashionable. Among the Mugwumps was Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt rejected the laissez-faire philosophy of the older Mugwumps and carried forward the view of morality as an elitist obligation. Progressives saw reform as a class-linked moral prerogative. However, Roosevelt also advocated support for big business, centralized authority and the use of rationality as he defined it, for the ends that he defined as moral. The Progressives applied moral skepticism with respect to the natural rights philosophy, but moral dogmatism with respect to their social vision. They were other-directed in that the Progressive vision consisted of ad hoc propositions, news and whim of the elite itself. It claimed to be pragmatic, but refused to permit its dogmas to be falsified. Roosevelt initated a century long claim to superior mental ability of those who advocate the Progressive or liberal dogma.

The claim of superior mental capacity of a superior class follow through Hamilton, Clay and the Mugwumps, into Progressivism and the New Deal. Hamilton and Clay believed with Jefferson that there was a natural aristocracy. Hamilton and Clay both believed that government support for the elite would foster social goals because the elite could best use public wealth. The Mugwumps transformed the claim to superior knowledge from business to control of business via the state. This coincided with the increasing complexity and knowledge required to succeed in business. As technology grew more complex, the centralizing elitist philosophy dispensed with the claim that superior knowledge was needed to found and run business, and transformed into the claim that it was needed to regulate and dominate business.

The Mugwumps were the first group to identify altruistic or moralistic elitist aims. This came about because of their horror at the boss system and what they identified as pathologies of immigration and urbanization--slums and corruption. They sought to rationalize government.

Roosevelt was thus the product of the increasing wealth of American society. Unlike the early nineteenth century Federalists and Whigs, the Progressives made no pretense of humble origins but rather claimed an aristocratic elitism. Jane Addams was a social worker who aimed to altruistically help immigrant poor through a superior social position. Labor was viewed as ineluctably trapped in inferior class status. Class and group differences were viewed as inevitable, with the Progressive leadership expressing the altruism of the elite class. Government support for and rationalization of big business, the good trusts and the Federal Reserve Bank, the Workers' Compensation laws that limited employer liability in the name of altruistic concern for workers expressed the new elitism.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Asymmetric Pluralism

Andrew Jackson created the concept of pluralism. William Appleman Williams in Contours of American History argues that Herbert Hoover did nearly a century later, but the elements of Hoover's notion that labor and management represent distinct interests that require representation through the state were very much present in Jacksonian democracy. Jackson saw the Democratic Party as the means by which common economic interests could be galvanized or represented against the institutionalized power of paper money and speculation. His creation of the party system along disciplined lines was meant to form resistance to the tendency of economic elites to establish central banking and fractional reserve systems. In this, the spoils system provided economic incentives to party activists that paper money inflation provided to speculators and economic elites. The party system evolved into bossism. Elites were able to characterize it as corrupt, but paper money as altruistic or not corrupt. This was accomplished by identifying paper money issuance with agriculture in the late nineteenth century. This attempt failed in part because the remnant of the Jacksonian philosophy was sufficient to resist it. In the Democratic Party this was through the Bourbon Democrats of Grover Cleveland and in the Republican Party it was through the Mugwumps, the philosophical descendants of Adam Smith and Jackson. The reversal of roles is a pattern seen elsewhere in American political history. For example, in the early twentieth century the Republicans came to advocate reform and progressivism, but by the 1930s this became the pretense of the Democratic Party and the Republicans were painted as the party of business.

The failure of pluralism with respect to the working class in both its major forms, the party or spoils system of the 19th century and the labor movement of the late 19th and 20th century has forestalled the ability of American democracy to be representative. That is, as Jackson foresaw, the "monied" interests have a natural incentive to support banking and paper money, but the working class has a looser interest in institutionalization of its interests. This is in part because the interests of workers are not so well defined and are subject to fluctuation because of changing economic arrangements so that institutionalization is quickly outmoded. It is also the case that the working class has less organizational ability and so allows its representative institutions to be co opted and often corrupted.

There has never been a stigma associated with advocacy of paper money as there was with political bossism or with labor unions. Yet, paper money and fractional reserve banking involve a greater degree of deception and fraud than either of these institutions. Labor unions are depicted not only as corrupt (as in the cases of the Teamsters, longshoring, hotel and restaurant and various construction unions) but also violent. The violence of labor unions is not contrasted with the systematic fraud of fractional reserve banking and paper money. Likewise, the political boss system was painted as corrupt.

The Progressives were the ones largely responsible for attacking the patronage and boss system. This began with the Mugwumps in the 1880s and the Pendleton Act, the establishment of the federal civil service. All states followed suit. This was done in the name of expertise. It is questionable that government bureaucrats have any special expertise or that if Bernanke was replaced by a random name taken from the Albuquerque phone book that the Fed would do any worse than it has. A key result of the emphasis on expertise was the severance of direct incentives to fulfill working class needs from the political leadership. Finding a job for a constituent no longer could be a priority because jobs were now to be filled through rational methods, namely civil service exams. Favors for constituents could now be viewed as corrupt.

The case of Robert Moses in New York illustrates the class-driven asymmetry of Progressivism and its sister movement the New Deal with respect to rationalization. On the one hand, a series of bureaucracies utilizing rational hiring methods was established to build the bridges, parks, highways, housing complexes and tunnels that Moses built. On the other hand, strategic choice concerning where to build, the nature of housing and urban redevelopment continued to occur on the basis of personalistic choice, cronyism and the spoils system.

This is equally true of the Federal Reserve Bank. The Bank claims to scientifically or rationally determine the quantity of money, but the distribution of new money to specific banks is purely due to special interest capture and caprice. A pretense of science overlays the asymmetric spoils system.

Over time, American pluralism has fashioned two forms of representation for the working class. The first, Jacksonian democracy, indeed forestalled the central bank. Until the late 1890s American workers saw rising real wages. The system did not work well for business, property or farm owners, who saw asset values depreciate due to inflation. Populism was a movement of farm and other asset owners, it could not have been otherwise for farm labor had no stake in credit availability. Populism was a movement of land speculators, failed or otherwise, but it also served the interests of Wall Street and business owners, who had been complaining of overproduction for several decades in the late nineteenth century. This was occurring because of innovation and because of deflation, which increased labor's savings (its "demand for money). In turn, labor was able to withstand layoffs because it had savings.

William Jennings Bryan proposed to overturn the Jacksonian system in 1896. McKinley, an advocate of high tariffs, defeated the Populist platform. It was not until 1933 that free silver found its quiet adoption in hyper-charged form via Franklin D. Roosevelt's abolition of the gold standard and illegalization of ownership of gold. This was accomplished with little fanfare because by then the media had been completely co opted and the notion that "experts" could better derive decisions in areas like money and banking had been hammered in the public discussion and in increasingly utilized schools for several decades. As well, the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913 inured the public to the use of paper money. The class interest involved in adoption of a pure paper money system was ignored both by the media and by Roosevelt's supporters, who argued, as did John Maynard Keynes, that reduced wages were in workers' interest. They argued this in somewhat arcane terms such as the claim that "aggregate demand" needed to to stimulated. This would be accomplished by eliminating savings by reducing interest and increasing the money supply. The Keynesian system is silent as to the chief issue inherent in paper money issuance--who gets the new money. By default, Keynesianism is a class-based, elitist philosophy that subsidizes banks at public expense. It does so by claiming, as does William Greider in his book Secrets of the Temple, that low real wages are good because they help owners of construction companies and land owners. Greider's book is rife with the double talk characteristic of the Keynesian argument, such as that on the one hand billions are given to interests like the Hunt brothers, corrupt foreign governments like those of Mexico and even more is squandered on frivolous investment and speculative schemes on Wall Street, but that nevertheless inflation helps the poor and middle class, as though the large sums handed to banks come from thin air.

Progressive pluralism thus hobbled the working class in two steps. First, it attacked the ward and spoils system, the basis for working class participation in party politics. It did not eliminate the spoils system for elite jobs but rather for the jobs that would attract working class activism. Second, it created labor unions as representative institutions. This was essential to the Progressive agenda of the National Civic Federation in the early twentieth century, the employer association in which "responsible" big business, labor unions and the public claimed to be represented; it was advocated by Theodore Roosevelt; and it was codified in the 1920s by the Railway Labor Act and in the 1930s by the National Labor Relations Act and the National Recovery Act.

Progressives believed that labor unions would represent workers' interests as employer lobbying, employers' associations and government institutions like the Fed represented employers' interests. However, this was not to be. The Department of Labor is an ineffectual bureaucracy, not a money-printing machine like the Fed. Labor unions were saddled with a primary responsibility of representing workers through collective bargaining and a secondary responsibility of representing their interests in the public policy process. There is an inherent conflict of interest across workers. Public works, for instance, subsidize construction and public sector workers but are paid for by private sector workers. Many workers do not conceptualize themselves as part of a bargaining unit subject to collective representative but rather as individual agents and either part of management or with distinct professional interests. The bargaining responsibilities are inherently at odds with the pluralist responsibilities. Moreover, and most importantly, employers have an incentive to oppose unionization at the shop floor level. There is no such incentive with respect to employers' organizations. Workers have no reason to oppose the ability of the National Association of Manufacturers to represent small industrial firms. But employers have an economic incentive to oppose labor representation of workers because collective bargaining costs the employers in two ways: through loss of profitability and through loss of discretion. Thus, Progressivism never did provide workers with a symmetric voice in the pluralistic process.

Decentralization, Banking and the Two Party System

The American party system has changed four times, and three of the changes were linked to money and banking. Moreover, three of the changes were linked to the issue of decentralization and states' rights. The current tremors surrounding monetary policy and the Federal Reserve Bank coincide with increasing questioning of why the Democrats and Republicans have failed to question the subsidization of investment and commercial banks and the recent Federal Reserve Bank inflation of the monetary base. One key difference between the current crisis in the American party system and past crises is the absence of a competent press or media. These were central to political debate in America until the 1930s. However, the transition from passive to active electronic media has reinvented, downsized and in a sense traditionalized the press from the centralized mainstream media that was prevalent in the 1950s to websites and blogs that are reminiscent of early newspapers.

The changes in the American party system were as follows. First, the establishment of the Federalist and Democratic Republican parties in response to Alexander Hamilton's advocacy of the First Bank and federal subsidies to manufacturing. Second, the split between the National Republicans and the Democratic Republicans, which became the split between the Whigs and the Democrats in 1836 specifically in response to Andrew Jackson's removal of federal assets from the Second Bank and his veto of the Second Bank. Note that decentralization played a role both in the Federalist-Democratic division in the 1790s and the Whig-Democratic division of 1836. Both the Federalists and the Whigs were elitist centralizers and the Democrats were decentralizers, pale copiers of the earlier anti-Federalists.

The third party formation was of course in the 1850s, the formation of the Republican Party, the centralizing party that inherited Whig elitism but reformulated its ideology to combine (a) surface advocacy of laissez faire, in imitation of Jackson with (b) the traditional Whig advocacy of centralization. The Civil War was fought not over banking but slavery. It was here that the centralization issue came to the fore.

The fourth party formation occurred in 1896, when William Jennings Bryan reinvented the Democratic Party as the party of inflation and free silver. Many of the subsequent centralizing ideas of Franklin D. Roosevelt were included in Bryan's philosophy. In 1896 the debate between centralizers and decentralizers died. Although the southern Democrats continued to advocate decentralization, the majority of the two major parties became committed to reform on a centralized basis.

This transformation was reinforced in the 1930s, when Roosevelt accelerated the Democrats' insistence on centralization.

Of the four changes, only the establishment of the Republican Party did not involve banking. However, the Republicans' insistence on intensification of centralization, not only concerning the Union but also the National Banking Act, led to establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank five decades later.

The development of American politics, then, has been toward centralization. But in management, business, economics and political theory, centralization was increasingly shown to be an inferior solution during the past eight decades.

One of the pivotal moments in American politics was Andrew Jackson's formulation of the Democratic Party. Until then, parties barely existed in America. Jackson identified the special interest of privilege linked to paper money and held that the formation of an organized party of common Americans was necessary to forestall privilege and banking interests. He was not certain that the average American was capable of withstanding the onslaught of paper money advocacy and privilege associated with central banking. The power of Jackson's vision was great, and the powerful party organization of the nineteenth century and the public's commitment to sound money permitted survival of the Jacksonian system for nearly eight decades.

However, the ideas of Fabian socialism, Bismarck's social democracy and Progressivism provided American elites with new ammunition that the Jacksonian model could not contemplate. These included the use of pretense of supporting the common man in the name of elite privilege as a tool to wrest control of banking and money in favor of economic elites. This was accomplished in the context of modest reform in areas such as workers' compensation and then in the 1930s minimum wages and social security, all with dubious value to the average American.

Nor was Jacksonian democracy itself free of special interest characteristics. There have been wrinkles and overlap in all of the American party formulations. The Jacksonian Democrats were cruel racists. Jackson oversaw the Trail of Tears march and the insistent American racism traces its resonance to Jacksonian Democracy. Jacksonian Democracy itself was a form of special interest formulation, of the common white male identifying himself as superior to blacks and native Americans.

As Louis Hartz correctly points out, the brilliance of the Whigs was the use of the Lockean imagery in the interest of mercantilist philosophy. This has been the artifice of the Republicans since the Civil War. But all of American party ideologies have been self-contradictory, and the Republican is as well. Jackson claimed to be a democrat, yet he forestalled South Carolinian nullification. He claim to be for states' rights, yet he created rigid national party organization.

Today, the Republicans claim to be for free markets yet institute socialism. Much like the Democratic Republicans in 1836, the Republicans are at the breaking point.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

President Andrew Jackson's Message to the Federal Reserve Bank, Today's Congress and President Obama

"It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society--the farmers, mechanics, and laborers--who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.

"Nor is our Government to be maintained or our Union preserved by invasions of rights and powers of the several States. In thus attempting to make our General Government strong we make it weak. Its true strength consists in leaving individuals and States as much as possible to themselves--in making itself felt, not in its power, but in its beneficence; not in its control, but in its protection; not in binding the States more closely to the center, but leaving each to move unobstructed in its proper orbit.

"Experience should teach us wisdom Most of the difficulties our Government now encounters and most of the dangers which impend over our Union have sprung from an abandonment of the legitimate objects of government by our national legislation, and the adoption of such principles as are embodied in this act. Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have brought us to make them richer by act of Congress. By attempting to gratify their desires, we have in the results of our legislation arrayed section against section, interest against interest, and man against man, in a fearful commotion which threatens to shake the foundations of our Union. It is time to pause in our career to review our principles, and if possible revive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise which distinguished the sages of Revolution and the fathers of our Union. If we can not do at once, in justice to interests vested under improvident legislation, make our Government what it ought to be, we can at least take a stand against all new grants of monopolies and exclusive privileges, against any prostitution of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many, and in favor of compromise and gradual reform in our code of laws and system of political economy."

---President Andrew Jackson
Bank Veto, July 10, 1832
Upon President Andrew Jackson's veto of the Charter of the Second Bank of the United States, the predecessor of the Federal Reserve Bank.

If You Are a Boomer, You Can Retire—Here’s How

The 202 million Americans born between 1940 and 1994 look forward to retirement, but to retire they will need financial stability. The assets required for retirement amount to roughly $540,000 for a middle-class professional who wishes to retire at age 67 on $70,000 per year including social security benefits. Unfortunately, though, 401-k, pension plans, annuities and other financial arrangements fail to protect retirees from a trio of financial risks—inflation, stock market volatility and deflation. These risks reduce Americans’ prospects for a comfortable retirement.

The steps that the Federal Reserve Bank has taken recently to eliminate deflation and depression may prove to weaken the dollar and cause inflation. In the 1970s, stagflation, the combination of unemployment and inflation, saw inflation rates of 13.3% in 1979 and 12.5% in 1980. That could happen again—and worse.

This past year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank, M1, currency and demand deposits, increased at a seasonally adjusted rate of 37.6% in the three months from August to November 2008. M2, which includes savings deposits, increased 13.9%. In comparison, in the five years that preceded the 1979-80 inflation, from November 1973to December 1978, M1 increased about 37%. In other words, since last summer the Fed has increased the money supply by an amount equivalent to the amount it increased the money supply during several years preceding the 1979-1980 inflation. More ominously, according to the St. Louis Fed, the monetary base grew from $873.8 billion on September 10 to $1,671 billion on December 17, an increase of better than 90%. These fluctuations suggest inflation risk.

Moreover, the recent panic in the financial markets reminds us that 40 or 50 percent fluctuations in stock market prices are to be expected over any twenty year period. No matter what, retirees face the risk of stock market declines.

Those facing retirement also face a third risk: fluctuating commodity and house prices. For instance, oil has descended from $145 to $37 and now back to the $40s per barrel over the past few months. Someone who purchased a year’s worth of heating oil last July suffered losses. Dollar depreciation, stock price depreciation and commodity price depreciation all threaten retirees, but of the three, the least threatening risk is depreciating commodity and house prices. Many retirees would benefit from deflation because deflation would stretch their consumption budgets. But the federal government has made prevention of deflation a key objective. Monetary policy is at loggerheads with retirement policy. Yet, none of the interest groups associated with retirees has emphasized this crucial issue.

Potential retirees thus face three risks. First, they face the risk of inflation, which would significantly erode the value of dollars that they hold and so devalue traditional annuity, savings and money market accounts. Second, they face the risk of stock market fluctuation. Third, they face the risk of price depreciation in commodities and real estate.

Dollar-Based Retirement

Much has been written about retirement in financial terms. Many experts argue that an annuity that replaces 60 to 80 percent of final average income is necessary to retire. In private industry, the old fashioned defined benefit pension plan used to accrue benefits of one to two percent of final average salary per year of service. That would mean that an employee with 35 years of service would get about 50% of pay, often partially reduced for primary social security benefits upon normal retirement age. When social security was added to the pension the result was about 70% of pay. With respect to today’s more popular 401(k) plans, an employee who earns $100,000 and aims to retire at 67 with 70% of pay including social security would need roughly $540,000. But what if the $540,000 is eroded to $400,000, $300,000 or less in real dollar terms over a 2-3 year period? In the late 1970s there were accounts of retirees forced to sell their homes or eat pet food in order to make ends meet because of governmentally-induced inflation.

Commodity-Based Retirement

It is time to rethink dollar-based retirement. Retirees need to pay for a stream of goods and services whose dollar value fluctuates. The most important risk that they face is diminution of the stream of goods and services, not their fluctuating dollar value. A steady dollar income in an inflationary environment poses a greater risk to retirees’ well being than a stream of commodities that meets retirees’ needs in a deflationary environment, even if the dollar value of the commodities is declining.

Retirees need to consider the commodity value of retirement income rather than its dollar value. That is, retirees need to compute their budgets, translate the budgets into commodity equivalents, and then annuitize a stream of commodity consumption into a flow of forward commodity futures contracts. Then, they need to fund the stream. Today, this can be conveniently done with exchange traded funds. Excess assets over and above the required commodity stream could be invested in traditional financial instruments, CD’s, precious metals or other hedges.

The reason this is necessary is the Federal Reserve Bank’s risky, potentially inflationary monetary policy.

In 2003, the average white retiree’s budget was $26,341. Social security, which is indexed for inflation, covered roughly half of this amount. The average retiree spent 15 to 17% of this budget on food, eight to 13% on utilities, 17% on transportation, 2.6% on gasoline 30-35% on rent, and 9-10% on healthcare.* Were inflation to escalate, the average retiree would face risk over and above social security. Commodity contracts could insure this risk.

But if a retiree earns twice the average wage, or about $80,000, and wants to retire at age 67 with an annuity of $56,000, then at today’s low interest rates he needs a pool of goods and services (net of social security) of at least $360,000 upon retirement. At a median October home price of $218,000, home ownership would account for 60% of this fund unless house prices continue to fall. If the retiree wishes to avoid a reverse mortgage or borrowing to fund his retirement (which would create yet an additional risk), he would need the full $360,000.

The $360,000 would need to be allocated as something like $56,000 for food (agricultural futures), $56,000 for energy (energy futures), about $50,000 in materials for home repair and new car costs (materials futures), with the remaining amount in cash, precious metals or other hedges against deflation and inflation to purchase a range of other items. It would be easy to develop more refined budgets that could be annuitized with forward commodities futures using exchange traded funds.

Retirees should not have to fear deprivation. However, for millions of Baby Boomers, the Federal Reserve Bank is creating that very risk. In order to sidestep the financial system’s uncertainties, Boomers need to stop thinking in dollar terms and start thinking in consumption terms. They need to re-conceptualize their retirement planning in terms of a commodity rather than a dollar stream. There is no reason why insurance companies and pension funds cannot furnish such arrangements.

Theoretically, money provides a store of value as well as a unit of account and medium of exchange. Our monetary system’s inability to do so deserves re-consideration. In 1913, when the Federal Reserve Bank was founded, life expectancy was only 52 years for males and females combined and planning for retirement was not an important issue for the average American. To this day retirement planning is not one of the Federal Reserve Bank's priorities. Americans continue to hope for retirement, but recent events suggest that Fed policy and the monetary system may encumber rather than facilitate their goals. Today’s economic theories were developed at a point in time when erosion of fixed incomes affected the wealthy and helped debtors. Today, inflation primarily harms the middle class and poor elderly.

*Pierre Bahtzi, “Retirement Expenditures for Whites, Blacks and Persons of Hispanic Origin. Monthly Labor Review, June 2003, pp. 20-22.

Henry Clay and the Panic of 1819

Henry Clay was the founder of the Whig Party and Abraham Lincoln's mentor. The Whig Party was antecedent to today's Republican Party. Born in Virginia, his family moved to Kentucky when he was 14 in 1791. Clay became a lawyer and was a Democratic Republican, that is, a follower of Jefferson. Although the Democratic Republicans opposed the Federalists' plan to support business at the federal level, some Democratic Republicans favored government support for manufacturing and banking at the state level:

"Though Republicans generally rejected federal assistance to economic development, they debated whether state governments should establish or subsidize banks, transportation companies, or other corporations. Henry Clay's first major effort in the Kentucky state legislature was to come to the defense of just such a corporation, the embattled Kentucky Insurance Company."*

The Kentucky Insurance Company was given a monopoly to insure all Mississippi River cargoes in the state of Kentucky but it was also given the power to make loans and issue notes, i.e., paper money. Many Kentuckians opposed this proposal. However, Henry Clay, who had been elected to the state legislature in 1803 favored paper money because, according to Watson**:

"men like Clay were convinced that the availability of credit for new investments and a plentiful currency that could expand in volume with the needs of local business were absolutely essential for regional prosperity. When an effort began in 1804 to repeal the company's banking privileges, Clay leaped to its defense."

The opponents of the Kentucky Insurance Company won a Pyrrhic victory in that the monopoly of paper money issuance was withdrawn from the Kentucky Insurance Company but it was granted to several other banks. Paper money issuance proceeded handsomely in Kentucky.

Clay was elected to the House of Representatives in 1811. He was an advocate of aggressive military action against the British in 1812 and a mild opponent of slavery (he himself owned slaves). Participating with John Quincy Adams in the peace negotiation with the British in Ghent in 1814, Clay returned to Congress at a time when the Federalist Party gasped its final breath due to its opposition to the War of 1812. Watson notes that***:

"the lessons of the war had persuaded many leading Republicans that some of the Federalists' favorite measures had merit after all, including a national bank, a protective tariff and federal aid to internal improvements. The new policies appealed strongly to Henry Clay, and the congressman from Kentucky was in the forefront of efforts to adopt them."

The First Bank of the United States's charter had expired in 1811, but the War of 1812 motivated support for a Second Bank. The war also increased support for federal subsidies to manufacturing because many felt that military strategy required manufactures. Difficulties in transporting troops and men led to support among future Whigs for road building. John C. Calhoun, later the advocate of state veto power and state's rights (over slavery), argued that improved transportation would make the Republic smaller and so overcome Montesquieu's and others' concern that republics in large areas cannot survive. "Let us then...bind the Republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals."+ However, many Americans were++:

"worried about the corrupting power of monopolies and feared that the creation of a new class of moneyed capitalists based on paper wealth would undermine the moral and political fiber of the republic."

After the War of 1812 American trade with Europe grew rapidly, in part because of a famine in Europe+++:

"Inexperienced in the fluctuations of an unregulated market economy, government officials and officers of the newly chartered Second Bank of the United States cooperated merrily in feeding the boom, often profiting from banking and land speculation on their personal accounts.

"The party ended abruptly, however, when the BUS had to collect enough specie to make the final payment on the Louisiana Purchase.++++ Loans were suddenly called in, and the Bank demanded specie in exchange for its holdings of state bank notes. Suddenly deprived of credit, numerous urban businesses collapsed and discharged their employees. Thousand of borrowers could not pay their loans and lost homes, farms and businesses to the sheriff's auction. Coincidentally, a bumper crop in Europe cut demand for American foodstuffs and drove farm prices even lower. From a heyday of prosperity and expansion, the American economy was plunged into the rigors of high unemployment, widespread bankruptcy and the suspension of specie payments by banks.

"The panic struck in 1819, and parts of the economy continued to be affected throughout the first half of the 1820s. Fortunately, most Americans still lived on subsistence farms that provided food for their tables, regardless of the level of commodity prices or the prospects for waged labor...Banks demanded strict repayment of their loans but refused to honor their own obligations to pay specie...At the center of everything, the Bank of the United States was the strictest creditor of all, seeking to pay its own debts by pressing state banks and private customers with equal severity. Among the many lawyers who did a handsome business suing delinquent borrowers and foreclosing lands for the BUS, Henry Clay was one of the most active, with a heavy case load all over Kentucky and Ohio."

*Harry L. Watson. Andrew Jackson versus Henry Clay: Democracy and Development in Antebellum America. Boston: Bedford St. Martin's, 1998. p. 46.
**Ibid., p. 48.
***Ibid., p. 52
+John C. Calhoun, "Speech on Internal Improvements", February 4, 1817, in Robert L. Meriwether, ed., The Papers of John C. Calhoun, vol 1, 1807-1817, 23 vols, p. 401.
++Ibid., p. 55
+++Ibid., p. 56
++++Note that this government policy of Jefferson's precipitated the panic, as did the excessive paper money issuance which would not have been possible without government legalization and support of fractional reserve banking and banking monopolies.