Tuesday, October 8, 2019

My Lesson on How Big Government Creates Income Inequality

I teach classes in managerial skills and human resource management.  Both are linked to issues surrounding success, career progression, and wages.  My managerial skills teaching focuses on trying to get students from inner city backgrounds to think about how to modulate cognitive and interpersonal skills in order to achieve career success and how to manage themselves to become sufficiently wealthy to be financially independent. With respect to cognitive skills, I emphasize writing, which is one of several weaknesses of  the New York City schools. I cannot, unfortunately, remedy other weaknesses, such as mathematical and statistical skills. I cannot do everything, nor can I do more than show my students the way to learn to write competently.  In a sense I do what John Dewey claimed to be doing: giving them the tools to learn on their own.   

Understanding the Fed, its economic subsidization of asset owners, and its manipulation of wage earners is important to understanding how to invest and how to balance career effort with investing effort.

Another of the critical issues related to both skills building and human resource management is the effect central banking has had in generating income inequality and malinvestment.  Part of this involves overinvestment in financial and real estate markets and part involves overinvestment in technology and labor-saving and cost-reducing strategies like plant relocations. When capital costs are near zero, it costs little to invest in machinery to save labor costs. In the long run, big-government economics, whether it be monetarist or Keynesian, results in capital substitution for labor.  

I just sent an email to my two real time classes summarizing the class discussion, which of course is not covered in the textbooks.

Take a look at this chart, courtesy of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, of the stock of M2 money supply (the broad definition of money) over time:  https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/M2

 Also, take a look at this chart of the gross federal debt since 1940, also courtesy of the St Louis Fed: 


Also, take a look at the chart on this blog. The chart is of real (inflation-adjusted) hourly wages since 1964: 


Also, take a look at this chart, which illustrates the rise of the valuation of the S&P 500: 


Notice that real wages began stagnating around 1971, which is around when the money supply began increasing at an increasing rate. President Nixon ended the gold standard that year.

Part of the increase in money supply may be offset by the aging of the baby boomers.  An aging population is deflationary because older people spend less. More importantly, the dollar has served as the chief reserve currency since World War II, so the demand for dollars from foreign central banks and businesses absorbs about one-half of the money supply. 

At the same time, the creation of debt and the creation of money are directly in synch because the money-creation process is part of the debt-creation process.  Notice, though, that the debt-and-money-creation pattern parallels wage stagnation.  Asset values escalate, but wage bargains lag. Keynes calls that money illusion.  Income inequality increases as asset owners, who are wealthy in the first place, become more wealthy.  Keynesian monetary stimulation, based on monetary creation, becomes counterproductive as low interest rates encourage substitution of capital and technology for labor.  Plant relocations and overinvestment in labor-saving equipment follows from sustained low interest rates, further encouraging low wages and income inequality.

Moreover, the widespread dollar reserve holdings are under threat from China, Iran, and Russia, which do not want to do business in dollars.  All modern monetary regimes have collapsed.  The first paper money inflation occurred in China after the invention of paper money during the Song dynasty in the 11 and 12th centuries. The Yuan dynasty, headed by Kublai Khan, adopted the paper money not long after and soon created hyperinflation.

The first US hyperinflation occurred during and after the Revolutionary War, and the first US currency, the continental, became worthless by the end of the Revolutionary War.  There was also hyperinflation during the Civil War, when the US Treasury and the Confederate Treasury both printed money and experienced double-digit inflation rates. Again, this occurred after the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913 and World War I, after which there was a hyperinflation followed by the 1920-21 depression.

Some people become wealthy during monetary disorder; typically, they are debtors who own assets like real estate and hard assets. The precious metals, art, and similar kinds of assets retain value. Stocks may as well, depending on the particular stock and various circumstances.  Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies may be additions to the list of hard assets.