Part 1: The 7 Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy
Part 2: The Age of Discovery
Part 3: Public Purpose
The term “innocent fraud” was introduced by Professor John Kenneth Galbraith in his last book, The Economics of Innocent Fraud, which he wrote at the age of ninety-four in 2004, just two years before he died.1 Professor Galbraith coined the term to describe a variety of incorrect assumptions embraced by mainstream economists, the media, and most of all, politicians.
The presumption of innocence, yet another example of Galbraith’s elegant and biting wit, implies those perpetuating the fraud are not only wrong, but also not clever enough to understand what they are actually doing. And any claim of prior understanding becomes an admission of deliberate fraud—an unthinkable self incrimination.
Galbraith’s economic views gained a wide audience during the 1950’s and 1960’s, with his best selling books The Affluent Society, and The New Industrial State. He was well connected to both the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, serving as the United States Ambassador to India from 1961 to 1963, when he returned to his post as Harvard’s most renowned Professor of Economics.
Galbraith was largely a Keynesian who believed that only fiscal policy can restore “spending power.” Fiscal policy is what economists call tax cuts and spending increases, and spending in general is what they call aggregate demand.
Galbraith’s academic antagonist, Milton Friedman, led another school of thought known as the “monetarists.” The monetarists believe the Federal government should always keep the budget in balance and use what they called “monetary policy” to regulate the economy. Initially that meant keeping the “money supply” growing slowly and steadily to control inflation, and letting the economy do what it may. However they never could come up with a measure of money supply that did the trick nor could the Federal Reserve ever find a way to actually control the measures of money they experimented with.
Paul Volcker was the last Fed Chairman to attempt to directly control the money supply. After a prolonged period of actions that merely demonstrated what most central bankers had known for a very long time—that there was no such thing as controlling the money supply—Volcker abandoned the effort.
Monetary policy was quickly redefined as a policy of using interest rates as the instrument of monetary policy rather than any measures of the quantity of money. And “inflation expectations” moved to the top of the list as the cause of inflation, as the money supply no longer played an active role. Interestingly, “money” doesn’t appear anywhere in the latest monetarist mathematical models that advocate the use of interest rates to regulate the economy.
Whenever there are severe economic slumps, politicians need results—in the form of more jobs—to stay in office. First they watch as the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates, waiting patiently for the low rates to somehow “kick in.” Unfortunately, interest rates never to seem to “kick in.” Then, as rising unemployment threatens the re-election of members of Congress and the President, the politicians turn to Keynesian policies of tax cuts and spending increases. These policies are implemented over the intense objections and dire predictions of the majority of central bankers and mainstream economists.
It was Richard Nixon who famously declared during the double dip economic slump of 1973 that “We are all Keynesians now.”
Despite Nixon’s statement, Galbraith’s Keynesian views lost out to the monetarists when the “Great Inflation” of the the 1970s sent shock waves through the American psyche. Public policy turned to the Federal Reserve and its manipulation of interest rates as the most effective way to deal with what was coined “stagflation”—the combination of a stagnant economy and high inflation.
I entered banking in 1973 with a job collecting delinquent loans at the Savings Bank of Manchester in Manchester, Connecticut, my home town. I was the bank’s portfolio manager by 1975 which led to Wall St. in 1976 where I worked on the trading floor until 1978 when I was hired by William Blair and Company in Chicago to add fixed income arbitrage to their corporate bond department, before starting my own fund in 1982. From where I sat I saw the ‘great inflation’ as a cost push phenomena driven by OPEC’s pricing power. It had every appearance of a cartel setting ever higher prices that caused the great inflation, and a simple supply response that broke it. As OPEC raised the nominal price of crude oil from $2 per barrel in the early 1970’s to a peak of about $40 per barrel approximately 10 years later, I could see two possible outcomes. The first was for it to somehow be kept to a relative value story, where US inflation remained fairly low and paying more for oil and gasoline simply meant less demand and weaker prices for most everything else, and wages and salaries staying relatively constant. This would have meant a drastic reduction in our real terms of trade and our standard of living, and an even larger increase in the real terms of trade and standard of living for the oil exporters.
The second outcome, which is what happened, was for a general inflation to ensue, so while OPEC did get higher prices for its oil, they also had to pay higher prices for what they wanted to buy, leaving real terms of trade not all that different after the price of oil finally broke down to between $10 and $5 per barrel where it remained for over a decade. And from where I sat, I didn’t see any deflationary consequences from the ‘tight’ monetary policy. Instead, it was the deregulation of natural gas in 1978 that allowed natural gas prices to rise, and therefore, natural gas wells to be uncapped. US electric utilitiy companies then switched fuels from high priced oil to what was still lower priced natural gas. OPEC reacted to this supply response by rapidly cutting production in an attempt to keep prices from falling below $30 per barrel. Production was cut by over 15 million barrels a day, but it wasn’t enough, and they drowned in the sea of excess world oil production as electric utilities continued to move to other fuels.
This book is divided into three sections. Part one immediately reveals the seven ‘innocent frauds’ that I submit are the most imbedded obstacles to national prosperity. They are presented in a manner that does not require any prior knowledge or understanding of the monetary system, economics, or accounting. The first three concern the federal government’s budget deficit, the fourth addresses social security, the fifth international trade, the sixth savings and investment, and the seventh returns to the federal budget deficit. This chapter is the core message. Its purpose is to promote a universal understanding of these critical issues facing our nation.
Part two is a history of how I became aware of these seven deadly innocent frauds during my more than three decades of experience in the world of finance.
In part three I apply the knowledge of the seven deadly innocent frauds to the leading issues of our day.
In part four, I set forward a specific action plan for our country to realize our economic potential and restore the American dream.
Summary of the 7 Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy
#1: The government must raise funds through taxing or borrowing in order to spend. In other words, government spending is limited by the government’s ability to tax or borrow.
#2: With government deficits we are leaving our debt burden to our children.
#3: Government budget deficits take away savings.
#4: Social Security is broken.
#5: The trade deficit is an unsustainable imbalance that takes away jobs and output.
#6: We need savings to provide the funds for investment.
#7: It’s a bad thing that higher deficits today mean higher taxes tomorrow.
The purpose of this book is to promote the restoration of American prosperity. It is my contention that the 7 deadly innocent frauds of economic policy are all that’s standing between today’s economic tragedy and the full restoration of American prosperity.
I have recently begun campaigning for the office of US Senator from Connecticut, my home State, solely as a matter of conscience. I am running to promote my national agenda to restore American prosperity with the following three proposals.
The first is what’s called a full payroll tax holiday where the US Treasury stops taking some $20 billion EACH WEEK from people working for a living and instead the US Treasury makes all FICA payments for both employees and employers. The average American couple earning a combined $100,000 per year will see their take home pay go up by over $650 PER MONTH which will help them make their mortgage payments and stay in their homes, which would also end the financial crisis. Additionally, the extra take home pay helps everyone pay their bills and do their shopping, as American returns to what used to be our normal way of life.
My second proposal is for the Federal Government to distribute $500 per capita of revenue sharing to the State governments, with no strings attached, to tide them over and help them sustain their essential services, while the spending power and millions of jobs funded by people’s spending from the extra take home pay from the payroll tax holiday restores economic activity, and the States’ revenues return to where they were before the crisis.
My third proposal to restore American prosperity is a federally funded $8/hr job for anyone willing and able to work. The purpose of this program is primarily to provide a transition from unemployment to private sector employment. The payroll tax holiday and the State revenue sharing will bring an immediate acceleration of economic activity and private sector employers will very quickly be looking to hire millions of additional workers to meet the growing demand for their products. Unfortunately, past recessions have shown that business is reluctant to hire those who have been unemployed, with the long term unemployed being the least attractive to business. Fortunately, studies have also shown that transitional employment, as I’ve proposed, dramatically facilitates the transition from unemployment to private sector employment. It also draws other people into the labor force and gives them a chance to show what they can do, show they are responsible, show they can get to work on time, work well with others, and display to their supervisor the traits that help reduce a private sector employer’s risks when taking on new employees. This includes giving hope and opportunity to many of those who don’t have any chance of private sector employment, including high risk teenagers, people getting out prison, and middle aged men and women who lost their jobs and who’s unemployment benefits have run out. It will also help those who have never held real jobs, as well as seniors looking to make a real contribution to society. While this program involves the lowest expenditure of my three proposals, it is equally important as it helps smooth and optimize the transition to private sector employment as the economy grows.
So, what leads me to believe I’m uniquely qualified to be promoting these three proposals? It is because from what I’ve seen over the last 40 years, I’m perhaps the only person who can take on the question of ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ and, hopefully, open the door to not only American, but world prosperity, as well as forever bring the study of economics back to the operation realities of our monetary system.
The 7 Deadly Innocent Frauds Deadly Innocent Fraud #1:
The federal government must raise funds through taxing or borrowing in order to spend. In other words, government spending is limited by the government’s ability to tax or borrow. Fact:
The actual act of federal government spending is NOT operationally limited or in any way constrained by taxing or borrowing.
Ask any congressman (as I have many times), or private citizen, how it all works, and he or she will tell you emphatically that:
“…the government has to either tax or borrow to get funds to spend, just like any household has to somehow get the money it needs to spend.”
And from this comes the inevitable question about healthcare, defense, social security, and any and all government spending:
How are you going to pay for it???!!! This is the killer question, the one no one gets right, and getting the answer to this question right is the core of the public purpose behind writing this book.
In the next few moments of reading it will all be revealed to you with no theory and no philosophy- just a few hard cold facts.
I answer this question by first looking at exactly how government taxes, followed by how government spends.
How the Federal Governnent Taxes
Let’s start by looking at what happens if you pay your taxes by writing a check.
When the government gets your check and your check is deposited and ‘clears,’ all the government does is change the number in your checking account ‘downward’ when they subtract the amount of your check from your bank balance.
Does the government actually get anything real to give to someone else? No, it’s not like they get a gold coin to spend.
You can actually watch this happen with online banking. You can see the balance in your bank account on your computer screen.
Suppose the balance in your account is $5,000 and you write a check to the government for $2,000.
When that checks clears (gets processed), what happens? The 5 turns into a 3 and your new balance is now down to $3,000. All before your very eyes!
And all they did was change a number in your bank account.
The government didn’t actually ‘get’ anything to give to someone else.
No gold coin dropped into a bucket at the Fed.
All they did was change numbers in bank accounts. Nothing ‘went’ anywhere.
And what happens should you go to the government (at your local IRS office) to pay your taxes with actual cash?
First, you hand over your pile of currency to the person on duty as payment.
Next, he counts it, and then gives you a receipt and hopefully a thank you for helping to pay for social security, the interest on the national debt, and the Iraq war.
Then, as you, the tax payer, leave the room and close the door behind you, he takes that hard earned cash you just forked over and throws it in a shredder. Yes, it gets thrown it away. Destroyed! Why? They have no further use for it. Just like a ticket to the Super Bowl. As you go into the stadium, you hand the man a ticket that was worth maybe $1000, and then he tears it up and throws it away. In fact, you can actually buy shredded money in Washington DC.
So if the government throws away your cash after collecting it, how does that cash pay for anything, like Social Security and the rest of the government’s spending?
It doesn’t. Something else is going on.
Can you now see why it makes no sense at all to say the government has to get money by taxing in order to spend? In no case does it actually ‘get’ anything that it subsequently ‘uses.’ So if the government doesn’t actually get anything when it taxes, how and what does it spend?
How the Federal Government Spends Imagine you are expecting your $2,000 social security payment to hit your bank account which already has $3,000 in it, and you are watching your account on your computer screen. You are about to see how government spends without having anything to spend.
Suddenly your account statement that read $3,000 now reads $5,000. What did the government do to give you that money?
It simply changed the number in your bank account from 3,000 to 5,000. It changed the 3 into a 5. That’s all. It didn’t take a gold coin and hammer it into a computer. All it did was change a number in your bank account by making data entries onto its own spread sheet which is linked to other spread sheets in the banking system.
Government spending is all done by data entry on its own spread sheet we can call ‘The US dollar monetary system.’
And even if the government paid you with actual cash, that cash is nothing more than the same data, but written on a piece of paper rather than entered into a spread sheet.
And how about this quote from the good Federal Reserve Bank Chairman on 60 minutes for support:
(SCOTT PELLEY) Is that tax money that the Fed is spending?
(CHAIRMAN BERNANKE) It’s not tax money. The banks have accounts with the Fed, much the same way that you have an account in a commercial bank. So, to lend to a bank, we simply use the computer to mark up the size of the account that they have with the Fed. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank is telling us in plain English that they give out money (spend and lend) simply by changing numbers in bank accounts. There is no such thing as having to ‘get’ taxes (or borrow) to make a spread sheet entry that we call ‘government spending.’ Computer data doesn’t come from anywhere. Everyone knows that!
Where else do we see this happen? Your team kicks a field goal and on the scoreboard the score changes from, say, 7 point to 10 points. Does anyone wonder where the stadium got those three points? Of course not! Or you knock down 5 pins at the bowling alley and your score goes from 10 to 15. Do you worry about where the bowling alley got those points? Do you think all bowling alleys and football stadiums should have a ‘reserve of points’ in a ‘lock box’ to make sure you can get the points you have scored? Of course not! And if the bowling alley discovers you ‘foot faulted’ and lowers your score back down by 5 points, does the bowling alley now have more score to give out? Of course not!
We all know how ‘data entry’ works, but somehow this has gotten all turned around upside down and backwards by our politicians, media, and most all of the prominent main stream economists.
Just keep this in mind as a starting point:
The Federal Government doesn’t ever ‘have’ or ‘not have’ any dollars.
Just like the stadium doesn’t ‘have’ or ‘not have’ a hoard of points to give out.
When it comes to the dollar, our government, working through its Federal agencies called the Federal Reserve Bank and the US Treasury Department, is the score keeper. (And it also makes the rules!)
You now have the operational answer to the question:
‘How are we going to pay for it?’
Answer, the same way government pays for anything, it changes the numbers in our bank accounts.
The Federal government isn’t going to ‘run out of money’ as our President has mistakenly repeated. There is no such thing. Nor is it dependent on ‘getting’ dollars from China or anyone else. All it takes for the government to spend is change numbers up in bank accounts at its own bank, the Federal Reserve Bank. There is no numerical limit to how many dollars our government can spend, whenever it wants to spend. (This includes making interest payments, and Social Security and Medicare and payments.) It includes all government payments made in dollars to anyone.
This is not to say excess government spending won’t possibly cause prices to go up (which we call inflation).
It is to say the government can’t go broke and can’t be bankrupt. There is simply no such thing.1
So why does no one in government seem to get it? Why does the Ways and Means Committee in Congress worry about ‘how are we going to pay for it’?
One reason might be because they are stuck in the popular notion that the federal government, just like any household, must somehow first ‘get’ money to be able to spend it.
Yes, they have heard that it’s different for a government, but they don’t believe it, and there’s never a convincing explanation that makes sense to them.
So to properly utilize this popular federal government/household analogy in a meaningful way, we next look at an example of a ‘currency’ created by a household.
The story begins with the parents creating coupons they then use to pay their children for doing various household chores.
Additionally, to ‘drive the model,’ the parents require the children to pay them a tax of 10 coupons a week to avoid punishment.
This closely replicates taxation in the real economy, where we have to pay our taxes or face penalties.
The coupons are now the new household currency. Think of the parents as ‘spending’ these coupons to purchase ‘services’ (chores) from their children.
With this new household currency, the parents, like the federal government, are now the issuer of their own currency.
And now you can see how a household with its own currency is indeed very much like a government with its own currency.
Let’s begin by asking some questions about how this new household currency works.
Do the parents have to somehow get coupons from their children before they can pay their coupons to their children to do chores?
Of course not!
In fact, the parents must first spend their coupons by paying their children to do household chores, to be able to collect the payment of 10 coupons a week from their children. How else can the children get the coupons they owe the parents?
Likewise, in the real economy, the federal government, just like this household with its own coupons, doesn’t have to get the dollars it spends from taxing or borrowing, or anywhere else, to be able to spend them. With modern technology, the federal government doesn’t even have to print the dollars it spends the way the parents print their own coupons.
Remember, the federal government itself neither has nor doesn’t have dollars, any more than the bowling alley ever has a box of points. When it comes to the dollar, our federal government is the scorekeeper.
And how many coupons do the parents have in the parent/child coupon story? It doesn’t matter. They could even just write down on a piece of paper how many coupons the children owe them, how many they’ve earned, and how many they’ve paid each month.
When the federal government spends, the funds don’t ‘come from’ anywhere any more than the points ‘come from’ somewhere at the football stadium or the bowling alley.
Nor does collecting taxes (or borrowing) somehow increase the government’s ‘hoard of funds’ available for spending.
In fact, the people at the US Treasury who actually spend the money (by changing numbers on bank accounts up) don’t even have the phone numbers of the people at the IRS who collect taxes (they change the numbers on bank accounts down), or the other people at the US Treasury who do the ‘borrowing’ (issue the Treasury securities).
If it mattered at all how much was taxed or borrowed to be able to spend, you’d think they at least would know each other’s phone numbers! Clearly, it doesn’t matter for their purposes.
From our point of view (not the federal government’s) we need to first have US dollars to be able to make payments. Just like the children need to earn the coupons from their parents before they can make their weekly coupon payments. And state governments, cities, and businesses are all in that same boat as well. They all need to be able to somehow get dollars before they can spend them. That could mean earning them, borrowing them, or selling something to get the dollars they need to be able to spend.
In fact, as a point of logic, the dollars we need to pay taxes must, directly or indirectly, from the inception of the currency, come from government spending (or government lending, which I'll discuss later).
Now let’s build a national currency from scratch.
Imagine a new country with a newly announced currency.
No one has any.
Then the government proclaims, for example, a property tax.
How can it be paid?
It can’t, until after the government starts spending.
Only after the government spends its new currency does the population have the funds to pay the tax.
To repeat, the funds to pay taxes, from inception, come from government spending (or lending). Where else can they come from? 2
Yes, that means the government had to spend first, to ultimately provide us with the funds we need to pay our taxes.
The government, in this case, is just like the parents who have to spend their coupons first, before they can start actually collecting them from their children.
And, neither the government, nor the parents, from inception, can collect more of their own currency than they spend. Where else could it possibly come from?3 So while our politicians truly believe the government needs to take our dollars, either by taxing or borrowing, for them to be able to spend, the truth is: