A dialogue with Geithner

Today’s Daily Reckoning had a good piece (as usual) from Bill Bonner.  He had an imaginary conversation with Tim Geithner about how to handle the debt bubble.  I wish I would have thought of that, but I’m not known for being original.  🙂  Here’s part of the conversation where Tim calls up Bill and asks for Bill’s advice:

“We need to recognize, first, that this is not just a regular recession. So you can forget the usual recession remedies – a few points off the Fed funds rate…a little counter-cyclical fiscal spending. This is much more serious.

“What we have here is a depression. It’s a depression because it requires a fundamental restructuring of the international financial model. You know how it worked during the Bubble Epoch; Asians made things…Americans bought them. Asians made money; Americans spent it. Asians saved; Americans borrowed. And now the Asians have money; and Americans have debts. Not really very complicated, is it?

“Well, these programs of trying to bailout businesses…and the banks…and the economy…you can see how they are all a waste of money. All of these efforts are trying to revive the old model. They’re trying to free up credit so that Americans can buy more! Now, we don’t really have to explain why that won’t work, do we? More debt won’t do Americans any good; more IOUs from Americans won’t do China any good.

“Instead, the model has to be taken apart and reconstructed. China needs to sell more to people with money – its own people, mainly. Americans need to pay down their debts before they can take up serious consumption again.

“But wait, Bill,” Mr. Geithner interrupted. “Won’t that cause serious disruptions? When Americans save, in order to reduce their debts, they take away the single primary source of demand for the world economy. If they don’t begin buying soon, businesses all over the world will go broke. That’s why I’ve spent so much money trying to bail out the banks. Americans have no money. So the only way they can spend is if the banks provide credit. So, we have to save the banks first…then they’ll begin lending…and then the economy can begin growing again.”

“Uh…no. That’s not how it works. Even if you make all the banks solvent, whom are they going to lend to? Who’s going to borrow? Americans have too much debt already. Right now, if they get any money, they’re holding onto it…and using it to pay down their debts. They’re not going to start spending just because a bank offers them a loan.

Good stuff!  One thing that Bill left out is the power of savings.  Americans don’t have any savings to speak of, that’s why our government needs to borrow from China and Japan.  When the government ran up huge debts during the Depression and WWII, American citizens were the people who provided that money.  They provided it from savings, and we don’t have the money to do that today.

So when we purchase something made in China (or Germany) we have to effectively borrow that money in order to buy it.  That’s what a trade deficit does over time.  Wealth is extracted from the country with the deficit, and it flows into the country with the surplus.  It’s not rocket science.

Note – I am NOT suggesting that we pass protectionist measures to combat the trade deficit.  The fix to that is to simply live within our means and only purchase what we can afford.  That means paying as you go.  No new debt.  Pay down the old debt and save actual money.  When the debt is gone, people can once again buy more things – as long as they pay for it.

Robert Heinlein wasn’t the first to say it, but he said TANSTAAFL in a way that I remember it.  “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”.  He’s right, and we’re finding that out in the US now.

I’m currently re-reading volume one of The Story of Civilization. “Our Oriental Heritage” and it’s amazing how many times throughout history that government (and people) think they can rewrite the laws of nature.  Supply and demand is one of those laws, and no amount of wishful thinking and no amount of new regulations is going to change it.  The countries that have tried it in the past are gone.

I fear we’re following rapidly down that well trodden path.  I wish that weren’t the case, but idiots keep voting for bread and circuses.  Unless that changes, we’re going downhill.


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