Compassionate austerity to deal with the economic crisis

To cope with the economic crisis we need austerity with compassion.  Stimulus as a policy will likely make things worse more quickly and austerity as currently practiced is mean and hurting victims.  Those people voting for politicians urging austerity may regret their votes when they too get caught in the crisis.

Compassionate austerity would recognize we are dealing with events beyond our control and would therefore not blame the victims.  It would include some sort of income support for people caught in the crisis

How one wants to deal with the economic crisis depends upon how strongly one believes in economic growth.  If one believes this is just a temporary setback, then one probably wants either stimulus to keep things going or some austerity until the economy corrects itself and growth returns.  This blogger figures the crisis results from problems in the resource base and it is unlikely we will again see the golden  years of prosperity which we have experienced in recent decades.

If this is the case, then austerity is something which will be forced upon us and we should try to cope with it with as little human suffering as possible.

I figure the basic economic problem is that while we have lots of energy and mineral resources left in and on the surface of the planet we have used up the most easily accessible.  Those that are left take so much energy to extract it is becoming less feasible to do so.  Suppose that during the age of prosperity we were able to build an automobile with 1,000 units of energy and labour and suppose it now takes 2,000 units to build the same car.  Not only is this going to double the real cost of building a car it will probably limit the number of cars that can be built.  It will certainly limit the number of people who will be able to afford them.

If this is a correct analysis of the problem, then clearly we need to make some revolutionary changes in the way in which we organize ourselves to produce and exchange goods and services.  I predict there is little likelihood of the revolution starting until the economic crisis hits pensioners.  For the time being it is mostly young people who are hurting.

There is a need to rethink our commitment to economic growth and rearrange our economy so we take advantage of modern technology so that most of us can live comfortably without having a job.

What disturbs me about austerity is that the people who promote it have so little compassion and understanding for those who have been caught by the crisis.  Many of those who vote for politicians pushing austerity need to rethink their votes as it could be only a matter of time before they too will find their comfortable lifestyle being challenged,

Austerity with compassion should include some sort of income support.  This blogger would like to see  a guaranteed annual income scheme combined with changes in the way in which we create money.  However, the need is so great I will say we need anything that will provide everyone with a more or less equal share of the goods and services we are capable of producing.

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An alien invasion or the consequences of stimulus

With austerity seemingly not working to resolve economic problems and the apparent success of Abenomics and recent announcements that there may be thousands of earth like planets,  it may be time to have a second look at Paul Krugman’s proposal for governments to start preparing for an alien invasion from outer space. On second thought,  the consequences of launching into a major stimulus program may be worse than the slim chance of an invasion.

As there are two sides to the economy, financial and real,  we should look at both of them.

On the real or physical side we need to look at two things – resources and labor reducing technology as the goal of stimulus would be economic growth and full employment.

For there to be economic growth there will need to be an increase in the quantity of goods and services we produce.  The limit on services may not  be clear but regardless of the service economy we all need physical things to survive.    The production of more goods will require more mineral and energy resources and that could be a problem.  There are lots of resources left in the earth’s crust but we have used up the most accessible and those that are left are difficult and require a lot of energy to extract.  That could be a limit on further economic growth.

So what would be the consequences of attempted stimulus on the resource base?  Probably more energy would be required leaving less for other things and probably we would bring forward the timing of a major economic collapse.

Another limit on full employment is labor reducing technology of which we use a lot.  Here I see two questions:  How is the freed up time to be used and who is to make that decision.  Personally I enjoy reading, thinking and writing this weblog and I enjoy wood turning.   I don’t want Paul Krugman telling me and others that we have to spend a lot of time preparing for an alien invasion.   We now have the technology that most people don’t need to spend most of their lives “working”.  I would like to see some sort of universal income scheme which would allow individuals to decide what they want to do with their time.

On the financial side of the economy stimulus means two potential problems – inflation or a financial crash.  A government stimulus program would be trying to increase the production of goods and services.  With limited potential for growth this would put upward pressure on prices.  With all the excess money supply which central banks have been pushing into the economy I wouldn’t want to rule out hyperinflation.

The other potential financial problem is another crash within the banking system.  The way we create money is a Ponzi scheme which has to crash from time to time.  If inflation doesn’t get us a crash will.

I fear that Krugman was only half-joking.  He wants governments to undertake a massive stimulus program and I fear that could bring forward a major economic collapse.

Austerity appears not to be working either and it is causing problems for lots of people, especially the young.  The challenge then is to find a third way and at this point I must refer you to the essay “LETS go to market: Dealing with the economic crisis” on this weblog.

Oh, oh.  Did I just see an armed flying saucer go by my window?

Can faith solve our economic problems or do we need to challenge economic theology?

Can our economic problems be solved with belief and faith?  If yes we should all increase our attendance at church or mosque or temple.  If no we may need to challenge some basic economic theology and those whose interests are supported by current economic beliefs.

I figure the basic economic problem is with energy and mineral resources.  We have used up the most easily accessible.  While there may be lots left in the earth’s crust their extraction is difficult and requires lots of energy.  This means there is less energy available for all the other things we are used to having and standards of living are falling, at least for some people.

Many of us find it difficult to accept that this is a problem.  We want to believe that economic growth can continue forever.  We have been indoctrinated with the work ethic and believe that our happiness depends upon having a job and earning our keep.  Unemployment causes a great deal of hardship

If the above theory is correct, then the problem is not one of returning to economic growth but one of adapting to a different situation.  This means questioning a lot of what we believe about economics.

At this point I should distinguish between what I would like to see happen and what I expect to happen.

I believe we should have a collective responsibility to ensure everyone has the opportunity for the same standard of living as most other people.  Some ideas about how to accomplish this are outlined in the essay “LETS go to market: Dealing with the economic crisis” on this weblog.

What I expect to see is a return to the type of social order which existed before the industrial revolution where most people lived at a subsistence level and worked to support a very few in obscene luxury.

In the meantime the debate  of austerity as opposed to stimulus continues.  Austerity is probably necessary but the way it is being carried out is taking us to a feudal type of society.  Stimulus will use up even more of the available resources and bring us even quicker to a feudal society.  Hyperinflation is also a possibility.

When I read various reasons for the economic crisis and the few suggestions for dealing with it I think of people drowning in the middle of the ocean and thrashing about hopelessly.

Why stimulus spending is a bad idea

Sadly, stimulus spending as an economic cure may make things even worse than they are.   It probably will not provide the results its promoters want although it will likely lead to a more egalitarian but poorer economy because there is a possibility it would lead to some heavy-duty inflation.

The ideal way to deal with the economic crisis requires  a major change in economic thinking and values starting with the way in which money is created.  Some ideas are in my essay “LETS go to market: dealing with the economic crisis.”  Of course this is not a realistic proposal. Its implementation would require a dictator with a strong and loyal military and this is contrary to my belief that decision-making should be made by individuals.

chovynz_Money_Bag_IconThat leaves austerity or stimulus.

The basic problem is that we have used up a big chunk of the easily accessible resource base.  There may be lots of energy and minerals left in  the surface  of the planet but they are so difficult and expensive to extract we cannot expect continued economic growth.

If this is a correct analysis then austerity will be forced upon us regardless of what we do.  The real challenge is to cope with austerity with a minimum of human suffering.   The problem with austerity as it is being promoted is the selfishness and meanness of those promoting it on the backs of people who are less fortunate.

But what about stimulus?  At least since Keynes, many economists have and continue to believe the way to get economic growth going is via government stimulus.

There is some evidence the depression of the 1930s was made worse because the banking authorities restricted the amount of money in the economy.   Once governments started spending (works and war) and the money supply was allowed to increase the depression came to an end.  This time  central  banks have been trying to stimulate the economy by creating more money to facilitate more economic activity.  It isn’t working  because the resource base won’t support more economic growth  although only a few people see that as the reason.

So what is likely to happen if the Keynesians get a turn at trying to solve the crisis.

There are two difficulties.

The first is that stimulus will be a transfer of purchasing power from those who now have it to others because the debts incurred will eventually be written off either by default or by inflation.  Cyprus isn’t the only country whose savers are likely to be hit.

The puzzle is why with all the quantitative easing and no matching growth in output we haven’t had inflation.  The answer:  there is anecdotal evidence that the banks and corporations are sitting on piles of cash presumably because they don’t  see profit opportunities.

Governments don’t worry about profits so if the money goes instead to governments for stimulus, it will be spent.  There will be more money chasing the same quantities of goods and services and prices are bound to go up.    Inflation provides an indiscriminate haircut to everyone with monetary savings or investments.  If it gets out of control a lot of people will lose their pensions or their fortunes.  It will solve the inequality about which many people have been worrying.  It would also be a neat revenge against those people who want austerity on the backs of poor people although a lot of innocent people would be hurt.

The second problem with stimulus is that if it succeeds in increasing the output of goods and services it will also use up more of the remaining mineral and energy resources and bring forward the timing of a major crash of civilization.  I would like the goal of economic policy to be to minimize overall  human suffering rather than to increase it.

I am not worried about an economic collapse for my own sake, but I do have six young grandchildren.   Perhaps we should post a job opening for a benevolent dictator.

Why stimulus is not working

At least since Keynes conventional economic wisdom has been that the cure for an economic depression is government stimulus spending – even if it means increasing the government debt.  Recently, some people, especially  those who will lose their savings from inflation or if debt has to be written off, have been fighting plans for stimulus spending.

There are other reasons to be leery of stimulus spending.  It isn’t working and it could bring forward an even more serious economic collapse.

To explain this we have to go to the blackboard of an economics classroom where the professor draws an x-shaped graph.  One line represents the financial side of the economy and the other line represents the physical aspect.  The problem is that we measure the physical side in financial terms and tend to forget this distinction as soon as we get away from the blackboard.

polettix_stone_age_wheel_1For stimulus to work there has to be adequate energy and mineral resources to support the increased economic activity.  When Roosevelt implemented the New Deal and when we undertook the Second World War there were still loads of resources.  Now we have used up the most easily accessible energy and minerals.   What’s left requires a lot more work and energy to extract.  Putting more energy into extracting resources is taking away from the standard of living most of us want.

The other problem with stimulus spending is that it will use up even more of the existing resources and make the economic crisis even worse.

If stimulus is going to make things worse, what do we do?  After all people are suffering from the crisis. I think the answer is to drop our commitment to economic growth and the consumer society.  The economic task should be to see that everyone has adequate food, shelter. clothing,  hobbies and entertainment.  It is important to be able to communicate but I’m not certain it is necessary for everyone to have a micro cell phone.

Austerity and more austerity

This week’s The Economist has an article on austerity which has turned out to be worse that some people expected.

I see this article as a part of the debate/conflict over austerity vs stimulus. I also think the economic crisis is a result of our depleting the topsoil and using up the most easily accessible energy and mineral resources.  As the easiest resources are used the costs of additional resources increases and this has to force painful adjustments in the economy.

If this analysis is correct then it is likely a great deal more austerity will be forced upon us regardless of what we do.  Austerity has had a greater negative impact on our economy than a lot of people expected and more and more observers are saying  the economic crisis will continue for some time.

The austerity – stimulus debate will probably continue so long as people believe a return to economic growth is just around the corner.

Limiting our thinking to just these two choices presents  us with  a dilemma.  Stimulus will continue to use up resources and bring forward the timing of a major economic collapse.  Austerity on the other hand is forcing suffering on many people.

Which side a person takes probably depends upon how one is affected by inflation as stimulus generally causes inflation and austerity generally leads to deflation .

Those people who have savings in the financial system are likely to lose some of their purchasing power from inflation and therefore want austerity.  Those people who are borrowers, including governments, are likely to benefit from inflation.  Governments tend to prefer inflation as it reduces their debt load (at the expense of bond holders) but they also have to convince people to continue to loan to them.

The essay “LETS go market: Dealing with the economic crisis”  on this weblog attempts to show how we might deal with the current economic crisis.  Even
so just thinking about the problem leaves me feeling down because I think the outcome will be a few people doing very well and a lot of people experiencing a lot of suffering.


If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

Bashing Paul Krugman

I’ve been having difficulty coming up with an idea for a post but one can always fall back to bashing Paul Krugman.  While it’s fair game to disagree with someone I prefer not to put him down. I can’t resist this one.  The guy generates so many words he must have a DBS degree.  (The D stands for doctor.)

There are four areas of disagreement.

First, the stimulus and money creation policies he promotes  were what was needed in the 1930s but are probably not right for current circumstances.  Both of these have been tried and appear not to be working.

Second, if the underlying problem is with the resource base, then increasing economic activity is going to make things worse and possibly bring forward the date of a major economic collapse.

My third concern is that even if we have the resources to prepare for an alien invasion, is that really what we want to do with our time and resources. There are so many things to do in arts, music, crafts and social fields that some of us would find more rewarding.  Also I think each individual  should decide for him/herself what to do rather than have to do what some economist decrees.

A fourth concern is that inflation which he also promotes is a form of theft.

On the other hand Krugman does have some uses.  He gives us something to think about and he has helped me come up with a post for this weblog.


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The inflation conflict

It could be that inflation is at the core of the political divisions on the economy in some industrial countries.

This is because people or organizations that owe money, including governments, benefit from inflation and those who have made loans stand to lose.  It might be useful to make a distinction between money and purchasing power.  Inflation increases  the purchasing power of borrowers and decreases the purchasing power of lenders.

As this is at the core of our well-being we want government economic policies that promote or discourage inflation.  Those who would benefit from inflation want stimulus and an increasing money supply.  Those who stand to lose their savings want austerity and smaller government.

Inflation may be a way of dealing with the one percent but it also catches a lot of people who have worked hard to build up some savings.  It should probably be considered a form of theft.  It is no wonder the victims of inflation have such strong feelings.

It probably doesn’t help for them to hear economists call for inflation to solve debt or economic problems.

It is interesting that when  the representatives of those hurt by inflation get into government they appear unable to get debt under control and frequently increase it.   This may be because they enjoy spending, have friends who need to be rewarded for past support and because they now have to deal with the debt problem.  This may explain the rise of the tea party with its strong feelings of frustration.

The way to deal with the inflation conflict is to aim for price stability. This is probably easier said than done because I figure inflation is built into the way we create money.  For more on this please look at my essay “LETS go to market: Dealing with the economic crisis.”

It may be that inflation is becoming a moot point as it has been going down in spite if attempts to stimulate the economy and increase the money supply via quantitative easing.   Does this indicate some other things we don’t understand are happening in the economy?

This analysis is probably an over simplification as some people may be standing on both sides of the inflation issue and others may change from one side to the other during their lifetime but may not change their politics.


If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

A different way of creating money – a federal credit card

Here’s another proposal for stimulating the economy but this one is different in that it proposes a different way of creating money.  In fact it’s close to the LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) suggested in my essay LETS go to market;  Dealing with the economic crisis.

The proposal is for each adult to be given a $2,000 federal credit card at a very low interest rate and it comes from Miles Kimball, an economics professor at the University of Michigan,

Here is a link to an article about his proposal and here is a link to his blog posting.

This would allow each person to borrow $2,000 at a low interest rate to be repaid after the economy has fully recovered.

What makes this proposal interesting is that rather than the federal government borrowing money for the program it would be financed directly by the federal reserve and show up on its balance sheet.  This would be creating new money and new purchasing power but it would be different in that it would bypass the banking system.  Therefore the fractional reserve process would be avoided as would commercial interest rates.  I figure interest rates combined with fractional reserves are the cause of inflation and financial instability.

I also like this approach because it gives decision-making powers to individuals rather than politicians and bureaucrats.

But will it work?

The purpose of stimulus programs is to increase the quantity of goods and services produced and consumed and the hope is to jump-start the economy so that it would return to growth.

Certainly it would provide a one-shot stimulus the same as a government works program and it would do so without adding to government debt loads.

So far as returning to economic growth there have already been a number of attempts by increasing the amount of money available (quantitative easing) and there is no evidence they have worked.  It  may be that as well as a financial crisis we are also up against problems with the resource base.

Even though I am skeptical about the effectiveness of Professor Kimball’s proposal I like it because it introduces a new way of creating money.   The next step would be to make it a monthly thing and stop all other government handouts to either consumers or producers.


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More stimulus spending: This time it will be different

Today’s Economist has  a report on an article arguing in favor of more economic stimulus.

In this article we have a couple of high-ranking economists arguing that under current circumstances stimulus spending will be self-financing in that it will bring in higher tax revenues.  This time it will be different.

This sounds like the frustration of drowning people who don’t know what is happening to them.

I have a theory that economists were the theologians of the twentieth century.  Their debates were as relevant as the medieval debate over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Their role was to provide legitimacy to our economic activity during the golden years of prosperity and to our excessive use  of resources.

Now that we are having to deal with the consequences of our using up the most accessible resources, they don’t have a clue as to what to do.

If you are in the water over your head and you want to survive you should at least try to tread water.  Treading water in the ocean of economics will  require some major changes in economic thinking.

Paul Krugman’s wish for an alien invasion

Paul Krugman is so frustrated by the lack of support for another round of stimulus spending that he’s now calling for a fake alien invasion of the United States to spur a World War II-style defense buildup.

The above quote is from a Huffington Post news item.

I can see his point but the more I think about it, the less I like it.

The Second World War was  65 years ago.  Since then the people on this planet have used up a lot of resources.  If it is true that current economic problems are caused by declining resources this kind of stimulus spending would bring closer the date of a major human catastrophe – unless we can discover some new easily accessible resources.

If the resources are available we probably won’t need to a fake alien invasion.  There are enough human warriors around to get the real thing going but good.

Aren’t there nicer ways to do stimulus. With all those new weapons around, somebody would find an excuse to try them.  Then we would all be losers.

Stimulus and short-term interests

Most of the time most of us think and act in our own short-term interests.  This may apply to George Soros who has an article on the Financial Times website calling for further stimulus spending by the U.S. government.  This would probably allow a ot of business people to make lots of profits – in the short term.

I believe there is a strong case for further stimulus. Admittedly, consumption cannot be sustained indefinitely by running up the national debt. The imbalance between consumption and investment must be corrected. But to cut government spending at a time of large-scale unemployment would be to ignore the lessons of history.

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