by David Stockman, David Stockman’s Contra Corner:
The US economy is threatened by two giant problems which cause all others to pale into insignificance. We are referring to a rogue central bank that has become an absolute enemy of capitalist prosperity and a fiscal doomsday machine that is hostage to the ceaseless budgetary demands of the Warfare State, the Welfare State and the Baby Boom’s demographic imperatives.
Needless to say, both ends of the Acela Corridor are completely oblivious to these twin menaces. Indeed, they are the proverbial elephants in the room, thereby giving rise to a considerable irony: To wit, the GOP party of the elephant, which is supposed to be the palladium of financial rectitude in American politics, has forgotten about them completely.
For instance, in his triumphalist SOTU, the Donald didn’t utter so much as a single syllable about the Fed, the budget, entitlements, the $1 trillion per year deficits looming ahead or the nation’s soaring public debt. Yet after omitting virtually everything which counts, he went on to crow about how he is making America Great Again (MAGA) by making better trade deals and borrowing untold sums from future generations.
That is to say, when he did veer into fiscal territory it was to demand repeal of the sequester caps, which are the one thing that has slightly braked runaway spending, and to boast about his own favorite deficit financed twins: The $1.5 trillion tax cut already passed and the additional $1.5 trillion infrastructure boondoggle he proposed to lob on top.
Oh, and there was also his $33 billion Mexican Wall, 5,000 new border patrol agents (in addition to 20,000 already) and Federalization of two purported crises—the opioid epidemic and gangs like MS-13—-which should be a matter for local government, if the latter have any purpose at all.
As to the Wall Street end of the corridor, we got a good reminder of that during our appearance on Bloomberg TV last evening. The host objected to our fiscal warnings on the grounds that these threatened CR (continuing resolution) showdowns and debt ceiling crises arise episodically, but after a lot of partisan fire and brimstone they always get resolved.
The implication was that the fiscal file embodies just a messy process equation, but the pols eventually and reluctantly do their jobs. Accordingly, Wall Street’s cynicism about the matter is understandable and justified as in: Nothing to see here. Move along!
Needless to say, we beg to differ. In fact, the budget process is so utterly and irretrievably broken that by default Congress ends up kicking the can for want of an alternative; it’s evidence of serial failure, not of rising to the occassion.
The degree to which this has become institutionalized also became starkly evident yesterday when the new GOP chairman of the House budget committee, Rep. Steve Womack (R-Arkansas), announced that he wants to dispense with the legally required budget resolution for FY 2019 on the grounds that getting a consensus in an election year is just too hard!
“If I can read the tea leaves on what’s coming from the Senate, that doing a budget resolution that will be meaningful, that we can get House and Senate together on, is very problematic right now,” the Arkansas Republican said at a Thursday press conference here, where GOP lawmakers were having their annual retreat…… Of course, we add to the fact that it’s an election year and that makes it even more difficult to get things done,” he added.
Let’s see. The House GOP majority had no problem passing an unfinanced tax cut bill which will add $280 billion to the FY 2019 deficit alone; or approving $85 billion of disaster relief with no off-setting cuts or revenues; or enacting a $700 billion defense authorization with hardly a dissenting vote, while knowing that it would require busting the sequester caps by upwards of $80 billion.
Yet the once and former party of fiscal rectitude has apparently now found a Congressman from some Arkansas trailer park to head the budget committee, but who doesn’t want to bother with the real job of Congress, which is to safeguard the nation’s fiscal solvency.
Here’s the thing, however. Can-kicking has an inherent sell-by date. Hence the very nomenclature of it.
Yet there should never have been any mystery to economic conservatives as to the soaring public debt. To wit, the ills that have been ascribed to it from time immemorial were certain to reappear at the time that the Fed and other central banks stopped monetizing it.
After all, massive QE is, well, a massive fraud. It involved the removal from the global bond markets of upwards of $20 trillion worth of sovereign debt and other securities since 1995 by central banks, thereby tilting the market clearing yield sharply lower.
At the same time, the fiat credits snatched from thin air by the central banks to pay for these QE purchases flowed back into the financial markets where they became buying power for other securities such as corporates, junk bonds, ETFs, equities and various forms of Wall Street confected bespoke trades (gambles); or in the case of so-called excess bank reserves, they were hypothecated in support of bank borrowings that indirectly fattened the bid for risk assets.
At the end of the day, the QE bonds ended up sequestered in central bank vaults—even as the consequent rising pricing for these same securities encouraged private speculators to extract even more trillions of bonds from the trading pits.
This was accomplished by sequestering notes and bonds in the next best thing to a central bank vault. That is, a repo trade where said securities could be immobilized indefinitely by adroit traders, hedge funds and dealer prop desks making use of overnight funding pegged at zero cost by the Fed and other central banks.
So if the now apparently de-feathered GOP deficit hawks wondered how they got away with kicking the fiscal can for so many years, the smoking gun is embedded in the chart below.
The Fed and other central banks had their Big Fat Thumb on the supply/demand scales in the markets for savings and debt. The “crowding out” effect and rising yields that enforced fiscal rectitude in the pre-Greenspan era were unplugged by Keynesian central bankers who discovered that having the central banking branch of the state print money is a lot more efficacious—as least in the middle term—than having the Treasury borrow it honestly in the capital markets.
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