Fed Drains $485 Billion in Liquidity from Market via Reverse Repos, Undoing 4 Months of QE, Even as QE Continues, Total Assets Near $8 Trillion

Article written by Wolf Richter of Wolf Street

May 27, 2021

This morning, the Fed sold a record $485 billion in Treasury securities via overnight “reverse repos” to 50 counterparties, beating the prior record set on December 31, 2015. These overnight reverse repos will mature and unwind tomorrow morning. Today, yesterday’s $450 billion in overnight reverse repos matured and unwound, and were more than replaced with this new batch of $485 billion in overnight reverse repos.

Reverse repos are liabilities on the Fed’s balance sheet. They’re the opposite of repos, which are assets. With these reverse repos, the Fed is sellingTreasury securities to counterparties and is taking their cash, thereby massively draining liquidity from the market – the opposite effect of QE.

In past years of large reserves following QE, banks shed reserves via reverse repos, reducing reserves on the balance sheet and increasing their Treasury holdings, to dress up their balance sheet at the end of the quarter, and particularly at the end of the year. Reverse repos declined after the Fed started reducing its assets during Quantitative Tightening in 2018 and 2019. But the current record spike is taking place in the middle of the quarter, a sign that the enormous amount of liquidity is going haywire:

This is a crazy situation that the Fed backed into.

Even as liquidity is going haywire, and as the Fed trying to deal with it via reverse repos, the Fed is still buying about $120 billion per month in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities, thereby adding liquidity.

But with its reverse repos of $485 billion, the Fed undid four months of QE!

The Fed could stop buying securities altogether and reduce its balance sheet, which would also drain liquidity from the market. But the Fed cannot do that because it said it would be slow and deliberate in announcing changes in its monetary policy, and that it might eventually talk about talking about tapering, so it can’t just suddenly do an about-face.

But this liquidity-haywire situation appears to be an emergency that needs to be addressed now, and so the Fed is addressing it through the backdoor via the overnight reverse repos.

At the same time, the Fed continues QE. Its total assets were of $7.90 trillion on its balance sheet as of May 26, released today, were down by $19 billion from the record last week, following the typical pattern. These assets include $5.09 trillion in Treasury securities and $2.24 trillion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS):

The Fed has discussed this liquidity issue during the last FOMC meeting and summarized some of the discussions in its meeting minutes. It noted that “a modest amount of trading” in the reverse repo market took place at negative yields, meaning that there is so much demand for Treasury securities, and so much liquidity chasing them, that the holders of liquidity were willing to lose money to obtain Treasury securities. This threatens to push related rates into the negative, such as SOFR (Secured Overnight Financing Rate) which is the Fed’s reference rate to replace LIBOR.

The Fed, sitting on $5.09 trillion in Treasury securities, has been stepping into the reverse repo market, selling Treasuries overnight to satisfy this demand for Treasuries and keep yields from meandering below zero.

The tsunami of liquidity.

Everyone has their own theory as to why there is so much demand for Treasury securities. But one thing we know: the banking system is creaking under a huge amount of liquidity.

Bank reserves on deposit at the Fed – a liability on the Fed’s balance sheet, money that the Fed owes the banks and that it pays the banks currently 0.1% interest on – ballooned to a record of $3.98 trillion on April 14 and have since then zigzagged down a smidgen. On the Fed’s balance sheet released today, they were at $3.81 trillion. This is a sign of just how much liquidity banks are swimming in:

The drawdown of the Treasury General Account.

The government sold a gigantic amount of debt last spring, adding $3 trillion to its debt in a few months and kept the unspent amounts in its checking account – the General Treasury Account or GTA at the Fed, which is a liability for the Fed, money that it owes the US Treasury. The balance in the GTA ballooned to $1.8 trillion by July 2020, compared to the pre-crisis range between $100 billion and $400 billion.

The Mnuchin Treasury started spending down the balance in the checking account by borrowing a little less. By early January, the GTA was down to $1.6 trillion.

The Yellen Treasury formalized the drawdown and in early February announced that it would bring the balance down to $500 billion by June. This turned out to be too much too fast, and it now looks like August will be the month when the drawdown reaches the $500 billion mark.

On the balance sheet the Fed released today, the balance as of May 26 was down to $779 billion. Down by $821 billion since February, $279 billion to go:

The drawdown of the GTA has some implications for the markets: this is money that the government will spend but doesn’t have to collect in taxes or borrow; it already borrowed it in March through June last year. And the Fed mopped up this debt with its $3 trillion in asset purchases. So the drawdown means that the government has been spending this money that the Fed had already monetized in the spring last year.

All of this has big implications for the markets. These are huge amounts, in terms of reserves on deposit at the Fed, the drawdown of GTA at the Fed, and now the reverse repos at the Fed, all of them liabilities at the Fed, all of them representing different aspects of the massive flows of liquidity that are now bouncing off the walls.

China Reiterates Cyrpto Bans from 2013 and 2017

Regulators cite the dangers of speculative trading

Article by: Muyao Shen

The National Internet Finance Association of China, the China Banking Association and the Payment and Clearing Association of China reiterated their stance on banning crypto services.

The three entities published a note Tuesday confirming bans originally implemented in 2013 and 2017 that bar financial and payment institutions from providing any services related to cryptocurrency transactions and saying that initial coin offerings remain illegal.

“Virtual currency’s prices have soared and plummeted recently, resulting [in] a rebound of speculative trading activities of virtual currency,” the report said. “It has seriously damaged the safety of the people’s investment and damaged the normal economic and financial orders.”

In 2013, China’s central bank barred financial institutions from handling bitcoin (BTC, +3.35%)transactions, according to a notice from China Securities Regulatory Commission.

And then again in 2017, the central bank in China declared initial coin offerings as illegal, which caused bitcoin’s price to fall.

Robert’s two cents: The last line of this article assumes that was the cause of the price fall. Yet, there is no proof supporting this claim. Its highly possible, in fact more probable, that the market correction with BTC has more to do with its volatility during its growth phase rather than simply one or two persons speaking out against it. This is a fallacious presumption.

Inflation Is Great If You’re Already Rich

Written by Doug French

he 4.2 percent Consumer Price Index (CPI) bounce for April sent a chill through some traders and financial commentators who had expected a tamer number like a 3.6 or 3.9 percent from last year’s covid price level air pocket. 

The MarketWatch headline screamed, “U.S. Inflation Soars in April to Thirteen-Year High, CPI Shows, and Reveals Fresh Stress on the Economy.” Barron’s was slightly more relaxed: “Surging Inflation Is Hammering the Stock Market. Why It Isn’t Time to Panic Just Yet.” Then there was Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who tweeted, “So, the inflation report wasn’t a nothingburger, but it was sort of a White Castle slider—not a very big deal.”

Before the 4.2 percent print, John Authers posted a piece on Bloomberg, “Markets Give Powell a Break. It May Be Transitory.” “It” being CPI. “Transitory” being a term Powell uses often, a.k.a., “don’t worry, be happy, this too will pass.” 

With all of this teeth gnashing over CPI and money supply, Nobelist Krugman offered up what he calls “Krugman Wonks Out: Return of the Monetary Cockroaches,” where he says, “[C]ockroach ideas, false beliefs that sometimes go away for a while but always come back.” The false belief according to him is that increases in the supply of money lead to inflation, meaning price inflation.

We must remember what Ludwig von Mises wrote, “What people today call inflation is not inflation, i.e., the increase in the quantity of money and money substitutes, but the general rise in commodity prices and wage rates which is the inevitable consequence of inflation. This semantic innovation is by no means harmless.”

So while Chairman Powell claims to be adhering to the Fed’s mandate of stable prices, stable prices in a world with the division of labor and technology running step for step like Affirmed and Alydar in the 1978 Belmont Stakes, prices should be falling, making everyone, especially those at the bottom of the economic food chain better off.

Tragically, Powell sees it another way. Reuters reported the Fed chair as saying that “low inflation hurts American businesses and households and constrains the Fed’s ability to offset economic shocks with easy monetary policy.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Professor Jörg Guido Hülsmann wrote in Deflation and Liberty,

In a word: the dangers of deflation are chimerical, but its charms are very real. There is absolutely no reason to be concerned about the economic effects of deflation—unless one equates the welfare of the nation with the welfare of its false elites. There are by contrast many reasons to be concerned about both the economic and political consequences of the only alternative to deflation, namely, re-inflation—which is of course nothing but inflation pure and simple.

Given the retirement of the Contra Krugman team of Tom Woods and Bob Murphy, I’m left to point out that what Krugman can’t see must not be. Where’s the hyperinflation, you zombies and monetary cockroaches? He said we cried wolf ten years ago and are doing it again.

Now, he fingers the crypto crowd for the money-printing panic. He claims to be patient, but those who seek escape from the government’s currency and are arguing “[f]iat money is doomed because the Fed won’t stop running the printing press” are wrong, he says, because “nothing like that has happened in the U.S.”

But it has happened and is happening. Murray Rothbard explained, “[A]n increase in the money supply can only dilute the effectiveness of each existing money unit, and therefore must be “inflationary” in the sense of raising prices beyond what they would have been otherwise.”

“What they would have been otherwise” being the key. Were the Weimar Republic or recently Zimbabwe or today’s Venezuela sophisticated economies ripe with technology and the division of labor, creating efficiencies and pushing down prices? No. Those governments printed money, and their people had nowhere to escape the falling currency but by buying up consumer goods, creating shortages, clearing shelves, and forcing up prices until their entire economies fell apart.

Everyone has seen pictures of empty shelves in Venezuela. Meantime, the one-year return on the Caracas stock exchange is 1,804.92 percent according to Bloomberg.

Venezuela’s well-to-do survive and possibly thrive, while the poor starve. And, for Nobel laureates and Fed chairmen that’s just fine.

The US has inflation. It benefits the rich, at the expense of the poor.

“Inflation is the true opium of the people and it is administered to them by anticapitalist governments and parties,” wrote Mises.

What Krugman can’t see is that people are escaping the Fed’s money creation by buying stocks, bonds, real estate, crypto, NFTs, and who knows what all. While it might not be hyper, yet, the Fed is providing an overdose of what Mises called true opium.

Let’s Level the Playing Field between the Dollar and Competing Currencies

Written by Michael Milano

To be a reliable and useful medium of exchange, money must be durable, portable, divisible, and recognizable, but also scarce. The privileged power of the state to manipulate the scarcity of money has had disastrous consequences for national currency systems throughout history. While money, like everything else, is subject to the subjective valuations of consumers—as noted by Mises—money’s exchange value is “the most important kind of value, because it governs the social and not merely the individual aspect of economic life.” Legal tender laws and other regulations imposed on currencies cause value discrepancies to arise.

Indeed, when states intervene to impose “official value” on money, true market preferences can be partly observed in the workings of Gresham’s law. Gresham’s law is conventionally described as “bad” money drives out “good” money, but a more accurate definition per Rothbard is that “money overvalued artificially by government will drive out of circulation artificially undervalued money.” Imagine a specie-based economy that issues a coin containing one ounce of gold. Facing mounting debts, the government substitutes copper for a more valuable metal in the minting process while maintaining the coin’s denominational value. According to Gresham’s law, once citizens recognize the inconsistencies in the precious metal content, they’ll opt to spend their artificially “overvalued” newer coins while hoarding their artificially “undervalued” older coins.

Whereas “overvalued” money was created in the past by physical debasement, “overvalued” money today is the result of reckless monetary and fiscal policy. Over the course of the pandemic, the money supply, M2 according to the Federal Reserve, increased 29.7 percent, from $15.405 trillion in February 2020 to $19.979 trillion in March 2021. Since the advent of the Federal Reserve, the purchasing power of the dollar has dropped by over 96 percent (i.e., $1 today is the equivalent of $26.14 in 1913). Unbridled quantitative easing has further amplified inflation worries and global doubts about the stability of the dollar.

Legal tender laws in the United States require the public to accept payment for debts and taxes at the dollar denomination shown on the bill. This form of coercive price control has established the dollar as the economy’s unit of account. Similarly, burdensome tax regulations bolster the “overvalued” dollar by constructing barriers of use for its rivals.

The Case of Cryptocurrency

We can see the effects of these regulations at work today in how cryptocurrency is used.

According to the IRS, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are considered property for taxation purposes. Thus, the act of buying goods and services with BTC is identified as a realization event that requires the purchaser to declare any gains recognized from their BTC cost basis. Disregarding scalability concerns, onerous requirements that force users to track gains and losses for all transactions ultimately prevents BTC from serving as an effective medium of exchange.

On the other hand, if there is real market demand for various cryptos, government regulations designed to discourage the use of anything other than the “official” money will cause the demanded “unofficial” monies to become “undervalued” currency.

Thus, in accordance with Gresham’s law, the in-demand cryptos would be hoarded, rather than circulated at large. In the bitcoin community, for example, this mentality is personified by the Hodl meme encouraging bitcoin users to simply hold, rather than spend, bitcoin. A feedback loop has been generated where greater levels of fiat inflation have led to wealth flooding into BTC, further strengthening the perception that BTC is a reliable store of value. This mentality has been embraced of late by numerous corporations, who have transferred portions of their cash reserves into BTC (e.g., Tesla, MicroStrategy, Square, and MassMutual).

Thanks to so many government restrictions on the use of potential monies that aren’t the dollar, we can only guess as to what the relationship between dollars and bitcoin would be in a functioning marketplace. To find out, it would be best to level the playing field by eliminating legal tender laws and onerous taxation requirements. This would allow individuals to actively assess true differences in purchasing power.

This is unlikely, however, because elected officials depend so much on inflating the supply of dollars for political gain. Whether Democrat or Republican, politicians within our current system overwhelmingly perpetuate the welfare-warfare state—and this would be much more difficult with market-based money not subject to easy inflation by central banks.

Perversely incentivized, these politicians promote expansionary monetary policies that benefit special interest groups while pandering to their electoral base. As noted by Hayek, “[W]ith the exception only of the 200-year period of the gold standard, practically all governments of history have used their exclusive power to issue money in order to defraud and plunder the people.” Depriving the state of this exclusive power would force accountability first and foremost. If the threat of violence and imprisonment were stripped away, the public could freely evaluate the quality of different currencies and act accordingly.

Silver Price: Eyes on $28 as Demand Exceeds Supply

Silver price is higher as its industrial and safe-haven demand rises. Investors are now keen on FOMC meeting minutes on Wednesday.

silver price

Inflation concerns

On Friday, silver price was higher as a reaction to the stagnation of April’s retail sales. Analysts expected a reading of 1.0% compared to March’s 10.7%.  Besides, Fed officials like Governor Christopher Waller and Vice Chair Richard Clarida have downplayed inflation fears. In the ensuing sessions, investors will be keen on the FOMC meeting minutes scheduled for Wednesday. Fed maintained a dovish tone in its recent interest rate decision.    

Industrial demand

Unlike its lustrous cousin – gold, silver is more than a hedge against inflation. Due to its durability and electrical conductivity, it has various technological, electrical, and industrial applications. The reopening of economies and shift towards the green economy has heightened silver’s industrial demand. According to the Silver Institute, the metal’s industrial demand in the current year is significantly beyond its supply. On the supply side, it is risen by 8% in 2021 compared to the prior year’s -4%. In comparison, its demand has soared by 15%, which is significantly higher than 2020’s -10%. A continuation of this trend is likely to push silver price higher.

Silver Price Technical Outlook

Silver price has continued with its uptrend on Friday’s session. On a larger scale, the uptrend has continued since late March. On 30th March, the precious metal had its price drop to the lowest level since mid-December 2020. Subsequently, it been on a rebound journey characterised by several pullbacks and sideway trading moments. Over the past one-and-a-half months, it has risen by about 16.61%. At the time of writing, it was up by 0.74% at 27.60.  

On a daily chart, silver price is trading above the two and four-week exponential moving averages. Besides, it is within an ascending channel, which substantiates the bullish outlook. I expect the precious metal to rise further as bulls target 28 in the short-term and 30 towards the end of the second quarter.

In today’s session, the price is likely to rise to past the psychological 28 to 28.38. At that point, it will find resistance along the channel’s upper border. It may then pull back and trade sideways along 28 before moving higher. Notably, that has been an important resistance level since August 2020.  

Article originally featured here

What’s the Carbon Footprint for Fiat Currency?

Bigger than Bitcoin that is for sure.

Article by Peter St. Onge, Phd.
Peter St. Onge, Ph.D. is a former professor and Mises Institute Associated Scholar. He writes about Austrian economics and Bitcoin

Critics of Bitcoin like to compare its carbon footprint to a transaction on your Visa card, ignoring the environmental impact of the infrastructure that sustains fiat money and the enormous collateral damage that fiat brings. These secondary effects make fiat money orders of magnitude more energy-destructive than Bitcoin. 

You can appreciate fiat’s secondary footprint from any street corner on Earth: 80,000 bank branches and 470,000 ATMs in the U.S. alone, along with forests of skyscrapers that dominate every city on the planet. Then the part we don’t see: Finance and insurance are 8.4% of the gross domestic product in the U.S., only slightly behind manufacturing. That means millions taking the subway or driving to the office – or, the pandemic equivalent, firing up an army of laptops and call centers – to sling paper money under fiat’s harsh fluorescent glow. Visa transactions don’t even come close.

And that’s on the good days. Because, when it comes to fiat, there are a lot of bad days. Fiat money has caused a recession every 5.6 years, to be precise, in the U.S. since the Federal Reserve’s founding, by manipulating the pace of money creation that drives the boom-bust cycle. Beyond the human toll, each recession has brought trillions in wealth destruction, wealth that took an enormous amount of resources and, yes, an enormous amount of carbon to create.

To translate this recession cost into something that can be compared to Bitcoin, I relied on the most mainstream estimates of the carbon cost of a dollar of GDP – about 5,000 BTU (British thermal units), or 1.5 kWh (kilowatt hour), per dollar. Then, using the Federal Reserve’s own estimate of $11 trillion destroyed peak to trough in the 2008 crisis – the very crisis that inspired Satoshi to create Bitcoin – you simply multiply the two. That comes out to 16,500 TWh (terawatt hour) of carbon equivalence destroyed during that single recession. Accounting for the rest of the world, that might triple. Accounting for the other 16 recessions the Fed has given us – with more to come – makes it astronomical.

The modern recession and the boom-bust cycle that drives it is entirely a creation of fiat money. Governments intervene in the allocation of capital, randomly starting and stopping a fire hose of credit that whipsaws the real economy and destroys real lives. Just as the cost of a five-second delay in a footrace can be measured in distance lost, the cost of a recession can be measured by the resources it will take to rebuild lost wealth. Bitcoin, by taking purchasing power out of central banks’ manipulation space, can reduce or even eliminate their ability to cause boom-bust cycles.

Even Bitcoin’s worst critics allege the distributed network consumes no more than 86 TWh per year, of which perhaps 16 TWh might be Americans, with much of that green energy. It would take between 500 and 1,000 years for Bitcoin’s energy use to even approach the 2008 crisis alone. With another recession permanently on the way, over and over again. That 500 to 1,000 years’ worth of energy goes on top of the 8.4% of GDP, the 80,000 bank branches and 470,000 ATMs and those skyscrapers.

These ratios suggest that central banks are vastly more polluting than Bitcoin, indeed more polluting than the worst industrial offender you could imagine. Bitcoin, by implication, is among the most green technologies humanity has ever invented. Indeed, if Bitcoin even slightly reduces central banks’ ability to cause recessions, it could pay back every watt many times over. For example, if Bitcoin reduces the odds or magnitude of central bank recessions by just 2%, Bitcoin would actually save us far more energy than it uses – it would be net carbon negative. 

Of course, collateral damage from fiat doesn’t end at recessions. Inflation, business cycles and money printing lead to economic chaos and human misery, bailouts of politically connected industries and fiat-subsidized wars – with carbon footprints and human costs all their own. Fiat money perverts the natural symbiosis between taxpayer and tax collector, whereby governments do well when we do well, by allowing governments to magic up what they need via the printing press. 

Given we live in a world of irresponsible governments, bankers with senators on speed dial and still-immature altcoins, Bitcoin remains the safest bet for reducing the enormous energy waste and human cost of rebuilding our economy over and over again. 

Skipping the roof on your new house may be green in the moment, but not if you have to rebuild every 5.6 years. If you really do prioritize the environment, help Bitcoin shut down the most polluting industry on Earth: central banking.

Inflation: More Evidence

Recall the definition of inflation: “Any Increase in the economy’s supply of money not consisting of an increase in the stock of the money metal.” ~Murray N. Rothbard, Phd from “What Has Government Done to Our Money?”

After understanding the definition of inflation, review the chart listed here in this article. It shows the growth of the monetary base since January 2008. Clearly, the trend for monetary base expansion demonstrates an upward trend since 2008. This can be explained by all the bailouts, repo agreements, stimulus packages, and etc that have been done during this time period by the Federal Reserve and US Government.

People conflate the notion of increase in prices as inflation. The increase in prices occur after the monetary base has been expanded beyond the amount of money metal. Note: Prices can rise due to other factors, such as increased scarcity for a resource. That is not the focus of the article.

As more monetary base units are printed, beyond the money metal in storage, each unit in circulation becomes less “valuable”. At this point, it requires more monetary base units to purchase goods and services. This is why prices rise from the increase in the monetary base.

This is why Gold, Silver, and Bitcoin is so appealing to investors. These assets allow for investors to hedge against inflation, and store value for future consumption across time. Their current amounts can not be increased by a governing body.

Source: St Louis Federal Reserve

The Edict of Diocletian: A Case Study in Price Controls and Inflation

By Murrary Rothbard

Citizens of the old Roman Empire distrusted paper currency and refused to accept anything but gold or silver coin as money. So the rulers found themselves barred from inflating the money supply by the unobtrusive method of printing additional currency.

But the Roman emperors soon discovered an ingenious device. They proceeded to call in the coins of the realm, ostensibly for repairs. Then, by various means, such as filing off small parts of the coins, or introducing cheaper alloys, they reduced the silver content of the money without changing its original face value. This devalution enabled them to add many more silver coins to the Roman money supply. The practice was started by Nero, and accelerated by his successors. By Diocletian’s time, the denarius (standard silver coin) had been reduced to one-tenth of its former value.

The result was a steep rise in prices throughout the vast Roman empire. As has happened throughout history, the public indignantly accused merchants and speculators of causing the rise in prices. It was generally agreed that the only remedy was stringent maximum price controls by the government.

Accordingly, Emperor Diocletian, a “friend of the people,” issued his famous Edict in 301 A.D. setting ceiling prices on all types of commodities, and maximum wages for all occupations. A few typical examples: Beans, crushed, 100 denarii; beans, uncrushed, 60 den.; beans, dried kidney, 100 den. Veterinary, for clipping hoofs, 6 den. per animal. Veterinary, for bleeding heads, 20 den. per animal. Writer, for best writing, 25 den. per 100 lines. Writer, for writing of the second quality, 20 den. per 100 lines.

Diocletian’s proclamation introducing the Edict bears marked resemblance to modern exhortations:

We must check the limitless and furious avarice which with no thought for mankind hastens to its own gain. This avarice, with no thought of the common need, is ravaging the wealth of those in extremes of need. We — the protectors of the human race — have agreed that justice should intervene as arbiter, so that the solution which mankind itself could not supply might, by the remedies of our foresight, be applied to the general betterment of all.

In the markets, immoderate prices are so widespread that the uncurbed passion for gain is not lessened by abundant supplies. Men whose aim it always is to profit, to restrain general prosperity, men who individually abounding in great riches which could completely satisfy whole nations, try to capture smaller fortunes and strive after ruinous percentages. Concern for humanity in general persuades us to set a limit to the avarice of such men. Profiteers, covertly attacking the public welfare, are extorting prices from merchandise such that in a single purchase a soldier is deprived of his bonus and salary.

Therefore, we have decreed that there be established a maximum so that when the violence of high prices appears anywhere, avarice might be checked by the limits of our statute. To ensure adequate enforcement, anyone who shall violate this statute shall be subject to a capital penalty. The same penalty shall apply to one who in the desire to buy shall have conspired against the statute with the greed of the seller. Also subject to the death penalty is he who believes he must withdraw his goods from the general market because of this regulation.

We urge upon the loyalty of all that a law constituted for the public good may be observed with obedience and care.

If anyone could force people to trade at the ceiling prices, Diocletian was the man. Yet the absolute emperor of the civilized world, a veteran general with myriads of secret police at his command, was soon forced to surrender. After a short interval almost nothing was offered for sale, and there was a great scarcity of all goods.

Diocletian was obliged to repeal the price-fixing Edict. Prices were finally stabilized in 307 A.D. when the government stopped diluting the money supply.

Inequality and the Gold Standard

By David Howden

Imagine that you earn $40,000 a year and your boss doubles you at $80,000 a year. Business was good to you both in 2013, and you received a 25 percent raise for your efforts. Not bad, and your boss gets to share in this good fortune too with an extra $25,000 (about 30 percent). You’re going to make $50,000 in 2014 and your boss will pull in $105,000.

Are you happy with this deal? Probably. But wait, income inequality just increased! Your boss originally outpaced you by 100 percent, but now his salary is 110 percent higher than yours.

In today’s progressive narrative, this situation is cause for alarm. Income inequality has increased and despite the fact that everyone is doing better than they once were, one group is doing relatively better.

What about if we reverse the example, starting from the original salaries? Instead of having a great year, imagine things were very bad and salary cuts are going around. You get a 25 percent pay cut so that you will now be earning $30,000 a year, and because he has more responsibility about the direction of the business and its lack of success, your boss gets a larger pay cut of $25,000. (This situation is the mirror image of the first example.)

You are making much less than you did last year. Are you upset about this? Probably. But wait, apparently there is a silver lining. Your boss now “only” makes about 80 percent more money than you, versus the 100 percent salary differential that existed last year. Income inequality decreased!

Apparently you can take solace in knowing that the playing field has been leveled, even if your kids are going to have a tough Christmas morning one year from now.

This is admittedly a very simple example. What I am trying to show is that the income inequality debate is not as straight forward as it is commonly framed. It is not just a question of one group getting a larger piece of the pie, but of increasing the size of the pie so that everyone can benefit.

John Cassidy recently entered the melee with a very digestible look at American income inequality over time. In his “six charts” there is some of the same (the top 1 percent of earners have seen their share of the pie rise rapidly over the past decades) and also some surprises.

Relying on data from Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, Cassidy shares the following graph showing changes in real income growth over the past century.

how

First let’s look at the top 1 percent. There seem to be about three distinct periods their incomes have gone through. The first from 1913 to roughly 1973 is more or less flat. Real incomes for the top 1 percent were no higher in 1973 than they were around 1930. After 1973 however there is a sharp and mostly uninterrupted spike upwards which seems to stop around the year 2000. After 2000 their real incomes have ebbed and flowed, primarily in response to capital gains and losses on their stock portfolios. Even though the volatility of their income has increased, it still remains quite high relative to any time over the past 100 years.

Compare this with the bottom 99 percent. There seem to be about four distinct periods of real income growth. From 1913 until the end of the Great Depression, real income remained more or less constant. The 1940s, 50s and 60s saw a rapid increase in real income growth, far more rapid than what the 1 percent experienced. This came to a sudden end around 1973 and a stagnation until the early 1990s. Then from 1993 onwards we see the same final stage as the 1 percent. Increasing real incomes (though much slower than the 1 percent) but more volatility as well.

There are many things which are the same in these two trends, but the one year that probably pops out for people who think income inequality is a bad thing is 1973.This year marked the end of the steady advance for the 99 percent’s real income gains and set in motion the rapid advance of the 1 percent. In other words, the marked income inequality we see today is a product of the post-1973 world.

So what happened in 1973? Many things as it turns out. Decreased unionization was getting underway in the US economy around this time, as was the spike in the price of oil.

Russ Roberts at Café Hayek has a different explanation. He thinks it has to do with changes to the family unit. Large increases in the divorce rate and a steady increase in the number of households headed by women could be to blame for the sudden jump in income inequality.

Maybe, but although this could be a reason why, I doubt it is the primary reason.

Let’s try an informal test. What was the biggest event to occur in 1973?

Americans probably will answer Roe v. Wade, the completion of the World Trade Center as the world’s tallest building or the beginnings of the Watergate hearings. Maybe the start of withdrawal of troops from Vietnam or Britain joining the European Economic Community. Or for sports fans it could be Secretariat winning the Triple Crown and getting immortalized on the cover of Time.

Actually the most important thing to happen in 1973 actually happened in 1971, August 15th to be exact.

On that date Richard Nixon closed the gold window. The US dollar was convertible by foreign governments into gold under the then-existing Bretton Woods system at the great price of $35 per ounce. Continued redemption demands by some belligerent countries (primarily France) drained the US of its gold reserves until the breaking point when it became questionable how much longer this could continue for. In what could have been the most important day of the twentieth century, Richard Nixon decided to renege on the US’s promises to foreign governments and essentially default on its currency. No longer was the US dollar tied to gold and the US no longer had to worry about spending beyond its means.

Well, almost no longer. While there was no convertibility into gold after 1971 there was still that old bugaboo of fixity in the exchange rate. The US dollar still functioned on a fixed exchange rate standard relative to gold until 1973, even if there was no convertibility. This meant that the US was still not free to expand its money supply or incur ever increasing budget deficits at will. It had to target a dollar price of gold, which was reset a little higher in 1971 to $38/oz. Even though there was no redeemability, the US was legally obliged to target this gold price, something which tied its hands concerning the extent to which deficits could be run and expansionary of the money supply policies could be pursued.

The effect on the deficit is easy to understand in light of this.

how

Since the late 1880s (and before) the US government ran a somewhat balanced budget. Minor blips appeared during the two World Wars, but by-and-large the deficit hovered very close to the zero line. In the late 1960s we can witness the a growing deficit, partly in response to the cost of the Vietnam War but even that is relatively mild to what would come later. Likewise, 1971 also witnessed a growing deficit but the year which defines the point of no return is clearly 1973. At that point the US deficit went into free fall and besides a few surplus years in the late 1990s it has never recovered.

The effect was also pronounced on prices.

how

Prices were indeed climbing throughout the 1960s, but 1973 was also the year that set off the most inflationary episode in America´s history. Being unhinged from that relic of gold, the Federal Reserve could increase the money supply and monetize the Federal government’s budget as it wanted. This culminated with 15 percent annual inflation in 1980 something which took a very strong-minded Federal Reserve chairman by the name of Paul Volker to tame by putting the breaks on money supply growth.

Inflation looks tame today, though the experience following the 1973 decoupling showed what happens when you let the government spend at will without any restraint. Gold provided restraint, just as political gridlock should today. But in the period of the mid to late 1970s there was no such luck.

All this takes us back to the original question: why did income inequality increase so much after 1973? We can look to two factors both related to the loss of the gold exchange standard in 1971 and the arrival of flexible exchange rates two years later.

First, as the US government no longer had to worry about redeeming US debt held overseas in gold, it was able to spend without restraint. Of course, this created a large budget deficit quickly, something which needed a solution. This brings us to the second point. By monetizing the US budget deficits, the Federal Reserve set off a period of high price inflation.

The reason why there is growing income inequality since 1973 is a direct result of this monetary mayhem. All this new money needs an entry point into the economy. Someone has to get it first and spend it. When they spend this newly created money they do so at the existing set of prices, but in the course of making these expenditures prices will rise. Those who get the money first “win” in the sense that they get a free lunch – they have a greater income and can spend it before prices rise. Those who get the money last are the “losers” – they get access to this money eventually as it is spent (trickles down?) but by the time that occurs, prices have already risen. They are no better off.

The 99 percent that have become relatively poorer over the past 40 years are those who get access to this new money last. (Remember however that these people are still, thankfully, wealthier than they were 40 years ago.)

Who are the remaining 1 percent, then? Well, who gets the money first?

Government officials and contractors, to the extent that they gets the proceeds of all the newly created money are the first and primary beneficiaries. Big banks and financial institutions also win as they are the enablers who help this newly created money enter the economy. Incidentally, 99 times out of 100, when we think of someone in the 1 percent who is getting ahead of the rest of us, they probably either work for the higher echelons of the government or are involved in the financial industry.

Coincidence? I doubt it, and you just have to go back in time to 1973 to understand why.

The Bitcoin Standard

After reading “The Bitcoin Standard” by Saifedean Ammous, I am convinced that Bitcoin is here to stay. Dr. Ammous, in this book, does a brief history of the origins of money, and he also touches on the societal impact of when sound money is used, as compared to fiat currency.

In addition to the historical primer on money, he provides a critique of the current economic model used by most economists: The Keynsian economic model. His critique rips apart the model to the point of total submission by anyone who stands by this model. (yes, there is some hyperbole used here, but its okay…)

Dr. Ammous furthers his argument by presenting how money is used across time. A fancy word for this is: “inter-temporal utility”. The “harder” the money is–if the money unit is more difficult to expand–it creates an environment that economic actors in the economy save their money for future consumption. Per Dr. Ammous, societies that have used this “harder” currency have flourished in all aspects of its civilization.

In my opinion, its best feature is its ability to store value inter-temporally…similar to Gold and Silver. As the world’s central banks print more currency, and Governments engage in deficit spending, sound investors will implement a strategy that will include Gold, Silver and Bitcoin.

Featured below are several videos featuring Dr. Ammous discussing the benefits of Bitcoin. Feel free to check them out, and take copious notes if you are serious about learning more about the benefits of Bitcoin.