“The U.S. can pay any debt because we can always print more money.”

–Alan Greenspan
Meet the Press

August 7, 2011

Last week, Nouriel Roubini released a paper, “A Radical Policy Response to the Rising Risks of a Depression and Financial Crisis.” He writes: “Data suggest that developed and emerging markets alike are heading for a massive slowdown in growth, with advanced economies already slumping to stall speed.” Roubini is right, but for the wrong reasons.

Government intervention is the root cause of the financial crisis and the maladies identified by Roubini. Many of his proposals, such as debt restructuring and maintaining liquidity to solvent borrowers, are common sense initiatives that ought to be followed immediately. But the proposals by Roubini and others that governments should borrow and print even more fiat currency to fuel further fiscal stimulus are badly considered. Economists from Paul Krugman in the US to Adam Posen in the UK all call for more stimuli. They are all wrong.

First, when Roubini, Posen et al call for additional fiscal stimulus, we need to ask them why. The vast fiscal stimulus already attempted in the US failed miserably in terms of creating permanent jobs. More fiscal stimulus funded with debt will not generate real growth. Remember the idea of public deficits “crowding out” private investment? Huge public deficits actually kill private investment and increase inflation, but you will never hear the neo-Keynesians admit to it.

Second, when Roubini and Posen call for the Fed and the ECB to run the monetary printing presses, what they are saying implicitly is that the excessive debt currently killing growth in the industrial nations cannot be repudiated. To the point made in my earlier post on Roubini, we should no longer speak of “capitalism,” but instead of the tyranny of the fascist creditor-technocrats and their captive economists. While Greece faces seemingly inevitable default, many economists continue to believe that avoiding deflation in the larger industrial nations is the chief policy goal. Here again they are wrong.

Years ago, as an earnest young staffer for Congressman Jack Kemp, I expressed worry to my father Richard J. Whalen over the mounting federal debt. An adviser to several presidents and Fed chairman, he looked at me and smiled. “The duty of this generation is to pass the bubble onto the next generation, intact,” he quipped, reflecting the mainstream view in the US today. But as the quote from Alan Greenspan suggests, inflation is the sure result of this strategy. And deflation is the cure.

Deflation does hurt debtors and lenders, but it also advantages savers and institutions with cash to buy assets cheaply. The buyers of dead banks and bad assets generate real growth and jobs. When Roubini, Posen and other mainstream economists call for measures to avoid deflation, they actually cut off one of the few ways that consumers and private business have to offset the ill-effects of secular inflation — the real culprit behind the financial crisis.

But for the inflationary policies of the Fed and the ECB to stimulate pseudo “growth” over the past several decades, there would have been no financial bubble and no mountain of housing-related debt. Why do economists like Roubini and Krugman say we need more of this medicine? Such pathetic proposals for more-debt-driven government intervention are what pass for mainstream economic thinking today in the G-20 nations.

Keep in mind that there are still hundreds of billions in bad debts in the US and EU tied to real estate and other speculative endeavors — debt which must eventually default. Until the global financial system is cleansed of these bad debts, market volatility and uncertainty will remain high. Unless we bite the bullet and write down debts to levels that will allow private growth and employment, there will be no recovery.

Printing money and deficit spending hampers private credit creation. Higher inflation scares private investors and business leaders who refuse to hire new employees and invest in new capital stock. Fear of inflation is driving private capital flight into gold and other non-dollar assets. If the Fed wants to boost the US economy, then it should swear-off further monetary ease, raise interest rates gently, and provide ample volumes of credit to solvent banks.

Roubini is entirely right to focus on providing capital and liquidity to solvent banks, but he does not go far enough. Try this instead: restructure Bank of America and other insolvent US and EU banks and government agencies; Sell bad assets to solvent banks and private investors; Raise new private and public capital to create new, private financial vehicles to support leverage and new credit creation. Think of US Bancorp becoming the largest lender in the US as the zombie banks wither away.

The citizens of the US and EU states need to reject the siren songs of economists who wrongly advocate more debt-funded spending and inflationary monetary expansion. Only by restructuring bad debt, cutting public deficits and limiting the monetary policy caprice of the Fed and ECB can we create a sustainable environment for economic growth. Indeed, the one sure way to ensure the collapse of the fiat dollar system and the return of the gold standard is to follow the advice of Roubini, Posen and Krugman when it comes to monetary and fiscal policy.