It seems the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve is of the belief that diluting the dollar is the cure for everything from a recession to male pattern baldness. And like other snake-oil salesmen before him, Mr. Bernanke is heavy on promises and light on results. Here are five prescriptions that money printing can't fulfill:
1. Lower the corporate tax rate. The US corporate tax rate is the second highest in the developed world, after Japan. Lowering this tax would help American businesses compete with foreign corporations and unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of our workforce. In addition, lowering taxes on capital goods purchases and retained earnings would also encourage expansion projects, new hiring, and therefore general business development.
2. Reduce crippling regulations. There isn't a much better example of the current environment of excessive red tape than the number of "Czars" running around the White House: 28, at last count. Ronald Reagan had just one. These sub-cabinet level offices simply advise the President on how to further fetter American businesses and launch umpteen "independent probes" every time an issue comes up. But even officials not given the Imperial Russian title are busy making life hell for small- and medium-sized businesses because there is too much power in Washington.
3. Learn to compete with foreign workers. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and mandated benefits and regulations add even more to the cost of employment. We need to repeal these laws and allow wages to adjust freely to market conditions. Initially, incomes may drop, but if we also lower taxes while reducing the rate of inflation, workers' real disposable income may actually increase. Meanwhile, as our economy's underlying strength is rebuilt, American workers will finally be able to compete with foreign workers on a level playing field. If we ignore these reforms, high-quality jobs will continue to flow overseas.
4. Improve America's educational system. According to a recent report put out by the National Academies of Science and Engineering, the US ranks 21st in science and 25th in math out of 30 industrialized nations. And, according to the World Economic Forum, the United States' K-12 education system now ranks 48th in the world. How can our workers compete in the 21st century without the necessary technological skills to fill highly paid positions? We need to dramatically reform our public educational system by injecting a massive dose of free markets into the mix. Whether this involves charter schools, private schools, vouchers, or a combination, public schools must be forced to compete for students and funding. If consumers were given a true choice by offering tax credits to those parents that opt-out of the public system, it would go a long way towards establishing an environment that purges mediocrity and rewards excellence.
5. Balance the federal budgets. Balancing a budget simply means spending only what you take in as revenue. If we were to adopt that simply strategy, it would ensure that: tax rates would never have to rise sharply just to service debt, the Fed would never have to print money to 'monetize' the debt, interest rates would be lower, and spending that benefits one generation would never be paid for by generations to come. A stable currency, low taxes and the ability to pay down debts are necessary ingredients for a growing workforce and a viable middle class.
Unlike the snake oil of printed money, these genuine therapies take time and effort, and sometimes have painful side effects. The quack remedies offered by Dr. Bernanke promise to cure all ills with no effort on the part of the patient.
If the measures I propose are established in concert, we would lay the groundwork upon which to rebuild the country's goods-producing sector. If allowed to flourish, manufacturing can create the needed jobs to lower the long-term unemployment rate and restore the county's economic vitality.
The Fed's plan, by contrast, has only one predictable consequence: inflation. Indeed, Bernanke has already been remarkably successful in sending asset prices higher. Not only are most commodities soaring in dollar terms, but the broader measures of the money supply have started to surge as well. The compounded annual rates of change in MZM and M2 over the last month are 13.3% and 9.1% respectively. The prices-paid component of the September ISM manufactures survey jumped to 71, and the YoY increase in the PPI is 4%. Sure, we can look to the Dow or the stabilization of home prices and say the Fed's magic is working, but just because the headache has gone away doesn't mean you've cured the stroke. We can look to the inflation indicators to see that the Fed has failed to stop the bleeding.
Remember, the Fed is now printing dollars to purchase the bulk of US Treasuries at auction, in a process called debt monetization. It is that process of the Fed expanding the money supply to subsidize federal debt that is causing domestic prices to surge. It will not be very long before the consumer acutely suffers from this dangerous policy. On this point, history is clear: inflation has caused the destruction of every middle class and every economy that has sought it as a solution.
There are no quick fixes to our current economic predicament, but there are fixes. It's up to the American people to decide they've had enough of Ben 'Rasputin' Bernanke and they're ready for some tough medicine. When that happens, I've got some great specialists to recommend.
Michael Pento is the Senior Economist for Euro Pacific Capital
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