Bill Bonner

Well, August washed up. It was the worst month for US stocks in almost a decade. And yesterday didn’t help. The Dow couldn’t manage a rally. It rose just 4 points.

The British newspaper, the Telegraph, has the story:

“It’s pretty clear the US economy has hit a wall,” said Barry Knapp, head of US equity strategy at Barclays Capital. “The macro picture is dominating and, right now, it’s not clear what’s going to get the market out of this spot.”

Those fears took centre stage again during the final day of trading.

In New York, markets enjoyed some brief respite from the blizzard of weak data as reports on the US housing market and consumer confidence proved better than feared. The Conference Board’s index of consumer confidence climbed to 53.5 last month from 51 in July, while the latest reading from the respected S&P/Case-Shiller index showed that home prices were up 4.2pc in June compared with a year ago.

The day’s rally proved short-lived, however, after the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting returned investors to the summer’s familiar themes. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has spent the past few weeks facing increasing pressure from markets to publicly declare he will do more to fight the prospect of a second recession if the recovery stumbles further. According to the minutes, some members of the Fed’s Open Market Committee saw “increased downside risks to the outlook for both growth and inflation”.

That admission left the Dow up just 4.99 points at 10,014.72 for the day, while the S&P ended the day up 0.41 at 1,049.33.

As predicted on this page, both Martin Wolf and Paul Krugman are taking the low road. Not that we wouldn’t take it too, were we in their position. They urged the Obama team to undertake massive programs of “stimulus.” Now that the stimulus hasn’t worked, they say it wasn’t massive enough.

And thank God the administration at least took some of our advice, they add. Otherwise, things would be a lot worse!

In today’s Financial Times, Wolf refers to a recent paper by Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi. The two use a “standard macro-economic model” to determine that without the feds’ intervention the decline in GDP would have been three times worse and unemployment would have risen to over 16%. And, can you believe it, we would have had a federal deficit of $2.6 trillion.

Oh man, oh man…we’re so grateful to Wolf, Krugman, Summers, Obama, Bernanke and all the other savants who protected us from such a dreadful fate.

But wait a minute, this “standard macro-economic model” sounds great and all…but we can’t help but wonder. It can predict precise outcomes based on federal policy inputs, right? That is, if the feds were to do such and such…it tells us what will happen, right? And Wolf says it’s “standard,” so we imagine that you can get it at any Wal-Mart or filling station. So, the Obama team must have had it two years ago, right? We can’t help wonder if this was the same model they used when they forecast that unemployment wouldn’t go over 8% – if Congress agreed to the stimulus bill the administration proposed. Must have been a different one… Because Congress did pass the stimulus bill and unemployment rose over 9% anyway.

And it’s still over 9% – almost 2 years after the stimulus effort got underway.

So, maybe this “standard macro-economic model” is full of… But let’s imagine that it isn’t. Let’s allow our imaginations to take flight…to soar…to loose themselves from the gravity of worldly cares or practical reality. Let’s imagine that these economists have a clue!

Imagine that the feds had done nothing – which was more or less standard policy for the nation from its founding in 1776 up until the middle of Herbert Hoover’s term in 1930…and for all the years that preceded them…all the way back to the founding of Rome. Now, let’s imagine that Blinder and Zandi are right. Without fed intervention, GDP would have sunk 12% – three times more than the actual loss…and half the loss of the Great Depression. Well, that would have been a disaster, right?

Well. Maybe not. It might have been a blessing. The point of a correction is to correct. The Blinder/Zandi study tells us that the economy had mistakes equal to 12% of GDP. Okay…well, maybe the correction overshoots. Who knows? But think of the crazy years of the Bubble Epoque…when lenders were giving unemployed people a mortgage for 110% of the inflated value of a house. Think about the Private Equity deals based on growth assumptions that were hallucinatory. Think about the hundreds of trillions’ worth of derivatives based on complex formulae that were phony and silly? Think of all the decisions made on the assumption that consumer credit would continue to expand as it had from 1949 to 2007. Was one of every 8 of them too optimistic? Too ambitious? Too unrealistic? We’d be surprised if there weren’t more errors…far more than 12% of GDP.

Now ask yourself…what good was done by failing to correct those mistakes? By failing to wash out the excess debt? Failing to allow insolvent banks to go broke? Failing to permit worn-out, uncompetitive businesses to die in peace?

We don’t know how many mistakes there were. We don’t know how far GDP SHOULD go down. And we don’t know what would have happened if willing buyers and sellers had been allowed to sort themselves out in the age-old ways – by panic, default, bankruptcy, restructuring, and reconstruction.

We don’t know. We’ll never know. But there is no reason to think we’d be any worse off if we’d found out a year ago. A 12% drop in GDP might have been just what we needed. We could be on the road to prosperity now, rather than looking at another 5 to 15 years of stagnation, decline, and desperation.

Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning

Bill Bonner

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success in numerous industries. His unique writing style, philanthropic undertakings and preservationist activities have been recognized by some of America's most respected authorities. With his friend and colleague Addison Wiggin, he co-founded The Daily Reckoning in 1999, and together they co-wrote the New York Times best-selling books Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. His other works include Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (with Lila Rajiva), Dice Have No Memory, and most recently, Hormegeddon: How Too Much of a Good Thing Leads to Disaster. His most recent project is The Bill Bonner Letter.

  • http://www.rampartsilver.com/ isle of man gold angel

    Pay now or pay later… but we will eventually pay for the our mistakes.

  • http://www.rampartsilver.com/ Silver Tiger Bars

    “Whom the gods would destroy, they first subsidize.” George Roche

  • jason

    Well today, economists and Ben Bernanke were proven right as the DJA roared back to life, retaking all of its August losses, and retrieving billions of dollars of wealth to investors. All with just the promise of stimulus if needed rather than actual stimulus. If Obama and Bernanke really hook the paddles up to the economy’s chest, there’s no telling how high it will go.

  • richard lamb

    My e-mail to Wolf just now agreed that a depression was possible. However, we might be poor but we would be honest!!

  • Jim

    Actually Krugman, the brilliant economist who changed the way economist look at international trade (he won the Nobel- Prize), from the very beginning, said that the stimulus was to small. Get your facts right! Clearly, things would have been worse without it!

  • Jimmy

    Krugman, the brilliant economist who changed the way economist look at international trade ( Nobel- Prize winner), from the very beginning, said that the stimulus was to small. Get your facts right! Clearly, things would have been worse without it!

  • John

    I like to pull the bandaid off fast rather than one arm hair at a time. I would prefer the dentist to yank the tooth fast rather than to fumble around in my mouth for hours. I agree with Bill

  • killben

    Bill,

    Here is a link .. which makes a better case of “But for the stimulus” … Blinder has company and some.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/whitney08272010.html

    No one feels that excesses should be thrown off if you want to get going …

Recent Articles

How Small Cap Stocks Saved the Market

Greg Guenthner

For most of the year, no one wanted small cap stocks in their portfolios. But over the last three weeks, few sectors of the market have performed better than small caps. Greg Guenthner explains how to use this to your advantage... and what to expect for the rest of 2014. Read on...


Why a Strong Dollar is the Mortal Enemy of Gold and Oil

Frank Holmes

Gold and oil are down because the US dollar is up, despite all the inflationary pressures the Fed has put on it. What's going on? Today, Frank Holmes, breaks down the U.S. economy’s current direction with several important charts. Plus, he's got a mining play for you that's prospering despite the current sentiment...


Bill Bonner
Confessions of a Newsletter Man

Bill Bonner

Being a financial newsletter writer certainly has a few advantages. Namely, it affords one the opportunity to comment on the financial markets without having to take them seriously. Today, Bill Bonner looks back on what drew him to this business, and the unique and entertaining cast of characters he's met along the way. Read on...


Extra!
The Most Important Factor of the Swiss Gold Initiative

Grant Williams

The Swiss Gold Initiative has the the Swiss National Bank in a panic. Should the referendum pass, the SNB will be responsible for ensuring that 20% of its total assets are held in gold. That's an awful lot of yellow metal. Today, Grant Williams puts that number into perspective and explains how it could affect the gold market...


R.I.P. Tapir (5/22/13 – 10/29/14)

Greg Kadajski

The Tapir, beloved pig-like mammal and financial machination, quietly passed away at 2:00 p.m. EST on October 29, 2014. He lived a misunderstood life and was held responsible for many things entirely out of his control. Nevertheless, he will be missed by all who thought they knew him...


How Solar Power Could Heat Up Your Portfolio

Greg Guenthner

Regardless of how you feel about the "green energy movement" there is no denying that solar power is becoming more mainstream. As it closes in on price parity with conventional electricity, more and more people are turning to solar as a viable source of energy. And that's great news for solar stocks. Greg Guenthner explains...