A Modest Proposal
For members of Congress desperate to avoid recession, the takeaway message that Fed Chairman Bernanke delivered in his testimony this week was that a successful stimulus package needs to be rapid and targeted. By this he meant that money would need to be delivered quickly to those individuals who would be most likely to spend, and withdrawn when and if the need for stimulus ebbs.
For those who believe that this strategy is prudent and effective, the debate now becomes choosing the most effective technique to deliver the cash. Proposals include middle class tax cuts or rebates, extension of unemployment benefits and expansion of funding for public works. However, for those who want to engineer spending, the problem with these ideas is that the people who receive the funds may not decide to spend it immediately, if at all. They may, god forbid, elect to pay down existing debt or most perniciously, actually save it instead.
Fortunately, the government has very modern and effective tools available to deliver funds and micromanage spending. Just recently, the Treasury Department launched a program to streamline Social Security payments through the use of debit cards. The same idea could be used for fiscal stimulus. The Government could distribute millions of "Economic Stimulus Cards" to citizens, which could function more like retailer gift cards rather than debit or credit cards. Here's how they would work:
When the government wants a quick, fast stimulus, it authorizes expenditures on the cards which can only be used for consumer purchases and only for a set time frame. Knowing that they must use or lose their newly authorized funds, Americans will run to their nearest retail outlet and spend, spend, spend. The beauty of the system is that the consumers will spend exactly how much the Government deems necessary. What's more, the government could decide to direct the spending to specific areas of the economy that it deemed particularly strapped. For example, it might target specific types of merchandise that may be purchased or particular retailers where those expenditures would be authorized, with the political benefits being the icing on the cake.
When the economy has been sufficiently stimulated, the government could leave the cards idle with no purchasing power. Better economic micro-management through technology! The minute consumers seemed to be running out of purchasing power we could have a quick fix simply by pushing a few buttons. No need to waste all that money on paper or ink, or fuel for the helicopters!
The only downside to the plan is that it will completely clarify the fundamental component of any and all fiscal stimuli, namely the government creating money out of thin air and giving it away. Of course, the other negative effect would be higher consumer prices with price spikes particularly pronounced immediately following any additional government authorized spending. After all, what rational retailer would not raise prices during those times in which the new consumers were holding exploding gift cards? However, a few more adjustments to the CPI should take care of that problem lickety-split! As Richard Nixon once said, "No politician ever lost an election by creating inflation."
Follow up to last week's commentary:
Last week, I mentioned an old commentary of mine that referenced an advisor who had promised to "eat his hat" if the precious metals markets were not experiencing a blow-off top back in April of 2006. As it turned out, the author of that quote once again took the opportunity to falsely pat himself on the back for having written it.
By claiming credit for what may have appeared to have been a timely call, he conveniently omitted the fact that he wrote a follow up commentary about three weeks later, after one of the biggest one-day drops in the price of silver ever (within days of the absolute bottom and one of best buying opportunity in years), in which he urged investors to sell as in his opinion, "A significant correction in gold and silver had begun." In fact, the correction had basically ended before the ink on his quotation even had a chance to dry!
While it is true that silver did return to single digits (spiking to a low of $9.50 per oz) as his original piece correctly suggested, it only remained there for perhaps two trading days. However, as this advisor never publicly recommended buying that dip it is highly unlikely that either he or any of his clients actually did. Having just forecast a significant correction within days of the bottom he most likely expected silver prices to fall much lower. Further, he never authored a subsequent commentary proclaiming an end to the precious metal's correction or recommending that investors buy back into the market. In fact, since this particular advisor had been relatively bearish on precious metals since December of 2004, and remained so throughout most of the bull market, it is unlikely that any of his clients actually had any silver to sell back in April of 2006, let alone buy any back on the dip.
However, it now appears that after years of being a short-term precious metals bear while simultaneously professing to be a long-term precious metals bull, this commentator is finally unequivocally in the bullish camp. I guess it is better late than never, but given his repeated and often scathing criticism of those of us who had it right all along, a bit more candor and humility would be appreciated. In fact, an outright apology would be more appropriate, but I won't hold my breath.
For a more in depth analysis of inflation and the inherent dangers it poses for the U.S. economy and U.S. dollar denominated investments, read my new book "Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse." Click here to order a copy today.
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