When the world’s major central bankers get together, as they did at the Fed conference in Washington this weekend, ironies abound. Off to the side, Turkey had just floated a plan to get its people to turn in their physical gold in exchange for “certificates,” a first if still voluntary step in what may become a process of gold confiscation. In the background: the Fed, which had promised to keep interest rates at record lows through 2014, come hell or high water, after having purchased $2.3 trillion in bonds. In the foreground: the money printers of Japan and Europe.
150 factory workers in China threatened to jump off the roof of an iPhone factory unless they received a raise. Similar stories are accumulating. To make ends meet, desperate workers sometimes take drastic measures. These anecdotes underscore a major trend in China: skyrocketing cost of labor. But in the US, it’s the opposite—and now part of the official White House strategy.
In late 2001, German banks sold Euro Starter Kits—sealed pouches with €10.23 in coins. One of many steps in the arduous process of weaning Germans from their D-Mark. I bought one and still have it. It’s in the back of a drawer, next to a D-Mark coin. And that coin is part of a vast phenomenon: 13.3 billion in missing Deutschmarks. But now people see a reason to hang on to them.
“I’m very happy with the result,” Merkel told the cameras. But the agreement may be illegal under EU law and may devastate weaker economies. It elevated Germany to a leadership role that other countries perceive as domineering. By isolating the UK, it cut a deep gash into the EU. And it can’t be put into a treaty. But it did offer a compromise of sorts.
In his “enough’s-enough” speech in Hawaii, Obama castigated China for its currency peg, a perennial complaint. Congress too regularly hyperventilates about the yuan being “artificially undervalued.” If China just allowed the yuan to trade freely, they say, it would solve the U.S. economic quagmire. Cheap political posturing—and full of bitter ironies.
In what may be a precursor of a monumental shift, Toyota and Honda are planning to export U.S.-made vehicles to South Korea. Apparently, it’s now cheaper to produce cars here and ship them halfway across the world than it is to produce them in Japan. But to what banana-republic levels will the dollar and real wages have to sink before U.S. manufacturing is competitive with China?
The season’s ditty: companies announce big profits after they jack up prices. But even the inexplicable American consumer, the toughest creature out there, struggles with these prices as misery spreads into the middle class. Now add HoneyBaked to the list, just in time for the holidays. But there is hope.
The members of the congressional panel on deficit reduction are struggling to come up with something that will—I mean, let’s be realistic—get them reelected and fill their campaign funds. Even if they come up with a plan that will reduce the gargantuan budget deficits, Congress won’t follow through. Because it doesn’t have to, thanks to the Fed.
Consumer confidence indices have collapsed to levels not seen in years or even decades. Yet the toughest creature out there that no one has yet been able to beat down struck again. Consumer spending increased at an annual rate of 2.4% during the third quarter, though the mood has become outright morose since.
The ugly numbers speak volumes on how the Fed’s policies hurt the real economy. But those policies enable Congress and the White House to run up ruinous budget deficits that make those of the Eurozone look benign.
That’s inflation—not jobs, wages, or GDP.