The Social Security Revolt of 2011
The Federal Reserve is on a slow march to oblivion. The credibility of the hollow men erodes further with each passing day. The mystery has faded, the magic gone. Only incompetence and ineptitude remain.
In some respects, the head of the Federal Reserve can be viewed as a sort of Witch Doctor, or Shaman. When the Shaman’s powers are perceived as strong, all is well. The masses can take quiet comfort in the fact that someone is “in control.”
But when the Shaman’s powers erode — or ultimately get exposed, like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz — outrage and fear quickly follow. Outrage at the sudden loss of comfort (never mind the bald deception laid bare)… and fear at the realization that no one is truly on top of things.
For the Federal Reserve, the masses are realizing two truths:
The Fed has one solution for every ailment — printing money.
In this case, it is the wrong solution to the wrong problem.
The hollow men are the ultimate example of the old saw, “To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The hammer of Quantitative Easing (QE) is useless. And the more honest of the Fed Heads know it full well.
Says Richard Fisher, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas:
In my darkest moments, I have begun to wonder if the monetary accommodation we have already engineered might even be working in the wrong places… A great many baby boomers or older cohorts who played by the rules… are earning extremely low nominal and real returns on their savings.
Further reductions in rates earned on savings will hardly endear the Fed to this portion of the population…
The comments are excerpted from a recent speech of Fisher’s to the New York Association for Business Economics. (It is common for Fed officials to air their views through prepared remarks.)
Let us now translate those comments into layman’s English. By way of monetary accommodation “working in the wrong places,” Mr. Fisher worries that the Fed has jacked up the wrong asset prices.
Flooding the system with liquidity has helped out the banksters, and provided a windfall to rich corporations with the ability to launder their profits through offshore subsidiaries, yet helped the average Main Street saver not at all.
Mr. Fisher then openly worries, quite rightly, that the Fed’s plan to keep interest rates near zero adds insult to injury, as retirees with savings accounts are forced to get by on table scraps.
Worse still is the Fed’s embrace of what Doug Kass calls “screwflation,” as in, price hikes in all the areas that completely screw over the middle class. When your grocery bill doubles but your paycheck shrinks, that’s screwflation. When your heating bill goes up 50% while your money market account earns zero, that’s screwflation.
And as we have pointed out repeatedly in these pages (sans the use of Kass’ term), “screwflation” is exactly what the Fed aims to deliver another heaping helping of via “QE2″… with no clear insight as to how printing more money will actually create jobs, help pay down debt, or otherwise kickstart an economy that is ailing for reasons wholly OTHER than “a lack of liquidity.”
The hollow men are focused on the wrong problems. But they cannot fix the genuine problems, so they don’t care.
(Social Security may be in the news, but it’s not the only thing moving the market right now. If you’re looking for additional market analysis , sign up for Taipan Daily.)
Social Security: The Straw That Breaks The Camel’s Back?
The real risk here for the Federal Reserve is a backlash that leads to historical political change.
It is possible, at least in theory, for congress to audit the Fed, or even to threaten the Fed’s independence. This has always been “possible” but “not bloody likely,” due to the huge ramifications such a challenge would entail.
But if the Fed messes up badly enough, and people get boiling mad enough, congress really could respond to the white-hot rage of its constituents.
And when it comes to throwing rocks at a hornet’s nest, few issues stand out like Social Security. As the Washington Post reports,
For the second year in a row, the nearly 54 million retirees and other Americans who receive Social Security benefits will not get any cost-of-living increase in 2011 in their monthly checks, government officials announced… renewing debate over whether the system offers enough help in a weak economy.
The absence of any growth in Social Security checks for consecutive years is unprecedented in the 31/2 decades that payments have been adjusted automatically based on the nation’s inflation rate.
For 35 years, social security payments have always gone up. For last year and this year, they will not. Why? Because the official government statistics say there is no inflation.
Of course, the stats can say there is no inflation because food and energy prices are deliberately left out. There is “no inflation” for people who do not eat food, heat their homes, or drive a car. For the rest of the masses, and particularly retirees, there is the “screwflation” Doug Kass has talked about… and Social Security deliberately does not measure this.
Recognizing how ugly this looks, the Democrats have floated the idea of a special 0 “bonus” to the country’s fifty-million-plus Social Security recipients. House speaker Nancy Pelosi has “promised to schedule a vote,” according to the New York Times, and President Obama has “endorsed the payment.” But this is merely a sop.
What the pols in Washington must hope is that the public does not wake up. The average taxpayer was ripped off six ways from Sunday over the course of the bank bailouts; now, thanks to “QE2” — and possibly QE three, four, five, and so on — the average retiree is set to get raked over the coals too.
We are being bled dry, for the sake of fat cats and slick corporations who pay an effective tax rate of less than 3 percent — if they pay any tax at all. (Bloomberg recently estimated that Google’s tax-dodging efforts are worth 0 per share, to the expense of U.S. taxpayers with no Irish or Dutch subsidiary.)
At some point, seniors and savers will have to say “enough is enough.” It is just a question of how much they get squeezed before they do. If “QE2” goes badly wrong, 2011 could be the year the wheels come off the bus.
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Other Related Topics: Federal Reserve , Government Issues , Justice Litle , Macro Trader , Social Security
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Justice Litle is the Editorial Director of Taipan Publishing Group, Editor of Justice Litle’s Macro Trader and Managing Editor to the free investing and trading e-letter Taipan Daily. Justice Litle uses his 15 years of experience in the stock market to make fast-paced options trading recommendations and give hands-on guidance to the readers of Macro Trader. He covers all markets, from bonds and stocks to commodities, currencies and options in an effort to find investors the best investment opportunities regardless of the current global market conditions. In Taipan Daily, he contributes articles filled with investment analysis and insights regarding the safest investment opportunities on the market. His unique background has served him well in the markets and allowed him to adapt to its changes, and share his experience and knowledge with his readers.
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