Scott talks to Jeff Deist about the economic ramifications of the coronavirus, including both the virus itself and the government’s fiscal and monetary response. Deist certainly expects that we could be in for a severe recession, but is mainly of the view that this recession was coming soon anyway. It just took the right event to pop the bubble. Much of the ground that the country appeared to make up since the last crash, he says, has really been a reinflation by the Federal Reserve of the same old asset bubbles—and some new ones. The American economy has been overly financialized for decades, with ultra-low interest rates incentivizing companies to borrow money to fund ill-advised ventures rather than accumulating real savings and capital. A healthy economy that did save, he explains, would be able to endure a month or two of inactivity without the precipitate collapse we’re starting to see today.
Discussed on the show:
Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute, where he serves as a writer, public speaker, and advocate for property, markets, and civil society. He previously worked as a longtime advisor and chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul, for whom he wrote hundreds of articles and speeches. Follow him on Twitter @jeffdeist.
This episode of the Scott Horton Show is sponsored by: NoDev NoOps NoIT, by Hussein Badakhchani; The War State, by Mike Swanson; WallStreetWindow.com; Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom; ExpandDesigns.com/Scott; Listen and Think Audio; TheBumperSticker.com; and LibertyStickers.com.
The following is an automatically generated transcript.
Scott Horton 0:10
All right, y’all welcome it’s Scott Horton Show. I am the director of the Libertarian Institute editorial director of antiwar.com, author of the book Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan. And I’ve recorded more than 5000 interviews going back to 2003, all of which are available at ScottHorton.org. You can also sign up to the podcast feed. The full archive is also available at youtube.com/ScottHortonShow. All right, you guys introducing Jeff diced. He’s the president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. That’s misis.org, the Austrian economists over there. And they just published this new book, anatomy of the crash the financial crisis of 2020 Real quick on the gun. They’re edited by Joe Bishop, introduction by Jeff Deist. Welcome back to the show. Jeff, how you doing?
Jeff Deist 1:09
I’m doing great, Scott. Thanks for having me.
Scott Horton 1:12
Amazing. You put out a book about the current financial crisis, just what six weeks into it here?
Jeff Deist 1:19
Yeah, I hate the term current financial crisis because I think it’s it’s just a flare up of an ongoing financial crisis. And I think a lot of this was baked into the cake already. And that’s why I’m particularly leery of people who are trying very hard to get away with blaming all this on the virus and the shutdowns I mean, I personally think the shutdowns are an extreme overreaction. But that’s not really the thrust of this book here. The thrust of this book is to say, hey, look, here’s some of the conditions that were already set, really going back, at least to the crisis, and in many ways farther back than that. So I think the Coronavirus was a precipitating factor, but I don’t think it was the cause of this crash.
Scott Horton 2:06
Well, even Trump himself called it the Obama bubble, the stock market bubble and all this back before he inherited it, and then took full political ownership of the economy. And it was pretty clear. I mean, I have access to you and Mark Dornan and Bob Murphy and people like this. So the question has been for the last, at least, you know, year and a half or two. Will the bubble last until after the election, or will it pop before the election? That was the entire question, and the virus in the lockdown came and answered that question for us, but that was really his campaign theme was vote Trump. The bubble hasn’t popped yet. So yeah, he
Jeff Deist 2:46
now has really, yeah, he really got lucky if this whole thing could have just been kept alive another 12 months or whatever. He might have gotten into a very ugly second term. But this goes back to this idea that why would anyone want to be president I mean, really, no matter what you do, there’s so many forces and factors already at play. And some of these go back almost a century. Now you can look at something like Social Security. And say you’re grappling with an entitlement crisis that was set in motion in the 30s. So I don’t know why the hell anyone wants to be president. And it also I think, what the lesson people like you and I can take from it, is that we ought to be a little more circumspect in blaming or praising the current president, because, you know, at any point in time, it’s really just someone who’s trying to manage beast, and that’s pretty hard to do.
Scott Horton 3:40
Yeah. I mean, if he was smart, what he would have done is go ahead and hired a Volker to cause the recession and get it over with, and we could be on our way back up now, although the virus would have put an end to that anyway. But
Jeff Deist 3:53
well, and this is What’s so difficult about democracy is what the country needs is a couple of years. Rough years, where we have a lot of bankruptcy and insolvency and restructuring of all the capital assets in this country. And that would cause some pain that would cause a lot of pain that would cause some unemployment that would cause some rich people to fall out of being rich. And, you know, this is the kind of thing that’s just so politically unpalatable. In a mass democracy, no candidate could ever campaign. Certainly no national candidate can ever say, Look, I’m the guy who’s going to rip the band aid off the wound, and try to set the stage for real recovery rather than a fake one, like we had from let’s say, oh, wait two Oh, 11 versus 2011. And because that’s so politically impossible to do. We have this Bizarro system of ours where every politician has the incentive to just keep it going. And that just makes it bigger and worse.
Scott Horton 4:49
That’s funny, because, you know, it sounds exactly like the argument for why we have a central bank that I learned in government school, that the politicians will insist On a short term policy that’s good for them. Always inflate, inflate, inflate. And that’s why we have to have this separate central bank with appointees to 14 year terms and all these things in order to be separate from those political influences so they can take away the Punchbowl at the party and all of that stuff.
Jeff Deist 5:22
Well, it you know, that’s an absolute farce, the Fed has never been independent. I mean, let’s remember, first and foremost, Congress created it, legislatively, and Congress can regulate it up to an including revoking its charter all together. So the idea that it is somehow operates outside of the boundaries of or odd to operate outside of the boundaries of this politicized Congress, is just absolute nonsense. And of course we’ve seen in the cares Act, which was the big bailout bill, passed about a month ago now by Congress in the dark. The blurring of fiscal and monetary policy is getting worse. And worse. So fed independence at this point is sort of like the I mean, it’s almost an Orwellian form of doublespeak. It never really existed. And it certainly doesn’t now.
Scott Horton 6:10
Yeah. All right. So take us back to the crash of Oh, eight and oh nine because that was the end of the world, I think and, boy, trillions of dollars worth of bad debts were wiped out. But then according to you, they immediately were so in the seeds of the crisis that we’re living through now. So how’s that?
Jeff Deist 6:33
Well, the problem is, is that they weren’t all wiped out. Basically, what happened is there was a stock market crash, and that stock market crash, if you believe david stockman anyway would have been fairly contained to Wall Street and would not have bled over into main street if the Treasury and the Fed had not gone into hyperdrive as it did at the time. So obviously, that’s a factual question and maybe a debatable question, but nonetheless, What happened was that Federal Reserve officials decided that we are going to do whatever it takes any kind of Hail Mary to keep the stock market propped back up on it, at least at a nominal price level. So they started buying assets from banks and giving them reserve funds money. In exchange for that a lot of those assets were Treasury debt, US Treasury debt, which banks held, but a lot of it was also packaged mortgage backed securities. And when the Fed bought this, these mortgages, in effect, these tranches of mortgages, they just paid face value, they didn’t mark them to market. So a whole lot of mortgage backed debt, which was worth a lot less than it said, at then face value was nonetheless purchased for face value. So banks were recapitalized, basically. And that sounds good because the Fed was doing it and taxpayers say well, at least we weren’t using federal dollars. We weren’t using tax dollars. Problem is, is that the Fed creates money, uses that money to buy debts or mortgages, and then eventually oftentimes buys back the new debt that it’s created in the form of Treasury. So it’s a very circuitous process, it’s a little opaque. But at the end of the day, you and I all pay for it in, obviously, the shrinking purchasing power of our dollars are saving. So it was, it was really an ugly time in America. And it was an extension by Bernacchi of what Alan Greenspan had put into motion. So we look back now and we say, Oh, my gosh, the Fed created. All these new bank reserves and its balance sheet shot up from under a trillion to over 4 trillion. And so this was some sort of horrific calamity in the United States. Well, those numbers are all looking pretty quite right about now, Scott, because we’re up over $6 trillion now, and the Fed’s balance sheet probably headed to 10 wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest and the whole purpose This is just to keep equity markets propped up. I mean, you look at the and what the Fed has done. If you look at what Congress has done, the amount of money that’s actually trickled down to ordinary people, is a tiny fraction of the new so called liquidity created by the Fed. And the new stimulus created by Congress. When I say created, I mean conjured up, it’s not like they have the money to spend that, like they have sitting on a pile of money. So none of this is much helping ordinary people and you think oh, my God, 1200 dollars. I mean, how long is that going to last for for people? So it’s, it’s a very unholy thing. And part of the purpose of this book we put out was to help rested apart a little bit, give people some of the details some of the facts to understand what led up to it.
Scott Horton 9:49
Yeah, I think you say in your introduction, that you kind of paint a little bit of a counterfactual, if we had had a stronger economy. We’d be able to survive something like the virus and the clamp down or something in a way, you know, that would be much easier. We’re Instead, we’re kind of constantly even though this is the biggest, wealthiest society in history and all this stuff. Our economy is constantly this precarious House of Cards, it’s ready to fall over at a moment’s notice.
Jeff Deist 10:23
Yeah, and Trump absolutely hung himself on this because he was constantly touting the greatest economy in 50 years. Basically, the lowest unemployment that the United States had ever seen was about march of 2019. So it was official unemployment was about 3.5% of the time. And so because Trump wants to open his big mouth and praise himself for all of this, now he has gonna, he’s gonna have a hard time running away from the crash and saying that he’s not responsible for that. And again, think about a family or a business with healthy finances. You would hope that you could get by a month or two without income, you know, without being thrown out into the streets or needing food stamps or something like that. And that’s the difference effectively between a country like the United States and India, India is quite, you know, is one of the biggest overall GDP in the world, but on a per capita basis. It’s quite poor compared to Western countries. And so that’s why India is having a very, very serious hunger crisis amongst its poorest people right now, because they just didn’t have all the capital and savings build up that we’d like to think we have built up the United States. So you know, I disagree with the shutdown, but I do think that a healthy society would have been able to weather a couple of months of this and with these, these corporations, which are already declaring bankruptcy, I mean, 2008 isn’t 40 years ago, I mean, you don’t have to be a baby boomer to recall the crash of 2008 and and apply the lessons learned there to your own. business practices. So when we look at the airlines, for example, and you say, okay, oil has been cheap, the economy’s been humming. So you guys have had really great years, at least relatively, because it’s a volatile industry. So you should have been banking some cash and building your balance sheets out, you know, expanding your working capital for the day you knew was going to come when either oil prices spiked, or there was some kind of economic recession. But they didn’t do that. Instead, they in some cases, use cash, in some cases, even borrowed and use cheap credit to buy back their own stock from shareholders. So, as a result, we have a two month downturn, very few people are flying. And the airlines have to go to Uncle Sam for a bailout when I mean, they couldn’t look back at the periods let’s say after 911 when a lot of people weren’t flying, let’s say the period around 2008 2009 when a lot of people weren’t flying, they can’t look back at this and say, well, we got to build up some cash. padding. You know, that doesn’t strike me as a healthy economy, it strikes me as a highly financialized economy.
Scott Horton 13:09
Well, it’s because they know they’re gonna get the bailout, if a rainy day really does come, so why save up for?
Jeff Deist 13:16
Well, they do know that and industries know that. Certainly the banking sector knows that wall street knows it. And yet at the same time, there are millions of Americans who are caught right in the middle because let’s say you are a hairdresser, or a barber. Well, a lot of hairdressers rent their space from a salon. They they’re not an employee of the salon. And since they’re not an employee of the salon, they can’t file for an appointment. But yet, they don’t really have their own business. So they’re having a hard time going and applying for the SBA loan program that was created by this cares act a month or so ago. And they’re not particularly financially savvy when it comes to the process going to their local bank. And getting that in and they may not even qualify for it. And yet, they can’t get any of the money that’s going to airlines, they can’t get any of the money that’s going to go to insurance companies, they can’t get any of the money that’s going to flow into ETFs. They can’t get any of the money that is sloshing around in Congress. I mean, look at the numbers that people like Nancy Pelosi are are throwing about. So if it continues like this, and the economy is still somewhat locked down and average ordinary folks just don’t have the income they need. I think there’s going to be a huge amount of public support for some sort of UBI type $2,000 a month payment. And I think if Nancy Pelosi and her party are smart, they will immediately they will pass a bill to that effect. And force either McConnell in the Senate or Trump it with this veto pen. To say no to that because I think between now and November that could turn into a really popular measure. I mean, let’s not kid our ourselves about it that that sounds like a political winner is it as much as it might concern us as as economic malfeasance?
Scott Horton 15:07
Hey guys, Scott Horton here from my Swanson scrape book, The War state. It’s about the rise of the military industrial complex and the power elite after World War Two, during the administration’s of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and jack kennedy. It’s a very lightning take on this definitive era on America’s road to world Empire. The war state by Mike Swanson, find it in the right hand margin at Scott horton.org. Hey, yo, Mike Swanson is a successful Wall Street trader with an Austrian School understanding of the markets and therefore he has great advice to share with you. Check out Mike’s work and sign up for his list at Wall Street window.com. And that’s what you’ll get a window into all of Mike’s trades. He’ll explain what he’s buying and selling and expecting and why. I know you’ll learn and earn a lot while Street windows.com that’s Wall Street window.com Well, you know, I’ve been reading some david stockman columns and he has a habit of reproducing all these charts, which show these massive crashes in, you know, this and that different sector, I guess he showed one that said, here’s the retail clothing sector. And here’s how 40 years worth of growth has been wiped out in the last six weeks, this kind of thing. And he’s showing, you know, cars and real estate and different kinds of businesses and then of course, the unemployment rate 30 million something people thrown out of work in the last few weeks and that kind of thing. And so, I was just wonder if you could comment on that the severity of the crash and what you think the aftermath is going to look like. I mean, say, I pathetically if we if the virus would just go away and we could restart right now and everything would be okay again, as far as the the Disease goes, how bad of a depression are we looking at? And then of course, that’s not the reality, the virus is still going to be here. And there’s going to be different levels of clamp down, I guess going forward here. So
Jeff Deist 17:13
yeah, I think it’s gonna vary depending on what part of the economy you’re looking at, I absolutely do not think that there is going to be a so called V shaped recovery and employment itself. Because in just the last two months, we’ve shed more jobs or about as many jobs as had been created, so called since the 2008. crash. So we don’t just get back 12 years worth of new jobs in a month or two, let’s say between now and the end of 2020. I mean, that’s, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think certain segments of the economy will you know, if the virus did end today, let’s say would roll back pretty well just because there really is such a thing as pent up demand. And there are certain things that people just really need or want to do. But I think there are a lot of things businesses which were just built on debt, and a lot of cheap consumerism really are in trouble. I mean, how many, you know, how many t shirts from the gap do you need? At some point you say that these businesses were were financialized, in effect that they were operating on margins or levels of debt that were unsustainable. So this isn’t a situation where there’s really strong companies who know what the hell they’re doing. And then there’s these weak stupid companies who didn’t know what what they were doing. And as Warren Buffett says, when the tide goes out, we’ll see who’s wearing shorts and who isn’t. I don’t think this is that I think this is more just atlas shrugged. We’ve had an over leveraged, overburdened, oh, you know, debt ridden economy for so long now, because interest rates have been cheap. In other words, borrowing money has been cheap for so long. That when we look at something like the gap, which is I guess, a, you know, a, kind of a low end retailer, whatever, and then you look at a fancy retailer like Neiman Marcus? Well, they’re both in trouble. They’re both filing for bankruptcy. Well, Neiman Marcus has I think that gap will. So, you know, this is this is awfully hard to understand unless you’re looking at the economy by silos. I mean, oil is dirt cheap, cheapest it’s been not only nominally in decades, but also in real terms. So normally we think, well, that’s good for the economy, except unless you’re in the oil business. cheap energy is is a wonderful thing. But people aren’t flying people aren’t traveling people aren’t even driving their cars to work. So you don’t have the demand side making up for the drop on the supply side. So it’s it’s very, very complex. And when we say the economy, we have to think what are we talking about what what segment but I think like fast food would would bounce back pretty quickly. I think, you know, things, things that are busy now, you know, Amazon delivery, Certain kinds of, you know, I think lawn and garden is doing really well right now because people are staying home and thinking more about living at home and working from home and what that means. Obviously, people are buying all kinds of things that relate to being home more. So is I don’t know, you know, if I knew, if I knew what the recovery would look like, or when it would even start, I’d be out there getting rich in the stock market because I could time it or whatever. But it, Scott, we’re talking about millions or even billions of people coming together. And I can’t, all I can say is this, we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot with this lockdown. This is a gut shot. And we’re bleeding out, and how long that’s going to last. And when we’re going to stem the bleeding and how we’re going to heal up is just that’s above my paygrade buddy. And, and the thing is, is it’s very hard to apply theoretical economics to just crazy random political acts and what I would consider the bed at this point, a crazed random political actor. It’s just some sort of weird ad hoc Talk credit facility. It’s not operating under any Principles of Economics. It’s not applying what you and I would think of as a monetary policy. There’s no policy. There’s no there there. This is just groping around in the dark, hoping to stave off a real serious crisis in America where grocery stores and gas stations became empty, that sort of thing. So, you know, when you were taught, I don’t really believe in public choice theory, I don’t think we can apply the same sort of economic theorems and rational isms to political xi, because politics is about force. And economics is about voluntary exchange. So to me, they’re two very different animals. So but, but at this point, both the Fed and Congress are wounded animals, and they’re dangerous, they could do anything and they will do anything, I think to just keep this thing going. So very hard to say. About the recovery, you should ask someone who knows more than be what the recovery is gonna look good. That’s my advice, Scott.
Scott Horton 22:07
Well, so I mean, he said something about $6 trillion that they’ve conjured up so far, I think only. Well, I don’t know how much of that is what Congress passed. But the rest of that is just the Fed, which to regular people means completely behind the scenes. But what are they doing with all that money?
Jeff Deist 22:28
Well, they’re doing all kinds of things. Once again, they’re buying Treasury debt. They’re buying mortgage backed securities, but now, unlike 2008, they’re buying other kinds of debt debt that is backed by student loans, that that’s backed by credit cards. They’re also buying corporate debt, which is a huge, huge sea change. And when you say it’s happening behind the scenes with the Fed, that’s really the right way to put it. It is behind the scenes, the average American is just not going to have the time or inclination to follow the bouncing ball, day to day, whatever you’re reading about the Fed. Today could be completely obsolete in a week they’ll announce some new program some new facility. So economists can barely keep up with it new. I don’t think we’re supposed to keep up with it. I think that’s part of the program, but it’s very difficult when they start buying corporate debt. I mean, that is a market that our central bank has never dipped its toe into it. Think of all the jacked up corporate debt that has been created since the crash of 2008. Remember, there’s more debt in the world, sovereign government debt, corporate debt, household debt, individual debt, student loan debt, cars, mortgages, you name it. There is more debt today far more than there was when we cleaned house supposedly in 2008. So that very, very dangerous to have the Fed, acting as a moral hazard backstop for corporations who got overextended. So that’s, that’s just such a huge market and such a moral hazard. I can’t even predict where that might go. Also, the Fed is now buying municipal bond debt all the way down to smaller municipalities. So, imagine you are Austin, Texas, Austin, Texas can’t print money. Unlike the federal government, Austin, Texas needs to raise taxes or sell municipal debt to get money. Those those are basically it’s two ways to get money or sell assets, which city governments rarely do. But in the meantime, Austin, Texas actually has to pay at city employees, it’s cops, it’s firefighters, it actually has to send crews out to, you know, mow the grass by the side of the freeway or whatever. And if they don’t, you’re gonna you’re gonna notice it. I mean, a lot of things that city government does, you know, so if cops just stopped getting paid and disappeared, you know, imagine that might be the best thing that could happen. But that’s an aside. But you got my vote, Mr. President. Yeah, yeah, but the point is that municipalities are up against it. And so they, they, you know, if you look at it at a city like Chicago, which has a huge pension crisis, all kinds of debt, you know, every year it operates deeply in the red. And if you look at that as an investor, let’s say and you say well, you know, municipal debts kind of cool because a lot of it a lot of Muni bonds are tax exempt and I’d love to have some tax exempt income in my portfolio, but man oh man look at it the city of Chicago I’m going to need like 20% junk bond interest rates to loan them money because I’m worried I’m worried I’m never gonna get paid back. So well you know, good luck you know, cities don’t want to issued corporate debt debt or excuse me municipal debt a junk bond rates. So, hey, here’s the Fed come along and it’ll buy our debt potentially. That’s that’s a nice little backstop. Is that a moral hazard for all the pension overages and all that? You know, bribery and backroom dealings. larceny and corruption that’s taken place in municipalities all across this country. Yeah, that’s a hell of a moral hazard. So that’s a new venture for the Fed. You know, a lot of this money is going into corporate bailouts. A lot of its going into airlines. Some of it’s just going into plain old fashioned pork. I mean, people need to understand that when Congress comes together, they weren’t even physically together because of the shutdown when they pass the so called cares act. You know, lobbyists around Washington staffers, staffers around the committees in Congress are very, very important. They inserted all kinds of stuff into this bill, and we don’t even we’re just starting to find out about it money for you name it, I mean, for the Kennedy Center. So it’s that you know, that there’s a lot of money out there sloshing around a lot of it’s brand new, and it’s going to benefit the people who get it early. But it’s not gonna benefit you and me.
Scott Horton 26:56
Yeah, now, here’s the thing. You know, you mentioned the direct pay payments to people as an increase in socialism going forward, which you know, is probably unavoidable there. But it seems like it’s happened, the last two crashes at least and guess every time is the free market gets the blame. The, you know, laissez faire especially gets the blame, even though George Bush and Barack Obama and Donald Trump have been president. It’s, as they say, on Twitter, late stage capitalism always needs a bailout always needs the state to help it along. Otherwise, we’d all be rich socialists by now, I guess, Jeff.
Jeff Deist 27:43
Yeah. And we’ve, we’ve failed to convince the left about the Fed that because half of every equation in other words, the money side, that’s purchasing any good or service, half of that equation is centrally planned by basically A glorified Politburo that sits around and decides it’s no different than if they were sitting around deciding how many Ford Taurus is should be created in a year, how many workers should be assigned to the Ford factory where they should be produced, what they should be sold for what the workers should be paid? I mean, there’s really that’s basically what happens on the money side of the equation. So the left suspects, and I think they correctly suspect that there is a class of unjustly rich people in America, people who are cozy with Wall Street, and that’s absolutely 100% true. So, how do we tell our story? How do we create the narrative that what’s needed then, is not just a different fed or a better fed or reformed fed but actual free market in money that, you know, prevents a lot of financialization that prevents you know, a lot of people from getting richer than the otherwise would if they had to deal and out of money. I mean, that’s our failure that we haven’t gotten that message through that this isn’t capitalism. And so, you know, we could understand these critics of late stage capitalism because this is what capitalism appears to be to most people, which is a cronyism, melding of state and corporate power along with a central bank that juices the whole thing in again, opaque and roundabout ways that most people just don’t care to, to follow all day long. And when, you know, that really has created a bunch of income inequality, it really has created a bunch of fat cats who kind of move money around all day, but don’t actually produce any good or service. Now, capital markets are a service if they operate freely and fairly, I mean, it’s moving capital to where it’s, it’s better, best used in a way from where it’s ill used is actually a market function and a noble one. But that’s not how capital markets operate in America today. So you know, I don’t I don’t blame anybody who looks at this and says, Man I got 1200 bucks, you know, give me a break at that they were spending 2,000,000,000,002.4 trillion in the cares act, you know, where’s you do the math, and we’d be far better off just just, you know giving all that money directly American people and see what they do with it then we would be with these, this sort of top down, having everything slosh through the financial sector.
Scott Horton 30:25
All right, I’m sorry. We’re all out of time. But there’s so much more to talk about in this great book anatomy of the crash the financial crisis of 2020, edited by Joe Bishop, introduction by Jeff diced at the Mises Institute that’s maecenas.org. The whole thing’s free. They’re in PDF format, as well. And thanks very much for your time again, Jeff.
Jeff Deist 30:49
Hey, it’s great talking to you, Scott
Scott Horton 30:52
The Scott Horton show, Antiwar Radio can be heard on kpfk 90.7 FM in LA, APSradio.com antiwar.com ScottHorton.org and libertarianinstitute.org