Beam Me Up
by Kevin Duffy
by Kevin Duffy
In the annals of American-style "capitalism," this Tuesday resembled an episode from The Twilight Zone.
For starters, the country's monetary central planner — the Bernanke Fed — dropped rates 1/4%. Investors were miffed, hoping for even more candy. As the kiddies came down from their 1,000 Dow point sugar high of the last 2 weeks, their mood was agitated and whiny. The Dow dropped 300 in less than 2 hours.
Right after the "disappointing" news was released at 2:15 pm, former reporter turned fund-of-funds manager Ron Insana complained,
"This is a decidedly wimpy move by the Fed."
Perhaps Insana is showing strains from running actual money in the real world. We'd be surprised if he doesn't return to the more forgiving world of business journalism, that is, if there is anyone left hiring as this bear market firms its grasp.
Next up: American capitalism's folk hero, Warren Buffet, raising funds for Hillary Clinton. According to the WSJ:
"The fund-raising ‘Conversation with Warren Buffett' drew over 1,500 people, including a mix of Silicon Valley executives such as John Doerr, a partner at venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers... Tickets ranged from $100 to more than $2,300, drawing in around $1 million, according to the Clinton campaign."
How ludicrous — the country's prominent venture capitalists and its best known and beloved "capitalist" raising funds for a committed welfare statist and socialist. On CNBC, Hillary agreed with Buffett's position to maintain the estate tax because, in her words,
"It's really a tax to prevent us from having inherited wealth generation after generation which would undermine the kind of spirit and meritocracy that the United States stands for."
This is awfully charitable of Hillary and Warren to provide such a vital service to our "free" society. Never mind that Mr. Buffett sells life insurance to these very people attempting to protect their family businesses and family estates from the ravages of the tax man, just so they can keep them intact for their children. Buffett chooses to hand over the vast majority of his $57 billion fortune to charity, so why should he care? Repeal the exemption on charitable giving and you would see him go apoplectic. In 1995, Buffett was quoted on the subject:
I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I've earned. If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil... I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well — disproportionately well... I do think that when you're treated enormously well by this market system, where in effect the market system showers the ability to buy goods and services on you because of some peculiar talent — maybe your adenoids are a certain way, so you can sing and everybody will pay you enormous sums to be on television or whatever — I think society has a big claim on that.
So on the one hand, Buffett realizes the free market maximizes human potential, and on the other supports Big Government, itself the greatest threat to free markets. Some capitalist. Note to Oracle of Omaha: If you feel the need to give back, why not write a few checks to free market think tanks?
Next in line: Larry Kudlow, so-called supply-side "economist" who talks a good game when it comes to lower taxes and fewer regulations, but supports the very institutions that pump up Big Government most — the military-industrial complex and the Fed. Kudlow is apparently suffering from dementia, extolling heroes such as Joseph Schumpeter and Ludwig von Mises while forgetting they were fierce opponents of central banking. He defended the monetary madness of Greenspan from 2001 to 2004 and now Helicopter-Ben and will be the last to admit their interventions caused an epic credit bubble which is coming unglued. Kudlow's advice to Bubblevision viewers after the close?
"I wouldn't panic. Investors should stay in for the long-term. Goldilocks is alive and well."
Next up to the plate: Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's aptly named Mad Money, former hedge fund manager, and author of several popular books on navigating the financial markets. Cramer was indignant that the Fed failed to cut rates ˝%:
I am angry because today the Federal Reserve cost this country an enormous sum of money by giving us a dinky 1/4 point rate cut. The Fed has just done its unwitting best to hasten the possibility of recession — or,… to turn the possibility into something closer to a certainty… Today we learned that no matter how bad things get, the good folks running the Fed are going to take a calm, measured approach — even if to be calm at this moment is the height of insanity.
The kiddies love Jim Cramer because he advocates an all-sugar diet, 24/7. In his bizarre world of asymmetric risk, the Fed's job is to prevent investor losses, no matter the consequences. Quite a free market role model for his adolescent fans.
Earlier in the day, the Maestro himself, Alan Greenspan, wrote an op-ed for the WSJ titled "The Roots of the Mortgage Crisis." We'll give you a hint: the Greenspan Fed failed to make the short list of culprits:
The root of the current crisis, as I see it, lies back in the aftermath of the Cold War, when the economic ruin of the Soviet Bloc was exposed with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Following these world-shaking events, market capitalism quietly, but rapidly, displaced much of the discredited central planning that was so prevalent in the Third World.
No surprise here — central planners always blame free markets for the messes created by their own intervention. Greenspan sees "the expectation of rising prices" as "the dynamic that fuels most asset-price bubbles." Driving the fed funds rate down to 1% in 2003 and practically handing money to speculators apparently had nothing to do with turning the traffic lights all green and creating a massive pile-up.
And lastly: On Wednesday morning, the Fed apparently caved to the tantrums of investors by announcing a scheme to add liquidity through "alternative measures." On cue, the kiddies salivated, taking the Dow up 250 points on the open only to see nearly all of those gains evaporate by the end of the day.
To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, "Fed intervention in the financial markets is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage."
Beam me up, Scotty. There are still no signs of intelligent life.
December 14, 2007
Kevin Duffy [send him mail] is a principal of Bearing Asset Management.
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