Monday, January 25, 2010

Albert Edwards, Societe Generale: "Theft! Were the US & UK central banks complicit in robbing the middle classes?"

From ZeroHedge:

...We present Albert Edwards' latest in its complete form as it must be read by all unabridged and without commentary. These are not the deranged ramblings of a fringe blogger - this is a chief strategist for a major international bank.

Theft! Were the US & UK central banks complicit in robbing the middle classes?

by Albert Edwards, Societe Generale

Mr Bernanke’s in-house Fed economists have found that the Fed wasn’t responsible for the boom which subsequently turned into the biggest bust since the 1930s. Are those the same Fed staffers whose research led Mr Bernanke to assert in Oct. 2005 that “there was no housing bubble to go bust”? The reasons for the US and the UK central banks inflating the bubble range from incompetence and negligence to just plain spinelessness. Let me propose an alternative thesis. Did the US and UK central banks collude with the politicians to ‘steal’ their nations’ income growth from the middle classes and hand it to the very rich?

Ben Bernanke?s recent speech at the American Economic Association made me feel sick. Like Alan Greenspan, he is still in denial. The pigmies that populate the political and monetary elites prefer to genuflect to the court of public opinion in a pathetic attempt to deflect blame from their own gross and unforgivable incompetence.

The US and UK have seen a huge rise in inequality over the last two decades, as growth in national income has been diverted almost exclusively to the top income earners (see chart below). The middle classes have seen median real incomes stagnate over that period and, as a consequence, corporate margins and profits have boomed.

Some recent reading has got me thinking as to whether the US and UK central banks were actively complicit in an aggressive re-distributive policy benefiting the very rich. Indeed, it has been amazing how little political backlash there has been against the stagnation of ordinary people?s earnings in the US and UK. Did central banks, in creating housing bubbles, help distract middle class attention from this re-distributive policy by allowing them to keep consuming via equity extraction? The emergence of extreme inequality might never otherwise have been tolerated by the electorate (see chart below). And now the bubbles have burst, along with central banks? credibility, what now?

After reading Ben Bernanke?s speech, once again denying culpability for the bubble, I really didn?t know whether to laugh or cry (remember that Ben Bernanke, like Tim Geithner, was a key member of the Greenspan Fed). I feel like Peter Finch in the film Network, sticking my head out of the window and shouting "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Although criticism of the Fed (and the Bank of England) has now become louder and more widespread, I feel my longstanding derision for their actions during the so-called ?good years? puts me in a stronger position than some to offer further comment.

Opening my 2002-2005 file of old weeklies I did not have to go any further than the first paragraph of the top copy (end of December 2005). “As far as Alan Greenspan’s tenure at the Fed is concerned, we have spared few words of derision. We have made plain our views that the supposed US prosperity that has accompanied his tenure has been based on a grotesque mountain of debt. We have likened the economy to a Ponzi scheme which will ultimately collapse. He has allowed the funding of strong economic activity by mortgaging the US’s future against one bubble (equity) and then another (housing), which is now beginning to implode”. These are almost consensus thoughts now, but not then....MUCH MORE