Economist Makes Lead Story in the Wall Street Journal….Barron’s….and Forbes

I made the lead story in the Wednesday, April 23, 2014, edition of the Wall Street Journal.  The title:  “At Last, a Better Economic Measure.”  You can read it here:  http://on.wsj.com/PsdoLM

The editors of the WSJ don’t allow the author to see or approve the headline or subhead, but they nailed it perfect.  And I love the cartoon graphics!  It’s a perfect rendition of my four stage model of the economy.

Many readers captured the essence of my message.  As economic forecaster Jim Hagerbaumer of Florida wrote:  “Skousen is introducing a whole new species. This is one of the most important WSJ op-ed articles in years.”

I also wrote about Gross Output (GO) in the December 16, 2013, issue of Forbes.  Here’s the online version, with charts and response to critics:

My original article in Forbes Magazine (December 16, 2013):

Mark Skousen, Beyond GDP: Get Ready For A New Way To Measure The Economy, Forbes

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/11/29/beyond-gdp-get-ready-for-a-new-way-to-measure-the-economy/

Additional Commentary by Steve Forbes:
Steve Forbes, New, Revolutionary Way To Measure The Economy Is Coming — Believe Me, This Is A Big Deal, Forbes

http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveforbes/2014/03/26/this-may-save-the-economoy-from-keynesians-and-spend-happy-pols/

Gross Output Includes B-to-B….GDP doesn’t [Read more…]

Chapman Students Are Surprised by the Answer to My Environmental Question

In January, my wife and I had the opportunity to teach at Chapman University, where I am a Presidential Fellow for 2014.  She taught a class in poetry, and I taught “Modern Political Economy:  Who is Winning the Battle of Ideas?”  I used my textbook, “The Making of Modern Economics,” now in its 2nd edition.

One of today’s controversies is about pollution and the environment.  We talked about a recent address by U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned students in Indonesia that “global warming” is “the greatest challenge of our generation,” more than disease outbreaks, poverty, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Then he demonized anyone who disagrees with him, calling critics of global warming “shoddy scientists and extreme ideologues.” You could say the same about Al Gore.  Kerry added, “We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact.”

Kerry is typical of the hysteria surrounding the issue of ecology and the environment. Students are being brainwashed into thinking the problem is getting worse and worse. Kerry and the extreme environmentalists blame any weather disaster, the cold snow in the Northeast or the drought in the West, to global warming.  You can’t argue with these fanatics.

I asked my students at Chapman University, “Has pollution declined or risen in the past 50 years in LA county?”  Over half thought pollution was worse.  The cold, hard fact is that pollution has been reduced sharply in LA county even as gasoline use has risen.  See this chart:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&docid=pYBObTbuYbS9tM&tbnid=xwtv0ahLCtELQM:&ved=0CAUQjRw&url=http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2012/20120809_laairqualitystudy.html&ei=ht4EU5jyEKbb2QXRm4CoCg&bvm=bv.61535280,d.aWc&psig=AFQjCNGsuMz1HbLz7IT1IMCVqhIlch9HSA&ust=1392914426522327

The fact is that the average world temperature has been flat or declining for 17 straight years.  If you want to know the facts about global warming and pollution, read this column by Larry Bell in Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2013/08/21/the-new-york-times-global-warming-hysteria-ignores-17-years-of-flat-global-temperatures/

During the class, a journalist visited my class and gave this nice write up:  http://blogs.chapman.edu/happenings/2014/01/28/class-act-economics-comes-to-life-with-mark-skousen-teaching/

I will be returning to Chapman University on Wednesday, April 16, to give a public lecture as part of my Presidential Fellowship.

Students (each holding an American eagle silver dollar) join me in front of the Adam Smith statue at Chapman University.

The Rise of the Commercial Society: The Business Leader as Hero

By Mark Skousen
Editor, Forecasts & Strategies

Keynote Address at Annual International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE), April 18, 2013, Orlando, Florida

“It is business that creates wealth, not countries or governments.  It is businesses that decide how well or poorly off we are.”   —Shlomo Maital, MIT managerial professor

Tomorrow my wife Jo Ann and I celebrate our big 40th (ruby) anniversary. We were married on April 19, Patriot’s Day, in 1973 in Utah.

Last week we went to Hawaii to celebrate.  When we arrived at the Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort in Honolulu, we were given a small room with only a queen size bed and no view of the famous Waikiki Beach.  I asked the desk clerk if there was any chance we could have a room with a king bed.  He said nothing was available.

I suspect he knew that we used Priceline to get a discount on the room. [Read more…]

Second Review of John Mackey’s Revolutionary “Conscious Capitalism”

Whole Foods’ Better Business

Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, Harvard Business Review Press, 368 pages

Ever since the robber barons stalked the earth and Balzac expostulated that “behind every great fortune is a crime,” the media has attacked Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and anything to do with corporations. In the latest Gallup poll on the trustworthiness of various professions, business executives come out little better than lawyers and used-car salesmen, far below the ethical standings of medical doctors, engineers, and police officers.

Even as the global marketplace has raised the standard of living a hundredfold in the past century, the accusations keep pouring in—that capitalism promotes inequality, materialism, greed, environmental degradation, and short-termism on Wall Street, and that fraud, deception, and corporate welfarism would run rampant if it weren’t for Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, and a host of government regulatory agencies. [Read more…]

My First Book Review for Barrons – “Conscious Capitalism”

Here is my first book review on Barrons — on John Mackey’s new book, “Conscious Capitalism,” which I regard as revolutionary and encourage everyone to get a copy at either a Whole Foods store (always fun to visit) or on Amazon:

BARRONS
| SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2013

The Soul of the New Capitalism

A worthy successor to The Wealth of Nations

Reviewed by Mark Skousen

We tend to regard capitalism in these cynical times as the worst economic system, except for all the others. By contrast, in Conscious Capitalism, Whole Foods Market Co-CEO John Mackey and Bentley College marketing professor Raj Sisodia put forward what could be the most ambitious, indeed revolutionary, model for capitalism ever conceived. Had their application of higher consciousness been in the boardroom a generation ago, we might have avoided the suffocating regulations of Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, and the dire straits of companies like General Motors, Sears, Citibank, and even Enron.

Conscious capitalism, according to Mackey and Sisodia, is “a way of thinking about business that is more conscious of its higher purpose, its impacts on the world, and the relationships it has with its various constituencies and stakeholders.”

Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business

by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia
Harvard Business Press
368 pages, $27

Although they call free enterprise the source of “unprecedented prosperity for humanity,” they challenge the two celebrity philosophers of capitalism, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. They reject the Randian notion that “selfishness” and “greed” are virtues, and deny the Friedman view that the only responsibility of capitalism is to maximize profits for its shareholders.

“Business is not about making as much money as possible,” the authors declare. “It’s about creating value for stakeholders.” Companies must develop sterling reputations to attract loyal customers, employees and suppliers, and generate community goodwill. If they do, superior returns can be achieved in earnings and stock price as a byproduct, not as a primary goal. [Read more…]

Hillsdale College Lecture: Will the Real Adam Smith Please Stand Up?

Was Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, a libertarian, conservative, or radical democrat? Traditionally, free-market economists such as Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek, have defended Smith as a great free-market economist, while Emma Rothschild, Gordon Brown, and yes, even Murray Rothbard, have demurred, suggesting that Smith was an interventionist who should not be considered a hero of free markets.

Who’s right?

Recently I was invited to Hillsdale College for its annual Center for Constructive Alternatives conference on “Adam Smith, Free Markets and the Modern World.” The other speakers were P. J. O’Rourke, Nicholas Phillipson, James R. Otteson, Roy C. Smith, and John Steele Gordon. My lecture was entitled “The Centrality of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.” Click here to read the lecture and see how I come down on the debate on Adam Smith and how the debate influenced my work “The Making of Modern Economics.”

I present my case for the centrality of the invisible hand in Adam Smith's work at Hillsdale College in January 2012

Click here to read the lecture “The Centrality of the Invisible Hand” by Mark Skousen

Free-Market Economists on the Defensive at AEA Meeting in Chicago

“The big cannon should be fiscal policy [more deficit spending].” — Peter Diamond, Nobel Prize Economist and New Fed Member

Every year I attend (and sometimes speak) at the American Economic Association (AEA) meetings, where the top economists meet and present papers on current issues. In the past, I’ve confronted Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, government officials, and Nobel laureates with tough questions.

This year’s conference was held in Chicago, home of the famed free-market Chicago School of Economics. After the financial crisis of 2008, the Chicago school has been under assault, and there was a session on “Has the Chicago School Emerged from the Crisis Unscathed?” Clearly not, the panelists concluded.

Peter Diamond’s Solution to the Unemployment Problem: Tax (the Rich) and Spend!

Panels are always the most provocative, and usually involved famous people. This year the panels were dominated by Keynesian Nobel Prize winners such as Paul Krugman and Peter Diamond. Diamond was just appointed by President Obama to be a new Fed member. A major topic at this year’s conference was the lousy employment numbers. The unemployment rate is 8.5%, and more importantly, job openings are falling. Apparently the unemployed are dropping out of the labor force and giving up.

In a popular session, “What Happened to the US Employment Miracle,” the panelists agreed that the employment miracle ended around 2000, even before the 2008 crisis. And 10.6 million jobs will be needed just to get back to 2007 levels. Chicago economist Steven Davis said that despite the clear benefits of a college education, men are not responding and going to college.

What to do? “The big cannon is now fiscal policy,” Diamond said. He recommended that Washington spend more and run even deeper deficits, preferably on education, R&D, and infrastructure, not foreign wars. And he meant “now is the time to act to get people back to work.”

More than $1.7 trillion a year? Aren’t we risking default like Europe? Apparently not. “There is no imminent debt problem in the United States as there is in Europe,” he responded.

Since he was headed to the Fed, I asked him what he would recommend Bernanke do to stimulate the economy. “Should we inflate our way out?”

“There is no inflation problem today,” he said. Meaning: Get the printing presses going 24/7!

I asked Diamond and other experts on why the employment market was so stagnant. Was it due to excessive regulation (ObamaCare, Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, minimum wage)? They said “no” to all these reasons. But higher taxes and unpredictable monetary policy could hamper the recovery in the jobs market.

Diamond recommended that now is time to reform Social Security, before all the baby boomers start getting benefits. I suspect that means higher taxes on the wealthy and raising the retirement age — not privatization — but he didn’t go into particulars.

Diamond is an advocate of a sharp increase in the marginal tax rate on wealthy individuals — to as high as 73%, according to the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives — and without any loopholes.  He says the studies show this high rate won’t hurt incentives. Really?

Krugman Sings the Same Tune

Paul Krugman (see photo) echoed Diamond. He told me that the only option left open now is “more massive deficit spending.”

What about the fear that we are headed toward default European style?

“Not a chance,” he replied. “We’re years away.” He pointed out that Treasury bonds are still rising, so there’s no worry. (10 year bond yield is under 2%!)

I pointed to numerous examples of developed countries (Canada, Sweden, New Zealand) that had cut spending and reduced their deficits, and their economies flourished. “Not relevant!” he exclaimed. “None of these countries were suffering from a severe recession.”

Would he favor a cut in the corporate tax rate, as advocated even by Democrats? “No,” he said emphatically. In fact, he supports a tax increase on wealthy Americans, up to 50% without loopholes.

Sadly, these are the kind of economists who President Obama is listening to. Can we afford another four years of tax and spend? It’s scary.

Robert Shiller and the Real Estate Market

Yale economist Robert Shiller is more cordial and open-minded. He was on the platform at an AEA luncheon, along with a dozen or more other economists (why is it that only ivy-league economists are so honored?).

He is famous for his book Irrational Exuberance, wherein he predicted the tops of both the stock market in 2001 and the real estate market in 2006. He is also co-inventor of the Case-Shiller Real Estate Index. I asked him if the index suggested a bottoming pattern. He didn’t know, but the futures market for real estate looked promising.

In fact, a new report states that “the number of improving housing markets nearly doubled,” including Dallas, Denver, and Philadelphia. I’m bullish and have been recommending housing stocks.

Interestingly, Paul Krugman told me that Nouriel Roubini, the notoriously bearish economist from NYU, recently bought a house in the New York area. “That’s a clear sign of a bottom,” Krugman said with some glee.

Bob was kind enough to ask me about my new book. I told him about The Maxims of Wall Street and shared with him some of the Wall Street sayings.

Robert Mundell on the Euro and EU Crisis

I also had a chance to interview free-market economist and Nobel Prize winner Robert Mundell. We were on the same flight together to and from New York. He was appalled by the “crude” Keynesians at the AEA meeting who advocated all-out inflationary policies.

“What about the future of the euro and the Euro zone?” I asked. Mundell is considered the father of the euro.

“Some countries like Greece will have to default on their debt, but the euro is here to stay and the EU will survive,” he predicted. He no doubt would reject out of hand Robert Barro’s op ed in the Wall Street Journal (January 9) that the euro be disbanded. Such an event would undoubtedly cause a stock market crash.

I interviewed Larry Summers, former president of Harvard and recently President Obama’s top economist. (See photo.) I asked if he it was true that no president has ever been re-elected with an unemployment rate over 8%, and he said, “It’s not so much the rate as the direction of the unemployment rate.”  If it’s headed down, that’s positive for Obama.

 

 

 

 

China: Threat to the West?

Summers participated in an high-powered panel on “The United States and China” with Robert Mundell, Gary Becker, and Robert Zoellick, the new president of the World Bank. It was a lively session moderated by Fordham professor Dominick Salvatore. Gary Becker said that China is surpassing us rapidly in education. While our graduation rates are declining, theirs is increasing. Our immigration policy is biased against skilled workers.

Robert Mundell and Larry Summers agreed that the rise of China is “the greatest fact of the 21st century,” and China’s GDP could surpass ours in ten years or less. But both Summers and Becker warned not to extrapolate too much, recalling that pundits predicted in the 1960s that the Soviet Union would bury us economically, and in the 1980s Japan would dominate the world. Neither prediction came true.

Robert Zoellick noted that when he visited China, the Chinese officials were concerned not to develop into an excessive welfare state like Europe. But he warned that there is little dialog between the US and China on China’s growing political/military side — a real danger.

I was the only one who was given the opportunity to ask a question at the end of the two hour session. I asked them what their reaction was to the China bashing that Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and other Republicans are doing, especially Trump’s advocacy of a 25% tariff on all Chinese imports?

All four panelists responded. Robert Mundell said it would be a financial disaster, like an atomic bomb hitting the world. “Besides,” he said, “It would be illegal under GATT rules.” The other panelists agreed that the China bashing was “bad rhetoric” that hopefully would not carry over if they won the presidency.

Tour of the Exhibit Hall and Book Publishers

It’s always fun to tour the exhibit hall and meet with all the publishers here in the States and from the UK. My publisher, ME Sharpe, was there, and told me that my books, The Making of Modern Economics and The Big Three in Economics continue to sell well around the country.

Usually the Cato Institute has a booth at the AEA meetings, but not this year. However, I did see Liberty Fund and the Ayn Rand Institute there. The Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) has a reception Friday night for friends of IHS. It was crowded and a nice opportunity to meet like-minded economists.

Dr Mark Skousen’s Five Questions for President Obama

Dr. Mark Skousen’s Five Questions for President Obama and How Free-Market Thinking Can Build a Better Future

The Daily Bell is pleased to publish an exclusive interview with the distinguished free-market scholar and economist Dr. Mark Skousen

Introduction: Dr. Skousen taught economics at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business in 2004. In 2001- 02, he was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in New York. Since 1980, Dr. Skousen has been editor in chief of Forecasts & Strategies, a popular award-winning investment newsletter published by Eagle Publishing in Washington, D.C.

Mark Skousen: He is also editor of his own website, www.mskousen.com, and editor of three trading services, Skousen Hedge Fund Trader, Skousen High Income Alert and Skousen Turnaround Trader. He earned his Ph.D. in economics and monetary history from George Washington University in 1977. Since then he has written over 20 books, including Economics on Trial (McGraw Hill, 1991), Puzzles and Paradoxes in Economics (Edward Elgar Publishers, 1997), and The Making of Modern Economics (M. E. Sharpe, 2001). Dr. Skousen is the creator and producer of Freedom Fest, an annual gathering of the freedom movement from around the world, held every July in Las Vegas (www.freedomfest.com). Mark Skousen was interviewed on Board the Ship Veendam, in Port Montt, Chile. This is his second interview with the Bell. The first can be seen here.

Daily Bell: Thanks for joining us again.

Mark Skousen: Happy to be here.

Daily Bell: You wanted to interview President Obama. Here’s you chance, before we move into more general questions.

Mark Skousen: I came up with five questions. They are what I call hardball questions. If he does not answer, I will answer for him.

Daily Bell: Sounds like you may have to.

Mark Skousen: Mr. President, do you support the repeal of the invasive requirement that all business report a 1099 of all sales of goods, services or assets of $600 or more during the calendar year?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: All right, then. You say all the time that you are pro business, pro-small business, but how could you possibly support this part. It was added on at the last minute to what is now called the ObamaCare bill. It’s another example of pushing through legislation that nobody has read. It’s going to have a terribly retardant effect on the economy.

Daily Bell: Maybe you will have more luck with number two.

Mark Skousen: Another government agency that has run amuck is the TSA. Do you support their decision to install full body scanners and full pat downs for travelers that refuse to subject themselves to nude photographs of their body?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: Has America come to the point where the US government is officially sanctioning sexual harassment? That question has been asked in a softball way….”well what do you think President Obama, what do you think of these scanners?” You defended it by saying that this was the only way they could capture somebody like the Christmas day bomber who had a bomb in his underpants and so now we have to subject ourselves to this kind of indignity. At what point is this going to end.

Another point is the aggressive nature of the TSA. There must be something like Murphy’s Law when it comes to government agencies that inevitably they go over board and no longer fulfill their basic function. I really feel that this is a travesty of the worst kind. I am really glad to see there is a group that’s forming a kind of Tea Party protest for this decision. It is on the web called, www.wewontfly.com, and I recommend that everybody go to that, wewontfly.com.

This is an egregious example of government run amuck and it reminds me of in the 80s when the Federal transportation agency, in order to encourage seat belt wearing, actually required a new device to be attached to the ignition of all new cars. You had to have your seat belt on before the car would start. Americans were so incensed by this, there were protests and they stopped buying cars and they started finding ways around the device and eventually the government backed off.

I am very hopeful that this will be the case but as Doug Casey says, American’s today are spineless, they are whipped dogs as he says and there are only a small minority of libertarians protesting this. I think it’s a sad. Apparently 80% of Americans supported full body scanners, it’s just a total invasion of privacy. Of course, I have been at the forefront of this battle all my life having written a book called; The Complete Guide to Financial Privacy in the early 80s.

It was a bestseller and sold over half a million copies, kind of an underground best seller. It wouldn’t make sense that it would make the New York Times list considering the topic is privacy but I feel this is very sad. We never lose our freedoms all at once, we lose them gradually. It’s like the frog in the warm water – we turn the heat up and eventually he croaks.

Daily Bell: Onto number three.

Mark Skousen: Given that you are deeply concerned about the high level of unemployment, would you favor elimination or at least reduction of the minimum wage law in order to boost employment among black male and teenagers in general?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: Many economists believe there is a strong correlation between the rise in the federal minimum wage and teenage and minority unemployment rate in the United States. Are you aware that when the new minimum wage was imposed in the summer of 2009 during the first year of your administration, there was a significant increase of joblessness among teenage male blacks. Do you think there is any correlation? Can you deny it?

Daily Bell: The silence is deafening.

Mark Skousen: Was it really necessary to take 2,000 government employees on your recent trip to India and around the world costing tax payers millions of dollars? Is this appropriate at a time when there are record deficits and Americans suffering financial stress? Isn’t this an example of the Imperial Presidency?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: This is how you get an image problem. You begin to be perceived as an imperial president, like one of these famous dictators, a Caesar type of person. What we need right now – in terms of attitude anyway – is a Jimmy Carter type. Carter may have been a failed president, but he understood something about humility. That seems totally lacking in your administration. It’s like the First Lady going on that expensive trip to Spain, going to all these ritzy places. It would be nice to see a president who maintained a low profile. It’s just a question of sending the wrong message at a time when Americans in general are struggling.

Daily Bell: Your points seem to be falling on the proverbial deaf ears.

Mark Skousen: We’ll give him another chance. Is it really necessary Mr. President to run a 1.3 trillion dollar deficit and threaten the bankruptcy of the United States and our AAA rating? Can’t you admit all this “stimulating” is ending up in bankruptcy rather than a healthy economy?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: Since you went to the Chicago law school, certainly you were exposed to the great Chicago School of Economics and the free market economic perspectives of Milton Friedman, George Stigler and so forth. Are you aware Mr. President, that Friedman’s study of the Keynesian spending multiplier, in other words, the positive impact of federal deficit spending, is bound to have a multiplier of zero, in other words, no positive impact what so ever? The trillion or so you have spent on “stimulus” has been wasted. There are no shovel-ready projects, and if there were, they wouldn’t add net jobs.

Daily Bell: He’s ignoring you. Good to remind him about the Friedman study, though.

Mark Skousen: Last one. If Europe recovers with their low deficits and an expansionary monetary policy, will this not disprove the Keynesian model?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: Europe is cutting back on government spending while engaged in monetary expansion. Here we will have a perfect natural test to see if the Friedman results will be reconfirmed. Of course, libertarians do not believe in managing the economy through central banking, but we are stuck with the system we have. Within the parameters of this system, monetary expansion is likely to be more effective than government spending, which just aggravates the problem. Don’t you understand that now after two years of failed economic policies?

Daily Bell: You were obviously over-optimistic in expecting responses.

Mark Skousen: (laughing). Somehow even if he were here, I don’t think we would have gotten any straight answers. But those are the questions he should be asked, among many others. Maybe one day at a town meeting, someone will get to ask them.

Daily Bell: OK, we’ve had our President Obama interview. Let’s turn the tables and ask you a few general questions. Quite a lot has happened since our last interview with you over a year ago. One of the most puzzling occurrences is the return in the US of discredited Keynesian economic policy – and with a vengeance. How did that happen?

Mark Skousen: Somehow President Obama chose the same policies that didn’t work in the 1930s and didn’t work in the 1970s. The United States has decided to spend its way out of recession and has adopted this typical Keynesian policy of running huge deficits. Europe is rejecting this sort of policy outright. Germany, and even the UK in its post-Brown recovery, are rejecting this notion and cutting back. My best example is Canada. In 1995, Canada had a fiscal crisis, runaway government spending of 53% of the economy and the Canadian dollar was collapsing. The Liberal Party of Canada, which got them into trouble in the first place, said enough is enough. There was a general consensus that Canada was moving in the wrong direction.

They fired a bunch of federal workers, and in two years eliminated the deficit, so the Canadian debt started declining. Then, even better, they had 11 straight years of surpluses. They also started cutting taxes; and they’ve had some pretty good success with their economy, even during a tough time worldwide. They still have some problems with their medical, single payer system but, overall, a supply side approach has proven successful in Canada. I would like to think that there are countries that are rejecting the standard Keynesian model. It’s hasn’t happened in the US, but I am hopeful that we will learn examples abroad.

Daily Bell: Let’s move to central banking and fiat money. Do you think we will ever return to a gold standard?

Mark Skousen: I have written a book called The Economics of a Pure Gold Standard. It was actually my dissertation of my PhD at George Washington University in 1977 and I was heavily under the influence of Murray Rothbard who favored a return to the gold standard.

Since then, I have argued that once you have gone off the gold standard it is very difficult to go back on it because it would cause a major redistribution of wealth to the gold holders who tend to be speculators and wealthier individuals. So there would be this redistribution problem that could be pretty serious, especially if gold has to go to $20,000 an ounce in order to really cover that.

I have often said the only way to return to a gold standard is with a major financial crisis, so you we are basically forced to do it. We may be headed in that direction but I think if we automatically did it that would create problems in itself. I like the idea of using gold as a tool. Supply-siders like using gold as an indicator of inflation; if we can control inflation and stabilize our inflation, the price of gold will come back down and that will be the best indicator that we can use. It is interesting that central bankers are net buyers of gold now rather than net sellers like they were. They are holding on because they know it’s the only asset that has any real value.

Daily Bell: What about the EU? Is it going to survive?

Mark Skousen: Robert Mundell, the free market economist, the father of the Euro, has made the case for its survival. I know there are a lot of skeptics out there but who wants to go back to all these individual currencies. It was madness and extremely inefficient when you moved from one country to another, losing money on every currency exchange. The euro has two great benefits: It encourages the free movement of goods and services and it increases competition. You can price everything in the euro and you can see what’s expensive and what’s not; that makes competition much more effective. You also have labour mobility you did not have before; you don’t require work permits, so you can work anywhere inside the EU.

England now has much better restaurants, as the French and Germans have moved there and brought palatable cuisine. You can move investments around as well. So I like the one currency, a United States of Europe concept if you like and from an economic point of view I think it is very good. It also, eventually, acts as a brake on these profligate governments. Yes, there are some problems with it right now but it’s basically sending a very strong message, you’ve got to get your act together because you are going to pay a heavy price. You can’t simply default; you are part of the European system so you can’t engage in these irresponsible spending, tax policies.

Daily Bell: Do you foresee a 3rd party in the United States ever?

Mark Skousen: A third party has never been effective in the United States. I think it is much smarter to work within the Democratic or the Republican Party to make change. All the laws favor the two party systems in the United States. They make it much more difficult for third parties to get on the ballot and really have any influence. Traditionally, third-parties have only been beneficial as a protest and forcing the major parties to make changes. If you go back to the Civil War era, the South was all Democratic because they hated the Republicans so much. Later on, that totally reversed itself; the electorate is fungible. Times change and so do opinions. I think Libertarians should infiltrate both political parties, not just the Republicans or the Tea Party.

Daily Bell: Do you think the US’s police and military will ever be turned against the people? In the current environment that is being suggested as a possibility.

Mark Skousen: It’s already happening. You have the FBI, a federal police force, virtually everywhere. It is just a monstrous agency and I speak for having been the son of an FBI Agent and the nephew of an FBI Agent; both my father and uncle were top FBI people. My father shot one of the top-ten most wanted men back in 1950. But that was back when the FBI had extremely limited roles to play. The FBI is involved with bank fraud and with almost everything else. You name it; it’s classic mission creep. It amazes me. It’s not just kidnapping and stuff like that.

And of course there is the army and now the army can come in whenever there is a natural disaster. The National Guard is called in as well. There’s so much power available, and the powers-that-be are increasingly showing a willingness to use it. It’s definitely something to be concerned about. Just take a look at the vast power the TSA has over travel. It’s beyond belief! The other thing I fear is the movement away from the fourth amendment of unreasonable searches. They have these roadblocks that they keep justifying. Every car that goes by, they can stop at these random checkpoints. They can literally just pull you over for no good reason. National ID cards are constantly being pushed as well. There are many examples of “real time” threats to the freedoms of American citizens these days.

Daily Bell: What about the US and China? Military issues in the future?

Mark Skousen: The Chinese are currently building up a huge military complex; I think they have 3 million troops or something. It’s a huge number; we’ll never know the exact number. But, certainly, they are increasing their technology capability and they are going to flex their muscles, much more so than North Korea or Iran. I think China is the elephant in the room as far as the military is concerned. They haven’t really gone after Taiwan, yet. It’s all saber rattling but that doesn’t mean it can’t turn into something more.

Have you ever seen the picture of how much water is surrounding the China sea and how much they consider is theirs? It’s not 200 miles – it just keeps going and going. I think there is some imperialism there. I think, in fact, it’s a very dangerous situation. The industrial sector has grown and it’s allowing them to spend more and more on their military objectives. There’s the potential for real conflict there.

Daily Bell: Strange times. What advice would you offer for the people to protect themselves financially?

Mark Skousen: I do think we should play the trends and when the market recovers we should take full advantage of that, I certainly have. In my newsletter I have taken advantage of the good times, the recovery that you see from time to time. A lot of the doomsday, gold bugs completely missed their recovery in the stock market. I like to play that because a lot of investors feel more comfortable with stocks I don’t recommend investing too much in commodities, which is a non-traditional investment area.

So my subscribers tend to be more traditional investors. What I try to do is introduce to them investing in commodities, gold and silver and so on, but only a 10% position, it’s an insurance policy against bad times, so that includes gold and silver. So I am always educating people that way. I encourage them to buy gold and silver coins and to aware of the bad news that can come down the road. But the majority of my investments are in foreign markets or in US markets and in dividend paying stocks and income producing investments and so forth.

We have had a very good track record the last few years with beating the market and doing well for them. But the tide can change and right now we are seeing a lot of problems developing. It’s funny how everybody feared that September and October which are traditionally tough months in the market and those did really well and now we are heading into December and now seeing all kinds of problems surface – the Irish debt situation, China raising interest rates, the North Koreans fighting the South Koreans; there’s a lot of geo-political events which are keeping the markets from going higher, despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to inject all this liquidity.

So, I have always believed in that old biblical refrain: know the signs of the times. I’ve tried to follow that advice in my newsletter called “Forecasts and Strategies.” My philosophy basically is that problems come and go, but I have always been more of an optimist rather than not. There is an old saying on Wall Street: “bears make headlines and bulls make money.” The majority of time Americans are problem solvers; the sun eventually comes out again. Traditional bond and stock markets perform better. It would be sad commentary if we didn’t have that kind of situation. It would be like being a millionaire on a sinking ship. Who wants to be a millionaire on the Titanic? So, I am optimistic that we will get new leadership, reasonable policies and sound economics. It has happened in the past, as I mentioned. Canada is the most recent example and I would hope that it can happen again.

Daily Bell: That sounds like your book Econopower, do you want to talk about it?

Mark Skousen: Yes, the Korean edition. They paid me $100,000 in advance for Econopower. That book was about solving problems. Whatever problems are out there, economists can add to the solution. The South Koreans are very strong on economics and how to use them to their advantage. I have a chapter in the back that Robert Shiller of Yale University really liked and it’s called “Is US Economy Depression Proof?” I wrote this right before the financial crisis of 2008, in which I argued that it’s not depression proof and that we are vulnerable. We have a monetary system that is broken and it’s not really a good one and it needs to be fixed. Sure enough we had a financial crisis and the whole system came close to collapsing. The only thing that kept it from total collapse was massive government intervention again. The establishment had always argued that we were depression proof; that the system was the best of all worlds. Doesn’t seem to be the case, obviously.

Daily Bell: What else have you written lately?

Mark Skousen: I’ve written a textbook called Economic Logic. It’s always my hope that the US will get leaders with an understanding of real economics. President Obama needs a course on free market economics. Economic Logic takes a logical approach; it mixes business with economics. It starts with an income statement, a profit and loss statement, and then develops into supply and demand analysis.

I use the best of Austrian and Chicago economics and now it’s being used in a number of colleges and universities around the country. It’s encouraging. You will not change the politicians until you educate the people who elect them. It’s kind of my anti-Samuelson textbook. Samuelson was this Keynesian economist at MIT, who at the end of WWII wrote his economic text book that introduced Keynesian economics and this anti-savings mentality – this pro big government, welfare state, pro-progressive taxation kind of zeitgeist from which we still suffer. So we need a new textbook for the 21st century to reverse that trend and get us back to sound economics. The reality is free-market economics is not taught to children or even to older students. We need to start somewhere.

Daily Bell: What is out there for students who want to get a general idea about economics besides college text books?

Mark Skousen: There is a website run by Steve Marriotti called Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). They teach entrepreneurship and how to create your own businesses and business models. They have a text book that’s geared toward minorities. It’s a great program. I am hoping this can be another area where we can spread the word to students.

Daily Bell: Closing words?

Mark Skousen: Do not despair. Do not think that our current mess is irreversible, that our economy is headed for total destruction, which is a constant message from gold bugs and doomsayers. I am trying to counter that view and I am trying to do something through education. As you know, we have created FreedomFest and it’s not my conference alone, though I created it. It’s the “movement’s” conference. You bring together all the best and the brightest in Las Vegas, the world’s greatest libertarian city. We have this great celebration and learn from each other; we celebrate liberty; we warn each other about the dangers to liberty and we do business and make deals and walk away and say WOW, we can make a difference. So, come on down! It’s an open forum. We like new people and new speakers. We have Steve Forbes (Forbes Magazine) and John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) who both work tirelessly to spread the word. It’s a great opportunity to meet and greet and there are others out there who feel the same. So, go to www.FreedomFest.com and learn more. Hope to see you there.

Daily Bell: On that note, now would be an appropriate time to announce our first conference, scheduled for the last weekend in April in the Appenzell region of Switzerland. The conference is the being hosted by The Foundation for the Advancement of Free-Market Thinking and has several Platinum level sponsors, of which Appenzeller Business Press AG (publisher of the Daily Bell) is one. It will be a great European-based opportunity to provide similar opportunities for like-minded folks to gather with a view to seeking private solutions to the more egregious public problems facing us all. To date, several top thinkers have committed to speaking and we would like to include you in that group. Can we count on your support with our conference efforts and would you travel to Switzerland to share your views at the event?

Mark Skousen: I would be pleased to support your efforts and you can pencil me in to speak at your conference. Thank you for considering me.

Daily Bell: Thank you Mark, it has been a pleasure as always and we look forward to seeing you in April.

Mark Skousen: Thanks, same here.

A Tax by Any Other Name

Personal Snapshots
FORECASTS & STRATEGIES
July 2000

A Tax by Any Other Name
by Mark Skousen

“Do they realize that every measure leading to capital decumulation jeopardizes their prosperity?” – Ludwig von Mises

A tax by any other name….

Whether you call it an estate tax, an inheritance tax or a death tax, it’s all the same — a tax on capital!

Capital is the lifeblood of the economy. It builds and maintains our roads, buildings, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure. It educates our youth and trains our workers. It finances inventions and new technology. In short, capital is the engine of economic growth and makes possible a higher standard of living for all of us. In his 1920 best-seller The Economic Consequences of the Peace, the economist John Maynard Keynes hoped to see the day when capital would be “allowed to grow in the geometrical proportion predicted by Malthus of population,” resulting in an economic nirvana, with no “overwork, overcrowding, and underfeeding.”

Keynes’s book warned about one of the greatest threats to capital formation-world war. But today the biggest threat to capital formation and economic growth is taxes, particularly estate taxes and capital gains taxes. Politicians call them “death” taxes and “profit” taxes, but these taxes have the same effect. They systematically reduce the pool of investment capital in the world, the seeds of economic progress. In 1999, the federal estate tax removed over $30 billion from the capital investment pool of this nation, and the capital gains tax removed over $100 billion-money sent to Washington that will never return to the private sector to be invested. What a tragedy!

I laud the House of Representatives for taking the “revolutionary” step of eliminating the federal estate-tax. But while one hand giveth, the other taketh away. The House also added to their “radical” bill a provision that would actually do worse-tax the gains on all inherited assets at the time of death! Under current law, heirs don’t have to pay taxes on capital gains of stocks and other assets inherited from a deceased loved one. They automatically receive a “stepped up” basis on all stocks, bonds, etc.But under the new law, that “stepped up” basis is eliminated.

So even under the new bill-if it ever becomes law-estate planning won’t go away. Lawyers and accountants don’t have to worry about seeking added work. They will be busy finding ways to get around the new rules that confiscate capital upon death.

My favorite strategy for avoiding the various capital/estate/wealth taxes is to quietly, privately and legally transfer assets to your heirs. In small amounts, this means investing in gold and silver coins, artworks and other collectibles, all of which can be easily given away. For larger estates, the best strategy involves trusts and foundations. As Larry Abraham says, “There’s never been a tax law without legal loopholes.”

The Gap Between Rich and Poor Is…Narrowing!

Personal Snapshots
FORECASTS & STRATEGIES
April 2000

by Mark Skousen

“The poor remain poor and the command of income by those in the top income brackets is increasing egregiously.” — John Kenneth Galbraith

“The poor have not gotten poorer. The average family below the poverty line today is doing as well or better than middle-class families in 1971.” — W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm

Recently two Washington, D.C., think tanks warned that the income gap between rich and poor was getting worse, much worse. They blamed differences in education and skills, immigration, and the stock market boom. To remedy this injustice, they urged increasing the minimum wage and unemployment insurance while reducing “regressive” taxes.

I strongly disagree with these findings for several reasons. First, these studies ignore the fact that families and individuals move from poor to middle class, and middle class to rich over time. For example, a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas indicates that 29% of poor families in 1975 had moved to the top income brackets in 1991. Only 5.1% of those in the bottom in 1975 remained at the bottom in 1991! In a dynamic market economy, there is constant upward mobility.

Second, other more in-depth studies demonstrate that the poor have improved their material condition tremendously during the 20th century and even the past 20 years.


The above chart shows the benefit of looking specifically at examples of living standards instead of relying on income figures. The overwhelming fact is that if we measure standard of living by the quantity, quality and variety of goods and services, we see that our material lives have improved dramatically and profoundly over the past 100 years, for peoples of all incomes. The rich have gotten richer, but so have the poor.

The Rich Aren’t So Different After All

I would go one step further and argue that the poor have actually advanced the most in this country and are gradually and sometimes speedily catching up with the rich. The rich are having a harder time distinguishing themselves from the poor. The rich have cars with air-conditioning and radios, and so do most of the poor. The rich watch the World Series (or an opera) on their big color TVs, and so do the poor. The rich jump on a jet and fly to exotic lands and, with recent cheap excursion fares on the Internet, the poor are doing the same thing. In fact, the Internet is the great leveler. It’s so cheap today that anyone can get online and obtain information with hardly any cost at all. The Internet is increasing dramatically the level of competition and thereby reducing the cost of living. For example, it won’t be long before long-distance telephone calls will cost nothing. What was once the domain of the well-to-do is now open to every one. Compared to yesteryear, every house today is a castle, every man a king.