Monday, June 13, 2011

The Fed and Gas Prices


The above video is of a Congressional Subcommittee entitled, "How Federal Reserve Policies Add to Hard Times at the Pump." I came across it on Dr. Robert Murphy's Free Advice blog as he is one of those giving their expert advice on the effects of Fed policies, especially Quantitative Easing I and II.

Since it is an hour long (and that's only the first part!), and I'm the only person I know who'd actually watch/listen to a video like this, I'll just go over the highlights that stuck out to me:

First thing of note is that all 3 of the academics (Vincent Reinhart of the American Enterprise Institute, Robert Murphy of the Institute for Energy Research, and Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research) agree that the Fed has had some effect on the rising prices of gasoline. Obviously the extent of its effects are not unanimous. But the fact that you can get an employee of the Federal Reserve (Reinhart), an Austrian (Murphy), and a Keynesian (Baker) to all acknowledge that Federal Reserve policies have had effects on the rising price of oil is notable. This, of course, should be expected as most Keynesians would admit as much but would argue that the effects have been positive rather than negative, as Baker alludes to later in the clip.

However, what is very notable, I believe, is that Dr. Baker admits that the Federal Reserve's record in keeping an eye on long term effects of its policies is dismal and lacking even by Keynesian standards. This a pretty damning indictment of Fed policies by someone who would tend to be a Fed apologist.

Other aspects of the hearing that are notable is that the two representatives of private sector businesses, Greg Wannemacher, who represents the trucking industry, and Karen Kerrigan of the Small Business Entrepreneurship Council, both cite regulation and governmental uncertainty as the primary causes of a slowdown in their respective areas in addition to adverse effects such as smaller businesses cutting back on shipping and transportation due to the lack of desire to want to burden their customers with the increase in shipping surcharges.

When asked what specific regulations are having negative effects and are stunting job growth, Ms. Kerrigan immediately cites "the healthcare issue" as small businesses only see healthcare prices and costs going up . She also cites tax uncertainty and the Dodd-Frank reform bill and the effects it will have on capital and investment.

Mr. Wannemacher repeatedly mentions the Environmental Protection Agency and the regulations it has imposed on trucking businesses. He specifically cites instances where his costs of complying with EPA standards have increased due to regulations on truck engines. He mentions how his company had to turn to low sulfur fuel, which provides lower fuel milage, and how they had to pass along the increase in the cost of fuel to their customers which resulted in a loss as customers would of course rather not have to pay for an increase in surcharges.

I particularly admire Dr. Murphy's humility while having to listen to the typical Keynesian rhetoric when talking about the Fed and its policies.

Well, this summation of the testimonies of a variation of economic philosophies and representation of the private sector, particularly small business, is damning to anyone who believes that government regulations and policies are omnibenevolent and there are no adverse effects to them or to someone who believes that the government is not stifling an economic recovery. In the economic realm, you will hardly see anyone who doesn't concede that government policies being pursued are having effects like devaluation of the dollar which results in increases in commodities. Where the debate there usually begins is whether dollar devaluation is a good thing (it isn't) because it results in a decrease in the trade deficit. That is a debate, I will save for another time.

Here is the link Dr. Murphy's blog, I highly recommend you check it out: http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog

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