Category Archives: Political Opinion

A Fistful of Euros

ron paul

This week, my congressional committee will hold a hearing to examine how the Federal Reserve bails out European banks, propping up spendthrift European governments in the process. Unfortunately this bailout comes at the expense of American citizens, in the form of higher prices and diminished savings down the road.

A good analysis of the Fed’s “swap” scheme first appeared in the Wall Street Journal back in December, in an article by Gerald O’Driscoll entitled, “The Federal Reserve’s Covert Bailout of Europe.” Essentially, beginning late last year the Fed provided U.S. dollars to the European Central Bank in exchange for Euros– sometimes as much as $100 billion at a time. The ECB then funneled those dollars to European banks to provide liquidity and prevent crises from bank insolvencies. Since the currency swap was not technically a loan, the Fed did not have to embarrass itself by openly showing foreign bank debt on its balance sheet. The ECB meanwhile did not have to print new Euros and expose the true fragility of big European banks.

The entire purpose of this unholy arrangement was to obscure the truth: namely that the Fed was bailing out Europe with U.S. dollars.

But why is it the business of the Federal Reserve to bail out European banks that find themselves short of dollars to pay their dollar-denominated contracts? After all, those

contracts often were hedges taken to protect banks against weakness of the Euro. Hedges are supposed to reduce risk, but banks that miscalculate should suffer their own losses accordingly. It’s not our business if the ECB chooses to create moral hazards by providing liquidity to European banks, but why should the Fed prop up Europe’s bad decisions!

The Fed has promised to provide unlimited amounts of dollars to the ECB, should circumstances require it. It boggles the mind. Of course when Fed officials first entered into these swap agreements with the ECB last September, they did so quietly. The American public only found out via websites of the ECB, the Bank of England, or the Swiss Central Bank.

The Fed already has pumped trillions of dollars into the economy since 2008, and US banks currently hold $1.5 trillion of excess reserves. So why don’t American banks lend those excess trillions to European banks if they really need dollars? If US banks could earn 1 or 2 percent on those loans, they might just be interested. But they can’t compete with the ½ percent interest rate charged by the Fed to the ECB. That’s one glaring example of the harm caused by the Fed’s ability to create money and loan it at below-market interest rates.

The Fed argues that these loans will be temporary, merely providing a little boost to get Europe over the hump. But that’s what they thought a few years ago when such lines of credit to the ECB were set to expire, only to see the Fed reauthorize them. What happens if the European financial system collapses? Will the Fed be left holding a bunch of worthless Euros? Will the ECB simply shrug and turn over the collateral it received from European banks, maybe in the form of bonds from Ireland, Italy, or Greece? Have the 17 individual central banks backing the ECB pledged their gold holdings as collateral?

The Fed has placed a hundred-billion dollar bet on the future of the Euro, with the strength of the dollar on the line. This is absolutely irresponsible, and directly contrary to market discipline. Let private banks, European or otherwise, take their own risks. Let foreign central banks inflate their own currencies and suffer the consequences. In other words, it’s time to apply market principles to banks and money.

Beware the Coming Bailouts of Europe

european union stars

The economic establishment in this country has come to the conclusion that it is not a matter of “if” the United States must intervene in the bailout of the euro, but simply a question of “when” and “how”. Newspaper articles and editorials are full of assertions that the breakup of the euro would result in a worldwide depression, and that economic assistance to Europe is the only way to stave off this calamity. These assertions are yet again more scare-mongering, just as we witnessed during the depths of the 2008 financial crisis. After just a decade of the euro, people have forgotten that Europe functioned for centuries without a common currency.

The real cause of economic depression is loose monetary policy: the creation of money and credit out of thin air and the monetization of government debt by a central bank. This inflationary monetary policy is the cause of every boom and bust, yet it is precisely what political and economic elites both in Europe and the United States are prescribing as a resolution for the present crisis. The drastic next step being discussed is a multi-trillion dollar bailout of Europe by the European Central Bank, aided by the IMF and the Federal Reserve.

The euro was built on an unstable foundation. Its creators attempted to establish a dollar-like currency for Europe, while forgetting that it took nearly two centuries for the dollar to devolve from a defined unit of silver to a completely unbacked fiat currency note. The euro had no such history and from the outset was a purely fiat system, thus it is not surprising to followers of Austrian economics that it barely survived a decade and is now completely collapsing. Europe’s economic depression is the result of the euro’s very structure, a fiat money system that allowed member governments to spend themselves into oblivion and expect that someone else would pick up the tab.

A bailout of European banks by the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve will exacerbate the crisis rather than alleviate it. What is needed is for bad debts to be liquidated. Banks that invested in sovereign debt need to take their losses rather than socializing those losses and prolonging the process of adjusting their balance sheets to reflect reality. If this was done, the correction would be painful, but quick, like tearing off a large band-aid, but this is necessary to get back on solid economic footing.  Until the correction takes place there can be no recovery. Bailing out profligate European governments will only ensure that no correction will take place.

A multi-trillion dollar European aid package cannot be undertaken by Europe alone, and will require IMF and Federal Reserve involvement. The Federal Reserve already has pumped trillions of dollars into the US economy with nothing to show for it. Just considering Fed involvement in Europe is ludicrous. The US economy is in horrible shape precisely because of too much government debt and too much money creation and the European economy is destined to flounder for the same reasons. We have an unsustainable amount of debt here at home; it is hardly fair to US taxpayers to take on Europe’s debt as well. That will only ensure an accelerated erosion of the dollar and a lower standard of living for all Americans.

Ron Paul – US Congressman