Frank Shostak

Frank Shostak

Frank Shostak is an Associated Scholar of the Mises Institute. His consulting firm, Applied Austrian School Economics, provides in-depth assessments and reports of financial markets and global economies. He received his bachelor's degree from Hebrew University, master's degree from Witwatersrand University and PhD from Rands Afrikaanse University, and has taught at the University of Pretoria and the Graduate Business School at Witwatersrand University.

Articles by Frank Shostak

A Drop in the Money Supply Was Not the Cause of the Great Depression

In his writings, Milton Friedman blamed central bank policies for causing the Great Depression. According to Friedman, the Federal Reserve failed to pump enough reserves into the banking system to prevent a collapse in the money stock.1 The adjusted money supply (AMS), which stood at $26.6 billion in March 1930, had fallen to $20.5 billion by April 1933—a decline of 22.9 percent.

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Why There’s So Much Confusion over What “Inflation” Means

Understood properly,  inflation is not a general increase in prices but is an increase in the money supply "out of thin air" which brings about the impoverishment of wealth generators. When inflation is seen as a general increase in prices, then anything that contributes to price increases is called inflationary.

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If We Want to Increase Demand in the Market, We Must First Increase Production

Following the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, many commentators associate economic growth with increases in the demand for goods and services. Both Keynes and Friedman held that the Great Depression of the 1930s was due to an insufficiency of aggregate demand and that thus the way to fix the problem was to boost aggregate demand.

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Why Economics Cannot Be Understood through Experimentation

In the natural sciences, a laboratory experiment can isolate various elements and their movements. There is no equivalent in the discipline of economics. The employment of econometrics and econometric model building is an attempt to create a laboratory where controlled experiments can be conducted.

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Why Keynes Was Wrong about Consumer Spending

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, most experts are of the view that it is the role of the government and central bank to minimize the damage inflicted by the virus—and the policy response to it—on the economy.

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A Rising Demand for Money Won’t Save Us from Inflation

According to popular thinking, not every increase in the supply of money will have an effect on the production of goods. For instance, if an increase in the supply is matched by a corresponding increase in the demand for money, then there will be no effect on the economy.

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How Central Banks Destroy Money’s Purchasing Power

Most economists hold that a growing economy requires a growing money stock on grounds that growth gives rise to a greater demand for money that must be accommodated. Failing to do so, it is maintained, will lead to a decline in the prices of goods and services, which in turn will destabilize the economy and lead to an economic recession, or even worse, depression.

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Why Central Banks Are a Threat to Our Savings

US Personal Savings Rate vs YoY % CHNG US AMS

The US personal savings rate jumped to 33 percent in April from 12.7 percent in March and 8 percent in April last year. An increase in savings is regarded by popular economics as less expenditure on consumption. Since consumption expenditure is considered as the main driving force of the economy, obviously a rebound in savings, which implies less consumption, cannot be good for economic activity, so it is held. Saving and wealth—what is the relation?

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The Importance of Economic Theory in Understanding Historical Data

It is a common belief that sound economics must be based on facts and not on theoretical reasoning as such. Some commentators are dismissive of economic analysis that is not derived from the true data, since it is not describing the facts of reality as depicted by historical data. The use of the free market economy framework, without the central bank and government intervention and with businesses as a foundation to derive valid conclusions, is dismissed as nonsensical.

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Defining “Inflation” Correctly

Inflation is typically defined as a general increase in the prices of goods and services—described by changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or other price indexes. If inflation is a general rise in measured prices, then why is it regarded as bad news? What kind of damage can it inflict? Mainstream economists maintain that inflation causes speculative buying, which generates waste.

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Let’s Hope Deflation Is Headed Our Way

The yearly growth rate of the US consumer price index (CPI) fell to 0.4 percent in April from 2 percent in April last year while the annual growth of the producer price index (PPI) plunged to –1.2 percent last month against 2.4 percent in April 2019.

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How Central Banks and Lockdowns Are Making the Crisis Worse

What typifies the phenomenon of the boom-bust cycle is that it is recurrent. What is the reason for this? Loose monetary policies set the platform for various activities that would not emerge without the easy monetary stance. What loose monetary policy does here is to engineer the transfer of real savings from wealth generating activities to artificially stimulated activities, which we can label as bubble activities.

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Government Regulation against “Monopolies” Only Lowers Our Standard of Living

According to a popular way of thinking, monopolies undermine the efficient functioning of the market economy by being able to influence the prices and the quantity of products. Consequently, this undermines the well-being of individuals in the economy. By this way of thinking, the inefficiency emerges because of the deviation from the ideal state of the market as depicted by the “perfect competition” framework.

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Creating More Money Won’t Revive the Economy

In response to the coronavirus, central banks worldwide are currently pumping massive amounts of money. This pumping, it is held, is going to arrest the negative economic side effects that the virus-related panic inflicts on economies. As appealing as it sounds we suggest that this view is erroneous.

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The Bureaucrats Can’t Fix This

In the midst of the emerging economic chaos triggered by the COVID-19 coronavirus, individuals are seeking answers from governments as to how to prevent the emerging economic disaster.
Most economic experts are sympathetic to this and are urging the authorities to push massive injections of money. Thus in the US the central bank has embarked on a $2 trillion stimulus.

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Diversification versus Risk

It is widely held that financial asset prices fully reflect all available and relevant information, and that adjustments to new information is virtually instantaneous. This way of thinking which is known as the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) is closely linked with the modern portfolio theory (MPT), which postulates that market participants are at least as good at price forecasting as any model that a financial market scholar can come up with, given the available information.

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No, Technology Shocks Aren’t Behind Recurring Business Cycles

Economic fluctuations, also known as business cycles, are seen as being driven by mysterious forces that are difficult to identify. Finn Kydland and Edward C. Prescott (KP), the 2004 Nobel laureates in economics, decided to attempt to find out what these forces were.1 They hypothesized that technology shocks are a major factor behind economic fluctuations and demonstrated that a technology-induced shock can explain 70 percent of the fluctuations in the postwar US data.

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Why Sweden’s Negative Interest Rate Experiment Is a Failure

According to the Financial Times’s February 20 article “Why Sweden Ditched Its Negative Rate Experiment,” economists are pondering whether Sweden’s central bank experiment with negative interest rate was a success. Sweden’s Riksbank, the world’s oldest central bank, introduced negative interest rates in early 2015.

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Some Problems with Worker Productivity Stats

According to the US Labor Department, worker productivity in the non-farm sector increased at an annual rate of 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 after declining by 0.2 percent in the previous quarter. For the year, productivity increased 1.7 percent, up from 1.3 percent in both 2017 and 2018. It was the best annual showing since the 3.4 percent increase in 2010.

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Government “Fixes” for the Trade Balance Are Far Worse Than Any Trade Deficit

US Trade Balance, 2000-2019

In December 2019, the US trade account balance stood at a deficit of $48.9 billion, against a deficit of $43.7 billion in November and $60.8 billion in December 2018.
Most commentators consider the trade account balance the single most important piece of information about the health of the economy. According to the widely accepted view, a surplus on the trade account is considered a positive development while a deficit is perceived negatively. What is the reason for this?

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How Keynesian Ideas Weaken Economic Fundamentals

Whenever there are signs that the economy is likely to fall into an economic slump most experts advise that the central bank and the government should embark on loose monetary and fiscal policies to counter the possible economic recession. In this sense, most experts are following the ideas of the English economist John Maynard Keynes.

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Economic Stats Won’t Tell Us What Really Causes Recessions

Most economists are of the view that by means of economic indicators it is possible to identify early signs of an upcoming recession or prosperity. What is the rationale behind this opinion? The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) introduced the economic indicators approach in the 1930s.

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To Be Useful, Data Needs Theory

For most so-called practical economists, information regarding the state of an economy is derived from data. Thus, if an economic statistic such as real gross domestic product or industrial production shows a visible increase, it is considered indicative of a strengthening of the economy. Conversely, a decline in the growth rate is regarded as weakening. It seems that by looking at the data one can ascertain economic conditions. Is this the case, though? The so-called data that analysts are looking at is a display of historical information.

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Good Economic Theory Focuses on Explanation, Not Prediction

In order to establish the state of the economy, economists employ various theories. Yet what are the criteria for how they decide whether the theory employed is helpful in ascertaining the facts of reality?
According to the popular way of thinking, our knowledge of the world of economics is elusive — it is not possible to ascertain how the world of economics really works.

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Why Central Banks Aren’t Really Setting Interest Rates

Mainstream thinking considers the central bank a key factor in the determination of interest rates. By setting short-term interest rates, the central bank, it is argued, can influence the entire interest rate structure by creating expectations about the future course of its interest rate policy.

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Exports: Currency Devaluation Won’t Grow the Economy

Industrial Production, 2000-2019

A visible weakness in economic activity in major world economies raises concern among various commentators that world economies have difficulties recovering despite very aggressive loose monetary policies. The yearly growth rate of US industrial production stood at minus 1.1 % in October, against minus 0.1% in September, and 4.1% in October last year.

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Capital Accumulation, Not Government, Is the Key To Technological Innovation

According to Mariana Mazzucato, the RM Phillips Professor in the Economics of Innovation at the University of Sussex, government is an important factor in the promotion of innovation and thus economic growth. In particular, she challenges the popular view that innovation happens in the private sector, with governments playing a limited role. Many commentators regard her as a revolutionary thinker that challenges the accepted dogma regarding the role of government in promoting innovations and economic growth.

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Don’t Want a Liquidity Trap? More Saving Is the Answer

With interest rates in many countries close to zero or even negative, some commentators are of the view that monetary policy of the central banks are likely to become less effective in navigating the economy. In fact it is held that we have most likely reached a situation that the economy is approaching a liquidity trap. But what does this mean?

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Why Friedman Is Wrong on the Business Cycle

According to an article in Bloomberg on November 5, 2019, Milton Friedman’s business cycle theory seems to be vindicated. According to Milton Friedman, strong recoveries are just natural after particularly deep recessions. Like a guitar string, the harder the string is plucked down, the faster it should come back up.

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Why Government Should not Fight Deflation

For most experts, deflation is considered bad news since it generates expectations of a decline in prices. As a result, they believe, consumers are likely to postpone their buying of goods at present since they expect to buy these goods at lower prices in the future.

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The Money Velocity Myth

For most financial commentators an important factor that either reinforces or weakens the effect of changes in the money supply on economic activity and prices is the “velocity of money”.

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Rising Oil Prices Don’t Cause Inflation

Gusher

A very good visual correlation between the yearly percentage change in the consumer price index (CPI) and the yearly percentage change in the price of oil seems to provide support to the popular thinking that future changes in price inflation in the US are likely to be set by the yearly growth rate in the price of oil (see first chart below).

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Central Banks’ Obsession with Price Stability Leads to Economic Instability

Card house cartoon

For most economists the key factor that sets the foundation for healthy economic fundamentals is a stable price level as depicted by the consumer price index. According to this way of thinking, a stable price level doesn’t obscure the visibility of the relative changes in the prices of goods and services, and enables businesses to see clearly market signals that are conveyed by the relative changes in the prices of goods and services.

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Money Creation and the Boom-Bust Cycle

Murray Rothbard

A Difference of Opinions, In his various writings, Murray Rothbard argued that in a free market economy that operates on a gold standard, the creation of credit that is not fully backed up by gold (fractional-reserve banking) sets in motion the menace of the boom-bust cycle.

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Two Types of Credit — One Leads to Booms and Busts

Factory Shop

In the slump of a cycle, businesses that were thriving begin to experience difficulties or go under. They do so not because of firm-specific entrepreneurial errors but rather in tandem with whole sectors of the economy. People who were wealthy yesterday have become poor today. Factories that were busy yesterday are shut down today, and workers are out of jobs.

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Is there a Savings Glut?

Bakers and Work

In his speech at the New York Federal Reserve of New York on October 5, 2016, the Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer has suggested that a visible decline in the natural interest rate in the US could be on account of the world glut of saving. According to Fischer, both increased saving and reduced investments have potentially significantly lowered the natural rate of interest.

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Does the UK Need Even More Stimulus?

“We are all Keynesians now, so let’s get fiscal.” This is one view according to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard from The Telegraph who believes the time is right for the UK government to loosen its fiscal stance. He suggests that the “Bank of England has done everything possible under the constraints of monetary orthodoxy to cushion the Brexit shock. It is now up to the British government to save the economy, and the sooner the better,” — argues the economics editor of The Telegraph.

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Deflation Is Always Good for the Economy

“Experts” Assert that Inflation is an Agent of Economic Growth. For most experts, deflation, which they define as a general decline in prices of goods and services, is bad news since it generates expectations for a further decline in prices.

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Why a “Dollar” Should Only Be a Name for a Unit of Gold

Once Upon a Time… Prior to 1933, the name “dollar” was used to refer to a unit of gold that had a weight of 23.22 grains. Since there are 480 grains in one ounce, this means that the name dollar also stood for 0.048 ounce of gold. This in turn, means that one ounce of gold referred to $20.67.

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If the UK Economy Tanks, Don’t Blame Brexit

If the process of wealth generation is currently in good shape then Britain’s exit from the EU shouldn’t have any negative effect on real economic growth. This, however, might not be the case.
It is likely that the reckless monetary policy of central banks in the UK and the eurozone has inflicted a severe damage to the process of real wealth formation.

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With Fiat Money, Everything Is Relative

  What Determines a Currency’s Value? At the end of March the price of the euro in terms of US dollars closed at 1.1378. This was an increase of 4.7 percent from February when it increased by 0.3 percent. The yearly growth rate of the price of the eu…

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