“In Free Prices Now Hunter Lewis shows why ending the Federal Reserve’s control over the monetary system is key to restoring prosperity and raising living standards for all Americans, and also lays out a roadmap to ending the Federal Reserve’s destructive power over the American economy.”
— Ron Paul, former Chairman of House Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and former GOP presidential candidate
This book introduces what might be called Lewis’s Law:
An economy prospers to the degree that a government does not interfere with, manipulate, or control prices.
The test that distinguishes good from bad government law and regulation of the economy is that bad government law and regulation interferes with, manipulates, or controls prices.
An economy is a trust system. It requires a modicum of honesty to survive and a great deal of honesty to thrive.
The Soviet Union fell because it would not allow prices to tell the truth about the economy. Why are we repeating the same mistake? Why won’t the US Federal Reserve allow truthful prices? Dishonest prices both impede recovery and feed economic and political corruption.
Hunter Lewis not only tells us what is wrong with our economy. He tells us what to do about it.
Free Prices Now! begins by asking why the human race is still so poor. How can it be that billions still lack even enough to eat? It then provides the answer. A prosperous society is a cooperative society. Cooperation in turn depends on trust. And trust requires honesty.
The most reliable barometer of economic honesty is to be found in prices. Honest prices, neither manipulated nor controlled, provide both investors and consumers with reliable economic signals. They are the foundation for a successful economy.
A corrupt economic system does not want honest prices, honest information, or honest results. The truth may be unprofitable for powerful government leaders, private interests allied with them, or economic “experts” whose careers have been devoted to price manipulations and controls.
The US Federal Reserve and other central banks have created a system of “liar loans” and false prices. Other parts of government have contributed as well. In effect, the regulators on whom we depend have become dis-regulators.
Can it really be this simple, that economic prosperity and job growth depend on allowing economic prices to tell the truth, free from the self-dealing and self-interested theories of powerful special interests?
Although Lewis takes us inside the complexities of the national economy and the Federal Reserve, his lively and transparently clear writing style makes it easy for anyone to follow him.
About the Author
Hunter Lewis, co-founder of global investment firm Cambridge Associates, has written nine books on moral philosophy, psychology, and economics, including the widely acclaimed Are the Rich Necessary? (“Highly provocative and highly pleasurable.”—New York Times). He has contributed to the New York Times, the Times of London, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic Monthly, as well as numerous websites such as Breitbart.com, Forbes.com, Fox.com, RealClearMarkets.com, and Townhall.com. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen leading not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, cultural, and global development organizations.
Michael Tennant (The New American, May 14, 2014):
[Read Review on TheNewAmerican.com]
Honesty Is the Best Economic Policy
“Five years after the global economy was falling at its fastest rate, Western economies are still failing to gain much-needed momentum, despite the efforts of central bankers on both sides of the Atlantic,” the New York Times reported in November.
There is no question that the economy remains sluggish. But perhaps it is not struggling despite central bankers’ efforts but because of them. That is the thesis of Hunter Lewis’ Free Prices Now! Subtitled Fixing the Economy by Abolishing the Fed, the book makes the case that the Federal Reserve’s monetary machinations, coupled with other government interventions in the marketplace, are precisely what has led to the current economic malaise and that the solution to the economy’s woes is to end the Fed, to reform the banking system, and to get the government out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace.
Lewis knows whereof he speaks. He is a co-founder of global investment firm Cambridge Associates, LLC and even spent some time at that hotbed of central planning, the World Bank. He has written nine books and numerous articles on the subjects of economics and moral philosophy.
Those two topics might at first glance seem to be an odd pairing. It is often said that economics — particularly Austrian economics, of which Lewis is an adherent — is “value-free.” That is, it may tell us that an increase in the minimum wage will lead to more unemployment, but it does not tell us whether it is therefore either moral or immoral to hike the minimum wage.
For Lewis, however, economics and morality go hand-in-hand. He is particularly passionate about the need for honesty in the marketplace.
“The most reliable barometer of economic honesty is to be found in prices,” Lewis writes. “Honest prices, neither manipulated or [sic] controlled, provide both investors and consumers with reliable economic signals. They show, beyond any doubt, what is scarce, what is plentiful, where opportunities lie, and where they do not lie.”
The problem, of course, is that humans do not always want to tell the truth. But since prices in a free market never lie, those who wish to deceive in the marketplace must call upon the state to manipulate prices in their favor through various schemes, from outright price controls to inflation and regulation. Besides aiding their friends in the private sector, government officials have their own incentives to prevaricate, not least of which is concealing the true cost of their profligacy.
Governments could not get away with their deceptions, however, without accomplices in academia and media. These “modern day Magi,” Lewis says, “confidently argue that dishonest prices are really honest; honest prices are really dishonest; the resulting chaos is really order; and a future filled with jobs and plenty lies ahead with just a few more manipulations and controls.”
It is no coincidence, therefore, that the progenitor of today’s “Magi,” British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), once declared, “I remain, and always will remain, an immoralist.” Lewis writes that Keynes did not trust the common man to do the right thing, instead believing that government experts must “guide the masses in the right direction and … , if necessary, resort to a bit of seduction or mendacity to achieve necessary ends” — hardly a problem for someone with no scruples.
For example, Keynes argued that unemployment develops because people want unreasonably high wages. To counter this, he said, central banks should simply print more money and convince the people that the new money is as good as the old. Inflating the money supply allows wages to remain nominally high while stealthily sapping them of their purchasing power. Such methods, which Keynes called economic “tricks,” are “guileful and manipulative,” asserts Lewis.
Not surprisingly, these methods — “stimulating” the economy by inflation and massive deficit spending, combined with bailouts of private interests — introduce enormous amounts of dishonesty into the economic system. They distort prices and create bubbles in certain sectors. And when those bubbles burst, rather than letting the market correct itself, the central bank “just doubles down, lowers interest rates further, floods the economy with even more money, all in the hope that it can generate even more borrowing and spending,” observes Lewis. “How can anyone think that this will work?”
It doesn’t work, as evidenced by its failure to end the Great Depression, the current recession, and other economic downturns over the years. Japan, for instance, has been employing Keynesian methods on an unprecedented scale since its economy crashed in the 1980s — to no avail. “In sharp contrast,” notes Lewis, “other Asian economies that crashed in the late 1990s side-stepped the standard Keynesian ‘remedies’ and recovered swiftly.”
Another perverse result of Keynesian methods is the rise of crony capitalism, that is, an economic system in which the government manipulates prices to favor its pals in the private sector. Often this is done in the name of equality; but as Lewis remarks, “the result is not a more equitable or successful economy. It is, instead, an increasingly corrupted economic and political system.” In trying to equalize outcomes, “we create an epidemic of lying, cheating, theft, and corruption, with more and more people trying to get something for nothing, relying not on what they can do, but on whom they know in government.”
All of these interventions are aided and abetted by the central bank, which, in the case of the United States, is the Federal Reserve. The Fed creates money out of thin air, depleting the value of existing currency — so much so that, according to Lewis, the dollar has lost 97 percent of its purchasing power since the Fed came into existence in 1913. The Fed drives down interest rates, creating bubbles and inevitable busts. It buys government bonds, injecting more money into the economy and concealing the true cost of federal spending. It has lately taken to bailing out failing corporations. And those are just its (arguably) lawful activities. As Lewis points out, much of what the Fed does is clearly illegal.
The banking system in general is a hopeless tangle of “rules, subsidies, guarantees, and outright price controls,” Lewis writes. It’s hard to tell if banks are even earning profits, he says. “The truth is that almost nothing in banking today is real anymore. It long ago lost any solid connection to market reality and is all fictional to one degree or another.”
If, as Lewis contends, today’s economic disaster, which is certain to become even worse as the welfare state collapses of its own weight, is the result of central banking and other government interventions, then the solution is obvious: Get rid of the Fed and drastically scale back the government. That is precisely what Lewis recommends.
He also calls for banking reform — not the Dodd-Frank method of piling on more bureaucracy that only ends up favoring the big banking interests, but bringing an end to fractional reserve banking, whereby banks keep in reserve only a fraction of the money needed to pay their depositors on demand, using the money that should have been kept in reserve to create additional loans. End fractional reserve banking, he maintains, and banks will be solvent at all times, eliminating any perceived need for government deposit insurance and, in turn, all other government controls.
Echoing former congressman Ron Paul and Ludwig von Mises Institute chairman Llewellyn Rockwell, whom he quotes at length, Lewis stumps for ending government control over the money supply and allowing the market to determine what will be used as money, thereby preventing it from being subject to political manipulation.
Finally, Lewis argues for “one overarching principle” in making all economic policy: “that prices must be free, fully emancipated from government.” That’s certainly a tall order in this day of “quantitative easing,” corporate bailouts, subsidies, and countless other interventions. But considering that the opposite approach has been tried and has failed miserably, maybe it’s time to give freedom a chance.
Free Prices Now! is a relatively easy read. Lewis writes in a direct, lucid style, with none of the obfuscatory terminology so often found in economics literature. He does not assume that the reader has a prior understanding of economics, instead spending several chapters laying out the basics of supply and demand and how they relate to prices, profits, and losses. That, combined with his easy-to-read style, makes Free Prices Now! something even a high-school student could comprehend and benefit from.
A few minor criticisms are, however, in order. Lewis has a tendency to overuse block quotations, even going so far as to use them for single words at times, which can interrupt the flow of the writing a bit. Also, the book would have benefited from some more careful editing. My review copy contained several spelling and punctuation errors and one instance of misuse of a homophone (“sews the seeds”). Those relatively small quibbles notwithstanding, I unreservedly recommend Free Prices Now! to anyone who wants to understand how the economy got into its current state and, more importantly, how to get it out.
George Smith (Gold Seek, 4/22/2014):
[Hunter Lewis’s] message is found in the title of his most recent book: Free Prices Now! Fixing the Economy by Abolishing the Fed. He poses the question: “What should government do when facing a bust of its own making? Remember the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm. Stop manipulating and controlling prices. Allow prices the freedom to adjust. Allow the patient to recover. . . . Prices should be fully emancipated from government. . . .” Lewis . . . presents an iron-clad case.
[Complete review: GoldSeek.com]
Peterson, Age 15 (San Francisco Book Review, 1/3/2014):
The Federal Reserve was established in 1913, and ever since that day the US economy has steadily and drastically declined. The reason for this drastic decline is that the Federal Reserve uses the outdated and inherently flawed model of Keynesian economics, which advocates spending, frowns upon saving, and states that borrowing is the most efficient way to stimulate the economy. The Federal Reserve has crushed our economy like a withered apple; it has brought us eighty-seven TRILLION dollars of debt, which we have no hope to repay. It has destroyed any incentive that people have to save, and has instead convinced everyone to recklessly spend with abandon. Hunter Lewis sheds light on all these facts in clear and simple terms, with eloquent, straightforward examples. He presents and explains all these issues as well as offering ways to correct them. The most effective solution, of course would be to abolish the Federal Reserve, but there are many other issues at play. An excellent, though infuriating book, Free Prices Now will enlighten you and make your blood boil about the travesty that is the Federal Reserve.
Jeremy Hammond (Barron’s, 1/4/2014):
Money vs. Wealth
Magical thinking at the Fed
In this lively and largely persuasive indictment of the Federal Reserve, investment consultant and free-market advocate Hunter Lewis summarizes key points in the often-admired tenure of departing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke that are comparable to those of previous Fed chairmen.
Just before the housing bubble burst, Bernanke assured us that there was no housing bubble, only to declare immediately after that its “impact on the broader economy” seemed “likely to be contained.” A month into the Great Recession, Bernanke announced that the Fed “is not currently forecasting a recession.” This same economic “Wizard of Oz” then proceeded to do more of what caused the problems in the first place—via his policy of zero interest rates and quantitative easing—except on an even greater scale than before.
Interest rates, Lewis emphasizes, are particularly important prices in an economy, since they allocate scarce capital. Yet these are the very prices that the Federal Reserve manipulates by creating money out of thin air, mainly through the purchase of government debt. A consequence of the central bank’s price manipulation is the creation of artificial booms characterized by unsustainable “growth,” inevitably leading to bust: the housing bubble, for example, which Bernanke helped cause when as Fed governor he supported then-Chairman Alan Greenspan’s low-interest-rate policy.
The more recent “forced reduction of interest rates to the vanishing point,” argues Lewis, has not even succeeded according to the Keynesian standard of boosting demand. One reason: The policy has hammered the interest income of consumers, swamping the benefit of reducing the costs of borrowing. The enduring sway of John Maynard Keynes results in what Lewis calls “the progressive paradox”—the belief that we need ever-more government intervention, including more price fixing, in order to solve all of the problems created by previous government interventions.
“Unfortunately, printing money cannot create real wealth,” Lewis advises us. “Saving, sound investment, and hard work are all needed for that.” To unleash those factors, he says, we should abolish the Fed.
JEREMY HAMMOND is the author of Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: Austrian vs. Keynesian Economics in the Financial Crisis.
Stephen E. Clark (Digital Press International – 12/9/2013):
Book Review: Hunter Lewis’s Clear Voice from Afar
“Lewis’s latest little book—Free Prices Now! — . . . is ready for . . . young technophiles who struggle to understand what’s going on with our economy these days.
“[It points out] . . . this is the part that really resonates with me — [how] Washington is engaging in massive double-talk these days, with messaging so contradictory and confusing about the economy that our central bankers sound like the authoritarian voices of an Orwell novel. Money printing is now euphemistically called ‘quantitative easing’; cynical messaging is accepted as the truth by the unsuspecting masses.”
[Complete review: dpi.com]
Henrik R. Clausen (Europe News – 9/25/2013):
“This compact book, subtitled Fixing the Economy by Abolishing the Fed, takes a new and refreshing approach to the economic problems that keep troubling us, apparently with no end in sight. Hunter Lewis argues that a key reason for the lack of recovery is that prices are not free to reflect the reality on the ground, the real values of various assets, and thus do not permit for sound economic thinking or real recovery from the crisis.”
[Complete review: EuropeNews.dk]
Jeremy R. Hammond (9/13/2013):
“In his column yesterday, under the title ‘Rich Man’s Recovery,’ Paul Krugman…asks: ‘What’s driving these huge income gains at the top?’ Hunter Lewis provides . . . insight into the answer to that question in his new book Free Prices Now! Fixing the Economy By Abolishing the Fed. . . . The largest buyer of US government bonds is the US government itself, operating through the Federal Reserve. . . . Like the federal government, Wall Street also benefits from the Fed’s proclivity to ‘print’ more and more money.”
[Complete review: JeremyRHammond.com]
The Ptero Card (9/4/2013):
“Hunter Lewis . . . clearly explains how price controls caused by too much government intervention, distort markets resulting in poor allocation of limited resources.”
[Complete review: Ptero9.com]
“Lewis gives a brilliant account of the injustices that have rocked our economy, and it’s time we stood up and took notice.” [5 CRESCENTS]
[Complete review: Roxykade.blogspot.com]
Comments from Goodreads Users:
“Hunter Lewis is one of my favorite economic writers. . . . If you’re interested in understanding why no President or Congress has been able to put an end to wars or Wall Street corruption, this book will help you understand why.” [5 STARS]
[Complete review: Goodreads.com]
“Years from now, after the dollar loses its reserve status and the Fed self-destructs, when the economic historians are dissecting the theories and predictions of the 21st century economists, Hunter Lewis will be regarded as a prophet.” [5 STARS]
[Complete review: Goodreads.com]
Part 1: Introduction
[Soviet] socialism collapsed because
it did not tell the economic truth.
Why is the human race so poor? Why do billions still lack enough even to eat? As this author noted in an earlier book, even a small sum of money, such as $10, if compounded at 3% over 1,000 years, would produce a sum equal to twice the world’s wealth today. It should be ridiculously easy, over time, to end human poverty. Why have we failed to do so?
Safety is certainly an important factor. No one will bring wealth out of hiding, much less invest it, if it is likely to be stolen. But protection from outright theft is not enough. We need an honest system of mutual exchange. A corrupt and dishonest economic system does not create wealth; it destroys it.
The most reliable barometer of economic honesty is to be found in prices. Honest prices, neither manipulated or controlled, provide both investors and consumers with reliable economic signals. They show, beyond any doubt, what is scarce, what is plentiful, where opportunities lie, and where they do not lie.
A corrupt economic system does not want honest prices, honest information, or honest results. The truth may be inconvenient or unprofitable for powerful government leaders or private interests allied with them. Typically, throughout human history, these leaders and special interests have sought to use their power to manipulate and control prices to their own advantage.
Much of the time, powerful price manipulators and controllers are accompanied and assisted by ideologists or theoreticians. These professional advisors— modern day Magi, skilled verbally or in mathematics—confidently argue that dishonest prices are really honest; honest prices are really dishonest; the resulting chaos is really order; and a future filled with jobs and plenty lies ahead with just a few more manipulations and controls. Sometimes the arguments are presented with calculated deceit, sometimes with muddled sincerity.
Can it really be this simple, that job growth and economic prosperity depend on allowing economic prices to tell the truth, free from the self-dealing and self-interested theories of powerful special interests? That is the central thesis of this book, and each chapter will explore it from an additional angle. What is needed to pull humanity out of dire poverty is a free price system, one that is neither manipulated nor controlled.
If prices are not free, an economic system cannot be expected to function properly. What happens thereafter will depend on the degree of price manipulation or control. If it is not extreme, the economy may limp along, impaired, not realizing its full potential, but not in overt crisis.
If the undermining of free prices is extreme enough, the system will visibly falter and may even collapse, as in 1929 or 2008. In this case, capital, jobs, and people’s lives are destroyed. Ironically, the crisis often leads to a government response which entails even more price manipulation and control, and which therefore guarantees even more trouble, if not immediately, then down the road.
A further irony of all this is that a large majority of professional economists, including those aligned on the political “left” as well as “right,” respond to surveys by indicating that they generally oppose “government price controls.” The problem is that most government price manipulations and controls are not advertised as such. They may be stealthy by design, or they may just take a form that is not easily recognized for what it is.
Throughout this book, one of its aims will be to unmask these misguided government actions and show that they are indeed price manipulations and controls. We will also try to explain why they are doing untold damage to the hopes and prospects of anyone who depends on the economy, especially the poor.
1. Lester Brown press release, November 6, 2001.
Part 3: Threats to the Free Price System: Central Banking
9: The Puzzle of Central Banking
Some of the basic principles we have covered in Parts 1 and 2 include:
• Free prices enable an economy to function honestly, efficiently, and productively.
• The free price system drives down the cost of almost everything. This particularly helps the poor.
• The free price system regulates human conduct more effectively than anything else. Governments should take care that laws support rather than dismantle this natural, voluntary, and powerful regulatory system.
• Loss and bankruptcy, not just profit, are critical features of the free price regulatory system.
• Profit and loss together persuade people to seek change or to accept change. Without change, we would still be hunting and gathering and very few of us would be alive. Governments tend to oppose change, and lack any effective mechanism to bring it about.
• The economy should be run by and for consumers, not by and for elite planners.
• The free price system teaches important moral lessons which are as important for our society as our economy.
Having listed these principles, all of which accord with common sense, we now confront a puzzle. Most countries, the US included, have delegated day-to-day control of their money, and much of the management of their economy, to central banks. Given the immense power these institutions possess, why do they intentionally thwart all the principles cited above? Why do they:
• Distort all prices?
• Fail to recognize the consequences of the inflation they promote by distorting the free price system?
• Engage in outright fixing of some of the most important prices, thereby blowing up bubble/bust cycles?
• Refuse to allow economy-wide prices to fall, particularly hurting the poor?
• Refuse to let loss and bankruptcy do their work in regulating the economy as a whole?
• Create rules that destroy free prices in banking and thus destroy the banking system’s ability to regulate itself?
• Substitute the judgment of elite planners for that of consumers, despite the dismal economic record of central planning?
• Serve the interests of politicians and private parties allied with politicians rather than the public?
• Devalue and destroy important moral standards taught by the free price system?
• Stretch or ignore the law governing their operations with seeming impunity?
In the rest of this section, we shall address each question in turn.