Introduction: Robert Wenzel worked on Wall Street before founding his widely read libertarian Economic Policy Journal. A free-market economic compendium, EPJ presents Wenzel's wry and witty comments on a daily basis, along with guest columnists as well. He is well known for his forecast in real time of the Great Recession and his accurate early 2005 warning about the developing housing bubble, and has been quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and many other media outlets. He has also received critical acclaim across the political spectrum, from Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to Ron Paul. Wenzel has featured such guests as Jesse Ventura, Oliver Stone and Jim Rogers on his weekly internet radio broadcast, "The Robert Wenzel Show." He also writes the EPJ Daily Alert. His book, The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve, is due out in April 2013. Wenzel still consults to Wall Street clients and others, but intends to free up more time soon for "serious writing."
Daily Bell: Give us some background on yourself and how you became a libertarian.
Robert Wenzel: Well, like most still today, I was introduced to libertarianism outside of my formal education. But I was introduced at a very early age, in the early 1970s. It was through a book written by the libertarian Harry Browne, called How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation. I don't remember exactly how old I was but probably 14 or 15. It was certainly before I was old enough to drive. I remember having to get my father to drive me to libertarian and hard money events. We lived, at the time, outside of Boston. I recall attending a libertarian event at a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge where Robert Nozick spoke. Another time my father drove me into Boston so I could hear Gary North speak.
There was no Mises Institute at the time so I just sent off to publishers for the books that were listed in the bibliography section of Browne's book. It was pretty hardcore stuff. The first book I read was Murray Rothbard's What Has Government Done to Our Money, then Theory of Money and Credit by Ludwig von Mises, followed by Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson and then Human Action by Mises. There was no messing around back then; you pretty much had to mainline.
By the way, Browne's book was edited by the great libertarian entrepreneur Lew Rockwell, so I consider Lew something of my intellectual godfather. He has always been putting product out there that I have considered an important part of my intellectual growth. First the Browne book, then the newsletters from the Mises Institute, then the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, then mises.org and lewrockwell.com.
Daily Bell: Tell us how the Economic Policy Journal came to be.
Robert Wenzel: I have always been torn between a career on Wall Street and an intellectual life. For a while I tossed around the idea of doing graduate work in economics. In addition to absorbing Austrian economics, I read a lot on mainstream stuff. I went so far as taking the graduate economic placement test, or whatever it was called. I scored something like in the in the 95th or 97th percentile. I remember the test booklet named the three professors who were responsible for the questions in the book. One was from the University of Chicago, one from UCLA and the third, I think, from the University of Pennsylvania. To this day I contend that I not only knew the answers to the questions but also knew which professors asked which questions.
But, ultimately, I decided to head to Wall Street. My thinking was that if I was to go the academic route I would have to spend most of the time studying crazed mainstream Keynesian economics and equilibrium analysis that had very little to do with understanding the real world and that this would mean I would have to study real economics – that is, Austrian economics – on the side. So my reasoning went, if I am going to have to study real economics on the side, I might as well make some money at my day job, rather than waste time studying the mainstream economic nonsense – the thought being that I would catch up with my economic writing at a later date.
EconomicPolicyJournal.com is my first step in that direction. Via EPJ, I am having a lot of fun blasting away at a lot of the nonsense out there. And it's helped increase my profile substantially. My next step is to do some serious writing. I am still doing consulting work so I can only spend part time on the serious work, but it is coming.
Daily Bell: What are the main points you are trying to get across?
Robert Wenzel: I'm just trying to point out the problems with mainstream economic thinking, and go beyond that by pointing out how our liberties are being slowly taken away from of us by government. I should add that I am not very optimistic that things are going to head in the right direction any time soon. I just like blasting away at these guys.
Daily Bell: How do you choose your stories?
Robert Wenzel: There is so much nonsense it's not difficult to find stories to write about or comment on. I do consider myself something of an economic deejay at EPJ, though. I like to mix it up between deeper thought pieces, short quick posts, jabs at major headline economists, jabs at internal libertarian stuff. I like to keep it moving.
Daily Bell: Has libertarianism and Austrian free-market thinking advanced in the past ten years as a result of the Internet?
Robert Wenzel: Very much so. The two most important things that have happened to the libertarian movement over the last ten years are the Internet and Ron Paul. I am regularly amazed at how many people I talk to who have only learned about libertarianism in the last three or four years, because of Ron Paul. Then, of course, there is the Internet, which is an end run around mainstream control of news and information.
The number is still relatively small, compared to the population at large, but it is now in the millions as far as those who are taking it upon themselves to learn about libertarianism and Austrian economics. Not that long ago, say the 1970s, the entire libertarian movement could have fit in Murray Rothbard's living room, and probably did.
Daily Bell: What are the forces arrayed against it?
Robert Wenzel: Big government and those aligned with big government. By those aligned with big government, I mean, especially, the mainstream educational system and mainstream media. Big government has captured these sectors. Those in big government are aware that they need to control these sectors to influence the masses. The Internet chops away at this influence.
Daily Bell: Are they organized – created by a group of people … a banking elite … or are they simply the outcome of governmental inertia?
Robert Wenzel: Yes, when you come down to analyzing what influences big government, it is crony capitalists, banksters and such. And I would also include crony leftists and, of course, the military-industrial complex. They all want to control government for their own personal gain. But they can only get away with it if the general public is hoodwinked by the propaganda of why government is doing what it is doing – and so we are back to mainstream education and news that is controlled by government.
Daily Bell: What are some of the main areas of concern for you today?
Robert Wenzel: All methods by which the government interferes with the general public are bad but I think gun control is a major concern, as is the requirement to register guns. The right to carry arms wasn't put in the Constitution so that people could go on weekend duck-hunting trips. It was put there so that the common man would have a means to battle totalitarian government. If you study Mao, Hitler and Stalin, you can easily see how they used gun controls to their advantage. Gun registration is one step away from gun control for a totalitarian dictator. Heaven forbid, but if a totalitarian ever finds himself in control of the United States, I don't want him to know anything about me, especially what kind of guns I have and how many guns I have.
Another major concern is government interference with the Internet. As I have already mentioned, the Internet is an end run around government controlled education and news. If the government could figure out a way, they would certainly grab control of the Internet. Fortunately, they haven't been able to but their "concerns" about cyber threats are worrisome. We do know that they use and create crises to gain control. Let's hope the Internet stays technologically ahead of any control plans they are most assuredly contemplating.
Another worrisome point is how even local police are being militarized. It scares me. If you look into how these police departments are affording SWAT equipment etc. you see it's being funded at the federal level. There needs to be more work, more exposes on exactly what the federal government is funding and why, in regard to local police equipment and training. The more militarized the police become, the easier it will be to flip them into command and control operators when a national "crisis" emerges. At that point, it will be too late for us. We will then learn, on a first-hand basis, what it means to live in a dictatorship.
Daily Bell: Give us some specific reactions to the following environmental issues:
Climate change …
Robert Wenzel: I have no idea how the climate is changing and neither do almost of all those who have strong positions on climate change. I assume to some degree climate has always changed. That said, the climate is a very complex system. I haven't yet come across one person in the general public who has a strong opinion on climate change that can even explain to me how fog forms in San Francisco and that's a fairly easy thing to understand. They are all frauds in my book.
As for the so-called experts, I have listened to many on both sides and caught many, on both sides, making basic methodological errors and other errors that a non-expert such as myself can spot. My guess is there are probably five people in the world who have a truly sound grasp of how climate works, but I have no idea who those five people are. You would have to be a scholar spending years reading up on the subject to find them and know they are the ones. They are probably as little known to the general public as Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard and Chi-Yuen Wu are in the field of economics.
Daily Bell: Wind power …
Robert Wenzel: A lot of hot air spouted to create profit opportunities for crony capitalists.
Daily Bell: Carbon sinks and recycling …
Robert Wenzel: The entire promotion of concern about carbon sinks is a result of big government, specifically the Kyoto Protocol. It's another crony scam. I am quite content in believing that if we ever reach a private property society and we need carbon sinks to be managed differently, private property societies will come up with solutions. I say let's move to a private property society first. Failure to do that is a much greater danger to humanity than the way carbon sinks are managed.
Daily Bell: Should responsible corporations seek to lower their carbon footprint?
Robert Wenzel: There shouldn't be "responsible" corporations, only corporations seeking profits within the bounds of the law. If I ran a major corporation, I would be as concerned about a carbon footprint as I would a dog's footprints in the snow.
Look, there are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there who use the complexity that is part of some sciences to scare the public about carbon emissions, dangerous flu bugs etc. It's noteworthy that top scientists, including Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and F.A. Hayek, all spent time commenting about complexity. They all said there are many things that are very complex and difficult to understand easily, if at all. Unless a serious scientist can explain a logical progression as to any of these threats, and I haven't seen it done, it is absurd to act on the shouts and screams of people who are warning about these threats that they themselves are unlikely to understand to any significant degree. I see them as no different than a lunatic screaming on a corner about the planet Pluto crashing into the Earth in a week. Yeah, maybe he is a genius who understands something the rest of us don't, but most likely, he is just a lunatic.
Daily Bell: Should corporations exist at all in the modern sense?
Robert Wenzel: Corporations are just groups of people getting together for business ends. In modern day, government has gotten in the middle to register these corporations, but governments get in the middle of lots of things, from licensing fishermen to licensing barbers. I am all for fishermen, barbers and corporations, just not governments getting in the middle of their operations.
Daily Bell: Is modern Western civilization the creation of monopoly central banking?
Robert Wenzel: No, not at all. Monopoly central banking has an important influence on modern Western civilization but I wouldn't say it is the creation of it. Relatively free markets and free people have been responsible for most, if not all, the advancement in the standard of living in Western civilization.
Daily Bell: Would it look different without such monetary stimulation?
Robert Wenzel: Yes, without central bank money printing things would look much different. There would be no business cycles. It would be much easier to invest, without having to worry about price inflation and general market collapses. Prices would be in a general down trend the way only cellphones, flat screen televisions and personal computer prices fall now. Generally falling prices and the lack of business cycles would create much more incentive for people to save. More capital would mean a higher standard of living. It would be a wonderful environment in which to live.
Daily Bell: What do you think of bitcoin?
Robert Wenzel: Bitcoins have some use value for anonymous transactions and also as a method for quick, safe transactions. But it is not money at this time. Anyone using bitcoins in a transaction is converting bitcoin values in their head to dollars. Thus, a bitcoin is closer to a digital American Express travelers check (with a fluctuating value), than a stand-alone currency.
If people ever stop the calculation from bitcoins into dollars and just start thinking in terms of bitcoin buying power, then it would become money.
This is not impossible. If there is ever a major crackdown on the economy and, say, price controls and major black market activity develops, bitcoins could become an alternative currency.
Thus, I am not saying bitcoins won't become money, but they are not now. And I don't see it occurring in the short term at all. In the long term, there is a slim chance. More likely, bitcoin could become a popular method to facilitate safe, secure transactions, rather than become a money.
Daily Bell: What is money?
Robert Wenzel: Money is a medium of exchange. It is the most liquid commodity. You accept it in payment because you know everyone else will be willing to take it from you for goods and services you want.
Daily Bell: Where will money be in the next 10 or 20 years?
Robert Wenzel: If the dollar still circulates as money, it will be much devalued, thanks to Federal Reserve money printing. If the Fed does serious damage to the value of the dollar, gold and silver may emerge as money for everyday transactions.
Daily Bell: Will the world turn back to a gold standard?
Robert Wenzel: It could. More and more central banks don't trust the dollar. Even Germany is pulling its gold out of the United States. If countries start demanding gold, we could ultimately end up back on a gold standard
Daily Bell: Is it possible that IMF SDRs could be the next world currency?
Robert Wenzel: Global banksters would love that because it would mean they would still control printing of the money supply, but they would have to muscle a lot of governments that are getting pressure from their citizens to go toward gold. It's a drama being played out on one level behind the scenes by banksters, at another level by people in the streets.
Daily Bell: Give us some reaction to the IMF and World Bank. What do you think of them and what they do?
Robert Wenzel: They are the enforcers that make sure global banks get paid. They will squeeze every penny they think they can get away with from the citizens of any country, to get banksters paid. They are totally evil organizations.
Daily Bell: How about the United Nations? It seems less relevant but we have noticed it is more militarized of late and participating in more wars.
Robert Wenzel: The UN is the puppet of the United States. The US uses it as cover for its wars and empire building. The sooner the UN is disbanded the better.
Daily Bell: And speaking of wars – what is going on in Northern Africa?
Robert Wenzel: The US is conducting numerous operations in North Africa under various covers. According to a recent report, President Obama, behind closed doors, gave his counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, carte blanche to run operations in North Africa and the Middle East, provided he didn't do anything that would end up becoming an exposé in The New York Times and embarrassing the administration. This stuff will continue. Brennan has been rewarded by Obama for carrying out the secret wars by being nominated to head the CIA.
Daily Bell: What about Syria and Libya – why the wars there?
Robert Wenzel: In Libya, it was about oil. In Syria, it's about pipelines that run through Syria. Syria's geographic location on the old caravan route between Turkey and Arabia – or as it used to be known in the days of old, between Constantinople and the Hijaz – still holds the same strategic importance today as it did in the days of the caravan trains. It's all about the transportation, currently, hard goods, gas and oil.
Then, of course, there is Syria in relation to Israel. Most of these interventions have more than one reason, but oil is usually at the top of the list.
Daily Bell: Are these resource wars – or wars for Western control?
Robert Wenzel: Resources first. But this desire for resources means we want control because of the resources.
Daily Bell: Is Africa being consolidated by the West for purposes of creating an African union?
Robert Wenzel: They are trying but these things are very tough to pull off. You might see a union of some African nations but it won't be like the EU. You are still going to see battles between AU members. It won't be a peaceful union.
Daily Bell: Is world government in the offing?
Robert Wenzel: The crony globalist would like to see it but, again, it's very difficult to pull off. The world is very complex. As Humphrey Bogart said to a German officer in the movie "Casablanca," "Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."
The US can't even hold down Iraq and Afghanistan. The overseas adventures are keeping the US government, to a significant degree, occupied as far as money, equipment and personnel. I am not for US military being deployed anywhere but from a very personal perspective – and the Afghans would certainly have a different view – I would much rather see US government enforcers hunkered down in Afghanistan than wearing a slightly different uniform harassing Americans in Times Square.
Daily Bell: Where does China fit into all this? Is the Chinese miracle going to continue or was it due to a central banking money bubble?
Robert Wenzel: China growth to a significant degree is a myth. It's the Chinese government building poor quality apartments and office buildings that stand empty but are recorded on the books as super growth. At the same time, there are pockets of free-market activity. So it's a mixed bag. The two biggest problems are the degree to which those in the Chinese government have a central planning mentality and the degree to which the People's Bank of China prints new money.
Daily Bell: Will China have a hard landing?
Robert Wenzel: Yes, I am afraid so. What happens from there will be dependent on how the government reacts. If it attempts to prop up the crashing phony facade, we may end up with lost decades. The best thing that could happen is for free-market proponents to gain influence; then the country could develop a more stable boom and a century of prosperity could be in the cards.
I am nowhere near an expert on the internal workings of Chinese politics so I won't even guess how things might turn out long term. But from a short-term economic perspective, we are likely looking at a hard landing – maybe the worst of all worlds, a serious stagflation.
Daily Bell: What about Europe? Is the euro doomed?
Robert Wenzel: Europe is doomed because of the insane regulations, which make it nearly impossible for new businesses to start or old businesses to hire new people. On top of that everybody quite simply wants to be on the dole with others paying the tab. Ludwig von Mises warned about this. He called it the exhaustion of the reserve fund. Governments just run out of money they can squeeze out of the productive sector.
Unless eurozone countries free up commerce and stop handouts that remove incentive for people to be productive, eurozone countries are going to look like Third World basket cases.
Daily Bell: Where do you stand on austerity? Is it necessary for, say, Greece?
Robert Wenzel: Austerity is a bankster plot to squeeze as much as they can out of every citizen of every broke country to shore up government debt held by the banksters. Greece should forget austerity, declare bankruptcy and let the banksters eat the losses. Let Blankfein sell his new summer house if he needs to. Greece should then drastically cut taxes, eliminate all regulations, end payouts to those on the dole. You would have a Greek economic miracle that would rival the German economic miracle.
Daily Bell: What about the US? Does the US need a stiff dose of austerity?
Robert Wenzel: My advice for the US would be the same. Stiff those holding Treasury debt. They are the monsters that have been financing US military interventions around the world. They should be taught that there can be great losses by financing such adventures. It would be great for the peace movement. I would also recommend cutting taxes for everyone, as a modest start, by 90%. I would cut government spending by 95%.
Daily Bell: Are you hopeful about the US's future?
Robert Wenzel: No. There are no indications that anyone in government is serious about cutting government down to size. Which means natural forces will take it down. Interest rates will soar. And if the Fed tries to print even more money than it is now doing to keep rates lower, we will see more price inflation and ultimately rates climb even higher. We could experience a tiger by the tail situation: Higher interest rates followed by higher price inflation followed by higher interest rates and so on.
Daily Bell: Is the US in a depression or a recession?
Robert Wenzel: We are coming out of the Great Recession as a result of Bernanke money printing but it is a manipulated new boom that will eventually result in much higher price inflation and an even worse recession, maybe both.
Daily Bell: Was the re-election of Obama a good thing? Was he re-elected or was the voting rigged?
Robert Wenzel: Romney would have been just as bad. As California Governor Jerry Brown once put it when he ran for president, the presidential election is a Gong Show for the rich. The crony capitalists have their claws into anyone who gets close to the presidency.
Obama is especially bad when it comes to domestic issues. He really has no understanding of basic economics and doesn't care. He's a crony Marxist. Which means he'll launch his social planning schemes but there will also be someone in the backroom pocketing big time money.
Daily Bell: Is the US an empire?
Robert Wenzel: A declining one.
Daily Bell: Can it be sustained?
Robert Wenzel: No. We are already starting to pull back in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under Obama, the drone strikes will continue and there will be special-ops and black-ops activities but you can't control countries this way. The US is going to be like the guy in the Allstate commercials. It will be creating mayhem everywhere but that's about it.
Daily Bell: What will happen to the US in the next few years?
Robert Wenzel: There will be much higher price inflation and much higher interest rates. Potential civil unrest and the quality of healthcare is going to collapse.
Daily Bell: What should people do?
Robert Wenzel: Stay healthy. Buy gold, silver and a gun.
This will be brief because Robert Wenzel doesn't leave us a lot to comment on. That's because we pretty much agree on a lot of fronts.
One place we might have a tiny disagreement involves why Western powers recently invaded Libya and Syria (and other Middle East and Northern African countries). Now, Wenzel – as we do – doesn't believe for a moment that these are internal affairs. The West has attacked Africa once more using a variety of pretexts.
But we think one such pretext is the idea of resource control. Money Power uses resource scarcity as a way to justify any one of another of actions – mostly war.
Resources were the putative reasons to invade Africa and other countries during Colonial times. But in our view, these are wars for control. Or – as in the present era – for the re-establishment of control. Resources are entirely a secondary issue.
From what we can tell, the forces of globalism are moving fast. One can almost see the slotting of increased internationalism.
The West has been brought down, the BRICs are rising. Africa is being repacified. Something is going on. Wenzel, in his writing and in this interview, understands these events, and his analysis is always informative. His summation, we thought, was especially apt:
"Stay healthy. Buy gold, silver and a gun."
Sorta sums it up …