Sometimes Words are Cheap … But Sometimes They’re Not

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;
    do not desire his delicacies,
for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.
    “Eat and drink!” he says to you,
    but his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten,
    and waste your pleasant words.” – Prov 23:6-8

I’ve gone rounds with a handful of Christian brothers over the meaning of Proverbs 23:6-8. Actually, the debate began over the first half of verse 7, which the ESV (above) translates as “for he is like one who is inwardly calculating”. The KJV  renders this “for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Some of the word-faith ilk seize on this poetic translation into the king’s English of 400 years ago to claim that the Christian experience of today ought to resemble something akin to New Age Mysticism with “thought power” and “self-actualization” and the like.

Of course the verse means nothing of the like. It simply means that a man may say one thing while thinking something completely opposite in his heart and mind. A modern, colloquial translation might render this as “words are cheap”.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I was surfing around the 24-hour news channels. I was looking for updates on the Philadelphia train derailment, but when I tripped across Fox News I found them dredging up quotes from President Obama in 2009:

“I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street”

I thought immediately of Proverbs 23. You’ll have to forgive me, Mr. President, but words are cheap. You may recall that this is the same Barack Obama who supported the Troubled Asset Revitalization Program (TARP) during the 2008 financial crisis (and presidential campaign), a $400,000,000,000+ taxpayer funded bailout of the massive margin call that was about to wipe out every Wall Street investment bank. Around the same time, the federal government took Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship (backstopping trillions of dollars of debt with, you guessed it, taxpayer backing). Then there’s the 2009 Public Private Investment Program (PPIP), again using taxpayer dollars to backstop the unloading of toxic assets (basically, we would partner with Wall Street to buy worthless paper and share in any losses or … snicker … profits).

None of this gets to Mr. Obama’s greatest giveaway to Wall Street fat cats – the Federal Reserve. Since 2009, the president’s Federal Reserve chairs (Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen) pegged short term interest rates at zero and the purchased some $4,500,000,000,000 of U.S. government bonds and mortgage backed securities (remember the “worthless paper” from above?) – money that pushed stock prices to never-before-seen heights but did little to help the real economy. It was one of the greatest transfers of wealth in all of history – without firing a shot – and the man at the helm the whole time middle-class America was forced into Wall Street fealty … Barack Obama.

Mr. president, you may not have run for office to help out fat cat bankers on Wall Street, but that will be your legacy. And while your words have been cheap, your policies have cost the common man plenty.

Speaking of the Fed and Janet Yellen, they find themselves in an awkward situation these days. In past boom-bust cycles, the Fed was able to hike interest rates when their inflationary policies started hitting the wallets of the common man. These hikes always preceded the next market collapse, but they gave the Fed room to lower interest rates again, ostensibly to “rescue” the economy.

This time around things could be different. Interest rates have been at zero since the 2008 crisis. And yet, the economy appears to be slowing (all of the indicators of late have been seriously below estimates, and GDP was barely positive in the first quarter). We could already be in a recession (Mish thinks so). What to do if you’re the Fed?

If you raise short-term rates now and a recession follows (or is already in process) you’ll get blamed for raising the rates too early. But if you hold rates at zero and a recession follows you have little-to-no room for maneuver, and you risk your entire approach to monetary policy being called into question on a broad scale. (“You kept rates at zero for seven years and we still went back into recession … why do we have you again?”) It’s a pickle. Yellen and the Fed may be stuck with choosing the less embarrassing of two evils (and then deflecting blame onto Congress or perhaps even Ben Bernanke).

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:5

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