With his boots on the ground, the Uneducated Economist shares his analysis and perspective from a working-class point of view and gives important insights into the real-life damage of the virus.
He is not only a macroeconomic thinker but also one who works in the front lines of a business that’s been affected by the changes of the US economy.
He explains on a day to day basis, very practical truths about businesses, inflation, velocity of money, digital currency, housing prices, and unemployment in rural areas.
Bankruptcies are cominghttps://t.co/dgXJYj2k8P
— uneducated economist (@uneducatedecon1) June 21, 2020
If you’re looking for simple and understandable macro insights, he’s the self-taught expert you were looking for.
Will The Economy Fail With The Partial Openings? The Restaurants Case
George Gammon: All right, guys. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome someone back to the Rebel Capitalist Show that I really, really enjoy talking to.
He was one of the first YouTubers that I actually was able to talk econ with. He is one of the best out there. You've got to check out his YouTube channel.
He is the Uneducated Economist. Mr. Economist. Welcome to the Rebel Capitalist Show.
Simon: Thank you very much, George. I really appreciate you bringing me on the show again.
George Gammon: Do you know what video I liked? That one video you had that just really crushed it on the views. You got like 30,000 views.
Simon: Yeah, which one was that?
George Gammon: The partial openings and why the economy will fail with them. You were talking about restaurants as they go back.
Because they don't make money unless they're like 90% capacity, so who's going to open up a restaurant just to go back to 50% capacity?
And then you got to bring all your employees back and they're making more money on unemployment and they're going to be pissed off at you.
Simon: Okay. Right?
George Gammon: Put back off unemployment, and then you're still losing money because the margins are so thin, that it's just a loose situation.
The Restaurants Case: The Inventory
Simon: Yeah. I got that from real-world information. I know a few restaurant owners here in my local area, and when you hear three of them say the same thing, you're like, “Wow, this is really the case here.”
When they lose all that inventory, it's like trying to get reestablished, its a very big commitment and if you don't have the sales to go with it, it's going to be devastating to them.
George Gammon: So, when you're talking about inventory, you're talking about the food? They got to get more.
Simon: Yep. Right. So, restocking the shelves, essentially, to have all that on hand.
And, really, if you're sitting in a situation where, especially with these restaurants according to these guys, it's like you have to have a decent menu, you can't have just like four or five items on the menu, you have to have a list.
To have that food on hand ready to be prepared is a commitment, and if you don't have the sales, it's going to be very tough. I mean, restaurants are already a tough business to be in, in general, so yeah.
George Gammon: That's a great point, and then there's economies of scale that I didn't even think about.
So it's not like your profit on one plate of food is the same compared to the exact same plates served a thousand times because your costs go down substantially.
Obviously, you have the fixed costs and rent and whatnot, but I would assume that even your fluctuating costs, the cost of goods sold, if you want to look at a profit and loss, that actually would go down because you're able to buy more inventory at the same time.
The Restaurants Case: The Cost Of Goods
George Gammon: Like as an example with the McDonald's, or this is probably a bad example.
Let's say a normal hamburger place that wasn't a franchise, then if they go to their supplier and they buy a pound of beef, it's going to be a lot higher price than if they buy 100 pounds of beef or 1,000 pounds of beef.
So their cost of goods sold actually goes up at the same time when their gross revenue is going down. I mean, they're getting squeezed from every direction there.
Simon: Right, and not to mention, because it's probably a little bit smaller on the scale of cost, but it's still an added price into it, and that is these rules and regulations they have with restaurants of only allowing so many people to come in.
They also have to wear masks, use gloves, and switch them out every time they deal with another customer.
So if you have a wait staff who's helping six, seven different tables, every time they go to that table, they have to remove everything they have, throw it away and start off again with fresh masks and fresh gloves.
So, it's like a constant churning of these items, even though like I said, it's probably a smaller price on the skip, but it's still an added cost going into just trying to serve the customers.
Wearing these masks and gloves and then reestablishing boundaries that people can sit in, barriers to keep people from being able to, say sneeze, across the table.
It's just like everything that these restaurants are going through, added then to more things. A lot of these guys that I was talking with, some of them have just recently remodeled their place.
So it's just like, “I just already remodeled my place, I can't remodel it again to have these barriers up and all these social separating that's going to take place within the dining room itself.”
A lot of them are just like, “I'm not going to do it,” just straight up.
The Restaurants Case: The Insurance
George Gammon: Have you talked to them about their insurance costs? Because that's one thing I was thinking about.
Their liability insurance, I would assume it would skyrocket because before you would just have your liability, some kid trips or knocks out his teeth or something like that. Or someone would get sick as a result of the food they eat.
But now all of sudden, what if someone goes into your restaurant and gets COVID-19 and heaven forbid that some 80-year-old person dies as a result?
I mean, do you have the family coming back and suing you, especially in the United States where it's so litigious?
Simon: Right. You're right. No, I didn't even think about insuring against somebody getting sick from COVID-19 on that.
That didn't even cross my mind on it, but that is a great question. I'm certainly going to ask some of these guys I know about that and see what they have to say about it.
That's a very interesting point that you bring up there.
Will Massive Chain Restaurants Be The Only Survivors?
George Gammon: Yeah. It's just with a liability, to your point, that maybe having to reconfigure the restaurant itself.
Who knows what other costs will come down the pipeline as far as adhering to additional regulations due to health and safety.
I don't see how these smaller businesses and the mom and pop shop really survive, and I think that was the point of your video.
George Gammon: What's interesting too is the United States is already a country of just massive chains.
You don't really see that too much. For example, I'm in Medellin, Colombia right now, as you know, and I've spent a lot of time all over the world.
And you see that in some places, too, they have McDonald's here and whatnot, but it's not like 90% of the restaurants.
There are not like these chains that you recognize, like Burger King, McDonald's, TGI Fridays, Olive Garden, whatever.
So, you've got this component of the United States where like 90% of the restaurants are already that way.
So does this just eliminate the other 10%? Are those your only options moving forward, what do you think?
Simon: Yeah. Well, it very well could be.
In my area, out here on the coast, it’s a very tourist-oriented area, so tourism is a big part of our income here in Clatsop County in Astoria.
Most of our restaurants here are not chains. We do have like the Burger King, McDonald's, stuff like that, but almost all the restaurants and bars are privately owned.
Somebody might own one or two of them, but usually, they own the one restaurant. I mean, to think that they're going to get wiped out, that would wipe out 90% of our restaurants here, we really don't have that many chains.
George Gammon: So, it's the opposite in your area.
That takes it to another level in the sense that this could impact rural areas and tourist areas, even more so than the big cities.
Simon: Yeah, it would, especially us. Like I said, because we're in the hospitality industry, we have a lot of hotels, we have a lot of restaurants, that's our big thing here.
We have, for a lack of better terms like, a lot of hipsters hanging out.
We have these really trendy places, and with a difficulty that they're having and experiencing right now, if we don't have that type of atmosphere going with these trendy restaurants that are unique, who would come?
Who would want to come and spend money just to come and view this nice scenery and stuff? People want that atmosphere.
They want to go and hang out at the nice places, and if they're not open and doing business, then we're not getting the revenue coming into our area.
Unemployment In Rural Areas
George Gammon: Right.
So, therefore, what do you see potentially happening in your local area with unemployment?
Simon: Well, that's the interesting part about it. With the unemployment right now…
At first, when I was listening to people talk about how difficult it was to try and even get their unemployment filed.
Just from the backlog of people and just the overwhelming amount coming into the centers trying to get their unemployment even started.
But a lot of people are getting that extra $600 and they're spending it. What I found at first, because I work at a lumberyard, I work with hardware, home improvements, and new home products and stuff like that.
The first beginning of the lockdown was like a ghost town. I was thinking, “Okay,” we're even talking with the owner of the company like, “well, here's some of the options that we're going to have to go through.
We may end up needing to lay off some people because the lack of sales,” and stuff like that. But then something very strange that nobody was expecting to happen, happened.
All of a sudden, we started having a lot of sales.
George Gammon: Really?
Simon: Transactions were just flying off the charts.
George Gammon: Simon, what's the timeline there?
Simon: February, awesome month. I mean, it's the middle of winter, so we were expecting to get a slowdown, it's just like anticipated, but they were doing well.
There were a lot of sales happening and stuff like that, but then the lockdown threats started coming in and towards the end of March, it was getting very scary.
The very end, the last week of March is when we were talking “okay, we're going to have to talk about cutting hours, maybe cutting a day out, and cutting maybe some staff.”
He was getting us prepared. He was telling us like all the options that he had, we could take some sick leave, do some stuff to try and keep some revenue or to keep your paychecks going and he was looking into the PPP before it got really popular there.
He was talking about all these options that might come.
By the middle of April, the business was fine. It was really picking up, and I noticed it started with paint, of all things, it started with paint and we were selling like an insane amount of it. “Well, what's going on here?” And we got to talking about it. It's was like, “Well, people are locked down, so they're like upgrading their home.”
They're painting the rooms to make themselves feel better about being at their house. They have old walls, they don't like the color anymore, they want to feel better about being locked in their house, so they start painting their walls.
So, it started there, and then it started moving into pressure-treated lumber, and I thought, “Well, why pressure-treated lumber?”
Again, they want to be in a comfortable atmosphere, so they start rebuilding their decks, rebuilding their fences, doing different things like that. So, we saw a lot of people coming in, especially the do-it-yourselfers.
They were coming in like in droves, and we were overwhelmed at one point over the weekends, as just massive amounts of people were coming in to do their home improvement projects.
We were not expecting it. It was a little bit overwhelming at one point. I was like “well, where did all this come from?”
And it was at the same time the stimulus checks were coming in and people were getting that extra revenue, the extra $600 a week, people had the money.
So we actually saw how that stimulus package was actually working for us.
And since everybody else was locked down, like I said, we're a major like hospitality and restaurants and stuff like that, and none of those places were open, they didn't really have any other place to spend their money.
At the same time, again, I'm in a small community, so it's not like we have a bunch of places that you can go to, to buy this type of stuff.
We have like three lumber yards in the entire county, right? So, us, Home Depot, there's another one on the far end of the county, and this was right when the lockdown started kicking in.
And then the social distancing, and then pretty soon, Home Depot was limiting the amount of people that could come into their store, so they had these really long lines to get into the store.
People were like, “Hey, let's head on down to the local lumberyard place in the other end the county and they were just coming in droves.” It was amazing.
It was very surprising. We were not expecting that at all.
Inflation Explained In Lumber Terms
George Gammon: That is really interesting. It's so great to hear this and have like the boots on the ground. You've got the experience, you're kind of in the trenches every day.
So, my next question is inflation. How does that work out?
I like to track 2 x 48 standard and better, it’s like the most common piece of lumber that you could possibly buy in a lumberyard is a 2 x 48 ft stick of lumber.
So I keep my eye on that price, because that's the one that moves the most.
Doors, windows, maybe like some of the bigger beams and stuff like that, they don't move as much as the pricing of a 2 x 48 does.
So I watch that compared to the future prices because obviously, the mills are at future prices when it comes to selling per 1000-board feet, and when you're down at the retail prices, there's something very different taking place there.
So, right now I'm looking at a 2 x 48 selling for $3.95, okay? Well, at the height of the price when futures were at 650 per 1,000, I think that was towards probably the last quarter, the fourth quarter of 2017.
We saw future prices at 650 per 1,000 and the 2 x 4 was selling for $4.29 cents. Now we got future prices at around 350, 360 per 1,000, and that 2 x 4 selling for $3.95.
Again, it's like the supply and demand, like they parked all the planes, well, mills curtail development, and the inventory had tightened up dramatically.
So to even get your hands on 2 x 48s right now… I mean, you can get them, they're out there, but they're getting more expensive on the retail end of things because nobody really has any to sell.
I do a lot of ordering for the yard, and 4 x 4 10-foot pressure treated, one of the weirdest things, you wouldn't expect to be gone, but I cannot find them to buy anywhere.
People want these things for their decks, for their fences or a lot of different purposes and I cannot get my hands on a 4 x 4 10-foot pressure treated. And when I asked the supplier about it, he says, “We can't get them either. The mills are simply just not making them.”
Lumber Production In The US
Are they not making them because they're not having the employees come in because of the virus, because everyone's on lockdown?
Simon: There's a lot of dynamics that take place here when it comes to production of lumber, and the supply coming into the lumber yards. There's a lot of working parts here.
A lot of it started in Canada, okay? A lot of people don't realize this, the United States in general, for a while, was importing a lot of lumber coming from Canada, and in turn, we were exporting a lot of logs to China.
This was 2017 when we saw that height, the 650 per 1,000 futures' price. Shortly, after that, we started getting the trade wars, and China was like:
“Okay. We're not interested in your logs anymore. We're going to we're switch our purchases of logs over to Russia and Ukraine.”
And at the same time, Canada had a double whammy hit them. When they refer to a stump price, that's the price of their logs, and their stump price had dropped dramatically because they had this infestation of beetles that had come into basically wipe out their forest.
They had these dead trees everywhere, so, the forest management government up there was like, “Okay. Well, let's go into harvest mode. Let's go into salvage mode. Let's cut these trees.”
So Canada was sitting in a great position where they were selling price per 1,000 at 650, and they were just cutting on a ton of trees.
Well, then all this trade war started taking place. We stopped selling a bunch of trees to China, and in turn, we hit Canada with like a 25% tariff on all their softwoods and they just got nailed and they were like, “Okay, well, now what?”
They had to start shutting down their mills, and as they did, the supply chains started breaking down as well.
Here in the United States, we saw something very similar to these prices per 1,000 dropped, and the mills were not making as much money.
So to give you an idea, and for some of the viewers out there, if you sell a hundred 2 x 4s at $4.29, that's a $429 bill, but if you're selling a hundred 2 x 4s at $2.25, you're only getting $225 to that hundred 2 x 4s.
But your overhead, all your employees, everything else stays the same, so that means you have to sell that much more 2 x 4s, and same thing with the mills.
If you are producing all this lumber, but you're getting half the price for it, now, your overhead is getting more expensive, and so, they start curtailing development, trying to tighten up the inventory and get the prices to rise.
Simon: So, there's a lot of working parts that take place inside and that's what happened.
Same thing with the plywood industry. We got a lot of plywood that were coming in from Canada that, because of the situations that I described before, all of a sudden the imports from Canada started really dropping.
You would think that would be like a boost to the United States, but really, if you go and look at the housing starts.
I don't want to switch gears on it, but really, housing starts, if I remember right, had peaked out, back in 2017, if I remember right.
And although there's a lot of fluctuation happening there as far as what the numbers do, they never work quite as high as they were back then.
So, the sales or even the building of homes right now is a lot less than it was just a few different years ago.
George Gammon: Yeah, that's very interesting.
Your channel is fantastic, you're in the weeds whenever, you're kind of a hobbyist just like I am, and I think the smartest economists on YouTube are uneducated, because you are the Uneducated Economist.
Simon: That's true.
George Gammon: I almost flunked out of high school and I've never taken an econ class in my life. So, I'm not going to toot my own horn, but I'll toot your horn for you.
Simon: Well, I appreciate it. I guess the nice thing, like you said, is being a hobbyist in the industry or as far as studying macroeconomics and the economy and stuff.
I don't really have like investments. I don't have anything to shift my gears towards one direction or another. I just look at things the way they are as best I can. I don't anticipate or hope for anything to take place, I just watch and that's nice. I'm like basically sitting with popcorn, keeping an eye on things.
Inflation Vs. Deflation
George Gammon: Yeah. My point here is that you do study this stuff quite extensively, so I know that you've been researching inflation versus deflation, so what are your thoughts on that?
Well, again, it's like you were saying, a lot of it has to do with that debt component. It's about how much accessibility to debt you have.
And if people are making a payment towards something, they don't really care how much the item costs as long as they can make the payment.
It's the same with the lumber industry. When I saw a sheet of plywood going for $26.50, this is a half-inch CDX, like the most common piece of plywood that you could ever buy for doing construction sheathing piece, and it's selling for $26.50.
I'm like, “Who in the world would be buying this?” Then it dawned on me, “Oh, somebody who's buying it on credit.”
That's who was buying it, because they don't care how much the piece is as long as they can make the payment on it.
The reason why you saw those prices going so high is because most of it was being purchased on credit.
When the credit supply starts to contract on that, and people are not having the accessibility to that credit to buy that lumber anymore, then the prices come down to meet the capabilities of the people who have the cash to buy it.
So, there's a lot of reasonings, for what I see at least, for deflation inside of the lumber prices.
I think a great argument about the inflation/deflation came from, I don't know if you caught that a MacroVoices interview with Dr. Lacy Hunt.
George Gammon: Yeah, let's dive into that.
Simon: That was an absolutely awesome piece. I had to listen to that thing like five times to even get it in my head. I was like, “What is this guy talking about?” I was like, “Holy moly.”
George Gammon: It was really wonderful.
Simon: I think probably the easiest way to explain it to the viewers is that a lot of it has to do with money velocity and how quickly dollars change hands.
But it also has to do with a lot of return on investment and to give the viewers an idea of how that works is like…
There was a time that you could get a 6% interest on your 30-year bonds and if you had a million dollars that you had purchased in 30-year bonds, you would get like $60,000 a year from that.
Which for a guy like me, that would be like a pretty decent income.
But now, if you had a million dollars in 30-year bonds, you would get like $13,000.
You would have to have another job on top of your million-dollar investment in bonds, and so the return on your investment has diminished quite a bit.
So even though there's a lot more money out there, the interest rates are so low, that the return on your investment doesn't give you the ability to spend that money into the economy unless you start spending your invested money.
George Gammon: Right. That's why savers get screwed.
Simon: That's why savers get screwed. Yeah, there we go.
Dr. Lacy Hunt’s Arguments For Deflation
George Gammon: So, let's go back to Lacy Hunt's arguments there, and I'll just summarize it for the viewers the best I can.
He basically believes there's going to be deflation because he doesn't think there's a way, currently, for the Fed to actually spend money, I think those are his words.
He categorizes or defines money printing a little differently than most people define it.
And that's where it gets very, not necessarily complex, but it gets convoluted, I think, for the average listener, the average viewer.
Because these economists throw around the word money printing or the term money printing and it can mean a variety of different things based on the context that they're using it.
So as an example, the Fed prints money, but they're creating bank reserves, they aren't necessarily printing dollar bills that just immediately go out into the economy.
The commercial banks, the retail banks, they're the ones that are really in charge of printing money, the way most people think of printing money.
Creating an additional supply of M2 or broad money in the economy, and they do that using those bank reserves as a backstop.
Let's say you've got a 10% reserve requirement. So those are your reserves, the bank reserves that you can lend against.
But we talk about money printing as well, is it money printing an M2 or is it money printing in base money?
I think Dr. Lacy's point is that right now, the Fed only has the ability to print money or bank reserves, and they could print 50 trillion, 100 trillion, but it just doesn't matter and we're still going to experience deflation, because those bank reserves just sit at the Fed.
But he had a caveat there with Erik because he really pushed him on this, which I thought was brilliant.
He said if we get to a point where the Federal Reserve Act changes, from a standpoint that the Fed can actually spend money into the real economy, like helicopter money, instead of just the government doing it.
So now, the government spends it into existence and the Fed and the primary dealers buy the debt, and then the primary dealers sell the debt to the Fed.
George Gammon: That's how you can increase the money supply and hopefully get that velocity if you get the money to the right individuals in the economy, but currently, the Fed can't do it.
My argument, and I think Erik's argument was, “Yeah, but they've ignored every other law, so why on earth would they not ignore this as well?”
But Dr. Hunt's proposal was “Hey, they're going to stick to this one because this would be a hard rule to break.
So he thought if they stay within the confines that they're in right now, we're going to have deflation.
Because to your point, prices are just going to go down, people are going to have less money, less credit, and you have a destruction of credit, that will lower the money supply.
So you just have the CPI continue to go down, there's not much they can do, he said.
But if the Fed starts spending money into the real economy, then he says it's game over, he goes directly from deflation, not to inflation, but to hyperinflation.
George Gammon: I thought that was just really fascinating. What are your thoughts? If I didn't explain it well, go ahead and give it a shot.
Simon: No, I think you explained it pretty well, but the Fed, like you say, they're limited on what they can actually do with their money or with the printed money or with the reserves that they produce.
They pretty much are buying things that have already been purchased, right? I mean, they go to those primary dealers who have already purchased the treasuries and then they purchase it off of those guys.
George Gammon: I'll say it’s within the financial system. Those transactions are from one bank to another, so it doesn't create additional deposits.
Simon: You hear like the Fed is not going to go into negative interest rates.
Well, that would be like the next step for them, to try and get the economy rolling again, or at least get people to take out debt is to take the interest rates even lower, but since they're already at the lower bound, they really don't have any room to go anywhere with it.
So, one of the biggest arguments that is out there is that if interest rates go negative, and especially if it starts, the negative interest rates because really that stays in the financial system, like you're saying the negative interest rates.
It doesn't really come down to the people's money themselves, it doesn't land in their bank deposits, and it doesn't go onto their mortgages.
Although, we did see… What was it Denmark? Or somebody, who had negative?
George Gammon: Yeah, Denmark.
Issuing A Digital Currency
Simon: They had it for a little bit.
They had some negative-yielding bonds on their mortgage-backed securities and in turn, was able to provide some negative interest rates to the homebuyers, but it was very brief and it was very small.
I think the major argument is that they can't really do it because the moment that negative interest rates get used to that extent, then people would start pulling cash out of the system, because they don't want to see their cash get taken away through a negative interest deposit, so to speak on their bank accounts.
And the IMF put an argument out there a while back talking about how they were able to deal with this.
It's funny that you're starting to see in the stimulus packages, a lot of talk about digital dollars. And I think a preliminary to the negative interest rates is by issuing these digital dollars.
Because in that IMF, I don't know if it was a report or a blog or something that they have, but I linked it to some of my videos that I put out.
They were talking about how it is that you can give negative or put negative interest rates on people's deposits and then by issuing a digital currency.
What you do is you have the E-currency, which is the digital dollars, and then you have cash in the system, and that's two different types of currency that you have.
So when you deposit money at the bank, you're depositing at an E-currency, which will have a negative interest rate.
That would force people to basically pull all the cash out of the system, which you don't want to have.
So, what they'll do is they'll devalue cash to the E-currency, so that over time, if you go to deposit $100 into the bank with cash, you'll only get $98 in E-currency, you see?
So, this a way that they will force people to put their cash back into the system, into the banking system that will have a negative interest rate on it. This is like the IMF's idea of how it is that you can take negative interest rates into bank deposits.
Simon: I was looking at some of those proposals on the stimulus packages where they would want a digital dollar and they were talking about how great this is for the people because then you could load up debit cards and you can have just accounts.
George Gammon: They have an app on their phone, the Fed and the Treasury.
They're pushing it like this great idea for everybody, because it's going to make things so much easier. Once you have things in a digital currency like that, you have a situation where the Fed can inject money directly to the people through their phone apps, and limit what they can buy with it.
Like, say, “Here, you can have all this money, but the only place you can spend it at is restaurants, or you can only spend it on certain items, and then if you don't spend it by the end of the month, you'll lose it.”
So they can create the money velocity, money deposits, and everything else through these digital currencies.
And then wipe out the cash holdings that people have by devaluing the dollars, the cash dollars to the currency that's available out there.
With China already implementing a digital currency within their country and actually using it, it seems to me that it's only a matter of time before the United States does it as well.
George Gammon: I couldn't agree more, and for the people who are thinking, “Well, I would just go to the bank and use cash only.”
I think the government would come in and say, “Well, you can have your cash,” if they don't ban it, they might ban it, but even if they don't, they'll say, “but vendors, restaurants, lumber stores, small businesses and all businesses, they can only accept E-dollars.
They can't accept cash.” I know a lot of people get pretty hard, and say “well, I'll just use cash anyway.”
Well, maybe, but it would be like dealing drugs in the sense that you could, but do you really want to risk going to prison for 10 years when you've got a wife and two or three kids that depend on you?
Or a husband, vice versa, do you want to take that gamble just to go ahead and use cash? I think most people the answer would be no, and I totally agree. I think that's exactly how it plays out.
The Shift Away From Cash Movement
A lot of people have this misunderstanding about cash. They feel like they say that it's illegal not to accept cash, but that's not the truth at all, even within the Fed's own statement there is no law that requires people to accept cash.
It just happens to be written on the money that this is legal to use for public and private, but it's not required to use it.
I work at retail, too, I just bring customers up, and I've never had so many customers come to me and ask me if I accept cash still.
So, there must be a movement out there of stores that are not accepting cash or are asking people to use their debit cards. The shift away from cash is just taking place on its own. It's not even like being forced.
It's just the idea that handing money over it is dirty and people are worried about a virus being on the money itself, so they use their debit card.
George Gammon: Yeah. There you go.
This shift has already taken place, even without their efforts. People were already stepping away, and I noticed my cash sales had dropped dramatically and a lot of people are just using their debit cards now.
I had one guy, I tried to hand him back and he said, “No thanks.” And I'm like, “Well, it's 50 bucks, man.
You don't want your change?” He was like, “No, it might have the corona on it”, and he walked away. He didn't even want his change.
George Gammon: So, people aren't using cash because of the virus? Because in their mind… Wow, yeah, yeah.
Simon: Yep, he didn't, and I'm looking at the dollar 50, and I'm like set it on there till… And I just left it there.
I was thinking that I'll just use it for the next person if they run short on interchange or whatever.
George Gammon: Now, that's really interesting.
Simon: But yeah, he really walked away. It was funny.
George Gammon: Let's explore that a little bit as far as the virus.
I've been trying to think this through, and I know that the market is really getting excited because there's no more lockdown or things are opening back up, and the government isn't going to require the essential businesses and whatnot.
But the way I see it, and yes, we've been able to flatten out the curve and keep it from overwhelming the hospital system, but, it's still out there.
If we're not at herd immunity yet, let's just assume for a moment we're not. Well, if people go right back to doing what they were doing, of course, you're going to see the infection rate go right back up to where it was.
I've heard the argument that we've seen the economic damage that it does, and the government isn't going to be able to come back in and do a second lockdown.
The Personally Instituted Lock Down And Going To The Bar In Pandemic Times
I totally understand that argument, but in my mind, I'm thinking, “won't people potentially institute their own lockdown to where it doesn't matter what the government's doing?”
The government says you can go run around, you can go to the dance club, you can go to the bar, you can go to the lumberyard, you can do whatever you want.
Those businesses can be open, but if people see a second wave, and I'm just saying, if, people see a second wave of COVID come through the system, because we've opened things back up, they're going to lock themselves down.
And then from an economic standpoint, it has the exact same impact. What do you think there?
Simon: Well, I agree.
I think honestly, the fear of getting this virus has been so pushed into the people now that they are going to have a very difficult time of going out there.
How many people are going to go to the ballgame and sit that close at a basketball game or a baseball game where you have that many people, that close, that tight and you have one guy behind you who's hacking.
I mean, people are going in their minds, even if the guy's not sick, just the thought of it is going to have people scared.
George Gammon: Especially when you've got kids. I mean, you've got kids, I don't. So, how does that play out from a father's standpoint, or the standpoint of the parent?
Simon: Well yeah, even taking my kids into the store.
I am like, “Don't touch anything, stay close to me.” I'm not even really that worried about it, but yet I'm watching them and saying ” No, don't touch.”
Just going off and being in public in general, I'm trying to corral my kids to keep them from getting too close to anybody or getting close to anything that somebody else has touched.
It's going to take some time to subside that fear, but if it even starts kicking up again, people are going to panic, and they're going to lock themselves down just like you said.
Here in my county, the cases are increasing, they're not diminishing.
I have an app on my phone that lets me know when they get another case in, and I just watch it to see what happens, and over the last two weeks, we've had more cases come through than the whole rest of the time. A lot of that came from a seafood processing plant.
A lot of these guys were working in a cold environment, they were very close to one another, and so when a couple of them got sick, they tested the whole plant, and realized that, “Hey, there's a bunch of guys here at this plant that are sick.”
So that contributed to a big number of the number of cases that were here in the county.
But even since then, there's been a half a dozen more cases that have come up, and I know, that seems small, but I'm from a small area.
In the overall amount of people who are sick, that's like representing a 10% increase in the amount of cases just in the last week or so.
George Gammon: You guys are in lockdown there? What are the rules there?
Simon: Yeah, we just did a partial opening.
So now, the restaurants are open, the bars are open and stuff like that, but the rules are so difficult for the restaurants right now.
You can't sit at the bar, you have to have tables that are like 8 feet apart from each other. You can only have like 25% capacity. It's very difficult for these businesses, but they're opening up because they want to make money.
They have to do something, and even if they were to run like we talked about earlier, even if they were to run at full capacity of what they are allowed to do, they're still not going to be a profitable business.
I mean, they'd be lucky to break even just to pay the staff right now.
George Gammon: You made a great point in one of your videos that I watched this morning, that who's going to go to the bar?
Why do you go to the bar in the first place? You go there, do karaoke or have a few beers with your buddies or meet people.
You don't go there to stand in a corner 10 feet away from everyone else and just have a beer.
Simon: Right. It doesn't make any sense.
George Gammon: So, you just make it that private, too.
Simon: I work at a bar on Sunday nights, I do a bingo calling.
I do a little entertaining on that, and the whole point of the whole event is to bring as many people into the bar as you can.
So we're not even doing that game anymore until we can open up completely. That, and the theater where I was doing the play at, they're not opening up for the same reasons, once you have staff and you have everybody else who's operating this theater, it will only allow you to bring in like 10 or 15 audience.
10 to 15 people for the audience is not enough to do any good as far as making money. It would be counterintuitive to work in.
So the partial opening is not going to be very successful as far as I'm concerned, as far as helping the businesses out. It's going to be more detrimental than helpful.
The Local Unemployment Rate In Rural Areas
George Gammon: Yeah, if we have another wave come in, that makes it even more extreme.
Even if the government keeps things open up, it makes it more extreme from a standpoint of just people locking themselves in.
Now, we're talking about all these small businesses in your area, just not doing business, and how is that affecting the local unemployment rate?
Simon: Because a lot of these small businesses had applied for the Payroll Protection Program, they're not really labeled as unemployed, and they're still collecting a paycheck.
So, in their mind, they're still getting paid and at some point, they'll go back to work. But if you didn't have that Payroll Protection Program, the unemployment rate would be a lot higher.
And if you didn't have that extra $600 a month coming in from the Fed or from the Federal Government in any way, then most people probably wouldn't be spending their money at all.
They'll be holding on to all of it. You got the forbearance in rental protection kind of thing where you can't get evicted.
All these things are just to have people subside on as far as they're concerns about whether or not they're going to have the money to continue on.
So they're willing to spend their money into the economy, at least that's what I see. But if you didn't have all those insurances taking place right now, it would be a lot more chaotic, I feel.
I don't think we would have nearly the business that we had going on.
George Gammon: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, you've got people intuitively concerned with their kids and maybe the elderly people around them.
But they're probably thinking, “Okay, this is just a V-shape recovery,” because I remember how it was in January, and they don't really understand economics like you do, so they don't understand that the underlying fundamentals of the economy were broken prior to the virus.
So they just think, “Okay, we go right back V-shape. I'm going to go right back to my job, business as usual, so why not just have a little fun.
Spend this money, this free money, that I'm getting from the government right now.”
So, thinking this through, if they go back out, and if we have a second wave, they come back in.
How long will the government need to fill the void, and how long can they fill the void? Is there a limit to how much money they can just print and give out?
MMT And Everyone Getting Their Monthly Check
Simon: Yeah, well, now you're talking like getting into some of the modern monetary theory stuff, where they just start doing a UBI and giving people monthly checks from now on.
George Gammon: Do you think that will happen?
Simon: Well, I think it's a possibility.
I don't think it will work. I mean, I think it will work for a time.
In fact, people will probably even praise it after, because who knows how long that could last. But you know as well as I do, that you can't just get paid and not work, there's got to be production and servicing taking place and that's the economy, not just getting paid.
I mean, you've got to be able to pay money, too, so somebody has to produce and somebody has to serve in order for the economy to work and you can't just get paid money and expect everything to be hunky-dory after that.
But, I could see it, I could see it taking place, I could see like a UBI thing happening and trying to get money velocity to keep the get inflation going, stuff like that, but I just don't see it working.
Building A Life Around UBI
George Gammon: Yeah. They'll continue with this additional unemployment, if you want to call that helicopter money, UBI, whatever.
They'll continue giving people money, especially till the election, because from Trump's standpoint, I'm sure he doesn't want to cut this off when he's trying to essentially buy votes like they all do.
And if he loses, is the Democrat that comes in. Are they going to be the one that says, “Hey, that $1,000 a month you've been getting or that additional income you've been getting by taking care of your family instead of going to work, we're going to go ahead and pull that back now”?
I don't know. I don't see that one happening and Trump is more of a Keynesian than the left, so Trump is the biggest Keynesian of them all.
So, even if he gets reelected, is he going to pull that back in? Maybe, maybe not, especially if we go to a digital currency.
The transfer mechanism is so easy from the government or from the Fed to get those currency units just directly to the app on your phone, and then see what happens as people build their lives around it.
As Americans, I think it's hard for them to see this play out in real life and it's hard for them to get their minds around it.
But as an example, I've spent a lot of time in Ecuador, and there, they subsidize the cost of gas, so you can still buy gas in Ecuador for like, I forgot what it was when I left, like $0.80 a gallon or something like that, is ridiculous.
Obviously the government is losing money by pumping those barrels of oil, turning it into gas, and selling it to people, but the whole entire economy has been built around $0.80 a gallon gas, right?
You think how that plays out. Everyone, from the mom taking care of the kids, take them to school, to the truck driver, everyone in the economy that affects.
And then you look at Venezuela, and see the exact same thing happen there. They subsidize the cost of fuel for their population and the whole economy got built on that.
So, what happens when you take away that subsidy? I mean, you can think through how that would happen in the U.S.
If we drop gas down to, let's say, $0.50 a gallon, and we did that for 10 years, and then after 10 years, we say, “Okay, we're going to go ahead and jack it back up to the market rate at $4 a gallon.” I mean, there's no way.
Simon: Nope. We can't do it. It's a one-way street. Once you start, there is no going back.
I mean, you might have the argument before they started, that will be the argument, the two sides saying, “This can't work, this will work, this can't work.”
And then once it's implemented, then it's an argument about how much.
There’s No Going Back From UBI
Simon: But it's not going to take it all back, very much like the healthcare system.
When they were arguing Obamacare back in the day, if you listen to one side of the argument, they would be like, “This is going to destroy everything. You can't do it. There's no way. Absolutely not. Not going to do it.” The other side says, “It has to be done,” right? But once it takes place, now, it's not an argument about taking it away. It's about how do they mess with it?
It used to be this idea of don't do it, and then Republicans say I don't want to just pick on Republicans, because there's some of them that were good for it, too.
But then it turned into a repeal and replace, not just repeal. It was, replace it with something different, their own version of it or something like that because once it's implemented, then you can't take it away.
There is no taking it away, and the same thing would happen with UBI. Once you start giving people $1,000 a month or whatever it is that they want to give, then it's a matter of how much can you give?
One argument will be let's get more, the other one will be let's get less, but it certainly won't be let's take it away, because nobody is going to be voting for anybody who says we need to take this thing away.
So, once it's in place, it's a permanent thing. It's not going away.
The most dangerous thing that can happen if we go the UBI route, in my opinion, is if we don't have inflation right away.
The reason I say that is because, let's say all of the fear mongers like you and I are saying: “Yeah, you do the helicopter money, and you're going to see prices go up, and it's just going to decrease the value of the dollars that are currently in the system.
And although it may benefit some people, it's going to hurt others who have saved those dollars, or maybe people have bonds in their 401K or whatever.”
But what happens is, if they do this experiment, let's call it, and after a year or maybe even two years, there is no inflation or at least that what the government will admit to, in the CPI numbers, it's still caught 2%, 3%, something like that.
Then everyone comes back and says, “Listen, Uneducated Economist, George Gammon, you guys were fear-mongering for no reason.
It's just like 2008 where the Fed took their balance sheet from 800 billion all the way up to call it 4 billion, we printed all this money and we didn't see inflation back then.
You gold bugs were sounding the alarm in 2008. You're doing it again now, and you guys just need to take a back seat and let the adults in the room take charge.”
Simon: Yeah, what do you go with it? Because if you think about it, Ben Bernanke, when he started the Quantitative Easing programs, people were screaming hyperinflation.
They're like, “This action is definitely going to do a hyperinflation scenario, there's no way about it, because you can't bring up this much money without it happening.”
And now we know the reasons why it didn't happen, why we didn't see the inflation there, but one of the arguments that Ben Bernanke said was that if we drop these interest rates down, it's going to make houses more affordable.
But did that happen? I mean, here it is, 10 years later, and the prices of houses far outpaced the wage growth.
So, you can use the argument that it didn't cause the hyperinflation or it didn't cause like that major inflation scenario like everybody said, but it certainly didn't do what they had promised it to do, and make houses more affordable for people, and made the payments that they can make maybe more affordable.
But the price of the house itself made it far outreaching to the average person and now you have this disparity towards the people who can afford it and people who can't.
Housing Prices In The Years To Come
George Gammon: Let's talk about housing, because we talked about lumber, we talked about where it is in the trenches and your insider insights, but how do you see that playing out into housing prices, just broadly speaking over the next three or four years?
In nominal terms, in nominal terms.
If the Fed has it their way, of course, the housing prices are going to continue to rise and they certainly won't fall.
And they're going to do everything they can do to try and keep that from happening, but I just have to look back and think about like, “Well, what about the pool of buyers?
What about these pool buyers out there who are going to come in, like we're saying the millennials and everybody else out there? You have massive unemployment taking place, they say it's going to be the worst unemployment since the Great Depression.
They're talking about wage growth not keeping up, they're talking about all these situations in which is going to be very difficult for people to go out there and buy a house.
So I can only assume that the house prices are going to have to come down to meet the capabilities of the buyer, at some point.
You can keep playing the game where we're like, “Okay, well, we'll offer this forbearance.” Well, what if you didn't offer forbearance?
Then what? What would house prices be right now, if it wasn't for all these people who were like what a trillion dollars and missed payments right now?
I mean, what would happen to the prices of all these homes right now if there wasn't forbearance taking place?
So, these actions that they're taking right now are keeping the prices bubbled, but it's only a matter of time, in my opinion, anyway, that at some point, these things are going to have to come down to meet the capabilities of the borrower.
And even now, even though the interest rates are low, I have a lot of people who argue with me about this, but right now, even though the interest rates are low, the capabilities of getting a loan are getting difficult.
Again, if you're in forbearance right now, you can't just go off and refinance your home, you can't take advantage of these low-interest rates, you have to wait three months of non-skipped payments in order to acquire a new loan.
So that just took a whole bunch of people out of the market who are not going to be able to sell their home and buy a new one, so to speak.
And at least in the course of three months, you have to have three months' worth of payments made.
Then all the people who are unemployed, who are collecting a check and maybe even making their payments, well, if you don't have an income coming in, most likely you're not going to get a loan either.
So the pool of buyers is shrinking by the day with everything that's taken place here and if they didn't have all this insurance, I would feel that the house prices would be dropping dramatically.
There's a lot of things that are taking place behind the scenes, at least with these mortgage lenders and stuff. I know it's really hard.
It took me a while to understand what was taking place there with those mortgage lenders and their hedge against the mortgages that they signed, because when they signed a mortgage, they basically just sell that off.
They don't want to hold the mortgage, they want to get you to buy it, sign the contract, so they can sell it off.
Headwinds Of The Housing Market: The Mortgage Lender’s Issue
George Gammon: Yeah, but there was a time in there that they don't close on the loan. I mean, you got a fantastic video on this. You want to explain that, Simon, because I think it's just fascinating.
Simon: Yeah, really, nobody has kind of foresaw this. I mean, I can't imagine the Fed didn't see this happening.
I mean, those guys have every economist looking at every angle and to think that, “Oh, geez. We missed this? It's just I don't believe that it happened.
George Gammon: Yeah. They're not into the consequences. They're not that great, I don't think.
Simon: Well, maybe.
I certainly didn't think about it until after I started reading about it, but what ended up happening is that when the Federal Reserve stepped in with Quantitative Easing, part of that Quantitative Easing was buying mortgage back securities.
George Gammon: And this is the most recent round that they actually admit to.
Simon: Recent round. Yeah. This all happened in the last month and a half here.
George Gammon: Okay.
Simon: And, yeah, not private or previously, but yeah.
George Gammon: Not QE. It's actually QE QE.
Simon: It's not.
So what ended up happening was the Federal Reserve bought these mortgage-backed securities, an intense amount of them, and the whole idea was to keep the prices elevated in the mortgage-backed securities because once the prices start to drop, then the interest rates start to rise, just like any bond out there.
And if they had people out there dumping these mortgage-backed securities, then the mortgage lender wouldn't have mortgages to sell.
So, the prices have to stay elevated in order for these lenders to be able to sell those mortgages off.
But something very interesting took place with these mortgage lenders out there because they have a hedge against that mortgage.
Like you were saying there's a time from the time they signed the contract or get you to sign the contract to the time they're able to sell it.
And if interest rates were to rise just a little bit on that, they would lose money on that contract that they have signed, that mortgage that they were trying to sell. So they buy a hedge against that.
It's like an insurance policy that they buy, it's like their own investment. It's its own thing that's separate from the mortgage itself.
And the idea is that they bought that thing on margin, which basically means is that they're using that as the collateral to buy it, and if the interest rates were to drop the price of that, or that insurance policy, basically the value of that thing falls.
And since they bought it on margin, the broker is doing, “Hey, we're doing a margin call on that thing, you need to come up with a bunch of money because the collateral that you're using to buy it just fell out in price.”
George Gammon: Money they don't have.
Simon: Yeah. The money they don't have and since these mortgage lenders are not really working on a ton of capital, they're just basically signing these mortgages and selling it off and then keeping the profit in between.
When those margin calls got called in on them, they're like, “Whoa, wait a minute, we don't have the billions of dollars.”
I think it was like $500 billion that they caused in that and a bunch of these mortgage lenders are like, “We're going to go out of business if you keep dropping these interest rates at the pace that you're doing it.”
George Gammon: Yeah. To be clear for the viewer, if the Fed comes in and buys up enough of these mortgage-backed securities that drops the interest rate, but it drops so quickly that it goes against their hedge so fast.
Because they're hedging interest rate is going up, so it happens so quickly that they get a margin call where they have to come up with cash to meet it.
They don't have the cash, and the Fed basically wipes them out because there's no liquidity in the system and because the Fed created so much demand that they dropped interest rates so low so quickly.
Simon: Right. Exactly. And that was a big problem for these mortgage lenders, so if you think about it…
If a mortgage lender is sitting in that position where they don't have, the confidence that they'll be able to sell this thing in time, then most likely they're not going to be as, I don't know how to quite put it, except for easy with the lending, like they were, there're going to be a lot more restriction on it.
George Gammon: And they're probably going to charge more.
Simon: That's the thing, they're going to start charging more.
So, it's like almost a bad thing that the Federal Reserve had done by trying to put a floor under these mortgage-backed securities to keep them from falling in price and actually cause the prices of them to rise and screwed those lenders over in kind of an odd way.
George Gammon: Yeah, for sure. Did you do any research on the mortgage servicers?
Headwinds Of The Housing Market: The Mortgage Servicer’s Issue
Simon: Yeah. A little bit on the mortgage servicers as well because with all this forbearance taking place now, you got the government backing and stuff like that taking place, but a lot of these mortgage servicers that people don't quite realize is that there's a middleman.
When you make your mortgage payment, you're making it to a mortgage servicer who then in turn is paying the mortgage-backed security. But during this forbearance time, people aren't making their payments to the mortgage servicer, but the mortgage servicer has to continue to pay the mortgage-backed security.
George Gammon: They're on the hook.
Simon: They're on the hook for it, and a lot of times people don't realize this.
I'm sure a lot of people will realize it when they're making their mortgage payment, that they're also including their taxes and insurance in that as well.
That they stop making the taxes and insurance payment on the mortgage because it's a single payment that they're making.
But they don't realize that the mortgage servicer is also liable for that as well, because they're the ones who are handling these mortgage payments, and so that they don't get reimbursed for it, and so there's an issue with the mortgage servicers. So, now if you have an issue with those guys and the mortgage lenders, now you got a troubled market that's taken place.
I can only see that being more trouble or more headwinds for the housing market coming into the future.
About Gold, Silver, And Bitcoin
George Gammon: Fantastic insights there. I know I've been keeping you forever here.
I appreciate your willingness to sit down and chat for so long. What do you think about gold, silver, and Bitcoin?
I've been trying to ask the people I interview about those three things?
Simon: Yeah. I am a big fan of all three, and I am especially a big fan of silver.
I think probably, what I like the most about silver is that it's a vital commodity. You can have a lot of things out there that are an investment and I don't really look at silver as an investment. I look at it as an insurance policy for myself.
It's something that's outside of the system, it's something that it's in my hand. I don't have to worry about a bank closing, or envelope coming in the mail or anything like that.
It's something that's in my hand, it's mine, and I can trade it. I've built up a network of people around me that I know I can trade silver for, so to me, it's an insurance policy.
And when I look at it comparatively to gold, it's like, “Man, this thing is like incredibly undervalued.”
They pull gold out of the ground to silver at a 10:1 ratio, so for every ounce of gold, you get 10 ounces of silver, but it trades out at over 100:1.
So, compare the price of silver to gold it's tiny in comparison. Either gold has to come down or silver has to go way up to meet that comparison.
And taking the industrial side of things, the demand for silver is a vital commodity, you can have Bitcoin and you can have silver.
But you don't need Bitcoin to have silver, but Bitcoin needs silver to exist. Do you see where I'm kind of getting at that? It's like silver is its own thing away from it all.
I like Bitcoin because it has a lot of the same characteristics of silver as far as being outside of the system, it's its own thing, but you're reliant on networks working and stuff like that.
But I've used Bitcoin quite a bit to do sales and stuff, and I found it to be a very convenient form of transactions, especially if you're transacting with somebody who's not in your location, you can transact with anybody around the world almost instantaneously.
You don't have to go through any other mediator or pay fees to do it, or you got to pay a little bit of fees, but I use Litecoin, so it's pretty, pretty small in fees. I really like those things.
But then gold, on the other hand, is the monetary metal of kings.
When you look at central banks, that's what they hold. They don't hold a lot of silver, they hold gold. Countries hold gold.
Rich people who are trying to hedge or bet against inflation and different things like that, they hold gold.
Gold is like the prized possession when it comes to monetary metals. That's the way I feel about all three of those things.
And the prices may change and fluctuate around, and stuff like that, but ultimately, it's a commodity that's in your hand that's separate away, separate from everybody else. That's my answer.
What About Treasuries Having Negative Interest Rates?
George Gammon: What would happen if interest rates on treasuries go negative and you've got a country like China that gets a lot of dollars, so they take those dollars to buy treasuries, but now all of a sudden, they've got a negative carry on those treasuries.
Do you think instead of just going to cash because they've got the peg with the Yuan, they've got to have dollars, do you think we could get to a point where they would just buy oil?
Simon: I wonder why it is that China even wants to treasuries, outside of the United States is the global reserve currency and then doing world trade with your dollars, that makes sense to hold on to treasuries.
But as far as holding it on because it's a prized possession or something like that, I just don't see it and it's no reason to think that there just couldn't be a new form of world currency that takes place.
When they start this whole digital currency and they start really ramping that up, and giving other countries the ability to transact with them using that digital currency, this is going to take a lot of power away from the United States.
And when you've got the United States, you implement sanctions and uses that economic power against people, against other countries, it really gives them a lot of incentive to step away from those treasuries and start moving into that digital Yuan.
I see the treasuries being held by China as a great speculation because most likely the treasuries at some point are going to go negative and they'd be able to sell those things for a profit.
But holding onto oil an actual commodity that they can use is a much better proposition as far as I'm concerned when it comes to China and what's better for their country.
There's a big secret on how much gold they have, and it's almost as if they're anticipating that they are going to step away from the treasuries at some point.
Now, I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon, but I certainly do see it taking place in the future at some point, especially with that implementation, that instituting that digital Yuan.
It seems like they're almost gearing up for it very slowly.
George Gammon: All right, buddy. Well, we'll go ahead and leave it there.
Awesome, awesome interview. For any of my viewers who want to find out more about what you do…
You produce absolutely amazing content. Where can they go to find out more about what you do and the content you produce?
Simon: Pretty much I just have my YouTube channel, Uneducated Economist on YouTube and I don't really have any other place.
I do a little bit of twittering and have the Facebook thing, and a little bit of Patreon and stuff like that, but pretty much everything I do, I do on YouTube. I do most of my comments there.
I'd love to hear what your thoughts are. If you have any links that you'd like to send me. I mean, I love reading what other people have. Their opinions on different things, so that's how you can reach me.
George Gammon: All right, buddy. Well, I appreciate it again and I can't wait to have this chat in two months and revisit everything we've talked about today.
Simon: Yeah, sounds great. George. Thank you so much.