HOWARD MARKS: No one in government has any idea how to fix the economy

It’s election season, and that means we’re hearing a lot about how to fix the economy.

It can almost seem as if the government is banging its head against the wall making more and more adjustments, only to see the economy stay in slow-growth mode.

Howard Marks, cofounder of Oaktree Capital Group, ran through all of the attempts or promises from politicians and institutions in his latest investment memo.

He found the proposals to be wanting, mostly due to their short-term nature, rather than an attempt to adjust the economy long-term.

“Most ordinary citizens don’t have what it takes to figure out what is and isn’t economically feasible,” Marks wrote. “Since we’re in the midst of election season, with promises of cures for our economic woes being thrown around, this seems like a particularly appropriate time to explore what can and can’t be achieved within the laws of economics.”

“It’s my goal here to point out how some of the things that central banks and governments try to do — and election candidates promise to do — fly in the face of those laws,” he added.

Marks ran through eight current policies and proposals set forth by the government and their failures to adhere to the basics of economics. They were:

  • Central Bank monetary stimulus: Marks argues that the repeated stimulus from the Fed has become ineffective because such actions were only designed to jump start an economy, not sustain it. “In the old days, when cars often failed to start, there were fluids we could squirt into the carburetor to get them going. But they weren’t fuel for long-term operation,” he said.
  • Increasing entitlements and benefits: The idea that simply increasing government programs will increase well-being and productivity makes no sense to Marks. “Governments can’t create out of thin air the means with which to make disbursements,” he wrote.
  • Raising taxes: Higher taxes, in Marks’ opinion, restrict the flow of money throughout the country’s system and prevents upward mobility. Additionally, in a more practical sense, if you raise taxes people can just move anyway.
  • Printing money: Simply put, just because you print more money and get it flowing in the economy, it doesn’t mean people are any better off. “They can increase people’s nominal incomes, but eventually they will find their fatter wallets don’t contain any more spending power than they used to,” said Marks.
  • Currency devaluation: Marks notes that devaluation only makes goods created at home more expensive and does nothing to help the underlying economy. Additionally, currency devaluation doesn’t work if multiple countries are engaged in the practice.
  • Tariffs: The idea that you can “bring back jobs” isn’t viable without tariffs and raising prices for all Americans. “In this globalized world, that means Americans can’t enjoy both the high-paying manufacturing jobs they used to have and the low-cost goods they have been buying of late,” he wrote. “The imposition of tariffs can’t solve that conundrum.”
  • Higher minimum wage: While Marks doesn’t write off the idea of a higher minimum wage entirely, he does think it will impact business investment and lead to job losses. “It seems unlikely that you can make everyone better off just by mandating a higher wage,” said Marks.
  • Redistribution of wealth: Marks takes issues with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ idea of central government economic control through regulation and taxation of businesses. Marks cites the case of Venezuela’s economic and political meltdown as an example of how this does not work.

While Marks does not offer any policy solutions of his own, it is abundantly clear that his view of the government’s current policies and mot politicians proposals is dim.

Read the full memo at Oaktree’s site»

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