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Guest Post: The Road To Perdition - Interview With Terry Coxon

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Submitted by David Galland of The Casey Report

The Road To Perdition

David Galland interviews Terry Coxon, The Casey Report

Terry
Coxon worked side by side with best-selling author Harry Browne for
years and is a rare expert in the arcane study of monetary systems. His
remarks at this juncture in time, a time that might end up labeled in
the history books as “Money Runs Wild,” are especially germane.

David Galland:
You were involved with Harry Browne during the last great inflation in
the U.S. How does the increase in the money supply that kicked off in
2007-2008 compare in terms of scale to what went on leading up to the
inflation in the ‘70s?

Terry Coxon: The
comparison is pretty muddled. In terms of the M1 money supply – the
total of checkable deposits and hand-to-hand currency – we haven’t yet
gotten near the persistently high growth rate that occurred in the
1970s. But the growth in the monetary base has been far more rapid than
what happened in the 1970s. There is some time delay between growth in
the monetary base and growth in M1, but to make the picture really
cloudy, I'm afraid the comparison turns out not to be very useful.
Unlike in the 1970s, the Federal Reserve is now paying interest to banks
on their reserves.

In other words, the effect is that much of the
increase in the monetary base gets locked up and sequestered because
banks want to earn the interest on the reserves rather than lending the
reserves out or buying investments and increasing the money supply.

DG: You are referring to the excess reserves banks have left on deposit with the Fed?

TC: Yes.

DG:
Why do you think that the Fed is paying interest on those reserves?
With policy makers and pundits saying that the economy needs a shot in
the arm and a dose of inflation, why would the Fed continue to encourage
banks not to lend or invest, by paying them interest to leave the money
on deposit?

TC: If the Federal Reserve didn’t
pay interest on those reserves, the result would be inflation rates far
beyond anything the U.S. has ever experienced. The monetary base has
more than doubled, and without the Federal Reserve paying interest on
the recently created boatload of reserves that is essentially keeping
them immobilized in accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York,
the M1 money supply would more than double and we would have inflation
rates that would make the worst days of inflation in Brazil and
Argentina look tame.

DG: I know you can't give a real number, but what general level of inflation are you talking about?

TC: Close to a doubling in the CPI in a year's time. Doubling the CPI over the course of a year would be an inflation rate of 100%.

DG:
But on the other side of the equation, a deflationist would say that
even if they stopped paying interest on those excess reserves, there is
no loan demand, so the banks can't find anybody to loan to. If that’s
the case, how does the money get out into the system?

TC:
If a bank has excess reserves and the Federal Reserve stops paying
interest on them, if the bank can't think of anything else, it will buy
Treasury bills, even if the yields on those Treasury bills are only 0.5%
a year. Then the seller of the Treasury bills has the cash.

Whoever
the seller of the Treasury bills is, we can safely assume he sold his
T-bills because the cash was more attractive to him. And if the cash is
more attractive when it's earning zero, that means the person who sold
the Treasury bills wants to use the cash to buy something else, and
that's how the excess reserves would move from the banks to the general
economy.

DG: What about the role the carry trade
plays in all of this? If banks can’t get a return in the U.S., might
they take the money and spend it elsewhere or invest it in countries
where interest rates are higher? That seems to be going on today, in
which case, wouldn’t we effectively export our inflation?

TC:
It does have an inflationary effect all around the world, and it also
puts the markets generally on a very fragile footing when you can borrow
U.S. dollars at an artificially suppressed rate of 0.5% and buy New
Zealand dollars and earn 2%. That has the effect of propping up the New
Zealand dollar. And it promises a profit for the carry trader of 1.5%,
but actually collecting that profit depends on exiting the trade at the
right time.

The carry trade is in just about every market at this
point. People are borrowing dollars at ultra-low interest rates in the
hope of earning a higher return in something else and also hoping to
exit at the right time. Virtually all markets have been propped up by
the carry trade, and all the carry traders are telling themselves they
are going to jump ship at just the right time. When the time comes, the
rails of the ship are going to be crowded, and markets likely will move
down very rapidly.

DG: Discuss the effect of the
carry trade on the dollar. As you said, at this point in time there is a
robust dollar carry trade, with people borrowing dollars and using them
to buy, say, New Zealand bonds or whatever. So, what effect does this
have on the dollar?

TC: The carry trade is the
proximate cause of the decline in the dollar in foreign exchange
markets. If you look at the whole process, it starts with printing by
the Federal Reserve, but the step that occurs just before the price of
the dollar goes down is the decision by traders to borrow dollars and
buy other currencies. When the carry trade comes to an end, the process
will go into reverse, and the dollar will rally.

DG: So this would again tie back to interest rates. If U.S. interest rates start moving up, then the carry trade begins to unwind.

TC: It wouldn’t even take that, just an expectation that interest rates on dollars are about to move up. That would do it.

DG:
Yet, historically gold and interest rates and inflation all tend to
move up together. Not to get all tangled up, but if interest rates in
the U.S. move up and the dollar starts to strengthen, shouldn’t gold
then start moving down? But again, that's not the historic case.

TC:
It’s not as tangled as you think. The answer you are going to come to
for gold depends on what is causing interest rates to move up. If
interest rates are moving up because the expectation of inflation is
moving up, then that won't hurt gold, it will help gold. On the other
hand, if interest rates are moving up because the Federal Reserve is
tightening, then that is bad for almost everything that people have been
borrowing to buy, which includes gold and silver and stocks generally.

DG: And New Zealand dollars.

TC: Yes, foreign currencies as well.

DG:
With the carry trade, the interest rate differential is an important
thing to understand, and right now the U.S. is clearly behind the curve
in terms of its interest rates. So the question is… could this situation
continue for quite a while, with the dollar kept cheap by the carry
trade? Can the dollar just keep going down until it evaporates, or are
you seeing signs of an alternative outcome?

TC:
The road to perdition has zigs and zags and loopbacks, and what causes
the loopbacks is a shift in what the Federal Reserve currently perceives
as its worst nightmare. For example, in 2008, 2009 and into 2010, the
Federal Reserve was worried primarily about a deflationary depression,
so it turned on the printing presses.

More recently, inflation has
returned as a worry, and that can turn into worry number one on any
given day, at which point the Federal Reserve will slow down the
printing or just sit on its hands for a while. That's when interest
rates will start moving up, and that's when the carry trade will get
unwound, triggering a big downdraft in virtually all markets. But the
prominence of inflation as a worry will eventually be replaced by
renewed concern about the economy contracting, and then the Federal
Reserve will shift its weight again from one foot to the other.

DG:
Which brings us to the 8,000-pound gorilla in the room: the debt. Our
readers, and pretty much everyone else, knows that the U.S. government
is sitting on the largest pile of debt in history, and that much of this
debt has been generated for no real useful purpose.

James
Rickards made the point at our spring summit that the last time
government debt was anything close to this as a percentage of GDP was in
World War II. And he pointed out that the money spent back then
essentially bought a victory in World War II, leaving the U.S. with a
very strong economy and leverage over other economies. But those
advantages have been squandered. Now in exchange for all the debt that
has been rung up, Rickards points out that the country has little more
than a lot of flat-screen TVs.

I think it was probably our very
first meeting after you joined Casey Research, sitting around the table
in San Francisco, that I asked, "Is there any way out?" This was back in
2004, and Doug Casey and Bud Conrad and you took turns answering, with
the answer being essentially the same, "No, no way out and the situation
is going to end badly."

And here we are seven years later, and
the government’s debts have only grown. Obviously, inflation is the
standard approach the government is likely to use to relieve itself of
its debt over time, but I wouldn’t rule out an overt default of some
sort. Regardless, it seems like the country’s economic future is going
to be determined by the debt.

So, let me ask you the same
question, do you see any way out? Are there any options left to the
government that don’t lead to economic chaos?

TC:
If by some miracle the people who run the government decided that Big
Government was a bad idea and small government was a much better idea,
and so they set about ending government programs and pushing the level
of federal spending way down, along with the level of regulation over
the economy, then there would be a way out.

But how likely is that
to happen? The time horizon for people in politics is maybe one or two
years, just about the same length of time there is before the next
election. Their goal is always to survive the coming election. That
means what is rational for the politicians looks irrational to everyone
else, and I don’t see any reason to expect that to change. The purpose
of a politician examining a problem is not to solve the problem but to
find a way for someone else to get blamed for it.

DG:
Doug and I have both written about the fact that we are living in a
steadily degrading democracy at this point, with the public voting
itself all manner of benefits from the public trough. Personally, I
don’t see how we get to the point where politicians, where the voters,
decide that a much smaller government is a much better way to go. At
least not unless and until we're forced to. Do you think this situation
can drag on, or will the size of the debt and deficits force a change
sooner rather than later?

TC: That's a political
question. At some point, the situation may become so catastrophic that
people are forced to learn new habits and consider new ideas, but things
have to get pretty bad before that happens.

DG: And how would you rate the odds of it getting pretty bad before this is over?

TC: Very high.

DG: And the time frame? You typically say these things are variable and unknowable, but can you be a bit more specific?

TC: It takes a long time. It's not going to happen this year. It's probably not going to happen next year.

DG: But hasn’t this been a long time coming?

TC: Yes, it has, and that should tell you that the process is a slow one.

DG:
So in your view, what are the one or two most important things that
readers need to be doing to protect themselves at this point?

TC:
I think the most important thing someone can do is to understand what's
going on. That's what will give the individual staying power when the
markets are temporarily moving against them. The worst thing you can do
is to just pick a leader and do whatever he advises without thinking it
through and understanding it. What makes that a bad approach is that no
matter which intellectual leader you might choose, there are going to be
periods when he is wrong and when his advice is not working for you.
And even if he is right in the long run, you may not stick with him for
the long run if you don’t understand why his advice makes sense. So I
think job number one is to understand what's going on, so that you’re
not blindly relying on anyone's advice.

DG: What's job number two?

TC:
Job number two, if you see the world as I see it, is to make sure that a
substantial share of your wealth is in precious metals and perhaps in
foreign currencies, but without any leverage.

DG: Thank you very much.

 

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Wed, 07/13/2011 - 18:54 | 1454007 Chris88
Chris88's picture

"The purpose of a politician examining a problem is not to solve the problem but to find a way for someone else to get blamed for it." So true! It flies in the face of every idiot who believes we just need to "elect the right people" and are incapable of realizing that the government is a parasite no matter who is in it.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 18:56 | 1454014 Mactheknife
Mactheknife's picture

Two words: Term Limits

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 18:59 | 1454025 Rational Psycho
Rational Psycho's picture

one word: anarchy

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 19:22 | 1454094 JW n FL
JW n FL's picture

No.. No.

two words.

Got! Rope!!

Hang those Fuckers for Treason!

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 19:56 | 1454243 Marco
Marco's picture

Their controllers have enough money to buy them off even with a fear of death ... hanging the puppets will do fuck all.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 21:37 | 1454597 max2205
max2205's picture

Keep it simple. Stay long over the 4 wk ema. Short below it. Don't be greedy. It WILL be a wild ride. Enjoy

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 19:46 | 1454208 Marco
Marco's picture

What's the solution though? The present system put into place a set of dynastic families owning almost everything ... with the wealth inequality in place the difference between the 0.1% owning us through a state they control and owning us by simply owning everything we depend on to live is getting very slim indeed.

One might suspect that when they feel the democratic state has served it's purpose they will readily embrace anarcho capitalism ... because ultimately anarcho capitalism and feudalism are highly compatible, it's just a question of boundary conditions at inception.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 23:18 | 1454894 FreedomGuy
FreedomGuy's picture

Chris, you are soooo correct. My hope is in a few hundred more years we will wake up to the fact that the biggest lie in human history is that we need government or rulers of any sort. The beast that is government is untameable. It will always deteriorate because of its very nature.

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 04:29 | 1455243 dolly madison
dolly madison's picture

My hope is that in a few months we will wake up to the fact that we never needed elite rulers. When the few rule the many, there will always be corruption.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 19:02 | 1454022 DoChenRollingBearing
DoChenRollingBearing's picture

Well if this guy is right in having over a year until the CRUNCH, then we all still have time to buy some golden protection.

And the means to secure it.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 19:04 | 1454035 Quinvarius
Quinvarius's picture

He is only wrong about interest rates.  There is zero historical correlation between interest rates rising and gold dropping under any scenerio as the one we are in or in any country.  Not even when Volcker was doing it.  Gold rises until it balances out the money supply and the debt as a financial asset.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 19:05 | 1454042 Peter_Griffin
Peter_Griffin's picture

TC: If by some miracle the people who run the government decided that Big Government was a bad idea and small government was a much better idea, and so they set about ending government programs and pushing the level of federal spending way down, along with the level of regulation over the economy, then there would be a way out.

 

 

If an unemployment rate of 50%+ is the way out, why not just tell people to quit their jobs?  No, I don't think there is a way out, no matter what.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 19:08 | 1454052 janus
janus's picture

Mr. Durden,

Forgive the annoyance if you're already aware; but I thought I should let you know that I (and so I'm assuming others) cannot pull up the first two articles -- the Moody's AAA thing and the next one, I think it was about bonds. 

your icon and the keywords beneath it show, but not the text nor the comments.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 19:15 | 1454076 janus
janus's picture

all good now

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 19:41 | 1454174 slewie the pi-rat
slewie the pi-rat's picture

tyler's drinking.

i took care of it for you.  you're fuking welcome. 

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 00:20 | 1455031 Yen Cross
Yen Cross's picture

 Lol... Have you met Juice Box? Good kid. learning curve though... try it out.

Fri, 07/15/2011 - 19:35 | 1461216 janus
janus's picture

he (everyone) deserves it...we're playing beer pong later

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 20:21 | 1454319 centerline
centerline's picture

Let me see, regardless of what is best for the nation, if we don't "give" the banks free money they will unleash inflationary hell upon us in order to make that money.  Or is that stagflationary hell?  Gee - I wonder where this is going to lead...

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 20:30 | 1454354 Vint Slugs
Vint Slugs's picture

"TC: If a bank has excess reserves and the Federal Reserve stops paying interest on them, if the bank can't think of anything else, it will buy Treasury bills, even if the yields on those Treasury bills are only 0.5% a year. Then the seller of the Treasury bills has the cash.....and that's how the excess reserves would move from the banks to the general economy."

Wait a minute.  The seller of the T-bills is the gov.  That takes money out of the system; it does not add money.

 

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 21:13 | 1454507 anarchitect
anarchitect's picture

The T-bills might be bought from private holders. Or, if from the Treasury, then the government will get money to spend, something that they are very good at doing indeed.

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 00:03 | 1454994 Vint Slugs
Vint Slugs's picture

Your response is 100% off-base.

Ninety-nine percent of T-bills are issued at primary auctions that occur weekly.  Buyers generally hold their purchases till maturity.  When you talk about private holders, you are talking about the secondary market, which is comparatively speaking, meaningless.  Your comment re "if from the Treasury" reveals just how little you understand this subject.  The Treasury is the issuer of U.S. debt; Treasury selling T-bills does not result in "the government will get money to spend". 

I'm  not prone to ad hominem attacks which appear to be de rigueur when posting on this blog,  however, I'd respectfully suggest that you get a little understanding of Econ 101 which deals with the mechanics of how "money" supply changes before you post on a subject that you have no grasp.

Fri, 07/15/2011 - 19:37 | 1461190 BigJim
BigJim's picture

US debt is bought by the primary dealers, who then sell it on. If the banks are stepping in and spending their newly-created money at that point, and out-bidding people using circulating money, then that increases the money supply, doesn't it?

As for the secondary market being 'meaningless' - what are you talking about? US treasuries are an incredibly liquid market. ie, they're heavily traded.

Pompous, aren't you?

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 00:21 | 1455034 Yen Cross
Yen Cross's picture

  AKA: Secondary markets...

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 21:18 | 1454527 centerline
centerline's picture

If it is used to pay debt obligations, then yes.  If it used to buy more hookers and speedballs, then no.  Based on past performance, most of the money would reach circulation in this example.  Really, the notion of going to T-bills for 0.5% is bullshit.  Rather, the banks would certainly find more diabolical ways to extract yield from the masses.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 20:38 | 1454388 Diogenes
Diogenes's picture

I miss Harry Browne. I liked calling his fans the Harry Browne people. It made them sound like a bunch of Rastafarians.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 21:29 | 1454560 bigwavedave
bigwavedave's picture

seems to me that Obama can end this stalemate with a very simple offer.... "Raise the debt target by 2.5T and I will not seek a 2nd term"

Fri, 07/15/2011 - 19:28 | 1461203 BigJim
BigJim's picture

Chuckle.

Yes, I can see the big-O doing that, yessiree!

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 21:35 | 1454592 pgarner
pgarner's picture

Coxon has always been one of the bright bulbs: careful with his words, blunt, and largely accurate.

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 23:31 | 1454916 sasebo
sasebo's picture

"TC: If by some miracle the people who run the government decided that Big Government was a bad idea and small government was a much better idea, and so they set about ending government programs and pushing the level of federal spending way down, along with the level of regulation over the economy, then there would be a way out"

I see he's been smoking used rubbers.

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 08:15 | 1455460 DrunkenMonkey
DrunkenMonkey's picture

Best and most truthful article on the current economic reality I have seen in a very long time.

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 08:30 | 1455492 web bot
web bot's picture

Bar-none, this has been the best article that I have ever read on Zero Hedge in the 51 weeks that I've been on here.

An absolutely brilliant piece of work.

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 12:21 | 1456412 Marx_it_2_market.
Marx_it_2_market.'s picture

Harry Browne always said that gold would rise when real interest rates were cheap or even negative, and would fall when real interest rates were higher.  In the 1970's there was less concern, even for Browne, of a systemic collapse or Minsky Moment, IIRC. 

Excellent info from Mr. Coxon.  The decades have taught him good judgement and caution on timing.  Indeed, these are huge events that move very slowly.  LIke he said, the end game is coming in a few years - definitely not before November, 2012, and probably not until at least 2014, though obviously nothing is guaranteed.  Who would have thought Italy would start to fall before Spain, for instance ?

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 12:23 | 1456415 Marx_it_2_market.
Marx_it_2_market.'s picture

triple post Sorry, I'm new at this.

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 12:24 | 1456417 Marx_it_2_market.
Marx_it_2_market.'s picture

Triple post.  Sorry, I'm new at this.

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