Earlier this month, in an article for “Project Syndicate” famous American economist Nouriel Roubini joined the chorus of those who declare that the multi-year run up in the gold price was just an almighty bubble, that that bubble has now popped and that it will continue to deflate. Gold is now in a bear market, a multi-year bear market, and Roubini gives six reasons (he himself helpfully counts them down for us) for why gold is a bad investment. His arguments for a continued bear market in gold range from the indisputably accurate to the questionable and contradictory to the simply false and outright bizarre. But what is most worrying, and most disturbing, is Roubini’s pathetic attempt to label gold bugs political extremists. It is evident from Roubini’s essay that he not only considers the gold bugs to be wrong and foolish, they also annoy him profoundly. They anger him. Why? – Because he thinks they also have a “political agenda”. Gold bugs are destructive. They are misguided and even dangerous people.
Since Mr. Krugman tells us all this spending and debt issuance/guarantees are not only good and necessary but in the long run, painless, why are we bothering with personal income taxes?
The US government will collect approximately $2.0bn this year in Personal Income and Payroll taxes. But why? Why are we even bothering with this when today’s leading economists and politicians are telling us that debts/deficits don’t matter and running up astronomical debts is a long-term painless process? It’s practically patriotic. So why shouldn’t we just add our tax burden to the list of items the Fed should be monetizing? Seriously. Why not relieve the burden on every tax paying citizen in the United States (about 53% of us according to Mitt Romney)? You want an economic recovery? Reduce my taxes to zero and see how fast I go out and start spending some of that extra income.
Even if the monetary fuel for this whirl of self-reinforcement is not lacking, the market still needs a narrative around which it can cluster psychologically. It needs a canon of shared myth about which the bard can weave a reassuringly familiar refrain so as to reinforce the sense of community when the members of the clan gather to listen to his warblings amid the flickering fires and guttering torchlight of the Great Hall at night. Despite the bubbles everywhere, hastily shrugged off by the Chairman-in-chief we must add, we are still all suckers for a good saga. As far as we can see, the current narrative contains several key themes... What could possibly go wrong?
The anti-consumerism Degrowth movement is gaining visibility and adherents in Europe. Degrowth (French: décroissance, Spanish: decrecimiento, Italian: decrescita) recognizes that the mindless expansion of mindless consumption fueled by credit and financialization is qualitatively and quantitatively different from positive growth. In a very real way, Degrowth embraces the devolution of paid work and wealth that cannot be reversed. Growth and consumption based on financialization, expanding credit and phantom collateral is unsustainable and will devolve or implode. Rather than pine for what cannot be, it's far healthier to embrace using less of everything and increasing well-being by leveraging the web, the commons and what cannot be commoditized or financialized.
The policy approach that no one dares to question - "In the long-term, we need to fix our public finances. We’re on an unsustainable path that needs to be corrected to protect younger and future generations. But in the short-term, we need to focus on growth. The economy stinks and people are suffering. Any attempt to lower debt in these conditions would be folly. On the contrary, the government needs to provide more stimulus to promote growth" has no support to its key premise in business cycle history, the idea that the economy will return to full employment and stick there, allowing ample time for debt reduction. Once stimulus is removed, expansions often struggle to continue for much longer. And if the stimulus is replaced with restraint, it seems logical that the expansion’s expected life shortens further. In other words, there is no Magic Pendulum. What’s the typical life of an unassisted expansion? Based on the data presented here, I’ll call it two years.
A Roundup of Opinions
Now is the time to think about how you would live your life if your real value was appreciated and fairly compensated.
There is "not a chance," that the Fed will be able to unwind its balance sheet in an orderly manner, "because everybody is front-running [them]," as the Fed is creating "serial bubbles," that are increasingly hard to manage since "we're getting in deeper and deeper every time." David Stockman has been vociferously honest in the last few days and his Bloomberg Radio interview with Tom Keene was extremely so. While Keene tries his best to remain upbeat and his permabullish self, Stockman just keeps coming with body blow after body blow to the thesis that this 'recovery' is sustainable. "They are using a rosy scenario forecast for the next ten years that would make the rosy scenario of the 1981 Reagan administration look like an ugly duckling," he exclaims, adding that the Keynesian Krugmanites' confidence is "disingenuous" - "the elephant in the room - the Fed," that are for now enabling rates to stay where they are. The full transcript below provides much food for thought but he warns, if the Fed ever pulled back, even modestly, "there would be a tremendous panic sell off in the bond market because it is entirely propped up... It's to late to go cold turkey."
Our April Fool's wish: someone in the inner circle of power would finally tell the truth. In an unprecedented abandonment of his carefully scripted responses to Congressional questions, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke unleashed what appeared to be a heart-felt and spontaneous disavowal of the financial and political systems of the United States.
The below article, recreated in its grotesque entirety, is a real, serious Op-Ed written by a supposedly real, non page-view trolling, Nobel-prize winning economist, in a serious paper, the New York Times. It can be classified with one word: jaw-dropping:"We’re not going to resolve our long-run fiscal issues any time soon, which is O.K. — not ideal, but nothing terrible will happen if we don’t fix everything this year. Meanwhile, we face the imminent threat of severe economic damage from short-term spending cuts. So we should avoid that damage by kicking the can down the road. It’s the responsible thing to do."
Unfortunately, the spectacular rise of Wall Street’s securitization machine will likely forever frustrate attempts to ascertain the extent to which the Fed is responsible for what happened to the U.S. housing market and financial system in 2008. After all, it wouldn’t be fair to short sell (no pun intended) all the Special Purpose Vehicle sponsors, CDO asset managers, investors, and ratings agencies who, for at least five years, worked so hard to collapse the system.
The economy cannot recover without a complete cleansing of the excesses that have built up over the last half century plus. It is not a unique idea. It is a foundational belief of Austrian economics and an integral part of Austrian Business Cycle theory. Ludwig von Mises provided this fundamental observation: "Credit expansion can bring about a temporary boom. But such a fictitious prosperity must end in a general depression of trade, a slump." There has likely never been a boom so great (and so fictitious) as the one that this country experienced for the last several decades. Its origins began with the hubris of government economists in the decade of the 1960s who believed that the economy could be managed like a piece of machinery. This incorrect belief is still fundamental to Keynesian economists, despite the impressive string of failures it has produced. Markets are now trying to right these wrongs. Government is desperately trying to prevent the curative process.
It will not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent more than a few cursory minutes reading ZeroHedge over the past few years (initially here, and most recently here, and here) but the rolling 'beggar thy neighbor' currency strategies of world central banks are gathering pace. To wit, Bloomberg reports that energy-bound Russia's central bank chief appears to have broken ranks warning that "the world is on the brink of a fresh 'currency war'." With Japan openly (and actively) verbally intervening to depress the JPY and now Juncker's "dangerously high" comments on the EUR yesterday, it appears 2013 will be the year when the G-20 finance ministers (who agreed to 'refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies' in 2009) tear up their promises and get active. Rhetoric is on the rise with the Bank of Korea threatening "an active response", Russia now suggesting reciprocal devaluations will occur (and hurt the global economy) as RBA Governor noted that there is "a degree of disquiet in the global policy-making community." Critically BoE Governor Mervyn King has suggested what only conspiracists have offered before: "we'll see the growth of actively managed exchange rates," and sure enough where FX rates go so stocks will nominally follow (see JPY vs TOPIX and CHF vs SMI recently).
Almost a year ago, in February 2012, Zero Hedge decided to "think outside the box" and take Keynesianism and post-Chartalism (or whatever three letter acronym it is better known as these days) to their absurd, thought-experimental limits with "A Modest Proposal To Boost US GDP By $852 Quadrillion: Build The Imperial Death Star" - a suggestion that instead of growing US debt in dribs and drabs (because as any Ivy league tenured econ Ph.D will tell you, "debt is wealth"), that the US should go the whole hog and just splurge some $852 quadrillion in new debt (don't worry, MMT says that's just a token, no pun intended, amount) to build an Imperial Death Star, a project that would immediately hike US GDP by a factor of 56,000 and create several trillion new jobs, ensuring economic utopia in perpetuity, not to mention galactic dominance. We were mostly joking. We also assume that the creator of a White House petition launched in November to "Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016" was also mostly joking. However, as that petition promptly accumulated well over 34,000 signatures, the White House had no choice but to respond. Here are the White House's thoughts on becoming the next iteration of the Galactic Empire (and, by implication, Barack Obama becoming Emperor Palpatine reincarnated).
Rather than attempt to predict the unpredictable – that is, specific events and price levels – let’s look instead for key dynamics that will play out over the next two to three years. Though the specific timelines of crises are inherently unpredictable, it is still useful to understand the eventual consequences of influential trends. In other words: policies that appear to have been successful for the past four years may continue to appear successful for a year or two longer. But that very success comes at a steep, and as yet unpaid, price in suppressed systemic risk, cost, and consequence.