A hallmark of Obama’s second term will be wide scale mortgage debt relief.
It didn't take long for mainstream economists to provide us with some inane commentary regarding the latest natural catastrophe. Allegedly, the massive destruction of wealth hurricane 'Sandy' will leave behind has a 'silver lining'. We believe the main reason behind this stance is the unquestioned acceptance of one of Keynes' great fallacies: namely the idea that all economic activity – even unproductive activity – is somehow 'good'. Naturally, if it were really true that we could create economic progress by breaking windows or digging ditches (we will admit that pyramids at least render what one might term 'monument services', even if the expense seems hardly justified by this), then the government should pay half the population for digging ditches and hire the other half to wreak wanton destruction. The loss of wealth the hurricane has inflicted is very real; the wealth destroyed by it is most definitely gone.
Two of the saving features that allowed Japan to internalize 30-some years of failed fiscal and monetary policy (and yes, not one, not two, but now 8 failed iterations of quantitative easing) and to offset one relentless deflationary vortex was i) its demographics coupled with an investing culture that favors deposits and bonds over equities, which incentivized its aging population to invest its savings into government bonds, and ii) its trade surplus which led to foreign capital flows to enter the country. Well, as far as i) is concerned, Japan may have reached its demographic limit, since as reported several months ago, Japan's pension funds are now not only selling JGBs to meet redemption and cash needs, but forced to do truly stupid things like investing in the riskiest of assets to generate a return at any cost. In other words, demographics will no longer be a natural source of demand for deficit funds. As for ii), well... here is what has happened with Japan's trade surplus status in recent weeks following the collapse in the country's foreign relationship with China.
Define headline heaven? Any time you can gratuitoulsy insert the names Art Cashin, Becky Quick and Paul Krugman in the same title. Like in this case. HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.
"We have just spent 15 years learning that a policy of creating asset bubbles is a bad idea, so it is hard to imagine why the Fed wants to create another one. But perhaps the more basic question is: How fruitful is the wealth effect? Is the additional spending that these volatile paper profits are intended to induce overwhelmed by the lost consumption of the many savers who are deprived of steady, recurring interest income? We have asked several well-known economists who publicly support the Fed’s policy and found that they don’t have good answers. If Chairman Bernanke is setting distant and hard-to-achieve benchmarks for when he would reverse course, it is possibly because he understands that it may never come to that. Sooner or later, we will enter another recession. It could come from normal cyclicality, or it could come from an exogenous shock. Either way, when it comes, it is very likely we will enter it prior to the Fed having ‘normalized’ monetary policy, and we’ll have a large fiscal deficit to boot. What tools will the Fed and the Congress have at that point? If the Fed is willing to deploy this new set of desperate measures in these frustrating, but non-desperate times, what will it do then? We don’t know, but a large allocation to gold still seems like a very good idea."
Government programs created in the 1960s created a culture of dependency, government control, relentlessly higher debt, materialism, and willful ignorance. The incompetence, arrogance, ineptitude and insanity of government officials at the Federal, State, and Local level are stunning to behold. We need to ask ourselves whether we the people are getting better government service and efficiency today; with government spending at 35% to 40% of GDP, than we did in the 1950’s and early 1960’s when government spending was 20% to 25% of GDP. We doubt that most people are getting 60% more value from our benevolent government today than they did in the 1950’s. By encouraging dependency and reliance upon the all-powerful government, the motivation to educate yourself, get married before having children, work hard, and pull yourself out of poverty is diminished. Can a small minority of critical thinking citizens lead a revolution that topples the existing social order and restores the Republic to its founding principles of liberty, self-responsibility, civic duty, and mutual obligation to future generations?
The ability of reflationary policy to mute the worst risks of debt deflation has been a source of enormous frustration for stock market bears ever since the 2008 collapse. Yes, the initial moderate rally out of the S&P500’s black hole was perhaps not so surprising in 2009. Bombed-out stock markets can always manage some sort of rally. But the ability of the rally to continue through 2010, and then 2011, and now 2012 has been quite vexing and painful for bearish investors. Indeed, the entire post-2008 market phase has now produced an era of consistently poor performance for hedge funds. Recent data, for example, shows that an incredible 90% of hedge funds are underperforming the S&P500 through mid-September. Will the pain continue? If OECD policy makers do in fact lose stock markets as the main transmission mechanism for reflationary policy, then trouble of a very serious nature will make itself known in the biggest way imaginable since the 2008 crisis began.
The percentage of Americans who reside in the lowest income quintile and move up either to the middle quintile or higher has been in decline over the past three decades. This statistic should be alarming as it is indicative of stagnation within an economy that supposedly fosters the entrepreneurial spirit. In a world of scarcity, opportunity for a better life is an ever-present reality. In the marketplace, success is achieved by making others better off. Achievement for the state means trampling on the rights of others. One embodies the elements of peace and cooperation which give way to fostering incalculable opportunities to thrive. The other results in a perpetual state of conflict between those who “pay the taxes” and “those who are the recipients of their proceeds.” The state creates opportunity for latter and decimates it for the former. The only way to set free the innovative minds who build wealth and opportunity is to scale back this exploitive state of affairs.
According to the Paul Krugman, the “confidence fairy” is the erroneous belief that ambiguity over future government regulation and taxation plays a significant role in how investors choose to put capital to work. To the Nobel laureate, the anemic economic recovery in the United States shouldn’t be blamed on this “uncertainty” but rather a “lack of demand for the things workers produce.” The theory which puts a lack of aggregate demand as being the cause of economic recessions has the issue backwards. Demand by itself doesn’t add to the stock of goods in society; only production does. Because economic theory deals with the interactions of mankind it needs to be applicable to all times and places. On a desert island, only a true charlatan would insist that a “lack of demand” is holding the primitive economy back from its full potential. Desert islands are no different from today’s economy; both are still dominated by scarcity. If the world economy is ever going to recover, the obstacles put in business’s place have to be lifted to make way for investment in real, tangible goods and services. Consumption will come after.
The problem we are going to face at some point as a nation and in fact as a civilization is this: there is no well-developed economic theory inside the corridors of power that will explain to the administrators of a failed system what they should do after the system collapses. This was true in the Eastern bloc in 1991. There was no plan of action, no program of institutional reform. This is true in banking. This is true in politics. This is true in every aspect of the welfare-warfare state. The people at the top are going to be presiding over a complete disaster, and they will not be able to admit to themselves or anybody else that their system is what produced the disaster. So, they will not make fundamental changes. They will not restructure the system, by decentralizing power, and by drastically reducing government spending. They will be forced to decentralize by the collapsed capital markets. The welfare-warfare state, Keynesian economics, and the Council on Foreign Relations are going to suffer major defeats when the economic system finally goes down. The system will go down. It is not clear what will pull the trigger, but it is obvious that the banking system is fragile, and the only thing capable of bailing it out is fiat money. The system is sapping the productivity of the nation, because the Federal Reserve's purchases of debt are siphoning productivity and capital out of the private sector and into those sectors subsidized by the federal government.
When it comes to diving trends in the Fed's take over of the Treasury market, there are those who haven't got the faintest clue about what is going on, such as Paul Krugman, who naively looks (as Bernanke expects all economists to) at the simple total notional of securities held by the Fed and concludes that the Fed is not doing anything to adjust fixed income risk-preference, and then there are those who grasp that when it comes to defining risk exposure in the bond market, and therefore in equities, all that matters is duration, expressed in terms of ten-year equivalents. Sadly, this is a data set that not every CTRL-V major or Nobel prize winner (in order of insight) can grab from the St. Louis Fed - it is however available to those who know where to look. And as the chart below shows, even as the Fed's balance sheet has remained flat in notional terms, its Ten Year equivalent exposure has soared, rising by 50% during Operation Twist alone, from $900 billion to $1.313 trillion. What this means in practical terms, as Stone McCarthy summarizes, is that the Fed now owns 27.05% of the entire inventory in outstanding ten-year equivalents. This leaves less than 75% of the market in private hands.
It appears it is after all not Scott Sumner who 'saved the US economy' by urging the helicopter pilot to create even more money ex nihilo than hitherto. What will save us instead is Apple, or rather, its latest product, the iPhone 5. Who needs Bernanke when this wondrous device stands ready to pull the economy up by its bootstraps? A story has made the rounds lately – propagated by 'economist' (we should use the term loosely…) Michael Feroli at JP Morgan, that sales of the iPhone "could potentially add from one-quarter to one-half of a percentage point to the growth rate of U.S. gross domestic product in the final quarter of the year”. If we were to assume that he is correct, then what this would mainly tell us is how useless a statistic GDP actually is. However, what really takes the cake is a small posting of Krugman's on the same topic entitled “Broken Windows and the iPhone 5”. This view is erroneous – economic laws are not dependent on economic conditions. This is akin to arguing that the laws of nature will cease to be operational on Wednesdays. In Krugman's capable hands, a fallacy becomes a 'theory'.
"A serious inflationary disaster will only be prevented if governments succeed in reducing their deficits and stop selling bonds" is how the infamous destroyer of Krugman, Pedro Schwartz, describes the dangerous 'tennis match' being played between The Fed and The ECB. In an excellent interview with GoldMoney's James Turk, the Spanish 'Austrian' economist talks about bank regulation, the creation of money out of thin air, and the beauty of a trult free market system. From fictional reserve lending to the fragility (and boom-bust cycles) of our financial system, the mild-mannered 'Keynesian-Krusher' concludes that "there has to be a change in social mentality - so that people realize that nothing is free, and the government has to shrink."
By now everyone has heard the infamous Mitt Romney speech discussing the "47%" if primarily in the context of how this impacts his political chances, and how it is possible that a president "of the people" can really be a president "of the 53%." Alas, there has been very little discussion of the actual underlying facts behind this statement, which ironically underestimates the sad reality of America's transition to a welfare state. Recall Art Cashin's math from a month ago that when one adds the 107 million Americans already receiving some form of means-tested government welfare, to the 46 million seniors collecting Medicare and 22 million government employees at the federal, state and local level, and "suddenly, over 165 million people, a clear majority of the 308 million Americans counted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, are at least partially dependents of the state." Yes, Romney demonstrated potentially terminal lack of tact and contextual comprehension with his statement, and most certainly did alienate a substantial chunk of voters (most of whom would not have voted for him in the first place) but the math is there. The same math that inevitably fails when one attempts to reconcile how the $100+ trillion in underfunded US welfare liabilities will someday be funded. Yet the above is for political pundits to debate, if not resolve. Because there is no resolution. What we did want to bring attention to, is something else that Mitt Romney said, which has received no prominence in the mainstream media from either side. The import of the Romney statement is critical as it reveals just what the endgame may well looks like.
As the FT reports today “In early scenes from Goethe’s tragedy, Mephistopheles persuades the heavily indebted Holy Roman Emperor to print paper money – notionally backed by gold that had not yet been mined – to solve an economic crisis, with initially happy results until more and more money is printed and rampant inflation ensues.” The classic play highlighted, Weidmann argued, “the core problem of today’s paper money-based monetary policy” and the “potentially dangerous correlation of paper money creation, state financing and inflation”. In yesterday’s speech in Frankfurt, Goethe’s birthplace, he said: “The state in Faust Part Two is able at first to rid itself of its debts while consumer demand grows strongly and fuels a strong recovery. But this later develops into inflation and the monetary system is destroyed by rapid currency depreciation.” The name Mephistopheles as used by Goethe comes from the Hebrew word for destroyer or liar. Mephistopheles is a fallen archangel, one of the 7 great princes of Hell and in Goethe’s ‘Faust.’ Mephistopheles is acting for his overlord Satan and seals the pact with Faust. Weidmann is suggesting that the ECB’s current monetary policies are a Faustian pact or a pact with the Devil and that they secure short term gain but will end in the disaster of rampant inflation.