2012 was an odd year in many senses. The Fed and the ECB are both verging on $4 trillion balance sheets, the total for all of the world’s central banks is $14 trillion and these small pieces of paper float around in the breeze and are plucked at will to feed the fires of Wall Street. When all of the central banks on the planet work in concert then, without off-world bourses, there is no place else left to go and the spatial restraints of our planet are the same boundaries for the investment of money. Here then we find the explanation of 2012. It is not a dot-com bubble or a real estate bubble or a specific bubble of any type at all or any we have ever seen but the Big Lebowski, the giant squid, the mother of all Blue Whales and the days of living in some place that we have never occupied before. Those that bet with the central banks have prospered, made fortunes, become vastly richer but how long does this game go on and is there a way out that is devoid of the usual pain to be found in contractions. The bet of last year was to place your money with the bankers-at-large but will that be the correct bet of this year as the plastic is stretched so thin now that a misstep, the politics of nationalism either of the funding or the funded bursts the balloon and sends it cascading around the room in some wildly gyrating manner.
What a long and wild ride it has been since then and the forks in the road have been marked with turmoil, disdain and an ever increasing amount of debt for this small nation. The solution for each and every problem has been more money appended by more taxes and more austerity measures and the Greeks keep lining up and will keep lining up until the cash dries up and then other conclusions will be found. You may think it is a never ending story and that the current act will go on forever but that would not be my bet nor do I think it is a likely conclusion. Whether it is the German Parliament or the IMF or some other nation in Europe under the guise of nationalism and prudence who has had enough and rightly says, “That is enough;” there is an ultimate endpoint to this game.
The world has done everything humanly possible to put off any tough financial decisions and that is especially true in Europe and in America. The leaders on both Continents just cannot take the heat and so everything possible has been pushed forward in the hopes that economies will improve and that growth will cure the ills brought on by the lack of any real leadership. The centerpiece of the success of lower yields in all of the countries in Europe rests squarely upon Draghi’s “Save the World” plan where the ECB will backstop everything. A careful examination of the numbers and the possibilities limit what can be done in 2013 and the countries in question are Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, Spain and Italy. The other side of the coin here is social unrest that I believe will surface in the spring so that the present general belief that things have improved in Europe is nothing more than a hope which is fashioned by political design. The debt to GDP ratios for each nation in Europe are nothing more than gimmickry. The central banks, phony accounting and a promise by the ECB may well have saved 2012 from an implosion but 2013 brings a new set of circumstances that are far less appealing than last year. Stay safe!
More than half a decade has passed since the recession that triggered the financial panic and the Great Recession, but the condition of the world continues to be summed up by what The Spectator's Michael Lind calls ‘turboparalysis’ - a prolonged condition of furious motion without movement in any particular direction, a situation in which the engine roars and the wheels spin but the vehicle refuses to move. By now one might have expected the emergence of innovative and taboo-breaking schools of thought seeking to account for and respond to the global crisis. But to date there is no insurgent political and intellectual left, nor a new right, for that matter. Why has a global calamity produced so little political change and, at the same time, so little rethinking? Part of the answer, has to do with the collapse of the two-way transmission belt that linked the public to the political elite. But there is a deeper, structural reason for the persistence of turboparalysis. And that has to do with the power and wealth that incumbent elites accumulated during the decades of the global bubble economy. But it is coming...
Forecasting the future with any accuracy is a difficult affair. Being right about the facts, often obscured by various governments, and then correct in your deductions is never enough as macro impacts such as Draghi’s “Save the World” plan can often change the face of market outcomes in a New York minute. This is why so few people can predict the future of the markets with much accuracy. The central banks of the world have accumulated balance sheets of about 15 trillion dollars. There will be consequences of this including inflation, valuation of currencies and ultimately defaults as motivated by political and economic decisions. In the spring keep your eye on Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy as nationalism returns to protect the various nations. In the United States rancor will resurface. Like in Europe, the “have-nots” control the votes but the push-backs will come and the intensity of them may startle many as the House refuses to accede to the demands and cries for the sharing of wealth. Polarization will continue and a shift in the population base will bring intense rivalry from one State to the next.
The ascent of the Democratic Party of Japan marked the end of Japan's one-party state, dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party since the 1955. However, the DPJ was unable to address the challenges Japan faced, was internally unstable, as illustrated by the revolving door in the prime minister's office, and spent scarce political clout to support a controversial retail sales tax increase.
The LDP has returned to power. Its ascent is a victory for the old elite. Reports suggest that half of the cabinet positions were given to members of parliament who had inherited their Diet seats from their families. The LDP's program, or Abenomics as it has been dubbed, seeks to strengthen the domestic economy and enhance Japan's ability to project its power internationally.
The return of inflation, in official Japanese liberal newspeak, will make the economy less sickly even if the strategy "has risks". One of these is war with China, if only as a (Japanese) crowd pleaser, and another is selling off Japan's over-one-trillion dollar holding of US Federal debt at exactly the right psychological moment to implode the US economy, already teetering on the brink of its fiscal cliff. Japan's endgame flirt with Neoliberal mindwarp, what we can call the "slogan based economy", has brought about a situation where War and Circuses is surely on the Japanese political agenda, along with Japan's threats to sabotage the global economy. The inventors of kamikaze suicide war now have an Old Guard of political deciders who are prepared to pilot the economy straight into the ground, while bleating about "national pride".
To some, such as those few whose daily net worth is still a function of the policy vehicle formerly known as the 'market', it is a merry Christmas (at least until such time as the recoupling between central planning and reality once again inevitably occurs). To others, such as the 50 million (by now) Americans on food stamps, and billions of others around the world living in conditions of poverty, it is not so merry. But no matter one's current state of one's mind, there is always hope that the future will bring better days: after all that is what reflective holidays such as today are all about. We too hope that there is hope, if at the same time realizing that ever more of the promise of the future is packaged away in chunks of debt and securitized in order to fund an unsustainable present. We open up this open thread to readers to share their hopes and concerns about the present and the future.
The Hunger Games trilogy of books (and rapidly expanding film franchise) is set in a dystopian future of depleted natural resources, with humanity clinging to survival in the wake of unspecified environmental apocalypse. The Capitol governs what remains of North America, with its citizens enjoying a lifestyle redolent with material possessions - albeit often financed by debt. Meanwhile the populations of the Districts toil in dangerous conditions, generally without basic political rights, to provide the Capitol with the consumer goods that its citizens demand. UBS' Paul Donovan notes that the parallels to modern society are not stretched too far here. Substitute the OECD for the Capitol and a number of emerging markets for the Districts, and we are viewing the world today reflected back from a distorting mirror as a grotesque image of modern reality. The challenge faced by humanity today is the unsustainable nature of modern living. Borrowing future standards of living to enhance current standards of living is all credit is about.
The outcome of Japan's elections seems to be largely in line with market expectations. The Liberal Democrat Party won handily. It appears to have secured a majority of lower chamber of the Diet.
There had been some reports suggesting that it might be able to achieve a super-majority of 2/3, but this does not look to materialized. However, with its traditional party, the Komeito, together it may.
In any event, this is a strong mandate for the LDP's agenda. It is a combination of nationalism and what passes for socialism in the neo-liberal age, namely increased government support for the economy via a) massive public spending and 2) unlimited monetary easing.
We are in a “different moment” now than in the past several years and that is the point of my commentary today. Promises have come and gone, the central banks have supported the fiscal system as political decision making waned with indecision and the difficulties of the choices. Complacency took hold as a kind of “everything will be fine” mentality inundated the market places. Soon, in my opinion, everything will not be quite so fine as the politicians in America and Europe have to earn their salaries and the ramifications of many decisions are going to be unpleasant as they are released. If we regard America’s fiscal cliff or the pending decisions about Greece or the separatist movement in Spain or the lack of a budget for the European Union; it is all politically centered and the battlefields are rife with perhaps surprising decisions. In each of these four arenas the easy answers have now come and gone. The “can kicking” if you will is over.
Western culture is presently defined by many things; one of which being an instilled sense of extreme jaundice toward wealth. Before the twentieth century and the ascendance of the all-intrusive state, sumptuous living was typically seen as something to aspire to. No doubt Karl Marx would beam with pleasure in seeing how the contemporary bourgeoisie is regarded with hateful suspicion. His plan of crippling class warfare is slowly taking hold. This isn’t for the reasons Marx envisioned however. The so-called “people” have been indoctrinated to see wealth as something to take by government force. A great deal of this can be attributed to the government granting of privilege to the well-connected. As long as the state exists, there will be a class of people who use political means to acquire vast swaths of riches. Coercive egalitarianism based on ill feelings of Schadenfreud is a cancer. There is no conceivable benefit in everyone being equal. There is only one moral social system and that is free, unadulterated capitalism which gives everyone the chance to improve their own standing. Anything less represents the triumph of the idiotic masses over good sense.
For those of us that still do not fully understand how bankers have seized absolute power in all governments worldwide and the ploys that they use to keep us dependent upon their largesses, the video "The Story of Your Enslavement" is for you.
"No matter where you stand, no matter how far or how fast you flee, when it hits the fan, as much as possible will be propelled in your direction, and you will not possess a towel large enough to wipe all of it off."
You thought it was tough; it is going to get tougher. You thought that Europe would not affect America and that we lived in some sort of bubble over here; think again. You thought that the liquidity provided by the world’s major central banks would carry us across the divide and intact; keep dreaming. We are at the cross roads...
With this evening's news that Japan and the USA are 'backing down' from a planned 'joint security drill' to recapture a remote 'uninhabited' island in Okinawa province (apparently amid concerns of backlash from Beijing); and chatter of the PBoC gauging demand for reverse repos (instead of flooding us with newly minted Yuan which everyone believes is just the remedy), it seems very clear who the world's super-power is (militarily and economically). Furthermore, as The Diplomat explains, multi-faceted challenges to the new leadership — possible economic stagnation, social unrest, elite disunity, and a revival of pro-democracy forces — will make it more distracted and less politically capable to maintain discipline on numerous actors now involved in China's foreign policy. The effects of such accumulated internal woes, while not necessarily aggressive, are certain to be an erratic pattern of behavior that both worries and puzzles China's neighbors and the rest of the international community. As they note, the only thing we are certain about is undertainty. "Be careful what you wish for. A weaker China could nevertheless inflict serious damage to the world order."