Since this is the season for giving thanks in the US, we might give some consideration to the unsung heroes who have been underwriting a big chunk of our economic recovery of late. Actually, we literally owe our future to them - in more ways than one. Since there are no free lunches in economics (that we all must agree on), somebody has to pay for this. And it should be obvious by now who that will be: our children and grandchildren (and at this rate, probably their children and grandchildren too).
Financial markets are broken. Fundamental analysis and Modern Portfolio Theory are relics of the past. Investors used to care about maximizing a portfolio’s expected return for a given amount of targeted risk. Fed policies have led to (investor) herd behavior that has plunged market volatilities and manipulated asset prices and correlations to lofty levels. The allure of the Fed’s magic spell has lapsed investors into a soporific state of cognitive dissonance, with them focusing more on trying to justify valuations, rather than on the Upside Downside Capture Ratio. Markets have thus mutated into one of two possible combustible states. Either financial assets have all transcended into prodigious bubbles, or stocks and bonds are signifying two completely separate outcomes. Either possibility will have dangerous repercussions for the economy, and for portfolios and investors.
Most market pundits have predicted higher bond yields (for months), yet unloved global fixed income securities have traded well all year. Even after the dovish FOMC reiterated its intent to maintain a highly-accommodative stance, bonds have stayed resilient. The main cause of market jitteriness might be that investors are beginning to sense the ‘time-inconsistency’ aspects of Fed policy.
Anyone reading the regular Federal Open Market Committee press releases can easily envision Chairman Yellen and the Federal Reserve team at the economic controls, carefully adjusting the economy’s price level and employment numbers. The dashboard of macroeconomic data is vigilantly monitored while the monetary switches, accelerators, and other devices are constantly tweaked, all in order to “foster maximum employment and price stability." The Federal Reserve believes increasing the money supply spurs economic growth, and that such growth, if too strong, will in turn cause price inflation. But if the monetary expansion slows, economic growth may stall and unemployment will rise. So the dilemma can only be solved with a constant iterative process: monetary growth is continuously adjusted until a delicate balance exists between price inflation and unemployment. This faulty reasoning finds its empirical justification in the Phillips curve. Like many Keynesian artifacts, its legacy governs policy long after it has been rendered defunct.
Economics is all about making rational decisions given some set of likes and dislikes. It doesn’t presume to tell you what you should like or dislike, and it assumes that you do in fact know what you like or dislike. Or at least that’s what economic theory used to proclaim. Today economic theory is used as the intellectual foundation for a political stratagem that goes something like this: you do not know what you truly like, and in particular you do not know your economic self-interest, but luckily for you we are here to fix that. This is the common strand between QE and Obamacare. The former says that you are wrong to prefer safety to risk in your investments, and so we will fix that misconception of yours by making it extremely painful for you not to take greater investment risks than you would otherwise prefer. The latter says that you are wrong to prefer no health insurance or a certain type of health insurance to another type of health insurance, and so we will make it illegal for you to do anything but purchase a policy that we are certain you would prefer if only you were thinking more clearly about all this.
Pushing the neo-liberal argument further than it wants to go, with interesting results.
The New Deal social insurance philosophers thus struck a Faustian bargain... To get government funded pensions and unemployment benefits for the most needy, they eschewed a means test and, instead, agreed to generous wage replacement on a universal basis. To fund the massive cost of these universal benefits they agreed to a regressive payroll tax by disguising it as an insurance premium. Yet the long run results could not have been more perverse. The payroll tax has become an anti-jobs monster, but under the banner of a universal entitlement organized labor tenaciously defends what should be its nemesis. The puzzling thing is that 75 years later - with all the terrible facts fully known - the doctrinaire conviction abides on the Left that social insurance is the New Deal’s crowning achievement. In fact, it is its costliest mistake.
Whether or not you believe it would have made a difference to 'know' or not, the facts are that over the course of US economic history, you rarely know you're in a recession until long after it starts. Would you still chase day after day? Could you stand to watch the greater fools buying in the belief they are not the patsy? The following six facts might put things into perspective...
Nassim Taleb sits down for a quite extensive interview based around his new book Anti-Fragile. Whether the Black Swan best-seller is philosopher or trader is up to you but the discussion is worth the time as Taleb wonders rigorously from the basic tenets of capitalism - "being more about disincentives that incentives" as failure (he believes) is critical to its success (and is clearly not allowed in our current environment) - to his intellectual influences (and total disdain for the likes of Krugman, Stiglitz, and Friedman - who all espouse grandiose and verbose work with no accountability whatsoever). His fears of large centralized states (such as the US is becoming and Europe is become) being prone to fail along with his libertarianism make for good viewing. However, his fundamental premise that TBTF banks should be nationalized and the critical importance of 'skin in the game' for a functioning financial system are all so crucial for the current 'do no harm' regime in which we live. Grab a beer (or glass of wine, it is Taleb) and watch...
In the fall of 1996, John Cassidy arranged to interview Paul Samuelson in his office at M.I.T. for an article he was writing on the state of economics. He began by asking Samuelson whether he was still a Keynesian: "I call myself a post-Keynesian," Samuelson replied. "The 1936 Model A Keynesianism is passé..." He recalled attending an event that was held in Cambridge, England, in 1986 to mark the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of Keynes's birth. "Everybody was there. And they all stood up and said, 'I am still a faithful Keynesian. I am still a true believer.' I was a bit rude. I said, 'You remind me of a bunch of Nazis saying, I’m still a good Nazi.' It’s not a theology: it’s a mode of analysis. I think I am a different Keynesian than I was ten years ago."
The next time someone has the temerity to tell you you can't spend your way to uber-wealth, first spit in their non-Keynesian face, and then make yourself a little richer by buying the following broken record (or CD): "Deck the halls with Macro follies" featuring the following mega hits "Oh GDP" by Paul Samuelson and "Income Equals Expenditure" By J.M Keynes (as well as their far less known B-siders such as Hayek). So don't delay, and get rich today the moar, moar, moar, moar spending way.
The other day the Huffington Post ran an article by a Bonnie Kavoussi called “11 Lies About the Federal Reserve.” And you’ll never guess: these aren’t lies or myths spread in the financial press by Fed apologists. These are “lies” being told by you and me, opponents of the Fed. Bonnie Kavoussi calls us “Fed-haters.” So she, a Fed-lover, is at pains to correct these alleged misconceptions. She must stop us stupid ingrates from poisoning our countrymen’s minds against this benevolent array of experts innocently pursuing economic stability. Here are the 11 so-called lies (she calls them “myths” in the actual rendering), and Tom Woods and Bob Murphy's responses.
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.
It is hard enough to determine what, when and how to invest even with solid data. We live in an unpredictable and chaotic world, and the last thing that investors need is misinformation and distortions. That is why the LIBOR manipulation scandal is so infuriating; as banks skewed the figures, they skewed entire marketplaces. The level of economic distortion is incalculable — as LIBOR is used to price hundreds of trillions of assets, the effects cascaded across the entire financial system and the wider world. An unquantifiable number of good trades were made bad, and vice verse. Yet in truth we should not expect anything else from a self-reported system like LIBOR. Without real checks and balances to make sure that the data is sturdy, data should be treated as completely unreliable.
Unsurprisingly, it is emerging that many more self-reported figures may have been skewed by self-reporting bullshittery.
Explaining why and how the global monetary system is failing, why it is too late to stop, what will come next, and why the crisis is only financial – not commercial.