For the last several days, I’ve been weaving between northern Italy and Switzerland checking out great places to bank, new places to store gold, and taking in these gorgeous lake views. Every single time I’ve crossed the border, I’ve been met by rather snarly police on both sides; they’re stopping cars, turning people’s trunks inside out, and causing major traffic problems. A friend of mine who came up on the train from Florence to meet me for lunch in Lugano said he was stopped at the border for nearly an hour as thuggish customs agents randomly questioned train passengers and demanded to see their IDs. So much for Europe’s 26-country ‘borderless area.’ Based on Europe’s 1985 Schengen Treaty and 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, you’re supposed to be able to drive from Tallinn, Estonia to Lisbon, Portgual without so much as slowing down at the border. This is not dissimilar from driving between states in the US or provinces in Canada. Yet as Europe descends into greater financial and social chaos, leaders are starting to ignore these agreements which guarantee freedom of movement across the continent.
Every government entity that reckoned it was moated from the market economy will be snapped back to "discover" risk and consequence. Let's lay out the dynamic:
1. Every government can only spend what its economy generates in surplus.
2. Every government transfers risk and consequence from itself, its employees and its favored vested interests to the citizenry and taxpayers.
3. Every government collects and distributes the surplus of its private sector to its employees, favored constituencies and vested interests.
4. Since the government (State) promises guaranteed salaries, benefits and entitlements to its employees and favored constituencies, these individuals believe they are living in a risk-free Wonderland that is completely protected from the market economy.
5. Risk cannot be repealed or eliminated, it can only be masked or transferred to others.
The system of corporatism we have today has far more akin with Marxism and “social management” than Marxists might like to admit. Both corporatism and Marxism are forms of central economic control; the only difference is that under Marxism, the allocation of capital is controlled by the state bureaucracy-technocracy, while under corporatism the allocation of capital is undertaken by the state apparatus in concert with large financial and corporate interests. The corporations accumulate power from the legal protections afforded to them by the state (limited liability, corporate subsidies, bailouts), and politicians can win re-election showered by corporate money. The fundamental choice that we face today is between economic freedom and central economic planning. The first offers individuals, nations and the world a complex, multi-dimensional allocation of resources, labour and capital undertaken as the sum of human preferences expressed voluntarily through the market mechanism. The second offers allocation of resources, labour and capital by the elite — bureaucrats, technocrats and special interests. The first is not without corruption and fallout, but its various imperfect incarnations have created boundless prosperity, productivity and growth. Incarnations of the second have led to the deaths by starvation of millions first in Soviet Russia, then in Maoist China... As the financial system and the financial oligarchy continue to blunder from crisis to crisis, more and more people will surely become entangled in the seductive narratives of Marxism. More and more people may come to blame markets and freedom for the problems of corporatism and statism. This is deeply ironic — the Marxist tendency toward central planning and control exerts a far greater influence on the policymakers of today than the Hayekian or Smithian tendency toward decentralisation and economic freedom.
Fourteen years ago during the Asian financial crisis, Indonesia endured a currency collapse, a severe 2-year recession, and an embarrassing IMF bailout. Western bureaucrats wagged their fingers incessantly at Indonesia, lecturing the country about the dangers of excess and fiscal irresponsibility. How sweet the irony is. In a stunning rags-to-riches story, Indonesia contributed US$1 billion to the IMF last week in order to help bail out bankrupt Western nations. Unlike Japan, the US, and Europe — which all seem to think the answer to an economic bust brought on by a debt-binge is to borrow and spend even more money– Indonesia took its medicine when its economy collapsed back in 1998. Ironically, US President Barack Obama spent some of his childhood in this same suburb of Jakarta. Unfortunately, as he pulls out all stops to cling to power for a second term, the kind of tough decisions that could help the US emerge from its economic malaise have no chance of being made. It’s the ENTIRE system that’s the problem. And that goes for nearly every Western, “free market,” democracy out there.
For those Americans earning between $34,500 and $106,000, the real-world middle class tax burden in high-tax locales is 15% + 25% + 5% + 15% + 15% = 75%. Yes, 75%. Before you start listing the innumerable caveats and quibbles raised by any discussion of taxes, please hear me out first. Let's start by defining "taxes" as any fee that is mandated by law or legal necessity. In other words, taxes are what is not optional. If we include all taxes, the real-world tax rate is much higher than the "official" income tax rate.
I understand the dream of the common socialist. I was, after all, once a Democrat. I understand the disparity created in our society by corporatism (not capitalism, though some foolish socialists see them as exactly the same). I understand the drive and the desire to help other human beings, especially those in dire need, and the tendency to see government as the ultimate solution to all our problems. That said, let’s be honest; government is in the end just a tool used by one group or another to implement a particular methodology or set of principles. Unfortunately, what most socialists today don’t seem to understand is that no matter what strategies they devise, they will NEVER have control. And, those they wish to help will be led to suffer, because the establishment does not care about them, or you. The establishment does not think of what it can give, it thinks about what it can take. Socialism, in the minds of the elites, is a con-game which allows them to quarry the favor of the serfs, and nothing more. There are other powers at work in this world; powers that have the ability to play both sides of the political spectrum. The money elite have been wielding the false left/right paradigm for centuries, and to great effect. Whether socialism or corporatism prevails, they are the final victors, and the game continues onward… Knowing this fact, I find that my reactions to the entire Obamacare debate rather muddled. Really, I see the whole event as a kind of circus, a mirage, a distraction. Perhaps it is because I am first and foremost an economic analyst, and when looking at Obamacare and socialization in general, I see no tangibility. I see no threat beyond what we as Americans already face. Let me explain…
The idea that short-duration bond funds are a good bet due to “the FED’s complete control with regards to suppressing and maintaining short-term interest rates” is completely wrong on every level; they’ve been a losing investment in real terms for most of the last 5 years, and the Fed is determined to keep it that way. The Fed’s control over nominal interest rates is precisely the reason that I wouldn’t want to invest in treasuries; not only has it consistently made bonds into a real losing proposition, but it also creates a good deal of systemic currency risk. Simply, the Fed will — in the pursuit of low-rates — monetise to the point of endangering the dollar’s already-under-threat reserve currency status. The only things that would turn bonds into a winning proposition — rising interest rates, or deflation — are anathema to the Fed, and explicitly opposed by every dimension of current Fed policy. Of course, creating artificial demand for treasuries to control nominal rates has blowback; if the buyers are not there, the Fed must inflate the currency. Hiding inflation is hard, so it is preferable to a central bank that old money is used; this is why Japan has mandated that financial institutions buy treasuries, and why I fear that if we continue on this trajectory, that the United States and other Western economies may do the same thing.
The past few years have produced an impression of the Chinese government that it is invincible, and it has miraculous control over the economic machine, that the slowdown is “intentionally” engineered by the government and everything within the economy is still very much under control. Unfortunately, most who use this argument to justify that the slowdown is not a big problem have all invariably forgotten that most economic slowdowns in recent memories started with central banks tightening monetary policy to control inflation and slow down the economy, and most, if not all, of the cases ended with recession that they did not want to get into. Many have also not realized how difficult it would be for China to relate its way out of a debt deflation. So how different China is in this regard is totally beyond our comprehension, and we are forced to suggest that the believers of China cult have gone delusional. As the economic slowdown becomes a reality and a hard landing unavoidable, more of the problems we have identified will surface. The cult will surely die within the next few years at most. The only questions are when it will finally die, and whether it will suffer a violent death or slow death.
The gold exchange standard period, which followed WW2, was a period of unprecedented and unparalleled expansion, productivity growth, technological innovation, and financial stability. The Bank of England’s recent report on the gold standard periods concluded:
"Overall the gold standard appeared to perform reasonably well against its financial stability and allocative efficiency objectives."
The BBC concludes by quoting former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lawson:
"You can’t force a government to stay on gold, so therefore gold has no credibility."
Do you see the cognitive dissonance here? If we are to believe Lord Lawson, gold has no credibility, because governments have previously proven themselves untrue to their word. Surely the thing that has no credibility is not gold, but government promises? And that is the answer to the BBC’s initial question.
Potential employers have to respond to the incentives and disincentives that exist in today's world, and those do not favor conventional permanent employees. We know you're hard-working, motivated, tech-savvy and willing to learn. The reason we can't hire you has nothing to do with your work ethic or skills; it's the high-cost of the Status Quo, and the many perverse consequences of maintaining a failing Status Quo. The sad truth is that it's costly and risky to hire anyone to do anything, and "bankable projects" that might generate profit/require more labor are few and far between. The economy is different now, and wishing it were unchanged from 30 years ago won't reverse the clock. We have to respond to the incentives and disincentives that exist in today's world, and those do not favor conventional permanent employees except in sectors that are largely walled off from the market economy: government, healthcare, etc. But these moated sectors cannot remain isolated from the deflationary market economy forever.
Here’s a really wild hypothesis: if the LIBOR rate was under manipulation in 2008, is it not possible that the inter-bank lending rate spike (and resultant credit freeze) was at least partly a product of manipulation by the banking cartel? Could the manipulators have purposely exacerbated the freeze, to get a bigger and quicker bailout? After all, the banking system sucked $29 trillion out of the taxpayer following 2008. That’s a pretty big payoff. LIBOR profoundly affects credit availability — and the bailouts were directly designed to combat a freeze in credit availability. If market participants were manipulating or rigging LIBOR, they were manipulating a variable directly tied to the bailouts.
Ah Moldova… the poorest country in Europe, which just so happens to have had a Communist party majority in its parliament since 1998. These two points are not unrelated. Despite having achieved its independence from the Soviet Union over 20 years ago, the state is still a major part of the Moldovan economy…from setting prices and wages to media, healthcare, agricultural production, air transport, and electricity. Under such management, it’s no wonder, for example, that Moldova has to import 75% of its electricity. It is the exact opposite of self-sustaining. The government does a reasonable job of chasing away foreigners as well. Agriculture is the mainstay of Moldova’s economy… and while on one hand they say “we welcome foreign investment in agriculture,” on the other they say “foreign investors cannot own agricultural property.” It’s genius.
Replacing old impaired debt with new impaired debt does not generate growth. Borrowing more money will not reverse financial death spirals. Sorry, Bucko--Europe is still in a financial death spiral. Friday's "fix" changed nothing except the names of entities holding impaired debt. We can lay out the death spiral dynamics thusly:
I’ll be the first to admit the incredible aggravation I feel whenever liberty is trampled upon by the state’s obedient minions. Everywhere you look, government has its gun cocked back and ready to fire at any deviation from its violently imposed rules of order. A four year old can’t even open a lemonade stand without first bowing down and receiving a permit from bureaucrats obsessed with micromanaging private life. The state’s stranglehold on freedom is as horrendous as it is disheartening. The worst part is that the trend shows no signs of slowing down, let alone reversing. Politicians are always developing some harebrained scheme to mold society in such a way to circumvent the individual in favor of total dictation. If it isn’t politicians, then it’s an army of unelected bureaucrats acting as mini-dictators.
Markets are true democracies. The allocation of resources, capital and labour is achieved through the mechanism of spending, and so based on spending preferences. As money flows through the economy the popular grows and the unpopular shrinks. Producers receive a signal to produce more or less based on spending preferences. Markets distribute power according to demand and productivity; the more you earn, the more power you accumulate to allocate resources, capital and labour. As the power to allocate resources (i.e. money) is widely desired, markets encourage the development of skills, talents and ideas. Planned economies have a track record of failure, in my view because they do not have this democratic dimension. The state may claim to be “scientific”, but as Hayek conclusively illustrated, the lack of any real feedback mechanism has always led planned economies into hideous misallocations of resources, the most egregious example being the collectivisation of agriculture in both Maoist China and Soviet Russia that led to mass starvation and millions of deaths. The market’s resource allocation system is a complex, multi-dimensional process that blends together the skills, knowledge, and ideas of society, and for which there is no substitute. Socialism might claim to represent the wider interests of society, but in adopting a system based on economic planning, the wider interests and desires of society and the democratic market process are ignored. This complex process begins with the designation of money, which is why the choice of the monetary medium is critical. Like all democracies, markets can be corrupted.