"Sex" and "Money" are probably two of the most powerful words in the English language. First, those two words got you to look at this article. They also sell products, books and services from "How To Have Better Sex" to "How To Make More Money" — ostensibly so you can have more of the former. Unfortunately, they are also the two primary causes of divorce in the country today... The problem for American families today, despite media commentary to the contrary, is simply the inability to maintain their current standard of living. When income remains stagnant or falls, due to job loss or reduction in pay, the impact on the budget at home is significant when there are already very low saving rates and the inability to access a tight credit market. The recent surge in consumer debt, with little relative increase in overall personal consumption expenditures, shows this to be the case. For Main Street the economy remains mired at sub-par growth rates three years into a post-recessionary environment. These financial strains are pervasive and continue to weigh on families and their relationships. While it is true that "money can't buy happiness" try asking a couple who are living on food stamps and working two part-time jobs just to "get by" about how "happy" they are. Even as the media trumpets that the Fed has saved the economy from a "depression," it might just be a statistical victory at best. The government may say this is not the 1930's where bread lines formed outside the corner soup kitchen, however, for many American's the only difference is that they are found at the mailbox and online instead.
If the establishment is to be believed — it’s in the interests of “long-term financial stability” that creditors who stupidly bought unrepayable debt don’t get a big haircut like they would in a free market. And it’s in the interests of “long-term financial stability” that bad companies who made bad decisions don’t go out of business like they would in a free market, but instead become suckling zombies attached to the taxpayer teat. And apparently it is also in the interests of “long-term financial stability” that a broken market and broken system doesn’t liquidate, so that people learn their lesson. Apparently our “long-term financial stability” depends on producing even greater moral hazard by handing more money out to the negligent. The only real question is whether or not it will just be the IMF and the EU institutions, or whether Bernanke at the Fed will get involved beyond the inevitable QE3 (please do it Bernanke! I have some crummy equities I want to offload to a greater fool!)
Anyone who worked in finance in the decade before Glass-Steagall was repealed knows that prior to Gramm-Leach-Bliley the megabanks just took their hyper-leveraged activities offshore (primarily to London where no such regulations existed). The big problem (at least in my mind) with Glass-Steagall is that it didn’t prevent the financial-industrial complex from gaining the power to loophole and lobby Glass-Steagall out of existence, and incorporate a new regime of hyper-leverage, convoluted shadow banking intermediation, and a multi-quadrillion-dollar derivatives web (and more importantly a taxpayer-funded safety net for when it all goes wrong: heads I win, tails you lose). I fear that the only answer to the dastardly combination of hyper-risk and huge bailouts is to let the junkies eat dirt the next time the system comes crashing down. You can’t keep bailing out hyper-fragile systems and expect them to just fix themselves. The answer to stupidity is not the moral hazard of bailouts, it is the educational lesson of failure. You screw up, you take more care next time. If you’re bailed out, you just don’t care. Corzine affirms it; Iksil affrims it; Adoboli affirms it. And there will be more names. Which chump is next?
Here is the 3-point plan:
- Renounce all debts denominated in the euro, i.e. a 100% writedown.
- Accept the U.S. dollar as the national currency of Greece.
- Engage in a transparent national dialog and reach a consensus about taxation and the role of the state in the Greek society and economy.
We might add a fourth point: renounce scams and kicking problems down the road rather than addressing them directly, sweeping dysfunction under the rug, etc.
That is the only way to express this author’s utter bewilderment that former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan is still given an outlet to speak his mind. Actually, I am surprised Mr. Greenspan has the audacity to show his face, let alone speak, in public after the economic destruction he is responsible for. It was because of Greenspan, of course, that the world economy is still muddling its way along with painfully high unemployment. His decision to prop up the stock market with money printing under any and every threat of a downtick in growth, also known as the Greenspan Put, created an environment of easy credit, reckless spending, and along with the federal government’s initiatives to encourage home ownership, the foundation from which a housing bubble could emerge. It was moral hazard bolstering on a massive scale. Wall Street quickly learned (and the lesson sadly continues today) that the Federal Reserve stands ready to inflate should the Dow begin to plummet by any significant amount. Following his departure from the chairmanship and bursting of the housing bubble, Greenspan quickly took to the press and denied any responsibility for financial crisis which was a result in due part to the crash in home prices.
Many, if not most, people would agree with the general use of subsidies in a vertical equity fashion, or the efficient redistribution of wealth for a common social purpose: social justice to provide shelter for those who need it. It is subsidies in housing designed to support a political and not a socioeconomic purpose that bother me. Subsidies as they continue to exist in the US in housing follow in this category – much in exclusivity these days to the subsidies in other developed nations the world over, at least in quantifiable terms.
From 1981 to 2007, the amount of debt required to produce $1 of GDP growth crept higher, and it ranged from a low of 3 cents in 2000 to a high of $2.25 in 1991. In only eight of those years did it take more than $1 of debt to produce $1 of GDP growth—1982, 1986, 1990 to 1993, 2002, and 2003. On average, it took 79 cents of debt to produce $1 of GDP growth. In other words, the increase in GDP was nearly 1.3 times the increase in debt. Along came the Great Recession. Since 2009, the traditional relationship between debt and GDP growth has been turned upside down. Each $1 increase in GDP has been accompanied by, on average, a $2.50 increase in debt. Before the recession, an increase in debt generally generated a greater increase in GDP, but now it takes an enormous increase in debt to eke out a small increase in GDP. At some point, the amount of debt required to generate even modest GDP growth will suffocate the economy and trigger another financial shock.
Former US Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann receives the Sovereign Man dumbest person of the week award for obtaining… then almost immediately renouncing… Swiss citizenship. I’ll explain: Bachmann’s husband is a Swiss national; they’ve been married since 1978, and as a result, Bachmann eventually became qualified for Swiss citizenship as well. She recently received confirmation of her citizenship from the Swiss authorities, a fact that was reported in some mainstream media outlets. Bachmann was subsequently criticized by her political opponents for engaging in such ‘un-American’ activities.
The Kobayashi Maru test of Star Trek fame is a classic no-win situation. Star Fleet Academy students are given command in a no-win scenario: either ignore a distress call of a Federation ship inside the Klingon (enemy) zone or enter the zone on a doomed rescue mission and lose your own ship in a hopeless battle against vastly superior forces. Captain Kirk evaded the no-win choices by reprogramming the computers to enable him to win. I think the job market can be profitably viewed as a Kobayashi Maru test: the conventional either/or choice--do something you dislike for job security or go to grad/law school for an advanced degree--is a false choice.
Having listened to the conference call (I was roaring with laughter), Jamie Dimon sounded very defensive especially about one detail: that the CIO’s activities were solely in risk management, and that its bets were designed to hedge risk. Now, we all know very well that banks have been capable of turning “risk management” into a hugely risky business — that was the whole problem with the mid-00s securitisation bubble, which made a sport out of packaging up bad debt and spreading it around balance sheets via shadow banking intermediation, thus turning a small localised risk (of mortgage default) into a huge systemic risk (of a default cascade). But wait a minute? If you’re hedging risk then the bets you make will be cancelled against your existing balance sheet. In other words, if your hedges turn out to be worthless then your initial portfolio should have gained, and if your initial portfolio falls, then your hedges will activate, limiting your losses. That is how hedging risk works. If the loss on your hedges is not being cancelled-out by gains in your initial portfolio then by definition you are not hedging risk. You are speculating.
When most people think of Brazil, it’s the incredible beaches that come to mind. Or the crazy parties of Carnival. Or the spectacular vistas and great weather. Or how indescribably gorgeous (and welcoming) the locals are. But here’s a little known fact, and it’s something that sets Brazil apart from most other places: Brazil’s constitution prohibits the extradition of Brazilian citizens to other countries. This is a rare gem in the world… I’ll explain.
You may think only European countries have VAT (value-added taxes), but America has one, too--it's just hidden in the sprawling "healthcare" system, i.e. sickcare. A value-added tax (VAT) is a broad-based consumption tax designed to raise tax revenues from across the entire economy. Since it's in everything you buy, you can't escape paying it unless you go to another country without a VAT. While the U.S. doesn't have an official VAT, it has an unofficial one that we all end up paying for indirectly: the 8% difference between what we pay for our bloated, fraud-ridden healthcare system and what our global competitors pay for their universal-care healthcare systems.
I’m in favour of consenting adults being able to do whatever they like with each other, but the fact that the current push for gay marriage is supported by Lloyd Blankfein and Goldman Sachs makes me very suspicious (does he want to sell securitised gay marriage debt?). It just seems like an easy issue for Obama to posture on, while trampling the Constitution into the dirt. When it comes to civil liberties, Obama has always talked a good game, and then acted more authoritarian than Bush. He talked about an end to the abuses of the Bush years and an open and transparent government, yet extended the Fourth-Amendment-shredding Patriot Act, empowered the TSA to produce naked body scans and engage in humiliatingly sexual pat-downs, signed indefinite detention of American citizens into law, claimed and exercised the power to assassinate American citizens without trial, and aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers. Under his watch the U.S. army even produced a document planning for the reeducation of political activists in internment camps. Reeducation camps? In America? And some on the left are still crowing that talking about being in favour of gay marriage makes him “pro civil liberties”? Is this a joke?
By mainstream media accounts, the presidential election in France and parliamentary elections in Greece on May 6 were overwhelming verdicts against “austerity” measures being implemented in Europe. There is only one problem. It is a lie. First off, austerity was never really tried. Not really. In France for example, according to Eurostat, annual expenditures have actually increased from €1.095 trillion to €1.118 trillion in 2011. In fact spending has increased every single year for the past decade. The debt there increased too from €1.932 trillion €1.987 trillion last year, just as it did every year before. Real “austere”. The French spent more, and they borrowed more. The deficit in France did decrease by about €34 billion in 2011, but that was largely because of a €56.6 billion surge in tax revenues. Again, there were no spending cuts. Zero. Yet incoming socialist president François Hollande claimed after his victory over Nicolas Sarkozy that he would bring an end to this mythical austerity: “We will bring back Europe on a track for jobs, growth and the future… We’re no longer doomed to austerity.” This is just a willful, purposeful distortion. What the heck is he talking about? Certainly not France.
Mitt Romney's theory goes that by buying U.S. currency (so far they have accumulated around $3 trillion) and treasuries (around $1 trillion) on the open market, China keeps demand for the US dollar high. They can afford to buy and hold so much US currency due to their huge trade surplus with America, and they buy US currency roughly equal to this surplus. To keep this pile of dollars from increasing the Chinese money supply, China sterilises the dollar purchases by selling a proportionate amount of bonds to Chinese investors. Supposedly by boosting the dollar, yuan-denominated Chinese goods look cheap to the American (and global) consumer. What Romney is forgetting is that every nation with a fiat currency is to some degree or other a currency manipulator. That’s what fiat is all about: the ability of the state to manipulate markets through monetary policy. When Ben Bernanke engages in quantitative easing, or twisting, or any kind of monetary policy or open market operation, the Federal Reserve is engaging in currency manipulation. Every new dollar that is printed devalues every dollar out in the wild, and just as importantly all dollar-denominated debt. So just as Romney can look China in the face and accuse them of being a currency manipulator for trying to peg the yuan to the dollar, China can look at past U.S. administrations and level exactly the same claim — currency manipulation in the national interest.