ZeroHedge’s post on the apparent breakdown of Okun’s “Law” highlights the ongoing tragicomedy of how the science of central economic planning eventually confounds, and then consumes itself. Economics is, after all, a social “science”, an elaborate study of human beings and, most importantly, human interactions. Robert Okun, for his part, merely observed in 1962 that when “output” (whatever statistical measure is en vogue) rises by 3%, the unemployment rate seems to fall by 1%. For some reason, economics assumes that if it is true in the past, it will be true forever, so it was written into the canon of orthodox economic practice. Economics has inferred causation into that relationship, giving it a layer of permanence that may not be warranted. Econometrics has always had this inherent flaw. The science of modern economics makes assumptions based on certain data, and then extrapolates them as if these assumptions will always and everywhere be valid. There is this non-trivial postulation that correlation equals causation. In the case of Okun’s Law, it seems fully logical that there might be causation since it makes intuitive sense – more economic activity should probably lead to more jobs, and vice versa. But to assume a two-variable approach to something that should be far more complex is more than just dangerous, it is unscientific. In fact, Okun’s Law has already been adjusted somewhat, most famously by Ben Bernanke and Andrew Abel in their 1991 book. It was upgraded to a 2% change in output corresponding with a 1% inverse change in unemployment. Apparently with the economic “success” of that period, Okun needed a re-calibration.
Greece is the epicenter of a drama that threatens to unwind with all the intrigue and subterfuge of ancient Greek myths and tragedies. As with the legend of Icarus, big, and now bigger, transnational banks provoked the gods with their wax-and-feather financial fabrications to create the appearance of soaring wealth. Now that they have flown too close to the sun and their wings have melted, these banks are being brought to earth by the obligations and consequences imposed by their fabrications. Rather than take responsibility, these banks seek to appease the gods by sacrificing taxpayers. In fact, if one looks closely, these banks aspire to be gods themselves. They clothe themselves in their indispensability and shield themselves from accountability with tales about how many innocent citizens will be hurt if they don’t get their next bailout. It is as if they say, “We are above the law… We are the law.” Mathematics, legal enforcement, restraint, humility all must fall under the sword of their hubris. In the end, just as with a Greek tragedy or a Yeats poem, this center cannot hold and things fall apart.
Here we present a history of the Fed in charts. As you’ll surely glean from the below — the Fed has degenerated from a by and large passive institution (dealing only in high-quality self-liquidating commercial paper and gold) to an active pursuant of junk, an enabler of wars, a ‘benevolent’ combatant of the depressions of its own creation, a central planner of employment & prices and of course a forgiving friend to inconvenient market follies.
Under any collectivist society, the act of non-participation is always painted as an attack on the group. In a fully interdependent system, refusing to contribute automatically hurts others, and therefore, makes you a criminal by default. These systems are built this way deliberately, in order to control a population by exploiting their sense of innate guilt. The DHS may claim a limited involvement in globalization, restricted to security issues, but the very process of integration with the international corporate framework as well as foreign institutions makes the agency a catalyst for forced collectivism. Bombs in shipping containers (the bombs we’re supposed to believe are everywhere), do not warrant the massive shift of our security apparatus into a policy of global centralization. In the end, this move on the part of the DHS has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with manipulating the attitude of the general public towards globalization. It is much more difficult to challenge a methodology when that methodology is suddenly treated as a national security issue, and is defended by an army of bureaucrats and blue-shirted thugs. When a world view is made violently essential to the very survival of a people, defiance is held tantamount to treason, and change, no matter how wise, becomes impossible.
The cost of oil has declined sharply from mid-2008, yet consumption has tanked from 54.8 MGD in July 2008 to 42.4 MGD in July 2011. That's a hefty 21% decline. What other plausible explanation is there for the decline from 42.4 MGD in July 2011 to 30.9 MGD in November 2011 other than a dramatic decline in discretionary driving? That 27% drop in a few months in unprecedented, except in times of war or sharp economic contraction, i.e. recession. If we stipulate that vehicles and fuel consumption are essential proxies for the U.S. economy, then we can expect a steep decline in economic activity to register in other metrics within the next few months. Such a sharp drop would of course be "unexpected" given the positive employment data of the past few months. But as the data above shows, employment isn't tightly correlated to gasoline consumption: gasoline consumption reflects recession and growth. In other words, look out below.
Hands up anyone who is surprised that the Bank of England has added another £50 billion to the quantitative easing pot? The same hands will also believe that the Greeks have agreed terms for the next bail out tranche with the Troika (the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank). This ongoing epic odyssey of the voyage to nowhere has grabbed the headlines, but the BoE’s quiet announcement is equally significant to us Brits. Central banks never utter the words quantitative easing, so the Bank calls it an addition to its “asset purchase programme”, which was only hiked to £275 billion back in October. The accompanying rhetoric states that inflation is on the way back down and may fall below their target of 2%, mainly as a result of the VAT increase last January falling out of the equation and lower energy prices, (despite Brent crude being over 10% higher Y-o-Y in sterling terms..); a convenient excuse perhaps.
The Power Elites' time-honored strategy to protect their own wealth and grip on power has three components: one is to pursue a strategy of pervasive, ceaseless propaganda to persuade the productive classes that the system is sound, fair and working for them; the second is to fund diversionary "bread and circuses" for the potentially troublesome lower classes, and the third is to harden the fiefdoms of power and wealth into an aristocracy that is impervious to the protests of debt-serfs and laborers below. In addition to "the system is working for you" social control myth, the wealth/power aristocracy also invokes various fear-based social control myths: external enemies are threatening us all, so ignore your debt-serfdom and powerlessness, etc. In the ideal Power Elite scenario, a theocracy combines faith and State: not only is it illegal to resist the Aristocracy, you will suffer eternal damnation for even thinking about it. Ask yourself this: how much influence do you as a citizen, voter and taxpayer have over the Federal Reserve? If we're honest, we must confess that the Federal Reserve is as remote to us as any branch of the North Korean government: we have zero influence over it, and the same can be said of our elected representatives. This is the definition of an aristocracy, oligarchy (a power structure in which power is held by a small number of people), kleptocracy, etc.
A few months ago, the Mayor of Newark, NJ announced a similar program designed to reward citizens for snitching on gun owners. According to the mayor, “We don’t even have to have a conviction,” for an informant to get paid a cool $1,000 cash. Rat out your neighbor, get paid. Simple. (As an aside, police in neighboring East Orange, NJ have rolled out a new pre-crime surveillance system. In the words of Police Chief William Robinson, “The police are observing you. The police are recording you. And the police are responding.” Big Brother is clearly watching.) In the financial system, there are droves of civilian agencies that have been coerced into becoming government spies. As we discussed a few weeks ago, everyone from bankers to brokers to gold dealers are obliged to submit ‘suspicious activity reports’ to the federal government. They even have minimum quotas. What’s more, these so-called “SARs” must remain top-secret. It’s a crime for your banker to inform you that you were the subject of a suspicious activity report. Yesterday, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the federal agency which oversees the legions of unpaid government spies, added a few more businesses to the list. Now non-bank mortgage lenders and originators must ‘assist law enforcement’ by submitting suspicious activity reports.
Rising consumer credit means more consumption which leads to stronger economic growth. Let me explain. Individuals go to work to produce a good or service for which they are paid a finite amount of money for. With that income they pay taxes which leaves them with discretionary income from which to live on. Pay the rent, utilities, insurance and healthcare, food, clothes and put gas in the car and that pretty much consumes the majority of the paycheck. Today, the situation is quite different and a harbinger of potentially bigger problems ahead. The consumer is no longer turning to credit to leverage UP consumption - they are turning to credit to maintain their current living needs. Take a look at the chart of personal consumption expenditures (PCE) versus total consumer credit. Notice in the past year as consumer credit rose you saw an increase in PCE. In the last two months consumer credit has exploded higher but there has been virtually NO increase in PCE levels on a month over month basis. Retail sales during the Christmas shopping season we disappointing and this was even with a large decrease in gasoline prices. This situation becomes even more apparent when we begin to look at the longer term trends of real disposable incomes, consumer credit and personal saving rates.
The idea that the very same economic forces that are currently plaguing Greece, et al., are somehow not relevant to the United States' circumstances does not hold water. As goes the rest of the world, so goes the US. When we back up far enough, it is clear that money and debt are there to reflect and be in service to the production of real things by real people, not the other way around. With too much debt relative to production, it is the debt that will suffer. The same is true of money. Neither are magical substances; they are merely markers for real things. When they get out of balance with reality, they lose value, and sometimes even their entire meaning. This report lays out the case that the US is irretrievably down the rabbit hole of deficits and debt, and that, even if there were endless natural resources of increasing quality available at this point, servicing the debt loads and liabilities of the nation will require both austerity and a pretty serious fall in living standards for most people.
The concept of social fractals can be illustrated with a simple example. If the individuals in a family unit are all healthy, thrifty, honest, caring and responsible, then how could that family be dysfunctional, spendthrift, venal and dishonest? It is not possible to aggregate individuals into a family unit and not have that family manifest the self-same characteristics of the individuals. This is the essence of fractals. If we aggregate healthy, thrifty, honest, caring and responsible families into a community, how can that community not share these same characteristics? And if we aggregate these communities into a nation, how can that nation not exhibit these same characteristics? If this is so, then how do we explain the complete corruption of America's financial and political Elites? What else can you call a nation that passively accepts financial predation, looting, robosigning, etc. by protected cartels as the Status Quo but thoroughly corrupt?
Setting a precedent of official sector losses would raise huge questions over whether Portugal and Ireland will request similar treatment. However there are now no easy options. The current course of a second Greek bailout could just as easily have knock-on effects in the form of a second round of taxpayer-backed rescues. We have always argued strongly against taxpayers taking losses but, unfortunately, this is one of the few plausible options we’re now left with.
The problem with printing money and promising to do so for years ahead of time is that the negative consequences of inflation only happen after a delay. As a result, it's difficult to know if a policy has gone too far until years down the road at times. Unfortunately, if confidence in the dollar is lost, the consequences cannot be easily reversed. One problem for the Fed itself is that it holds long-term securities that will lose value if rates rise. The federal government faces an even more serious problem when interest rates rise, as higher rates on its debt mean greater interest payments to service. Due to this federal-government debt burden, the Fed has an incentive to keep rates low, even if the long-term result is higher inflation. However, for now the Fed's statement suggests it sees inflation as "subdued," so it's putting those concerns aside for now.
Prudent institutions aren't waiting around until the dominoes fall--they're buying the underlying assets so they can meet their CDS obligations. That's the only way not to topple into insolvency when the default causes CDS to be recognized as due and payable. In this light, it's no wonder stocks have been rising. If even a modest percentage of CDS are tied to stock indices, then those deleveraging their derivatives positions must acquire the underlying assets. They can no longer count on all counterparties paying off as promised, and so they are raising cash and buying the underlying assets needed to make good their obligations. The whole thing is a farce, just like The Producers. The moment the default is recognized, then all the CDS become due and payable, and it will only take handful of failed counterparties to bring the entire system down. No wonder the Eurocrats and central bankers are twisting everyone's arms to accept a 70% loss--the alternative is a Greek default and the collapse of the banking cartel's profitable scheme. It is beyond absurd--what is a 70% loss but default? When banana republics default, their bondholders don't necessarily absorb a 70% loss. yet now, to "save" the despicably parastic shadow banking system and the "too big to fail" financial institutions, a default cannot be called a default: it is a "voluntary haircut." Greece, please do the world a favor and openly default--right now, today. Declare a default and pay nothing. Force the shadow banking system to recognize a default and bring down the entire rotten heap of worm-eaten corruption.
The mainstream view uniting the entire political spectrum is that all our financial problems can be fixed by what amounts to top-down, centralized policy tweaks and regulation: for example, tweaking policies to "tax the rich," limit the size of "too big to fail" financial institutions, regulate credit default swaps, lower the cost of healthcare (a.k.a. sickcare), limit the abuses of student loans to pay for online diploma mills, and on and on and on. But what if the rot is already beyond the reach of more top-down policy tweaks? Consider the recent healthcare legislation: thousands of pages of obtuse regulations that require a veritable army of regulators staffing a sprawling fiefdom with the net result of uncertain savings based on a board somewhere in the labyrinth establishing "best practices" that will magically cut costs in a system that expands by 9% a year, each and every year, a system so bloated with fraud, embezzlement and waste that the total sum squandered is incalculable, but estimated at around 40%, minimum....The painful truth is that we are far beyond the point where policy/legalist regulatory tweaks will actually fix what's wrong with America. The rot isn't just financial or political; those are real enough, but they are mere reflections of a profound social, cultural, yes, spiritual rot. This is the great illusion: that our financial and political crises can be resolved with top-down, centralized financial reforms of one ideological flavor or another. It is abundantly clear that our crises extend far beyond a lack of regulation or policy tweaks. We cling to this illusion because it is easy and comforting; the problems can all be solved without any work or sacrifice on our part.