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.
The adjustment to the population over the last decade was the second largest on record. However, the devil is in the details, as the population of 55 and older didn't really increase — they were always there but just not counted. The real concern is with the 16-24 age group. The longer that age group remains unemployed, the higher the probability that they will become long-term unemployable due to degradation of job skills. As we have seen in the recent reports, this age group has a much higher unemployment rate than any other category, and that doesn't bode well for economic strength in future as this group moves into lower wage-paying positions. Recent manufacturing reports show that one of the problems they face is finding "skilled" labor to fill available positions. The shift away from a production and manufacturing base over the last 30 years in the U.S. is now starting to take its toll. The problem, in trying to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., is not just education and skill training but also competitive advantages that the U.S. will have a difficult time overcoming in terms of underlying production and labor costs. Countries like China and Korea have no regulatory, environmental and minimum wage requirements to meet. Those are all additional costs that the U.S. must build into production costs, which limits our competitive potential. Outsourcing is going to be a long-term problem that will be very difficult to reverse.
The last week has offered an amusing display of the difference between the cheerleading corporate mainstream media, lying Wall Street shills and the critical thinking analysts. What passes for journalism at CNBC and the rest of the mainstream print and TV media is beyond laughable. Their America is all about feelings. Are we confident? Are we bullish? Are we optimistic about the future? America has turned into a giant confidence game. The governing elite spend their time spinning stories about recovery and manipulating public opinion so people will feel good and spend money. Facts are inconvenient to their storyline. The truth is for suckers. They know what is best for us and will tell us what to do and when to do it.... The drones at this government propaganda agency relentlessly massage the data until they achieve a happy ending. They use a birth/death model to create jobs out of thin air, later adjusting those phantom jobs away in a press release on a Friday night. They create new categories of Americans to pretend they aren’t really unemployed. They use more models to make adjustments for seasonality. Then they make massive one-time adjustments for the Census. Essentially, you can conclude that anything the BLS reports on a monthly basis is a wild ass guess, massaged to present the most optimistic view of the world. The government preferred unemployment rate of 8.3% is a terrible joke and the MSM dutifully spouts this drivel to a zombie-like public. If the governing elite were to report the truth, the public would realize we are in the midst of a 2nd Great Depression.
Luckily they are easy to spot: the demagogues, the manipulators and the hired claqueurs. Unfortunately, there is no lack of media willing to provide a platform to perform their insidious game. “We need more, not less, government spending to get us out of our unemployment trap. And the wrong-headed, ill-informed obsession with debt is standing in its way.”How can a Nobel-prize carrying economist, who is presumably smart, write such nonsense? “He knows better”, says Jim Rickards (author of “Currency Wars”). And that makes Krugman so dangerous. Decision makers will reference his “debt does not matter” mantra over and over again – until it’s over. Thank you, Mayfly. You really understand debt – and how to make others believe it doesn’t matter.
One of the most ominous developments for us personally crawled out from under its rock in November. Again without any public debate, DHS unleashed its National Operations Center's Media Monitoring Initiative. Yep, it's exactly what it sounds like: The NOC's Office of Operations Coordination and Planning is going to collect information from news anchors, journalists, reporters, or anyone who may use "traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed." Thus Washington, D.C. unilaterally grants itself the right to monitor what you say. Doesn't matter if you're the New York Times, Brian Williams, a basement blogger, an online whistleblower, or known government critics like ourselves. They're gonna take note of your utterances and file them away for future use. Journalists are not the only targets, by the way. Also included among those subject to this surveillance are government officials (domestic or not) who make public statements; private-sector employees who do the same; and "persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest," however large that umbrella might be....The larger speculation is: what's the endgame here?
The real meaning of a treasury bear market may not be a flight out of treasuries into another asset class. Rather it real import could be the lack of liquidity available anywhere for nearly any asset class... Liquidity acts in a financial system like ample water, ambient temperature, and clean air act in an ecosystem. It makes trading strategies proliferate. Further, it makes meaningful intermediation possible, fostering the growth in high yield bonds and marketable loans. Yes, derivatives like vanilla stock options and others too. A financial system without liquidity is like a tropical ecosystem dried into a desert. Without liquidity, it is an open question whether the arbitrage pricing revolution will outlast the antiquated mark-ups of reinsurers. Liquidity makes random processes stationary, which is crucial to make the probabilistic foundations of risk neutral pricing work. Is it intuitively possible to price (and even more buy and sell) credit and interest rate risk without some liquidity in the underlying? How can a bank generate carry when the curve is flat and there is no appreciable differential anywhere that has a minimum tolerance of liquidity?
According to the Bank of International Settlements, as of June 2011 total over-the-counter derivatives contracts have an outstanding notional value of 707.57 trillion dollars, ( 32.4 trillion dollars in CDS’s alone). Where does this kind of money come from, and what does it refer to? We don’t really know, because over-the-counter derivatives are not transparent or regulated. With regulated economic markets, when an underlying real asset is impaired (i.e. the company in question is bankrupt, the mortgage has defaulted, etc.), market value is assessed, default insurance is paid up to replacement or full value, bond holders and stock holders make claims on remaining value and the account is closed. There is no need for bailouts because order and proportion of compensation has been established and everything is attached to the value of the underlying asset. When the unreal, counterfeit economy intrudes, you now have a situation where a person can put in an unregulated, but recognized, claim to be paid a thousand times over in case of impairment. Say market participants have negotiated for a bankrupt company a 70% payback for bondholders and (36% payback for insurance claims), and I come with not one but rather 1,000 CDS claims demanding to be paid for each CDS.
Let's compare three financial criminals. The first is an old-fashioned counterfeiter who doctors up paper and runs a printing press to produce fake currency. The second criminal borrows money based on a fraudulent asset and phantom future income. For example, the criminal might obtain a credit card based on false assets and income, or borrow money against a property that is worth far less than he claims and base his credit on an inflated fantasy income he does not actually receive. The third criminal borrows money from the Federal Reserve at zero interest and extends a loan to a fraudulent borrower because a government agency has guaranteed the loan. Whatever income the lender receives is pure gravy, and whatever losses are incurred when the fraud is uncovered are made good by the taxpayer. Since our banking system is based on money being borrowed into existence (i.e. fractional reserve), then how is creating money unsecured by either assets or income any different from actually counterfeiting bills? The outcome is identical: money created out of thin air.
Borrowing money based on imaginary future surpluses is a higher form of counterfeiting. And that is precisely what the U.S. is doing, borrowing immense sums at every level, private, corporate and State/Federal, all leveraged against phantom future surpluses, even as the economy requires some 10% of its supposed output (GDP) to be borrowed and spent on consumption each and every year just to run in place, i.e. the Red Queen's Race (Bernanke, Goldilocks and The Red Queen January 10, 2011). In other words, the U.S. economy is running a massive deficit, and squandering the vast sums being borrowed on consumption and mal-investments. Once you rely on more borrowing against imaginary future surpluses to fund your current expenses, then eventually the costs of servicing that debt exceeds any possible future surplus. The last-ditch "fix" is to simply print units of money (or borrow it into existence like the Federal Reserve)--counterfeiting, pure and simple-- and deceive the market for a time via the illusion that the freshly printed units of money are actually backed by productive value or surplus. As history has shown, eventually the market discovers the actual value of this counterfeit money, i.e. near-zero, and the system implodes. Once there is no more "free money" to fund consumption and mal-investment, then the reality of systemic insolvency is revealed to all. You cannot counterfeit actual surplus value generated by productive assets, you can only counterfeit proxy claims on future surplus.
Counterfeiting is illegal because it is the false creation of value. The counterfeiter takes low-value paper and turns it into high-value money, which is fundamentally a claim on the real productive value of the economy that issues the currency and recognizes it as a proxy means of exchanging that productive value. Counterfeiting is illegal because the counterfeiter creates no additional value--he creates only the proxy for value. Creating real value--adding meaningful goods or services to the economy--is tedious, hard work. How much easier to simply transform near-worthless paper into a claim on actual goods and services. If this is illegal, then would somebody please arrest the Board of the Federal Reserve for counterfeiting? The Fed has blatantly printed money without creating any real value to back up their added claims on productive value. Hence they are counterfeiting, pure and simple. A government based on rule of law would arrest these fraudsters and cons at the earliest possible convenience.
For today's installment we'll take a look at the debt:gold ratio for the PIIGS countries to see who puts the IG in PIIGS (perhaps you've already guessed). the ratio represents the multiple by which the country's debt exceeds its gold holdings. To an optimist, a high ratio means that the rest of the world has great confidence in the economy of the country in question. To a pessimist, a high ratio means the country is ruined. At a quick glance, it appears that Italy is no worse off than America--assuming that both countries actually have the gold the World Gold Council claims they have. Italy may have trouble getting theirs from New York, if that is where it is. Notice the decline in the ratio over the past decade--that is a reflection of the rising price of gold, not a decline in these nations' debts. Debt has increased over the past decade. The price of gold has apparently risen more. So does this mean these countries are becoming solvent? Can a rising price of gold solve our economic woes? Historically, a decline in this ratio can been used by governments to justify monetary expansion, particularly if it happened during an episode of such expansion. Why not? The improvement of the ratio suggests that the government isn't printing enough. The destruction of the value of the currency (and the country's debt) begins to occur faster than the rate of monetary creation (thus the label in the US graph "Ben proposes, the Market disposes"). The government counters this by printing faster, but the destruction of the currency's value is faster still.
Growth. It's what every economist and politician wants. If we get 'back to growth', servicing debts both private and sovereign become much easier. And life will return to normal (for a few more years). There is growing evidence that a major US policy shift is underway to boost growth. Growth that will create millions of new jobs and raise real GDP. While that's welcome news to just about everyone, the story is much less appealing when one understands the cost at which such growth comes. Are we better off if a near-term recovery comes at the expense of our future security? The prudent among us would disagree.
Metaphors have an uncanny ability to capture the essence of complex situations. Here is one dam metaphor that distills and explains the entire global financial system in 2012. The way to visualize the current situation is to imagine a dam holding back rising storm waters. The dam is the regulatory system, the rule of law, trust in the transparency and fairness of the system and the machinery of perception management. All of these work to keep risk, fraud and excesses of speculation and leverage from unleashing a destructive wave of financial instability on the real economy below. As legitimate regulation and transparency have been replaced with simulacra and manipulated data, the dam's internal strength has been seriously weakened.
What is the bottom line? The stark decline in the BDI today should be taken very seriously. Most similar declines have occurred right before or in tandem with economic instability and stock market upheaval. All the average person need do is look around themselves, and they will find a European Union in the midst of detrimental credit downgrades and on the verge of dissolving. They will find the U.S. on the brink of yet another national debt battle and hostage to a private Federal Reserve which has announced the possibility of a third QE stimulus package which will likely be the last before foreign creditors begin dumping our treasuries and our currency in protest. They will find BRIC and ASEAN nations moving quietly into multiple bilateral trade agreements which cut out the use of the dollar as a world reserve completely. Is it any wonder that the Baltic Dry Index is in such steep deterioration? Along with this decline in global demand is tied another trend which many traditional deflationists and Keynesians find bewildering; inflation in commodities. Ultimately, the BDI is valuable because it shows an extreme faltering in the demand for typical industrial materials and bulk items, which allows us to contrast the increase in the prices of necessities. Global demand is waning, yet prices are holding at considerably high levels or are rising (a blatant sign of monetary devaluation). Indeed, the most practical conclusion would be that the monster of stagflation has been brought to life through the dark alchemy of criminal debt creation and uncontrolled fiat stimulus. Without the BDI, such disaster would be much more difficult to foresee, and far more shocking when its full weight finally falls upon us. It must be watched with care and vigilance...