“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” The famous quote by US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is inscribed above the entrance to the headquarters of the IRS. Most people don’t have a clue what he meant, or in what context the statement was made. They simply parrot it around to justify the state’s racketeering behavior. The logic is as twisted as saying “war is the price we pay for peace” or “debt is the price we pay for recovery.” They’re all logical fallacies, and assertions backed by zero objective evidence. This is not how a ‘civilized society’ conducts itself.
We often hear that if there is not enough oil at a given price, the situation will lead to substitution or to demand destruction. Because of the networked nature of the economy, this demand destruction comes about in a different way than most economists expect–it comes from fewer people having jobs with good wages. With lower wages, it also comes from less debt being available. We end up with a disparity between what consumers can afford to pay for oil, and the amount that it costs to extract the oil. This is the problem we are facing today, and it is a very difficult issue.
We’ve been keeping the long lost idea of our long lost society alive by squeezing our own children wherever we can, and telling them that if they only work hard enough, they can be whoever they want to be. But they can’t, that notion is also long lost. When you keep home prices artificially high, homeowners don’t suffer as much, even if they bought at insanely high prices, but the suffering is switched to potential buyers, who remain just that, potential, while they live in their mom’s basements for years. A surefire way to kill a society while everyone’s eagerly awaiting the growth that is just around the corner and will forever remain there. Take it from your kids. Take it from somewhere else in the world. And that’s where we’re now passing a barrier: there’s no-one to take it from anymore.
In June, ConvergEx's Nick Colas sized up the legal recreational marijuana market in Colorado by surveying several storeowners and their employees. Today he offers an update after circling back with these sources to get a grasp on the business 10 months into its legal tenure. On the whole, Colas notes that the marijuana business continues to be robust. This Colorado experiment is growing into a mature market that offers a handsome stream of revenue to both businesses and the state - pricing has remained stable at about $40-$50 for an 1/8 ounce, and $300-$400 for an ounce (plus tax). Sure, there are a few headwinds like any startup industry endures, but this continues to be a fascinating case study of a new – and quite profitable – business.
Do you have a friend who consistently borrows 30% of his income each year, is currently in debt about six times her annual income, and wanted to take advantage of short-term interest rates so that he needs to renegotiate with his banker about once every six years? Well, if Uncle Sam is your friend you do!
Oil and other commodity prices have recently been dropping. Is this good news, or bad? Many people have the impression that falling oil prices mean that the cost of production is falling, and thus that the feared "peak oil" is far in the distance. This is not the correct interpretation, especially when many types of commodities are decreasing in price at the same time. We would argue that falling commodity prices are bad news. It likely means that the debt bubble which has been holding up the world economy for a very long time – since World War II, at least – is failing to expand sufficiently. If the debt bubble collapses, we will be in huge difficulty.
Just like the US and the EU, Switzerland at the federal level is ruled by a group of elites who are more concerned with their own status, well-being, and international reputation than with the good of the country. The gold referendum, if it is successful, will be a slap in the face to those elites. The Swiss people appreciate the work their forefathers put into building up large gold reserves, a respected currency, and a strong, independent banking system. They do not want to see centuries of struggle squandered by a central bank. The results of the November referendum may be a bellwether, indicating just how strong popular movements can be in establishing central bank accountability and returning gold to a monetary role.
Today is a rather peculiar public holiday in Japan: “Respect Old People Day”. And judging by the official demographics, an increasing proportion of the population should be revered today. One in eight Japanese is aged 75 or older. People over 65 will reach 33 million, the largest ever, roughly 25.9% of the population. The thing about demographic trends is that they’re like a huge oil tanker - once they’re on their course it’s very hard to steer them around in another direction. These are monumental, generational changes that are very hard and slow to reverse.
Back in the summer of 2008, when crude seemed poised to take out $150, Goldman decided to declare the start of a commodity supercycle and boosted its oil price forecast to $200. Shortly thereafter crude cratered, plunging to the low double digits, and causing many to scratch their heads whether Goldman was merely taking advantage of the pre-Lehman panic to sell into the euphoria. The same questions, but inverted, will likely follow today's just as seminal note, one which this time calls for the end of a supercycle, this time of iron, with "The end of the Iron Age."
Once an empire has reached this stage, it never reverses. It is a “dead empire walking” and only awaits the painful playing-out of the final three stages. At that point, it is foolhardy in the extreme to remain and “wait it out” in the hope that the decline will somehow reverse. At that point, the wiser choice might be to follow the cue of the Chinese, the Romans, and others, who instead chose to quietly exit for greener pastures elsewhere.
The global economic downturn of 2008, in particular its monetary facet, readily invites comparison between the troubles of the modern world and those of the Roman Empire; just as Western currencies have declined precipitously in value since their commodity backing was removed in stages starting roughly a century ago, Roman currencies were also troubled, and present a cautionary tale. The Roman coin in use through most of the empire was the denarius, which demonstrated a persistent decline in value, starting from the time of transition from Republic to Empire, and continuing until its decimation during the Crisis of the Third Century AD. Although efforts by Diocletian taken after the monetary collapse are commonly associated with Roman economic reform, there were other efforts by earlier, lesser known emperors that suddenly and unexpectedly improved the silver content and value of the denarius. Firsthand accounts and archeological findings provide sufficient detail to allow examination of these short, if noteworthy, periods of voluntary restorative policies – and their architects.
There is a standard view of energy and the economy that can briefly be summarized as follows: Economic growth can continue forever; we will learn to use less energy supplies; energy prices will rise; and the world will adapt. The following view of how energy and the economy fit together is very different - it is based on the principle of reaching limits in a finite world.
“If I scare you this morning, and as a result you take action, then I will have accomplished my goal," is how Casey Research's Jeff Clark began a recent conference speech. But the reality is that he didn’t need to try to scare anyone. Sadly, the evidence is overwhelming and has already alarmed most investors; our greatest risk is not a bad investment but our political exposure. And yet most of these same investors do not see any need to stash bullion outside their home countries. They view international diversification as an extreme move. Many don’t even care if capital controls are instituted. We're convinced that this is the most common - and important - strategic investment error made today...