Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23 2011: Welcome to Slaughterhouse-Finance


Detroit Publishing Co. Tourist Class 1906
"Traveling steerage. Unloading cattle from ocean steamer Julia"


Ilargi: We have sort of a double bill for you today. First, Stoneleigh’s latest interview with Jim Puplava. Then, Ashvin Pandurangi's "Vonnegutesque" take on the world of finance.








Nicole Foss- Preparing for the next Tsunami


The Peaking of Oil Prices and the Coming Depression. Resource Wars to follow.

James J Puplava CFP interviews Nicole M Foss


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On the Financial Sense Newshour this week, Jim Puplava is pleased to welcome back Nicole Foss. Nicole M. Foss is senior editor of The Automatic Earth, where she writes under the name Stoneleigh. She and her writing partner have been chronicling and interpreting the on-going credit crunch as the most pressing aspect of our current multi-faceted predicament. The site integrates finance, energy, environment, psychology, population and real politik in order to explain why we find ourselves in a state of crisis and what we can do about it. Prior to the establishment of TAE, she was editor of The Oil Drum Canada, where she wrote on peak oil and finance.

Foss also ran the Agri-Energy Producers' Association of Ontario, where she focused on farm-based biogas projects and grid connections for renewable energy. While living in the UK she was a Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, where she specialized in nuclear safety in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, and conducted research into electricity policy at the EU level.

Her academic qualifications include a BSc in biology from Carleton University in Canada (where she focused primarily on neuroscience and psychology), a post-graduate diploma in air and water pollution control, the common professional examination in law and an LLM in international law in development from the University of Warwick in the UK. She was granted the University Medal for the top science graduate in 1988 and the law school prize for the top law school graduate in 1997.

This week in her discussions with Jim Puplava, Nicole believes we will see the peaking of oil prices, the next bout of deflation and a looming depression. She sees resource wars as inevitable, given this deflationary scenario.








Ashvin Pandurangi:



Welcome to Slaughterhouse-Finance



"There are no characters in this story and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces."
– Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five



Hardly a day goes by without an excellent analysis of hard facts and data being followed by a surprisingly disconnected conclusion. Over the weekend, it appeared to be Zero Hedge's analysis of a video report by Eric deCarbonnel of Market Skeptics, which concluded that the Federal Reserve, U.S. Treasury market, and U.S. dollar may all be on the verge of imminent implosion due to the Fed's AIG-esque policy of selling large amounts of protection against an increase in Treasury bond rates. A rebuttal to this view was provided the next day on The Automatic Earth, in a piece entitled Bailing Out The Thimble With The Titanic.
 
In this piece, it was essentially argued that the U.S. dollar and Treasury market are symbolic of the Fed and the financial elite class, as partly confirmed by deCarbonnel's report, and these elite institutions have been engineering a successful bailout of those markets over the last few years, in tandem with natural financial dynamics and at the expense of everyone else. The bailout was "successful" in the sense that those markets will most likely remain stable in value for at least the next 2-3 years. On April 19 we were provided an excellent report by Chris Martenson, entitled The Breakdown Draws Near, but, as usual, all roads lead to financial chaos in Washington, D.C.
 
The "excellent" part of the report comes from the thorough data it provides regarding global liabilities that are maturing for banks and governments over the next few years. First, we are given a reference to the IMF's conclusions regarding global bank liabilities maturing in the near-term, with a stern eye locked on Europe [1]:
 
The world's banks face a $3.6 trillion "wall of maturing debt" in the next two years and  must compete with debt-laden governments to secure financing. Many European banks need bigger capital  cushions to restore market confidence and assure they can borrow, and  some weak players will need to be closed, the International Monetary  Fund said in its Global Financial Stability Report.
 
The  debt rollover requirements are most acute for Irish and German banks,  with as much as half of their outstanding debt coming due over the next  two years, the fund said.

 
The IMF basically tells us what has become painfully obvious by now - European banks and governments are both struggling to acquire the capital necessary to service their existing and/or refinance maturing debts, and there isn't nearly enough to satisfy them both. The latter fact is especially true when factoring in the maturing liabilities of banks and governments in other parts of the world, which is something that Martenson focuses on in the remainder of his analysis.
 
It is important, however, to note the added twist in the IMF's statement, in which it says that "some weak players will need to be closed". While it is specifically referring to European banks, the logic can be applied just as well to banks and governments all around the world, but we will return to that point later. In the rest of Martenson's report, we find out that Spain is actually pinning a significant portion of its private financing hopes on China, which, in turn, is facing its own imminent financial crisis due to an imploding real estate bubble.
 
But it is Spain that is first in the firing line and its 10-year  bond premium in the secondary market widened 14 basis points to 194 bps. Madrid is hoping for support from China for its efforts to recapitalise a struggling banking sector... [2]
Prices of new homes in China's capital plunged  26.7% month-on-month in March, the Beijing News reported Tuesday, citing  data from the city's Housing and Urban-Rural Development Commission. [3].

We can also expect that housing bubbles in countries such as Australia and Canada will start to implode in lockstep with China, as their economies are both highly dependent on Chinese import demand for natural resources. A renewed round of real estate busts, combined with the ongoing slump in Europe and the U.S. and less aggressive monetary policy (-temporary- winding down of QE), will also feed off of and into a collapse in global equity and commodity values. That collapse will wipe out large swaths of imaginary capital existing on the books of major institutions. All of that leads us to Martenson's seminal question, "Who Will Buy All of the Bonds?", specifically meaning the public bonds of Europe and the U.S.
 
Martenson refers to the Treasury International Capital (TIC) Report in his piece, which indicated that there was a "lower-than-trend" net inflow of foreign capital ($26.9B) into long-term securities for the month of February, which includes those going into long-term Treasury bonds. When including short-term securities, we see that there was a healthy net inflow of $97.7B into U.S. bond markets from foreign investors. [4]. What this data indicates is that, during the month of February, there was significant foreign investment in U.S. bonds, but 72% of that was into short-term securities (which do not include 10 or 30-year Treasury bonds).
 
He goes on to conclude that this inflow dynamic will get worse as Japanese purchases drop off in the next few months, and that the proposed "spending cuts" for a few federal programs will hardly do anything to reduce the supply of Treasury bonds over this same time period. I agree that there is a strong possibility of reduced purchases by the Japanese government in the short-term, as well as the governments of China and the UK. In addition, the minuscule spending cuts will indeed be irrelevant to the overall size of the 2011-12 federal budget deficits.
 
To go from there to the conclusion that the U.S. Treasury faces an imminent funding crisis, however, requires a few major and unlikely assumptions; the classic hallmark of those fretting over hyperinflation of the dollar in the short-term. As briefly discussed above, a slowdown in foreign government purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds could be significantly offset by an increase of inflows from private foreign investors fleeing the equity, commodity, government agency and mortgage-related investments of other regions, as well as domestic investors fleeing those same risky investments.
 
And that's where we return to the IMF's little "hint" in its report from last week. The financial elites do not need anyone to buy ALL of the bonds, only those that are most important to maintaining their wealth extraction operations. The weak players? Well, they can all fight over the scraps and devour themselves in the financial marketplace. The truly significant capital will be transported towards a few central locations by natural forces and by human design, like lambs to the inevitable slaughter. Of these locations, the most critical are surely the U.S. Treasury market, which can be used to support major U.S. banks, and the U.S. currency market.
 
What are the chances that the majority of people who find themselves invested in U.S. government bonds and the dollar will get anything close to a return on their investment over 10, 20 or 30 years? The answer to that is probably a massively negative percentage, because the psychological pain of holding on for that long will be even worse than the total wipe out itself. However, the herd typically doesn't figure out how close they were to the edge of the cliff until after they are tumbling down the other side.
 
Stoneleigh at The Automatic Earth has repeatedly pointed out that people in such fearful environments tend to discount the future by an increasing rate, which means they care less and less about what will happen several decades, years or even months from the present time. The discount situation of financial elites is similar because they know how precarious the dollar-based financial markets are, so their concern is over whether they can corral all of the lambs into one or two places over a relatively short time period. So far, most of the evidence says that not only is it possible, but the process is already well under way.
 
Another unlikely assumption contained in Martenson’s report is the following [emphasis mine]:
With the Fed potentially backing away from the quantitative easing (QE)  programs in June, the US government will need someone to buy roughly  $130 billion of new bonds each month for the next year. So the question is, "Who will buy them all?"

I say the above question is an unlikely assumption because it seems to imply that the Fed may stop QE for another whole year after the QE-lite and QE2 programs wind down. If recent history has taught us anything, it's that a fearful deflationary environment is the perfect justification for the Fed to resume QE, and perhaps at an even larger scale than it has "monetized" in the past. Will the American people be up in arms about monetization of the federal debt or an indirect link to sociopolitical unrest, when their own finances, homes and careers are once again being beaten down by the unrelenting force of debt deflation? I really doubt they will be.
 
In the next section of his article, Martenson himself refers to how significant QE has been when talking about proposed budget cuts [emphasis mine]:
For the record, these 'cuts' work out to ~$3 billion less in spending each month, or less than the amount the Fed has been pouring into the Treasury market each business day for the past five months.

In addition, as discussed in Bailing Out The Thimble With The Titanic, the Fed may also be using Treasury put options to help them exert more control over long-term rates that cannot be reached as easily by QE programs. With regards to the latter, the following table is the Fed's "liquidity injection" schedule for the next month, which is certainly winding down, but still towers over any notional amount that has been "negotiated" by the politicians on Capitol Hill in their budget talks [5]
 


The other major assumption involved here is that interest rates will start to rise along the curve, and this will make sovereign default much more likely, since a significant portion of Treasury debt is in notes with relatively short-term maturities. This logic is circular at best, since it relies on the fact that sovereign default and/or inflation concerns will drive short-term interest rates up in order to posit the argument that increased short-term interest burdens will lead investors to be more concerned about sovereign default or inflation (from printing). There is certainly a positive feedback involved in such dynamics, but the feedback must be rooted in some initial economic or political trigger.
 
As mentioned earlier in this piece, and many other times on The Automatic Earth, the dominant and natural economic trend is debt deflation, while the dominant (and natural) political trend is aggressive fiscal and monetary policies that are crafted to funnel money into major banks, rather than the productive economy. There are very few reasons to think that either of these trends will reverse in the short-term, either by design of the financial elite class or by the inadvertent consequences of their actions. They have no doubt painted themselves into a corner, but their corner is significantly larger than the concentration camps built to imprison a large majority of the global population. The latter fact is clearly evidenced by the perpetual taxpayer subsidies given to financial institutions in the sullied names of "economic recovery" and "austerity".
 
The cities of Greece continue to erupt in violence as its citizens are forced to bail out European banks, and, meanwhile, Americans continue to mistake their own reflections in the global mirror. Earlier this year, Standard & Poor's rating agency downgraded the outlook for the triple-A rated status of Treasury bonds (from "stable" to "negative"), in what was nothing less than an act of aiding and abetting the politicians, bankers and major corporate executives who strive for the imposition of austerity on everyone but themselves. The only difference between Greece and the U.S. is that the latter is not a "weak player" in the eyes of elite institutions, such as the IMF. Which means that, while the Greek taxpayers may soon be put out of their misery, we will die a much slower death, choking on our own debt for years to come.


"He kept silent until the lights went out at night, and then, when there had been a long silence containing nothing to echo, he said to Rumfoord, "I was in Dresden when it was bombed. I was a prisoner of war."
- Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five

 
 









Faltering in a stormy sea of debt
by Martin Wolf - Financial Times


Pinn illustration

It is astonishing that Standard & Poor’s can say anything about the best-known debt class in the world that is deemed to add value. This business is, after all, one of a class whose failures contributed mightily to the financial crisis. Nevertheless, the announcement that it was shifting its long-term rating on US federal debt from stable to negative reminded us all of something vital: the world economy is not on a stable path. On the contrary, to adopt a phrase often applied by the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to his country, the world economy is "unsteady, unbalanced, unco-ordinated and unsustainable". The US fiscal position is just one of a number of risks – and far from the biggest.

This may not seem so clear from the forecasts in the latest World Economic Outlook of the International Monetary Fund. At the global level its forecasts are the same as in January: a healthy 4.4 per cent growth in 2011 and 4.5 per cent in 2012. Even at market exchange rates, growth is forecast at 3.5 per cent and 3.7 per cent, respectively. The volume of world trade is forecast to expand 7.4 per cent this year and 6.9 per cent in 2012, after the post-crisis recovery of 12.4 per cent in 2010. Inflation, too, is forecast to be reasonably under control, with consumer prices rising 2.2 per cent in 2011 and 1.7 per cent in 2012 in advanced economies. Even in emerging countries, inflation is forecast to fall from 6.9 per cent this year to 5.3 per cent in 2012.

The WEO also lays out the pattern of divergent growth. Advanced countries are forecast to experience a moderate recovery, with growth of 2.4 per cent in 2011 and 2.6 per cent in 2012. Meanwhile, emerging and developing economies are forecast to expand 6.5 per cent in both years, with developing Asia, led yet again by China and India, forecast to grow 8.4 per cent in both years.

This is a world-transforming. But it is also a time of great uncertainty. The IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report opens with the bold view that "risks to global financial stability have declined" since October 2010. Confidence has indeed improved. But reality is quite another matter.

First, the advanced countries are in no sense back to normality: fiscal deficits remain exceptional; monetary policy is hugely accommodative; the financial sector is fragile, particularly in the eurozone; credit growth has been remarkably slow in the US and eurozone; households of several countries, including the US and UK, remain highly indebted; and there exists the possibility of sovereign defaults, bank failures or both within the eurozone. Moreover, despite the scale of the monetary and fiscal stimuli applied, the recovery in these countries is still expected to be anaemic (see chart).

Martin Wolf charts

Second, while advanced countries are in the doldrums, several emerging economies are suffering from excessive credit expansion and overheating. In many countries, particularly in developing Asia and Latin America, output is well above the pre-crisis trends. Particularly disturbing are the positions of Argentina, Brazil, India and Indonesia. "In many of these economies," notes the IMF, "both headline and core inflation either are rising from low levels or are fairly high already." The IMF picks out Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia and Turkey; over the past five years, credit per head has almost doubled in these economies, in real terms. Much of this flows into real estate. The IMF adds that "such expansions are close to those experienced before previous credit booms and busts".

Third, complex and disturbing interactions occur between the two sides of our divided world economy.

One of these comes via the emergence of a commodity price boom (see chart). The IMF commodity price index rose 32 per cent between June 2010 and February 2011. Behind this surge lies strong demand in fast-growing emerging economies, particularly China, adverse supply conditions, particularly for food, and political instability in certain oil-producing countries. Some argue that monetary policy is responsible. This is unpersuasive. But ultra-low interest rates lower the cost of financing inventories, while the decline in the US dollar raises the dollar prices.

Rapidly rising commodity prices help cause high inflation in emerging economies and stagflation in advanced countries. The result is pressure for monetary tightening. A global central bank might be tightening monetary policy sharply, even though such a response to a shift in relative prices would compel other prices, including wages, to fall in nominal terms. Certainly, rising commodity prices create challenges for monetary policy everywhere.

Another interaction comes via capital inflows and consequent upward pressure on exchange-rates in emerging countries. Monetary tightening exacerbates the pressure. But exchange rate pressure does not fall evenly, since China manages its exchange rate so effectively. Many countries are concerned that allowing appreciation and large current account deficits makes their economies vulnerable to shifts in US monetary policy. The IMF suggests that "capital controls may be the only instrument available to the authorities in the short term". But whether open economies can wield them as well as China is doubtful.

Last, but not least, we have the related issue of rebalancing of global demand. Despite overheating in a number of emerging countries, the IMF concludes that rebalancing has stalled. As it also notes, the adverse demand consequences of fiscal rebalancing in the high-income countries need to be partly offset by rising net exports. Unfortunately, it notes, "a disproportionate burden of demand rebalancing since the beginning of the crisis has been borne by economies that do not have large current account surpluses but attract flows because of the openness and depth of their capital markets". Such rebalancing – both limited and malign – greatly increases the risks of more financial shocks.

In all, policymakers confront a host of complex and interlocking challenges: fiscal and monetary normalisation in advanced countries; fixing the overhang of excess debt and financial fragility in those economies; managing the overheating in emerging economies; adjusting to big shifts in relative prices; and rebalancing the entire pattern of global demand. Nothing that is now happening suggests any of this will be managed competently, let alone smoothly. In short, those who think we are now looking at the sunlit uplands are fooling themselves. Much disruption lies ahead.





Geithner Downgrades His Credibility to Junk
by Jonathan Weil - Bloomberg

Fox Business reporter Peter Barnes began his televised interview with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner two days ago with this question: "Is there a risk that the United States could lose its AAA credit rating? Yes or no?"

Geithner’s response: "No risk of that."

"No risk?" Barnes asked.

"No risk," Geithner said.

It’s enough to make you wonder: How could Geithner know this to be true? The short answer is he couldn’t. All you have to do is read the research report Standard & Poor’s published on April 18 about its sovereign-credit rating for the U.S., and you will see it estimated the risk of a downgrade quite succinctly. "We believe there is at least a one-in-three likelihood that we could lower our long-term rating on the U.S. within two years," said S&P, which reduced its outlook on the government’s debt to "negative" from "stable."

There you have it: Geithner says the chance of a downgrade is zero. S&P says the odds it will cut its rating might be greater than one out of three. So who are you going to believe? Geithner? Or the people at S&P who actually will be deciding what S&P will do about S&P’s own rating of U.S. sovereign debt?

It would be one thing to express the view that a downgrade would be unwarranted, or that the chance of it happening is remote. Either of these positions would be defensible. Geithner went beyond that and staked out an absolutist stance that reeks of raw arrogance: There is no risk a rating cut will occur. He left no room for a trace of a possibility, ever.

Battling Barney
The mystery is why Geithner would say such a thing. What’s he going to do if S&P or some other rating company winds up disagreeing with him? Send Barney Frank to beat them up? The problem for leaders who make indefensible claims like this one is that, after a while, nobody knows whether to believe anything they say. Just remember all those government officials in Greece, Ireland and Portugal who kept saying their countries didn’t need bailouts, long after it became clear they did.

This was the same answer Geithner gave during an ABC News interview in February 2010, when asked if the U.S. might lose its AAA rating. "Absolutely not," he said. "That will never happen to this country." So, an asteroid could destroy the entire Eastern seaboard 100 years from now. And, in the world according to Geithner, we’re supposed to believe America’s top rating would be safe.

Perhaps Geithner would be well-positioned to make such assessments if he were the only person on the planet with the authority to grade sovereign debt -- and if there were zero risk that he would ever die. Not only is Geithner mortal, he doesn’t even work for a nationally recognized statistical rating organization.

Great Error
In one of the great errors of financial history, the U.S. long ago bestowed that vaunted designation on the likes of S&P and Moody’s Investors Service. The raters showed they could be corrupted when they put their AAA marks on countless subprime mortgage bonds that quickly turned sour. Unlike the companies that bought those labels, though, the U.S. government didn’t solicit S&P’s ranking of its debt. Trying to predict with certainty what the raters may do next is a fool’s game.

Sure, it’s conceivable the government might threaten to strip the raters of their officially recognized franchise as retaliation if they dared to downgrade the U.S. We can only hope this isn’t what Geithner had in mind when he made his bold prediction. A move like that would risk a major scandal, and it might not even work.

Nothing the raters say should matter, of course. The markets are well aware the U.S. debt is on its way to surpassing the country’s annual gross domestic product, and that few leaders in Washington are willing to get federal spending under control again. The least Geithner could have done was take a page from Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and throw in a wiggle word or two.

Testifying last year at a hearing led by Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, Blankfein said "we didn’t have a massive short against the housing market," notwithstanding that Goldman made about $500 million shorting the housing market in 2007. Levin says he wants to refer the matter to the Justice Department for a perjury investigation. Blankfein, of course, included the word "massive" in his statement, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Geithner could have done something similar. Yet for some inexplicable reason he didn’t, which, if nothing else, should tell us he probably wouldn’t have much of a future as a top executive at Goldman Sachs. No risk at all? If Geithner is really as smart as his friends say he is, he doesn’t believe it either.




The 'other' housing market, where house prices have regressed 60%
by Jeremy Warner - Telegraph

Even the row of terraced houses in North West London where I live has managed to put the housing crash behind it; these relatively modest late Victorian properties again sell at record prices. Yet stray beyond London and the South East, and you see an altogether different picture, one that goes largely unrecorded by the established indices for measuring the UK housing market – Halifax, Nationwide, Rightmove and so on.

To see this "other" housing market, I've been to Newcastle and its surrounding areas in the North East, the region that gave birth to the folly of Northern Rock. Like all property markets, prices in the region are highly calibrated. There remain sizeable pockets of prosperity, where values, though still significantly off, have held up reasonably well. As in many parts of London, it's easy to imagine from these relatively well to do districts that there never was much of a housing crash.

Unfortunately, they are more the exception than the rule. Little more than a stone's throw from these posher areas lies a tale of catastrophic decline and value destruction to match the very worst the sub-prime crisis has managed to produce in the US. Tens of thousands of houses in the North East alone will have fallen in value by 30-60pc since the peak, and by the look of it, still have further to go.

Many can neither be sold nor let. You've heard about Britain's chronic shortage of housing stock, one of the factors which allegedly underpins the value of domestic property in the UK. Well, there's little sign of it here in Newcastle and the rest of the North East. Row upon row of properties that used to house workers in the region's once proud industrial tradition of shipbuilding, coal and steel lie half boarded up or otherwise derelict.

Yet believe it or not, these very same houses and flats were until three years ago as much a part of the British property bubble as everywhere else – perhaps more so in some cases. Over a seven year period, prices for a typical two to three bed house or flat were chased all the way up from the low teens to well in excess of £60,000. New build subject to mortgage fraud would fetch £125,000 or more. Today you'd be lucky to get half. Prices are fast regressing all the way back to where they came from before the bubble began.

Typical of this phenomenon is Benwell, located on the hillside that tumbles down to the Tyne in Newcastle's West end. A scene of grim degradation, it stands as a lasting reminder of the policy failures and illusory prosperity of Brown's Britain. Pumped up on a sea of credit, make work public expenditure and benefit payments, prices rocketed from 2000 onwards. First came the local money, chasing the apparently mouth watering yields that housing benefit could offer to buy-to-let landlords. Then having exhausted the possibilities down south, in came the London investors. In the final hurrah came the Irish, their pockets overflowing with loans from their now hopelessly bust banking system.

Many of these investors will already be in substantial negative equity, but still they refuse to adjust their price expectations to the all too dire reality. So they hold on in the hope they can find the tenants to pay the mortgage and that prices will eventually recover. Denial is the order of the day.

London is always first in and out of any housing market downturn. The trend then ripples out from the capital, with regions such as the North East lagging London by a year or two. If that relationship holds, then you would indeed expect prices in the regions soon to be chasing London higher again. Regrettably, it's more than likely broken. Even if the banks were prepared to fund another rip-roaring property boom – they are still scarcely in any condition to do so – the fundamentals in regions such as the North East are most unlikely to support it.

Highly dependent on public sector employment and handouts – which are being severely cut – there appears nothing to stop the free fall in prices. Ever optimistic, one estate agent in Blyth, on the coast south of Newcastle, insists that with the advent of the prime Easter selling season, things are picking up. Buy-to-let investors from London are back, he says, in part because low interest rates are driving them into riskier assets in the search for income and capital gain. "They know a bargain when they see one", he says, pointing to the recent sale of a property at half its bubble peak. In the real world, prices have in fact taken a further lurch downwards.

A little further south still, at Dean Bank, Ferryhill, it's the same depressing scene of boarded up housing and decline. Even the warm spring sunshine fails to make a dent in the oppressiveness of it all. A woman is grilling meat on a disposable barbecue in her front door porch. "I've been in this town a long time. It always was s*** and it still is. But my mortgage broker is a good man. He'll look after me", she says, generously offering a sausage sandwich. Somehow I doubt it.

But let's not single out the North East. To a greater or lesser extent, you find much the same story around all the major regional cities of Northern England. It's still the same rubbish property with the same down at heel tenants, but in the past ten years the prices have been up like a rocket and now they are falling back down again like a spent stick. It's hard to know what's going to rescue districts like these. With the anaesthetic of abundant credit and public money now largely gone, many areas of Britain are simply returning to the way they were before the New Labour boom began. It's as if it never happened at all.

George Osborne's hoped for private sector recovery threatens entirely to bypass areas like these. For the North East, the somewhat underwhelming programme of supply side reforms he announced in the Budget is unlikely to make any significant difference. Better education and training may lift things in time, but it all costs money, which is in short supply. Eventually, incomes might slip to levels that make the region competitive with emerging markets, but that's hardly an outcome to aspire to.

Everywhere's hurting right now, yet few places are hurting more than the North East. The collapse in low end property prices is only one outward sign of it. Public policy must focus like a lazer on these forgotten badlands, or risk permanently entrenching an ever more divided society.




The world’s hottest real-estate market?
by Brett Arends, MarketWatch - MarketWatch

I hesitate to use the overplayed word "bubble." But in the case of London property, it’s hard to avoid. What’s happening here is absolutely ridiculous. Look in the window of any real-estate agent here and you think people have gone crazy — and then you realize that the prices are in British pounds, and that to convert to dollars you have to add another 60%.

Half a million pounds ($800,000) for a one-bedroom condo with a small garden on the southern, unfashionable side of the river Thames? Really? And $2 million for a modest two-bedroom condo in Chelsea? As John McEnroe used to say at Wimbledon, you cannot be serious.

While the rest of Britain grapples with austerity, falling real wages and budget cuts, London real estate — super-prime London real estate, the best of the best — is back in the grip of another mania. According to an index maintained by high-end real-estate firm Knight Frank, prime central London prices are nearing and may even be surpassing the giddy levels seen at the peak a few years ago. The brokers’ windows tell the same story. It’s like that whole Lehman thing never even happened.

What’s going on? "London property is the ‘Swiss bank account’ of the 21st century," Robin Hardy, an analyst at London investment firm Peel Hunt, explained to me. Rich people in places like Egypt, Syria and southern Europe are rushing to get their money away from the turmoil, and for want of a better alternative, they are plunking it down in the "millionaire’s playground" of central London. "It’s seen as a relatively safe place to put your money if your objective is capital preservation," he said. They think money is "safer invested in an apartment in Sloane Street than in a bank account in Damascus."

Foxtons, a high-end real-estate agency, told me that 80% of its sales this year at its Sloane Square branch have come from overseas buyers. This is just the latest twist to a story that’s been running for some time. Gulf sheikhs. Russian oligarchs. Newly rich Indian and Chinese tycoons. London has become a magnate for the international super-rich: a millionaire’s playground. Russian money has been flooding in for at least a decade. One hedge-fund manager here told me London property was a "laundromat for Russian money."

You can see it in the fanciest shopping districts, from Jermyn Street and Old Bond Street. The booms in oil and emerging markets have been very good for prices here for at least a decade. Great Britain, through generous tax treatment of foreign nationals, has cleverly encouraged the trend.

A friend of mine a few years ago described how a Gulf sheikh was steadily buying up more and more of her condo development just north of Hyde Park. The sheikh liked to come to London for two months every summer to escape the Gulf heat, and he liked to bring his extended family and entourage. He didn’t care much about price, and he wanted as many condos as he could get.

There are other factors at work. London has become the financial capital of Europe. The giant money machine has spread far beyond the old financial district of the City of London. High-powered hedge funds and secretive commodity firms crowd the alleys and lanes of Mayfair and the towers of redeveloped Docklands. The windfalls have long been seen as a major driver of property prices.

Housing supply is limited, especially in the best areas. London has tough zoning laws, so there is very little new development. And you can also throw into the mix low interest rates. A friend explained how his grossly overpriced home cost him very little every year, because he is paying just 1% interest on a flexible mortgage.

To hear people tell it here, this miracle will go on indefinitely. Prices will keep rising skyward. You no longer encounter many bears of London property. Most have given up. But there are a couple of wrinkles that should give people pause.

First, you see more and more dark windows. On Sunday I went to a pub with one of my oldest friends. He described how more and more properties in central London were simply unused most of the year. You’d look up at the windows as you walked down the street, and very few were lit up. A recent study by Knight Frank found that one of the top reasons the international elite gave for selling a London home was simply that it was surplus to their needs.

The second concern is that more and more actual British are being crowded out of the city. Over dinners in the past 10 days, both a London member of Parliament and a top executive at a fund firm here have bemoaned the fact that young people can no longer afford to move into the usual London neighborhoods when they start their careers here. They’ve been priced out. Many of the middle-class are suffering the same fate. Ultimately, this simply becomes unsustainable. It will strangle the city’s vitality.

The third problem is that 1% interest rates will not last forever. Sooner or later they will have to rise, and when they do, a lot of home loans will become unmanageable as well as unrepayable. Happy times.

The fourth issue is one that often gets forgotten. In the age of the Internet and modern technology, the comparative advantages of big, expensive cities like London are actually in decline. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to run a hedge fund in the British Isles, you probably had to do it in London. That is no longer the case. It is a lot cheaper — and the quality of life much better — if you move out of town.

The fifth problem, though, is probably most ominous: the plunge in rental yields. According to Knight Frank, while prime London sales prices have doubled in the past 10 years, prime London rents have risen by less than 10%. The net result is that landowners are getting a gross yield of maybe 3.6% on average, compared to more than 6% a decade ago. Conversations I’ve had — with renters and owners — suggest some are getting even less.

Once you subtract all the costs of buying and selling a home, maintenance, taxes and condo fees, some landlords are making very little — if anything. As usual, the defenders of current prices are quick with a rebuttal: "But people aren’t investing for the yield," they say. "They are investing for the capital gains!" Alas for this argument, in a rational market, yields are the drivers of capital gains. The price of an asset goes up because the current owners are earning so much money that outsiders want in. The idea that people will keeping bidding up prices of an asset that makes no money is quixotic at best.

Will it turn? If so, when? It’s anyone’s guess. But for those living and working in Britain, the conclusions are pretty obvious. If I moved back to this country, I would avoid living and working in London if at all possible. And if I had to be in London, I’d rent.




Economy struggles for momentum, data shows
by Lucia Mutikani - Reuters

Factory activity in Middle Atlantic states braked sharply in April and the number of Americans claiming new jobless benefits fell less than expected, implying the economy was struggling to regain momentum.

Other data on Thursday showed steep declines in home prices in February, underscoring the challenges confronting the economy, but the recovery is expected to remain on track. The reports came a week before government data is expected to show growth slowed significantly in the first quarter. The economy grew at a 2.0 percent annualized rate, according to a Reuters survey, after a 3.1 percent pace in the last three months of 2010.

"The economy certainly lost some steam through the first quarter, (but) the underlying health remains sound," said Brian Levitt, an economist for OppenheimerFunds in New York. "It's an economy that is likely to grow, but out-sized growth is not on the horizon."

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank's business activity index fell to 18.5 in April, pulling back from March's 27-year high of 43.4 and far exceeding economists' expectations for a drop to 37. The index covers Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware and is an early indicator of the health of U.S. manufacturing contained in a later national report.

Separately, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 403,000 last week, well above economists' expectations for a decline to 392,000. The slowdown in economic activity comes as some policymakers at the Federal Reserve are pushing for the U.S. central bank to start considering withdrawing some of the stimulus it has provided the economy.

The Fed's policy-setting committee will meet April 26-27 to assess the economy and is expected to reaffirm a June end date for purchases of $600 billion of government bonds. Thursday's economic data curtailed stock market gains, which began with a flurry of strong corporate earnings. Treasury debt prices rose marginally, while the dollar fell against a basket of currencies.

Economists said it was possible supply disruptions in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan could have hindered U.S. factory activity and kept initial unemployment claims elevated as some automakers idled plants.

Plants Idled
"While affected individuals can file claims for unemployment insurance when these plants close temporarily, it is unlikely that workers were laid off for the entire payroll period, meaning they would still count as employed in the payroll survey data," said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York. The claims data covered the survey period for April's nonfarm payrolls report, which will be released in early May. Employers added 216,000 jobs in March, the most in 10 months, and the unemployment rate slipped to a two-year low of 8.8 percent from 8.9 percent.

The smaller-than-expected drop in claims last week left the total above 400,000 for a second straight week. Claims below that level are usually associated with fairly solid jobs growth. A third report showing home prices fell 1.6 percent in February from January provided more evidence of the headwinds buffeting the economy. On a year-over-year basis, home prices fell 5.7 percent.

Despite the sharp pullback in April, mid-Atlantic factory activity has now expanded for seven months in a row. Economists did not view the report as a sign that manufacturing, which as led the economic recovery, was slowing.

A report last week showed a gauge of manufacturing in New York state rose in April to its highest level in a year. The Philadelphia Fed survey also showed steep declines in new orders and the employment measure, which were both the lowest since December. It also showed a surge in prices received by manufacturers, a potential warning on inflation.

"The Fed might also be concerned to see that the prices received index climbed sharply even though output growth seems to be tailing off and the prices paid index dropped back a little," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto. "It appears manufacturers are testing out their pricing power."

While the economy slowed in the first three months of 2011, it is expected to continue expanding. The Conference Board's Leading Economic Index rose 0.4 percent in March to 114.1, rising for a ninth straight month.




Bernanke to Open Up as Fed Embarks on Era of Glasnost
by Jon Hilsenrath - Wall Street Journal

Next Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will do something no Fed chief has done before: Stand before a room full of journalists after officials conclude a policy meeting and answer questions about the central bank's decisions.

Washington churns out press conferences the way Kansas cranks out wheat. But this briefing will carry more import than most: Mr. Bernanke has been on a campaign since taking the helm of the Fed in 2006 to make it more transparent and consensus-driven. The financial crisis severely shook public confidence in the Fed, the economy has recovered unevenly since then, and Mr. Bernanke faces disagreement on his own policy-making committee.

Inflation is climbing, in large part due to surging food and energy prices. Unemployment remains high and economic growth disappointed in the first quarter. Mr. Bernanke seems intent on leaving the central bank's ultralow-interest-rate policy in place for now, but he faces vocal opposition in his ranks. In stepping out now, the chairman has a chance to assert his voice over the Fed's cacophonous internal debates—before any of his colleagues can get to a microphone—and reassure the public that he'll keep inflation under control.

"You can argue that the chairman of the Fed is more important than the president of the United States, but very few Americans understand what the Fed does," says Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who successfully pushed for the Fed to disclose more about its secretive bank lending. Addressing the press, Mr. Sanders says, will be "a step forward."

The outcome of next week's Fed board meeting isn't in doubt. It is likely to decide to allow a $600 billion program to buy Treasury bonds to run its course, as planned, in June. The debate will shift to how and when to begin raising interest rates to stem the risk of inflation.

Despite internal opposition, Mr. Bernanke and his top lieutenants—Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen and New York Fed President William Dudley—have signaled they believe it is too soon to start raising rates. Though inflation is rising, they believe consumer-price increases will prove transient, as occurred in a 2008 run-up in food and energy prices. The press conference will give Mr. Bernanke a chance to explain this view to a sometimes skeptical public.

It is possible that this new one-man show might undercut the collegiality that Mr. Bernanke has built within the Fed, though he has won broad support to proceed among his colleagues, who see him as the voice and face of the central bank. Fed officials have been preparing carefully, according to people familiar with the process. Mr. Bernanke spent a recent weekend watching videos of European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and Bank of England chief Mervyn King, parrying reporters' questions at their regular press conferences.

In February, on the sidelines of a meeting of financial officials in Paris, Mr. Bernanke quizzed Mr. Trichet and other European central bankers on how they manage their press conferences. He'll do dress rehearsals, with staffers peppering him with questions, as the briefing nears. Mr. Bernanke's staff, meanwhile, has spent weeks scripting the mechanics of how the press conference will work.

He will hold his briefing in a big top-floor conference room at the Fed's Martin building, opposite the central bank's main cafeteria, where Mr. Bernanke can sometimes be found wandering, tray in hand, to chat with staffers. Twenty years ago, the central bank didn't even tell the public when it was changing interest rates. Well-paid Fed watchers on Wall Street had to read the tea leaves and figure it out for themselves. Mr. Bernanke's predecessor, Alan Greenspan, conducted one on-the-record television interview shortly before the 1987 stock-market crash and never did another.

The Fed started becoming more open about its interest-rate decisions on Mr. Greenspan's watch, releasing statements on rates and the economy after every meeting. The trend was accelerated by Mr. Bernanke, who thinks the Fed will be more effective and more accountable if people better understand what it is doing and why.

Mr. Bernanke's counterparts at the ECB, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and others have been holding press conferences for years. But the idea has generated resistance within the Fed in the past. "There's always the chance you'll say something you regret," says Donald Kohn, a former Fed vice chairman who served under both Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Bernanke. "For a long time, I thought the risks of holding press conferences might exceed the rewards." By the time Mr. Kohn left the Fed last year, he was for it. "It was clear we needed to do more to explain ourselves," he says, including the many programs the bank started to support the financial system during the crisis.

A Gallup Inc. survey showed the public's faith in Mr. Bernanke to do what's right for the economy hit an all-time low in April. Among 1,077 survey respondents, 42% said they had little or no confidence in him, compared with 39% who had those views a year ago and 35% the year before. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal in January gave the former economics professor a 'C' grade. The decision to hold news conferences has been several years in the making. One factor that weighed on some officials was last year's raucous internal debate about the $600 billion bond-buying program, which several Fed officials openly opposed. The messy wrangling led to the creation of a communications committee chaired by Ms. Yellen, which backed the chairman's move.

Popularity doesn't mean much to the shy Fed chairman, but public faith in the Fed potentially means a lot. The central bank controls inflation primarily by managing how much money flows through the economy. If it pumps too much into the financial system, and in the process keeps interest rates too low for too long, it could set off surging consumer prices. But perceptions also matter greatly. Mr. Bernanke needs to maintain public confidence that inflation will remain low. If businesses or households doubt the Fed's ability or willingness to control inflation, they could expect higher prices, which could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That's become a bigger challenge with food and gas prices rising.

Then-Fed Chairman Paul Volcker is widely credited with breaking the back of high inflation expectations in the early 1980s. His Fed ratcheted interest rates up into the double-digits, sent the economy into a severe recession and slowed inflation dramatically—demonstrating the Fed's power and commitment to keep prices in check. "We live on the reputation of what Paul Volcker did in the 1980s. He anchored a view that the Fed will not let inflation get out of control," said Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Fed, in an interview. An inflation hawk who has been warning of the dangers of keeping rates too low for too long, Mr. Fisher said the Fed can't assume it will always have the benefit of the doubt.

Measures of short-term inflation expectations have picked up lately, but longer-term measures, which the Fed is watching closely, haven't gone up much. One of Mr. Bernanke's main tasks at the news conference will be to lay out the central bank's economic forecast and explain why it justifies a continuation of low-interest rate policies.

In January, the Fed's policy-making committee projected the economy would expand 3.4% to 3.9% this year and inflation would rise 1.3% to 1.7%. After a sluggish first quarter, in which high fuel prices pinched consumers and housing continued to languish, the growth forecast is likely to come down a touch and the inflation forecast is expected to go up. Mr. Bernanke is likely to point out that he and his colleagues expect inflation to move back below the Fed's 2% objective in 2012 and 2013. This means they can keep interest rates very low to encourage growth.

"As long as we're not seeing wages and salaries growing very rapidly, it's hard to see how inflation can become a sustained problem," Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said in an interview this month, before the Fed's self-imposed, pre-meeting blackout this week, in which Fed officials stopped talking to the press. Another challenge for Mr. Bernanke: explaining the often disparate views of his colleagues. In Mr. Greenspan's day, the chairman dominated discourse. When officials disagreed with Mr. Greenspan at policy meetings, "you got the look of somebody who slurps his soup at a polite party," says Alan Blinder, a Fed vice chairman from 1994 to 1996.

Mr. Greenspan says today that the deference made him uncomfortable and he encouraged dissent. "It is not good for the Federal Reserve to have the presumption that all of these independent intellectuals are acting in unison. Something is wrong with that," he says. A 2005 paper by Mr. Blinder has become an influential ingredient in the way Mr. Bernanke runs the Fed. Mr. Blinder concluded, after a series of controlled experiments with 100 college students, that groups did a better job making decisions in monetary-policy games than individuals.

Still, the move to more openness and consensus has been accompanied by more clamor among officials, something Mr. Greenspan says might not be good for the Fed's reputation. Debate within the Fed has been especially loud and colorful lately. Mr. Fisher has warned that the U.S. could go the way of Germany's hyperinflationary Weimar Republic if the Fed finances government debt. Thomas Hoenig, president of the Kansas City Fed, has described the Fed's $600 billion bond-buying program as a "bargain with the devil." The St. Louis Fed's James Bullard has taken turns as a television commentator—co-hosting CNBC's "Squawk Box" television program from the St. Louis Fed's lobby

In the past month alone, 16 different Fed policy makers have given more than 40 formal addresses, in addition to television, newspaper and newswire interviews. They espouse different views, not only on when to reverse the Fed's easy-money policies, but how. Mr. Bullard wants to stop the bond-buying program early. Charles Plosser, president of the Philadelphia Fed, wants the Fed to move quickly to sell its bond holdings. Mr. Hoenig has been pushing for interest-rate increases for months. The dissonance is in part the result of the complexity of the situation. "We can't speak with more certitude than we have," said Mr. Rosengren.

Some traders think the Fed carefully scripts its messages with regional-bank presidents. In fact, it is often just the opposite. Some officials at the Fed board in Washington have been annoyed that regional bank presidents are staking out policy positions before the policy-making Federal Open Market Committee even meets to consider them. They also have been concerned that Fed chatter after meetings might be confusing the public about the Fed's actual plans. The Fed comprises 12 regional Fed banks and a board of governors in Washington, with five of the regional-bank presidents voting on interest-rate decisions on a rotating basis.

"A tightening cycle is the hardest thing for a central bank to do," Mr. Bullard said in an interview earlier this month. "It's tumultuous times for monetary policy, and that's why you're hearing more from the Fed." The press conference will be a chance for Mr. Bernanke to assert himself as the leader and voice of a group whose independence and assertiveness he helped create. He has developed a knack in his five years as chairman for considering the views of his colleagues—something he does when he sums up discussions at every closed-door meeting after they debate the economic outlook and policy options—as well as a knack for getting his way.

Officials, even those who don't always agree with his policies, say they are comfortable seeing Mr. Bernanke speaking out more.




Poll: Americans strongly oppose some deficit proposals
by Jon Cohen and Dan Balz – Washington Post

Despite growing concerns about the country’s long-term fiscal problems and an intensifying debate in Washington about how to deal with them, Americans strongly oppose some of the major remedies under consideration, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey finds that Americans prefer to keep Medicare just the way it is. Most also oppose cuts in Medicaid and the defense budget. More than half say they are against small, across-the-board tax increases combined with modest reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits. Only President Obama’s call to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans enjoys solid support.

On Monday, Standard & Poor’s, for the first time, shifted its outlook on U.S. creditworthiness to "negative" because of the nation’s accumulating debt. The announcement rattled investors and could increase pressure on both sides in Washington to work out a broader deal as part of the upcoming vote over increasing the government’s borrowing authority. The president and congressional Republicans have set out sharply differing blueprints to deal with the looming problem. Obama has called for agreement on at least a framework by early summer, which roughly coincides with the deadline for raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Public resistance to many proposals in the competing plans could greatly complicate those discussions. Altering entitlement programs still involves political risk, the poll shows, and proponents of such changes face a substantial challenge in persuading the public that they are needed. The two sides are far apart philosophically, and neither enjoys great public confidence: Fifty-eight percent of those polled disapprove of the way the president is handling the budget deficit. Even more — 64 percent — give Republicans in Congress low marks.

The public is split about evenly on whether Obama or congressional Republicans are more trusted to find the right balance between cutting unnecessary spending and preserving priorities. On that question, public opinion is unchanged since last month, despite the recent battle over funding the government for the rest of the current fiscal year, resulting in a deal that includes $38 billion in cuts and that came barely an hour before the government was scheduled to shut down.

Congressional Republicans maintain a narrow edge over Obama when it comes to taking a "stronger leadership role" in Washington, 45 to 40 percent. And political independents side with the Republicans on tackling the burgeoning debt. But Obama maintains a key, double-digit advantage among independents when it comes to "protecting the middle class." The Republican budget plan, drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) and approved by the House last week, calls for a major restructuring of Medicare and Medicaid, with sizable savings in future costs. Obama, in his plan, opposes the GOP’s restructuring, but he has said that future savings will be needed to keep Medicare solvent.

The Post-ABC poll finds that 78 percent oppose cutting spending on Medicare as a way to chip away at the debt. On Medicaid — the government insurance program for the poor — 69 percent disapprove of cuts. There is also broad opposition to cuts in military spending to reduce the debt, but at somewhat lower levels (56 percent).

In his speech last week, the president renewed his call to raise tax rates on family income over $250,000, and he appears to hold the high ground politically, according to the poll. At this point, 72 percent support raising taxes along those lines, with 54 percent strongly backing this approach. The proposal enjoys the support of majorities of Democrats (91 percent), independents (68 percent) and Republicans (54 percent). Only among people with annual incomes greater than $100,000 does less than a majority "strongly support" such tax increases.

An across-the-board tax increase is decidedly less popular, at least when coupled with benefit reductions. A report by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility , co-chaired by former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, recommended "shared sacrifice." But in the poll, a slim majority — 53 percent — opposes small tax increases and minor benefit cuts for all as a way to significantly reduce the debt. Strong opposition to that kind of solution outnumbers strong support by 2 to 1.

There is broad support for keeping Medicare structured the way it has been since it was instituted in 1965: as a defined-benefit health insurance program. Just 34 percent of Americans say Medicare should be changed along the lines outlined in the Ryan budget proposal, shifting it away from a defined-benefit plan. Under that proposal, recipients would select from a group of insurance plans providing guaranteed coverage, and the government would provide a payment to the insurer, subsidizing the cost. Advocates say this approach is more sophisticated than a pure voucher plan.

In his speech last week, Obama attacked that idea, saying it could leave some Americans without adequate coverage and would end "Medicare as we know it." While the debt issue lingers, most Americans — 59 percent — do approve of the deal stitched together to avoid a government shutdown by cutting billions from this year’s budget. The telephone poll was conducted April 14 to 17 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.






Fiscal Conservatives Dodge $10 Trillion Debt
by Simon Johnson - Bloomberg

Washington is filled with self- congratulation this week, with Republicans claiming that they have opened serious discussion of the U.S. budget deficit and President Barack Obama’s proponents arguing that his counterblast last Wednesday will win the day. The reality is that neither side has come to grips with the most basic of our harsh fiscal realities.

Start with the facts as provided by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Compare the CBO’s budget forecast for January 2008, before the outbreak of serious financial crisis in the fall of that year, with its latest version from January 2011. The relevant line is "debt held by the public at the end of the year," meaning net federal government debt held by the private sector, which excludes government agency holdings of government debt.

In early 2008, the CBO projected that debt as a percent of gross domestic product would fall from 36.8 percent to 22.6 percent at the end of 2018. In contrast, the latest CBO forecast has debt soaring to 75.3 percent of GDP in 2018. What caused this stunning reversal, which in dollar terms works out to a $10 trillion swing for end-year 2018 debt, from $5.1 trillion to $15.8 trillion?

Revenue Drought
Almost all of this increase is due to the severe recession that followed the financial crisis of late 2008. This lowered output and employment, and therefore reduced tax revenue. For example, look at the tax revenue numbers for 2011, as a percent of GDP. The earlier expectation for 2011 was that the federal government would collect revenue equal to 19.3 percent of GDP. The forecast now is for revenue of 14.8 percent of GDP.

Whatever you think about the fiscal stimulus of 2008 (at President George W. Bush’s instigation) or 2009 (from Obama), those had relatively little impact compared with the automatic stabilizers, such as unemployment benefits, that are triggered by deep recession. Why did we have a severe recession with such a crippling fiscal consequences? On this issue, most politicians from both sides of the aisle fall silent.

What isn’t in doubt is that this was a financial-sector crisis of classic proportions. In terms of the negative fiscal repercussion, it reads like an episode straight from Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart’s "This Time Is Different," a history of financial crises. But the political elite that now profess to be bothered by the fiscal deficit made no serious effort to make the financial sector any safer after the events of September-October 2008.

Three Responses
When you press politicians and their advisers on this, you will hear three kinds of responses in candid moments.

First is the notion that banking crises are rare. This is a favorite of the Treasury Department. Perhaps that was true in the past, but our big banks have become bigger, and too-big-to- fail banks have major incentives to take on very high levels of risk. After all, the downside isn’t their problem.

Second is the idea that we fixed it with the Dodd-Frank Act, a line heard most often from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Almost no one holds to that view, including William Dudley, president of the New York Federal Reserve, and Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Both have expressed concerns that the roadmap for closing a large troubled bank remains elusive.

And the idea that new international rules will force banks to increase their capital enough to reduce the risk of systemic crisis is regarded as ludicrous, at least by leading independent finance experts, such as Anat Admati of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Forcing banks to raise more equity in an appropriate way would lower risk, strengthening the financial system at little or no cost to the broader economy, according to Admati.

Third, "Let the markets evolve the way the markets evolve." This was a recent quote from Anthony Santomero, former president of the Philadelphia Fed and current Citigroup Inc. director. Citigroup has blown up repeatedly in the past 30 years, not surprising for a complex and unwieldy megabank with 260,000 employees worldwide.

Each time, it was saved through some form of external assistance, usually from the government, in part because responsible policy makers feared what Citigroup’s collapse would do the broader economy. Do we really think that the next time a bank with 200 million clients worldwide gets in trouble that the U.S. will let it go bankrupt, regardless of the consequences? Is that what Vikram Pandit, the chief executive officer, or Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary, argued for in 2008 or will argue for next time?

Right Way
The right way to think about future budget deficits is in a probability-based fashion: What is the chance something bad will happen, and how bad will that be for debt levels? The odds of another major financial calamity next year are small, but the risk over a 10- to 20-year period is high. That’s the right time horizon to use in the coming budget debate. The impact of a new financial crisis on the U.S. public balance sheet would be huge. Anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a fiscal conservative must stop dodging this issue and start proposing solutions.




Debt at 200% of GDP Dares S&P Amid Succession: William Pesek
by William Pesek - Bloomberg

So Naoto Kan is a goner.

That’s the word in traumatized Tokyo. Japan’s prime minister had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get his mojo back in the five weeks since a record earthquake and tsunami. He failed, and pundits wonder if he will make it to his first anniversary in office in June. Kan would be the fifth to go in five years.

Investors harbor a well-honed cynicism about Japanese leaders. They come, stick around for 12 months and they’re gone before markets or foreign governments get to know them. Japan’s revolving-door politics constantly sends new finance and foreign ministers to global summits. So much for relationship-building.

Kan’s predecessor lasted only nine months. Now Kan, who cheered markets with talk of reducing Japan’s massive debt, seems to be on the way out. And the question isn’t who’s next, but does it even matter? Not without sweeping changes to the political system. Barring that, Japan’s economic future is as cloudy as the status of the radiation leaks in Fukushima.

The focus is on how the March 11 quake, tsunami and unfolding nuclear-reactor drama will affect gross domestic product this year. That makes sense when the world’s third- biggest economy is suddenly in turmoil. We also must ponder where aging, deflation-plagued Japan will be five, 10 or 20 years from now. And that’s what worries me. Japan faces a daunting Catch 22. It needs a strong, independent prime minister willing to wrest power from the entrenched bureaucrats who really run the nation. When we actually get one, the entire political establishment thwarts reform and works to oust that leader.

Maverick
Kan is one of the few prime ministers in decades who didn’t descend from political royalty. His maverick streak emerged in the 1990s. As health minister, he forced bureaucrats to release documents exposing their role in allowing as many as 5,000 Japanese to contract HIV through contaminated blood products. Whistle-blowers are a rare thing in Japanese politics.

Investors were excited 10 months ago when Kan unveiled plans to yank power away from bureaucrats. We foreign journalists were overjoyed that Kan’s government moved to open press conferences to scribes outside Japan’s press-club system, which is more about control than transparency. These steps alone border on revolutionary and go a long way toward explaining why Kan efforts to bring about change are failing. Vested interests rallied to save the status quo.

Corruptive Force
One of the most corrupting forces in government is the rise of shadowy fiefdoms. The longer one stays in a job, the bigger their influence becomes and the more skewed their incentives are toward personal success and avoiding change. An added problem in Japan is the offensive practice of public servants getting cushy gigs in industries they once oversaw.

The hapless Tokyo Electric Power Co. runs the leaking Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. You might expect there to be strict rules about former government officials gaining lucrative employment at Tepco after retirement -- you know, just to ensure that nuclear plants are actually being watched with some semblance of objectivity.

Nope, the practice that encourages bureaucrats to look out for their future employers, not the average Japanese household, is alive and well. It’s called amakudari, which means "descent from heaven." Decades of doctored safety reports and underestimated risks at Tepco were made possible by bureaucrats looking the other way. Far from heaven, it’s made life a nightmare for farmers, fishermen and millions living around Fukushima.

Japan Inc.
Kan’s unsteady leadership these last five weeks sealed his political fate. Yet so did his failure to see through change, just as Japan’s last independent-minded leader Junichiro Koizumi fell far short in his pledge to shake things up. Koizumi was around for an extraordinarily long time, from 2001 to 2006, and had only marginal success. Though they hail from different parties and ideologies, both ran up against the same wall: Japan Inc.

We can obsess over who will succeed Kan. Many bets are on Katsuya Okada, secretary general of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano is another favorite, as are Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and National Strategy Minister Koichiro Gemba. Long shots include Renho Murata, a former model turned fiscal firebrand serving as conservation minister. She would be Japan’s first female premier. Unless Kan’s successor is willing to attack the status quo, to disturb Tokyo’s established political order, it won’t much matter.

Japan’s Debt
Standard & Poor’s regained a bit of its own mojo this week by threatening to take away the AAA credit rating for the U.S. Japan should brace for greater skepticism of its balance sheet as politicians add to a public debt that’s 200 percent of GDP. In January, S&P lowered Japan’s rating to AA-, the same level as China’s. Japan’s forthcoming borrowing binge to rebuild the quake-devastated northeast will do nothing to make it more competitive or vibrant, and its rating may pay the price. Leaders change; Japan’s dismal debt-to-GDP ratio doesn’t.

To change course, the nation’s 127 million people require a liberated and visionary leader. They just need to find one and let him or her stay in the job for a while.




Lessons from the Credit-Anstalt Collapse
by Peter Coy - BusinessWeek

In May 1931, a Viennese bank named Credit-Anstalt failed. Founded by the famous Rothschild banking family in 1855, Credit-Anstalt was one of the most important financial institutions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its failure came as a shock because it was considered impregnable.

The bank not only made loans; it acquired ownership stakes in all kinds of companies throughout the sprawling empire, from sugar producers to the new automobile makers. Its headquarters city, Vienna, was a place of wealth and splendor, famous for its opera, balls, chocolate, psychoanalysis, and the extravagant architecture of the Ringstrasse. The fall of Credit-Anstalt—and the dominoes it helped topple across Continental Europe and the confidence it shredded as far away as the U.S.—wasn't just the failure of a bank: It was a failure of civilization.

Once again, Europe's banking system, and by extension its social fabric, is threatened by bad loans. What had been slow-moving fiscal disasters in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal have gathered speed in recent weeks despite rescue packages designed to calm markets and prevent spreading the contagion to Spain, Belgium, and beyond. Portugal's 10-year borrowing costs hit a record 9.3 percent on Apr. 20, up from 7.4 percent just a month before, even as authorities met in Lisbon on an €80 billion ($116 billion) financing package.

The higher that creditors drive up interest rates, the more unaffordable the debt becomes—creating the conditions for the very failure they fear. "All of the rescue packages don't really ensure that we can escape this adverse feedback loop that these countries are being trapped in," Christoph Rieger, head of fixed-income strategy at Frankfurt-based Commerzbank, told Bloomberg Television on Apr. 19.

With weak banking systems still resisting aggressive treatment, it's worth revisiting Credit-Anstalt to plumb for any applicable lessons. Long before 1931, Credit-Anstalt had begun to develop cracks that were invisible to the public. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up after World War I, the bank continued to do business throughout the old empire without recognizing that the world had changed. Suddenly, more knowledgeable local lenders were getting the best deals, leaving Credit-Anstalt with the loans no one else would touch, says Aurel Schubert, an Austrian economist who wrote a 1991 book on the episode called The Credit-Anstalt Crisis of 1931. (There's a modern analogy in Greek banks' unwise loans in Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia.)

The hyperinflation of 1921-23 that made the price of a beer rise to 4 billion marks badly damaged the finances of Credit-Anstalt as well as Austria itself. The nation was propped up by a 1923 loan from the League of Nations, the predecessor of the U.N. A Dutch citizen was appointed by the League to supervise the Austrian budget. He devised plans to raise taxes while cutting government jobs, pay, and pensions, the same prescription being urged on the weak members of the euro zone today. But Austria continued to stumble.

Bank regulation, meanwhile, was thin and getting thinner: Regulators began to demand a balance sheet just once a year, instead of every six months, says Schubert. As weaker banks failed, Credit-Anstalt took them over at regulators' insistence, becoming more bloated and less profitable with every merger. And the weakening of the economy was damaging lenders' ability to repay.

The tipping point came early in 1931 when a bank director named Zoltan Hajdu refused to sign off on Credit-Anstalt's books without a comprehensive reevaluation of the bank's assets. The bank revealed losses that it kept revising upward as the weeks passed. Depositors withdrew funds. The Austrian government stepped in to guarantee all the bank's deposits and other liabilities—but that only brought the government's own creditworthiness into question. "In today's language," says Schubert, "Credit-Anstalt was too big to fail, but too big to save."

Harold James, a British historian at Princeton University, described what happened next in his 2001 book The End of Globalization: Lessons from the Great Depression. "The Viennese panic brought down banks in Amsterdam and Warsaw. In June and July the scare spread to Germany, and from there immediately to Latvia, Turkey, and Egypt (and within a few months to England and the U.S.)." Austria got an undersized loan from the Bank for International Settlements and some help from the British branch of the Rothschild family. But French politicians rejected an international rescue without political concessions from Germany that weren't forthcoming.

Thus the failure of Credit-Anstalt accelerated the financial panic that turned a recession into a global depression. Economic distress in Austria contributed to the outbreak of violent conflict between socialists and fascists in 1934. Jews became scapegoats. In 1938, Nazi Germany occupied Austria, and Adolf Hitler was received by adoring crowds in Vienna. Albeit indirectly, the failure of Credit-Anstalt helped clear the path for some of the darkest events of the 20th century.

Today's Europe is far from a series of events resembling this tragic cascade. But the experience of the 1930s and 1940s has made European policymakers and economists hyper-aware of historical precedents. The current debate is about how to avoid a repeat. To those who believe hyperinflation was the key policy mistake in Credit-Anstalt's fall, keeping a lid on inflation is priority No. 1. Others stress the lack of international coordination, or the failure to regulate, or even the handcuffs on government policies from adherence to the gold standard—represented today by the euro zone's reliance on a common currency. As in most car crashes, the witnesses have a hard time agreeing on just what they saw.

The scariest thing about the Credit-Anstalt default is that it occurred in a small, peripheral country, just as today's worst problems are concentrated so far in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, which combined make up just 5 percent of the 27-nation European Union's gross domestic product. "Austria is a tiny, tiny little place, and you wouldn't imagine it could set off a chain of domino reactions. But it did. I do see exactly that potential now," says James.

For that reason, German economist Holger Schmieding says Europe should do everything in its power to prevent or at least delay defaults by national governments. Schmieding, chief economist of the German private bank Joh. Berenberg Gossler, says keeping Greece and others from defaulting for as long as possible—if not forever—will give banks in Germany, France, and other nations that have lent to them the time they need to rebuild their capital so they can withstand the hit from loan losses. The Bank for International Settlements says that as of last September, German banks had over €220 billion worth of exposure to Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, and French banks had over €150 billion worth.

For all of Europe's bickering over aid to Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, the Continent is more united and financially stable now than in the interwar period. "Unlike Austria in 1931, the euro zone has the resources to bail out the threatened banks without really triggering a full-blown debt crisis," says Michael D. Bordo, a Rutgers University economic historian. The more Europe takes the lessons of Credit-Anstalt to heart, the less likely it is to make the same mistakes again.

The introduction of Schubert's book begins with the famous line of George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." J. Bradford DeLong, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, thinks Europe has absorbed Santayana's message—to an extent. "Because we remember the Credit-Anstalt, we will not make that mistake," DeLong says. "We will make different ones."




Papandreou slams rating agencies 'trying to shape Greece's future'
by Helena Smith and Jill Treanor - Guardian

Greek government calls in Interpol over Citigroup trader's email as restructuring speculation mounts

Greece's prime minister, George Papandreou, has launched a new attack on credit rating agencies amid mounting expectation that Greece was considering ways to restructure its debts.
On the first anniversary of the Greek bailout by the International Monetary Fund and the EU, Papandreou said on a government website that agencies were "seeking to shape our destiny and determine the future of our children".

His outburst came as the Greek authorities focused on a London trader at US bank Citigroup in their attempts to get to the bottom of rumours that the government would restructure its debt as early as this Easter weekend. In an email sent on 20 April Paul Moss, a Citigroup employee, outlined "market noise" about a possible restructuring, when rumours were rife in the markets. Shares in Greek banks fell 4.7% that day, infuriating the Greek authorities, which have called in Interpol.

Citi is adamant that neither it nor its employees have done anything wrong. Greek authorities said they were awaiting news of what they hoped would be an in-depth investigation. "Our cybercrime division has sent paperwork asking for the individual to be questioned," said a police spokeswoman.

On 20 April the Reuters news agency said 46 out of 55 economists expected Greece to have to restructure its debt in the next two years, with extending loans' maturity the most likely option. Greek newspapers later reported on 22 April that this was what the country was privately already discussing. The country's top-selling newspaper, Ta Nea, described "a velvet restructuring" that would include extending outstanding debt and a voluntary agreement to modify repayment terms. The paper said this would need to take place before 2012.

Describing the informal talks, the paper said the Greek official in charge was finance minister George Papaconstantinou, who has reiterated that a debt extension or other restructuring was out of the question. Officially, the country is planning to return to the bond market early next year – reducing the urgency for a bailout – and Papaconstantinou claimed the debt was "sustainable" even though it is expected to hit 160% of GDP in 2012. Another Greek newspaper, Isotimia, reported that the government might seek to extend the maturities of its outstanding debt by an average of five years.

In March Papandreou hit out at a downgrade by ratings agency Standard & Poor's – to BB – saying that the country was being downgraded not because of its policies but because of the EU's handling of the crisis. While Greece has never had a top-notch AAA rating it has been downgraded or warned of a downgrade eight times since January 2009, when it had an A rating. A year ago, just after the bailout, it was the first eurozone country to have its debt rating cut to junk when S&P had warned that bondholders could recover as little as 30% if the country restructured its debt.

The cuts to the ratings help to push up the cost of borrowing for Greece on the international bond markets. Before the markets shut for the long Easter weekend, the yield on 10-year bonds was above 15%. Yields rise when bond prices fall. Germany, regarded as the safest borrower in the eurozone, has a yield of 3.27%.




Greeks Brace for Losses as Papandreou Debt-Cutting Odyssey Enters Year Two
by Maria Petrakis - Bloomberg

Georgios Kakaboukis, 87, has survived the Nazi occupation of Greece, a civil war, a military coup and martial law. He can deal with Prime Minister George Papandreou cutting his Easter holiday pension bonus. "Some people, these younger ones, haven’t lost anything at all," said Kakaboukis, a retired civil servant, while waiting in line to see his doctor at the state welfare office in the Athens suburb of Neos Kosmos. "Greeks have learned to yell, raising their fists in protest while the other hand is stretched out for handouts."

It’s been almost a year since Papandreou traveled to the remote island of Kastelorizo on April 23 to tell Greeks they needed to grab the financial lifeline from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Evoking Homer’s Odyssey, the Socialist premier said he had "charted the waters" and "knows the way to Ithaca," the home of the mythological hero Odysseus.

Greeks are realizing that the journey to financial health is only just beginning. A year of spending cuts and tax increases has failed to tame the euro-region’s second-largest deficit and the government is pushing for more austerity. Record bond yields signal investors’ bets that Greece will capitulate and restructure a debt forecast to peak at 159 percent of gross domestic product next year.

With unemployment set to exceed 15 percent this year, and the country’s central bank saying the economy may shrink more than its 3 percent forecast, the third year of contraction, Greeks are girding for more losses. Last week, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou announced cuts covering the next five years, targeting schools, hospitals, and public transit.

‘Won’t-Pay’ Movement
Wages and pensions have already been reduced for the 768,000 state workers and the bonus payments were eliminated. The deficit-cutting drive that was a condition of 110 billion euros ($160 billion) in aid has left hospitals without supplies, forcing closures. Higher public transit fares have sparked a "won’t-pay" movement on buses, trains and toll roads.

Athina Eleftheriou, 50, is fed up with Papandreou. "We should throw him in the sea and let him find his own way to Ithaca," said Eleftheriou. Sales at her central Athens store selling silks imported from India have fallen by half, as have her prices, while sales taxes have risen, she said. "Nobody asked the Greeks about this."

Yiannis Constantinidis, 57, Eleftheriou’s husband, says Papandreou’s policies are squeezing small businesses and forcing people to dodge taxes, worsening the situation. "He’s taking 45 percent of profit, 23 percent VAT and indirect taxes and there’s nothing left," he said. "He’s forcing us into a position where we can’t pay." The couple represents Greece’s fastest growing political group: the disenchanted. Polls show Greeks increasingly unhappy with both Papandreou’s Socialist Pasok party and the main opposition New Democracy led by Antonis Samaras.

Thirty percent of the 1,005 Greeks surveyed by Kapa Research between April 11 and April 14 said they were undecided about who they would vote for if elections were held now. Pasok garnered the support of 21.7 percent; New Democracy of 20.1 percent. More than half said their greatest fear was a major cut in their household income. The second-greatest was a bankruptcy of the Greek state, according to the poll.

Papandreou and Papaconstantinou are sticking to the plan, rejecting default and saying the economy needs to be overhauled to avoid wasting their efforts. "Restructuring holds huge dangers for Greece’s economy, Greek banks, households and businesses," Papaconstantinou said yesterday. "I leave out the issue of what will happen in the rest of the European Union."

Buying Time
The bailout was designed to give Greece room to cut a budget shortfall that soared to 15.4 percent of GDP in 2009, the EU plan foresees the country returning to markets for financing in 2012, an eventuality bond yields are signaling isn’t likely to happen. The deficit is targeted to fall to 7.4 percent this year and to within the EU’s 3 percent limit in 2014.

The yield on the country’s 10-year bond was 14.8 percent yesterday, about 600 basis points higher than when Papandreou asked for the aid a year ago. Borrowing costs for two-year Greek bonds exceed 22 percent, more than 10 times what Germany pays. Echoing the pre-bailout dynamic, ratings companies have kept up the pressure on Papandreou, lowering the country’s creditworthiness to junk status. Meantime, tax evasion, slumping growth and corruption are undermining his efforts.

Government revenue grew 5.5 percent in 2010, compared with a targeted increase of 6 percent. The government initially forecast a 13.7 percent increase and was forced to reduce the goal twice as increases in value-added taxes and levies on alcohol, tobacco and fuel failed to generate enough income. Greeks were asked to pay bribes of between 150 euros and 7,500 euros for surgery in public hospitals, with payments to doctors to facilitate the process ranging from 50 euros to 1,500 euros, according to data presented by the Greek chapter of Transparency International and posted on its website. Total bribes paid were an estimated 632 million euros last year, about 0.3 percent of the economy, the report said.

Plans to cut the state’s stakes in the phone, gambling and power companies have reignited union dissent, with the country’s biggest groups calling a general strike for May 11, days before Papandreou takes his five-year plan to parliament for approval. His majority in the legislature has fallen to 156 of the 300- seat chamber. That’s down from 160 after his election in October 2009 as lawmakers broke ranks.

Toughening Rules
As the EU pushes through legislation to toughen punishment of governments that breach the bloc’s budget-deficit and debt limits, Socialist politicians say the EU must avoid pursuing punitive policies. "The weaker economies will go through a period of blood, sweat and tears," says Udo Bullmann, a German Socialist member of the European Parliament. "The leaders there have to be able to offer something to their people. They have to be able to say ‘you get something more from Brussels than sanctions.’"

Kakaboukis, the pensioner, says Greeks are well aware of their failures, referring to bankruptcies in 1843 and 1893. Default wouldn’t be the end of the story, and would spread to other countries, he said. "Bankruptcy isn’t just a word," he said. "Bankruptcy, restructuring, these are terrible things. We will all fall in the sea together."




Euro Benefits Germany More Than Others in Zone
by Floyd Norris - New York Times

The euro has been very, very good for Germany. Other members of the zone have not fared as well.

Since the introduction of the euro at the beginning of 1999, the European Central Bank calculates that Germany has gained competitiveness, not only against other major industrial nations but against all other members of the euro zone.

Over the same period, Germany’s balance of payments has gone from a small deficit to a strong surplus, but in the euro zone as a whole the balance of payments position has deteriorated slightly. Trade balances are the largest part of the balance of payments, but other transfers — not including international investments and profits from those investments — are also included.

The loss of competitiveness has been a major problem for some other members of the euro zone, most notably Greece and Ireland, each of which has been bailed out by Europe. Portugal, the other country to seek help, has suffered a smaller loss of competitiveness. Ireland’s problems were caused largely by the collapse of its banking system, which stemmed from the collapse of a property boom that had been propelled by cheap credit and tax incentives. The loss of competitiveness was not as much of a problem for Ireland as it was for Greece and Portugal.



After the collapse, Ireland embarked on a harsh program of austerity, including wage cuts, and both its competitiveness and its balance of payments have improved. The competitiveness measure is based on currency movements and changes in unit labor costs in major industrialized countries. German competitiveness against the rest of the world was probably helped by the fact that the relatively poor performance of other members of the euro zone held down the appreciation of the euro against other currencies.

The first set of charts accompanying this article shows Germany’s performance in competitiveness, as well as the country’s balance of payments as a percentage of gross domestic product. The next set of charts shows similar measures for the other major countries of the euro zone, France, Italy and Spain. The final set shows the performance of the three countries that were forced to seek European help.

The European Central Bank does not publish a competitiveness index for Portugal based on unit labor costs, so a similar one based on overall inflation in the economy is used instead. Greek balance of payments data is not available for 1999. With the exception of Germany, each of the countries shown has lost competitiveness because unit labor costs have risen more rapidly in those countries. Absent the euro, many of the countries probably would have devalued their national currencies, but that is not possible as long as they remain in the euro zone.

Since the financial crisis intensified in mid-2008, all of the countries, including Germany, have improved their global competitive positions. Ireland has improved its position more than any other country in the euro zone, but both Greece and Portugal have continued to lose ground to Germany.




Epidemiologist, Dr. Steven Wing, Discusses Global Radiation Exposures and Consequences with Gundersen
by Fairewinds Associates







Money And Trust: Richer, More Equal Countries Are More Trusting, Study Finds
by Lila Shapiro - Huffington Post

People living in richer, more egalitarian countries trust their fellow human beings more, new data shows. Countries with high median household incomes are more trusting, generally, than countries with lower income levels. The United States is an exception to this trend.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development surveyed 30 industrialized countries with the question, "Generally speaking would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?" Danes are the most trusting people and Chileans the least, according to the data.

In 2008, the United States was the 10th least trusting country, with only 48.7 percent of Americans responding that, generally speaking, most people could be trusted. But, of the countries surveyed, the U.S. ranks fourth for median household income levels.



The O.E.C.D.'s data also shows that higher levels of trust are strongly associated with lower levels of income inequality. The analysis from the O.E.C.D. does not draw definite conclusions about the cause and effect relationship between wealth and trust. "Trust may promote gainful economic activity, or trust may be a luxury affordable only by richer countries," the report notes.

Likewise, the relationship between inequality and trust is left open by the report, which surmises that income inequality may make it more difficult for people to share a sense of common purpose, or it may be that low levels of trust inhibit positive social bonds, which could lead to more inequality in society.

The data from the O.E.C.D. correlates with what academics have thought for a long time: Money and trust are integrally bound together. Tom W. Smith, the director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Society at the University of Chicago, who has written about trust and confidence in institutions, teases out some of the connections.

"If you have a higher income and you're substantially above the poverty line, you have more of a margin of generosity. You can be a little more trusting, a little more generous to others. You have this margin where you can be open to others," Smith said. "But if you're at or below the poverty level, there's no margin. You can't be generous towards others because there's nothing you could possible give up."

But many academics who study the relationship between wealth and trust argue that a country's income inequality is far more important than the overall wealth of a country.

"Inequality is much more significant than wealth and the reason is that trust reflects the view that what happens to me happens to you. That we're all in this together. And inequality works exactly to counter that," said Eric M. Uslaner, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland-College Park, whose research focuses on the reasons people trust each other.

Uslaner also noted that it was important to take the percentages from the O.E.C.D. with a grain of salt. Although the general order of the list did not surprise him -- Nordic countries are always ranked as the most trusting in the world -- the percentages of people expressing a high level of trust in others seemed high to him, across the board.

"I have never seen numbers of generalized trust like that. In virtually any other survey I have ever seen on trust, there are five countries that have trust levels above 50 percent. The Nordic countries always fall into that range. Sometimes Canada, sometimes Australia. So 88 percent is absolutely unheard of," Uslaner said.

According to the, O.E.C.D. 88.8 percent of Denmark's population has a high level of trust. According to figures Uslaner references from the World Values Survey from 1995 (the most trustworthy source in his view), 58 percent of Danes are trusting, while only 36 percent of Americans think other people can be trusted.

Data from the General Social Survey, which conducts annual scientific research on the structure of American society, corresponds closely with the World Values Survey -- the percentage of trusting Americans in the past decade has never risen above 38 percent. Although the GSS does show a decline from 1972, when 47 percent of Americans said that people could be trusted.

The reason for the United States' relatively low trust level given its high GDP is clear, academics say: high income inequality.

"The United States has one of the highest levels of inequality of any industrial countries in the world. It's created a great deal of mistrust in everything," said Brian Vargus, professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis who specializes in trust and the government.

The Great Recession has made income inequality in the United States worse, as corporate profits have rebounded while unemployment remains high. On Tuesday, a new study by the nation's largest labor union found that CEOs at 299 U.S. companies earned $3.4 billion combined in executive compensation in 2010. In all, CEO compensation equalled the combined average earnings of more than 100,000 workers in their respective companies.

"People are now talking in the United States about the economy going in two different directions. If you're really rich, it's a great time to be an American; if you're middle class or poor, it's a terrible time," Uslaner said. "It's not surprising that people don't feel this common sense of identity."

Of the 30 countries surveyed by O.E.C.D., most became slightly more trustful over the last decade. The United States was one of six of the 30 countries surveyed that showed a decline in trust. Change in a country's level of trust over time is unusual, academics say, and one of the few things that can alter it is a change in income inequality.

"Trust is extremely sticky -- it doesn't change. And it doesn't change over a course of a person's lifetime that much either. Nor does inequality change that much over time" Uslaner said. "But there is a vicious cycle that many countries get themselves into, with high levels of inequality leading to low levels of trust leading to high levels of corruption which lead to even higher levels of inequality and lower levels of trust. It becomes extraordinarily difficult to break this chain."

Brian Vargus, and others who study the sociology of trust see a strong correlation between high levels of trust -- both between people as well as an individual's trust in institutions -- and a well run government.

"The feeling is, when you look at trust and you see how it moves across government, as people become more mistrustful of government, it's much more difficult to govern," Vargus said. "As trust levels go up, it can help foster better economic relations, but when you've got an economic downturn, high unemployment, the public starts asking, who can I trust?"

Furthermore, Tom Smith notes, mistrust, particularly mistrust based in poverty, has a way of passing down through generations. "If your parents teach you not to trust others, then you grow up with those values and you're likely to pass along those values to your children. so this kind of culture perpetuates itself," Smith said.


136 comments:

aureliusx said...

I'm sorry this is off subject but there is no more left to be said about our constitutional scholar.

http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/04/obama-on-bradley-manning-he-broke-the-law/

p01 said...

So far, Automatic Earths’ prognosis for the dollar and gold have been dead wrong.
Gold and silver are proving the deflationists wrong and will continue to do so. Buying dollars is suicide. But hey, maybe you’re into that sort of thing.

I'm always in awe at the human herd. All this precious metals super-rally just screams bubble and speculation, but, as always, those invested think prices only go up; it's different THIS time, we'll just trade with gold from now on, the paradigm has shifted. Good grief!

p01 said...

I posted a comment on Kaiser's site which I don't expect to pass moderation. I'll post it here too:

Gold and silver only go up!!!111
They are the only real money!!!111
Just like the estate that was real!!!11
oh, wait…

Greenpa said...

Re: ongoing radiation releases and spread. This is from NHK today:

"Reactor 1 water level concerns

"The Japanese government has expressed concern about the structural strength of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant's Number 1 reactor. It says the ongoing water injections may be making the vessel less earthquake resistant.

"Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, is planning to fill part of the containment vessel with water to cool the reactor.

"TEPCO wants the water level to reach the top of the fuel rods in reactors one and three by mid July, so it can cool them under more stable conditions.

"At the Number 1 reactor, where fuel rods are believed to be the most seriously damaged, six tons of water are being injected every hour.

"TEPCO believes the water is vaporizing, then condensing in the containment vessel."
-------------------------------------

So; what we know:

The fuel rods in #1 are still partly out of the water; and they don't think anything they can do will get them under water until July. !! If the rods are constantly out of the water- they're really really hot. Like heading towards 1,500°F if not cooled considerably. The steam under pressure can cool them a little; but it's a crazy bet; and any water molecule hitting a fuel rod that hot will flash/re-flash into "live steam" instantly; adding pressure and corrosive power to the situation.

They are still injecting 6 tons of water every hour (that would be 3,000 gallons=11,300 liters).

They "think the water is condensing in the container"..

God help us if they're actually that stupid- no, most of that water is either escaping as steam out the top, or as water leaking out the bottom- otherwise, duh, the water level would rise and cover the rods, fairly soon.

If there's no visible steam plume, ever (it might not be visible under all weather conditions) - then it's got to be leaking out the bottom. Really no other possibilities.

Greenpa said...

"So who are you going to believe? Geithner? Or the people at S&P who actually will be deciding what S&P will do about S&P’s own rating of U.S. sovereign debt?"

Something I have yet to see- any analysis of the potential for the "rating agencies" to have political agendas of their own.

Now, if YOU were S&P, or Moodys, etc; why WOULDN'T you feel tempted to sway the ratings just a bit; one way or the other; to keep the political climate, and votes, going the way you want?

Of course it's possible. The fact that it's not even mentioned as possible should be fuel for a whole gang of conspiracy theories.

There is also no public mention, let alone discussion, about any safeguards in the system to keep ratings agencies pure and objective.

Now why would that be?

Ilargi said...

"So far, Automatic Earths’ prognosis for the dollar and gold have been dead wrong."

That's an ordinary strawman. We never said anything about the value of gold and USD on April 23, 2011. Sure, we expected a quicker fall of several economic factors and ingredients, but then, so does and did Max. The fact that that fall hasn't materialized, while gold and silver have still already soared, should give him pause for reflection, I think.

.

Greenpa said...

"Poll: Americans strongly oppose some deficit proposals"

"So?"

Ash said...

Seriously, what is people's fixation with shiny metals? It's like they see a bar of gold, and they can't get the image out of their heads.

The PM market is nothing compared to the dollar market, and that's just a fact. I own gold, and I own silver, and I'm sure many other people here do as well as I&S, but unlike Max, we haven't convinced ourselves of an agenda.

Ash said...

@Greenpa

"Now, if YOU were S&P, or Moodys, etc; why WOULDN'T you feel tempted to sway the ratings just a bit; one way or the other; to keep the political climate, and votes, going the way you want?"

My sentiments exactly:

"Earlier this year, Standard & Poor's rating agency downgraded the outlook for the triple-A rated status of Treasury bonds (from "stable" to "negative"), in what was nothing less than an act of aiding and abetting the politicians, bankers and major corporate executives who strive for the imposition of austerity on everyone but themselves."

I guess there's nothing left to say, but that everyone is "corrupted" to one degree or another.

APC said...

Ya, as Mr Puplava says, just google "Nicole Foss". That's N-I-C...

Why does that sound so wrong?

saif said...

Illargi and Stoneleigh are now approaching "right" from the other side.
The key argument comes down towards holding cash versus other asset class. They have got this completely wrong except for a brief moment in 2008.
For them to be right in their call not only do prices need to come down, they need to come to levels lower than where they were in 2008.
In fact they also need to average lower than that over a period of time.
If you use that gauge and not some arbitrary 25% drop from the highs, they will continue to look like Prechter.

Greenpa said...

Another apparently real number from NHK:

"1,535 spent fuel rods are stored in the pool of the Number 4 reactor's building, the largest amount at the site."

So, Stoneleigh; how many reactors would that equal?

Frank said...

@APC Because it's one letter too short to scan?

"..F-o-s-s-?" ;)

el gallinazo said...

Ash said...
Seriously, what is people's fixation with shiny metals? It's like they see a bar of gold, and they can't get the image out of their heads.

=================

Well, precious metals have held value for over 4000 years. Perhaps they have entered some Jungian archetype in our collective unconscious. As I pointed out months ago, it is embedded in languages as well. In Spanish you have separate words for money and silver, yet the word for silver is often, perhaps usually, used to denote money. No money that I know of in Latin America is composed of silver currently. And one should never underestimate the power of language.

I wanted to buy quite a bit of 1 ounce silver coins back when they were USD 15 an ounce, but due to my peripatetic circumstances, I had no safe place to hide them, so I let it pass. If I&S are right, and I have a good place when the time is right I might BTFD :-)

But the bottom line is that purchasing PM's is a way to assuage fear of the future. Just read the commentariat for any ZH article. I think it is, for the most part, magical thinking. I like the analogy of the peasant holding up the crucifix to keep the vampires at large. Can you imagine that Stoneleigh or Ilargi address that crowd of peasants and tell them that the vampires couldn't care less about their crucifixes. They would not be enthusiastically received.

Your typical urban or suburban, FIRE employed ZH reader, with a bookshelf well stacked with Ayn Rand hardcovers, is not about to move to the Ozarks, change his name to Jethro, and build a doomstead. But they **do know** that a financial shitstorm is coming. So the easiest way to lower their fear level is to buy precious metals. Almost as easy as going to Starbucks.

As to Max, he is entertaining but one shouldn't take him seriously as a "deep" thinker. First, he has an ego bigger than Siberia, and people with giant egos rarely perform good analyses. Secondly, he may be suffering from early onset Alzheimer's, and he needs his wife to hit the reset button all to frequently.

Also,

I read Kunstler's last piece, Skeleton Dance.

" I don't believe for a moment that the political right cares about the well-being of fetuses, anyway. The abortion issue is just a convenient cudgel to bash their political adversaries on the left. Karl Marx, a useful polemicist if a hinky guide in practical politics, had an apt term for what has become the ideology of the American right wing: "rural idiocy." It included all the familiar superstitions, phobias, obsessions, bugaboos, misconceptions, animosities, and sadistic impulses of simple country folk. Of course, today we'd have to update it as "suburban idiocy," because that is where the simple country folk of yesteryear have transpired to relocate, most traumatically in the Sunbelt, where today's car dealers, franchise moguls, and country clubbers, were only two generations ago digging chiggers out of their bare ankles after long days in the sharecrop furrows."

Good thing Joe Bageant is in the grave or he might have come after him with his deer gun.

p01 said...

Just wondering, how does the current alloy used in coins stand besides gold and silver in terms of durability?
Because in terms of production it's clear these alloys won't be mass-produced anymore once THSTF. While gold and silver coins can be produced with medieval technology.
Any thoughts on modern alloy scarcity vs. gold-silver abundance and what would that mean for mediums of exchange?
I'm very curious on other people's take on this.

Ash said...

El G said... "In Spanish you have separate words for money and silver, yet the word for silver is often, perhaps usually, used to denote money. No money that I know of in Latin America is composed of silver currently. And one should never underestimate the power of language."

And that is why I love TAE... where else can you get such insightful facts about this crazy world we live in?? Twice, no less, in case you missed it the first time, which I did.

I took 4 years of Spanish courses in high school, but what good did that do me?? I went to Spain after and still didn't have a clue what those people were talking about.

Ash said...

El G said... "Well, precious metals have held value for over 4000 years. Perhaps they have entered some Jungian archetype in our collective unconscious."

But you know what else has held value for millions of years? Food, water, shelters, ideas... you want to purchase any of those things in the near future, I recommend you hold on to some of those debt-backed dollars...

Not directed at you El G, but at those who would use the "held value" argument to recommend gold over cash, which I know you are not doing.

Greenpa said...

p01- "Just wondering, how does the current alloy used in coins stand besides gold and silver in terms of durability?"

I just made a quick survey of on-line info on this point- and was astonished at how little info is near the surface. Weird.

So this is just off the top of my head; Our current hi-tech sandwich coins are produced by "explosive cladding" - the sheets of sandwich material are exploded together, so the dissimilar alloys can actually be joined permanently.

While they are usually described as "copper-nickel" sandwiches, my understanding is that the central alloy is a copper mixture that almost might be called a bronze; and the nickel alloy on the outer surfaces is rather variable; it just has to be shiny, non-ferrous, and cheap.

Bronze and brass coins work just fine, as do aluminum ones- so long as people accept them. Unalloyed copper is too soft.

Hm. an interesting thought. Napoleon had a set of aluminum tableware. Because the metal was incredibly expensive at that time. Aluminum got cheap only when the electro-smelting process was invented- which uses huge amounts of electricity.

So; maybe aluminum could wind up a precious metal again, as energy supplies get pricier? That would be a few years down the pike, of course. But it would be amusing.

I. M. Nobody said...

It is my apparently worthless opinion that it does not matter who does or does not own gold and silver, but like most every other tangible and many intangible things they must be owned. I wonder if the Lakota were the last people to believe it should just be left in the ground.

What does strike me as a mystery is why the people that already hold piles of PMs are willing to sell it in exchange for something that the best and brightest on TV and the web say is going to be worth nothing any day now? That's a puzzler.

Aluminum will indeed be valuable down the line. I'd say it is too valuable right now, but that is just another worthless opinion.

I for one am extremely grateful that Vonnegut survived the firebombing of Dresden. Much has been written over the years about why it was firebombed. I don't recall anyone claiming it had military importance and the war was nearly over. Some have claimed that it was to show the Soviets, who were going to capture it, what we could do to their cities. My guess is that we probably did it just so they would not get to capture any intact and functional German city. My take away, never underestimate the treachery and mean spiritedness of a devoted capitalist.

p01 said...

Whoa, someone really spiked Keiser's water today:
In the case of silver, the price can go to $500 if YOU WANT IT TO.
He adds Mish into the mix, when Mish clearly states this about silver and Keiser's campain.
Keiser proves to be a pseudo journalist and with this latest antic, a total @$$hole.

p01 said...

Pseudo journalist should have linked here but can be accessed from Mish's post also.

Brunswickian said...

Proof reactor 3 exploded at Fukushima.

http://tinyurl.com/3v774z4

fla47 said...

Spotted this bumper sticker in the super market parking lot:

It's God's job to judge the terrorists. It's our job to arrange the meeting.

The car had South Carolina license plates. Didn't see the driver but I would think it likely that (s)he was packin' heat.

el gallinazo said...

pO1

Max makes a good intermission between a couple of Three Stooges videos while you get more popcorn and beer.

As to Mish's criticism of his failed policy trying to put JPMC in a short squeeze. Mish's just says that JPMC can hedge its short position by buying long options. I am no expert in this, in fact I am a total idiot, but I think the whole short squeeze idea centers around people holding paper silver demanding physical delivery. Could JPMC be forced to provide physical silver when it is virtually unavailable?

Draft said...

It was great to hear Stoneleigh's interview. I've been missing reading her here, and have been hoping she'll start writing again regularly.

el gallinazo said...

Fla47

I am real fond of people who do God favors. Lord Blankfein comes to mind. I hope they go check out their meeting venue in advance.

I. M. Nobody said...

Regarding the unsolicited contributions to God's workload espoused by bumper sticker authors. One might wonder if terrorists would sport such sentiments regarding infidels, if they had bumpers and stickers and an Usanistani sense of humor? I've heard that only the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows for sure.

Nassim said...

Greenpa,

Tiny correction: 6 tons of water is around 6000 litres and that is equivalent to around 1,600 US gallons.

p01, el G et al.,

Regarding gold. All you and I&S have said is quite correct. However, there are far more "peasants" like me on this planet than there are people who trust in governments. The spike in PM's is merely a measure of this distrust. It is a sideshow in the financial world. If things go the way most people on this blog seem to think, trust in governments is not about to go up anytime soon. Fukushima is going make even the Japanese distrust their own government - which is quite an amazing "achievement".

Here is an extract from Stevenson's Treasure Island

It was a strange collection, like Billy Bones's hoard for the diversity of coinage, but so much larger and so much more varied that I think I never had more pleasure than in sorting them. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Georges, and Louises, doubloons and double guineas and moidores and sequins, the pictures of all the kings of Europe for the last hundred years, strange Oriental pieces stamped with what looked like wisps of string or bits of spider's web, round pieces and square pieces, and pieces bored through the middle, as if to wear them round your neck--nearly every variety of money in the world must, I think, have found a place in that collection; and for number, I am sure they were like autumn leaves, so that my back ached with stooping and my fingers with sorting them out.

I recently read it to my kids and what I find remarkable is that this international money was lying in a hole for many years and was still quite useful and made it easy for them to get a fresh crew and sail back to England and live happily ever after - except for the sailor who spent it all in a few weeks upon his return.

ogardener said...

Blogger el gallinazo said...

Re: Kunstler's last piece, Skeleton Dance

"Good thing Joe Bageant is in the grave or he might have come after him with his deer gun."

Amen!

Ilargi said...

For them to be right in their call not only do prices need to come down, they need to come to levels lower than where they were in 2008.

So where's the question? What prices are we talking?

US homeowners lose $1000's every month on the "value" of their homes, yet complain about a few dimes extra at the pump.

What else is there to say?



.

Greenpa said...

Nassim: "Tiny correction: 6 tons of water is around 6000 litres and that is equivalent to around 1,600 US gallons."

right you are, I skipped a step. Actually, MY 6 tons = exactly 1,500 US gallons... but I do suspect they are using metric tons; ie. 1,000 kg; a bit different.

I was short on coffee, what can I say?

That's a little less scary- but...

I. M. Nobody said...

Nassim,

There are people who trust in governments? Why didn't somebody tell me? Are they all confined to Oz? Befuddled minds want to know. Governments seem to be able to get by without trust as long as they can maintain a threshold level of fear or indifference.

What matters is mutual trust among the population. Japan worked the way it did because they trusted each other. I think they are now losing some of that mutual trust, which will be a traumatic loss. If people trust each other enough, almost anything could be money. If they sufficiently distrust each other they will also distrust anything presented as an instrument of payment.

... made it easy for them to get a fresh crew and sail back to England and live happily ever after

Yeah, that is about as likely as meeting a human raised by Martians (Stranger in a Strange Land) that can by some inexplicable power discorporate any people or objects that represent a threat to himself or his friends. Fiction is great entertainment and I sure wish that guy was my friend.

scandia said...

Thinking about the real estate bubble, where to establish a doomstead etc...complexity on the move. Millions of people are on the move to escape totalitarian gov'ts,war,climate changes,
environmental degradation, lack of water,the nuclear plant up the road,etc... It is not so simple to decide where to move to.
As a nameless world citizen I would try first off to emigrate to a country with lots of water. Canada or Finland as examples.
Water is worth more than gold or silver.

Nassim said...

There are people who trust in governments?

IMN,

The fact that the bits of paper in your pocket will buy you food and so on is proof that there is actually quite a lot of trust in government.

If people trust each other enough, almost anything could be money.

Very true. However, since that trust is not there, we will have to trust either a third-party (i.e. government) or some dumb bit of metal.

Personally, I don't know the names of any of my neighbours let alone what they do for a living or where they were born. I think that is often true in much of the West and not just in the cities and suburbia.

p01 said...

Happy Easter Everybody!
Best of luck and best of health!

Paul

el gallinazo said...

These little bits of paper are even stranger if you hop around countries a lot, don't pay for anything with plastic, and shop where the common folk do. All the pretty colored pictures of heroically attired men with moustaches and most of the women without. I keep track by converting the currencies into kilos of bananas, a primate staple, particularly the monkey business USD.

Regarding coinage metals, in most Latin American countries, your upscale coins of value ranging from USD 0.50 to 2 usually have a brass center, about half the diameter of the coin, with a silver colored outer donut. Actually very attractive. In Mexico, they start with the peso coin which is only worth 12 cents now. Below that, coins are all one metal.

I. M. Nobody said...

Nassim,

The fact you agree to live among people you don't know proves that you have considerable trust in them. I can use ugly paper to buy food because the vendor trusts that they will have no problem passing them along to others. I've never even seen a gold coin and would have no idea how to determine if one was genuine. So, I'd still have to have trust in you, not gold. I think that would be true of a lot of people. When we've lost our trust in each other, which will be related to a degeneration of government, commerce will face great difficulty.

I'm afraid most of us seriously misapprehend how much we trust each other. We have to trust each other because no government can constantly make us behave if we don't want to do so. When that breaks down you get places like Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. A place you do not want to live. In Ciudad Juarez it seems that the precious metal is lead.

ogardener said...

The Kinks - Apeman 1970

soundOfSilence said...

Ilargi said...

US homeowners lose $1000's every month on the "value" of their homes, yet complain about a few dimes extra at the pump.

Let's call the thousands of dollars in lost home value a theoretical loss. Something akin to buying a stock and watching it go up (which we could call a theoretical gain).

Then the stock can be watched as it goes back down. Down even past the purchase price (another theoretic loss). You can't sell it even as you watch it drop further and further ... because then the theoretical loss would become "real."

Those extra dimes at the pump are real concrete dimes. There's nothing ever theoretical about those dimes as they come out of the pocket.

mikel paul said...

Mr. I Am Nobody
Once again I am taken warm by your wisdom. Your comments on trust are like good simple food.
Perhaps we share a desire for connectedness which is I think a prerequisite for us who have already learned the lessons of where me against the world takes us.
Perspectives all have positive and negative poles. Even Mom Teresa had her lessons brought to bear.
All this 'talk' that goes on daily I sense is not really about finding the answers, but is more about our unwillingness to accept who we each are.
A**holes don't care. And I for one don't care if they are. Like I said we all will have our lessons brought to bear.
But I could be wrong. I just don't worry about it. Life is too freaking cool. Nuts, but cool.
peace

el gallinazo said...

soundofSilence

Let's see- When they indict you - it's theoretical. When they execute you - it's real, I think I've got it. (Sung to The Rain in Spain.)

trichter said...

@el gallinazo

Max K. may be a somewhat superficial caricature, but those who followed his advice just 6 months ago have roughly doubled their money (assuming they cash in). If they choose to do so they'll have double the money to invest in, for example, getting themselves out of suburbian idiocy.

I invested in solar PV in January. If I'd invested that cash in silver then I'd be up over 50%. Thus far my solar PV has saved me a pittance compared to silver's gains. The irony is Ag is key to solar PV.

Ilargi said...

"soundOfSilence said...

Let's call the thousands of dollars in lost home value a theoretical loss."


There were 4 million foreclosures last year?!

I think it's only a theory in theory.

.

Ilargi said...

" I. M. Nobody said...

I'm afraid most of us seriously misapprehend how much we trust each other. "


That is a point Oliver Sacks made once. When asked for an example, he said: "Imagine we would hand out drivers licenses to monkeys".


.

Nassim said...

So far, Automatic Earths’ prognosis for the dollar and gold have been dead wrong.

I really don't like Max's comment - he makes it sound as though he ordained it to be so. Also, he is making it sound as though I&S have been dead against PM's. In reality, the whole thing has been highly uncertain and could have gone the other way.

I have been long gold and silver for years - long before Max. This has nothing to do with trying to make a killing - it is simply a way of avoiding the obvious ripoff of the stock-markets and the near-zero interest bank accounts. I claim no special knowledge or wisdom in this matter - just a modicum of common-sense. It just seems reasonable to me that if other peasants get it into their heads that paper money is not such a good idea, then these metals have a good future.

Perhaps in 6-12 months we will see who was best at guessing (for it is a guess) what the herd would like to do.

Kate said...

Ilargi, I love Oliver Sacks. Got a reference for where he made that comparison? I'd like to read that.

Ilargi said...

Kate,

I'm pretty sure (though not 100%) that it's from A Glorious Accident, a series done by Wim Kayzer for VPRO TV in Holland in 1993. In it, he interviews Daniel Dennett, Oliver Sacks, Rupert Sheldrake, Stephen Toulmin, Freeman Dyson en Stephan Jay Gould, first separately, then together.

The Sheldrake and Dyson interviews are on YouTube, the Sacks one doesn't seem to be. PBS ran the series in 1997, but I don't know if it's still available anywhere. The book with the same title certainly is, at Amazon.

Here's part of the concluding round table.

.

Philippo said...

A couple of years ago I was torn between Keiser's logical sounding argument for holding PMs and the equally plausible TAE deflationist 'hold cash' view. So I went 50/50 PMs and cash. To date I'm up 150% in purchasing power on the PM side and down 50% in purchasing power on the cash side.

So, at this point in time Keiser looks to be 'right' and TAE appears to be 'wrong'.

It's easy to just push one's predictions out into the future further and further. But, at some point, one should have the good grace to admit that one doesn't really know.

Legendary Armor Rōnin said...

"The key argument comes down towards holding cash versus other asset class. They have got this completely wrong except for a brief moment in 2008.

"For them to be right in their call not only do prices need to come down, they need to come to levels lower than where they were in 2008."

Patience, Grasshopper.

The game's not over 'till it's over. The proper time to see whether it was wiser to hold cash or other asset classes is after the nadir, not before - or upon one's death, whichever occurs first.



"I invested in solar PV in January. If I'd invested that cash in silver then I'd be up over 50%. Thus far my solar PV has saved me a pittance compared to silver's gains."

But as you note, you'd have to decide to lock in those gains by selling, which a lot of people won't do, and in the meantime you have the peace of mind that comes from being somewhat more self-reliant than is currently the norm.

Robert said...

Scandia said: "As a nameless world citizen I would try first off to emigrate to a country with lots of water. Canada or Finland as examples.
Water is worth more than gold or silver."

= = = = =

How very true but do not forget that the water is in a solid form for a lot of the year. This means that it requires plenty of energy to keep warm. Canada is blessed with lots of water and for the time being fossil fuels. When fossil fuels become dear they will have to huddle around their electric fires fed by hydro and a hand full of nuclear plants.

Canada is ready to burst another housing bubble too. And finally, the taxes are oppressive in Canada. I am currently living out side of Canada and receiving a small monthly Canadian social security check (CPP) which is taxed at a 25 % flat rate no matter what your income is. Try living on that if your income is very small.

There is no perfect place. But I do agree with you about the importance of water and Canada has a lot of that.

BTW quite a few years back the US had a plan in formation to bring water from Athabasca River to California. Apparently TPTB in California did not bother to consult with Canada about this plan. Hmmmm the US has invaded several countries for their oil will water be next?

Cheers,

Robert (I)

Philippo said...

Ilargi, could you be wrong on your whole call about the impending deflationary collapse?

Can you envisage any combination of circumstances that would perpetuate stagflation?

Can you admit that you don't really know?

Robert said...

El G said: "--- Regarding coinage metals, in most Latin American countries, your upscale coins of value ranging from USD 0.50 to 2 usually have a brass center, about half the diameter of the coin, with a silver colored outer donut. Actually very attractive."

= = = =

While in Potosi Bolivia some years back we visited the old mint, now a museum, they showed their new two tone coins - two concentric metals as above.

They said that they were made for them by Canada. I pointed out that when the "loonie" (one Canadian dollar coin) came into circulation it was the same type as above. Someone discovered that if you put a loonie in a deep freeze and the dropped it out of a two story window onto a hard surface the center metal popped out. Soon all of cross Canada people were trying this and sure enough the center popped out.

Later, Canada came out with a two dollar coin of the same type of manufacture. It was promptly tagged with the name "Tooney" by most Canadians.

Have a good long weekend all.

Cheers,

Robert (I)

Ash said...

@Phllipo

So, at this point in time Keiser looks to be 'right' and TAE appears to be 'wrong'.

We are talking about broad financial trends that take years to evolve. Anyone who tells you that they know with certainty what gold or dollar values will be in the next few months is lying, confused or has access to really good inside information.

I&S have always had the "good grace" to avoid such specific predictions, as far as I'm aware, but Max clearly has not (see $500 silver "if you want it"). The structural trends that we see today are clearly validating a lot of what I&S have been saying, and it's very unlikely that the dollar's value does not soar within a year.

scandia said...

@Robert, Yes the challenge is to stay warm! I don't know how they did it but people have lived in Canada and Finland before using fossil fuels to stay warm. Maybe igloos, furs,feathers,moss, seal oil were the methods used? Plus sleeping with the dogs...Again just a reasonable guess but I don't think everybody had their own room before fossil fuel heating systems. Much cosier to curl up at night en famille.
As for invading countries for water that invasion is already in high gear via the privatization of water as in Nestle's and other corporations, I get quite worked up when I see water leaving the realm of the commons!!!!
Not even an issue in the Canadian election campaign.

Ilargi said...

"So, at this point in time Keiser looks to be 'right' and TAE appears to be 'wrong'.

It's easy to just push one's predictions out into the future further and further. But, at some point, one should have the good grace to admit that one doesn't really know."


SInce we never made a prediction for April 24 2011, we can't be wrong about it either. Is that not obvious enough? How simple can we make it for you?

As I said yesterday both here and on Max's site, I think the both issues and the differences between our views are very clear. And there certainly is no need or place for Max's strawman argument about us being wrong about something we never ever addressed. The fact that he tries anyway is disappointing. But then, Max has been running the risk of overshouting himself for a while now.

90-odd% of those who today feel all giddy on account of their PM gains will hold the stuff when it starts falling. It's human nature. That's the essence of the point we try to make: the real value of real assets (land, food, tools etc.) is higher than that of silver or gold, if you care to look down the line.

As for PM's going up forever: that reminds me of real estate a tad too much for comfort. We know what happened there.

For us, it's not so much about what to do with the money you have, but what to do when it's no longer there. Which is something a vast majority of people can't comprehend. They just think they can outsmart the markets; very few of them actually can, though.

It's a bit of a sugar high kind of thing, don't you think?

Summary: we don't think enough people down the line can hang on to enough "wealth", in the face of mass deleveraging, to sufficiently prop up PM prices.

The majority will be forced to sell PM's to make up for losses in homes values, lost jobs, failed pension plans, stock market losses, and so on.

It may be controversial, but it's not complicated.


.

Joe in NC said...

Is this significant?

China Proposes To Cut Two Thirds Of Its $3 Trillion In USD Holdings

http://www.zerohedge.com/article/china-proposes-cut-two-thirds-its-3-trillion-usd-holdings

Ash said...

Can you admit that you don't really know?

Someone saying that he/she can't tell you exactly when something will happen (i.e. next month), or the exact probability it will happen during a given time (i.e. 95%) , and exactly to what extent it will happen (i.e. gold will be back down to $1000/oz), is NOT the same thing as saying "I don't know".

Knowing the broad structural trends that influence these outcomes in our society is much more important than wasting your time trying to figure out the exact outcomes, even if you occasionally have a lucky guess and end up being "right".

Franny said...

@Joe in NC
The problem they have is who is going to buy $2 trillion in US treasuries? They are clearly trying to jab the US authorities, but as a practical matter it is a difficult thing for China to accomplish such a reduction of reserves. What are they going to do, stop selling the US goods for dollars?

I. M. Nobody said...

Before the issue of trust slides off the table, I have a little more of what Mikel Paul generously describes as wisdom to share on the subject.

It is my considered opinion that trust is the bedrock on which civilization rests and the glue that holds it together. Sadly, it is disolving and at an accelerating rate. I say sadly not because I think civilization is such a great thing, but because collapse of it is very ugly. Check the mass graves in Tamaulipas, Mexico where you can be executed and buried for refusing to be a drug mule. I would remind the commentariat that I&S have been on the road preaching the gospel of building communities. Those communities will not work if the inhabitants cannot maintain trust among themselves.

I am a little surprised at Nassim's insistance that we trust our governments. Especially considering what he has previously written about various governments. Even the people who have bought the governors don't trust them very much. Our problem is that we have been too prone to grant trust to our governments, which have betrayed us. We also gave too much trust to our banksters. The cost is growing distrust of lesser persons and institutions. This can't end well and gold or silver will not cancel out the ill effects.

Relevant to Oliver Sacks comment about monkeys and drivers licenses, Fred Reed once offered this pithy observation in a column titled Thoughts from a Disordered Mind.

I was in Nepal a month ago hoofing it in the Himalayas. Them’s gret big mountains. A guide pointed to a herd of monkeys and asked did we have them in the US. Yes, I said, chiefly in the White House but many in Congress. Oh, he said, here too.

Monkeys don't really deserve this kind of denigration. Certainly we don't want them driving cars and we shouldn't let them run governments. But in their own environment they do watch out for and support each other. The same is true of wolf packs.

el gallinazo said...

Joe in NC

The Chinese central bank governors are just as big bullshit artists as the Fed. I imagine it is simply a warning to the Fed to slow down their attempt to reflate, which has mainly resulted in bubbling up the BRICS even more. If China stops buying US debt, then it must abandoned the US export market. Without the US and Euro export markets (and most would agree that the Euro is a leper with even fewer fingers), the Chinese economy would collapse and the CP would be in big trouble. The Chinese working class is not as "passive" as the Usakistani. I read last year about a factory manager who defrauded his workers and they went into his office and killed him on the spot. Additionally, if they stop buying US debt, they will have to drop the dollar peg and their currency may shoot up, though there are some arguing that the Renminbi is currently priced to where it should be if left to float. In any event, the BoC would lose control of it on the forex. Actually, the BoC has been turbo printing up until recently to the point that it makes Helicopter Ben look like a piker tortoise.

Re PM and Keiser

Even if Max were not such a clown, one cannot take him seriously because he is not talking his book, he is shouting it through an amp turned up to 11 a la Spinal Tap. He is even minting his own coins, the Silver Keiser with his portrait on it. That of Kaiser Wilhelm II would have been more impressive but I guess there would be legal issues.

But let's forget Max and look at silver's recent parabolic rise. The only way that the silverbugs (or are they silverfish) can escape from the "this time it's different" bubble irony is to argue that silver isn't rising; rather the dollar and Euro are collapsing. But this argument doesn't really hold water because the fall of the USD by any metric is a small percentage of silver's increase. It is not the actual collapse of the dollar which is fueling the spike, but the perception that the dollar will shortly collapse to nothing, i.e. Weimar style hyperinflation.

So once again it boils down to the old deflationista / hyperinflationista debate. But I would take it one step further. The parabolic rise in silver cannot be supported without expectations of near to mid term HI. Even expectations of "price inflation" in the 10% annual rate will not support this bubble. It is also based on the idea that the world's central bank debt expansion can levitate stocks and commodities for years to come. But many of these silverbugs also see a crash coming in the world equities market. Go figure.

As to a numerical basis of real (?)flation as the sum of currency and credit times velocity, I have been reading that the shadow banking system is collapsing, a $50T credit engine, that it's collapse is not reflected in any "official" numbers, and this is the real reason the Benny and his controllers are panicked. Any comments on this one?

bluebird said...

Trust in our government is alive in my family. I have been told the government does Everything in and for our best interests. No malcontent is ever intended.

jal said...

Re.: China Proposes To Cut Two Thirds Of Its $3 Trillion In USD Holdings

They are NOT announcing something NEW.
They have been doing it.
It takes a long time to do deals, M&A, obtain physical delivery of silver, gold and other assets.

Then you have the other entity on the other side of the trade. Besides paying off their debts, they will be holding a lot of cash ready for other Acquisitions.

Its a game changer and I feel that China worked out how the dominos will fall and that they will be the winners.
jal

el gallinazo said...

As to monkeys (or chimps) driving cars (or vans), there is more than meets the eye. Listen to the prologue of:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/380/no-map

9.5 minutes. I absolutely guarantee you will not be disappointed,

I. M. Nobody said...

el gallinazo said...

Any comments on this one?

Since you asked so nicely.

As Nathan Martin pointed out recently, which blog post I cited, there are three kinds of money. The one he called "other money", I would probably have named it derivative money, is by far the most plentiful and least widely circulated. Hyperinflated to hell and gone. When those barely recorded side bets go blooie, the very rich are gonna be a lot less rich. The not rich will be destitute.

The other money, credit money, has been steadily deflating from its over inflated peak. Though by craftily directing most of the new credit to the very rich, they can keep that news pretty well suppressed. And also keep the derivative money bubble inflated for a little longer.

Hyperinflation at the level of real human beings would seem to require a massive issuance of what Nathan called sovereign money, which I believe is synonymous with fiat money. Aside from what the Mint churns out, which isn't much, we don't do sovereign money in Usanistan or much of anywhere else on Terra Firma. The banksters just won't stand for it and they do enjoy the privilege of owning most of the monkeys, er I mean leaders in government.

Ash said...

t is not the actual collapse of the dollar which is fueling the spike, but the perception that the dollar will shortly collapse to nothing, i.e. Weimar style hyperinflation.

El G, perhaps this is a significant part of it, at least in the market for physical coins or bars, but I imagine the paper speculator market has significantly contributed to the skyrocketing price as well. And many of these people are looking to make a short-term profits by selling their ETF positions, or call options or whatever in the near future at the first hint of a slowdown in risk assets.

There are the deflationists, the inflationists, and then the ponzi speculators who couldn't care less about the underlying structural trend. Some of them get wiped out, but then some of the bigger players get out of the market just in time to profit from a price collapse, while also siphoning off funds from the inevitable bailout facilities. Last time it seemed to be Goldman who made off best, but this time I'm looking at JPM to make a splash.

Ash said...

Joe,

I believe China is certainly posturing some, and not necessarily in opposition to what the Fed wants, but I also think it's likely that China does slowdown its rate of Treasury purchases in the near future, to the point where it starts posting net reductions in its Treasury exposure.

This is not a blow to the Treasury market, or a clear lack of confidence in US debt, it's just a country in dire need of cash and resources, similar to many other countries around the world. And it's a good justification for the Fed to re-implement QE eventually.

jal said...

For all the gold bugs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_transmutation

Ironically, it transpired that, under true nuclear transmutation, it is far easier to turn gold into lead than the reverse reaction, which was the one the alchemists had ardently pursued. Nuclear experiments have successfully transmuted lead into gold, but the expense far exceeds any gain.[4] It would be easier to convert gold into lead via neutron capture and beta decay by leaving gold in a nuclear reactor for a long period of time.

197Au + n → 198Au (halflife 2.7 days) → 198Hg + n → 199Hg + n → 200Hg + n → 201Hg + n → 202Hg + n → 203Hg (halflife 47 days) → 203Tl + n → 204Tl (halflife 3.8 years) → 204Pb (halflife 1.4x10^17 years)

wild gypsy said...

Greetings Automatic Earthlings,

When last I posted, I had a very nice discussion here about the problematic nature of making comparisons about suffering. Since then, I’ve been digging around looking for narratives that address the problems of poverty and suffering in the United States which I’ve heard asserted numerous times isn’t bad enough to make an issue of.

Here are two videos that best portray my experiences: The first is even more fitting today than when the artist released it. The second, I can only offer you a synoptic version of since aggressive copywrite defense prevents it’s public online viewing even though it’s essentially an educational film rather than typical Hollywood entertainment. I do encourage you to see the entire work as it honors Dutch citizen, Miep Gies.

What It‘s Like

Freedom Writers

I’m hoping to be able to write my own narrative on domestic violence, women and HIV inspired largely by the 2004 South African film, Yesterday and the lifelong AIDS activism of the late Elizabeth Taylor. I make no promises about my ability to do this because I have more obstacles facing me at the moment than I have the resources to overcome them. However, I think it would be a worthwhile contribution to the big picture and certainly worth making the effort.

The primary purpose of this particular post is to invite every reader to take some time today to remember people everywhere who suffer most from war, poverty, sickness and suffering.

Happy Easter!

scandia said...

I bought silver. I am not a player/speculator. I had a cash stash to cover 6 months. What I call scramble money in the currency of my region. I converted a small amount into silver just in case. In case of what I have no idea:)I have always been " a just in case " kind of person.
I do not intend to sell it. I may find it useful to barter with should the currency become toilet paper.
I feel better having 2 baskets instead of one. I don't live in a space with room to store food,fuel,water,tools etc.
I know if the worst happens I'm done for. Still I feel slightly better with a small silver stash plus the cash.
If the silver becomes worthless I didn't risk enough to make any real difference.And I get an emotional boost to imagine myself as a member of a " Silver Liberation Army ". If you knew me that would make you laugh too!

Frank said...

@Robert I wouldn't worry too much. California's water grabbing ways are known to every state in the union. They have no actual friends, just states that aren't actually threatened.

Their chances of getting any more water from outside their state line, let alone Canada, are slim to none.

el gallinazo said...

Frank said...

Their chances of getting any more water from outside their state line, let alone Canada, are slim to none.
=========

And if they try, Canadian terrorist will blow up the water pipe. Don't let that polite, mild mannered reputation fool you :-)

sensato said...

Scandia: "I get quite worked up when I see water leaving the realm of the commons!!!! Not even an issue in the Canadian election campaign."

Also not an issue is the 'perimeter security' deal Harper has been working on with the U.S.

A Fall Guy said...

@ Nassim

"Personally, I don't know the names of any of my neighbours..."

Sounds like it's high time to organize a block party! At the townhouse complex where we used to live (in Vancouver), our cul-de-sac with about 30 units used to hold an annual "block watch party". In the summer, on the grass, pot-luck. It was ostensibly for the "block watch" program (know who your neighbours are to reduce crime), but it was a great way to get to know neighbours. It took the effort by a couple of energetic people to organize, but it made the place much nicer to live. That said, I realize that it is easier to organize such events in some areas than others. Since that time, we have always made an effort to reach out to all of our neighbours.

skilo said...

el g,

sorry for the delay in responding when asked how i think the default of treasuries may play out.

i don't know. too many "do overs," too many game changes, too much deception and criminality to be able to make reasonable conclusions.

i expect pain. i want to buy bulk dental floss and learn how to garden. ;-)

Supergravity said...

Government trusts some money enough to accept it as payment of taxes, this kind of money probably should not be limited to the interest-bearing credit of private banks. Taxes ought to be payable directly in PM, for such a government to be deemed fully credit-trustworthy.

Monetary metals consist of embedded social capital as an intransient product of labour, and enjoy an inexplicably acknowledged quality of trustworthyness which cannot be created or destroyed by decree.

"The copies of gold and silver inflated,
which after the theft were thrown into the lake,
at the discovery that all is exhausted and dissipated by the debt.
All scrips and bonds will be wiped out."

skilo said...

hyperinflationistas...

i'm not tied to any one idea, but i just don't see how declining employment and wages ends up in hyperinflation.

say commodities go up 10 fold.

all money goes to food and shelter and everyone else collapses and lays off their work force, no?

or are you just gambling that "the bernanke" is going to bust the lenders that control his actions by giving "you" $1 million for free?

i'll believe the money for nothing when the chicks are free... -lol-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWXDjiKVs2U

total monetary and credit aggregates are *barely* above flat lining with a trillion in fed interventions and $1.7 trillion in annual deficits.

oh, i forgot mark to myth. if you keep the $2.7 trillion ($26k per tax payer / year) intervention and end mark to myth, the whole system collapses.

don't think they don't know this.

you are worried about $100k being zeroed? the top 1000 families are worried about $10s of trillions vaporizing.

oh, and they run the show.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAdu0N1-tvU

skilo said...

re: radiation:

Stoneleigh, any good advice to minimize radiation exposure for children?

does RO water filtration help at all?

should children avoid milk unless they are drinking shelf stable, pre-radiation milk?

i think practical safety tips would be more valuable than any posted on fukushima to date, especially with berkely I-131 levels in the rain water up to 181x maximum levels - probably 1000x times normal levels. i know the average is only 30 times the maximum level... but still.

Philippo said...

"SInce we never made a prediction for April 24 2011, we can't be wrong about it either. Is that not obvious enough? How simple can we make it for you?"

Oh you made it simple enough two years ago. You made an eloquent and convincing deflationary argument, and I've been on board since then. You suggested there would be a short term (maybe six months) rally, but suggested that it wasn't worth risking funds for such a potentially small upside vs such a large potential downside. You advised it was best to hold cash or cash equivalents, likening it to a game of musical chairs with only one chair per hundred participants and that one should cash out of the game, take a chair and sit, safely watching from the sidelines.

Two years on and the cost of sitting on the sidelines has been very high. Not only has one forgone huge investment gains, the purchasing power of cash has evaporated by close to 50% over that time.

Fortunately for me, not wanting to keep all of my eggs in one basket, I followed the other wealth preservation thinking at that time, the suggestion that physical Precious Metals were a reliable store of value. I sank the remaining 50% of my available funds into bullion.

Two years on cash is down 50% and PM bullion up 150%.

Max Keiser suggested that you were 'wrong', and, as of today, based on the evidence of my own portfolio I felt inclined to agree with him. You totally miss-called the duration of the 'dead-cat bounce' market rally (Stoneleigh has admitted that the duration has taken you by surprise).

Now maybe timing isn't important to you, but what if the fraudulant markets were somehow levitated for another couple years? Cash holders sitting on the sidelines awaiting the mighty deleveraging will already be broke when it finally arrives.

Supergravity said...

Preciousses have their uses, which are few, some not compatible with the uses of credit scrips and moneys, or not fully tangential to them, filling a niche of utility or profitablity which may expand or be forcefully confined, depending on fate.

VK said...

The religion of economics.

What a juncture we find ourselves in, the warnings of the last 40 years are coming to fruition, those of peak oil and climate change which are directly related to overconsumption and the economic crisis due to our enormous credit bubble of the last 30 years, a result of the economic kool aid espoused by the high priests of the religion of Economics.

So how did the mythology of the markets come to encapsulate & ensnare humans to such a high degree?

Are humans highly susceptible to myths?

The parallels with religion and economics are striking. Both are at their hearts, faith based. Based on spectacular premises that have some grounding in reality but more in mythology and wishful thinking.

The invisible hand of Adam Smith reminds one of God, waving favours upon those who follow his word and disfavor upon those that do not follow the laws of economics.

The various subsects of economics, the keynesians, the monetarists, the austrians etc are all akin to followers of various sects, who believe that the right economic path will lead to salvation and ultimately good economic behaviour will lead to some kind of utopia (heaven). Yet none can see the hard limits of reality set by declining oil supplies, the limits to growth and the simple logic that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. It is a logical paradox, yet when has logic ever stopped true believers?

So what is the core of the problem? The root as it were?

Some say it's our innate desire to go forth and multiply, to grow, this is explicitly set out in the bible and implicitly set in economics with it's growth based imperative.
Growth is good! At the expense of everything else. It fits our biological and cultural narrative, our desire for endless and bountiful growth and economics provides politicians with a convenient escape clause to use.

I mean, why bother with reality now when someone else can deal with it later? A lack of responsibility is what makes economics such a useful political tool. One can always have an economic fallback position, that if God didn't want us to be successful, it was because we have sinned, no matter what the transgressions were.

So if stimulus failed, it was because we sinned and didn't stimulate enough.

If banks were bailed out, it was because we wanted to save the sinners from themselves, for they know not what they have done.

If growth comes at the expense of all future life on the planet, so be it, we have been sent forth to multiply! The future doesn't matter anyway, because after every apocalypse we're going to heaven anyway. A future free from responsibility. The discounting mechanism in econometrics is pretty explicit about this, if you discount out far enough it all becomes Zero anyway, so why bother with ecology or responsibility right?

Economics has become a convenient tool for those in power to exercise power and wield influence. The most dangerous weapon wielded by man in all of history.

I. M. Nobody said...

VK,

I quite agree. The economic sects are nothing more then the result of a schism in the Mammonite Church.

I linked to an essay by Noam Chomski in the previous thread in which he demolishes the accepted meaning of the invisible hand. Probably not everyone, or maybe even anyone, bothered to read it. I will excerpt that part here.

In Adam Smith's defense, it should be added that he recognized what would happen if Britain followed the rules of sound economics, now called "neoliberalism." He warned that if British manufacturers, merchants, and investors turned abroad, they might profit but England would suffer. But he felt that they would be guided by a home bias, so as if by an invisible hand England would be spared the ravages of economic rationality.

The passage is hard to miss. It is the one occurrence of the famous phrase "invisible hand" in The Wealth of Nations. The other leading founder of classical economics, David Ricardo, drew similar conclusions, hoping that home bias would lead men of property to "be satisfied with the low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations," feelings that, he added, "I should be sorry to see weakened." Their predictions aside, the instincts of the classical economists were sound.

As we now know, both men got it completely wrong. The avaricious class can never be satisfied and have no home bias whatsoever.

el gallinazo said...

I recommend this 40 minute podcast between Chris Martenson and Alex Merk.

http://www.chrismartenson.com/blog/axel-merk-why-anyone-still-waiting-sell-dollar/56906

You might not agree with their conclusions, but they approach the problems honestly and rigorously.
Merk believes in staying in cash, but says traditional diversification is meaningless now as all risk assets are in lock step. He believes that the safest form of diversification is in a basket of different currencies (through his company of course).

Nassim said...

Sounds like it's high time to organize a block party!

A Fall Guy,

I am sure you have a good point. However, I am not the right person to do anything like that. :) It is just another community divided into the people with property (and perhaps giant mortgages) and the renters (like ourselves). I think that divide is much bigger than the cultural ones. There are some people my age across the street with grown-up kids living at home so the divide may even be intrafamilial.

Re: Gold

Every country is different. In the USA, gold was confiscated for a low price last Great Depression. I expect this time they may do it again - or worse.

In Australia, they export $12 billion/year of gold and produce just under 10% of the world's total - more than the USA, Russia or South Africa - so I cannot see them behaving in a similar way. Here the debts are mostly held by individuals and the government is much less indebted than is the case in many other places. Of course, it is only a guess.

Nassim said...

... He warned that if British manufacturers, merchants, and investors turned abroad, they might profit but England would suffer...

IMN,

This was called later on Imperial Preference. It worked very well for the British as it largely protected them from the Great Depression. However, the buffer in that system was the colonies and they suffered much more than the "mother country". My Egyptian grandad went bust and had to close his factory, for example. He had to send my then 18-year-old dad to the Nubian desert to mine gold in the most primitive of mines - it had been previously worked by the pharoahs. Aswan was 24 hours away - by camel.

Here is a recent article which makes you wonder as to whether history does repeat itself Sudan's gold rush lures thousands

A Walk in the Woods said...

@ el g

You forgot to link to the original story the chimp-cop told about his first day at work as a cop.

Act Two: Squirrel Cop

It starts 20 minutes in.

Life always provides the unexpected. Authorities always don't seems to respond to crisis in a timely manner.

Behold and imagine this approach to even small crisis by authorities in our not too distant dystopian future.


_

GS said...

If you don't participate in this gold and silver bull market, you will regret it sometime down the line.

Very few people buying precious metals think they will go up forever. And unlike real estate they are liquid, and not purchased with debt.

Personally I would start to get nervous around $2500 gold, but there would be other signs as well. Everybody and the media would be talking about gold to no end. That's when you know the top might be just around the corner. Of course, before selling precious metals one would need evidence of a functioning financial system.

Besides that, gold and silver should retain purchasing power, so you probably won't lose much, especially if you buy now rather than later.

But if you want to stay all in cash, fine, listen to Ilargi and watch you and your children become poorer day by day, month by month, year by year.

Nassim said...

I have just seen a chart that to my simple mind seems to sum up my point-of-view regarding PM's rather well.

Once again, I apologise if my rather crude and unsophisticated take on things fails to make any impression.

Gold and gold mining shares in % of global assets

Sean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

Ilargi, thanks for the Oliver Sacks reference. It didn't lead to what you quoted, but to plenty of enjoyable videos of him speaking, nonetheless. What an intellect that man has.

Steve From Virginia said...

One of the highlights of last year's ASPO convention (along w/ spending a lot of time w/ Stoneleigh) was Dick Vodra's observation that the future is unpredictable.

Simple, right?

There are too many presumptions otherwise. There are presumed to be seers who have answers and fury arises when these are 'wrong'. Right/wrong is usually a matter of timing.

Who has been right/wrong? In this world there is deflation (Japan) and hyperinflation (China). Call either or both and you are right! Call a dollar bull or bear market and you will be right, perhaps not both at the same time.

Most prognosticators don't see what takes place right under their own noses. The establishment is frantic about its 'recovery' which depends on the establishment's own pumping efforts. Please don't look @ the pumping!

What sort of analysis is one that refuses to look at the pumping big picture? Most of the media, politicians and economists refuse to hold the establishment (themselves) accountable. Against this backdrop any integrity at all stands out if only for the novelty of it.

As for dollars, gold, silver, etc. all are fetish objects that are proxies for something that ceased to exist back in 1998 or so ... when dollar peak oil took place, gas and real estate was cheap (and dollars were worth more than they are now.)

A productive industrial economy is a bad joke, worn by overuse and the accompanying need for constant disbelief suspension. A dollar or some gold allows you to make a claim on this shambling corpus. What is the second prize?

This isn't to say that currency or coin won't have some short- term place in the world that is unfolding under our feet. When labor and wits become the 'product' as in 'Gross Domestic' it will be convenient to hold something as a marker for what surplus of both you can manage from yourself.

People will transact some business with old, torn dollars and there will be nostalgia. "I remember the old days ..."

"I do too, it was fun while it lasted ..."

A Walk in the Woods said...

"...A dollar or some gold allows you to make a claim on this shambling corpus (productive industrial economy)"

The key concept in the gold vs paper 'money' mud wrestling match is that both (and all forms) of 'money' are always just claims on the real necessities of life; food clothing and shelter.

For whatever reason, fetish, talisman, spiritual, psychological, etc..gold has 'value' only because it's claims on the real necessities of life have been honored for thousands of years, not because the metal itself has value.

If the productive capacity of a city-state or nation-state is crap, no form of 'money', paper or gold, can make any claim on the real necessities of life, the real material value in life.

The U.S. has a poisoned, perverted, utterly disfunctional industrial capacity skewered to M.I.C. maggot near useless weapons systems 'production', mass media propaganda spewdom masquerading as 'entertainment , GM 'food' from factory farms and concentration camp animals flesh filled with hormones and drugs and totally un-holistic frankenstein pharmaceuticals to wash it down with.

Why make a claim on U.S. 'productive capacity' with either gold or paper, it's pure life killing gob-shit.

What's to like?

Whether you are sitting on a mountain of gold or fiat paper, what you really want to lay claim to with it for you and your family is clean water, clean air, healthy food, sustainable clothing and sustainable energy.

Has the U.S. or most other parts of the world have that?

No, they don't.

Not even close, there's billions of people making claim to that same stuff, far above and beyond the carrying capacity of the Late Great Planet Earth.

So what's your 'money' gonna 'buy' you, knowledge, love, survival skills?

The answer is None of the Above

The claims to 'wealth' any form of 'money' give you depend on their being 'wealth' in the first place.

Timing and sequence are everything. If you're really sick and need antibiotics and your house catches fire, what do you need most, a doctor or a fireman?

This kind of dilemma is coming up and will be common place.

The real stuff of life is the prize, not the 'money vehicle' used to claim it.

The 'money vehicle' is powered by Trust, don't leave home without it.

So how ya doing with that new invention of yours, the solar powered salad shooter?
_

el gallinazo said...

The lead guest post on ZH this morning (Into the Economic Abyss by Brandon Smith) is interesting in that he gets a lot of things right. He describes in detail a near future deflationary collapse and thens say, "Yup, hyperinflation is coming." But got to give him credit as his prescription at the end of the piece is right on:

"If ever there was a time for solutions and action, it is now.From my perspective, the best bet for short term protection against inflation and dollar collapse is for communities and hopefully states to begin decoupling from the diseased system entirely. This means localized markets, self sustained neighborhoods and towns, as well as sound money legislation and nullification bills at the state level. It means average Americans taking responsibility for their own food, energy, money, and defense. It means pursuing the exact opposite of what international bankers are suggesting; a global version of the Federal Reserve with prolonged fiat slavery."

For those who are in a position to accomplish it, long term prepping for deflationary collapse and HI are identical.

Also,

What the hard ass majority, libertarian trader crowd at ZH don't seem to get is that even when, in the past, you had a hard money as a gold and silver system with little or no official fractional reserve banking, most of the time the means of exchange was credit. And credit is debt. We are talking 100 AD Rome here or 300 BC Judea. You had the same booms and bust as we are now facing. The main difference is that we didn't have a global cartel orchestrating the movements until, presumably, they can't.

Ash said...

@Nassim

I think the chart you referenced is simply an indicator of the gold market's relative size, rather than evidence of whether it may be in a bubble or not. It is not surprising that gold's relative market share of global assets is much smaller than it used to be, given the explosion of dollar-based financial instruments in the 1970s.

A small market relative to total global assets can still be in a bubble, in so far as it is valued significantly above what underlying demand from productive revenues (incomes, sales revenue, etc.) would support. They key is usually to find out what % of demand in the market is financed or based on some form of leverage, and at what rate of interest and ratio to investors' equity.

DIYer said...

Why MIT Is Not Willing To Unleash Real-Time, Dynamic-Purchasing Inventory Control Systems; Or The "Real" Reason For The Culling Of MIT's Billion Prices Project

This article is the one that I found most thought-provoking over the long weekend. Yet another application of computers and networking...

It's like you were saying in your essay a while back, El G (excellent essay BTW), an old fashioned analysis based on the Roman Empire, or the Tulip or South Sea bubbles, does not take into account the extreme speed and ridiculously layered complexity that can be accomplished with modern electronics. Money printing no longer requires a printing press, nor does the issuance of credit require any physical paper.

The whole FIRE economy is now being wired for electronic demolition... when it finally breaks down, it's not gonna be pretty.

A Fall Guy said...

@ Nassim

Some neighbourhoods, sadly, have walls built that aren't easily breached. In our old townhouse complex, there were 6 cul-de-sacs (several hundred units in total), and ours was the only one to have such a gathering. Sometimes people came from these other streets to join the block party, and lamented that they didn't have one on their street. The annual party was originally organized by a very energetic, gregarious woman (she went for a run the day after her daughter was born), but it then took on a life of its own with everyone pitching in. Most of the people have moved on, including her, but I'm sure the block party tradition continues.

R·E said...

While I agree with much of the commentary, there is another reality possible.

The notion that 'we' (in this case wealthy consumers) must go to war to battle for all the resources, coupled with the concept that 'we' (the people stuck with huge debts thru spending ... and corruption) must pay back massive global debts are both choices.

Frankly, when Greenspan recommends paying the debts off, and Bush as well, their concern IMO has more to do with their awareness that they are completely culpable for much of both problems.

Bush didn't want the USA to be independent and healthy, but rather dependent and hooked into global commerce like the WMF recommends -- focus on exports, let your population starve/suffer, and boost the wealthy class.

Greenspan kept arguing that market forces will correct for all the problems and regulation must be fought always.

And then when they had screwed things up (IMO intentionally) as much as possible, they got a *GREAT* interest free loan from the public coffers to boost their wealthy friends portfolios while gutting the USA's solid financial backbone.

And now we are not bailing out our economy which is under assault by 3 wars & inflated military spending, tax cuts for billionaires, sharply lowered home values and less jobs for workers, and more curious coincidences.

When the Republicans threaten to shut down the govt or not open the debt ceiling, it's b/c they live in the dream world where they will survive on bottled water for years while the poorest eat eachother in the streets (seen Book of Eli?), or they figure Armagedon is overdue.

And I say all this b/c we have a choice as human beings -- to abandon an economic system which obviously is rigged to extract wealth to the top (as Karl Marx showed so clearly) and find another metaphor for global distribution of goods & services, and improve balance.

THANK YOU BOLIVIA for your short-term work around, which is to assign rights and values to those creatures which can't speak to defend themselves, namely animals & some green areas.

We all know the metaphor of "does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one hears it?"

But do we all understand the metaphor that "in modern economics, raw materials and natural resources have zero value unless they can be exploited, commodified, and consumed in a marketplace"?

It's almost the same STUPID concept!!! And we need to get SMART!

The Anonymous said...

"Patience, Grasshopper.

The game's not over 'till it's over. The proper time to see whether it was wiser to hold cash or other asset classes is after the nadir, not before - or upon one's death, whichever occurs first."


You know, there is an old saying "permabears/permabulls are never 'wrong', they are just 'early' in the sense their calls havent happened 'yet'.

Here is a good mental exercise for those who are convinced that with just more time, they will be proven right:

At what point, if ever, do you decide, "gee maybe I am wrong about this"? 6 months?
2 years? 2 decades???

Funny enough, most permabears/permabull types will not answer this question. Instead, they seem content to continue to push their prediction out "just a little bit later" for the rest of their lives.

soundOfSilence said...

El G... yes when they lop your head off; or in Ilargi’s example the sheriff is standing at the front door with the eviction notice, (at that moment) there is a finality to it all. That’s the essence of what I was trying to capture. I was speaking to the “hope that springs eternal” and it (whatever “it happens to be) isn’t gone -until the moment it is. I fell short in the attempt.

Greenpa said...

Yippee! The final nail in the coffin of nuclear energy!

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/25_25.html

"The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will implement deep salary cuts for management to help fund its compensation payments for the nuclear accident.

"Tokyo Electric Power Company said on Monday that it would halve the salaries of all its board members, including the chairman and the president, starting this month. Annual pay for other executive directors will be slashed by 40 percent.

"The company will cut the salaries of about 3,000 employees in managerial positions by 25 percent."

Ash said...

@GS

"Very few people buying precious metals think they will go up forever. And unlike real estate they are liquid, and not purchased with debt."

How many vendors accept silver in return for their goods? How many governments let you pay your taxes in gold? How many items made of gold or silver can have their metal content and purity easily verified in a timely manner? How much credit can you take out against your PMs at a local bank, without physically letting them keep it? How many physical gold banks actually exist, and how much can you trust them?

Perhaps it is more liquid than real estate in some ways, but it is very illiquid in other important ways. Cash is certainly not perfect either, but it has advantages over PMs, regardless of their relative value right now. If you are purchasing significant amounts of physical PMs, it should be to hold on to in a very safe place for years and years.

I. M. Nobody said...

Greenpa,

This fellow, Hirose Takashi, seems to think the nuke biz may not be nearly as close to over as it might become.

Holy Bat Crap, Robin!

Greenpa said...

Ash- "How many items made of gold or silver can have their metal content and purity easily verified in a timely manner?"

No kidding. I guarantee the con men are rubbing their hands in glee right now, since their profits on fake gold and fake silver are growing by leaps and bounds. More fakers will get into the business now, and the fakes will become more sophisticated; and the trustworthy assessors harder to find and more expensive.

It's the darndest thing. I've long tried to gain the acceptance for my Rule #1 Of Ecology: "If you make a big pile of food, something will show up to eat it."

Clearly the ecology of money is the same. If you make a big pile of money, critters will come out of the woodwork to grab what they can. Every time.

Kurt said...

The deflationist camp is getting mighty lonely.

In response to FOFOA's latest, Deflation or Hyperinflation, Rick Ackerman, a life-long deflationist, has just thrown in the towel:


Sheesh! Where to begin? It’s difficult to give up a belief system that took root 30 years ago, but I find your arguments irresistible. I took notes as I read the essay, thinking to rebut you point-by-point; instead, halfway through it I found myself overwhelmed by the clarity of your thoughts. The real power of this essay is that each step of the hyperinflationary endgame it foresees is entirely consistent with human nature, particularly where self-interest and self-preservation are fated to play out.

I will need to find a way to break this gently to my readers, perhaps starting with the old joke about not having to outrun the bear. It goes a long way toward explaining how the Masters of the Universe will actually benefit from hyperinflation. You’ve also helped me understand how I could have been so bullish on gold over the years even though I considered myself a hard-core deflationist. It was a conflict between head and heart, really, but you’ve resolved it with the most persuasive argument I’ve seen in favor of gold. Even better, you’ve provided a sound basis for arguing that at $1500 per oz., gold has barely begun to discount the dollar’s final fall.

I especially appreciate the patience and humility you showed in walking readers through your argument one gentle step at a time. By not trying to overpower your opponents, you have produced a treatise that is certain to engage many minds. Thanks for engaging mine — at a depth that had eluded me for three decades.

Ash said...

@Kurt (and @FOFOA if he happens to frequent "deflationist" blogs)

I love the way FOFOA writes, and I have read several of his previous posts on hyperinflation, but I found Rick Ackerman's 180 reversal to be very odd, after reading this intro to the article:

"The whole point of the deflation versus hyperinflation debate is about the denouement, the final outcome of this 100-year dollar experiment. It is about the ultimate end, and the debate has been going on ever since the 70s when the dollar was separated from gold and it became clear that there would be an end."

That has never been the point of the deflation vs. hyperinflation debate, IMO. In fact, it has been almost the exact opposite of that, and I have never read a respected deflationist arguing for the long-term viability of fiat currencies. The "ultimate end" is not what this debate is about, and it never should be.

I'll admit I haven't finished the rest of this latest post yet, but I suspect I know where it is generally headed. Financial crises as a means for the financial elites to swap a large majority their fiat currency and debt asset holdings for gold and hard assets. Very possible 5-10 years from now... but not very likely at all before that, at least with regards to the dollar.

agtefc said...

@ el G...

Good day :)

From previous exchange: I Respect your opinion. My hope, however, is that more wise elders choose not to "grab a six pack and watch the show," and choose to guide the younglings in their wings through what will likely be very difficult times.

Knowledge and adequate preparations are one thing, wisdom is another. :)

Cheers

el gallinazo said...

Ash

Yeah, I am about half way through it also. Actually, I don't love the way he writes so much. I am ready to go back to the beginning with a ball of string - the Theseus approach.

Let's see, so far some things that appear strange to me:

1) The middle class are the real savers; the Wall Street Banksters are the debtors.

2) Unions and pension funds are politically powerful.

3) The banks can stay whole by allowing the mortgage debtors to pay off the debts with near worthless dollars.

I&S would agree with his statement that the financial elites profit from normal inflation while we bottom feeders take the hit, because they are first in line for the money. No argument there.

Also explains why the dollar has decreased so much since 1913. Lets split the difference and say the current dollar has 2% of the buying power of the 1913 dollar. So that's a drop in average buying power of half a percent a year. I would be the last to argue that we pissants are not being cooked by the old lobster in the pot technique. But the technique is based on a low flame, not the blow torch of HI.

Reminds me of the old saw of the man who walks up to a beautiful woman and asks if she would sleep with him for a million dollars. She pauses for a while and finally says yes. So he replies that now that we have established who you are, give me a nickel's worth.

Anyway, I wished he had edited it down to 10%. We'll just have to do it for him - make an outline of his arguments.

I am willing to keep an open mind to the over all debate. Frankly, I wish that I had had a nice hidey hole two years ago and put some of my retirement funds in physical silver at $16. I, like I&S, am not anti PM. I just don't regard it as a panacea.

Stay tuned.

agtefc said...

@ Board...

All this jibber-jabber about Hyperinflation and PM's is getting redundant to the n'th degree.

The most pragmatic way to navigate this impending fire-storm is to position yourself so you can survive and prosper during commercial collapse. The whole model of you can get something by paying for it (with cash or PM's: Any currency!) is going to collapse to a pittance of what it is now.

People who think the commercial model will still be upheld during a peak oil & socioeconomic collapse scenario are in my opinion, still hooked by normalcy bias.

Independent of the robustness of the deflation argument put forth by I&S, Prepping as a deflationist is just another level of safety to ensure you do not loose your shirt to debt default before the big drop.


Cheers

Ash said...

El G,

Yeah, after reading the rest of this piece, I am much less impressed with the writing and logical format, which I think is unusually worse than some of his previous articles.

I do see why Ackerman did a 180, though, as he was probably confused as hell after reading and decided that FOFOA entered some higher dimension of critical thinking that us "deflationists" simply cannot grasp.

In fact, the article uses a whole lot of strawman arguments, jumbled quotes from FOA and misleading terminology to make its case for HI. Fundamentally, his argument is no different from those of other HIs - that the financial elites are stupid creatures of monetary habit, so they will print their asses off until the currency is worthless.

"But that ultimate cash price, once reached, may actually be higher than today's leveraged prices and be outrunning the availability of cash needed to clear the market!"

I think phrases such as the above are what really capture the skeptics, because they do reflect an insightful observation about the dynamics of HI, once it gets fully underway.

"Through the magic of commercial bank double-entry bookkeeping, the banks' balance sheets are actually not exposed to decreases in the purchasing power, or present value of purely symbolic, completely worthless token dollars."

Sorry, FOFOA, but it's the other way around. The false accounting insulates the banks (and their execs) from a collapse in collateral values (see real estate) and an surge in loan defaults. What good are inflated asset values if they are recorded in worthless dollars?

"This is simple logic: Do you think they'd rather offload that debt onto the Fed's book in exchange for full cash value? Or would they prefer to hold onto those notes while you struggle to pay them off in symbolic tokens over the next 25 years?"

Yes, simply bad logic. And that's why I say he is assuming that the elites are stupid. When they unload all of their debt-assets onto the Fed/taxpayer, what do they expect to get in return? A)Land, B)Gold, C)Oil or D)federal reserve notes. He says it himself, "full cash value". And then what do they do with all that cash if there is no period of price collapse in between??

El G, I'm sure you're outline will be much clearer than my disorderly response, and I really hope you tell me that I'm missing something big in his argument... but I doubt you will.

Robert said...

Greenpa said...
Ash- "How many items made of gold or silver can have their metal content and purity easily verified in a timely manner?"

No kidding. I guarantee the con men are rubbing their hands in glee right now, since their profits on fake gold and fake silver are growing by leaps and bounds. More fakers will get into the business now, and the fakes will become more sophisticated; and the trustworthy assessors harder to find and more expensive.
----------------------------------------You may remember when the US government found it impossible to continue holding the price of silver at $1.29 an ounce, it was faced with the with the problem of making non-silver dimes, quarters and halves that would work in vending machine mechanisms. It was impossible to accomplish this with any known alloy. Thus the clad coin was born using two clad alloys. How easy will it be to produce a passable fake of a 1964 'junk silver' dime? Or even a current five cent cupronickel coin which now costs roughly a dime to produce?
Robert 2 SO CA

el gallinazo said...

Robert

How easy will it be to produce a passable fake of a 1964 'junk silver' dime? Or even a current five cent cupronickel coin which now costs roughly a dime to produce?
=============

Or a gold plated tungsten bar at Fort Knox?

Greenpa said...

Robert: "How easy will it be to produce a passable fake of a 1964 'junk silver' dime? Or even a current five cent cupronickel coin which now costs roughly a dime to produce?"

Not easy enough. If you're going to make money at it, you need to be dealing in larger denominations. A "bullion" ounce silver coin is currently worth about $49, enough to be interesting if you can play well enough with a little tin-lead pot metal fakes; perhaps dosed with a bit of nickel... which might cost you a couple of bucks for metals and heat.

The critical resource in any kind of counterfeiting is the supply of suckers. As we know, the art of finding and milking them is highly advanced; but separate from the arts of metallurgy.

El Gal - yep, tungsten is looking like a great investment... :-)

I. M. Nobody said...

For a quite small investment in heat, metal and molds, almost anybody can cast bullets. It is a trivial matter to convince a counterparty of their authenticity.

Lead, the new precious metal. Don't leave home without it.

BTW, if you remain wedded to the fair exchange paradigm and you are not absolutely certain that you can unerringly spot metallurgical fakes, it would be a good idea to pack some of the NPM and skills at the quick draw. As the world grinds down, some folks will take considerable umbrage at attempts to cheat them, intentional or otherwise.

No charge for the advice.

Greenpa said...

Ok, this is too much fun to pass up!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel_silver#Fraudulent_Uses

Turns out- "german silver" has already been used to make fake bullion coins- which the real smarties mark "nickel silver" - with no explanation; but they sell it as silver. German silver is copper/nickel/zinc; no silver involved.

So when the cops come, they just say "What?! It SAYS nickel silver right there! We just sell these as novelties! Is it MY fault this bozo can't read??"

Greenpa said...

ok, oops; what they're marking "nickel silver" are bars; not coins; but the coins are already here;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nickelsilver1.jpg

coin on left is silver, coin on right is cupro-nickel; made in Thailand, 2007. That kind of coin, though, was already trading higher than spot silver prices, based on numismatic nonsense.

Supergravity said...

That taxes cannot be payed directly in PM makes that von NotHaus fellow not so guilty of what heinous crime the state accused him of, it seems. The principal argument that issuing monetary metal as non-authorized currency would directly undermine the sovereign monetary authority of the state must involve such currency that is accepted as payment of taxes.

Ash said...

Another thing re: FOFOA's article,

It contains a typical mistake of those who believe financial elites are scared to death of deflation... conflating the major financial institutions with the individuals who run them. The former can somewhat easily be purged from the overall system during a severe deflation (in the absence of bailouts), the latter not so much.

el gallinazo said...

The subject came up this week about being shipwrecked on a Caribbean island, and by sheer synchronicity my quasi ex stepson just wrote a totally true short story about his personal experience of such. It can be downloaded from Amazon at:

http://www.amazon.com/Shipwrecked-Kindle-Single-ebook/dp/B004WG5M4W/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

and here is a review I wrote:

OK. I guess I have to start with full disclosure. With the exception of the old man in the story, every one mentioned, including the boat, is a good friend of mine. I even get a cameo mention as the mom's boyfriend who gave him the ultra nerdy sandals. This is a true story and I knew most of the details shortly after they happened.

That said, it caught my rapt attention anyway. It was totally suspenseful despite knowing the ending. The characters were drawn in depth and exactly to life, and Mishka paints the joys, fears, and dangers of sailing on the Caribbean beautifully. I also had taken the helm of Breath during the wee hours of the morning while everyone else was asleep below decks. Once I saw a huge cruising ship appear above the horizon like a humungous Christmas tree headed right at us at 25 knots. I imagined the Captain at the wheel with his fifth Piña Colada in his hand, recently retired from the Exxon Valdez, chatting up some buxom, bikini clad beauty, while our fate was to be as a small, splintered toothpick in its maw. I once surfaced after SCUBA diving for lobsters only to have my buddy scream at me, "Didn't you see that shark? He practically had his snout up your butt." Mishka captures all these joys and more, so I strongly recommend that you read the story - you will not be disappointed. And then hop a plane and go swim with the sharks.

el gallinazo said...

agtefc‬ said...
@ Board...

All this jibber-jabber about Hyperinflation and PM's is getting redundant to the n'th degree.
========================
The blogmeisters of this site have repeatedly stated that the raison d'être of TAE is to prepare those willing to listen for survival of the coming changes. They left TOD Canada because they felt that financial collapse would precede energy collapse, and it was the first great danger one had to negotiate. The heart of these preparations might be summarized in Stoneleigh's "How to Build a Lifeboat" primer, linked on the right side of the blog page. She lists nine points, and then goes into detail on each.

1) Hold no debt (for most people this means renting)
2) Hold cash and cash equivalents (short term treasuries) under your own control
3) Don't trust the banking system, deposit insurance or no deposit insurance
4) Sell equities, real estate, most bonds, commodities, collectibles (or short if you can afford to gamble)
5) Gain some control over the necessities of your own existence if you can afford it
6) Be prepared to work with others as that will give you far greater scope for resilience and security
7) If you have done all that and still have spare resources, consider precious metals as an insurance policy
8) Be worth more to your employer than he is paying you
9) Look after your health!

All but points 6 and 9 are built on the premise of a deflationary collapse rather than a hyperinflationary collapse. If the latter turns out to be the actuality, some of these preparations could have dangerous consequences.

Most of us on this site, whether in "management," or like myself, just loudmouthed members of the commentariat, are not fanatic, "religious" ideologues. We are willing to check and recheck our premises and change course if we are mistaken. Most people who see the collapse coming are in the HI camp. It behooves all of us to consider their arguments, least we give friends and relatives pernicious advice. The question of deflationary or HI collapse is the most important riddle to steer an appropriate course over the next few years.

As to "redundancy," Stoneleigh regards that as a positive. One almost cannot be too redundant in his preparation :-) Of course there are a many great sites that deal with non financial preparations, if you are ODing on the financial. Sharon Astyk comes first to mind.

agtefc said...

@ el g....


Point taken. :)

Younger readers have longer time horizons. We must think beyond short term purchasing power and step into full on social, economic, commercial, and governmental collapse, widespread upheaval and the prospect of world war. Young people simply do not have assets of any kind let alone PM's or several years worth of cash.

Lifeboats for older people are largely about preserving the wealth they have stolen from the ecosphere, the developing world, young generations, and future generations yet to be born.

Can you see how talk of preserving wealth can be disingenuous to the younger generations who have no or even negative wealth?

I am playing the devils advocate here to show the strong and increasing resentment of the young towards the old. Think about Saudi Arabia in which half of the population in under 15.

In many ways we got to where we are by the baby boomers+ complacently "grabbing a six pack and watching the show," during a time period in which real solutions could have been implemented.

It is not just the bankers and elite that the youth of the world despise, but the herd of older adults who were complacent in playing along with their schemes.

Cheers

Greenpa said...

El Gal: :. One almost cannot be too redundant in his preparation"

boy, you can say THAT again!

el gallinazo said...

"It is not just the bankers and elite that the youth of the world despise, but the herd of older adults who were complacent in playing along with their schemes."

Yeah, we said the same thing back in the 1960's- "Don't trust anyone over 30." I did have higher hopes for my generation. I don't know if I am complacent; maybe just tired. I really tried to do something constructive last year in Argentina, and it just went to shit. Bad judgment.

Maybe you can fill us in on your specific activities and pragmatic ideas?

Chas said...

2) Hold cash and cash equivalents (short term treasuries) under your own control.

So the idea here is to buy directly from the Treasury rather than buying a short-term Treasury only mutual fund?

Can you do that within a 401K/IRA?

el gallinazo said...

Chas said...
2) Hold cash and cash equivalents (short term treasuries) under your own control.

So the idea here is to buy directly from the Treasury rather than buying a short-term Treasury only mutual fund?

Can you do that within a 401K/IRA?

==============

Unfortunately, no.

Ash said...

"So the idea here is to buy directly from the Treasury rather than buying a short-term Treasury only mutual fund?"

I think the problem with buying directly from the UST is you have to hold the treasuries to maturity, unless you pay some kind of hefty fee to sell on the secondary market. That's not a huge problem for short-term bills (cash equivalents), but it is still more inconvenient than using an investment fund with a website, where you can most likely cash out at any time with a minimal or no fee.

Personally, I would stay way from bonds all together and use excess cash (beyond what you expect you will need to keep liquid) to invest in knowledge, hard assets and preparations. It's not like cash equivalents really pay you any interest.

Chas said...

I'm not prepared (yet) to ash out my retirement accounts.

Any thoughts about holding SNGVX in place of a short-term Treasury only fund?

I. M. Nobody said...

Who knew gallinazos could be so ecumenical? My own "religious" tendencies are more ecological than economic. That said, I do have a bias with regard to the *flationary issue. There are questions that need some answers. Or, as Desi used to say, "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do!".

Fer instance, could some HI savant 'splain why the banksters would engage in hi-frequency extension of ever increasing credits to a population unworthy of the credit they already carry? If this is a good idea, why isn't it being done already?

Does anyone know if fuel pumps can be set to charge $99.99/thimbleful and is there a standard measure for the thimbleful?

Does anyone know how much heat can be extracted from burning a credit card after the bank computer suffers an overflow and can't grant it anymore limit increases?

How will the Teapublicans 'splain voting for a gazillion dollar deficit spending authorization?

What effect will it have on mail order business when they are forced to switch from charged-on-shipment-at-the-quoted-price to charged-on-delivery-at-the-prevailing-price?

There are many more such questions, but I'm old and don't have unlimited time. BTW, blaming us geezers and geezettes for the world going to hell is probably just as useful as singing chants and I'm guessing lots of previous generations have done it.

I realized when still fairly young that we were going to blow it bigtime. Just try to bear in mind that herding humans is actually almost as hard as herding cats. You have to constantly offer a very delectable treat while keeping it just out of reach.

p01 said...

@agtefc
Yes, it's going to be a very very ugly inter-generational conflict on top of all other types of conflicts.

el gallinazo said...

Chas

This is the FAQ link to treasurydirect.gov for individial accounts.

http://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/faq/faq.htm

It appears that you can buy and sell before maturity, but check it out for yourself. There doesn't appear to be any way to go direct with tax deferred savings. I like TD more, myself, than going through a broker or bank, because though your bonds should be assigned to your name, if the brokerage goes belly up when TSHTF, there is not telling what might happen. Also, be very, very sure that whatever you choose, the bonds are not "pooled,"

I. M. Nobody said...

@ agtefc & p01

Herewith a comment you may find supportive, lifted from a column by fellow geezer Fred Reed.

One story says that Americans owe some bizarre sum on the credit card and god knows how much on the McMansion and on the five-hundred horsepower riding mower with a mini-combine, backhoe attachment, and satellite GPS for mowing the half acre. I think I’m supposed to feel sorry for them. Actually I think they are a persuasive argument for eugenics.

For those who are might suffer an insatiable urge for conflict, but due to psychological issues tend to see granpa and granma's face on every useless oldster they attempt to mercifully euthanize, fear not. The Pentagonians will always stand ready willing and able to place you in a conflict of their choice.

You need not be Usanistani to participate in these thrilling games and usually you will not even have to see the euthanizees.

Fred again:

Next, I see that the military has bombed another wedding in Afghanistan, killing forty-one. I guess it’s because civilians are easier to kill. They don’t hide very well. Usually they are unarmed.

Anyway, on BBC World News I saw some gringo colonel, maybe called Greg Julian, explaining that it was the Taliban’s fault when America bombs weddings. Most likely the plane had Taliban pilots. Recruiting is getting difficult, and I guess the Air Force has to take just about anybody.

But it wasn’t the fault of the military. In thirty years of covering the Pentagon, the military never did anything wrong. That’s a pretty good record. I know because they told me.

agtefc said...

@ el G...

Please do not take my comment as an accusation. :)

One cannot be too pragmatic in their preparations; especially of death. My most important preparation is to be at terms with my own impermanence.

"The birth of a man is the birth of his sorrow. The longer he lives, the more stupid he becomes, because his anxiety to avoid unavoidable death becomes more and more acute. What bitterness! He lives for what is always out of reach! His thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present."

(Chuang Tzu)

"To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death... We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. ...To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave."
(Michel de Montaigne)

Cheers

agtefc said...

@ I am Nobody...

I recently picked up Fred's Site.

Excellent Commentary.

Thanks & Cheers

Greg L said...

>>All but points 6 and 9 are built on the premise of a deflationary collapse rather than a hyperinflationary collapse. If the latter turns out to be the actuality, some of these preparations could have dangerous consequences. <<<

Unless I'm totally missing something, I don't think that this inflation vs deflation debate has any practical difference in how the outcome of either affects the vast majority of Americans. Most Americans have little savings or resources to hedge against inflation by buying PM. For them, whether it's inflation or deflation, they have either eroded purchasing power or just simply no money. For folks in such cirumstances, much of the stuff on the lifeboat list remains the same. The most important thing for them is securing food, clothing and shelter independent of the monetary system, so for them, growing it, building it or making it is their hedge against either scenario.

For those who have a bit of money, it is critical to determine which way the elites are going to swing this thing, but this is a increasingly small and declining group of people.

If I'm all wrong here, I'd appreciate someone pointing that out.

skilo said...

hi all,

FOFOA's premise is faulty - nobody is saying the dollar will avoid being worthless as the endgame.

given his false thesis, i agree the outcome would be inflation.

the real thesis is... do the robber barons who control money and credit benefit immensely from a deflationary pit proceeding said hyperinflation?

would FOFOA rather hold currency or trade it for hard assets BEFORE the hyperinflation?

yeah, he's a genius and the Big Capital controllers of the banks are idiots. they loot trillions in cash and then simply eat the HI losses into worthlessness.

he even has the unemployed buying homes and paying them off. if that sounds absurd - he has the banks loving it!

Kate said...

agtefc, I second el G's recommendation that you check out Sharon Astyk's books and blog for concrete preparations that will stand you in good stead come what may. Much of what passes here at TAE passes me by entirely. I don't understand the acronyms, the first name references, nor the shorthand terminology on financial topics. I glean what I can, which is little.

Sharon's work deals with stuff much easier for me to grasp. Turnips. Food preservation skills. Medicinal herbs. Goats, rabbits, and poultry. That's not to say she doesn't have a big picture view. She does, and she both synthesizes and distills very well. I found her a very useful, roll-up-my-sleeves antidote to Jim Kunstler's abstract rants on how screwed we all are. When you're convinced, and you're ready to start doing rather than debating what version of doom approaches, she's an excellent place to start.

scandia said...

The hedge fund backing the mega quarry is Baupost Group in Boston.
See http://www.hedgeco net/news/04/2011/hedge-fund-backed-mega-quarry-riles-up-local-farmers-html

Ilargi said...

New post up.




The Race to the Bottom Goes to the Playoffs



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