Arguing semantics over cuts here, taxes there, we are close, etc. misses the entire premise of the entire political debacle that is now replaying in Washington. The simple fact of the matter is that our politicians will not cross the aisle, will not compromise, will not 'come together', will not 'rise above', will not 'think of the children' - until the market (that critical arbiter of everything that appears relevant to the elites) forces their hand. The following three charts should help clarify that for all market savants.
1. Political Polarization has never (NEVER!) been higher - and so expectations of any of these so-called men doing what is right is a joke...
2. Our Stock Market can do no wrong - thanks to Bernanke's (and Draghi's) visible hand, any concerns over downside scenarios are now so unambiguously removed from the distribution of policies that the supposedly efficient markets no longer reflect any discounting but merely the marginal veracity of the next flashing red headline (as we noted earlier).
3. Until Our Stock Market Sends The Message - just as with the debt ceiling debate, hope and belief and some level of "they'd never let us, would they?" phantasma remains in the US investors' psyche still - that is until the politicians cross the line. At that point, our markets recognize their role and reflexively react and enforce discipline and action in Washington
(note: we first showed this 2011 analog two months ago and were met with the usual derisive comments with regard - that could never happen again - seems like we are following a very similar path of hope and belief and now a little fear)
Unless and until we see a major correction in stocks, we highly doubt that any actual resolution will be announced - no matter what the spin or hope on every conference call and press conference.
Bonus Chart: it's not just Stocks that are following last year's Debt Ceiling debacle - VIX is following along very closely. The following chart shows the term-structure of VIX is moving exactly as it did last year - i.e. a higher point on the chart means the short-dated VIX is rising relative to medium-dated (and if it is >1, then short-dated VIX costs are greater than longer-dated) - clearly the current cliff debate is raising short-term risk concerns in a similar way...
US PUBLIC POLICY
13 - Global Governance Failure
CRISIS OF TRUST - The Dot.Com, Housing Bubbles and Financial Crisis' Post Traumatic Stress Syndorme (PTSS)
The death of the 'cult of equities' was a popular topic this year among both fringe blogs and the best-known institutional asset managers and sell-side strategists. As AP discusses in this excellent article, ordinary Americans - defying decades of investment history - are selling stocks for a fifth year in a row. It's the first time ordinary folks have sold during a sustained bull market since relevant records were first kept during World War II. The answer is both complex and simple but summed up best by a former stock analyst's comment that in order to buy stocks "You have to trust your government. You have to trust other governments. You have to trust Wall Street, and I don't trust any of these." With Fed policy trying to force investors back into stocks (at any cost), a former fund manager notes, presciently that, "When this policy fails, as it will, baby boomers will pay the cost in their 401(k)s." Are we the new 'Depression Babies'? We suspect so.
Investors, as you well know, are leaving the equity markets in droves...
Based on AP's calculations, individuals accounted for 40 percent to 50 percent of money going to U.S. stock ETFs in recent years.
If you assume 50 percent, individual investors have put $194 billion into U.S. stock ETFs since April 2007. But they've also pulled out much more from mutual funds - $580 billion. The difference is $386 billion, the amount individuals have pulled out of stock funds in all.
If you include the sale of stocks by individuals from brokerage accounts, which is not included in the fund data, the outflow could be much higher.
But why are investors not buying the propaganda this time and jumping in with both hands and feet...
"You have to trust your government. You have to trust other governments. You have to trust Wall Street," says Neitlich, 47. "And I don't trust any of these."
Defying decades of investment history, ordinary Americans are selling stocks for a fifth year in a row. The selling has not let up despite unprecedented measures by the Federal Reserve to persuade people to buy and the come-hither allure of a levitating market. Stock prices have doubled from March 2009, their low point during the Great Recession.
It's the first time ordinary folks have sold during a sustained bull market since relevant records were first kept during World War II, an examination by The Associated Press has found.
"People don't trust the market anymore," says financial historian Charles Geisst of Manhattan College. He says a "crisis of confidence" similar to one after the Crash of 1929 will keep people away from stocks for a generation or more.
What is at the core of this mistrust or doubt?
People who think the market will snap back to normal are underestimating how much the Great Recession scared investors, says Ulrike Malmendier, an economist who has studied the effect of the Great Depression on attitudes toward stocks.
She says people are ignoring something called the "experience effect," or the tendency to place great weight on what you most recently went through in deciding how much financial risk to take, even if it runs counter to logic. Extrapolating from her research on "Depression Babies," the title of a 2010 paper (link below) she co-wrote, she says many young investors won't fully embrace stocks again for another two decades.
"The Great Recession will have a lasting impact beyond what a standard economic model would predict,"
But it's not just ordinary folks, its professional investors too...
Public pension funds have cut stocks from 71 percent of their holdings before the recession to 66 percent last year, breaking at least 40 years of generally rising stock allocations
as old 'lessons' or myths are dismissed...
And old assumptions about stocks are being tested. One investing gospel is that because stocks generally rise in price, companies don't need to raise their quarterly cash dividends much to attract buyers. But companies are increasing them lately.
Dividends in the S&P 500 rose 11 percent in the 12 months through September, and the number of companies choosing to raise them is the highest in at least 20 years, according to FactSet, a financial data provider. Stocks now throw off more cash in dividends than U.S. government bonds do in interest.
Many on Wall Street think this is an unnatural state that cannot last.
As it seems, for once, a positive lesson is being learned...
"People aren't looking to swing for the fences anymore," says Gary Goldstein, an executive recruiter on Wall Street, referring to the bankers and traders he helps get jobs. "They're getting less greedy."
The lack of greed is remarkable given how much official U.S. policy is designed to stoke it.
But the powers that be are not happy about it...
"Fed policy is trying to suck people into risky assets when they shouldn't be there," says Michael Harrington, 58, a former investment fund manager who says he is largely out of stocks. "When this policy fails, as it will, baby boomers will pay the cost in their 401(k)s."
So, what are 'smart' retail investors doing with their money?
Instead of using extra cash to buy stocks, he is buying houses near his home in Sarasota, Fla., and renting them. He says he prefers real estate because it's local and is something he can "control." He says stocks make up 12 percent his $800,000 investment portfolio, down from nearly 100 percent a few years ago.
After the dot-com crash, it seemed as if "things would turn around. Now, I don't know," Neitlich says. "The risks are bigger than before."
The true purpose of a political promise is as a tool to maintain dominance over the herd. As long as the masses are lead to believe that success is only enabled by the state, they will cast a ballot for anyone that will grow state power to they believe is their benefit. Individual achievement in the context of laboring and serving others is belittled as being a waste of time in comparison to the sacrifice of the public sector. Politicians will pay lip service to individualism but only to point out that success is impossible without central government dictation. That way, campaign promises hold more weight and legitimacy in the eyes of voters eager to stick it to their fellow man. They are means to keep the state machine running smoothly as humanity slowly digests itself through continued warfare and destroying any incentive to save and invest for the future.
The sure sign of a halfwit is someone who believes a politician’s promise. They can be observed at candidate rallies with their faces beaming and their hands grasping tightly to a cardboard sign. In bars and restaurants they speak endlessly on how their preferred dictator is smarter, kinder, and cuter than the rest. In doing so, they make up for a lack of drunkenness with exuberance over the prospect of being ruled over. This mix turns the political enthusiast into a package more bothersome than either the chastising puritan or the destitute drunk.
This heap of idiocy finds its source in the promises made by public officeholders. Instead of relying on intelligence and reason to make their case, all an aspiring politico has to do is declare before a mob what he can give it in exchange for their votes. Every election hinges upon the degree that he can manipulate the public into believing his sincerity. Electoral contests are won and lost by the biggest coalition of fools who chant slogans devoid of actual meaning and purpose.
With the recent reelection of Barack Obama, there is speculation abound on how far the soon-to-be anointed king will deliver on his promised agenda. His leftist base of support is expecting an aggressive launch of statist initiatives aimed at righting some undefined injustice. Many of Obama’s detractors seriously believe he will use the Oval Office to institute a kind of socialist hell. Both are wrong. Obama’s second term will be a continuation of the centralization and consolidation of the state that has been occurring since the ratification of the Constitution. The path has already been laid out by the ruling cadre of politicians, high level bureaucrats, military generals, CEOs of banks, and the heads of politically-favored corporations. Obama’s promise of a robust American economy will not come to fruition because that was never the goal. Like all presidencies before it, the Obama presidency is there to ensure the “right” people keep having their pocket’s filled.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of young adults are becoming disillusioned with their own future and income earning potential. Many have witnessed the success of their parents and are now questioning why they aren’t experiencing the same level of achievement. In other words, they make perfect targets for political sloganeering. Through pledges for good jobs, these unemployed will easily be whipped into a frenzy of support for whichever candidate promises them a decent, salaried job. Their role as dupes has already been enshrined by the political class.
The record of unkempt campaign promises may be staggering but it has so far failed to deter a significant portion of people from participating in the electoral process. Time and time again, voters are promised an end to war, poverty, sickness, unemployment, addiction, obesity, starvation, homelessness, mental illness, crime, and violence. And with every election, each problem is exacerbated through state policies. Left to its own devices, a free, market economy has a tendency to improve living standards for all. That’s precisely why economic freedom is never granted by the state. It would make every politician, government worker, and state contractor’s perceived worth vanish overnight.
There are two types of promises that originate from a politician’s breath. The first is a starry-eyed pledge that is practically unworkable. The second is an assurance that would constitute a threat if given by a private individual. When announced, these promises are sold as a cure-all for all of society’s ills. They hardly ever come into fruition but are referred back to only if they aid in another reelection campaign.
The science of politicking is quite simple: appeal to the lowest common denominator of human life. This, most often, is the dim yearning of folks who aspire to do no more than feed themselves day by day. As long as this primitive instinct can be appeased by promise, a career in the nation’s capital is virtually guaranteed. Finding an honest politician is like searching for a virgin in a whorehouse. If you happen to stumble across one, they are always eager to give away what little integrity they have left in return for power.
The goal of the ruling class is a full blown return to feudalism. This social decaying is emboldened by the circus known as democracy where the mob votes away its own humanity for a naïve feeling of comfort. The masses have been fooled by years of unrelenting propaganda that government is, as Leo Tolstoy called it, “the representation of the citizens in the collective capacity” rather than its true designation of “one set of men banded together to oppress another set of men.” They are assured by campaigners for public office of a life that requires minimal effort, little intellectual stimulation, and no prudence whatsoever. A pol who speaks of freedom and responsibility is quickly gutted and cast aside. The mass-mind prefers to grovel at the feet of those who promise them a first class ticket to the land of plenty. In return, they receive a pittance while the more industrious of political brownnosers retain enriching privileges.
That is the true purpose of a political promise. It is a tool to maintain dominance over the herd. As long as the masses are lead to believe that success is only enabled by the state, they will cast a ballot for anyone that will grow state power to they believe is their benefit. Individual achievement in the context of laboring and serving others is belittled as being a waste of time in comparison to the sacrifice of the public sector. Politicians will pay lip service to individualism but only to point out that success is impossible without central government dictation. That way, campaign promises hold more weight and legitimacy in the eyes of voters eager to stick it to their fellow man. They are means to keep the state machine running smoothly as humanity slowly digests itself through continued warfare and destroying any incentive to save and invest for the future.
To make a pledge of any kind is to declare war against nature; for a pledge is a chain that is always clanking and reminding the wearer of it that he is not a free man.
Under normal circumstances, breaking a promise is regarded as unbecoming for any man. That is why pledges are hardly made except in instances in which they can be followed through with quickly and earnestly. Only the truly dishonest will often make promises since their frequent use has made them into a cheap currency used to solicit favors. The political class is the greatest practitioner of this tradition. It’s become a running joke in Western culture how conniving politicians can be. The fact that so many make light of the pathetic reputation shows a disdain for honest character. Even worse is that such a criminal gang is still respected by the greater public. This terrible truth ends up reflecting worse upon the latter than the former.
33 - Public Sentiment & Confidence
STATISM - The Security-Surveillance Complex - A Poltical Tool for Coercian, Extortion & Control
In a radio interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin (who’s been one of the best at covering the surveillance state in the US) made a simple observation that puts much of this into context: the US surveillance regime has more data on the average American than the Stasi ever did on East Germans.
Indeed, the American government has more information on the average American than Stalin had on Russians, Hitler had on German citizens, or any other government has ever had on its people.
As the top spy chief at the U.S. National Security Agency explained this week, the American government is collecting some 100 billion 1,000-character emails per day, and 20 trillion communications of all types per year.
He says that the government has collected all of the communications of congressional leaders, generals and everyone else in the U.S. for the last 10 years.
He further explains that he set up the NSA’s system so that all of the information would automatically be encrypted, so that the government had to obtain a search warrant based upon probably cause before a particular suspect’s communications could be decrypted. But the NSA now collects all data in an unencrypted form, so that no probable cause is needed to view any citizen’s information. He says that it is actually cheaper and easier to store the data in an encrypted format: so the government’s current system is being done for political – not practical – purposes.
He says that if anyone gets on the government’s “enemies list”, then the stored information will be used to target them. Specifically, he notes that if the government decides it doesn’t like someone, it analyzes all of the data it has collected on that person and his or her associates over the last 10 years to build a case against him.
And as we point out at every opportunity, this is not some “post-9/11 reality”. Spying on Americans – and most of the other attacks on liberty – started before 9/11.
Senator Frank Church – who chaired the famous “Church Committee” into the unlawful FBI Cointel program, and who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – said in 1975:
Th[e National Security Agency's] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny ….
We can debate whether or not dictators are running Washington. But one thing is clear: the capacity is already here.
TechDirt points out:
While the Stasi likely wanted more info and would have loved to have been able to tap into a digitally connected world like we have today, that just wasn’t possible.
That’s true. The tyrants in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Stasi Eastern Europe would have liked to easedrop on every communication and every transaction of every citizen. But in the world before the internet, smart phones, electronic medical records and digital credit card transactions, much of what happened behind closed doors remained private.
(And modern tin pot dictators don’t have the tens of billions of dollars necessary to set up a sophisticated electronic spying system).
In modern America, a much higher percentage of your communications and transactions are being recorded and stored by the government.
MOST CRITICAL TIPPING POINT ARTICLES THIS WEEK - Dec 23rd - Dec 29th, 2012
Dagong Global Credit Rating Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Dagong”) releases a credit rating report on December 25th, 2012, putting the United States of America (hereinafter referred to as “U.S.”) on Negative Watch List. Dagong downgraded the local and foreign currency sovereign credit ratings of the U.S. from A+ to A, and each with a negative outlook on August 2, 2011. According to the changes in the situation during the surveillance period, Dagong has decided to put the sovereign credit ratings of the U.S. on Negative Watch List. The main reasons are as follows:
1. The political conflict and the defect in national debt management have pushed the creditworthiness of the federal government to the cliff again. After the U.S. federal government debt limit crisis caused by the partisan quarrels in August 2011, it has evolved into the current fiscal cliff and debt limit crisis due to the same reason. It once again highlights that the decline of the U.S. federal government’s capacity in interest integration and decision-making is the political reason of the weakened solvency. On the problem of how to tackle the national debt crisis, each political party insists on the proposition favorable for its own interest. Therefore, it is difficult to form a long-term consensus on solving the debt problem ultimately, which leads to the unceasingly fiscal deterioration of the government.
2. With no fundamental plan and measures of ameliorating the solvency in place, the U.S. government is lacking the willingness of debt repayment, and the depreciation of debt outstanding through debt monetization has already indicated a trend of implicit default. Increasing fiscal revenue, cutting fiscal expenditure and reducing the scale of debt are the ultimate ways to improve the government indebtedness, but the U.S. government, instead of adopting effective measures to improve its indebtedness, came out with two consecutive rounds of Quantitative Easing over the year in order to realize internal circulation of government debt and sustain its solvency through monetization. The continuous credit expansion to maintain its consumption through borrowing by taking advantage of the status of the U.S. dollar without touching on the ultimate issue on solvency manifests the lack of willingness to repay. The creditors have been suffering real losses from the consequent persistent devaluation in the debt outstanding, and the U.S. government has shown a trend of implicit default on its debt.
3. The deterioration in the main factors impacting on the federal government solvency has further widened the degree of deviation between the debt repayment sources and the real wealth creation capability. The wealth creation capability is the ultimate source of debt repayment and the greater the debt repayment sources deviate from the wealth creation capability the larger the risks. The debt burden of the federal government increased 9.1% and 11.7% on year-on-year basis in 2011 and 2012 respectively, far exceeding the nominal GDP growth rate of 3.9% and 3.4% as well as fiscal revenue growth rate of 4.9% and 6.2% over the same period. The debt outstanding of the federal government has risen by 60.7% since the credit crisis in 2008, while the nominal GDP has increased by only 9.2% and fiscal revenue increased by 7.4% over the same period. By the end of 2012, its debt outstanding is expected to rise to 104.8% of GDP and 608.7% of fiscal revenue. The situation exacerbates the reliance of the debt repayment sources on debt income, and the debt repayment sources are diverging increasingly further from the wealth creation capability, indicating that the solvency of the federal government is on a descending trend.
4. As a result of the pending fiscal cliff, the U.S. economy will probably fall into recession in 2013, and stay weak in the long term, which will further weaken the material basis for the government to repay debt. The U.S. is facing an unprecedented crisis of excessive credit. The inevitability and chronicity in the credit bubble burst will directly lead to the continued slump in total social consumption, triggering a chain reaction of long-term economic downturn, and the economy may go into a slight recession in 2013 due to the emergence of fiscal cliff. Consequently the federal government revenue base will fluctuate, expanding the degree of deviation between debt repayment sources and wealth creation capability.
5. Debt limit lifting and debt monetization are becoming the long-term policy of the U.S., and the real solvency of the government will continue declining. In order to avoid suffering an economic recession resulted from the abated virtual social consumption capacity established by the long-standing and excessive credit expansion, the U.S. government has adopted even greater unconventional credit expansion, which drags the country into a cycle of continuously lifting the debt limit to stimulate the economy while sustaining government solvency by excessive issuance of dollar. As the resulting risks of dollar depreciation keep accumulating, the decline in the government real solvency will become persistent, and the vulnerable credit relationships will bear increasing risk of breaking due to the frequent occurrence of emergencies such as the debt limit.
In summary, Dagong views that as the negative effects from key factors affecting the U.S. federal government solvency such as the debt repayment environment, wealth creation capability, debt repayment sources have been increasing, emergencies such as fiscal cliff and debt limit will further increase the vulnerability in the government solvency. Therefore, Dagong has put the U.S. federal government credit ratings on the negative watch list. Dagong will adjust the credit ratings according to the real circumstance to reflect the soundness of the U.S. federal government debt.
Slowly but surely, USDJPY has moved back above 85.50 to its highest (weakest JPY) in 27 months as the threat promise of central bank intervention has once again created more front-running. With the market attempting to price in Abe's extravagance, we wonder just how much bang for the buck his 'actions' will create when words are not enough. Will Abe 2.0 be the same as OMT, QE3, and QE4 with the event actually constituting the 'top' or peak impact? Critically though, once Japan actually formalizes what it will do, which will be limited by how much rates can rise on bonds before all government revenue is used to fund cash interest, JPY will spike again, facilitated by the record short-interest (per CoT data). More curious is which Goldman alum will be appointed as the head of the BoJ once Shirakawa's term expires in March. As Bloomberg noted this morning, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, during a speech in Tokyo this morning, the "next BoJ Governor will be a person who shares Abe’s views."
USDJPY weakest in 27 months...
and the JGB curve is starting to look a little out of control...
5 - Japan Debt Deflation Spiral
JAPAN - The Epicenter of the world's failed Monetary Policy Experiment
Bass's exact positioning is unknown but he has commented on using sovereign CDS and critically has not espoused a short Japanese equity position directly - preferring to focus on the debt problems.
With JPY bleeding lower once again overnight extending to 28-month lows against the USD (and the long-end of the JGB curve starting to show some signs of anxiety), it is perhaps timely to revisit Kyle Bass's five key reasons why Japan is the epicenter of the world's failed monetary policy experiment. In this excellent and much-requested summary 8-minute clip, Bass summarizes his Japan thesis and destroys several of the myths that talking-heads like to assign to the so-called widow-maker trade.
JPY/USD...(higher = weaker JPY)
The long-end of the Japanese yield curve is at near-record steeps...
"We expect the JPY to come under significant and sustained pressure throughout 2013 as a result of policy changes domestically and internationally," they write. "In Japan, we believe political pressure will lead to a major shift toward substantially more expansionary BoJ policies, which will weigh down JPY in 2013. Indeed, there is evidence that this is already starting to unfold following the latest easing measures announced by the BoJ."
There is much debate whether when it comes to the total notional size of outstanding derivatives, it is the gross notional that matters (roughly $600 trillion), or the amount which takes out biletaral netting and other offsetting positions (much lower). We explained previously how gross is irrelevant... until it is, i.e. until there is a breach in the counterparty chain and suddenly all net becomes gross (as in the case of the Lehman bankruptcy), such as during a financial crisis, i.e., the only time when gross derivative exposure becomes material (er, by definition). But a bigger question is what is the actual collateral backing this gargantuan market which is about 10 times greater than the world's combined GDP, because as the "derivative" name implies all this exposure is backed on some dedicated, real assets, somewhere. Luckily, the IMF recently released a discussion note titled "Shadow Banking: Economics and Policy" where quietly hidden in one of the appendices it answers precisely this critical question. The bottom line: $600 trillion in gross notional derivatives backed by a tiny $600 billion in real assets: a whopping 0.1% margin requirement! Surely nothing can possibly go wrong with this amount of unprecedented 1000x systemic leverage.
From the IMF:
Over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets straddle regulated systemically important financial institutions and the shadow banking world. Recent regulatory efforts focus on moving OTC derivatives contracts to central counterparties (CCPs). A CCP will be collecting collateral and netting bilateral positions. While CCPs do not have explicit taxpayer backing, they may be supported in times of stress. For example, the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act allows the Federal Reserve to lend to key financial market infrastructures during times of crises. Incentives to move OTC contracts could come from increasing bank capital charges on OTC positions that are not moved to CCP (BCBS, 2012).
The notional value of OTC contracts is about $600 trillion, but while much cited, that number overstates the still very sizable risks. A better estimate may be based on adding “in-the-money” (or gross positive value) and “out-of-the money” (or gross negative value) derivative positions (to obtain total exposures), further reduced by the “netting” of related positions. Once these are taken into account, the resulting exposures are currently about $3 trillion, down from $5 trillion (see table below; see also BIS, 2012, and Singh, 2010).
Another important metric is the under-collateralization of the OTC market. The Bank for International Settlements estimates that the volume of collateral supporting the OTC market is about $1.8 trillion, thus roughly only half of exposures. Assuming a collateral reuse rate between 2.5-3.0, the dedicated collateral is some $600 - $700 billion. Some counterparties (e.g., sovereigns, quasi-sovereigns, large pension funds and insurers, and AAA corporations) are often not required to post collateral. The remaining exposures will have to be collateralized when moved to CCP to avoid creating puts to the safety net. As such, there is likely to an increased demand for collateral worldwide.
And there it is: a world in which increasingly more sovereigns are insolvent, it is precisely these sovereigns (and other "AAA-rated" institutions) who are assumed to be so safe, they don't have to post any collateral to the virtually unlimited derivatives they are allowed to create out of thin air.
Is it any wonder why, then, in a world in which even the IMF says there is an increased demand for collateral, that banks are making a total mockery out of such preemptive attempts to safeguard the system, such as the Basel III proposal, whose deleveraging policies have been delayed from 2013 to 2014, and which will be delayed again and again, until, hopefully, everyone forgets all about them, and no financial crises ever again occur.
Because if and when they do, the entire world, which has now become one defacto AIG Financial Products subsidiary, and is spewing derivatives left and right, may have to scramble just a bit to procure some of this $599 trillion in actual collateral, once collateral chains start breaking, once "AAA-rated" counterparties (such as AIG had been days before its bailout) start falling, and once the question arises: just what is the true value of hard assets in a world in which the only value created by financial innovation is layering of derivatives upon derivatives, serving merely to prod banker bonuses to all time highs.
US ECONOMIC REPORTS & ANALYSIS
CENTRAL BANKING MONETARY POLICIES, ACTIONS & ACTIVITIES
There are, according to USA Today, 364 items that need to be purchased to create the ultimate gift basket from the epic holiday song "The 12 Days of Christmas". Based on PNC Wealth's Christmas Price index, the cost of this basket is $107,300 in 2012 (up 6.1% year-over-year). Since 2001, when the Fed embarked upon its uber-expansionary monetary policy experiments, the cost of Christmas has risen over 40% faster than the Government's prescribed CPI (and if we use a different cost-base, since 2006, the cost of Christmas has risen 46% per year on average). And on an even more Bah! Humbug note, there is the important economic question of the Deadweight Loss of Christmas - i.e. gift-giving means consumption choices are made by someone other than the final consumer, with potentially sub-optimal micro-economic effects such as a mismatch with the recipient's preferences. This wonderfully positive report finds that between 10% and 33% of the value of gifts 'given' is destroyed through this inefficiency (with cash - or gold - the least impacted?). Happy Holidays, everyone!
The developed world’s Ponzi scheme is caused by record-high levels of public and private debt. As Boston Consulting Group notes, it is exacerbated by huge unfunded liabilities that will be impossible to pay off owing to long-term changes in developed-world demographics. Addressing these challenges at any time would be difficult. To make matters even worse, however, BCG points out that they come at a moment when the developed world’s traditional model of economic growth appears to be broken. This is partly a consequence of the Ponzi scheme itself. The underlying issues cannot be ignored any longer. The developed world faces a day of reckoning. It is time to act. In this excellent layman's guide to the the real world, not only does BCG explain the Ponzi, but they lay out ten critical steps that developed economies must take to definitively end the era of Ponzi finance. Some are sacrifices required of various stakeholders. Others are new social investments, both public and private, that are needed in order to return to a sustainable growth path.
The paper starts with the Origins of the Ponzi Scheme we call modern economies, then goes on to discuss the Broken Growth Formula...
Then lays out ten steps to any solution for developed economies...
Via Boston Consulting Group:
1. Deal with the debt overhang - immediately. A precondition to addressing the fallout of the unsustainable policies of recent decades is a fast cleanup of the debt overhang. In previous papers, my colleagues and I have discussed the various options for doing so.35 Put simply, some combination of writeoffs and restructuring, austerity, higher taxes, and sizable inflation will be necessary.
2. Reduce unfunded liabilities. Once debt restructuring is under way and the broader public sees that wealthy owners of financial assets are contributing to the necessary cleanup, it should be easier for politicians to take another painful step: addressing openly and directly the trillions in unfunded liabilities that are weighing down budgets and balance sheets across the developed world. It will require a combination of several measures to bring these unfunded liabilities under control.
3. Increase the efficiency of government. Parallel to reductions in government spending on social-welfare benefits, another key to reducing government’s share of GDP and increasing economic growth is to make government itself more efficient. A smaller government sector does not necessarily mean a weaker government. By defining the right “rules of the road” for society and business, governments can set the tone and priorities for development in a more effective as well as a more efficient way.
4. Prepare for labor scarcity. Countries need to start now to prepare for the coming era of labor scarcity. Doing so will require a series of initiatives to reduce the decline of the workforce.
5. Develop smart immigration policy. Even if developed countries take all these steps, it will still not be enough to reverse demographic trends. Therefore, these countries also need to become far more open and attractive to immigrants.
6. Invest in education. Education has to play a significant role in the future growth potential of the developed economies. Quality education will be the decisive factor in protecting and increasing GDP per capita. It is also the foundation of social mobility and a precondition to fully utilizing the innovative capabilities and entrepreneurial talent of a society’s members. For both reasons, it needs to be another key target of social investment.
7. Reinvest in the asset base. For more than a decade, the developed economies have reduced investments in public infrastructure and productive assets. Given the importance of the quality of capital stock to productivity and economic growth, it is time to reverse this trend.
8. Increase raw-material efficiency. The age of cheap resources may have come to an end. Developed countries have to increase their efforts to decouple economic development from resource consumption.
9. Cooperate on a global basis. Competition among countries will become more intense in the years to come. All countries will try to increase their exports; all will try to attract the best-educated immigrants; and all will try to secure scarce resources, from water to oil to commodities. This increased competition will pay dividends in the form of new and innovative products. But even as they compete, the world’s countries must also cooperate. The problems of the developed economies can only be addressed in a cooperative way on a global scale. Otherwise, the world risks descending into a vicious circle of beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies leading to much lower growth and slower improvement of living conditions worldwide.
10. Launch the next Kondratiev wave. Last but not least, the developed world needs to prove Robert Gordon wrong. By investing in a growing and highly productive workforce and making it easier for engineers and technologists to innovate and for entrepreneurs to start new businesses, the developed economies need to unleash a new Kondratiev wave of global economic development.
and ends with ideas for Negotiating The Fallout...
Perhaps one of the most startling and telling charts of the New Normal, one which few talk about, is the soaring difference between bank loans - traditionally the source of growth for banks, at least in their Old Normal business model which did not envision all of them becoming glorified, Too Big To Fail hedge funds, ala the Goldman Sachs "Bank Holding Company" model; and deposits - traditionally the source of capital banks use to fund said loans. Historically, and logically, the relationship between the two time series has been virtually one to one. However, ever since the advent of actively managed Central Planning by the Fed, as a result of which Ben Bernanke dumped nearly $2 trillion in excess deposits on banks to facilitate their risk taking even more, the traditional correlation between loans and deposits has broken down. It is time to once again start talking about this chart as for the first time ever the difference between deposits and loans has hit a record $2 trillion! But that's just the beginning - the rabbit hole goes so much deeper...
There are many reasons why the deposit hoard has continued to rise in the past 4 years, and according to the latest H.8 statement just hit a record $9.173 trillion as of December 12. This compares to $7.259 trillion in the week after the Lehman collapse: an increase of $1.9 trillion.
One contributing factor to this surge in deposits is the collapse in the Commercial Paper market (driven in big part due to the ongoing lack of counterparty faith as well as the ongoing Fed intervention in every possible market which has the paradoxical impact of eliminating confidence in the system and the desire by corporations to be able to fund themselves at a moment's notice come hell or high water) coupled with the unlimited insurance of various deposits courtesy of the government's Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program, which however will expire in 5 days, and which has made deposits the preferred pathway of preserving liquidity "dry powder" for both corporations and individuals.
But perhaps the biggest driver of the surge in deposits is the Fed's own ongoing liquidity tsunami, which using various traditional and shadow conduits has injected nearly the entire $2 trillion amount into the banking system (as Excess Reserves, Reverse Repos, Deposits with Federal Reserve Banks, and Other Fed Liabilities which combined conveniently amount to just about $1.8 trillion), which then via reflexive shadow pathways, most notably repo, has translated into an actual excess of cash to the bank's balance sheet: perfectly fungible cash which can then be used for any generic purpose: such as prop trading under the guise of "hedging" as JPM so vividly demonstrated a few months back. More on this in a second.
While the source of the cash for record deposits - i.e., the ever so incorrectly classified "cash on the sidelines" is debatable (but not much), one thing is certain: the total issuance of loans since the Lehman collapse in September of 2008 has barely budged and has increased by a whopping... -120.6 billion! That's a negative.
Indeed, in the past 4+ years, bank loan issuance has declined from $7.27 trillion to $7.15 trillion! To keep up with the increase in deposits, at least based on the historical relationship between deposits and loans, this number would have to be $2 trillion higher today, or some $9.2 trillion - money that would be going to individuals, households, and small, medium and large businesses to fund expansion and growth (instead the gross debt issuance frenzy we have seen over the past 3 years is only to refinance existing debt and lower rates: i.e., not only zero, but negative net issuance).
At least we can put to rest any debate whether banks are willing, able or even interested to lend out money in an unprofitable Net Interest Margin environment, such as that the Fed has created currently courtesy of ZIRP and courtesy of constant fronrunning of the Fed's purchases on the long-end.
If that was all, we could end this post here and tell readers to make up their own mind about what is truly happening behind the scenes. But there is much more to discuss about this record excess of deposits over loans. And the "more" is something that was only recently discovered, courtesy of a massive blunder by none other than JPM's Jamie Dimon. It is important to expose the "more" as it is in stark contrast with the conventional thinking adopted by much of the mainstream media (and even us until some time in May of 2012).
In it the BBG authors note, correctly, that there was an excess $1.77 trillion in deposits over loans: a number which has since risen to $2.019 trillion as this post observes. Where the article is dead wrong is in its explanation of what the banks use said money for. Because while banks may or may not have used the excess cash for Treasury purchases (recall that we first highlighted that Primary Dealers held a record $140 billion in net Treasurys as of the latest week), the reality is that US Treasury paper is most certainly not what the final use of proceeds is.
Recall that as we have been describing for the past 3 years, a primary driver of "growth" in the US market, if not economy, has been the ability to transform asset and liability exposure off the books using various shadow conduits. The primary such conduit is and has always been repo funding (and various other forms of limited and/or unlimited rehypothecation made so popular after the collapse of MF Global). What repo does is it allows banks to exchange their holdings of Security X (in this case trasury) in exchange for nearly par cash courtesy of some custodian bank - and when it comes to the US non tri-party repo market there are only two: State Street and Bank of New York.
The biggest benefit of Repo financing is that the bank can still hold the original pledged security on its books for Fed "supervision" purposes, even as it obtains fungible cash equivalents via repo, cash which it can then use for whatever downstream purposes it desires such as purchasing stocks. This is where it gets confusing, and certainly confused our friends at Bloomberg who arrived at the wrong conclusion in their analysis.
A good summary of what really happens under the hood when account for repo comes from Citi's brilliant head of credit, Matt King, and his legendary note from September 5, 2008 "Are The Brokers Broken?" (which should be required reading for everyone), where he described the scheme as follows:
Paragraph 15 of the accounting rule FAS 140 stipulates that the amount referred to on the balance sheet statement need only be “collateral pledged to counterparties which can be repledged to other counterparties”. A further portion of the financial instruments owned – which is in many cases substantial – is reported in the 10-Q footnotes of “collateral pledged to counterparties which cannot be repledged”. An example might be tri-party repo, where until recently some custodians could not cope with the administrative complications of rerepoing received collateral. Although the assets themselves have always featured on the balance sheet, the fact that this non-repledgeable portion too is funded on repo is less widely appreciated. The combined volume – once it is arrived at – comes close to 50% of all financial instruments owned.
And this is where everyone loses the plotline, because the reality is that virtually half the balance sheet of US brokers can be repoed back to custodians, in the process leading to double, triple, and x-ple counting a single asset serving as deliverable collateral, and using and reusing (if need be), the cash proceeds, net of a token haircut (or no haircut in the case of English rehypotecation transactions), every single time purchasing riskier assets to generate a return on a return on a return of the original investment. In short: the magic of off-balance sheet accounting which allows brokers to abuse their already TBTF status and lever any underlying asset to the helt and beyond.
Think of Shadow Banking as your own in house synthetic structured product, allowing virtually unlimited leverage.
"Pure Hogwash!" One may say. "These are ridiculous allegations with no base in reality." One may add. We thought so too until the JPM "whale trade" fiasco happened, and all the dirt of the synthetic deposit-funding repo pathways was exposed for all to see.
Presenting Exhibit A, which comes directly from page 24 of JP Morgan's June 13 Financial Results appendix, in which the firm laid out, for all to see, just how it is that the Firm generated over $5 billion in prop trading losses in its Chief Investment Office unit - a department which had previously been tasked with "hedging" trades but as it turned out, was nothing but a glorified, and blessed from the very top, internal hedge fund, one with $323 billion in Assets Under Management! To wit:
The chart above shows the snapshot - from the horse's mouth -of how a major "legacy" bank, one engaged in both deposits and lending, decided to use the "deposit to loan gap" which had swelled to $423 billion at just JPM (blue box in middle), and led to $323 billion in CIO "Available For Sale securities."
What happened next is well-known to all: JPM's Bruno Iksil, together with Ina Drew and the rest of the CIO group (all of whom have since been dismisses), decided to put on a massive bet amounting to over $100 billion in notional across the credit spectrum (the one place where a position of this size could be established without becoming the entire market, although by the time it imploded Bruno Iksil was the market in IG9 and various other indices and tranches). The loss was just as staggering, and amounts to what is one of the largest prop bets gone horribly wrong in history.
Now the JPM spin is well-known: the CIO was merely there to "hedge" exposure, as a direct prop bet would be illegal as per the Volcker Rule, not to mention the avalanche of lawsuits and the regulatory nightmare that would ensue if it became clear that the firm was risking what amount to deposit capital to fund massive, highly risky prop trading bets. Which, when one cuts out the noise, is precisely what JPM did of course, especially since the "hedge" trade blew up just as the market tumbled in the spring of 2012, a time when it should have otherwise hedged the balance of the firm's otherwise bullish posture. That it did not do this refutes the logic that this was a hedge, and confirms that what JPM was doing was nothing short of using an internal, heavily shielded hedge fund, which had $323 billion in collateral as investible equity, to trade away, knowing very well no regulator would dare touch JPM. This is further compounded by the fact, that as one of only two Tri-Party repo dealers in the market (and by far the greater of the two, the second one being the innocuous Bank of New York Mellon), JPM could run circles around both the entire market, and the Fed, if it so chose, courtesy of its monopoly position in the repo market.
* * *
So where does that leave us?
Well, instead of JPM's "deposit to loan gap" discussion, whose massive loss (but, but, hedging...) was the dominant topic on the airwaves for a large part of the summer of 2012, we have the US financial system's "deposits to loan gap" - amounting to some $2 trillion - to contend with. But the punchline is that whereas JPM's decided to express its prop risk using fixed income instruments, and certainly not to buy simple boring Treasurys as the Bloomberg article speculated earlier, nothing prevented JPM from simply bidding up other risky assets "as a hedge" such as stocks, or crude, or slamming silver, or doing anything else it was perfectly entitled to do using the repledging mechanics of the repo system. And since Jamie Dimon has not yet given a full P&L breakdown listing CUSIP by CUSIP just what instruments JPM depositors were funding - either directly or indirectly - nobody actually knows just what securities the CIO was long or short.
The question then becomes: just how are the remaining hundreds of depositor US banks expressing their own iteration of the JPM CIO "deposits over loans" problem? Are they all trading CDS in the IG or HY space? Are they using repo proceeds from TSY purchases to generate fungible cash? Or are they simply using the cash directly and using it to big up risk assets?
All these questions will remain unanswered as it is in both the banks' and, therefore, regulators' best interests to keep the accounting behind repo, pledging and hypothecation transactions as is - nebulous, complicated and even contradictory (especially when it comes to FAS 140 whose paragraph 15 (d) makes borrowed versus pledged transactions off balance sheet, while paragraph 94 makes them on balance sheet), as overhauling the reporting requirements would expose just how much double-, triple-, quadruple- and more dipping America's major money centers are engaged in when it comes to propping up the market: dirt that would put the result of any "Audit the Fed" outcome to shame.
And after all, why should the Fed dirty its hands when it can simply provide the banks with the cash resources to do what they need without it having to engage in what is certainly illegal based on any of its charters. Because while the Liberty 33 Plunge Protection Team may, on occasion, engage the Citadel trading desk to buy ES at times when nobody else will step up, it certainly will not have to do so all the time if it were to flood banks with $2 trillion (soon to be $3, then $4 trillion as QE4EVA drags on and on and on...) in perfectly fungible capital, which can be metamorphozed from innocuous Excess Reserves to perfectly tradeable cash using two or three simple shadow banking transformations.
In that regard, we have to thank Jamie Dimon and his firm for being the biggest beacon of light in 2012, because without the generous contribution of the JPM CIO desk, and its explanation of how the "deposit to loan gap" we would all still be in the dark, and just like Bloomberg, assume naively that all a bank does with excess trillions in deposits, is to buy boring old treasurys.
Instead, we now know the truth, and for that Jamie - you have our sincerest gratitude.
* * *
Finally, the indirect implication of all this is for all those demanding that the "money on the sidelines" leaves the sidelines and is once again used by companies. The problem is that said money is already used by banks as prop trading capital: likely all $2 trillion of it (and if re-hypothecated, more) - in other words, if instead of being used by banks to prop up corporate stocks and risk in general, companies revert to the old mentality of actually reinvesting in themselves - i.e, CapEx spending, hiring new people, even M&A and generally growth - the fungible cash used by banks as investing capital will be redeemed and result in commensurate sales of stocks. Which means that should said "sideline capital" ever be pulled back by the same companies who are now granting, unbeknownst to them, direct asset management duties of said cash by the US banks, then watch out below, at least in the S&P. Which, as the Fed has made all too clear, is the only thing that matters in the New Normal.
Copper is often referred to as the PhD of commodities for, as JPMorgan's Ken Landon notes, "When companies ramp up production of various products, whether during or in anticipation of economic recovery, they demand more cooper." Gold, however, he adds, "is not sensitive at all to business-cycle demand. Its price is driven by the monetary environment." While Bloomberg's chart of the day prefers to take the short-term (last few weeks) view of the world to justify a bullish equity market call, we prefer to look at longer-term cycles and the message is extremely clear - manufacturers are anything but confident, are doing anything but buying copper in anticipation of demand, and despite gold's recent fluctuations it is anything but implying that the world's grand monetary policy experiment is slowing down. What we see from this chart is yet another clear fundamental divergence between Dr. Copper's take on the global economy and the US equity market's nominal recovery.
The political foundation of America is starkly unjust. An entrenched financial Aristocracy buys the complicity of the bottom 50% and retirees with Federal transfers – a Tyranny of the Majority. The 24.5% below the Aristocracy who pay most of the Federal taxes are dominated by this alliance. This may be legal, but is it just? Even more critically, is it sustainable?
The Status Quo rests on this Grand Political Bargain:
We in the Aristocracy will pay significant taxes as long as we control the levers of financial and political power.
We in the top 24% will pay the rest of the income taxes as long as we and our children can continue to live well and accumulate wealth.
We in the "middle class" will continue to work hard as long as we have hope of bettering our lifestyle and the lives of our children.
We in the bottom 50% and retirees agree not to threaten the top 0.5%'s power as long as we continue to get our government transfers and benefits.
This Grand Bargain is coming apart as the promises made to everyone cannot possibly be met. Claims on welfare and disability programs are skyrocketing at the same time that the demographics of an aging populace are causing 10,000 people a day to enter Social Security and Medicare, the two costliest government programs. Meanwhile, the upper middle class that pays most of the taxes has been slammed with lower income and a devastating drop in their housing-based net worth.
According to former Congress members Chris Cox and Bill Archer, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
The actual liabilities of the federal government—including Social Security, Medicare, and federal employees' future retirement benefits—already exceed $86.8 trillion, or 550% of GDP. For the year ending Dec. 31, 2011, the annual accrued expense of Medicare and Social Security was $7 trillion.
That is roughly double the entire annual Federal budget.
They go on to note that “to collect enough tax revenue to avoid going deeper into debt would require over $8 trillion in tax collections annually.” Expropriating the entire income of the top 25% of households that pay almost 90% of the tax and all corporate taxes would only bring in $6.7 trillion.
Clearly, the promises that have been made to 315 million Americans cannot be met, and the current strategies of financial repression (zero-interest rate policy, etc.) and massive fiscal deficits that subsidize favored cartels in defense, housing, education, and healthcare are unsustainable. The politically expedient “fixes” to the Fiscal Cliff (a slight increase in the tax rate on earned income above $250,000, etc.) will not fill the $86 trillion gap between what has been promised and what can be collected in taxes.
What few dare admit, much less state publicly, is that the Constitutional limits on the financial Aristocracy and the Tyranny of the Majority have failed. This guarantees a future Constitutional crisis as each political class – the financial Aristocracy, the top 24% who pay most of the taxes, the dwindling middle class and the bottom 50% who depend on Federal transfers – will battle for control as the Status Quo collapses under the weight of its unsustainable promises.
THE CHAINS OF EMPLOYMENT INCOME
There are roughly 127 million people who receive government transfers or benefits.
Sixty-one million recipients of Social Security and Medicare and
66 million people receiving welfare (SNAP food stamps, housing credits, Medicaid, etc.)
Since there are about 115 million full-time jobs in the U.S., this means there are 1.1 government dependents for every full-time worker in the U.S.
There are 315 million Americans and roughly 142 million jobs.
About 38 million of these jobs are part-time that pay less than $10,000 annually.
Fifty million wage earners earn less than $15,000 a year, and 61 million earn less than $20,000 annually.)
The Federal government counts a person who is self-employed and earns $100 a year as "employed" and a person who works one hour a week as "employed." As a result, the only meaningful metric is full-time employment.
The top 25% who pay most of the taxes, roughly 30 million people, are a political minority compared to the 127 million people drawing direct payments/benefits from the Federal government and the 65+ million who pay essentially no income taxes (though they do pay the 7.65% Social Security/Medicare payroll tax).
CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS - Inequality, Productivity Paradox and Concentrated Power & Wealth
The fiscal cliff dominates the mainstream news, but it is more like a bump on the pathway to the real cliff. In essence, the path has turned down and we're picking up momentum, gaining speed as we head for the cliff.
The real cliff is the gap between what has been promised and what can plausibly be collected in tax revenues: $86 trillion but one recent estimate, over $120 trillion by other guestimates. The difference is caused by the relative rosiness of the projections to control Medicare and Medicaid spending. Lower estimates assume we can stop the growth of these programs in the long-term, something that has not yet happened for the reason that the system lacks any controls to do so.
This gap widens by $7 trillion a year. That is, the promises to present and future retirees and beneficiaries goes up if we count the promises made not just for 2013 but for the future.
This $7 trillion is twice the entire Federal budget and roughly 50% of the nation's GDP.
Understood in this way, we can see that raising taxes by $200 billion or cutting expenditures by $200 billion is not going to keep us from hurtling off the real fiscal cliff in a few years.
The fiscal cliff is only one edge we're racing toward; there are others. One is a Constitutional Crisis cliff that is just beyond the fiscal cliff, because the Constitution has failed to limit the power of concentrated wealth (the financial Aristocracy) and failed to resolve the Tyranny of the Majority: 50+% of the voters are now dependent on Federal transfers, while 25% pay 90% of the Federal income taxes. Those collecting benefits will naturally vote for what they perceive as their immediate self-interest, which is raising taxes on the minority until the minority rebels.
The only other option is to print the needed $100 trillion, which will destroy the nation's currency and economy. Either way, the 50+% will find the promises made are empty. Either the oppressed 25% opt out ("when belief in the system fades") and tax revenues collapse or everyone's $1,500 transfer from the Federal government will buy a single loaf of bread. Either way, we will face a political crisis.
We have been trained to ridicule any suggestions that technology won't/can't save us, but the one undeniable truth about technology is that it destroys 90% of the jobs in the industries it revolutionizes. Agriculture, for example. Music stores. Travel agencies. Some other employment sectors are only cut in half, for example admin assistants. The range of job losses triggered by advances in technology is between 98% and 50%, depending on the rigidity and inefficiency of the industry being transformed.
For forty years we have counterbalanced this loss of employment by borrowing and spending money on labor-intensive consumption: more healthcare, more retail, more tourism / hospitality, more government. But even these sectors are starting to come under technological pressure, despite the political moats that have been dug around healthcare, education, defense, housing, etc.
The pressure is not just technological, it is financial: the game of borrowing ever-more money to fund all this labor-intensive consumption is almost over. Right now we have a structural deficit of $1.3 trillion, and simply keeping it at this level will require politically impossible limits on the growth of government spending. Meanwhile, tax revenues have topped out. As tax rates go up, people change their behavior to pay less taxes. As a result, tax increases always raise far less money than static, linear projections estimate.
Many claims for technological revolutions are overblown and unrealistic. High school physics, chemistry and biology, bolstered by an interest in keeping up with scientific advances (via mainstream science magazines such as Scientific American), is more than enough to analyze claims of "scientific revolution" with a grounded skepticism. To take but one example: all those stories about nano-robots being introduced into our bloodstream to chomp away at our clogged arteries. What will fuel these little machines? Some recent work suggests they can use glucose as a fuel, but even this ignores the reality that the clogged arteries are a symptom/result of lifestyle choices, not the cause per se of heart disease. In one field after another, horrendously costly "cures" are actually being directed at symptoms, not causes.
With even a modest foundation of scientific understanding, many of the claims for "revolutionary" technological advances founder on basic limits of the real world or the cost and difficulty of scaling up a technology to the point that it is both affordable and broadly applicable.
I recently saw an article hyping an advance that could eliminate batteries in pacemakers--the aforementioned glucose-fueled electronics. But given that perhaps 1% of the global populace can afford a pacemaker, how "revolutionary" is this advance? It seems extremely marginal compared to indoor plumbing, clean water, eliminating malaria, etc.
What technology reliably accomplishes is a wholesale reduction of human labor and jobs. What it no longer does is create new labor-intensive industries.
We thus face an inequality cliff that is (unsurprisingly) connected to the fiscal and constitutional cliffs: how do we transfer wealth from the productively employed few to the many unemployed/ under-employed without creating a society of dependents? We have "fixed" this problem by borrowing or printing trillions of dollars. That "solution" has now entered the marginal-return death spiral.
We will have to come up with a new social contract built on community rather than a debt-dependent Central State and its cartel/fiefdom partners. Hoping that technology will solve that knotty problem for us is delusional, as technology only further reduces human employment.
The legal system is supposed to be the codification of our norms and beliefs, things that we need to make our system work. If the legal system is seen as exploitative, then confidence in our whole system starts eroding. And that’s really the problem that’s going on.
I think we ought to go do what we did in the S&L [crisis] and actually put many of these guys in prison. Absolutely. These are not just white-collar crimes or little accidents. There were victims. That’s the point. There were victims all over the world.
Economists focus on the whole notion of incentives. People have an incentive sometimes to behave badly, because they can make more money if they can cheat. If our economic system is going to work then we have to make sure that what they gain when they cheat is offset by a system of penalties.
Nobel prize winning economist George Akerlof has demonstrated that failure to punish white collar criminals – and instead bailing them out- creates incentives for more economic crimes and further destruction of the economy in the future.
Indeed, professor of law and economics (and chief S&L prosecutor) William Black notes that we’ve known of this dynamic for “hundreds of years”. And see this, this, this and this.
The Director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division told Congress:
Recovery from the fallout of the financial crisis requires important efforts on various fronts, and vigorous enforcement is an essential component, as aggressive and even-handed enforcement will meet the public’s fair expectation that those whose violations of the law caused severe loss and hardship will be held accountable. And vigorous law enforcement efforts will help vindicate the principles that are fundamental to the fair and proper functioning of our markets: that no one should have an unjust advantage in our markets; that investors have a right to disclosure that complies with the federal securities laws; and that there is a level playing field for all investors.
Paul Zak (Professor of Economics and Department Chair, as well as the founding Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, Professor of Neurology at Loma Linda University Medical Center, and a senior researcher at UCLA) and Stephen Knack (a Lead Economist in the World Bank’s Research Department and Public Sector Governance Department) wrote a paper called Trust and Growth, showing that enforcing the rule of law – i.e. prosecuting white collar fraud – is necessary for a healthy economy.
One of the leading business schools in America – the Wharton School of Business – published an essay by a psychologist on the causes and solutions to the economic crisis. Wharton points out that restoring trust is the key to recovery, and that trust cannot be restored until wrongdoers are held accountable:
According to David M. Sachs, a training and supervision analyst at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia, the crisis today is not one of confidence, but one of trust. “Abusive financial practices were unchecked by personal moral controls that prohibit individual criminal behavior, as in the case of [Bernard] Madoff, and by complex financial manipulations, as in the case of AIG.” The public, expecting to be protected from such abuse, has suffered a trauma of loss similar to that after 9/11. “Normal expectations of what is safe and dependable were abruptly shattered,” Sachs noted. “As is typical of post-traumatic states, planning for the future could not be based on old assumptions about what is safe and what is dangerous. A radical reversal of how to be gratified occurred.”
People now feel more gratified saving money than spending it, Sachs suggested. They have trouble trusting promises from the government because they feel the government has let them down.
He framed his argument with a fictional patient named Betty Q. Public, a librarian with two teenage children and a husband, John, who had recently lost his job. “She felt betrayed because she and her husband had invested conservatively and were double-crossed by dishonest, greedy businessmen, and now she distrusted the government that had failed to protect them from corporate dishonesty. Not only that, but she had little trust in things turning around soon enough to enable her and her husband to accomplish their previous goals.
“By no means a sophisticated economist, she knew … that some people had become fantastically wealthy by misusing other people’s money — hers included,” Sachs said. “In short, John and Betty had done everything right and were being punished, while the dishonest people were going unpunished.”
Helping an individual recover from a traumatic experience provides a useful analogy for understanding how to help the economy recover from its own traumatic experience, Sachs pointed out. The public will need to “hold the perpetrators of the economic disaster responsible and take what actions they can to prevent them from harming the economy again.” In addition, the public will have to see proof that government and business leaders can behave responsibly before they will trust them again, he argued.
Note that Sachs urges “hold[ing] the perpetrators of the economic disaster responsible.” In other words, just “looking forward” and promising to do things differently isn’t enough.
Robert Shiller – one of the top housing experts in the United States – says that the mortgage fraud is a lot like the fraud which occurred during the Great Depression. As Fortune notes:
Shiller said the danger of foreclosuregate — the scandal in which it has come to light that the biggest banks have routinely mishandled homeownership documents, putting the legality of foreclosures and related sales in doubt — is a replay of the 1930s, when Americans lost faith that institutions such as business and government were dealing fairly.
Economist James K. Galbraith wrote in the introduction to his father, John Kenneth Galbraith’s, definitive study of the Great Depression, The Great Crash, 1929:
The main relevance of The Great Crash, 1929 to the great crisis of 2008 is surely here. In both cases, the government knew what it should do. Both times, it declined to do it. In the summer of 1929 a few stern words from on high, a rise in the discount rate, a tough investigation into the pyramid schemes of the day, and the house of cards on Wall Street would have tumbled before its fall destroyed the whole economy.
In 2004, the FBI warned publicly of “an epidemic of mortgage fraud.” But the government did nothing, and less than nothing, delivering instead low interest rates, deregulation and clear signals that laws would not be enforced. The signals were not subtle: on one occasion the director of the Office of Thrift Supervision came to a conference with copies of the Federal Register and a chainsaw. There followed every manner of scheme to fleece the unsuspecting ….
This was fraud, perpetrated in the first instance by the government on the population, and by the rich on the poor.
The government that permits this to happen is complicit in a vast crime.
There will have to be full-scale investigation and cleaning up of the residue of that, before you can have, I think, a return of confidence in the financial sector. And that’s a process which needs to get underway.
Galbraith recently said that “at the root of the crisis we find the largest financial swindle in world history”, where “counterfeit” mortgages were “laundered” by the banks.
As he has repeatedly noted, the economy will not recover until the perpetrators of the frauds which caused our current economic crisis are held accountable, so that trust can be restored. See this, this and this.
No wonder Galbraith has said economists should move into the background, and “criminologists to the forefront.”
The bottom line is that the government has it exactly backwards. By failing to prosecute criminal fraud, the government is destabilizing the economy … and ensuring future crashes.
"Finally, we must question the morality of Fed programs that trick people (as if they were Pavlov's dogs) into behaviors that are adverse to their own long-term best interest. What kind of government entity cajoles savers to spend, when years of under-saving and over-spending have left the consumer in terrible shape? What kind of entity tricks its citizens into paying higher and higher prices to buy stocks? What kind of entity drives the return on retiree's savings to zero for seven years (2008-2015 and counting) in order to rescue poorly managed banks? Not the kind that should play this large a role in the economy."
"An environment where financial crises are seen to be a regular part of the landscape is one where people might actually take more precautions. People would maintain a margin of safety in all their decisions, investment and otherwise, regulations would be well thought out and diligently enforced, and the unscrupulous and the incompetent would quickly fail and disappear from the scene. Modern day attempts to abolish failure only serve to ensure it, as moral hazard - the likelihood that people's behavior changes in response to artificial supports or guarantees - surges. Attempts to prevent or wish away future crises only make them more likely. Only by allowing, even welcoming, episodic failure do we have a chance of reducing the likelihood and magnitude of future financial crises."
Here is a very interesting video interview with the the writer of 'The Creature From Jekyll Island', the preeminent book on the corruption of the private Federal Reserve Bank. Griffin underlines the great threat to our economy and the American ideal of liberty that is looming over our country today.
2012 - FINANCIAL REPRESSION
2011 - BEGGAR-THY-NEIGHBOR -- CURRENCY WARS
2010 - EXTEN D & PRETEND
CORPORATOCRACY - CRONY CAPITALSIM
GLOBAL FINANCIAL IMBALANCE
STANDARD OF LIVING
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DISCLOSURE Gordon T Long is not a registered advisor and does not give investment advice. His comments are an expression of opinion only and should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as recommendations to buy or sell a stock, option, future, bond, commodity or any other financial instrument at any time. While he believes his statements to be true, they always depend on the reliability of his own credible sources. Of course, he recommends that you consult with a qualified investment advisor, one licensed by appropriate regulatory agencies in your legal jurisdiction, before making any investment decisions, and barring that, we encourage you confirm the facts on your own before making important investment commitments.