Archive for the ‘finance’ Category

Money’s Swan Song

August 11, 2019

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Well a lot has happened since then.

Our Creator had done some amazing creating through that original sparkle, and has given us the wherewithal to jump in there and participate in the creative playing out of all things in our domain.

The power to create was not given to other species on our planet—only to us.

We humans have done some pretty amazing things with our God-given talents.

After hunting and gathering, we planted, harvested and ate the fruits of our labors.

in the course of history, we have moved far beyond just eating, drinking and homesteading.

It’s been ever onward and upward for us, since we got a hold of this divine spark thing that we call creativity.

We’ve built pyramids and great walls, temples, mosques, cathedrals, skyscrapers, great bridges and machines that move across those bridges.

We’ve built roads, rails, blazed trails, had great successes and fails. We’ve devised tools, schools, lots of rules; we’ve forged implements, arts, coins, currency, and we’ve maintained a steady errancy.

We’ve painted, sculpted, interpreted the real world as works of art. We’ve disrupted, interrupted, corrupted and upended nature itself.

Now our carbonized creation turns—in some ways—against us.

Back at the olden time, when we received the power to cultivate earth, we were instructed to subdue those elements of the natural world that seem to be active against us—like, say, lions and tigers and bears. Such critters we had to subdue, so they would not make mincemeat of us.

Earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, tsunamis, etc.— these adverse forces we could not subdue, so we took shelter. As the ages rolled by, our sheltering instincts developed into elaborate structures.

And we have done pretty well with that. We homo sapiens have taken control of the planet—or at least we think we have. The planet may yet rise up to bite us in the ass. We shall see what happens with that.

A major sea-change that happened along the long odyssey of our progress was: we devised ways to substitute real goods into artificial representations of wealth.

Better known as making money.

MoneySwan

Land, food, livestock, clothing, shelter and such commodities that are essential for survival—all these are now exchanged by monies, currencies, paper-backed assets. And the latest thing is: electrons seem to be our new currency.

Our ancestors carved trails out of the wilderness. They gathered grains, sowed seeds, domesticated animals, and sold to neighbors or merchants all the produce thereof.

As those primary goods coalesced over the ages as markets, their value was measured and traded as money. This we called trade. Then we called it commerce, then business, and now. . . economics. We humans invented the system a long time ago because . . . well, because . . . I don’t why.

lt’s just what we do I guess.

For one thing, it made the process of manipulating wealth easier.

In economics, wealth was and is evaluated in terms of dollars or yuan or yen, or marks, francs, drachmas, denarii, zlotys, rubles, pesos, pounds sterling, etc.

Euros are the new kid on the block. They seem to have trouble making that one work.

The difficulty with retaining true value in these currencies is related to the fact that they’re—in real survival life terms—not really worth anything.

They only represent wealth. But they are not really the real thing.

I say the EU is having trouble establishing the value of their Euro. This goes way back.

The Brits, for instance, were having trouble in the 1930’s retaining the value of their pound. It seemed that their constructed currency could not maintain its value compared to gold.

Who the hell can compete with gold?

Gold goes way back.

Way back.

The second chapter of Genesis, for instance, mentions gold.

“The name of the first (river) is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.”

I suppose there’s a reason why gold goes way back in our history. Even though you can’t eat it, drink it, or keep your household warm with it, it is . . .

quite shiny.

Beautiful stuff, that gold. Precious!

Back to the Brits. As the world economy was falling apart back in the ’30’s, many savvy persons decided they would trade their British currency—pounds—for gold.

So many savvies were wanting to get back to gold, that the British government quit selling it.

What would happen after such an arrangement?

I think it was that fellow Keynes who figured out that—guess what—the economy just kept on cranking—all the goods and stuff and commodities and products and financial instruments and whatnot—just kept swirling around in international commerce.

The world didn’t stop turning. Business just kept on doing their thing. Rich get richer and poor get poorer and hey what else is new.

What else is new? Nothing. Nothing new under the sun.

Guess what. We didn’t really need gold to back currency! It was just a phase we were going through—the golden age of gold.

Back in ’73, Nixon pulled the same trick as the Brits had done in the ’30’s. He and his Bretton Woods powers-that-be decided we could no longer afford to sell gold for dollars. Too many folks wanted the gold instead of the dollars.

So we see that man-made currencies are not foolproof, and the gold bugs are always trying to make a comeback.

Money is a habit; that’s all. A very old habit.

Folks are born and bred into this modern economic world.  We are commercialized, or socialized (depending on your politics) to just keep spending those pounds and dollars and cents and euros and yuan and yen and SDRs and thusandsuch.

Nowadays we don’t really even use the money any more. Now it’s just electrons flowing around that represent debits and credits.

And that’s why—I suppose— the central banks of the world can keep cranking out their reserves, because the right to assign value is now reserved to them. It has nothing to do with gold or fiscal guarantee.

The central banks, in the fatal footsteps of every financial crisis, have reserved the right to “create money out of thin air.”

I told you we were creative!

The greatest discovery of the modern world:  we don’t even need anything to take the place of gold.

Money is just an old habit we have; we’ll never put it to rest. So somebody has to be “printing” it somewhere.  We spend so much money that all the .govs of the world are running deep debts trying to keep all the citizens fat ‘n happy.

There’s so much liquidity in the world today that the dark swan of excess has smooth sailing. Someday, some Leninish strongman will come along and dissolve all that debt into even more liquidity.

It will be a meal ticket for everybody. Yes, Virginia, there is a free lunch, doesn’t matter who’s paying for it.

It’s only money.

Glass half-Full

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The Knave New World

May 2, 2019

In 2007, Alan Greenspan published a fascinating book that chronicled not only his own life, but the life of the monetary world in which he grew up,  and in which he ultimately played a major role as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

  https://www.amazon.com/Age-Turbulence-Adventures-New-World/dp/0143114166 

Mr. Greenspan’s keen observation of contemporary monetary history is demonstrated throughout the book. On page 92, Alan had this to report about the legendary Reagan tax cuts of the 1980’s:

“The cornerstone of the Reagan tax cuts was a bill that had been proposed by Congressman Jack Kemp and Senator William Roth. It called for a dramatic three-year, 30 percent rollback of taxes on both businesses and individuals and was designed to jolt the economy out of its slump, which was now entering its second year. I (Greenspan) believed that if spending was restrained as much as Reagan proposed, and as long as the Federal Reserve continued to enforce strict control of the money supply, the plan was credible, though it would be a hard sell. This was the consensus of the rest of the economic board as well.

But (David) Stockman (Reagan’s Budget Director) and Don Regan, the incoming treasury secretary, were having doubts. They were leary of the growing federal deficit, already more than $50 billion a year, and they began quietly telling the President he ought to hold off on tax cuts. Instead, they wanted him to try getting Congress to cut spending first, then see whether the resulting savings would allow for tax reductions.”

Well good luck with that!

And gollee, that was about 39 years ago, and about 20 trillion $$ of federal deficit ago. . .

Ronald Reagan, God bless ‘im, was the last of the Mohicans of old-style let’s-try-to-balance-the-budget school.

Yet we still pay lip-service to that principle.

But–let’s face it– those days are gone forever. They went out with with saddle oxfords and gumball machines and  Archie Bunker and 1-cent lollipops and debits on the left with credits on the right that balanced each other out.

Now Reagan, God rest his soul,  is no longer with us, nor Kemp,  and the world is a totally different place. Ronald Reagan was the last of a balancing breed that has vanished into fiscal history.

The cowboy hero has ridden into the sunset.

David Stockman is, however, still with us, and still living in the past,  still harping, God bless ‘im, on old-hat financial and fiscal responsibility. Good luck with that, Dave!

https://www.deepstatedeclassified.com/dsd20190426/

In his most recent newsletter, David Stockman posted this assessment of our present situation:

“The Main Street economy is failing. But the Wall Street fantasy is thriving. You can lay responsibility for this dangerous disconnect at the doorstep of the Eccles Building.

The Federal Reserve’s extreme monetary central planning regime long ago disabled capital markets and destroyed price discovery.

Bubble Finance has euthanized workers and savers and lobotomized traders and speculators.

And our monetary central planners know it.”

While Mr. Stockman’s assessment may very well be true, it may also be irrelevant.

The world . . . as it always does and always has, has changed.

Tap your ruby slippers together, David.

RubySlippers

and close your eyes and realize: We’re not in Kansas any more. All the rules have changed. Take off your rose-colored glasses.

We’re not wheelin’ and dealin’ in ole Wall Street any more, or Peoria or Pittsburgh or Palm Springs. Now we are in, as Aldous Huxley once said, a Brave New World. . .

A world in which monetary markets and price discovery are no longer the primary determinants in the money game. . . a world that has, yes Virginia, yes Alice and yes Dorothy, been commandeered by a thunderous consumerist horde who have no wish to be bound by these old financial fuddy-duddy obsolete principles, a world that has been fundamentally transformed by Keynesian realpolitic and by the pragmatic keep-bailing-this-boat central bankers of the world with their legions of yassah data-crunching technocrats to maintain the welfare of us all.

And we will never go back.

Because money itself is, and always has been, truth be told, worthless, being nothing more than klinky coins that can get you a wad of chewing gum, or paper bills that can get you a sugar-high from a vending machine, or electrons that can get you a charged-up night on the town, or a day in the sun, a week at Disney if you’re lucky, and a health-insured, social-security certified lifetime in this knave new world.

The “Capitalism” of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill and Jacob Marley and JP Morgan and even Warren Buffet has . . . gone the way of the buffalo.

Now it’s just benevolent electrons whirling around the world taking care of everybody.

And when you finally see the writing on the wall, Dave, look at those deficits and . . . read ‘em and weep. Nobody cares about deficits any more.

The central bankers of the world will never have to face the music of fiscal responsibility that keeps ringing in your ears.

We’re never going back to the old balancing acts. Where we’re headed is. . . everybody gets a meal-ticket as long as all’s quiet on the Western front and the red sun still rises in the east. Welcome to the knave new world.

Glass half-Full

Green Money

March 20, 2019

It has been about 200 years since our great American expansion picked up enough steam to really get going full throttle.

From Maine to Miami, from Seattle to San Diego and everywhere in between, in our humongous exploitive thrust westward, southward, and  every whichaway you can think of— we went bustin’ through the Adirondacks, the Appalachians, across the  wide prairies, over Big Muddy, up the Missoura and all the way down to the Rio Grande, through Sierras out to Pacific shores, even leaping oceanward and skyward to Hawaii.

EucTre4

Back in the day, when we got into the thick of that vast continental expedition, we moved over and through rolling virgin landscapes of living green.

Green were the great evergreens of the North. Green were the hardwood forests on coastal plains, on Appalachian slopes, on heartland grasslands. Green were the piney woods of the South. Green were the grains of the far-stretching prairies.

And the certificates by which we assigned value to our works—these too were green.

Dollars—we designed them in green.

Dollar

So, green were the dollars that transacted our nation through thousands of ventures, millions of contracts, compelling trillions of working hands that were capitalized by investing hands, then driven upward in value by speculating hands and traded cleverly by arbitraging wallstreet whizzes.   

Some newly-immigrating Americans moved independently, others collectively, across the continent. All along the way they cultivated green crops and earned green dollars wherever they settled, digging, mining, organizing co-ops, forming companies, building roads and bridges, collaborating, accumulating capital, incorporating, expanding, growing, thriving, burgeoning and burdening.

Burdening the earth. Extracting to the max all along the way. Tow that line; tote that bale. Milk it for all its worth.

By the time mid-20th century rolled around, ole mother earth was bursting at the seams, displaying scarred hillsides, scraped-out open-pit mines, hollowed-out insides, chemicalized sores, oozing green slime. . . but enabling us thereby to whiz along on continent-wide  interstate rides. Hey, let’s pull over for a song break:

  http://www.micahrowland.com/carey/Deep Green.mp3

We grew up with stock-green scenery whizzing by outside the windows at 65 miles per hour— seemingly insignificant landscape sliding through the view on our way to wherever our best-laid plans of mice and men might propel us.

At ramping exits we egress to fill-up on the American dream, then cruise control at 78 mph in our lean dream transportation machines. Green, green is just a tucked-away scene behind the gas station.

Still yet are the the dollars green, but only in our minds, because now we’ve digitized them so we don’t actually lay eyes on them $$ any more.

And then, lo and behold, a new thing happened. Motivations morphed. The politics that drives our nation states began to turn green.

Whereas, before, red, white, and blue were the colors that motivated us.

Now we find that the ole faithful red, white and blue of Liberty has run its course through world history. Those other nation-states that had followed our galavanting, capitalizing lead. . . now they have fueled their engines with our money-green currency, and they did park billions of our little federal reserve notes into every marketplace and bank vault across the globe. . .

But what goes around, comes around, and when it recycles, it morphs as something different.

Alas, so now what new Green through yonder Continent breaks?

Turns out that some Keynesizing technocrats have devised a means to turn the whole financialized world around so that the new motive—the re-greening of earth—becomes society’s great purpose and goal. On the old economic scenario of Supply and Demand, Sustainability arises as the new Remand.

Instead of the profit motive! Instead of Go West Young Man, now we find a new clarion call: Go Green Young Band!

     https://www.socialeurope.eu/green-money-without-inflation

Will it work?

Glass half-Full

Where to now, Homo Developus?

January 16, 2019

Everybody knows that a few years ago we had a big economic breakdown. There were many reasons to explain  what happened in 2008.

Let’s step back in time a little and consider what has taken place on Planet Earth.

During the 1800’s and 1900’s our developed nations undertook a vast, worldwide surge of industrial development, which was accompanied by a universal expansion of business and corporate prosperity. This hyper-expansive phase of human development required very large-scale extractions of natural resources, which were then transformed into mega-stocks of consumer goods.

An abundance of consumer goods brought forth an abundance of consumers.

Consuming.

Consuming the goods, consuming the planet.

The end of the 20th century brought a vast slowdown. It happened in the fall of 2008, and regardless of what the bullish analysts and stimulus-chasers declare, we are still mired in that big slowdown of ’08.

And will continue to be. This is going to morph into a vast leveling out. The industrial age is over. Our planet will not tolerate another 200-year extraction expansion.

Now we have entered into the Age of Sustainable Technology and Appropriate Industry.

And herein a question arises.

Who will run the world?

Is there a cartel of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Edison and JPMorgan-types out there who will forge a new system to transform the old Industrial Infrastructure into the new Sustainable Society?

As the next surge—the post-industrial phase— is being initiated by a new breed of Industrialist . . . the Gates, the Jobs, the Bezos and Buffets . . . the industrialized Civilization stumbles into a new Electronified Zone.

A digitized twilight zone, as it were.

In the wake of the great ’08 Slowdown, we encounter a host of questions that define the logistical problem of where to go from here.

During the Investment Segment’s breakdown of ’08, a lot of very complicated financial engineering became unwound.

One financial analyst, John M. Mason, recently offered an explanation that includes this analysis of what happened in the financial world during the decline of our industrializing phase:

But, in the developed world, the presence of lots and lots of liquidity means very little in the way of corporate capital investment. The environment of credit inflation, built up over the last fifty years of so, has created a culture of financial engineering in the business community and, consequently, corporations act differently now than they did when most of the current economic models were constructed. Government stimulus gets built into greater risk taking, greater financial leverage, and financial investment, like stock buybacks.

   (https://seekingalpha.com/article/4233178-supply-side-world-europe-well-united-states?ifp=0&app=1.)

So it seems to me that the financial guys—the wallstreet wheelers and dealers, etc—having running out of real new industrial infrastructure to invest in, turned to MBS schemes and CDO games in order to keep their game going. Instead of their oversized financial whirligig running on old Industrial Growth stimulants, they rigged it to run on the fumes thereof.

Now in a post-industrial age, we find ourselves as a species, Homo Developus, scratching our heads and wondering where do we go from here?

It just so happens that, in the wake of the Great Industrial Expansion of Planet Earth, there emerges a vast bureaucracy of Smart People—number crunchers, economic theorizers, technocrats, academics, programmers, bureaucrats, not to mention the mysterious ghosts of AI —who propose to reconstruct the detritus of the industrial age into a systemic quasi-social Union that will make sure everybody is taken care of.

And so I’m wondering, what’s the best way to administrate such a civilization?

What’s the best system for governing a federation of post-industrial nations?

What’s the the most effective strategy for managing a cushy, highly-developed Society?

What’s the most humane political structure to assure income and health for all citizens?

Should Europeans, for instance, appoint multiple layers of bureaucracy to enforce labor laws so that every person has a guaranteed income?

Should the State take control of business so that everybody gets a minimal piece of the pie?

And these philosophical, or sociological questions arise:

What motivation compels some individuals to seek opportunity and then develop that opportunity into abundance and prosperity?

What drives the go-getters to excel in economic pursuits? What motivates them to acquire work, money, property, resources, and then manipulate those assets into an overflow of wealth?

What incentive impels them to take care of themselves and their families?

On the other hand, what compels some other people to, instead,  take charge of bureaucratic agencies in order to administrate a Society that assures everyone a minimum of economic assistance?

What drives some analytical people to write laws and devise policies for systematically managing governmental bureaus to assure that everyone is taken care of?

Who is in charge here?

Who is going to run the world?

Will it be the go-getters, the pioneers, movers and shakers, developers, entrepreneurs, rule-breakers, industrialists, business mavens?

Or will it be the wonks who manage the world—the academics, the specialists, bureaucrats, rule-makers, policy-crafters, the tweakers of governmental largesse?

EURomeHdq

Consider Esther Lynch’s observations:

The ETUC has watched the rise in precarious working conditions in Europe—platform working, zero-hours contracts, bogus self-employment and so on—with deep concern. Research in the UK found that young people on zero-hours contracts, for example, were far more likely to report mental and physical health problems than their counterparts in stable jobs. A study by the University of Limerick in Ireland warned that people on non-guaranteed hours could become ‘trapped in a cycle of poverty which strengthens employers’ control’, generating a fear of being penalised if they raised grievances about working conditions. In response, the Irish government has taken steps to prohibit the use of zero-hours contracts, unless the employer can show a genuine business need. Guaranteeing transparent and predictable working conditions would have wide-ranging benefits, in terms of workers’ health, work-life balance and employee retention.

  (https://www.socialeurope.eu/tackling-insecure-work-in-europe)

What does the peaceful development of Civilization require? Management by one, or the other, of these two types? Or Both/and?

Is Civilization founded upon a principle of every man/woman for hmrself?

Or will it settle into BigBrotherSister administering a vast Guarantee for All?

Or something in between.

Keep your eyes open to watch what develops.

Smoke

Feb5, 2018

February 6, 2018

Floating in New York Harbor, this message was found in a bottle:

Sorry to burst the bubble here but

What the hell happened at 3 o’clock?

DowJ*1:5:18

Somebody yell fire in crowded theater?

Thundering herd, caught up in the Smoke and mirrors!

Blindsided by  a Flash Crash?

Blame it on the ‘bots!

Gotta be them damn short-selling ghosties

in the machine

again

Oh . . . what the hey. . .

The last thing I remember, Doc

I slid into the curve.

Downward, I remember

Downward, I can tell you that.

In the winkin’ of  an eye, and suddenly it’s every man for himself—

and the thundering herd turns tail, reverse

like some slumbering bearish curse,

Stampede!

Blind-sided by the ‘bots, or so I’m told.

Or did Jerome grab  the punchbowl

Already?

Did he pull the plug?

Did he pull  the rug

out, already, from under, 

toppling now, asunder

the elephant in our room?

Watch out!

We’re coverin’ our assets here. But it’s hard to hit

a moving target.

So I’ was thinkin’

This is more dire than a bull in a China flop;

caught in a freefall only the ’bots can stop.

Or until the final bell doth drop

Hell! It’s 4 o’clock;

but I’m still in shock.

We didn’t see it coming, from near, nor far!

you know how your assets are?

What about my precious metals?

Now the dust settles:

Dust bowl

Super bowl

punch bowl, where have we landed?

America has disbanded.

Yet the Eagles have landed.

Where the Eagles gather—’tis there the body’s found.

No more Patriot tricks to score touch down.

No, nay, hardly a sound

there’s no more joy in BeanTown;

mighty Brady has struck out!

Dynasty done, without a doubt.

Who’d’ve thunk it,

equivalent to a Philly gridiron dunk it!

Oh, you couldn’t hear the clock stop

as we watched the black swans flop.

No, we ne’er did detect that long-dreaded pin prick

as it burst our bubble like an e.d.wick,

yet we caught a twit from way, way down

in the beltway, political town

struck dumb now with some eerie Nunez memo

more cryptic than a dreary Ruuskie demo.

But I remember

it was 3 o’clock and then . . .

That’s all she wrote.

Glass Chimera

Yes, Toto, we’re in a brave new swirl.

January 28, 2018

Today while perusing a post on the Seeking Alpha financial network I came across what appears to be a very sensible explanation of what we see in the world of finance and business today.

This no-nonsense analysis is occasionally echoed by other writers on the SA site, most notably Mr. David Stockman, former budget director for President Reagan.

He was a high-flyer back in the day, the pre-Greenspan days.

But here I make reference to a different contrarian analyst, Mark A. Grant,  upon whose article I stumbled upon this morning.

  https://seekingalpha.com/article/4140703-universe-edge-restaurant?sht=p3a1ld&shu=8wcf#comment-77507865

From a distance, I’ve been following the contrarian school of thought ever since the fall of ’08. I say “from a distance” because I am neither an economist, nor a significant investor. I am a mere citizen who happens to be a consumer, an American, an author and a semi-retired person, age 66.

This contrarian school of alarmist financial analysis generally demonstrates a perpetual amazement; their astonishment revolves around the credit-mongering house-of-cards built by the central bankers of our preset world (the Fed, EuroCBank, Bank of Japan, People’s Bank of Japan, etc.). It’s not that the contrarians have much respect for of the central bankers’ delicate arrangement of interlocking currencies and trade incentives; rather, their astonishment arises from the mystery of why it has not yet fallen apart and produced a new crash.

You see, this new international construct is not founded upon traditional economics, but rather (as it appears to this layman) upon that (at the time) new-kid-on-the-block upstart school founded in the 1930’s by Mr. Keynes; it’s all about governments and banks perpetually tweaking national/international money spigots to produce certain desired effects.

Our current zombified house-of-cards scenario has been at work for a decade or so now, ever since the crash of ’08, with its aftermath of Great Recession or great whatever-it-is.

Getting back to the source of this present article: This morning I was reading Mr. Grant’s take on the present situation and comparing it for the umpteenth time to the contrarian undertow that continues to make perfect sense. This bearish complaint corner has been going on for so long I’m beginning to wonder if the fiat-wielding central bankers have actually managed to change, by their manipulations, the fundamental nature of money.

Maybe we actually are now in a brave new world where the old rules of debit/credit will never again apply.

With all these electrons flying around the planet–all these monetized digital representations of presumed wealth and bank-enabled assets–haven’t we truly ditched the old gold-backed world of currencies-dollars, pounds, francs, marks, drachmas, denarii, Euros, rubles, shekels, yen, yuan, SDRs and zlotys?

Could Bitcoin and such be nothing more than a flash-in-pan death-throes sparkle signifying the end of our great age of post-BrettonWoods expansion? 

Might this extended wave of central banks’ Quantitative Easing actually turn out to be the debt-driven tidal wave that propels us into a land that prime forgot, where all the rules and practices of days gone by are tossed aside forever in the liquidity flood and trash heap of history?

ShipWrek

We’re getting to a precarious place now where the only solution will be to tear up the score-cards, balance sheets, and start over. The central governments of the world are forever indebted to the central banks of the world. It certainly seems that way to this observer. I’ll be surprised if we ever get back to what Mr. Smith called “the wealth of nations.”

We ain’t in Kansas any more, Toto. Exactly where we have landed is unclear. And it just might be that tapping our ruby-slippered heels of old-school analysis are gone with the wind.

When this whirlwind of fiat-instruments does wind down to a dull roar and all the chips fall where they may, who/what institutional entities  will have wrangled control of the new asset-spewing beast? Whatever that entity turns out to be–it (they) will be in a position to dole out the newly-zombified assets to the world’s surviving movers and shakers. I guess most of us out here in lala land will be quakin’ in our boots.

As for us commoners, we may all of us have to settle for a mere meal-ticket while the big chips get re-assigned.

A meal-ticket  on a card or a chip, of course.

What troubles me is: what new rules or allegiances will be demanded by the powers–that-be?

What will it cost us, John Doe/Jane Smith, to even get in the game?

King of Soul

Kiss George goodbye

November 12, 2017

You can kiss ole George goodbye.

He was great as a Father to our country. He was courageous as Commander of the Continental Army, when they ran King George’s redcoats back to England.

He performed wisely as our first President. Washington’s dignified leadership tempered the contentious impulses of our first politicians,  Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, et al.

As a legendary figurehead  of American leadership he has served well for over two centuries.

Young George’s honest admission about the cherry tree incident  still inspires us to honesty and integrity.

But as the face on the dollar bill, his days are numbered.

Dollar

Most of your purchases are (are they not?) far beyond the 1-$2 range. And, think about it, what can you buy with a dollar bill these days?  A sugar drink at a convenience store? Probably not. They’ll supersize you into greater quantities of go-juice with your gas and you’ll be whipping out the plastic stripe.

These days all that used-to-be-money is just  swiped stripes and inserted chips and electrons flowing around the globe.

And that old greenback—what is it really? Used to be a silver certificate, then a Federal Reserve Note. Now the Fed has got the legal tender’s stability all figured out, so that the value of a buck walks a fine line between what it was last year and a what the CPI will allow you now.

Which isn’t as much as it used to be.

So these days we have, and have had for quite a while now, a comfortably numb currency inflation. That Federal Reserve Note in your pocket appreciates at a predetermined rate of 1-2% per year, and this calculated depreciation compensates for the variability of our paper dollar’s value since we ditched the gold/silver standard back in the 1960’s.

But I think this waffling Dollar will be with us for only a little while longer.

How much longer?

Washington’s greenback will probably float around until such a time as BrettonWoods doth move against Dunce’nGame for the last time. Then the weight of the world will be too much to bear.  Tensioned Tectonic shifts in the world’s monetary plates will render our legal tender to disability status, and those Federal Reserve Notes slipping in and out of international accounts will no longer be the world’s reserve currency.

’Tis then the Treasury will nudge Ole George into retirement. He’ll be on Social Security like the rest of us, with direct deposit, never even seeing the checks, never handling the cash, merely reaping the debit presence of those positive credit numbers. ’Tis then they’ll gently compel Ole George into retirement.  Maybe they’ll give him a gold watch for old time sake.

So long, George. We’ve felt so fat and happy having your pocketbook visage to enable our consumer shopping excursions. Your accomplishments have been Notable, expansive and historic, like Norman Rockwell scenes from our magazine covers and dime store excursions in all those bygone petrol-fueled Main Street purchase excursions.

Fare thee well, George. But I’ll never forget the smooth, crisp feeling of your fibered texture between my digits. Ah, those were the days, the dollar days!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KODZtjOIPg.

King of Soul 

Austerity or Stimulus?

February 25, 2017

Well this is an improvement.

When I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, Germany fought a world-sized war against France. But now, in 2017, all the obsolete ideology that then fueled both fanaticisms–fascist v. communist–has withered down into a battle of ideas.

Fiscal ideas, like whether budgets should be balanced, or put on hold until things get better.

From a Peace vs. War standpoint, I’d say that delicate balancing act is an improvement, wouldn’t you? Budgets and Economic Plans are, theoretically, much more manageable than tanked-up military campaigns.

Now Germany and France– those two nation-state heavyweights whose fiscal priorities set the course for the rest of Europe–they are getting along just fine now. They expend financial energies trying to keep the whole of Europe humming along on all cylinders. Budget deficits that drag down Euro economies are generated mostly in the lackadaisical southern  economies–Greece, Italy and Spain.

But those two mid-continent economic heavyweights–France and Germany, function as fiscal opposites, polarizing European values and budget priorities in opposite directions. They are two very different countries; and yet Germany and France are not as opposite as they used to be. A lot has changed since they finally made peace back in 1945.

At the time of that last Great War, early 1940’s, Germany was suffering through the death-throes of a dying monarchy. What was left of the Kaiser’s authoritative legacy had been lethally manipulated into a world-class death regime by a demonic tyrant who wore an odd, obnoxious little mustache on his flat German face.

France up to that time was still stumbling through a sort of awkwardly adolescent stage, having booted their kings and queens out back in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and then replacing, in stages, the ancient monarchy with a struggling new Republic.

What the French did as the 18th-century came to a close was similar to what we Americans did, but different. We had ditched King George III in 1776. The French cut off Louis XVI in 1792. On the other side of the Rhine, the Germans kept their Wilhelm top dog hanging on a thread until the Allies ran him down in 1918.

We Americans did a whole new thing after we rejected the old wineskins of monarchic government back in 1776; we had a lot going for us–a vast, nearly-virgin continent that stretched out for 3000+ miles, with plenty of room to grow,  and to expand our new-found explorations for Life, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness.

The Europeans–neither the French nor the Germans–did not have all that fruited-plains expansion space like we had. They were cramped up over there in the Old World.

Having wielded a fierce guillotine ruthlessness upon their king and queen, the French tried to spread the wealth all around, ensuring that everybody got a chunk of it. They had wrung a blood-stained liberte from the palaces of privilege in 1789. Over the course of the next century and a half, they generally moved leftward the whole time, toward an egalitarian idea of solidarity.

The Germans have always tended toward authoritarian leadership, which is one reason why Hitler was able to pull off the abominations that he did. But we Allies put that to an end in 1945.

Thank God.

Now in the post-WWII Europe, the Germans have turned out to be pretty good kids on the block, considering all that had happened back in the day. The last 3/4 of a century has seen a remarkable recovery. They went through some serious changes, rebuilding after  losing two wars, and then being divide into two different countries.

Since 1990, when Germany became united again into one country, those krauts have established a pretty impressive record. They now have the strongest, most stable economy in Europe.  One reason it turned out this way is: the Germans have historically been, by necessity, very disciplined, rational people and they know how to get things done.

The French are different from that. You gotta love the French. As the Germans have made the world a better place with their great music (Bach and Beethoven), the French have brightened and lightened our worldly life with their very lively, expressive and impressionistic art, coupled with their unbridled Joie de vivre. And let’s not forget the original architectural piece-de-resistance of the Western World. It was French creativity married to inventive 19th-century industrialism that brought us the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

ParisGargoyl

The French do progress with style and artistry; the Germans get it done with impressive efficiency and precision.

As an American who has geneologic roots in both cultures, this fascinates me.

Their two different attitudes about generating prosperity also encompass, respectively, their approaches to solving money problems.

Or more specifically. . . solving “lack of money” problems.

A new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas, explains how these two nations, as the two polarizing States of modern Europe, each lead in their own way to set policy, together,  for solving Europe’s financial problems. Their tandem leadership is enhanced by their two very different strategies.

The simplest way to describe their treatments of European deficits is this:

The Germans are into Austerity; the French are into Stimulus.

Or to put it into a classic perspective:

The Germans want to balance the books,  thereby squeezing all governments and banks into economic stability. The French want the assets to get spread around so everybody can have a chunk of it.

How do I know anything about this?

This morning I saw Markus Brunnermeir being interviewed; he is one of the authors of the new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/europes-future-will-settled-battle-ideas/

In this fascinating, very informative interview, the questions are being posed by Rob Johnson, President of Institute for New Thinking, whatever that is.

Together, these two guys explore the two basic problem-solving approaches to working out Europe’s economic deficiencies. And it just so happens that the two main strategies are related to those two old nationalized culture, described above, between Germany and France.

Sounds simplistic perhaps, but this comparative analysis makes a lot of sense when you hear these two knowledgable men talk about the present condition of economic Europe.

So, rather than try to explain it to you, I’ll simply leave you with this list of characteristics, as identified by. Mr Markus Brunnermeier. The list identifies how each country’s budgetary priorities contributes to a strategy for solving Europe’s fiscal woes.  My oversimplified version of it  looks like this:

France

Germany

1.Stimulus

1.Austerity

2.Liquidity

2.Solvency

3.Solidarity

3.Liability

4.Discretion

4.Rules

5.Bail-out

5.Bail-In

Consider these two lists of national characteristics as two different strategies for solving large-scale economic problems.

Here are a few notes I made while watching Mr. Johnson interview Mr. Brunnermeier:

For French, the problem is always liquidity. Stimulus will flush money out of markets again.

Germans see problems as solvency difficulty. Fix the fundamentals. Don’t throw good money after bad.

French: If you see it as a liquidity problem, just bail them out.

German. If you see it as solvency problem,  Bail in, to avoid future hazards. Bail-in means: Bond holders who essentially gambled with a country or bank and  then reap the gains on upside– they should take losses on downside.

There was a radical shift in attitudes in Europe over the Cyprus bank crisis in spring 2013. Who pays? Who covers the losses?

. . . Bail-in or bail-out?

French fear systemic risk so they tend toward governmental bail-outs.

The Germans, on the other hand, see crisis as an opportunity to address and solve the systemic deficiencies. So penalize  the depositors/ investors; others will learn from that, and you will have bank-runs in other places. Such circumstances provide incentives for institutions and individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and investments.

Just how the Europeans get all this worked out, we shall see in the days ahead. And the working-out may provide some lessons for all of us.

Smoke

Hilary, Liz and Dodd-Frank

February 21, 2017

Violin

Oh, there was a time, when I was a young man, when I would fiddle around, and that was nice enough for a while.

Then life came and went.

Nowadays, I find myself content to merely listen while life slips by.

In ages past, a maestro such as Felix Mendelssohn could  imagine something incredible; he could then summon up in his own mind and hands– an exquisite composition, an intricate stream of vibrations–as sublime as any that could ever be coaxed from a mere box constructed of wood and wire. He could then write the composition. Then, 170 years later Hilary could set bow to instrument and, with help from the orchestra, make it all happen so perfectly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1dBg__wsuo

There’s a reason why my fiddle has been set aside all these years. Why bother? There’s somebody who can do it better. There’s somebody out there who can, in fact, do it perfectly.

Just listen. But I get to thinking. . .

Years go by. We pay attention, try to figure things out. There’s always somebody out there who can do things better than we can. Leave the complicated stuff to experts. And listen. Listen and learn. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

Just daydreaming now; I think of Sally Field in Forrest Gump when she was playing his mother and she said life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.

Think about 2008. Everybody just lollygaggin’ along. . .then whoosh! well, you remember what happened. Everybody’s shell-shocked. Uncle Hank stammering on the Tube. They had to twist Congress’ arm two or three times before they’d come up with the money to fix the mess, at least temporarily.

Then the experts get trotted out to analyze, to testify, to figure what the hell happened in stock markets that made the thing come crashin’ down–something about market manipulations of MBS’s, unforeseen incredibilities of CDO’s, the incredulous defaulting of credit default swaps blah blah blah

As the thing unwinds, along come the explanations, the excuses, the wagging fingers, the committees, the commissions, the oversight agencies get rolled out, cranked up. Republicans in shock because Obama’s in. Democrats trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Democrats got to fix everything, so what do they do. . .

Let’s fix everything up, they say.

Ok. Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.

Years go by. Big shock when Trump comes blasting’ into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave after those 8 years of Mr. Smooth.

Now this morning we hear Amy and Juan on the radio, and here’s Senator Liz whining about how the new Republican whirlwind wants to wind down Dodd-Frank, which was supposed to be the big fix, the big Democratic fix.  I mean, she’s a little bit crazy, like all Democrats, but there’s one thing about Liz, she can play the rhetoric like Hilary plays the violin. It’s no wonder Mitch had to cut her off last week. Anyway,  Liz is saying:

“Commercial and consumer lending is robust. Bank profits are at record levels. And our banks are blowing away their global competitors. So, why go after banking regulations? The president and the team of Goldman Sachs bankers that he has put in charge of the economy want to scrap the rules so they can go back to the good old days, when bankers could take huge risks and get huge bonuses if they got lucky, knowing that they could get taxpayer bailouts if their bets didn’t pay off. We did this kind of regulation before, and it resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. We cannot afford to go down this road again.”

I mean, Liz might have a point there. If things are so ROBUST, why do we still get this feeling about the 20,000+ Dow? Is it deja vu, or deja due, or prescience, maybe too much twitter or not enough facebook, or a rerun of common sense or what? Maybe it’s all just a bunch of hot air blowin’ around and we keep wonderin’ about the whole house of cards but we can’t really put our finger on what’s wrong cuz you know the answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind and life is like a box of chocolates anyway, a mere lala land where we think we got it figured out but really we don’t.

Although I do have to remind you, Liz, since I am a registered Republican: we can’t fix everything. If we could, and if we did, why, how boring would that be?

So my advice to you is we’d best leave the fiddlin’ to the experts. Sooner or later we’ll all have to face the music anyway.

Glass half-Full

A New Bretton Woods?

August 1, 2016

We were in Rome about a year and a half ago, as part of a traveling celebration of our 35th wedding anniversary.

One evening as we were lollygagging through the busy rain-slicked streets and sidewalks, we passed in front of a very special building. It was the Rome headquarters of the European Union, or “EU”.

I wanted to take a picture of the building’s entry, because that is what tourists do–take pictures of important places. Seeking a broader view, I crossed the street. While positioning myself and the phone to snap a pic, the guard across the street noticed my activity. He started waving at me frantically, indicating that what I was doing was not permitted.

Excuse me. I was taking a picture of a public building.

In America, we take pictures of .gov buildings, because we have, you know, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, which means, among other things that the people can take pictures of their headquarterses (as Golem might say.)

Is this not the way you do it in Europe? No pictures of the RomeEU headquarters?

Nevertheless, here is my smuggled pic:

EURomeHdq

If you squint at my little jpeg here, you may discern the guard’s upraised right alarm, a gesture of command intended to communicate a stop order on my touristic activity. It vaguely resembles another raised-arm signal that was in use in Europe 75 years ago, during the regime of Mussolini and that German guy who considered the Italian dictator to be his own puppet.

Or maybe I’m being too cynical about this incident. Maybe the guard was saluting me in some way, acknowledging my importance as an American tourist in the city of Rome.

Now, a year and a half later, this morning, seated comfortably in my own humble domicile, back in the USSA . . . I was pondering the idea of government–whether it is truly “of. . .by the people”, or is it something else? Is it, as many citizens insist during these times of tumultuous societal change, actually an institution through which the “1%” (or as they said back in the old days, the “rich and powerful”) project their oligarchical manipulations upon the rest of us?

I was thinking about this after reading online an article about how the worldwide financial system that has evolved.

  http://seekingalpha.com/article/3993559-back-square-one-financial-system-needs-reset?ifp=0

In this Seeking Alpha blogpost, Valentin Schmid, as “Epoch Times” examines our international monetary system. His analysis appears to be generated from  a well-informed position in the world of money, assets and power.

Mr. Schmid raises the question of whether  the current (worldwide) debt load can ever be repaid, because there isn’t enough “real money” to go around.

This got my attention, because I have been thinking for a while that there isn’t enough “real money” to go around.

Haha, as if I knew about such things. I don’t know much about money; if I did, I would have more of it.

Anyway, Mr. Schmid’s question is answered by his guest interviewee, Paul Brodsky, in this way:

   . . . “I would argue central banks lost the ability to control the credit cycle. Some relatively minor event could trigger a series of events that creates the need for a sit-down among global monetary policy makers who finally have to acknowledge publicly that their policies are no longer able to control the system, the global economy, which is based on ever increasing demand through ever increasing credit.

And what might occur is a natural drop in output. So you’ll see GDP growth begin to fall. Real GDP growth across the world maybe even be going into contraction and that would spell doom for these balance sheets. And this is not something I’m predicting or trying to time at all, but the natural outcome of that would be a sit-down like a Bretton Woods where arrangements are reconsidered.”

   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bretton_Woods_Conference

So what is coming is, perhaps, this:

To compensate for a stalling of global productivity, the movers/shakers of the world may  construct a new,  top-down rearrangement of the world financial system. The purpose of this revision will be to fix the problem of not enough money to go around. Such an extensive reconstruction as this would be has not been done since the Bretton Woods agreement that was promulgated by delegates from 44 Allied nations in 1944.

In a 21st-century world inhabited by billions of inhabitants, our  accessibility to natural resources has heretofore been determined by how many holes we could drill in the ground to extract natural resources; and how many acres of crops we could plant to produce food; how many factories we could build, and so on. . . building an economy to work toward  spreading the bounty around.

In the future, however, we will be moving to a “knowledge” economy. Wealth creation will not be about how much you can dig in a day’s time, nor how much you can plant, nor what you can cobble together in your back yard or over on Main Street.

Wealth generation in the future will be determined by what you know, so start learning now.

The first three essential  things to know are these:

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic.

Well gollee, maybe it won’t be such a brave new world after all.

However this thing plays out, if enough of us can master these three skills, .gov of the people, by the people and for the people will not perish from the earth, we hope.

Glass half-Full