Dec 292017
 
 December 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Snowy landscape with Arles in the background 1888

 

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The Automatic Earth and its readers have been supporting refugees and homeless in Greece since June 2015. It has been and at times difficult and at all times expensive endeavor. Not at least because the problems do not just not get solved, they actually get worse. Because the people of Greece and the refugees that land on their shores increasingly find themselves pawns in political games.

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Natural Time Cycles: A Dow Forecast For 2018-2020 (Freeze)
Trump Says Russia Inquiry Makes US ‘Look Very Bad’ (NYT)
Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent (Carden)
US Fiscal Path Will Rattle the Rafters of the Casino – Stockman (SG)
China May Be A Bigger Worry For 2018 (CNBC)
China’s Leaders Fret Over Debts Lurking In Shadow Banking System (R.)
China Temporarily Waives Taxes To Get Foreign Firms To Stay (AFP)
How Far the Scams & Stupidities around “Blockchain Stocks” are Going (WS)
IRS Guidance on Property Taxes Has the US Confused (BBG)
Turns out, Uber Shareholders Are Eager to Sell at 30% Discount (WS)
UK Holds Back Historic Files on EU as It Prepares for Brexit (BBG)
Greek Migration Ministry Responds To Criticism Over Island Camps (K.)

 

 

Gann is all the vogue these days. Why has it taken so long? Lots of graphs here.

Natural Time Cycles: A Dow Forecast For 2018-2020 (Freeze)

The analysis and forecasts presented in this article are based on the analytical framework of W.D. Gann. Gann is an investing legend, labeled as genius by many financial historians. He reportedly accumulated $50 million in profits during his trading career. His superior track record and those of others using his methods argues that, regardless of our opinion of his methodology, we should heed the advice of his work. A more detailed explanation of his analytical framework is included in the last section of this article.

Forecast: 2018-2020

The Dow Jones Industrial Average forecast, in the graph above, is based upon the natural 20-year cycle that Gann identified. The lines in the graph show the projected monthly cumulative percentage returns from the peak level. The yellow line is the average scenario and the aqua line is the pessimistic scenario. The graph provides monthly estimates for 2018. The last data point represents June 2020, which covers the entire 30-month period from December 2017. My average scenario forecasts a -15.29% price return for 2018. The cumulative price return is forecast to bottom in June 2020 at -20.39%, at which time an extended rally should ensue. My pessimistic scenario forecasts a -32.90% price return for 2018. The cumulative price return is forecast to be little-changed in June 2020 at -31.23%, at which time an extended rally in should ensue.

Read more …

The New York Times feels obliged to cede the stage to the one person they’ve sought to discredit for the past 2 years. Must be humiliating.

Trump Says Russia Inquiry Makes US ‘Look Very Bad’ (NYT)

President Trump said Thursday that he believes Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia investigation, will treat him fairly, contradicting some members of his party who have waged a weekslong campaign to try to discredit Mr. Mueller and the continuing inquiry. During an impromptu 30-minute interview with The New York Times at his golf club in West Palm Beach, the president did not demand an end to the Russia investigations swirling around his administration, but insisted 16 times that there has been “no collusion” discovered by the inquiry. “It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position,” Mr. Trump said of the investigation. “So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country.”

Asked whether he would order the Justice Department to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, Mr. Trump appeared to remain focused on the Russia investigation. “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he said, echoing claims by his supporters that as president he has the power to open or end an investigation. “But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.” Hours after he accused the Chinese of secretly shipping oil to North Korea, Mr. Trump explicitly said for the first time that he has “been soft” on China on trade in the hopes that its leaders will pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. He hinted that his patience may soon end, however, signaling his frustration with the reported oil shipments.

[..] Mr. Mueller’s investigation appears to be moving ahead despite predictions by Mr. Trump’s lawyers this year that it would be over by Thanksgiving. Mr. Trump said that he was not bothered by the fact that he does not know when it will be completed because he has nothing to hide. Mr. Trump repeated his assertion that Democrats invented the Russia allegations “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election.” He said that “everybody knows” his associates did not collude with the Russians, even as he insisted that the “real stories” are about Democrats who worked with Russians during the 2016 campaign. “There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Mueller.

[..] Mr. Trump said he believes members of the news media will eventually cover him more favorably because they are profiting from the interest in his presidency and thus will want him re-elected. “Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes,” Mr. Trump said, then invoked one of his preferred insults. “Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times.” He added: “So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”

Read more …

Russiagate has turned into a huge embarrassment.

Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent (Carden)

Of all the various twists and turns of the year-and-a-half-long national drama known as #Russiagate, the effort to marginalize and stigmatize dissent from the consensus Russia-Trump narrative, particularly by former intelligence and national-security officials and operatives, is among the more alarming. An invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, filed in July 2017 by a former DNC official and two Democratic donors, alleges that they suffered “significant distress and anxiety and will require lifelong vigilance and expense” because their personal information was exposed as a result of the e-mail hack of the DNC, which, the suit claims, was part of a conspiracy between Roger Stone and the Trump campaign.

According to a report in The New York Times published at the time of the suit’s filing, “Mr. Trump and his political advisers, including Mr. Stone, have repeatedly denied colluding with Russia, and the 44-page complaint, filed on Wednesday in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, does not contain any hard evidence that his campaign did.” (Emphasis added.) In a new development, in early December, 14 former high-ranking US intelligence and national-security officials, including former deputy secretary of state William Burns; former CIA director John Brennan; former director of national intelligence James Clapper; and former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (a longtime proponent of democracy promotion, which presumably includes free speech), filed an amicus brief as part of the lawsuit.

The amicus brief purports to explain to the court how Russia deploys “active measures” that seek “to undermine confidence in democratic leaders and institutions; sow discord between the United States and its allies; discredit candidates for office perceived as hostile to the Kremlin; influence public opinion against U.S. military, economic and political programs; and create distrust or confusion over sources of information.” The former officials portray the amicus brief as an offering of neutral (“Amici submit this brief on behalf of neither party”) expertise (“to offer the Court their broad perspective, informed by careers spent working inside the U.S. government”).

The brief claims that Putin’s Russia has not only “actively spread disinformation online in order to exploit racial, cultural and political divisions across the country” but also “conducted cyber espionage operations…to undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process and, in the general election, influence the results against Secretary Hillary Clinton.”

Read more …

“The Fed will sell more bonds in the next 3-4 years than had been accumulated by all of the central banks of the world in all of recorded history as of 1995!”

US Fiscal Path Will Rattle the Rafters of the Casino – Stockman (SG)

[..] the US government is spending money like a drunken sailor. But nobody really seems to care. Since Nov. 8, the US national debt has risen $1 trillion. Meanwhile, the Russell 2000 (a small-cap stock market index) has risen by 30%. Former Reagan budget director David Stockman said this makes no sense in a rational world, and he thinks the FY 2019 is going to sink the casino. In a rational world operating with honest financial markets those two results would not be found in even remotely the same zip code; and especially not in month #102 of a tired economic expansion and at the inception of an epochal pivot by the Fed to QT (quantitative tightening) on a scale never before imagined.” Stockman is referring to economic tightening recently launched by the Federal Reserve. It’s not only the increasing interest rates.

By next April the Fed will be shrinking its balance sheet at an annual rate of $360 billion and by $600 billion per year as of next October. By the end of 2020, the Fed will have dumped $2 trillion of bonds from its books. Stockman puts this into perspective. So the net of it is this: The Fed will sell more bonds in the next 3-4 years than had been accumulated by all of the central banks of the world in all of recorded history as of 1995!” Now pause for just a moment and think about this. The GOP just passed a tax plan that will add another $1.5 trillion to the deficit. And word is Trump’s next big push will be to pass an infrastructure bill – even more spending and debt. Meanwhile, during a time of rising debt, the Fed will be flooding the market with bonds. And what do governments have to do to finance debt? That’s right. They sell bonds.

There is literally a fiscal red ink eruption heading straight at the Fed’s balance sheet shrinkage campaign that will rattle the rafters in the casino … Uncle Sam’s borrowing requirements are likely to hit $1.25 trillion or more than 6% of GDP in FY 2019 owing to the fact that the tax bill is so heavily front-loaded and the GOP’s wild spending spree for defense, disasters and much else.”

Read more …

It’s starting to feel like Xi is seriously stuck. Let zombies default, and accept the lost jobs and mom and pop investments, or keep propping them up.

China May Be A Bigger Worry For 2018 (CNBC)

For a market dependent on synchronized global growth, investors may be betting too much that China will not rock the boat next year. Part of the S&P 500’s rally to record highs this year comes on the back of better economic growth around the world. A major contributor to that growth was stability in China as leaders prepared for a key 19th Communist Party Congress this fall. Now that the congress is over and Beijing looks set to take action on its growing debt problems, worries about a sharper-than-expected slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy could hurt U.S. stocks. “With the 19th Party Congress now behind us, the risk is that the peak growth in China is also behind us,” David Woo, head of global rates, FX and EM FI strategy & econ research at Bank of America, said in an outlook report.

“Curiously, the market has been ignoring the string of negative Chinese data surprises in recent weeks. It is possible that the market views them as temporary.” “We are concerned that China could be vulnerable to US tax reform getting done,” Woo said, noting that a resulting increase in U.S. rates and the U.S. dollar would likely cause capital flight from China to accelerate and weaken the Chinese yuan. If that happens, China’s central bank would be likely “to tighten liquidity, which in turn would raise further concerns about the growth outlook,” he said. Fears of negative spillover from a rapid slowdown in China’s economy hit global markets in August 2015 after a surprise yuan devaluation. Further weakness in the currency in the first few weeks of 2016 contributed to the worst start to a year on record for both the Dow and S&P 500.

Since then, Chinese authorities have proven they are still able to control their economy. But stability has come at the cost of ever-increasing debt levels. The IMF warned in October that China’s banking sector assets have risen steadily to 310% of GDP from 240% of GDP at the end of 2012. S&P Global Ratings downgraded China’s long-term sovereign credit rating in September, following a similar downgrade by Moody’s in May. “If clusters of credit defaults start to form, concerns about contagion into the wider economy could take hold if fears of default in wealth management products arise,” UBS Wealth Management’s chief investment office said in its 2018 outlook. “Should this happen, the Chinese government, in our view, would likely have sufficient resources to prevent widespread contagion.”

Read more …

Xi made the conscious choice to rise on the shadow’s coat tails. Now he has to keep riding or else.

China’s Leaders Fret Over Debts Lurking In Shadow Banking System (R.)

Before the 2008 financial crisis, there was very little shadow banking in China. In the aftermath of that shock, Chinese authorities launched a massive effort to stimulate the economy, mostly through a huge increase in lending. This led to a boom in property and infrastructure spending that continues today. Demand for credit increased sharply, especially from local and municipal government-owned companies. To meet this demand, banks began selling wealth management products offering higher interest rates than normal deposits. Many investors believed these products were implicitly guaranteed by the issuer, even if it was not expressly stated in the contract. Banks also borrowed cash from other banks and companies. For banks, these funds can then be lent to borrowers prepared to pay higher rates.

But the banks want to sidestep rules designed to restrict lending to overheated sectors including property, mining and other resources. So, people in the shadow banking industry say, these loans are often disguised by directing them through a complex chain of intermediaries, including trusts, securities companies, other banks and asset managers. To earn interest on these loans, a bank will buy a financial product from one of the intermediaries, which directs earnings back to the bank. That allows the bank to describe what is really a loan as an investment on its books. This type of lending can be more profitable because banks can set aside much less capital than they are required to hold for regular loans as a safeguard against defaults. By the end of 2015, shadow lending was growing faster than traditional bank lending, and was equivalent to 57% of total bank loans, according to a 2016 report from investment bank CLSA.

This dramatically accelerated the speed at which overall debt expanded in China’s financial system. Moody’s said in a November report that China’s shadow banking assets grew more than 20% in 2016 to 64 trillion yuan ($9.8 trillion), equivalent to 86.5% of GDP. [..] At the center of shadow banking are the 12 nationally licensed joint stock banks and many of the more than 100 city commercial lenders which hold about a third of China’s commercial banking assets. From 2010, these mid-tier banks and regional lenders set about competing with the country’s so-called Big Five lenders, the state-controlled behemoths that dominate the economy. The key to the upstarts’ growth is selling wealth management products and borrowing from other banks, allowing them to create loans wrapped in financial instruments to give the appearance of investments.

Read more …

Translation: foreign reserves are fleeing. Blame the Trump tax plan.

China Temporarily Waives Taxes To Get Foreign Firms To Stay (AFP)

China will temporarily waive income taxes for foreign companies on profits they reinvest in the country as Beijing battles to retain foreign firms and investment. The finance ministry announced Thursday the new tax policy, which will apply retroactively from January so businesses will be able to take advantage of the exemption for this year’s taxes. The new incentives for foreign business to keep their earnings in China follow the passing last week of a corporate tax overhaul in the United States. The US reform will lower the tax rate for most corporations to 21%. Businesses in China pay 25%. The temporary exemption “will create a better investment environment for foreign investors and encourage foreign investors to sustain their investments in China,” a spokesman for the ministry of commerce said.

The policy announcement also comes as China has struggled with capital flight and tightened capital controls this year to stem the outflow of money. But foreign companies have long complained of the onerous bureaucracy they must navigate, barriers to market access, and policies that favour local firms. The new tax incentives aim to make China more attractive but come with a slew of restrictions. To be eligible, the profits must be invested in industries and activities where the Chinese government encourages foreign investment: manufacturing, services, research and development. Locations in the west of the country are also prioritised for development. Companies have three years to apply for the exemptions after paying tax.

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“This can happen only during the very late stage of a bubble.”

How Far the Scams & Stupidities around “Blockchain Stocks” are Going (WS)

It just doesn’t let up. UBI Blockchain Internet, a Hong Kong outfit whose shares trade in the US [UBIA], filed with the SEC to sell an additional 72.3 million shares owned by its executives. In other words, it isn’t selling the shares to raise money for corporate purposes, but to allow its executives, including CEO Tony Liu, to bail out. This is happening after the company – which sports zero revenues and a disconnected phone number in its SEC filings – managed to get its shares to spike briefly by over 1,100%, pushing its market capitalization to $8 billion. UBI Blockchain didn’t do an IPO. Instead, in October 2016, it acquired a publicly traded shell company registered in Las Vegas, called “JA Energy.” It then changed the name and ticker symbol to what they’re now.

Over the six trading days starting on December 11, 2017, its shares soared over 1,100%, from $7.20 to $87 on December 18, as the word “blockchain” in its name and sufficient hype and speculator-idiocy took hold. By December 21, shares had plunged 67% to $29. They closed on Wednesday at $38.50. At this price, it still has a ludicrous market cap of $3.64 billion. In its prospectus for the share sale, filed with the SEC on December 26, UBI explains the overcooked spaghetti of its dreamed-up activities: UBI Blockchain Internet Ltd. business encompasses the research and application of blockchain technology with a focus on the Internet of things covering areas of food, drugs and healthcare. Management plans to focus its business in the integrated wellness industry, by providing procedures for safety and effectiveness in food and drugs, but also preventing counterfeit or fake food and drugs.

With the advancement of the blockchain technology, the Company plans to trace a food or drug product from its original source within the context of the Internet of Things to the final consumer. It explains that “management is uncertain that the Company can generate sufficient revenues in the next 12-months to sustain our operations. We shall need to seek additional funding to continue our operations and implement our plan of operations.” It added that “due to the uncertainty of our ability to meet our financial obligations and to pay our liabilities as they become due,” the auditors in the financial statement for the year ended August 31, 2017, questioned “our ability to continue as a going concern.” For the year, UBI had an operating loss of $1.83 million on zero revenues. It had $15,406 in cash, and: “In order to keep the company operational and fully reporting, management anticipates a burn rate of approximately $220,000 per month, pre and post-offering.”

Read more …

Overtime for accountants.

IRS Guidance on Property Taxes Has the US Confused (BBG)

New guidance from the Internal Revenue Service that limits taxpayers’ ability to deduct prepaid property levies on their 2017 tax returns is causing confusion nationwide as people rush to pay in advance without knowing whether they’re wasting their time and money. The IRS said Wednesday that taxpayers can deduct prepaid state and local property taxes for 2018 on 2017 returns only if the taxes were assessed before 2018. The brief guidance – which doesn’t define the term “assessed” – had local tax officials scratching their heads. Some see the issue as an early signal of far wider confusion that’s coming soon – the predictable result of passing a bill that rewrites the tax code just two weeks before many of the changes take hold.

“This is the tip of the iceberg as state and local governments try to figure this out – and by the way, they’re trying to figure it out with one week before the changes take effect,” said Richard Auxier, a researcher with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a Washington public policy group. “And that week happens to be the week between Christmas and New Year’s.” The IRS guidance comes after many state and local officials – including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – have taken pains to clear the way for their residents to accelerate property-tax payments. The nationwide flurry came ahead of the new tax law that will cap property tax deductions – along with those for state and local income taxes or sales taxes – at an overall total of $10,000.

Read more …

Uber just lost a third of its valuation.

Turns out, Uber Shareholders Are Eager to Sell at 30% Discount (WS)

Softbank, an acquisitive junk-rated Japanese holding company that also owns about 80% of Sprint, has been preparing for months to buy a large stake in Uber. At the end of November, it launched a tender offer to buy enough shares from investors and employees to give it a 14% stake. It dangled out a price of $33 a share, which valued Uber at $48 billion – a 30% discount from Uber’s “valuation” of $69 billion, which had been established behind closed doors during the last fund-raising round. The offer at a $48-billion valuation is even lower than Uber’s valuation back in June 2015 of $51 billion. When the tender offer was started, there was uncertainty if enough sellers would be willing to dump their shares at this discount. The other option for them would be to hold out until the IPO, in the hopes for a better deal. The tender offer expired today at noon Pacific Time.

Turns out, there are plenty of eager sellers – despite any dreams of a blistering IPO: The tendered shares amount to about 20% of the company’s equity, “people familiar with the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. But SoftBank will likely acquire only a 15% stake, “the people said.” Other members of the consortium SoftBank is leading – including Dragoneer Investment Group and Tencent Holdings – are likely to buy some but not all of the remaining tendered shares. This deal will not raise money for Uber itself but will allow employees and early investors to cash out some of their holdings – at a steep discount. But to maintain the illusion of the previous “valuation” of $69 billion – which is critical for a properly hyped future IPO – SoftBank will also make a $1-billion direct investment into Uber at the $69-billion “valuation,” as part of the deal.

Since startup “valuations” are based on the price paid during fund-raising, this $1-billion deal forms Uber’s new “valuation,” the same as the prior one. So the “valuation” illusion remains intact. [..] SoftBank already owns major stakes in other rideshare startups, including Didi Chuxing, the largest rideshare company in China; Grab, a major rideshare company in Southeast Asia; Ola, the largest rideshare company in India, slightly ahead of Uber; and 99, the largest rideshare company in Brazil. So SoftBank is serious about getting into this business on a global scale. But all rideshare companies are competing with each other, with taxis, rental cars, mass transit, and other modes of transportation on service and low fares, and they’re competing with each other to rope in drivers by offering them incentives.

The plan is to dominate the markets. And all of them are losing money hand over fist. The chart below shows what quarterly “adjusted” losses look like for Uber. Actual losses under GAAP would be much larger since the costs of employee stock compensation, interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization have been stripped out of the figures that Uber shows the media:

Read more …

It’s hard to keep track of all the Monty Python moves at Downing Street 10.

UK Holds Back Historic Files on EU as It Prepares for Brexit (BBG)

As Prime Minister Theresa May prepares for the next round of Brexit negotiations, her government has held back publication of secret files relating to the creation of the European Union. The documents from 1992 were due to be released Friday at the National Archives under British rules that allow government papers to enter the public domain. Out of 495 files from the prime minister’s office that year, a total of 114 were held back. Of those, 12 related to European policy. The main opposition party was quick to pounce. Jon Trickett, a high-ranking Labour politician described it as “profoundly shocking, particularly given the current state of the national debate.”

May’s government has had a series of problems with information around Brexit. Last week, after months of ministers trying to keep them secret, the government published an assessments of how different segments of the economy will cope with leaving the EU. Lawmakers commented that the documents contained little that couldn’t be found on Wikipedia. The Cabinet Office, which supports May in running the government, said in an email that “there is no question that any files are deliberately ‘withheld’ from the media.” A further 26 files covering the EU were sent to the archives too late for journalists to read them before publication.

It explained that “we have to ensure all files are properly reviewed and prepared before they are transferred, so that they do not harm national security or our relations with other countries or disclose the sensitive personal data of living individuals.” The files that were released reveal the extent to which Britain’s 1992 expulsion from the Exchange Rate Mechanism turned Conservatives against Europe. That year, Sept. 16 was christened “Black Wednesday” after the government’s failed attempt to keep the pound within the system by pushing interest rates up to 15%.

Read more …

Everybody accuses everybody else, because assigning the blame is more important than helping the refugees.

Greek Migration Ministry Responds To Criticism Over Island Camps (K.)

The Migration Ministry has blamed local authorities for the grim conditions inside island migrant camps in the wake of criticism from a senior European Union official. In an interview with news website New Europe on Sunday, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, said the European Commission had made funding available to ensure appropriate accommodation for all. “However, the Commission cannot order the creation or expansion of reception capacity against the opposition of the competent authorities,” he added. Speaking to Kathimerini on Thursday, sources inside the ministry did not deny the existence of EU funds, adding however that Verwey had omitted any mention of the difficulties “although he has personal experience.”

Authorities on Lesvos and Chios have opposed government plans to expand screening centers for refugees. Meanwhile, only a small amount of the available funds have been absorbed. Of the 540 million euros earmarked until 2020, Greece has received just 97 million euros, according to the Economy Ministry. The same sources referred to recent remarks by Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, who accused EU governments of “hypocrisy” for failing to shoulder their fair share of the refugee burden.

Read more …

Dec 242017
 
 December 24, 2017  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Jules Bastien-LePage The annunciation to the shepherds 1875

 

Yes, Virginia, There Is A ‘Santa Rally’ (Roberts)
Homelessness In England Rises By 75% Among Vulnerable Groups Since 2010 (G.)
Ten Years In, Nobody Has Come Up With A Use For Blockchain (Hackernoon)
Varoufakis: Bitcoin is The Perfect Bubble, Blockchain A Great Solution (Wired)
Japan Births Plunge To Lowest Level Ever Recorded (ZH)
China Raging Against the Dying of the Light (Hamilton)
US Tax Cut and Rate Hikes Threaten China Currency (Schmid)
Italy’s Ruling PD Slides Further In Polls As Election Nears (R.)
How Sea Shepherd Lost Battle Against Japan’s Whale Hunters In Antarctic (G.)
Climate Change In The Land Of Santa Claus (Ind.)

 

 

Santa = faith in the good of mankind. As is Jesus. Still, hard to rhyme with copious dinners while others starve in the dark and cold, and $900 spent on gifts on average per American. That can’t be it.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A ‘Santa Rally’ (Roberts)

Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps

THE EDITORIAL
DEAR EDITOR:

I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible to their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus? It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Read more …

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Homelessness In England Rises By 75% Among Vulnerable Groups Since 2010 (G.)

Homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems has increased by around 75% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and there has been a similar rise in the number of families with dependent children who are classed as homeless. According to official figures collated by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the number of homeless households in England identified by councils as priority cases because they contain someone who is classed as vulnerable because of their mental illness, has risen from 3,200 in 2010 to 5,470 this year. Over the same period, the number of families with dependent children – another priority homeless group identified by councils – has increased from 22,950 to 40,130.

The number of homeless households with a family member who has a physical disability has increased from 2,480 to 4,370. After a week in which the prime minister has come under renewed attack over homelessness, housing charities have called on the government to urgently build more affordable housing and reverse a squeeze on benefits which has left vulnerable people unable to pay their rents. “With homelessness soaring, it is no surprise that the number of vulnerable groups – including families with children – who are having to turn to their council for help is on the rise,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Shelter.

“As wages stagnate, rents continue to rise and welfare is cut, many people are struggling to keep a roof over their head. Eviction is now the number one cause of homelessness. “Our services across the country are seeing an increase in the number of people with multiple and complex needs, and we think this may be because other services are failing to provide the help that people need. The solution to our housing crisis must be to urgently build more affordable homes and, in the short term, end the freeze on housing benefit that is increasingly pushing people over the precipice into homelessness.”

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Shaking the tree.

Ten Years In, Nobody Has Come Up With A Use For Blockchain (Hackernoon)

Everyone says the blockchain, the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, is going to change EVERYTHING. And yet, after years of tireless effort and billions of dollars invested, nobody has actually come up with a use for the blockchain – besides currency speculation and illegal transactions. Each purported use case – from payments to legal documents, from escrow to voting systems – amounts to a set of contortions to add a distributed, encrypted, anonymous ledger where none was needed. What if there isn’t actually any use for a distributed ledger at all? What if, ten years after it was invented, the reason nobody has adopted a distributed ledger at scale is because nobody wants it?

The original intended use of the blockchain was to power currencies like bitcoin – a way to store and exchange value much like any other currency. Visa and MasterCard were dinosaurs, everyone proclaimed, because there was now a costless, instant way to exchange value without the middleman taking a cut. A revolution in banking was just the start& governments, unable to issue currency by fiat anymore, would take a back seat as individual citizens transacted freely outside any national system. It didn’t take long for that dream to fall apart. For one thing, there’s already a costless, instant way to exchange value without a middleman: cash. Bitcoins substitute for dollars, but Visa and MasterCard actually sit on top of dollar-based banking transactions, providing a set of value-added services like enabling banks to track fraud disputes, and verifying the identity of the buyer and seller.

It turns out that for the person paying for a product, the key feature of a new payment system – think of PayPal in its early days – is the confidence that if the goods aren’t as described you’ll get your money back. And for the person accepting payment, basically the key feature is that their customer has it, and is willing to use it. Add in points, credit lines, and a free checked bag on any United flight and you have something that consumers choose and merchants accept. Nobody actually wants to pay with bitcoin, which is why it hasn’t taken off.

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Crypto vs democracy: “To Varoufakis, money is inherently political. The decisions regarding whether money is produced or not, how it is distributed and who receives it, all have significant political consequences, benefiting certain social groups over others.”

Varoufakis: Bitcoin is The Perfect Bubble, Blockchain A Great Solution (Wired)

While acknowledging the limitations of bitcoin and other technical solutions to political problems, Varoufakis does see potential in blockchain technologies. For him, “the algorithm that operates behind bitcoin, caught my attention right from the beginning. I consider this to be a remarkable technology. As early as 2012, Varoufakis was toying with ideas for using blockchain to help solve Europe’s financial woes. By the time he was appointed Finance Minister of Greece in 2015, within days his anti-austerity programme was met with the direct threat from the Troika to close Greece’s banks. With no banking system, the country would grind to a halt. To counter this threat, Varoufakis devised an audacious plan to keep Greece’s financial system operating. Effectively Varoufakis proposed creating an alternative, peer-to-peer payments system based on the blockchain.

This would disintermediate the financing they were receiving from the Troika and from the money markets. But with no money coming from the Troika, Varoufakis would need to create a parallel payments system, that would leverage the tax that all citizens and companies of Greece need to pay, as a new form of money. This is what he would eventually brand, “fiscal money.” To understand how fiscal money works, imagine that a pharmaceutical company in Greece is owed money by the state. Due to the constraints of the crisis, it may take years to pay the company in normal central bank euros. However what if there was an alternative option? What if the Greek State created a reserve account for the company under its tax file number, in which it placed tax credits of one million euros? This IOU could then also be used by the company to pay other organisations and individuals within the country.

One of the most disruptive aspects of this unrealised plan, was to enable the state to borrow directly from citizens and vice versa. In effect, Varoufakis was attempting to use new digital technologies, such as blockchain, to cut out the European lending authorities and build new lending relationships between citizens, companies and the state. The risk this system faced was the threat of corruption and the subsequent decline in public trust of authorities, something that Varoufakis admits is “in very limited supply” in a country like Greece. For example, what if Greek authorities abused these tax credits and began to distribute this new fiscal money to close allies and friends? This is where Varoufakis saw blockchain’s potential. “If the payments system was based on the blockchain, this would allow the combination of anonymity but perfect transparency, regarding the total aggregate size of the transactions of the currency….blockchain would overcome the trust problem as we know it.”

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Japan and China suffer the same fate: aging populations.

Japan Births Plunge To Lowest Level Ever Recorded (ZH)

Back in 2013 we asked “Why Have Young People In Japan Stopped Having Sex?” And while that might sound like nothing more than a clever headline intended for The Onion, it was prompted by a very serious survey conducted by the Japan Family Planning Association which found that 45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 and 25% of men were “not interested in or despise sexual contact”…a growing trend that has revealed itself via the nation’s persistently declining birth rates. In fact, “celibacy syndrome” has become of such great concern for the Japanese government that it is considered a bit of a looming national catastrophe….a catastrophe that seems to be getting worse at an accelerating rate. According to data released today by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, child births in Japan will drop to just 941,000 in 2017, the lowest since data first started being recorded in 1899, and nearly 65% below the peak birth rate from the late 1940’s.

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China is building “..a housing bubble for a population that is never coming..”

China Raging Against the Dying of the Light (Hamilton)

China’s working age population is clearly defined as those aged 16 to 50 years old for females (55 for “white collar” females) and 16 to 60 years old for males. China mandates retirement at these outer age limits. Perhaps of some interest should be that this working age population peaked in 2011 and has been declining since. This decline will continue indefinitely as China has a collapsing childbearing population (detailed HERE), net emigration (outflow), and a still decidedly negative birthrate. There is no evidence to believe the working age declines will abate any decade soon. As the chart below shows, China’s potential workforce will be shrinking indefinitely…and by 2030 China’s potential workforce will be over 100 million fewer than the 2011 peak (an 11% decline)…and only further down from there..

China has one of the youngest average retirement ages in the developed world. On average, according to a recent study (HERE), Chinese leave the work force by age 55 compared to age 63 in the US (Norway has the latest average departure at age 67). So, perhaps China will be raising the retirement age to curb the ballooning 60+yr/old population entering retirement (chart below…chart shows retirement population, 55+ females and 60+ males)? More on that later..

Comparing the working age population versus the 60+yr/old population (chart below…again, showing the 55+ females, 60+ males). A shrinking potential workforce since peaking in 2011 and a rapidly growing elderly population.

[..] While China’s GDP and energy consumption have led the world, they have not responded in kind to China’s debt explosion and exponentially more will be necessary to continue to show “growth”. Over a third and perhaps half of all the debt has been mal-invested in a housing bubble for a population that is never coming. What comes next isn’t going to be good for China nor the rest of the world as China looks to flood a depopulating nation with new debt only creating more housing overcapacity…China will look to beat the Japanese at the debt game.

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Outflows are by no means over.

US Tax Cut and Rate Hikes Threaten China Currency (Schmid)

Seven was the line in the sand. But the Chinese yuan never crossed that line vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar. It only crept up to 6.96 yuan per dollar on Dec. 16, 2016, before starting an impressive comeback, down to 6.5 in the middle of this year. Last year was a bad one for the Chinese economy. Growth was slow, and the world was worried China would finally land the hard way, as many have been predicting for years. And more than GDP growth or any other metric, the Chinese currency was the barometer of whether China could keep things stable – stability is the mantra of the ruling communist regime – or suffer a crisis of debt deflation. If it declined in value, it meant citizens and companies were moving money out of the country in droves because they didn’t believe in the Chinese dream anymore. So another measure of how bad things had gotten in the second-largest economy of the world was capital outflows.

According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), a record $725 billion left China in 2016, putting pressure on the currency and the Chinese interbank market. All these factors have changed in favor of the dollar in the last quarter, and it’s going to be hard for China to compete. Trying to stem the tide, the central bank sold record amounts of foreign currency. Chinese foreign exchange reserves, $4 trillion at the peak in 2014, went down to $3 trillion, and analysts started to question whether this was enough to finance the world’s largest trading economy. Then, miraculously in time for the 2017 National Congress of the Communist Party, all of this stopped. The yuan never went above 7, the exchange reserves never went below 3 trillion, and capital outflows subsided thanks to draconian regulations making it harder for individuals and companies to move money out of the country.

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Beppe all the way.

Italy’s Ruling PD Slides Further In Polls As Election Nears (R.)

Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD), hit by internal divisions and a banking scandal, is continuing to slide in opinion polls, with a new survey on Saturday putting it more than six points behind the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. The survey by the Ixe agency, commissioned by Huffington Post Italia, comes just days before parliament is expected to be dissolved to make way for elections in March. It gives the center-left PD just 22.8% of voter support, down almost five points in the last two months, compared with 29.0% for 5-Star, which has gained almost two points in the same period. Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia (Go Italy!) is given 16.2%, with its right-wing allies the Northern League and Brothers of Italy on 12.1% and 5.0% respectively.

This bloc is expected to win most seats at the election but not enough for an absolute majority, resulting in a hung parliament. With the PD’s support eroding in virtually all opinion polls, several political commentators have speculated that its leader Matteo Renzi may choose or be forced to announce he will not be the party’s candidate for prime minister at the election. Renzi has given no indication so far he will take this step. The PD has split under his leadership, with critics complaining he has dragged the traditionally center-left party to the right. Breakaway groups united this month to form a new left-wing party called Free and Equal (LeU), which now has 7.3% of support, according to Ixe. The PD’s popularity seems to have also been hurt by a parliamentary commission looking into the collapse of 10 Italian banks in the past two years.

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What kills faith in mankind.

How Sea Shepherd Lost Battle Against Japan’s Whale Hunters In Antarctic (G.)

A fleet of Japanese ships is currently hunting minke whales in the Southern Ocean. It is a politically incendiary practice: the waters around Antarctica were long ago declared a whale sanctuary, but the designation has not halted Japan’s whalers, who are continuing a tradition of catching whales “for scientific research” in the region. In the past, conservation groups such as Sea Shepherd have mounted campaigns of harassment and successfully blocked Japan’s ships from killing whales. But not this year. Despite previous successes, Sea Shepherd says it can no longer frustrate Japan’s whalers because their boats now carry hardware supplied from military sources, making the fleet highly elusive and almost impossible to track. As a result the whalers are – for the first time – being given a free run to kill minke in the Southern Ocean.

“We have prevented thousands of whales from being killed in the past and we have helped ensure that the quota of minkes that Japan can take now is much lower than in the past,” said Peter Hammarstedt, a Sea Shepherd captain. “But they have put such resources into this year’s whaling that we cannot hope to find their fleet and stop them. It is simply a matter of us not wasting our own resources. We have other battles to fight.” Japan is not the only nation to hunt whales. Norway has a commercial operation in its own waters, for example. But what infuriates conservationists is that Japan is hunting and killing whales in a conservation zone, the Southern Ocean whaling sanctuary, that surrounds Antarctica. Japan claims that it does so only for scientific purposes.

“Essentially, they are exploiting a loophole in the rules – introduced in the 80s – that govern the banning of commercial whaling,” said Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd. Originally Japan set out to catch more than 900 minkes every year, as well as 50 humpbacks and 50 fin whales. However, its fleet was rarely able to reach these quotas because of actions by groups like Sea Shepherd. “We physically got in between the whalers and the whales and stopped the latter being killed,” said Hammarstedt. “One year we stopped Japan getting all but 10% of its quota. Their ships were nearly empty when they got back home.”

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The further north the larger the differences.

Climate Change In The Land Of Santa Claus (Ind.)

Lapland occupies a happy space in the popular imagination as a winter wonderland, occupied by reindeer, elves and Father Christmas. The real life Lapland, however, is increasingly facing up to the grim reality of global warming. Besides being the name of Swedish and Finnish provinces, Lapland is the English name for a region largely above the Arctic Circle that stretches across the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Research has revealed the disproportionate impact of climate change in the Arctic, where temperatures are currently rising at double the rate of the global average. The far north is bearing the brunt of global warming, and, as much of Lapland’s population relies on its polar climate for their livelihoods, the effects are starting to be felt.

Rovaniemi, the administrative capital of the Finnish province of Lapland, has done a good job of capitalising on the region’s Christmas-themed reputation. It is the self-proclaimed “Official Hometown of Santa Claus”, where the man himself can be visited 365 days a year. However, with his official residence there only constructed in 1950, Santa Claus is a relative newcomer to Lapland. The wider region is the ancient home of the indigenous Sami people, who refer to it as Sapmi. Owing to its remote location and freezing temperatures, much of Lapland remains relatively pristine wilderness, and it is this wilderness that provides the Sami with space to practise their ancient tradition of reindeer herding. As temperatures rise and begin to disrupt the unspoiled environment, the future prosperity of all Lapland’s inhabitants – from the Sami to Santa Claus – is at risk.

Dr Stephanie Lefrere first came to Finnish Lapland 18 years ago to study reindeer behaviour. Since then, she has observed dramatic changes in the region’s weather patterns, and subsequent effects on its wildlife. “In my very first fieldwork, 300km (186 miles) above the Arctic Circle, it was 20°C below zero on 31 October – really the Arctic feeling by the end of October,” she said. “We don’t have that any more. “Recently there have been ‘black Christmases’ with no snow at all in the southern part of Finland.” Decades of work in the region have cemented her view that climate change is having far-reaching effects on Lapland’s environment, affecting animal migratory routes, habitats and behaviour. “I became worried as a scientist, and also as an individual who is fascinated by the Arctic,” said Dr Lefrere.


Sami culture is based around reindeer, but only a fraction still keep their animals due to environmental change (Getty)

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Dec 122017
 
 December 12, 2017  Posted by at 3:03 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Gustave Courbet Seascape 1874

 

 

Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist was written exclusively for the Automatic Earth by Dr. D and first published as a five-part series there. The Full Story combines these five parts. Given the length and the amount of information, we suggest you might want to save or bookmark it. And you can of course always express your appreciation of the Automatic Earth through Paypal.

 

 

Dr. D: Bitcoin is all the rage today, and as it crosses over $10,000, a 10-bagger for the year, we should look at what it is, what it isn’t, and why it’s become so popular. Note my observations are those of a layman – which may be more useful than those of a programmer – but also those of a skeptic, which I’ll get to at the end.

First, what is Bitcoin? Well, the idea of digital money goes back to the first digits, financial mainframes. In fact, the “money” in use today throughout the financial system have long been no more than virtual 1’s and 0’s on a spinning hard drive somewhere, but the idea of Bitcoin-money, private-money, goes back further still. I mean, what is “money”? At its core, it’s no more than the most-tradable good in a given society, a trading chit we use as a measurement tool, a token recording how much value we created or are owed. Arguably the first money was not gold, not seashells or even barter, but a promise. Let me borrow your net and I’ll give you a couple fish from the work. Why? Because you might break the net or I might use it, so I need to get paid for my risk, reward for my effort in making and storing the net to begin with.

So money at its most austere is simply a promise. But a promise to whom for what? And that’s the problem. No matter what good you use, people place differing values on it, different time-preferences, and most especially ways to cheat, game the system, and renege. This is bad among businesses, banks – who are after all only men – especially bad among governments, but worst of all among government and banks combined. Because, should the banks lie, renege, default, abuse their privilege, who then would hold them to task?

In the past, over and over, groups have created their own “money”. The whole 19th century was marked by general stores extending credit, bank notes issued by thousands of private banks, each with their own strength and solvency and geography and discounted accordingly. In the 20th century, with central banks controlling money, many cities issued local “scrip” – promises to pay – in Detroit in the Depression, or California in the budget crunch of 2009, or “Ithaca Dollars” in NY as a sort of ongoing Ivy League experiment. But the problem with these only highlight the problems with money generally:who can issue them? Everyone? A central authority? Can they deliver goods? And what can they buy, not just in value but in location?

Ithaca Dollars or California Tax Vouchers are not much good to buy oil from Texas or tea from China. People will always prefer a good that is accepted everywhere, with no decay and no discount, because ultimately the money flows away, offshore or to central taxation, which makes local currencies ever-less valuable. But even if successful it leads to a new set of problems: if Detroit or Ithaca Dollars were in high demand, there would be ever-stronger incentive to counterfeit, cheat, and double-spend them. Thus from the Renaissance to now we used reputable banks backed by force of governments, through the Gold standard and the Fiat age until today.

Enter the hackers.

It’s not that these problems are unknown, or haven’t been approached or attempted before. Every generation, when they find the banks + government take a percentage for their costs to insure the system, thinks how can we do away with these guys, who both take too much and end up in an unapproachable seat of power? I mean, aren’t we supposed to be a Democracy? How can we have a fair society if the Iron Bank is both backing all governments at once, on both sides of a war? What good is it to work if compounding interest invariably leads to their winning Boardwalk and Park Place 100% of the time? But despite several digital attempts – some immediately shut down by government – no one had a solution until Satoshi Nakamoto.

We don’t know who Satoshi Nakamoto is, but since several of the well-meaning developers were immediately jailed for even attempting private money on reasons arguably groundless, we can suppose he had good incentive to remain anonymous. And speculation aside, it doesn’t matter: Satoshi’s addition was not “Bitcoin” per se, but simply an idea that made private currency possible. The domain Bitcoin.org was registered in 2008, showing intent, and the open-source code was promoted to a small cryptography group in January 2009. But what was it? What did it solve?

Double-spending. Basically, the problem of money comes down to trust. Trust between individuals, between the system, but also partly trust in non-interference of governments or other powerful groups. Bitcoin is a trust machine.

How does it work? Well, the basic problem of cheating was one of not creating fake, hidden registers of value, as the U.S. Government, J.P. Morgan, and the Comex do every day. If they asked Yellen to type some extra zeros on the U.S. ledger, print a few pallets of $100 bills to send to Ukraine, who would know? Who could stop them? So with Bitcoin, the “value”, the register is created by essentially solving a math problem, akin to discovering prime numbers. Why do something so pointless? Simple: math doesn’t lie. Unlike U.S. Dollars, there are only so many prime numbers. We can be certain you won’t reach 11-digits and discover an unexpected trove of a thousand primes in the row. Can’t happen. However useless, Math is certainty. In this case, math is also limited. It’s also known and provable, unlike the U.S. budget or Federal Reserve accounting.

The second problem of cheating was someone simply claiming chits they did not own. This was solved by having the participants talk back and forth with each other, creating a public record or ledger. In fact, Bitcoin is nothing more than a very, very long accounting ledger of where every coin came from, and how every coin has moved since then, something computers do very well. These accounting lines register amongst all participants using a process of confirmed consensus.

Double-spending is when someone writes a check either against money they don’t have (yet) and round-robin in the money for the one second of clearing, or else write a check against money they DO have, but then cancel the check before it clears, walking away with the goods. In a standard commerce, the bank backfills fraud and loss and the government arrests, tries, and imprisons people, but it’s no small cost to do so. Although there is still a small possibility of double-spending, Satoshi’s plan effectively closed the issue: the ledger is either written, or unwritten. There is no time in the middle to exploit.

 

Great for him, but if I buy coins by Satoshi and the original cryptogroup, won’t I just be transferring all my value to make them rich? Although Bitcoin supply may be limited by mathematics, this is the issuer problem. It is solved because as a free, open source code, everyone has an equal opportunity to solve the next calculation. Bitcoin starts with the original 50 coins mined in 2009, so yes, early adopters get more: but they took more risk and trouble back when it was a novelty valuable only as proof-of-concept. The original cash transaction was between hackers to buy two pizzas for 10,000 BTC ($98M today). Why shouldn’t they get preference? At the same time, we are not buying all 20 Million eventual coins from Satoshi and his close friends, which is arguably the case with the Federal Reserve and other central banks. Bitcoin is bought and created from equal participants who have been actively mining as the coins appear, that is, from doing electronic work.

This leads to the next challenge: why would anyone bother keeping their computers on to process this increasingly long accounting ledger? Electricity isn’t free. The process of “mining” is the recording of Bitcoin transactions. The discovery of coins therefore effectively pays for the time and trouble of participating in a public accounting experiment. Even should that stop, the act of using Bitcoin itself cannot be accomplished without turning on a node and adding lines to process the ledger. So we can reasonably expect that people will keep Bitcoin software “on” to help us all get Bitcoin work done. That’s why it’s a group project: public domain shareware.

What if they shut it down? What if it’s hacked? This leads to the next problem: resiliency. You have to go back a step and understand what Bitcoin is: a ledger. Anyone can store one, and in fact participants MUST store one. If Bitcoin were “shut off” as it were, it would be stored with each and every miner until they turned their computers back on. If it’s “off” there’s no problem, because no one transferred any Bitcoin. If it’s “on” then people somewhere are recording transactions. Think of it like a bowling group keeping a yearly prize of the ugliest shirt. Is there an actual shirt? No, the shirt is not the prize. Is there a gold trophy? No, “prize” is simply the knowledge of who won it. There is no “there”, no physical object at all. Strangely, that’s why it works.

 

This is important for the next problem: intervention. Many private monies have been attempted, notably e-gold within Bitcoin’s own origin. But the problem was, if there was anything real, like a gold bar, it could be encumbered, confiscated, and stolen. You’d have to trust the vault, the owner, the auditor and we’re back in the old system. At the same time, if Satoshi were keeping the Bitcoin record and had any human power over it at all, government could imprison him, pass a law, create a cease-and-desist, or demand he tamper with the record, which they did with e-gold. But Satoshi does not have that power, and no one else does either.

Why? Precisely because Bitcoin DOESN’T exist. It’s not a real thing. Or rather, the only “real” thing is the ledger itself which is already public to everyone everywhere. You can’t demand the secret keys to Bitcoin privacy because it’s already completely, entirely public. What would a government demand? Suppose they ordered a miner to alter the record: the other miners would instantly reject it and it would fail. Suppose they confiscated the ledger: they now own what everyone already has. Suppose they unplugged it: they would have to unplug the entire internet, and everything else on it, or every Bitcoin node, one-by-one, worldwide. If any nodes were ever turned on, all Bitcoin would exist again.

Can they track them down? Not really. In theory, Bitcoin can be written on paper without an Internet. In practice, any public or private keys certainly can be. So even chasing down the Internet it would be very difficult to stop it given sufficient motivation, like the Venezuelan hyperinflation where they are chasing down miners, wallets, and participants, and failing despite overwhelming force.

What about privacy? A completely public ledger recording every person and every transaction seems like a police state’s dream of enforcement and taxation. Is it private? Yes and no. The Bitcoin ledger is not written like “Senator Smith spent .0001 BTC on August 21st, 2015 to buy a sex toy from Guangzhou,” but Wallet #Hash2# transferred .00017 BTC to wallet #Hash3# at UTC 13:43:12 21:11:2017 – or not even that: it’s encrypted. Who is #Hash2#? You can go back, but it will only say #Hash2# exists and was created on Time:Date. Who is #Hash3#? The ledger only says #Hash3# was created a minute ago to receive the transaction. In fact, #Hash2# may have been created solely to mask the coin transferred from #Hash1#. So is it anonymous? Not exactly. Given enough nodes, enough access to the world’s routers, enough encryption, you might see #Hash2# was created in Pawtucket, and if #Hash2# is not using active countermeasures, perhaps begin to bring a cloudy metadata of #Hash2# possible transactions into focus, tying it to Amazon, then a home address, but the time and resources required to break through would be astronomical.

What about theft? Yes, like anything else it can be stolen. If you break into my house and tie me up, you can probably get the keys. This is also true online as you must log on, type a password that can be logged on a screen that can be logged over a network that can be logged, but think again about what you’re doing: does it make sense to break into every participant’s computer one by one? Most Bitcoin is held by a few early adopters, and probably those wallets were lost when their hard drives crashed, the users lost their passwords, or died before this computer experiment had any value. We know for a fact that all of Satoshi’s original coins, 2.2 million of them, have NEVER been spent, never moved on the ledger, suggesting either death or the austerity of a saint.

So even today hacking a wallet, is far more likely to net $1.00 than $1M. Take a page from Willie Sutton: when asked why he robbed banks, he said, “that’s where the money is.” So today. Where is the real money stolen, transferred? From the ’08 bailout, the kiting of fake bonds in the market, the MF Globals, the rigging of LIBOR or the fake purchase of EU bonds. You know, where the money is. At $160B market cap, Bitcoin is still one week’s purchase of central bank bond buying, i.e. a rounding error, no money at all. Hack a home wallet? I guess, but hacking Uber or Equifax once is a lot easier than hacking 100,000 wallets on 100,000 different computers. At least you know you’ll get something.

But MT Gox was hacked and 650,000 coins went missing. Surely Coinbase, Gemini, Poloniex are the same. Well…not exactly.

 

 


Gustave Courbet The wave 1870

 

 

Dr. D: You have to understand what exchanges are and are not. An exchange is a central point where owners post collateral and thereby join and trade on the exchange. The exchange backs the trades with their solvency and reputation, but it’s not a barter system, and it’s not free: the exchange has to make money too. Look at the Comex, which reaches back to the early history of commodities exchange which was founded to match buyers of say, wheat, like General Mills, with producers, the farmers. But why not just have the farmer drive to the local silo and sell there? Two reasons: one, unlike manufacturing, harvests are lumpy. To have everyone buy or sell at one time of the year would cripple the demand for money in that season. This may be why market crashes happen historically at harvest when the demand for money (i.e. Deflation) was highest. Secondly, however, suppose the weather turned bad: all farmers would be ruined simultaneously.

Suppose the weather then recovered: the previous low prices are erased and any who delayed selling would be rich. This sort of random, uncontrolled, uninsurable event is no way to run an economy, so they added a small group of speculators into the middle. You could sell wheat today for delivery in June, and the buyer would lock in a price. This had the effect of moderating prices, insuring both buyers AND sellers, at the small cost of paying the traders and speculators for their time, basically providing insurance. But the exchange is neither buyer, seller, nor speculator. They only keep the doors open to trade and vet the participants. What’s not immediately apparent is these Contracts of Wheat are only wheat promises, not wheat itself. Although amounts vary, almost all commodities trade contracts in excess of what is actually delivered, and what may exist on earth. I mean the wheat they’re selling, millions of tons, haven’t even been planted yet. So they are synthetic wheat, fantasy wheat that the exchange is selling.

A Bitcoin exchange is the same thing. You post your Bitcoin to the exchange, and trade it within the exchange with other customers like you. But none of the Bitcoin you trade on the exchange is yours, just like none of the wheat traded is actual wheat moving on trucks between silos. They are Bitcoin vouchers, Bitcoin PROMISES, not actual Bitcoin. So? So although prices are being set on the exchanges – slightly different prices in each one – none of the transfers are recorded on the actual Bitcoin Ledger. So how do you think exchanges stay open? Like Brokers and Banks, they take in the Bitcoin at say 100 units, but claim within themselves to have 104.

 

Why? Like any other fractional reserve system, they know that at any given moment 104 users will not demand delivery. This is their “float” and their profit, which they need to have, and this works well as far as it goes. However, it leads to the problem at Mt. Gox, and indeed Bear Sterns, Lehman and DeutscheBank: a sudden lack of confidence will always lead to a collapse, leaving a number of claims unfulfilled. That’s the bank run you know so well from Mary Poppins’ “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”. It is suspected to be particularly bad in the case of Mt. Gox, which was unregulated. How unregulated? Well, not only were there zero laws concerning Bitcoin, but MTGOX actually stands for “Magic The Gathering Online eXchange”; that is, they were traders of comic books and Pokemon cards, not a brokerage. Prepare accordingly.

The important thing here is that an exchange is not Bitcoin. On an exchange, you own a claim on Bitcoin, through the legal entity of the exchange, subject only to jurisdiction and bankruptcy law. You do not own Bitcoin. But maybe Mt.Gox didn’t inflate their holdings but was indeed hacked? Yes, as an exchange, they can be hacked. Now you only need infiltrate one central point to gain access to millions of coins and although their security is far better, it’s now worth a hacker’s time. Arguably, most coins are held on an exchange, which is one reason for the incredibly skewed numbers regarding Bitcoin concentration. Just remember, if you don’t hold it, you don’t own it. In a hack, your coins are gone.

If the exchange is lying or gets in trouble, your coins are gone. If someone is embezzling, your coins are gone. If the Government stops the exchange, your coins are gone. If the economy cracks, the exchange will be cash-strapped and your coins are frozen and/or gone. None of these are true if YOU own your coins in a true peer-to-peer manner, but few do. But this is also true of paper dollars, gold bars, safe deposit boxes, and everything else of value. This accounts for some of the variety of opinions on the safety of Bitcoin. So if Polinex or Coinbase gets “hacked” it doesn’t mean “Bitcoin” was hacked any more than if the Comex or MF Global fails, that corn or Yen were “hacked”. The exchange is not Bitcoin: it’s the exchange. There are exchange risks and Bitcoin risks. Being a ledger Bitcoin is wide open and public. How would you hack it? You already have it. And so does everybody else.

So we’ve covered the main aspects of Bitcoin and why it is eligible to be money. Classically, money has these things:

1. Durable- the medium of exchange must not weather, rot, fall apart, or become unusable.

2. Portable- relative to its size, it must be easily movable and hold a large amount of value.

3. Divisible- it should be relatively easy to divide with all parts identical.

4. Intrinsically Valuable- should be valuable in itself and its value should be independent of any other object. Essentially, the item must be rare.

5. Money is a “Unit of Account”, that is, people measure other things, time and value, using the units of value to THINK about the world, and thus is an part of psychology. Strangely that makes this both the weakest and strongest aspect of:

6. “The Network Effect”. Its social and monetary inertia. That is, it’s money to you because you believe other people will accept it in exchange.

The Score:

1. Bitcoin is durable and anti-fragile. As long as there is an Internet – or even without one – it can continue to exist without decay, written on a clay tablet with a stylus.

2. Bitcoin is more portable than anything on earth. A single number — which can be memorized – can transport $160B across a border with only your mind, or across the world on the Internet. Its portability is not subject to any inspection or confiscation, unlike silver, gold, or diamonds.

3. Bitcoin is not infinitely divisible, but neither is gold or silver, which have a discrete number of atoms. At the moment the smallest Bitcoin denomination or “Satoshi” is 0.00000001 Bitcoin or about a millionth of a penny. That’s pretty small, but with a software change it can become smaller. In that way, Bitcoin, subject only to math is MORE divisible than silver or gold, and far easier. As numbers all Bitcoin are exactly the same.

4. Bitcoin has intrinsic value. Actually, the problem is NOTHING has “intrinsic” value. Things have value only because they are useful to yourself personally or because someone else wants them. Water is valuable on a desert island and gold is worthless. In fact, gold has few uses and is fundamentally a rock we dig up from one hole to bury in another, yet we say it has “intrinsic” value – which is good as Number 4 said it had to be unrelated to any other object, i.e. useless. Bitcoin and Gold are certainly useless. Like gold, Bitcoin may not have “Intrinsic value” but it DOES have intrinsic cost, that is, the cost in time and energy it took to mine it. Like gold, Bitcoin has a cost to mine measurable in BTU’s. As nothing has value outside of human action, you can’t say the electric cost in dollars is a price-floor, but suggests a floor, and that would be equally true of gold, silver, copper, etc. In fact, Bitcoin is more rare than Rhodium: we mine rare metals at 2%/year while the number of Bitcoins stops at 22 Million. Strangely, due to math, computer digits are made harder to get and have than real things.

5. Bitcoin is a unit of account. As a psychological effect, it’s difficult to quantify. Which comes first, the use of a thing, or its pricing? Neither, they grow together as one replaces another, side-by-side. This happened when gold replaced iron or salt or when bank notes replaced physical gold, or even when the U.S. moved from Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents. At first it was adopted by a few, but managed to get a critical mass, accepted, and eventually adopted by the population and entirely forgotten. At the moment Bitcoin enthusiasts do in fact mentally price things in Bitcoins, especially on exchanges where cross-crypto prices are marked vs BTC. Some never use their home currency at all, living entirely according to crypto-prices until home conversion at the moment of sale, or as hundreds or thousands of businesses are now accepting cryptocurrencies, even beyond. For them it is a unit of account the way Fahrenheit is a unit within the United States.

6. Bitcoin has the network effect. That is, it is widely accepted and publicly considered money. It’s in the news, has a wide following worldwide, and exchanges are signing up 40,000 new users a month. It’s accepted by thousands of vendors and can be used for purchases at Microsoft, Tesla, PayPal, Overstock, or with some work, Amazon. It’s translatable through point-of-sale vendor Square, and from many debit card providers such as Shift. At this point it is already very close to being money, i.e. a commonly accepted good. Note that without special arrangements none of these vendors will accept silver coins, nor price products in them. I expect if Mark Dice offered a candy bar, a silver bar, or a Bitcoin barcode, more people would pick the Bitcoin. In that way Bitcoin is more money than gold and silver are. You could say the same thing about Canadian Dollars or Thai Bhat: they’re respected currencies, but not accepted by everyone, everywhere. For that matter, neither are U.S. dollars.

 

Note what is not on the list: money is not a unit created or regulated by a central authority, although governments would like us to think so. In fact, no central authority is necessary or even desirable. For centuries the lack of monetary authority was historic fact, back with medieval markets through to private banks, until 1913, 1933, 1971, and the modern evolution into today’s near-total digital fiat. Besides the technical challenge, eliminating their overhead, oversight, control and corruption is the point of Bitcoin. And right now the government’s response to Bitcoin is a strange mixture of antipathy, ignorance, oppression, and opportunity. At $160 Billion it hardly merits the interest of a nation with a $500 Billion trade deficit, and that’s spread worldwide.

This leads into one of the spurious claims on Bitcoin: that it’s a refuge for drug smugglers and illegal activities. I assure you mathematically, that is not true. According to the U.N. the world drug trade is $435B, 4 times the total, and strictly theoretical value of Bitcoin, coins locked, lost, and all. Besides if you owned $160B coins, who would you transfer them to? You’re the only user. $435B/year can only be trafficked by major banks like as HSBC, who have paid public fines because money flows that large can’t be hidden. This is so well-known the U.N. suggested the drug-money flows may be one reason global banks were solvent in ‘08. Even $160B misrepresents Bitcoin because it had a 10-fold increase this year alone. So imagine $16B total market cap. That’s half the size of the yearly budget of Los Angeles, one city. Even that overstates it, because through most of its life it’s been around $250, so imagine a $4B market cap, the budget of West Virginia.

So you’re a drug dealer in illicit trades and you sell to your customers because all your buyers have Bitcoin accounts? Your pushers have street terminals? This doesn’t make sense. And remember as much as the price of Bitcoin has risen 40-fold, the number of participants has too. Even now, even with Coinbase, even with Dell and Overstock, even with BTC $10,000 almost no one has Bitcoin, even in N.Y.C. or S.F.. So who are these supposed illegal people with illegal activities that couldn’t fit any significant value?

That’s not to say illegal activities don’t happen, but it’s the other half of the spurious argument to say people don’t do illegal acts using cash, personal influence, offshore havens, international banks like Wells Fargo, or lately, Amazon Gift Cards and Tide Detergent. As long as there is crime, mediums of value will be used to pay for it. But comparing Bitcoin with a $16B market cap to the existing banking system which the U.N. openly declares is being supported by the transfer of illicit drug funds is insanity.

Let’s look at it another way: would you rather: a) transfer drugs using cash or secret bank records that can be erased or altered later or b) an public worldwide record of every transaction, where if one DEA bust could get your codes, they could be tracked backwards some distance through the buy chain? I thought so. Bitcoin is the LEAST best choice for illegal activities, and at the personal level where we’re being accused, it’s even worse than cash.

We showed that Bitcoin can be money, but we already have a monetary and financial system. What you’re talking about is building another system next to the existing one, and doubling the costs and confusions. That’s great as a mental exercise but why would anyone do that?

In a word: 2008.

It’s probably not an accident Bitcoin arrived immediately after the Global Financial Crisis. The technology to make it possible existed even on IRC chat boards, but human attention wasn’t focused on solving a new problem using computer software until the GFC captured the public imagination, and hackers started to say, “This stinks. This system is garbage. How do we fix this?” And with no loyalty to the past, but strictly on a present basis, built the best mousetrap. How do we know it’s a better mousetrap? Easy. If it isn’t noticeably better than the existing system, no one will bother and it will remain an interesting novelty stored in some basements, like Confederate Dollars and Chuck-e-Cheez tokens. To have any chance of succeeding, it has to work better, good enough to overcome the last most critical aspect money has: Inertia.

So given that Bitcoin is unfamiliar, less accepted, harder to use, costs real money to keep online, why does it keep gaining traction, and rising in price with increasing speed? No one would build a Bitcoin. Ever. No one would ever use a Bitcoin. Ever. It’s too much work and too much nuisance. Like any product, they would only use Bitcoin because it solves expensive problems confronting us each day. The only chance Bitcoin would have is if our present system failed us, and fails more every day. They, our present system-keepers, are the ones who are giving Bitcoin exponentially more value. They are the ones who could stop Bitcoin and shut it down by fixing the present, easy, familiar system. But they won’t.

 

Where has our present system gone wrong? The criticisms of the existing monetary system are short but glaring. First, everyone is disturbed by the constant increase in quantity. And this is more than an offhand accusation. In 2007 the Fed had $750B in assets. In 2017 they have $4.7 Trillion, a 7-fold increase. Where did that money come from? Nowhere. They printed it up, digitally.

 

 

The TARP audit ultimately showed $23 trillion created. Nor was the distribution the same. Who received the money the Fed printed? Bondholders, Large Corporations, Hedge Funds and the like. Pa’s Diner? Not so much. So unlike Bitcoin, there not only was a sudden, secret, unapproved, unexpected, unaccountable increase in quantity, but little to no chance for the population to also “mine” some of these new “coins”. Which leads to this:

 

 

Near-perfect income disparity, with near-perfect distribution of new “coins” to those with access to the “development team”, and zero or even negative returns for those without inside access. Does this seem like a winning model you could sell to the public? Nor is this unique to the U.S.; Japan had long ago put such methods to use, and by 2017 the Bank of Japan owns a mind-bending 75% of Japanese ETFs:

 

 

So this unelected, unaccountable bank, which creates its coin from nothing without limit or restraint, now owns 75% of the actual hard labor, assets, indeed, the entire wealth HISTORY of Japan? It took from the Edo Period in 1603 through Japan-takes-the-world 1980s until 2017 to create the wealth of Japan, and Kuroda only 6 years to buy it all? What madness is this?

Nor is Europe better. Mario Draghi has now printed so much money, he has run out of bonds to buy. This is in a Eurozone with a debt measuring Trillions, with $10 Trillion of that yielding negative rates. That’s a direct transfer from all savers to all debtors, and still the economy is sinking fast. Aside from how via these bonds, the ECB came to own all the houses, businesses, and governments of Europe in a few short years, does this sound like a business model you want to participate in?

So the volume of issuance is bad, and unfairness of who the coins are issued to is as bad as humanly possible, giving incredible advantages to issuers to transfer all wealth to themselves, either new or existing.

But if the currency is functional day-to-day, surely the issuance can be overlooked. Is it? Inflation is devilishly hard to measure, but here’s a chart of commodities:

 

 

CPI:

 

 

The US Dollar:

 

 

or vs Gold (/silver):

 

 

Does that look stable to you? And not that Bitcoin is stable, but at least Bitcoin goes UP at the same rate these charts are going DOWN. One store coupon declines in value at 4% a year, or may even start negative, while the other gives steady gains to loyal customers. Which business model would you prefer?

But that’s not all.

 

 


Gustave Courbet The wave 1870

 

 

Dr. D: The money, the unaccountable, uninhibited release of tokens can do more than just buy centuries of hard labor in seconds, it‘s also a method of control. Banks, our present issuers of money, can approve or destroy businesses by denying loans. They can do this to individuals, like denying loans to unpopular figures, or to whole sectors, like gun shops. They can also offer money for free to Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which have no profitable business model or any hope of getting one, and deny loans to power plants, railroads, farms, and bridges as they fall into the Mississippi.

The result is banks and their attending insiders are a de facto Committee of Central Planners in the great Soviet style. What is fashionable and exciting to them can happen, and what they dislike or disapprove of for any reason can never happen. And once on a completely fiat system, this is how capital is allocated through our entire system: badly. What’s worse has been a 20-year turn toward Disaster Capitalism, whereby loans are extended to a business, sector, person, or nation, and then suddenly cut off, leading to the rapid foreclosure and confiscation of companies, assets, or continents by the “Development Team.”

Imagine a Bitcoin where Satoshi could erase your coins in your wallet for giving him a bad haircut. Or because he likes your wife. Nor is there any help for independent nations like Iran, or even nuclear powers like Russia. Both have been cut off, their funds suspended at a whim with no recourse. Even being a fellow insider is no insurance, as the NY banks cut off Lehman from funds they were owed, driving it into bankruptcy to buy the pieces in receivership. Unpopular Billionaires are treated likewise. This is a system with no justice, no order, no rules, and no predictability. Anyone within it is at grave and total risk. And yet before Bitcoin it was the only system we had, short of returning to the 19th century, it was the only way for modern commerce to deliver food, water, power, or function at all.

This is seen in its abuses, but also by its effects. The present system not only controls whether you are a winner or loser, whether you may go or stay, whether you may live or die, but also tracks every purchase, every location, in effect, every action throughout your entire life. These records will describe what books you read, what movies you watch, what associates you have, in real time Already these daily actions are being approved or denied. Take out a variable-rate jumbo loan? We’ll give you 110% of the value, paying you to be irresponsible (we’ll foreclose later). Want to buy gas when driving through Cheyenne 3:30 at night? Sorry, we disabled your card as a suspicious transaction. Sorry about you dying there of crime or of cold; we didn’t know and didn’t care. All your base are belong to us.

 

You say you don’t care if JP Morgan has your pay stubs to disturbing porn sites and Uber purchases to see your mistress? Well the future Mayor of Atlanta will, and he hasn’t graduated college yet. With those records it’s child’s play to blackmail policemen, reporters, judges, senators, or generals, even Presidents. And all those future Presidents are making those purchases right now, the ones that can be spun into political hay, real or unreal. So if you don’t worry what everyone knows about you, that’s fine, but imagine reading the open bank records, the life histories of every political opponent from now until doomsday. Then Don’t. Do. It. The people who have those records – not you – then have not just all the assets, not just all the money, but all the power and influence. Forever.

Are you signing up for that? Bitcoin doesn’t. Bitcoin doesn’t care who you are and with some care can make it very difficult to track you. And without tracking you, it makes it impossible to boycott you. And without a central repository, it’s impossible to march in with tanks and make them give you the records, turn money on or off, to make other people live or die and bend to your will by violence.

No one will care about that, because no one cares about it now unless, like Russia or China, it’s directed at them personally and then it’s too late. The real adoption of Bitcoin is far more mundane.

The long-term interest rate is 5%. Historically banks would lend at 8%, pay at 4%, and be on the golf course by 5. No one thought much about it because like a public utility, banking was a slow, boring affair of letting business do business. You know, farming, mining, manufacturing, all that stuff we no longer do. For decades, centuries even, banking was 5%-15% of a nation’s GDP, facilitating borrowers and lenders and timescales, paying for themselves with the business efficiencies they engender.

 

 

 

 

All that changed after WWII. Banks rose in proportion to the rest of the economy, passing the average, then the previous high, then when that level reached “Irrational Exuberance”, Greenspan started the printing presses, free money was created, and Senators and Presidents whose bank records were visible suddenly repealed Glass-Steagall. An economy stretched to breaking with free, centrally-allocated and misallocated money crashed and shrank, yet the banks– now known as the FIRE stocks: Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate – kept growing. How can banks and finance keep growing with a shrinking economy? By selling their only product: debt.

How do you sell it? Reduce the qualifications past zero to NINJA-levels, and use your free money to FORCE people to take it via government deficits and subsidized loans. No normal economy could do this. No normal business model could do this. Only a business now based on nothing, issuing nothing, with no restraint and no oversight. And the FIRE sector kept growing, through 15%, 20%, 25% until today most of U.S. GDP is either Finance selling the same instruments back and forth by borrowing new money or GDP created by governments borrowing and spending.

Remember when we started, banks paid 4% and charged at 8%. Now they openly take savings with negative interest rates, and charge at 30% or higher on a credit card balance averaging $16,000. And still claim they need bailouts comprising trillions a year because they don’t make money. The sector that once facilitated trade by absorbing 5% of GDP is now 5x larger. There’s a word for a body whose one organ has grown 5x larger: Cancer. Unstopped, it kills the host.

 

What does this have to do with Bitcoin? Simple. They’re charging too much. They’re making too much both personally and as a group. They’re overpriced. And anything that’s overpriced is ripe for competition. And the higher the markup, the more incentive, the more pressure, the more profit there is to join the upstart. Bitcoin can economize banking because what does banking do? It saves money safely, which Bitcoin can do. It transfers money on demand, which Bitcoin can do. It pays you interest, which mining or appreciation can do.

It also can lend, register stocks and ownership, rate credit risks, and allocate capital which other non-Bitcoin Tokens can do. In short, it can replace the 25% overpricing of the financial sector. If it could reduce the overhead of outsized profit, the misuse of expensive brainpower, of Wall Street and London office space, and reduce financial costs to merely 10% GDP, it could free up 20% of GDP for productive purposes. Why did you think Detroit and Baltimore fell in on themselves while N.Y. and D.C. boomed? That’s the 30% they took, $4B a year, from every other state, every year for 40 years.

That money and that brainpower could be much better allocated elsewhere, but so long as the Finance sector can print free money and buy free influence, they will never stop on their own. Only an upstart to their monopoly can cure the cancer and bring them back to a healthy size and purpose. Bitcoin can do this only because they charge too much and do too little. Of course, they could go back to paying 4% and charging 8% with a CEO:employee pay ratio of 20:1 but history says it will never happen. Only a conflict, a collapse, or competition can reform them, and however long it takes, competition is by far the best option.

 

 

So why would people pick Bitcoin? It costs less and does more. Amongst adopters, it’s simpler and more direct. It pays the right people and not the wrong ones. It rewards good behavior instead of bad, and can help producers instead of parasites. It’s equitable instead of hierarchical. What else? While not Bitcoin proper, as a truth machine Blockchain technology is the prime cure for the present system’s main problem: fraud. There is so much fraud at the moment, libraries of books have been written merely recording the highlights of fraud since 2001. But merely recording the epic, world-wide, multi-trillion dollar frauds clearly does not cure it. Like other human problems, no one cares about your problems, only your solutions, and Blockchain has the solution.

While the details of fraud are complex, the essence of fraud is quite simple: you lie about something in order to steal it. That’s it. It could be small or large, simple or complex, but basically fraud is all about claiming what didn’t happen. However, the Blockchain is all about truth, that is, creating consensus about what happened, and then preserving it. Take the Robosigning scandal: accidental or deliberate, the mortgage brokers, banks, and MBS funds lost the paperwork for millions of houses. A house could be paid off could be foreclosed, as happened, or it could be owned 5 times, as happened. Like the Sneeches, no one knew which one was who, and the only certainty was that the official authority – county courthouses – did not know because to register there would have cost Wall Street and inconvenient millions or billions in shared tax stamps.

The system broke down, and to this day no one has attempted to define ownership, choosing instead to usher all the questionable (and therefore worthless) material into the central bank and hiding it there until the mortgage terms expire, forcing the taxpayers to bail out a multi-trillion dollar bank fraud at full value. And this is just one messy example. The S&L crisis was not dissimilar, nor are we accounting for constant overhead of fees, mortgage transfers, re-surveys, and title searches nationwide.

 

With Blockchain it’s simple: you take line one, write the information, the owner, title, date, and transfer, and share it with a group. They confirm it and add mortgage #2, then #3 and so on. It’s a public ledger like the courthouse, but the system pays the fees. It also can’t be tampered with, as everyone has a copy and there is no central place to bribe, steal, and subvert as happened in 2006 but also in history like the 1930s or the railroad and mining boom of the 1800s. If there are questions, you refer to the consensus If it’s transferred, it is transferred on the ledger. If it isn’t on the ledger, it isn’t transferred, same as the courthouse. Essentially, that’s what “ownership” is: the consensus that you own something. Therefore you do not have a mortgage due disappear, or 4 different owners clamoring to get paid or take possession of the same property, or the financial terrorism of shattering the system if you even attempt to prosecute fraud.

It’s not just mortgages: stocks have the same problem. Since the digital age began, the problem of clearing stock trades has steadily increased. Eventually, the NYSE trading volume was so large they couldn’t clear at all, and the SEC let trading houses net their internal trades, only rectifying the mismatches between brokerages. Eventually, that was too large, and they created the DTCC as a central holder and clearing house. Yet, in an age of online trading and high-frequency trading mainframes, it became apparent there was no way to clear even residual trades, and they effectively no longer try, and the SEC, instead of forcing them to compliance, lets them. There are 300M failed stock trades a day and $50B a day in bond failures, or $12 Trillion year in bonds alone. And so? If you sell your stocks and bonds, the brokerage makes it come out whole, so what?

 

 


Gustave Courbet The wave 1871

 

 

Dr. D: Well, all parts of the system rely on accurate record-keeping. Look at voting rights: we had a security company where 20% more people voted than there were shares. Think you could direct corporate, even national power that way? Without records of transfer, how do you know you own it? Morgan transferred a stock to Schwab but forgot to clear it. Doesn’t that mean it’s listed in both Morgan and Schwab? In fact, didn’t you just double-count and double-value that share? Suppose you fail to clear just a few each day. Before long, compounding the double ownership leads to pension funds owning 2% fake shares, then 5%, then 10%, until stock market and the national value itself becomes unreal. And how would you unwind it?

Work backwards to 1999 where the original drop happened? Remove 10% of CALPERs or Chicago’s already devastated pension money? How about the GDP and national assets that 10% represents? Do you tell Sachs they now need to raise $100B more in capital reserves because they didn’t have the assets they thought they have? Think I’m exaggerating? There have been several companies who tired of these games and took themselves back private, buying up every share…only to find their stock trading briskly the next morning. When that can happen without even a comment, you know fraud knows no bounds, a story Financial Sense called “The Crime of the Century.” No one blinked.

But it doesn’t stop there. You don’t only buy stocks, you sell them. And you can sell them by borrowing them from a shareholder. But what if there’s no record of delivery? You can short or sell a stock without owning any. And the more you sell, the more it drives the price down and the more money you make. In fact, profits are infinite if you can sell enough that the company goes bankrupt: you never have to repay the stock at all. And this “naked” short selling can only occur if there’s openly bad recording and enough failures-to-deliver to hide it. You could literally own nothing, borrow nothing, post nothing, and with no more than insider access to an exchange, drive a company out of business. That’s how crucial recording is.

And while for appearance’s sake, they only attack and destroy small plausibly weak stocks, Overstock.com with a $1.45B market cap fought these naked short sellers for years. Publicly, openly, vocally, with the SEC. Besides eroding their capital, besides their legal fees, besides that e.g. Amazon could pay to have their competition run out of business with fraudulent shorting, the unlimited incentive to short instead of long on small companies could suppress the entire stock market, indeed the national wealth and GDP. It may account for some of the small caps underperforming their potential for years, and why an outsized portion of stock value to be in just the 5 protected FAANG or DOW 30 stocks. …We don’t know, because we have no honesty, no accounting, and nothing to compare it to. But no one cares, because it’s been going on for 20 years, and if they cared, they’d do something about it. Again, no one cares about your problems, only your solutions. Even if the nation falls.

 

Look at it from their point of view: if you’re a business owner, now you can’t rationally list your corporation. Your stock could be manipulated; your business could be bankrupted for no reason at all. We’ve seen the NYSE shrink as businesses start to list in more honest jurisdictions, and even Presidents can’t convince them to come back. Traders and Fund Managers retire in public interviews, telling the world there is no longer any sense or price discovery, and therefore there is market madness.

Yet we just said that to clean up the market would discover 10%, 20%, 40% fake shares, fake business values, fake pension values, therefore fake GDP values, and fake GDP to Debt ratios, and therefore would perhaps lead to an accurate Debt to GDP of 140%, which would crash the U.S. dollar and possibly the nation. Would a complete U.S. financial collapse lead to a nuclear war? And it all goes back to fraud we didn’t stop 20 years ago. How do you solve the problem? The only way out without collapse is to build an honest system parallel to the existing system and slowly transfer assets from the rotten, sinking ship to the new one. The captains of the old ship may not like it, but look at the incentives. No one can tolerate the old ship except the pirate captain; even the crew, the stock traders, don’t want or control it any more.

However, what if you created an honest stock market Blockchain that actually had the stock certificates and actually transferred them, cheaply and reliably without false duplication? This is what is happening in the Jamaican Stock Market. A new company can choose to list on the stock Blockchain and avoid the old system. Other companies or even the whole exchange can clean up the books, slowly, stock by stock, and move it to the new honest system. Because they’re honest? No way! No one cares about truth or honesty, clearly. Because they can sell their stock exchange as superior, solving the existing problems. Stopping fraud, theft, the stealing or crippling of companies, fake voting, depression of Main Street and outsiders in favor of Wall Street and insiders, this is what Blockchain can do. In short, it would work better, cheaper.

What else can Blockchain do?

Blockchain is just software written by programmers so it’s as versatile as any other software. So why not program things into it with a “Smart Contract”? Suppose you make a bet: IF the Packers beat the Lions on November 12, 2017, THEN I will pay you $50. You set up the contract, and the bot itself can look for the headlines and transfer the money when the conditions are met.

That’s pointless but how about this: You run a jewelry business on Etsy and need to buy $500 in beads from Hong Kong. Normally, you would need to pay an importer, a currency exchange, bank account, tire transfer, escrow account, and a lawyer, or their proxies within the system, plus two weeks’ clearing time. That’s a lot of overhead for a small transaction. In contrast, a smart contract such as Ethereum could post the value of the coin (escrow), and when Long Beach or FedEx confirms delivery, releases the Ethereum, a coin of value, to the seller in Hong Kong. Instantly. Why? The existing financial system is charging too much and doing too little. That’s a huge incentive to get around their slow, overpriced monopoly.

 

Once you cut the costs, have a more direct method, and reduce the time to minutes, not weeks, the choice is obvious, which may explain why Microsoft, Intel, and others are deep in ETH development. Why overpay for bad service, and support the overpriced bonuses of men who will use their power to turn on or shut off your livelihood at will? Blockchain costs less and does more. Being just software, there are many other software products serving hundreds of other business plans. These use-coins are generally called “Tokens”, whereas“Coins” are meant to be pure currencies. There are Tokens for a wide variety of business purposes: online gambling? Yes. Tokens to buy marijuana in certain states? Sure.

But how about a Token like Populous that contains the credit information of small businesses worldwide, so you can make modest income lending against their accounts receivable? You get more income, business worldwide gets better service and lower costs. Why? The existing financial system is charging too much and doing too little. How about a Token like Salt for personal loans and perfecting collateral? They will lend cash against your Cryptocurrencies, because if your loan falls short, they can sell your collateral instantly. No foreclosures, no repossessions, no overhead.

This is what banks do when they hold your savings and checking accounts, yet sell you a personal loan. But the banks are giving you no interest on savings, while charging origination fees and high interest. They’re charging too much and doing too little. Well, you say, this sounds too good to be true: a parallel system to replace our existing corrupt, broken, overpriced one. One that doesn’t have to confront existing power or reform the system, but beyond price appreciation has its own incentives to join? Surely there are problems.

Oh, yes. So many problems. The first is often mentioned: it’s fine that Bitcoin is a finite commodity with only 22M coins, and if Bitcoin were the only coin, that would work. But there are over 1,000 coins now, and more every day. Isn’t that just another avenue to unlimited issuance and inflation by unlimited, unregistered people? Well, yes and no. It’s true that anyone can start their own Bitcoin – Litecoin for example is a faster duplicate of Bitcoin – but it’s also true that anyone can start their own Facebook. MySpace certainly did.

 

So why don’t they? Basically because of financial inertia, the Network Effect, a coin you start and only you use is worthless. The value is in the belief that other people will use it. Without that, you’re banished to MySpace Siberia. Still, with a 1,000 coins, don’t they all compete? Yes, and that’s a good thing, not bad. This is no different than the competing Bank Notes of the 19th century. If you like this bank and believe in them, you prefer their notes to others. Or you might use one note in Missouri and another in Louisiana. So with Cryptos. You might choose Bitcoin, with slow traffic and high costs to pay for a house. But you would choose Litecoin to pay for coffee.

You already do this, no different than using cash to buy a hot dog, your debit card for groceries, and a bank transfer for a car. It’s overlooked because they’re all called “dollars,” but they’re not. One is currency, one is a short-term credit, and one is a banking ledger. Because of the Network Effect, you can’t have 1,000 equal coins and have them all work. The market will prefer some over others until there are only a few, just as AskJeeves and Infoseek gave way to Google, which may someday give way to someone else. Just as you can’t start a new Google today, there are only a few top coins, easily updated, and little space for new coins.

In addition, the “1,000 coins” are not actually coins. Most of the new coins are Tokens, which are not “currencies” like Bitcoin and a means of exchange, but business models and services. Like Bank Notes, the market is self-limiting, but evolving. But if there are a variety of coins, and like Litecoin they can suddenly appear and change, what reassurance do you have that your Bitcoin “money” is worth anything? Like 19th century Bank Notes or AskJeeves, your responsibility is to be aware of the market and the changing values and react accordingly. And in a mature market, “everyone knows” the histories and reputations, but in a young market, like Dell and Gateway in 1992, no one knows. But that’s also why there is more profit now as well as more risk. But we’re also watching volatility and risk in Pounds, Lira, Gold, or even outright defaults like Argentine Pesos or Rubles. We already carry that risk, but it’s familiar and taken for granted.

If coins can just “change” and “fork” whenever they want, then isn’t it like buying Australian Dollars, then waking up and finding they’re Yen? Yes and no. Like other cryptos, Bitcoin is just software written by men. So a group of developers may think Bitcoin should remain the same while the old team thinks it should be improved so much that they do the work, write the updates, and release it. Well you have a “fork”, but what happens next is the Network Effect. So you’re a miner and a user of Bitcoin. You now have a choice: do you use the new software, the old software, or both? Everyone expected one to be adopted, and the old one to wither into oblivion. Since a Fork gives you one unit of each, the eventual outcome was a wash within the user group. But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Ethereum forked, and Ethereum Classic still exists, and trades steadily but far less. Bitcoin Cash Forked and although 1/10th the price, both are trading briskly. No one knows what will happen, because it’s never existed before. So yes, you could wake up and find you don’t like what Bitcoin decided to do, just as you could wake up and not like your new bank manager or CFO of Dell, and then you sell that asset and choose another. That’s your responsibility. That’s competition.

Besides unexpectedly finding both forks have value, there is an upside to the downside. If some new advance in speed or encryption appears in Litecoin or Dash, Bitcoin can also adopt it. This not only improves the market, but reduces sudden upsets as new advances shouldn’t unseat popular coins but are adopted by them. Indeed, this was the purpose of Bitcoin Cash fork: to improve speed and cost. Yet now they both exist for different purposes in the market. Another objection is that cryptos depend on electricity and an expensive, functioning Internet. True. But while I’m no fan of technology, which is full of problems, so does everything else. Without electricity, the western world would stop, with no water, no heat, and no light.

Without Internet, our just-in-time inventory halts, food and parts stop moving, banking and commerce fail. You’re talking Mad Max. TEOTWAWKI. That’s a grave problem, but not unique to Bitcoin.

 

 


Gustave Courbet Sunset on Lake Geneva 1876

 

 

Dr. D: Bitcoin can be stolen. Although “Bitcoin” can’t be hacked, it’s only software and has many vulnerabilities. If held on an exchange, you have legal and financial risk. If held at home, you could have a hard drive fail and lose your passwords. If it’s on a hardware fob like a Trezor, the circuits could fail. For a robust system, computers themselves are pretty fragile. You could write down your passwords on paper, and have a house fire. You could print out several copies, but if any of the copies are found, they have full access to your account and stolen without you knowing. You could have your passwords stolen by your family, or have a trojan take a screen or keystroke capture.

Hackers could find a vulnerability not in Bitcoin, but in Android or AppleOS, slowly load the virus on 10,000 devices, then steal 10,000 passwords and clear 10,000 accounts in an hour. There are so many things that can go wrong, not because of the software, but at the point where you interface with the software. Every vault has a door. The door is what makes a vault useful, but is also the vault’s weakness. This is no different than leaving blank checks around, losing your debit card, or leaving cash on your dashboard, but it’s not true that there are no drawbacks. However the risks are less obvious and more unfamiliar.

Bitcoin isn’t truly anonymous. If someone, the NSA, wanted to track your drug purchases on SilkRoad, they could follow the router traffic, they could steal or work out your keys, they could eventually identify your wallet, and from there have a perfect legal record of all your transactions. Defenders will say that wallets are anonymous, that like Swiss accounts, we have a number, but not a name, and you can create new numbers, new wallets endlessly at will. Fair enough, but if I can see the transfers from the old to the new, it can be tracked. If I can get your account number by any means, I can see the flows. To some extent it’s speculation because we don’t know what technology they have available to crack codes, to see into routers, Internet traffic and servers.

Could there be a hidden exploit not in “Bitcoin” but in AES256 or the Internet itself? Maybe. Are there secret code-breaking mainframes? Possibly. But given enough interest, we can be sure that they could always get a warrant and enter your house, hack your computer, and watch your keyboard. However, this is no different than cash. If necessary, they can already track every serial number of every bill as it leaves an ATM or a drug sting. Then you follow those serial numbers as they are deposited and reappear. I expect Bitcoin is not very different, and like cash, is only casually anonymous. But is this a problem with cash? Or with Bitcoin? Your intent as a citizen is to follow the law, pay your taxes, and not hurt others. If government or other power centers are willing to expend that much effort to track you, perhaps the problem should be addressed with proper oversight on warrants and privacy.

Bitcoin is slow and expensive. Very true. Bitcoin Core has gotten so outsized from its origins that it may soon cost $5 to buy a $1 coffee and 48 hours to confirm the purchase. That’s clearly not cheaper, faster, OR better. It’s worse: far, far worse. Nor can it improve. Since Blockchain writes the ledger, the longer the ledger, the bigger it is. Technically, it can only clear a few transactions per second. This problem may not doom it, but it would relegate it to only huge, slow transactions like moving container ships. That is, a form of digital gold note. We don’t actually ship gold or whatever to pay for transactions; it just sits in the background, an asset. Per Satoshi, Bitcoin is a “Digital Asset.”

 

And the core team seems to like this more secure, higher value direction, where these obstacles are acceptable. But without a larger, deeper market, it’s the plaything of billionaires and then who sets the price? It becomes another experiment, an antique. Luckily, the story doesn’t stop there. Because it’s only software, you can always change it if you can convince the participants to use the new version. Bitcoin Cash is a fork that it larger, faster, and cheaper, reducing the limitations for now. And it can become Segwit2 or Cash2 later if the community agrees. But by design Bitcoin is not meant to be instant nor free, and probably never will be. Like gold, it is meant to be expensive, vaulted, and rarely moved. If you want fast and cheap, LiteCoin, Dash, and many others are vying to be the digital silver or digital payment card. That’s not very different from the gold standard, or even payments today.

Bitcoin is a huge electric and Internet drain. This is true. However, it’s also misrepresented. What is the electric overhead of every bank, every terminal, every mainframe on the NYSE, every point-of-sale card machine, every cash register and router in retail? Don’t we use an awful lot of electric to keep those running? What about their cost, the repairmen, the creation of new systems every year from mine to market, from idea to update release, to replace them? We also personally have our computers and routers, the whole Internet on and idling. What’s the base cost? Is it fair to compare as if it were a pasture before Bitcoin arrived?

We built the existing system this way because it gained efficiency. Time in the clearing, price in not running typewriters and mail worldwide, and of course taxes. We’re talking about creating a parallel financial system here. If the old one is replaced, is the new one better, or worse? Mining takes a lot of power, but the math in Bitcoin is meant to get increasingly harder to compensate for increasing computer speed. The computers are supposed to be on to confirm transactions. That means that the more people use it, the more power consumed, but that’s true of everything. The more people that drive cars, the more gas is used. So is the car doing something useful and being used well? Is it replacing a less efficient horse, or just wasting energy better used elsewhere? These are complex questions.

At the least, Bitcoin uses far, far too much energy in the design, and because of the speculation, far too many people are mining it without using it. However, all of the subsequent coins were concerned about this, and their power consumption is far, far less. As Bitcoin is near its hardest stage and stops at 22 Million, power consumption is near peak, but should stabilize, or even fork to a low-energy proof-of-stake model. As Bitcoin is not well-suited to worldwide transactions, it should be replaced with less-power intensive alternatives, and because of this, may get smaller. And if it replaces some of the existing system, it can generate an offset. But yes, if it uses too much power, is too inefficient by design, it will be too expensive, abandoned, and fail.

 

Are Cryptos a scam? Probably not: we pointed out some legitimate uses above for both coins and tokens. But there’s one coin that arguably is a Ponzi, a dozen coins that are scams, scores that are terrible ideas like Pets.com and will fail, and another dozen good, well-meaning tokens that are honest but ultimately won’t succeed. Yet, like the .Com 90’s, there are probably some like Apple that rise far more than it seems they should, and by surviving, effectively give 16% compounded returns for 40 years, front-loaded. That’s the nature of business. But are many coins and tokens open scams that run off with your money? Yes. Are others worthless? Yes. It’s also true of the stock and bond market and can’t be helped. Buyer beware.

Is Bitcoin a Ponzi? It’s not a Ponzi by definition because there is no central thief, nor are new investors paying off old investors. So is it a fraud, misrepresenting a few hours of electricity as worth $10,000? Well, that depends on what you think its value is. Is it providing value, a service? If so, what is that service worth to you? We already said it has the operational elements of money, with the addition of being extremely transmissible and transportable. If that has value to you, fine, if not, perhaps gold or bonds are more appropriate. But that’s the problem of what gives Bitcoin value.

A stock or bond you can look at the underlying asset, the profit or income flows, the book value. But Canadian or New Zealand dollars? What gives them value? They’re also backed by nothing. What gives gold value? It has no income, just popularity. Likewise Bitcoin: what gives it value is that other people want it. If they stop wanting it, it has no value, but that’s psychological and can’t be directly measured. With that in mind, is its fair value $1K or $1B? No one knows. Can its value fall from $10k to $5k? Yes, and it has many times. Only the market, that is, we can decide what it’s worth to us, and the market is small and immature, with no price history and prone to wild swings.

Shouldn’t the exchanges set the price? Yes, and they do, but how is that accomplished? We already said the Exchanges do internal trading off-ledger, outside Bitcoin. So aren’t they setting the price on the exchange instead of the people setting the price peer-to-peer? It would seem so. So aren’t they subject to market manipulation? Although at the moment they have a fairer design, and smaller pipelines to the larger market of money, yes. So if they launch a Bitcoin future, a tracker, a triple-short ETF, internally inflate their holdings, wouldn’t that make it subject to corruption and thus back into the existing system?

No one knows: it’s never been done before. I suspect not, but only because the people want Bitcoin specifically because it is Outside-system, Anti-fraud and watch these things carefully. But it’s run by humans and reflect human nature: that means over time some new form of exchange and corruption can grow up around it as before. While the ability to rig Bitcoin is limited because the quantity of Bitcoin is limited and riggers must first buy Bitcoin fairly, the Exchanges and the price-setting are an issue, and especially into the future.

 

Central Banks and existing powers can outlaw or replace it. Bitcoin is still small, almost irrelevant, yet it has been driven down or outlawed in several places, for example North Korea, Venezuela, and New York. That’s right New York, you’re in proud company. North Korea outlaws everything and there is little internet access, so that’s no example. New York is simply regulating Bitcoin which creates business obstacles, but is still available via the few companies willing to do extensive paperwork. Venezuela, however, is actively suppressing Bitcoin which competes with the Bolivar, and is in fact seeking out and shutting down miners.

They do this on the premise that Bitcoin is consuming valuable (and free) national electric that could be better used powering a small town. Point taken. However, Bitcoin users are able to defend themselves against a terrible, lingering hyperinflation that is starving the nation to death, cutting off food, medicine, and services. Mining Bitcoin with national electric – or even having any – can be the difference between life or death. With Bitcoin, you can order food and medicine on Amazon. Without it, you can’t. So a ferocious national government has attempted to halt Bitcoin at gunpoint from both the users and the vendors. Like other currency oppressions, the USD in Zimbabwe for example, it hasn’t worked. Bitcoin is suppressed, but when the need for commerce is high enough, people make a way.

So maybe they will replace it with their own coin. Go ahead: this is a free market, freely competing. Banks already made a coin called Ripple, which trades in volume on exchanges, but is not open and public. If people choose it, I can’t stop them. Suppressing Bitcoin may make the incentives to choose the legal option far higher. But ultimately the point of Bitcoin is to be open, fair, and uncontrolled. A coin that is closed, controlled, and operated by some untrustworthy men has no incentive. But it can happen: people have chosen against their better interest before.

And that’s my real reservation. Suppose Bitcoin works. Suppose it replaces currency. Suppose it is adequately private. Suppose it can be made fast enough, cheap enough, and slim enough. Suppose the old system fades and we all get used to having our lives entirely on the Blockchain. Your every post is perfectly recorded and provably yours on Steemit. Your every photograph is saved and stamped to you. Every medical experience is indelibly written. Every purchase, every trade, it’s all on a blockchain somewhere. And even suppose it’s private. What then? I mean, isn’t this the system we had in 1900, under the former society and former gold standard? So what happened?

Being comfortable and familiar with Blockchain ledgers, taking them as for granted as Millennials do Facebook, and someone says, “Hey, rather than waste power on this inefficient, creaking system of writing everywhere for a fraction of the power the Federal Reserve Block can keep it for you. Think of the whales.” Sound silly? That’s exactly what they did in 1913, and again in 1933 – replace a direct, messy, competitive system with a more efficient one run by smarter men. The people didn’t protest then any more than they do now, so why would we expect them to in 2050 or 2070? No one cares about corruption and murder: we’re only moving to this system now because it’s better and cheaper. If the Fed Reserve Block is cheaper, won’t we move then?

 

I can’t solve the next generation’s problems. We’ll be lucky to survive our own. But I can warn you that even now this generation will never accept a digital mark without which you cannot buy or sell, not voluntarily and not by force. It’s too far to reach and social trust is too compromised. But could they get us halfway there and just make it official later, when everything’s fixed again? I think absolutely.

Once that’s in, you can finish all the plans written in the bank and government white papers: perfect, inescapable taxation. Perfect, indelible records of everyone you talked to, everything you said, everything you bought, everywhere you were, everyone you know. Not today, but in the future. And that is the purgatory or paradise they seek today. The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance. The system we have wasn’t always bad: a small cadre of bad men worked tirelessly while complacent citizens shirked their duty. So when we move to a new system softly, without real purge, real morality, real reform, what makes you think the same thing won’t happen to your new system? Only far, far more dangerous. But I can’t prevent that. Think, and plan accordingly.

 

 

Dec 102017
 
 December 10, 2017  Posted by at 2:33 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Gustave Courbet Sunset on Lake Geneva 1876

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 3 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 3

Chapter 4 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 4

Next up: all 5 chapters combined in one big essay.

 

 

Dr. D: Bitcoin can be stolen. Although “Bitcoin” can’t be hacked, it’s only software and has many vulnerabilities. If held on an exchange, you have legal and financial risk. If held at home, you could have a hard drive fail and lose your passwords. If it’s on a hardware fob like a Trezor, the circuits could fail. For a robust system, computers themselves are pretty fragile. You could write down your passwords on paper, and have a house fire. You could print out several copies, but if any of the copies are found, they have full access to your account and stolen without you knowing. You could have your passwords stolen by your family, or have a trojan take a screen or keystroke capture.

Hackers could find a vulnerability not in Bitcoin, but in Android or AppleOS, slowly load the virus on 10,000 devices, then steal 10,000 passwords and clear 10,000 accounts in an hour. There are so many things that can go wrong, not because of the software, but at the point where you interface with the software. Every vault has a door. The door is what makes a vault useful, but is also the vault’s weakness. This is no different than leaving blank checks around, losing your debit card, or leaving cash on your dashboard, but it’s not true that there are no drawbacks. However the risks are less obvious and more unfamiliar.

Bitcoin isn’t truly anonymous. If someone, the NSA, wanted to track your drug purchases on SilkRoad, they could follow the router traffic, they could steal or work out your keys, they could eventually identify your wallet, and from there have a perfect legal record of all your transactions. Defenders will say that wallets are anonymous, that like Swiss accounts, we have a number, but not a name, and you can create new numbers, new wallets endlessly at will. Fair enough, but if I can see the transfers from the old to the new, it can be tracked. If I can get your account number by any means, I can see the flows. To some extent it’s speculation because we don’t know what technology they have available to crack codes, to see into routers, Internet traffic and servers.

Could there be a hidden exploit not in “Bitcoin” but in AES256 or the Internet itself? Maybe. Are there secret code-breaking mainframes? Possibly. But given enough interest, we can be sure that they could always get a warrant and enter your house, hack your computer, and watch your keyboard. However, this is no different than cash. If necessary, they can already track every serial number of every bill as it leaves an ATM or a drug sting. Then you follow those serial numbers as they are deposited and reappear. I expect Bitcoin is not very different, and like cash, is only casually anonymous. But is this a problem with cash? Or with Bitcoin? Your intent as a citizen is to follow the law, pay your taxes, and not hurt others. If government or other power centers are willing to expend that much effort to track you, perhaps the problem should be addressed with proper oversight on warrants and privacy.

Bitcoin is slow and expensive. Very true. Bitcoin Core has gotten so outsized from its origins that it may soon cost $5 to buy a $1 coffee and 48 hours to confirm the purchase. That’s clearly not cheaper, faster, OR better. It’s worse: far, far worse. Nor can it improve. Since Blockchain writes the ledger, the longer the ledger, the bigger it is. Technically, it can only clear a few transactions per second. This problem may not doom it, but it would relegate it to only huge, slow transactions like moving container ships. That is, a form of digital gold note. We don’t actually ship gold or whatever to pay for transactions; it just sits in the background, an asset. Per Satoshi, Bitcoin is a “Digital Asset.”

 

And the core team seems to like this more secure, higher value direction, where these obstacles are acceptable. But without a larger, deeper market, it’s the plaything of billionaires and then who sets the price? It becomes another experiment, an antique. Luckily, the story doesn’t stop there. Because it’s only software, you can always change it if you can convince the participants to use the new version. Bitcoin Cash is a fork that it larger, faster, and cheaper, reducing the limitations for now. And it can become Segwit2 or Cash2 later if the community agrees. But by design Bitcoin is not meant to be instant nor free, and probably never will be. Like gold, it is meant to be expensive, vaulted, and rarely moved. If you want fast and cheap, LiteCoin, Dash, and many others are vying to be the digital silver or digital payment card. That’s not very different from the gold standard, or even payments today.

Bitcoin is a huge electric and Internet drain. This is true. However, it’s also misrepresented. What is the electric overhead of every bank, every terminal, every mainframe on the NYSE, every point-of-sale card machine, every cash register and router in retail? Don’t we use an awful lot of electric to keep those running? What about their cost, the repairmen, the creation of new systems every year from mine to market, from idea to update release, to replace them? We also personally have our computers and routers, the whole Internet on and idling. What’s the base cost? Is it fair to compare as if it were a pasture before Bitcoin arrived?

We built the existing system this way because it gained efficiency. Time in the clearing, price in not running typewriters and mail worldwide, and of course taxes. We’re talking about creating a parallel financial system here. If the old one is replaced, is the new one better, or worse? Mining takes a lot of power, but the math in Bitcoin is meant to get increasingly harder to compensate for increasing computer speed. The computers are supposed to be on to confirm transactions. That means that the more people use it, the more power consumed, but that’s true of everything. The more people that drive cars, the more gas is used. So is the car doing something useful and being used well? Is it replacing a less efficient horse, or just wasting energy better used elsewhere? These are complex questions.

At the least, Bitcoin uses far, far too much energy in the design, and because of the speculation, far too many people are mining it without using it. However, all of the subsequent coins were concerned about this, and their power consumption is far, far less. As Bitcoin is near its hardest stage and stops at 22 Million, power consumption is near peak, but should stabilize, or even fork to a low-energy proof-of-stake model. As Bitcoin is not well-suited to worldwide transactions, it should be replaced with less-power intensive alternatives, and because of this, may get smaller. And if it replaces some of the existing system, it can generate an offset. But yes, if it uses too much power, is too inefficient by design, it will be too expensive, abandoned, and fail.

 

Are Cryptos a scam? Probably not: we pointed out some legitimate uses above for both coins and tokens. But there’s one coin that arguably is a Ponzi, a dozen coins that are scams, scores that are terrible ideas like Pets.com and will fail, and another dozen good, well-meaning tokens that are honest but ultimately won’t succeed. Yet, like the .Com 90’s, there are probably some like Apple that rise far more than it seems they should, and by surviving, effectively give 16% compounded returns for 40 years, front-loaded. That’s the nature of business. But are many coins and tokens open scams that run off with your money? Yes. Are others worthless? Yes. It’s also true of the stock and bond market and can’t be helped. Buyer beware.

Is Bitcoin a Ponzi? It’s not a Ponzi by definition because there is no central thief, nor are new investors paying off old investors. So is it a fraud, misrepresenting a few hours of electricity as worth $10,000? Well, that depends on what you think its value is. Is it providing value, a service? If so, what is that service worth to you? We already said it has the operational elements of money, with the addition of being extremely transmissible and transportable. If that has value to you, fine, if not, perhaps gold or bonds are more appropriate. But that’s the problem of what gives Bitcoin value.

A stock or bond you can look at the underlying asset, the profit or income flows, the book value. But Canadian or New Zealand dollars? What gives them value? They’re also backed by nothing. What gives gold value? It has no income, just popularity. Likewise Bitcoin: what gives it value is that other people want it. If they stop wanting it, it has no value, but that’s psychological and can’t be directly measured. With that in mind, is its fair value $1K or $1B? No one knows. Can its value fall from $10k to $5k? Yes, and it has many times. Only the market, that is, we can decide what it’s worth to us, and the market is small and immature, with no price history and prone to wild swings.

Shouldn’t the exchanges set the price? Yes, and they do, but how is that accomplished? We already said the Exchanges do internal trading off-ledger, outside Bitcoin. So aren’t they setting the price on the exchange instead of the people setting the price peer-to-peer? It would seem so. So aren’t they subject to market manipulation? Although at the moment they have a fairer design, and smaller pipelines to the larger market of money, yes. So if they launch a Bitcoin future, a tracker, a triple-short ETF, internally inflate their holdings, wouldn’t that make it subject to corruption and thus back into the existing system?

No one knows: it’s never been done before. I suspect not, but only because the people want Bitcoin specifically because it is Outside-system, Anti-fraud and watch these things carefully. But it’s run by humans and reflect human nature: that means over time some new form of exchange and corruption can grow up around it as before. While the ability to rig Bitcoin is limited because the quantity of Bitcoin is limited and riggers must first buy Bitcoin fairly, the Exchanges and the price-setting are an issue, and especially into the future.

 

Central Banks and existing powers can outlaw or replace it. Bitcoin is still small, almost irrelevant, yet it has been driven down or outlawed in several places, for example North Korea, Venezuela, and New York. That’s right New York, you’re in proud company. North Korea outlaws everything and there is little internet access, so that’s no example. New York is simply regulating Bitcoin which creates business obstacles, but is still available via the few companies willing to do extensive paperwork. Venezuela, however, is actively suppressing Bitcoin which competes with the Bolivar, and is in fact seeking out and shutting down miners.

They do this on the premise that Bitcoin is consuming valuable (and free) national electric that could be better used powering a small town. Point taken. However, Bitcoin users are able to defend themselves against a terrible, lingering hyperinflation that is starving the nation to death, cutting off food, medicine, and services. Mining Bitcoin with national electric – or even having any – can be the difference between life or death. With Bitcoin, you can order food and medicine on Amazon. Without it, you can’t. So a ferocious national government has attempted to halt Bitcoin at gunpoint from both the users and the vendors. Like other currency oppressions, the USD in Zimbabwe for example, it hasn’t worked. Bitcoin is suppressed, but when the need for commerce is high enough, people make a way.

So maybe they will replace it with their own coin. Go ahead: this is a free market, freely competing. Banks already made a coin called Ripple, which trades in volume on exchanges, but is not open and public. If people choose it, I can’t stop them. Suppressing Bitcoin may make the incentives to choose the legal option far higher. But ultimately the point of Bitcoin is to be open, fair, and uncontrolled. A coin that is closed, controlled, and operated by some untrustworthy men has no incentive. But it can happen: people have chosen against their better interest before.

And that’s my real reservation. Suppose Bitcoin works. Suppose it replaces currency. Suppose it is adequately private. Suppose can be made fast enough, cheap enough, and slim enough. Suppose the old system fades and we all get used to having our lives entirely on the Blockchain. Your every post is perfectly recorded and provably yours on Steemit. Your every photograph is saved and stamped to you. Every medical experience is indelibly written. Every purchase, every trade, it’s all on a blockchain somewhere. And even suppose it’s private. What then? I mean, isn’t this the system we had in 1900, under the former society and former gold standard? So what happened?

Being comfortable and familiar with Blockchain ledgers, taking them as for granted as Millennials do Facebook, and someone says, “Hey, rather than waste power on this inefficient, creaking system of writing everywhere for a fraction of the power the Federal Reserve Block can keep it for you. Think of the whales.” Sound silly? That’s exactly what they did in 1913, and again in 1933 – replace a direct, messy, competitive system with a more efficient one run by smarter men. The people didn’t protest then any more than they do now, so why would we expect them to in 2050 or 2070? No one cares about corruption and murder: we’re only moving to this system now because it’s better and cheaper. If the Fed Reserve Block is cheaper, won’t we move then?

 

I can’t solve the next generation’s problems. We’ll be lucky to survive our own. But I can warn you that even now this generation will never accept a digital mark without which you cannot buy or sell, not voluntarily and not by force. It’s too far to reach and social trust is too compromised. But could they get us halfway there and just make it official later, when everything’s fixed again? I think absolutely.

Once that’s in, you can finish all the plans written in the bank and government white papers: perfect, inescapable taxation. Perfect, indelible records of everyone you talked to, everything you said, everything you bought, everywhere you were, everyone you know. Not today, but in the future. And that is the purgatory or paradise they seek today. The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance. The system we have wasn’t always bad: a small cadre of bad men worked tirelessly while complacent citizens shirked their duty. So when we move to a new system softly, without real purge, real morality, real reform, what makes you think the same thing won’t happen to your new system? Only far, far more dangerous. But I can’t prevent that. Think, and plan accordingly.

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 3 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 3

Chapter 4 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 4

Next up: all 5 chapters combined in one big essay.

 

 

Dec 092017
 
 December 9, 2017  Posted by at 12:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Gustave Courbet The wave 1871

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1 .

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 3 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 3

Chapter 5 will follow shortly. And after that, all 5 chapters combined in one big essay.

 

 

Dr. D: Well, all parts of the system rely on accurate record-keeping. Look at voting rights: we had a security company where 20% more people voted than there were shares. Think you could direct corporate, even national power that way? Without records of transfer, how do you know you own it? Morgan transferred a stock to Schwab but forgot to clear it. Doesn’t that mean it’s listed in both Morgan and Schwab? In fact, didn’t you just double-count and double-value that share? Suppose you fail to clear just a few each day. Before long, compounding the double ownership leads to pension funds owning 2% fake shares, then 5%, then 10%, until stock market and the national value itself becomes unreal. And how would you unwind it?

Work backwards to 1999 where the original drop happened? Remove 10% of CALPERs or Chicago’s already devastated pension money? How about the GDP and national assets that 10% represents? Do you tell Sachs they now need to raise $100B more in capital reserves because they didn’t have the assets they thought they have? Think I’m exaggerating? There have been several companies who tired of these games and took themselves back private, buying up every share…only to find their stock trading briskly the next morning. When that can happen without even a comment, you know fraud knows no bounds, a story Financial Sense called “The Crime of the Century.” No one blinked.

But it doesn’t stop there. You don’t only buy stocks, you sell them. And you can sell them by borrowing them from a shareholder. But what if there’s no record of delivery? You can short or sell a stock without owning any. And the more you sell, the more it drives the price down and the more money you make. In fact, profits are infinite if you can sell enough that the company goes bankrupt: you never have to repay the stock at all. And this “naked” short selling can only occur if there’s openly bad recording and enough failures-to-deliver to hide it. You could literally own nothing, borrow nothing, post nothing, and with no more than insider access to an exchange, drive a company out of business. That’s how crucial recording is.

And while for appearance’s sake, they only attack and destroy small plausibly weak stocks, Overstock.com with a $1.45B market cap fought these naked short sellers for years. Publicly, openly, vocally, with the SEC. Besides eroding their capital, besides their legal fees, besides that e.g. Amazon could pay to have their competition run out of business with fraudulent shorting, the unlimited incentive to short instead of long on small companies could suppress the entire stock market, indeed the national wealth and GDP. It may account for some of the small caps underperforming their potential for years, and why an outsized portion of stock value to be in just the 5 protected FAANG or DOW 30 stocks. …We don’t know, because we have no honesty, no accounting, and nothing to compare it to. But no one cares, because it’s been going on for 20 years, and if they cared, they’d do something about it. Again, no one cares about your problems, only your solutions. Even if the nation falls.

 

Look at it from their point of view: if you’re a business owner, now you can’t rationally list your corporation. Your stock could be manipulated; your business could be bankrupted for no reason at all. We’ve seen the NYSE shrink as businesses start to list in more honest jurisdictions, and even Presidents can’t convince them to come back. Traders and Fund Managers retire in public interviews, telling the world there is no longer any sense or price discovery, and therefore there is market madness.

Yet we just said that to clean up the market would discover 10%, 20%, 40% fake shares, fake business values, fake pension values, therefore fake GDP values, and fake GDP to Debt ratios, and therefore would perhaps lead to an accurate Debt to GDP of 140%, which would crash the U.S. dollar and possibly the nation. Would a complete U.S. financial collapse lead to a nuclear war? And it all goes back to fraud we didn’t stop 20 years ago. How do you solve the problem? The only way out without collapse is to build an honest system parallel to the existing system and slowly transfer assets from the rotten, sinking ship to the new one. The captains of the old ship may not like it, but look at the incentives. No one can tolerate the old ship except the pirate captain; even the crew, the stock traders, don’t want or control it any more.

However, what if you created an honest stock market Blockchain that actually had the stock certificates and actually transferred them, cheaply and reliably without false duplication? This is what is happening in the Jamaican Stock Market. A new company can choose to list on the stock Blockchain and avoid the old system. Other companies or even the whole exchange can clean up the books, slowly, stock by stock, and move it to the new honest system. Because they’re honest? No way! No one cares about truth or honesty, clearly. Because they can sell their stock exchange as superior, solving the existing problems. Stopping fraud, theft, the stealing or crippling of companies, fake voting, depression of Main Street and outsiders in favor of Wall Street and insiders, this is what Blockchain can do. In short, it would work better, cheaper.

What else can Blockchain do?

Blockchain is just software written by programmers so it’s as versatile as any other software. So why not program things into it with a “Smart Contract”? Suppose you make a bet: IF the Packers beat the Lions on November 12, 2017, THEN I will pay you $50. You set up the contract, and the bot itself can look for the headlines and transfer the money when the conditions are met.

That’s pointless but how about this: You run a jewelry business on Etsy and need to buy $500 in beads from Hong Kong. Normally, you would need to pay an importer, a currency exchange, bank account, tire transfer, escrow account, and a lawyer, or their proxies within the system, plus two weeks’ clearing time. That’s a lot of overhead for a small transaction. In contrast, a smart contract such as Ethereum could post the value of the coin (escrow), and when Long Beach or FedEx confirms delivery, releases the Ethereum, a coin of value, to the seller in Hong Kong. Instantly. Why? The existing financial system is charging too much and doing too little. That’s a huge incentive to get around their slow, overpriced monopoly.

 

Once you cut the costs, have a more direct method, and reduce the time to minutes, not weeks, the choice is obvious, which may explain why Microsoft, Intel, and others are deep in ETH development. Why overpay for bad service, and support the overpriced bonuses of men who will use their power to turn on or shut off your livelihood at will? Blockchain costs less and does more. Being just software, there are many other software products serving hundreds of other business plans. These use-coins are generally called “Tokens”, whereas“Coins” are meant to be pure currencies. There are Tokens for a wide variety of business purposes: online gambling? Yes. Tokens to buy marijuana in certain states? Sure.

But how about a Token like Populous that contains the credit information of small businesses worldwide, so you can make modest income lending against their accounts receivable? You get more income, business worldwide gets better service and lower costs. Why? The existing financial system is charging too much and doing too little. How about a Token like Salt for personal loans and perfecting collateral? They will lend cash against your Cryptocurrencies, because if your loan falls short, they can sell your collateral instantly. No foreclosures, no repossessions, no overhead.

This is what banks do when they hold your savings and checking accounts, yet sell you a personal loan. But the banks are giving you no interest on savings, while charging origination fees and high interest. They’re charging too much and doing too little. Well, you say, this sounds too good to be true: a parallel system to replace our existing corrupt, broken, overpriced one. One that doesn’t have to confront existing power or reform the system, but beyond price appreciation has its own incentives to join? Surely there are problems.

Oh, yes. So many problems. The first is often mentioned: it’s fine that Bitcoin is a finite commodity with only 22M coins, and if Bitcoin were the only coin, that would work. But there are over 1,000 coins now, and more every day. Isn’t that just another avenue to unlimited issuance and inflation by unlimited, unregistered people? Well, yes and no. It’s true that anyone can start their own Bitcoin – Litecoin for example is a faster duplicate of Bitcoin – but it’s also true that anyone can start their own Facebook. MySpace certainly did.

 

So why don’t they? Basically because of financial inertia, the Network Effect, a coin you start and only you use is worthless. The value is in the belief that other people will use it. Without that, you’re banished to MySpace Siberia. Still, with a 1,000 coins, don’t they all compete? Yes, and that’s a good thing, not bad. This is no different than the competing Bank Notes of the 19th century. If you like this bank and believe in them, you prefer their notes to others. Or you might use one note in Missouri and another in Louisiana. So with Cryptos. You might choose Bitcoin, with slow traffic and high costs to pay for a house. But you would choose Litecoin to pay for coffee.

You already do this, no different than using cash to buy a hot dog, your debit card for groceries, and a bank transfer for a car. It’s overlooked because they’re all called “dollars,” but they’re not. One is currency, one is a short-term credit, and one is a banking ledger. Because of the Network Effect, you can’t have 1,000 equal coins and have them all work. The market will prefer some over others until there are only a few, just as AskJeeves and Infoseek gave way to Google, which may someday give way to someone else. Just as you can’t start a new Google today, there are only a few top coins, easily updated, and little space for new coins.

In addition, the “1,000 coins” are not actually coins. Most of the new coins are Tokens, which are not “currencies” like Bitcoin and a means of exchange, but business models and services. Like Bank Notes, the market is self-limiting, but evolving. But if there are a variety of coins, and like Litecoin they can suddenly appear and change, what reassurance do you have that your Bitcoin “money” is worth anything? Like 19th century Bank Notes or AskJeeves, your responsibility is to be aware of the market and the changing values and react accordingly. And in a mature market, “everyone knows” the histories and reputations, but in a young market, like Dell and Gateway in 1992, no one knows. But that’s also why there is more profit now as well as more risk. But we’re also watching volatility and risk in Pounds, Lira, Gold, or even outright defaults like Argentine Pesos or Rubles. We already carry that risk, but it’s familiar and taken for granted.

If coins can just “change” and “fork” whenever they want, then isn’t it like buying Australian Dollars, then waking up and finding they’re Yen? Yes and no. Like other cryptos, Bitcoin is just software written by men. So a group of developers may think Bitcoin should remain the same while the old team thinks it should be improved so much that they do the work, write the updates, and release it. Well you have a “fork”, but what happens next is the Network Effect. So you’re a miner and a user of Bitcoin. You now have a choice: do you use the new software, the old software, or both? Everyone expected one to be adopted, and the old one to wither into oblivion. Since a Fork gives you one unit of each, the eventual outcome was a wash within the user group. But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Ethereum forked, and Ethereum Classic still exists, and trades steadily but far less. Bitcoin Cash Forked and although 1/10th the price, both are trading briskly. No one knows what will happen, because it’s never existed before. So yes, you could wake up and find you don’t like what Bitcoin decided to do, just as you could wake up and not like your new bank manager or CFO of Dell, and then you sell that asset and choose another. That’s your responsibility. That’s competition.

Besides unexpectedly finding both forks have value, there is an upside to the downside. If some new advance in speed or encryption appears in Litecoin or Dash, Bitcoin can also adopt it. This not only improves the market, but reduces sudden upsets as new advances shouldn’t unseat popular coins but are adopted by them. Indeed, this was the purpose of Bitcoin Cash fork: to improve speed and cost. Yet now they both exist for different purposes in the market. Another objection is that cryptos depend on electricity and an expensive, functioning Internet. True. But while I’m no fan of technology, which is full of problems, so does everything else. Without electricity, the western world would stop, with no water, no heat, and no light.

Without Internet, our just-in-time inventory halts, food and parts stop moving, banking and commerce fail. You’re talking Mad Max. TEOTWAWKI. That’s a grave problem, but not unique to Bitcoin.

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1 .

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 3 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 3

Chapter 5 will follow shortly. And after that, all 5 chapters combined in one big essay.

 

 

Dec 072017
 
 December 7, 2017  Posted by at 12:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  15 Responses »
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Gustave Courbet The wave 1870

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1 .

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 4 will follow shortly.

 

 

Dr. D: The money, the unaccountable, uninhibited release of tokens can do more than just buy centuries of hard labor in seconds, it‘s also a method of control. Banks, our present issuers of money, can approve or destroy businesses by denying loans. They can do this to individuals, like denying loans to unpopular figures, or to whole sectors, like gun shops. They can also offer money for free to Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which have no profitable business model or any hope of getting one, and deny loans to power plants, railroads, farms, and bridges as they fall into the Mississippi.

The result is banks and their attending insiders are a de facto Committee of Central Planners in the great Soviet style. What is fashionable and exciting to them can happen, and what they dislike or disapprove of for any reason can never happen. And once on a completely fiat system, this is how capital is allocated through our entire system: badly. What’s worse has been a 20-year turn toward Disaster Capitalism, whereby loans are extended to a business, sector, person, or nation, and then suddenly cut off, leading to the rapid foreclosure and confiscation of companies, assets, or continents by the “Development Team.”

Imagine a Bitcoin where Satoshi could erase your coins in your wallet for giving him a bad haircut. Or because he likes your wife. Nor is there any help for independent nations like Iran, or even nuclear powers like Russia. Both have been cut off, their funds suspended at a whim with no recourse. Even being a fellow insider is no insurance, as the NY banks cut off Lehman from funds they were owed, driving it into bankruptcy to buy the pieces in receivership. Unpopular Billionaires are treated likewise. This is a system with no justice, no order, no rules, and no predictability. Anyone within it is at grave and total risk. And yet before Bitcoin it was the only system we had, short of returning to the 19th century, it was the only way for modern commerce to deliver food, water, power, or function at all.

This is seen in its abuses, but also by its effects. The present system not only controls whether you are a winner or loser, whether you may go or stay, whether you may live or die, but also tracks every purchase, every location, in effect, every action throughout your entire life. These records will describe what books you read, what movies you watch, what associates you have, in real time Already these daily actions are being approved or denied. Take out a variable-rate jumbo loan? We’ll give you 110% of the value, paying you to be irresponsible (we’ll foreclose later). Want to buy gas when driving through Cheyenne 3:30 at night? Sorry, we disabled your card as a suspicious transaction. Sorry about you dying there of crime or of cold; we didn’t know and didn’t care. All your base are belong to us.

 

You say you don’t care if JP Morgan has your pay stubs to disturbing porn sites and Uber purchases to see your mistress? Well the future Mayor of Atlanta will, and he hasn’t graduated college yet. With those records it’s child’s play to blackmail policemen, reporters, judges, senators, or generals, even Presidents. And all those future Presidents are making those purchases right now, the ones that can be spun into political hay, real or unreal. So if you don’t worry what everyone knows about you, that’s fine, but imagine reading the open bank records, the life histories of every political opponent from now until doomsday. Then Don’t. Do. It. The people who have those records – not you – then have not just all the assets, not just all the money, but all the power and influence. Forever.

Are you signing up for that? Bitcoin doesn’t. Bitcoin doesn’t care who you are and with some care can make it very difficult to track you. And without tracking you, it makes it impossible to boycott you. And without a central repository, it’s impossible to march in with tanks and make them give you the records, turn money on or off, to make other people live or die and bend to your will by violence.

No one will care about that, because no one cares about it now unless, like Russia or China, it’s directed at them personally and then it’s too late. The real adoption of Bitcoin is far more mundane.

The long-term interest rate is 5%. Historically banks would lend at 8%, pay at 4%, and be on the golf course by 5. No one thought much about it because like a public utility, banking was a slow, boring affair of letting business do business. You know, farming, mining, manufacturing, all that stuff we no longer do. For decades, centuries even, banking was 5%-15% of a nation’s GDP, facilitating borrowers and lenders and timescales, paying for themselves with the business efficiencies they engender.

 

 

 

 

All that changed after WWII. Banks rose in proportion to the rest of the economy, passing the average, then the previous high, then when that level reached “Irrational Exuberance”, Greenspan started the printing presses, free money was created, and Senators and Presidents whose bank records were visible suddenly repealed Glass-Steagall. An economy stretched to breaking with free, centrally-allocated and misallocated money crashed and shrank, yet the banks– now known as the FIRE stocks: Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate – kept growing. How can banks and finance keep growing with a shrinking economy? By selling their only product: debt.

How do you sell it? Reduce the qualifications past zero to NINJA-levels, and use your free money to FORCE people to take it via government deficits and subsidized loans. No normal economy could do this. No normal business model could do this. Only a business now based on nothing, issuing nothing, with no restraint and no oversight. And the FIRE sector kept growing, through 15%, 20%, 25% until today most of U.S. GDP is either Finance selling the same instruments back and forth by borrowing new money or GDP created by governments borrowing and spending.

Remember when we started, banks paid 4% and charged at 8%. Now they openly take savings with negative interest rates, and charge at 30% or higher on a credit card balance averaging $16,000. And still claim they need bailouts comprising trillions a year because they don’t make money. The sector that once facilitated trade by absorbing 5% of GDP is now 5x larger. There’s a word for a body whose one organ has grown 5x larger: Cancer. Unstopped, it kills the host.

 

What does this have to do with Bitcoin? Simple. They’re charging too much. They’re making too much both personally and as a group. They’re overpriced. And anything that’s overpriced is ripe for competition. And the higher the markup, the more incentive, the more pressure, the more profit there is to join the upstart. Bitcoin can economize banking because what does banking do? It saves money safely, which Bitcoin can do. It transfers money on demand, which Bitcoin can do. It pays you interest, which mining or appreciation can do.

It also can lend, register stocks and ownership, rate credit risks, and allocate capital which other non-Bitcoin Tokens can do. In short, it can replace the 25% overpricing of the financial sector. If it could reduce the overhead of outsized profit, the misuse of expensive brainpower, of Wall Street and London office space, and reduce financial costs to merely 10% GDP, it could free up 20% of GDP for productive purposes. Why did you think Detroit and Baltimore fell in on themselves while N.Y. and D.C. boomed? That’s the 30% they took, $4B a year, from every other state, every year for 40 years.

That money and that brainpower could be much better allocated elsewhere, but so long as the Finance sector can print free money and buy free influence, they will never stop on their own. Only an upstart to their monopoly can cure the cancer and bring them back to a healthy size and purpose. Bitcoin can do this only because they charge too much and do too little. Of course, they could go back to paying 4% and charging 8% with a CEO:employee pay ratio of 20:1 but history says it will never happen. Only a conflict, a collapse, or competition can reform them, and however long it takes, competition is by far the best option.

 

 

So why would people pick Bitcoin? It costs less and does more. Amongst adopters, it’s simpler and more direct. It pays the right people and not the wrong ones. It rewards good behavior instead of bad, and can help producers instead of parasites. It’s equitable instead of hierarchical. What else? While not Bitcoin proper, as a truth machine Blockchain technology is the prime cure for the present system’s main problem: fraud. There is so much fraud at the moment, libraries of books have been written merely recording the highlights of fraud since 2001. But merely recording the epic, world-wide, multi-trillion dollar frauds clearly does not cure it. Like other human problems, no one cares about your problems, only your solutions, and Blockchain has the solution.

While the details of fraud are complex, the essence of fraud is quite simple: you lie about something in order to steal it. That’s it. It could be small or large, simple or complex, but basically fraud is all about claiming what didn’t happen. However, the Blockchain is all about truth, that is, creating consensus about what happened, and then preserving it. Take the Robosigning scandal: accidental or deliberate, the mortgage brokers, banks, and MBS funds lost the paperwork for millions of houses. A house could be paid off could be foreclosed, as happened, or it could be owned 5 times, as happened. Like the Sneeches, no one knew which one was who, and the only certainty was that the official authority – county courthouses – did not know because to register there would have cost Wall Street and inconvenient millions or billions in shared tax stamps.

The system broke down, and to this day no one has attempted to define ownership, choosing instead to usher all the questionable (and therefore worthless) material into the central bank and hiding it there until the mortgage terms expire, forcing the taxpayers to bail out a multi-trillion dollar bank fraud at full value. And this is just one messy example. The S&L crisis was not dissimilar, nor are we accounting for constant overhead of fees, mortgage transfers, re-surveys, and title searches nationwide.

 

With Blockchain it’s simple: you take line one, write the information, the owner, title, date, and transfer, and share it with a group. They confirm it and add mortgage #2, then #3 and so on. It’s a public ledger like the courthouse, but the system pays the fees. It also can’t be tampered with, as everyone has a copy and there is no central place to bribe, steal, and subvert as happened in 2006 but also in history like the 1930s or the railroad and mining boom of the 1800s. If there are questions, you refer to the consensus If it’s transferred, it is transferred on the ledger. If it isn’t on the ledger, it isn’t transferred, same as the courthouse. Essentially, that’s what “ownership” is: the consensus that you own something. Therefore you do not have a mortgage due disappear, or 4 different owners clamoring to get paid or take possession of the same property, or the financial terrorism of shattering the system if you even attempt to prosecute fraud.

It’s not just mortgages: stocks have the same problem. Since the digital age began, the problem of clearing stock trades has steadily increased. Eventually, the NYSE trading volume was so large they couldn’t clear at all, and the SEC let trading houses net their internal trades, only rectifying the mismatches between brokerages. Eventually, that was too large, and they created the DTCC as a central holder and clearing house. Yet, in an age of online trading and high-frequency trading mainframes, it became apparent there was no way to clear even residual trades, and they effectively no longer try, and the SEC, instead of forcing them to compliance, lets them. There are 300M failed stock trades a day and $50B a day in bond failures, or $12 Trillion year in bonds alone. And so? If you sell your stocks and bonds, the brokerage makes it come out whole, so what?

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1 .

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 4 will follow shortly.

 

 

Dec 062017
 
 December 6, 2017  Posted by at 12:24 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Gustave Courbet The wave 1870

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1

Chapter 3 will follow shortly.

 

 

Dr. D: You have to understand what exchanges are and are not. An exchange is a central point where owners post collateral and thereby join and trade on the exchange. The exchange backs the trades with their solvency and reputation, but it’s not a barter system, and it’s not free: the exchange has to make money too. Look at the Comex, which reaches back to the early history of commodities exchange which was founded to match buyers of say, wheat, like General Mills, with producers, the farmers. But why not just have the farmer drive to the local silo and sell there? Two reasons: one, unlike manufacturing, harvests are lumpy. To have everyone buy or sell at one time of the year would cripple the demand for money in that season. This may be why market crashes happen historically at harvest when the demand for money (i.e. Deflation) was highest. Secondly, however, suppose the weather turned bad: all farmers would be ruined simultaneously.

Suppose the weather then recovered: the previous low prices are erased and any who delayed selling would be rich. This sort of random, uncontrolled, uninsurable event is no way to run an economy, so they added a small group of speculators into the middle. You could sell wheat today for delivery in June, and the buyer would lock in a price. This had the effect of moderating prices, insuring both buyers AND sellers, at the small cost of paying the traders and speculators for their time, basically providing insurance. But the exchange is neither buyer, seller, nor speculator. They only keep the doors open to trade and vet the participants. What’s not immediately apparent is these Contracts of Wheat are only wheat promises, not wheat itself. Although amounts vary, almost all commodities trade contracts in excess of what is actually delivered, and what may exist on earth. I mean the wheat they’re selling, millions of tons, haven’t even been planted yet. So they are synthetic wheat, fantasy wheat that the exchange is selling.

A Bitcoin exchange is the same thing. You post your Bitcoin to the exchange, and trade it within the exchange with other customers like you. But none of the Bitcoin you trade on the exchange is yours, just like none of the wheat traded is actual wheat moving on trucks between silos. They are Bitcoin vouchers, Bitcoin PROMISES, not actual Bitcoin. So? So although prices are being set on the exchanges – slightly different prices in each one – none of the transfers are recorded on the actual Bitcoin Ledger. So how do you think exchanges stay open? Like Brokers and Banks, they take in the Bitcoin at say 100 units, but claim within themselves to have 104.

 

Why? Like any other fractional reserve system, they know that at any given moment 104 users will not demand delivery. This is their “float” and their profit, which they need to have, and this works well as far as it goes. However, it leads to the problem at Mt. Gox, and indeed Bear Sterns, Lehman and DeutscheBank: a sudden lack of confidence will always lead to a collapse, leaving a number of claims unfulfilled. That’s the bank run you know so well from Mary Poppins’ “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”. It is suspected to be particularly bad in the case of Mt. Gox, which was unregulated. How unregulated? Well, not only were there zero laws concerning Bitcoin, but MTGOX actually stands for “Magic The Gathering Online eXchange”; that is, they were traders of comic books and Pokemon cards, not a brokerage. Prepare accordingly.

The important thing here is that an exchange is not Bitcoin. On an exchange, you own a claim on Bitcoin, through the legal entity of the exchange, subject only to jurisdiction and bankruptcy law. You do not own Bitcoin. But maybe Mt.Gox didn’t inflate their holdings but was indeed hacked? Yes, as an exchange, they can be hacked. Now you only need infiltrate one central point to gain access to millions of coins and although their security is far better, it’s now worth a hacker’s time. Arguably, most coins are held on an exchange, which is one reason for the incredibly skewed numbers regarding Bitcoin concentration. Just remember, if you don’t hold it, you don’t own it. In a hack, your coins are gone.

If the exchange is lying or gets in trouble, your coins are gone. If someone is embezzling, your coins are gone. If the Government stops the exchange, your coins are gone. If the economy cracks, the exchange will be cash-strapped and your coins are frozen and/or gone. None of these are true if YOU own your coins in a true peer-to-peer manner, but few do. But this is also true of paper dollars, gold bars, safe deposit boxes, and everything else of value. This accounts for some of the variety of opinions on the safety of Bitcoin. So if Polinex or Coinbase gets “hacked” it doesn’t mean “Bitcoin” was hacked any more than if the Comex or MF Global fails, that corn or Yen were “hacked”. The exchange is not Bitcoin: it’s the exchange. There are exchange risks and Bitcoin risks. Being a ledger Bitcoin is wide open and public. How would you hack it? You already have it. And so does everybody else.

So we’ve covered the main aspects of Bitcoin and why it is eligible to be money. Classically, money has these things:

1. Durable- the medium of exchange must not weather, rot, fall apart, or become unusable.

2. Portable- relative to its size, it must be easily movable and hold a large amount of value.

3. Divisible- it should be relatively easy to divide with all parts identical.

4. Intrinsically Valuable- should be valuable in itself and its value should be independent of any other object. Essentially, the item must be rare.

5. Money is a “Unit of Account”, that is, people measure other things, time and value, using the units of value to THINK about the world, and thus is an part of psychology. Strangely that makes this both the weakest and strongest aspect of:

6. “The Network Effect”. Its social and monetary inertia. That is, it’s money to you because you believe other people will accept it in exchange.

The Score:

1. Bitcoin is durable and anti-fragile. As long as there is an Internet – or even without one – it can continue to exist without decay, written on a clay tablet with a stylus.

2. Bitcoin is more portable than anything on earth. A single number — which can be memorized – can transport $160B across a border with only your mind, or across the world on the Internet. Its portability is not subject to any inspection or confiscation, unlike silver, gold, or diamonds.

3. Bitcoin is not infinitely divisible, but neither is gold or silver, which have a discrete number of atoms. At the moment the smallest Bitcoin denomination or “Satoshi” is 0.00000001 Bitcoin or about a millionth of a penny. That’s pretty small, but with a software change it can become smaller. In that way, Bitcoin, subject only to math is MORE divisible than silver or gold, and far easier. As numbers all Bitcoin are exactly the same.

4. Bitcoin has intrinsic value. Actually, the problem is NOTHING has “intrinsic” value. Things have value only because they are useful to yourself personally or because someone else wants them. Water is valuable on a desert island and gold is worthless. In fact, gold has few uses and is fundamentally a rock we dig up from one hole to bury in another, yet we say it has “intrinsic” value – which is good as Number 4 said it had to be unrelated to any other object, i.e. useless. Bitcoin and Gold are certainly useless. Like gold, Bitcoin may not have “Intrinsic value” but it DOES have intrinsic cost, that is, the cost in time and energy it took to mine it. Like gold, Bitcoin has a cost to mine measurable in BTU’s. As nothing has value outside of human action, you can’t say the electric cost in dollars is a price-floor, but suggests a floor, and that would be equally true of gold, silver, copper, etc. In fact, Bitcoin is more rare than Rhodium: we mine rare metals at 2%/year while the number of Bitcoins stops at 22 Million. Strangely, due to math, computer digits are made harder to get and have than real things.

5. Bitcoin is a unit of account. As a psychological effect, it’s difficult to quantify. Which comes first, the use of a thing, or its pricing? Neither, they grow together as one replaces another, side-by-side. This happened when gold replaced iron or salt or when bank notes replaced physical gold, or even when the U.S. moved from Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents. At first it was adopted by a few, but managed to get a critical mass, accepted, and eventually adopted by the population and entirely forgotten. At the moment Bitcoin enthusiasts do in fact mentally price things in Bitcoins, especially on exchanges where cross-crypto prices are marked vs BTC. Some never use their home currency at all, living entirely according to crypto-prices until home conversion at the moment of sale, or as hundreds or thousands of businesses are now accepting cryptocurrencies, even beyond. For them it is a unit of account the way Fahrenheit is a unit within the United States.

6. Bitcoin has the network effect. That is, it is widely accepted and publicly considered money. It’s in the news, has a wide following worldwide, and exchanges are signing up 40,000 new users a month. It’s accepted by thousands of vendors and can be used for purchases at Microsoft, Tesla, PayPal, Overstock, or with some work, Amazon. It’s translatable through point-of-sale vendor Square, and from many debit card providers such as Shift. At this point it is already very close to being money, i.e. a commonly accepted good. Note that without special arrangements none of these vendors will accept silver coins, nor price products in them. I expect if Mark Dice offered a candy bar, a silver bar, or a Bitcoin barcode, more people would pick the Bitcoin. In that way Bitcoin is more money than gold and silver are. You could say the same thing about Canadian Dollars or Thai Bhat: they’re respected currencies, but not accepted by everyone, everywhere. For that matter, neither are U.S. dollars.

 

Note what is not on the list: money is not a unit created or regulated by a central authority, although governments would like us to think so. In fact, no central authority is necessary or even desirable. For centuries the lack of monetary authority was historic fact, back with medieval markets through to private banks, until 1913, 1933, 1971, and the modern evolution into today’s near-total digital fiat. Besides the technical challenge, eliminating their overhead, oversight, control and corruption is the point of Bitcoin. And right now the government’s response to Bitcoin is a strange mixture of antipathy, ignorance, oppression, and opportunity. At $160 Billion it hardly merits the interest of a nation with a $500 Billion trade deficit, and that’s spread worldwide.

This leads into one of the spurious claims on Bitcoin: that it’s a refuge for drug smugglers and illegal activities. I assure you mathematically, that is not true. According to the U.N. the world drug trade is $435B, 4 times the total, and strictly theoretical value of Bitcoin, coins locked, lost, and all. Besides if you owned $160B coins, who would you transfer them to? You’re the only user. $435B/year can only be trafficked by major banks like as HSBC, who have paid public fines because money flows that large can’t be hidden. This is so well-known the U.N. suggested the drug-money flows may be one reason global banks were solvent in ‘08. Even $160B misrepresents Bitcoin because it had a 10-fold increase this year alone. So imagine $16B total market cap. That’s half the size of the yearly budget of Los Angeles, one city. Even that overstates it, because through most of its life it’s been around $250, so imagine a $4B market cap, the budget of West Virginia.

So you’re a drug dealer in illicit trades and you sell to your customers because all your buyers have Bitcoin accounts? Your pushers have street terminals? This doesn’t make sense. And remember as much as the price of Bitcoin has risen 40-fold, the number of participants has too. Even now, even with Coinbase, even with Dell and Overstock, even with BTC $10,000 almost no one has Bitcoin, even in N.Y.C. or S.F.. So who are these supposed illegal people with illegal activities that couldn’t fit any significant value?

That’s not to say illegal activities don’t happen, but it’s the other half of the spurious argument to say people don’t do illegal acts using cash, personal influence, offshore havens, international banks like Wells Fargo, or lately, Amazon Gift Cards and Tide Detergent. As long as there is crime, mediums of value will be used to pay for it. But comparing Bitcoin with a $16B market cap to the existing banking system which the U.N. openly declares is being supported by the transfer of illicit drug funds is insanity.

Let’s look at it another way: would you rather: a) transfer drugs using cash or secret bank records that can be erased or altered later or b) an public worldwide record of every transaction, where if one DEA bust could get your codes, they could be tracked backwards some distance through the buy chain? I thought so. Bitcoin is the LEAST best choice for illegal activities, and at the personal level where we’re being accused, it’s even worse than cash.

We showed that Bitcoin can be money, but we already have a monetary and financial system. What you’re talking about is building another system next to the existing one, and doubling the costs and confusions. That’s great as a mental exercise but why would anyone do that?

In a word: 2008.

It’s probably not an accident Bitcoin arrived immediately after the Global Financial Crisis. The technology to make it possible existed even on IRC chat boards, but human attention wasn’t focused on solving a new problem using computer software until the GFC captured the public imagination, and hackers started to say, “This stinks. This system is garbage. How do we fix this?” And with no loyalty to the past, but strictly on a present basis, built the best mousetrap. How do we know it’s a better mousetrap? Easy. If it isn’t noticeably better than the existing system, no one will bother and it will remain an interesting novelty stored in some basements, like Confederate Dollars and Chuck-e-Cheez tokens. To have any chance of succeeding, it has to work better, good enough to overcome the last most critical aspect money has: Inertia.

So given that Bitcoin is unfamiliar, less accepted, harder to use, costs real money to keep online, why does it keep gaining traction, and rising in price with increasing speed? No one would build a Bitcoin. Ever. No one would ever use a Bitcoin. Ever. It’s too much work and too much nuisance. Like any product, they would only use Bitcoin because it solves expensive problems confronting us each day. The only chance Bitcoin would have is if our present system failed us, and fails more every day. They, our present system-keepers, are the ones who are giving Bitcoin exponentially more value. They are the ones who could stop Bitcoin and shut it down by fixing the present, easy, familiar system. But they won’t.

 

Where has our present system gone wrong? The criticisms of the existing monetary system are short but glaring. First, everyone is disturbed by the constant increase in quantity. And this is more than an offhand accusation. In 2007 the Fed had $750B in assets. In 2017 they have $4.7 Trillion, a 7-fold increase. Where did that money come from? Nowhere. They printed it up, digitally.

 

 

The TARP audit ultimately showed $23 trillion created. Nor was the distribution the same. Who received the money the Fed printed? Bondholders, Large Corporations, Hedge Funds and the like. Pa’s Diner? Not so much. So unlike Bitcoin, there not only was a sudden, secret, unapproved, unexpected, unaccountable increase in quantity, but little to no chance for the population to also “mine” some of these new “coins”. Which leads to this:

 

 

Near-perfect income disparity, with near-perfect distribution of new “coins” to those with access to the “development team”, and zero or even negative returns for those without inside access. Does this seem like a winning model you could sell to the public? Nor is this unique to the U.S.; Japan had long ago put such methods to use, and by 2017 the Bank of Japan owns a mind-bending 75% of Japanese ETFs:

 

 

So this unelected, unaccountable bank, which creates its coin from nothing without limit or restraint, now owns 75% of the actual hard labor, assets, indeed, the entire wealth HISTORY of Japan? It took from the Edo Period in 1603 through Japan-takes-the-world 1980s until 2017 to create the wealth of Japan, and Kuroda only 6 years to buy it all? What madness is this?

Nor is Europe better. Mario Draghi has now printed so much money, he has run out of bonds to buy. This is in a Eurozone with a debt measuring Trillions, with $10 Trillion of that yielding negative rates. That’s a direct transfer from all savers to all debtors, and still the economy is sinking fast. Aside from how via these bonds, the ECB came to own all the houses, businesses, and governments of Europe in a few short years, does this sound like a business model you want to participate in?

So the volume of issuance is bad, and unfairness of who the coins are issued to is as bad as humanly possible, giving incredible advantages to issuers to transfer all wealth to themselves, either new or existing.

But if the currency is functional day-to-day, surely the issuance can be overlooked. Is it? Inflation is devilishly hard to measure, but here’s a chart of commodities:

 

 

CPI:

 

 

The US Dollar:

 

 

or vs Gold (/silver):

 

 

Does that look stable to you? And not that Bitcoin is stable, but at least Bitcoin goes UP at the same rate these charts are going DOWN. One store coupon declines in value at 4% a year, or may even start negative, while the other gives steady gains to loyal customers. Which business model would you prefer?

But that’s not all.

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1

Chapter 3 will follow shortly.

 

 

Dec 052017
 
 December 5, 2017  Posted by at 12:14 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Gustave Courbet The wave 1869

 

 

A while ago, I asked a regular commenter at the Automatic Earth, who goes by the moniker Dr. D, to try and write an article for us. Not long after, I received no less than 31 pages, and an even 12345 words. Way too long for today’s digital attention spans. We decided to split it into 5 chapters. After we work through those 5, we’ll post it as one piece as well. Dr. D, who insists on sticking with his nom de plume, picked his own topic, and it’s -fittingly- bitcoin. A topic about which one can cover a lot of ground in 12345 words.

Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t throw in my own two Satoshis: Dr. D claims that “..everyone has an equal opportunity to solve the next calculation..”, but while that may perhaps have been sort of true at the very start, it isn’t now. It’s not true for the computerless or computer-illiterate, for those too poor to afford the electricity required by bitcoin mining, and for various other -very large- groups of people.

The equal opportunity idea sounds nice, but I think bitcoin runs the risk of creating just another set of elites, while reinforcing existing elites, who can afford to either buy bitcoin at whatever price at some point in time, or spend large sums to build mining ‘installations’ in locations where electricity is cheap. And sure, there will be losers among elites too, but inequality itself will not change; only the faces of winners and losers will, while the world’s real losers will remain just that.

It’s nothing new of course, inequality is our society’s middle name, but maybe that is precisely the problem. Maybe bitcoin should have come with an inbuilt way to spread wealth, not just shift it around.

Then again, it may all just be a giant bubble. Or a bubble inside a bubble inside a bubble.

 

Here’s your Dr.:

 

 

Dr. D: Bitcoin is all the rage today, and as it crosses over $10,000, a 10-bagger for the year, we should look at what it is, what it isn’t, and why it’s become so popular. Note my observations are those of a layman – which may be more useful than those of a programmer – but also those of a skeptic, which I’ll get to at the end.

First, what is Bitcoin? Well, the idea of digital money goes back to the first digits, financial mainframes. In fact, the “money” in use today throughout the financial system have long been no more than virtual 1’s and 0’s on a spinning hard drive somewhere, but the idea of Bitcoin-money, private-money, goes back further still. I mean, what is “money”? At its core, it’s no more than the most-tradable good in a given society, a trading chit we use as a measurement tool, a token recording how much value we created or are owed. Arguably the first money was not gold, not seashells or even barter, but a promise. Let me borrow your net and I’ll give you a couple fish from the work. Why? Because you might break the net or I might use it, so I need to get paid for my risk, reward for my effort in making and storing the net to begin with.

So money at its most austere is simply a promise. But a promise to whom for what? And that’s the problem. No matter what good you use, people place differing values on it, different time-preferences, and most especially ways to cheat, game the system, and renege. This is bad among businesses, banks – who are after all only men – especially bad among governments, but worst of all among government and banks combined. Because, should the banks lie, renege, default, abuse their privilege, who then would hold them to task?

In the past, over and over, groups have created their own “money”. The whole 19th century was marked by general stores extending credit, bank notes issued by thousands of private banks, each with their own strength and solvency and geography and discounted accordingly. In the 20th century, with central banks controlling money, many cities issued local “scrip” – promises to pay – in Detroit in the Depression, or California in the budget crunch of 2009, or “Ithaca Dollars” in NY as a sort of ongoing Ivy League experiment. But the problem with these only highlight the problems with money generally:who can issue them? Everyone? A central authority? Can they deliver goods? And what can they buy, not just in value but in location?

Ithaca Dollars or California Tax Vouchers are not much good to buy oil from Texas or tea from China. People will always prefer a good that is accepted everywhere, with no decay and no discount, because ultimately the money flows away, offshore or to central taxation, which makes local currencies ever-less valuable. But even if successful it leads to a new set of problems: if Detroit or Ithaca Dollars were in high demand, there would be ever-stronger incentive to counterfeit, cheat, and double-spend them. Thus from the Renaissance to now we used reputable banks backed by force of governments, through the Gold standard and the Fiat age until today.

Enter the hackers.

It’s not that these problems are unknown, or haven’t been approached or attempted before. Every generation, when they find the banks + government take a percentage for their costs to insure the system, thinks how can we do away with these guys, who both take too much and end up in an unapproachable seat of power? I mean, aren’t we supposed to be a Democracy? How can we have a fair society if the Iron Bank is both backing all governments at once, on both sides of a war? What good is it to work if compounding interest invariably leads to their winning Boardwalk and Park Place 100% of the time? But despite several digital attempts – some immediately shut down by government – no one had a solution until Satoshi Nakamoto.

We don’t know who Satoshi Nakamoto is, but since several of the well-meaning developers were immediately jailed for even attempting private money on reasons arguably groundless, we can suppose he had good incentive to remain anonymous. And speculation aside, it doesn’t matter: Satoshi’s addition was not “Bitcoin” per se, but simply an idea that made private currency possible. The domain Bitcoin.org was registered in 2008, showing intent, and the open-source code was promoted to a small cryptography group in January 2009. But what was it? What did it solve?

Double-spending. Basically, the problem of money comes down to trust. Trust between individuals, between the system, but also partly trust in non-interference of governments or other powerful groups. Bitcoin is a trust machine.

How does it work? Well, the basic problem of cheating was one of not creating fake, hidden registers of value, as the U.S. Government, J.P. Morgan, and the Comex do every day. If they asked Yellen to type some extra zeros on the U.S. ledger, print a few pallets of $100 bills to send to Ukraine, who would know? Who could stop them? So with Bitcoin, the “value”, the register is created by essentially solving a math problem, akin to discovering prime numbers. Why do something so pointless? Simple: math doesn’t lie. Unlike U.S. Dollars, there are only so many prime numbers. We can be certain you won’t reach 11-digits and discover an unexpected trove of a thousand primes in the row. Can’t happen. However useless, Math is certainty. In this case, math is also limited. It’s also known and provable, unlike the U.S. budget or Federal Reserve accounting.

The second problem of cheating was someone simply claiming chits they did not own. This was solved by having the participants talk back and forth with each other, creating a public record or ledger. In fact, Bitcoin is nothing more than a very, very long accounting ledger of where every coin came from, and how every coin has moved since then, something computers do very well. These accounting lines register amongst all participants using a process of confirmed consensus.

Double-spending is when someone writes a check either against money they don’t have (yet) and round-robin in the money for the one second of clearing, or else write a check against money they DO have, but then cancel the check before it clears, walking away with the goods. In a standard commerce, the bank backfills fraud and loss and the government arrests, tries, and imprisons people, but it’s no small cost to do so. Although there is still a small possibility of double-spending, Satoshi’s plan effectively closed the issue: the ledger is either written, or unwritten. There is no time in the middle to exploit.

 

Great for him, but if I buy coins by Satoshi and the original cryptogroup, won’t I just be transferring all my value to make them rich? Although Bitcoin supply may be limited by mathematics, this is the issuer problem. It is solved because as a free, open source code, everyone has an equal opportunity to solve the next calculation. Bitcoin starts with the original 50 coins mined in 2009, so yes, early adopters get more: but they took more risk and trouble back when it was a novelty valuable only as proof-of-concept. The original cash transaction was between hackers to buy two pizzas for 10,000 BTC ($98M today). Why shouldn’t they get preference? At the same time, we are not buying all 20 Million eventual coins from Satoshi and his close friends, which is arguably the case with the Federal Reserve and other central banks. Bitcoin is bought and created from equal participants who have been actively mining as the coins appear, that is, from doing electronic work.

This leads to the next challenge: why would anyone bother keeping their computers on to process this increasingly long accounting ledger? Electricity isn’t free. The process of “mining” is the recording of Bitcoin transactions. The discovery of coins therefore effectively pays for the time and trouble of participating in a public accounting experiment. Even should that stop, the act of using Bitcoin itself cannot be accomplished without turning on a node and adding lines to process the ledger. So we can reasonably expect that people will keep Bitcoin software “on” to help us all get Bitcoin work done. That’s why it’s a group project: public domain shareware.

What if they shut it down? What if it’s hacked? This leads to the next problem: resiliency. You have to go back a step and understand what Bitcoin is: a ledger. Anyone can store one, and in fact participants MUST store one. If Bitcoin were “shut off” as it were, it would be stored with each and every miner until they turned their computers back on. If it’s “off” there’s no problem, because no one transferred any Bitcoin. If it’s “on” then people somewhere are recording transactions. Think of it like a bowling group keeping a yearly prize of the ugliest shirt. Is there an actual shirt? No, the shirt is not the prize. Is there a gold trophy? No, “prize” is simply the knowledge of who won it. There is no “there”, no physical object at all. Strangely, that’s why it works.

 

This is important for the next problem: intervention. Many private monies have been attempted, notably e-gold within Bitcoin’s own origin. But the problem was, if there was anything real, like a gold bar, it could be encumbered, confiscated, and stolen. You’d have to trust the vault, the owner, the auditor and we’re back in the old system. At the same time, if Satoshi were keeping the Bitcoin record and had any human power over it at all, government could imprison him, pass a law, create a cease-and-desist, or demand he tamper with the record, which they did with e-gold. But Satoshi does not have that power, and no one else does either.

Why? Precisely because Bitcoin DOESN’T exist. It’s not a real thing. Or rather, the only “real” thing is the ledger itself which is already public to everyone everywhere. You can’t demand the secret keys to Bitcoin privacy because it’s already completely, entirely public. What would a government demand? Suppose they ordered a miner to alter the record: the other miners would instantly reject it and it would fail. Suppose they confiscated the ledger: they now own what everyone already has. Suppose they unplugged it: they would have to unplug the entire internet, and everything else on it, or every Bitcoin node, one-by-one, worldwide. If any nodes were ever turned on, all Bitcoin would exist again.

Can they track them down? Not really. In theory, Bitcoin can be written on paper without an Internet. In practice, any public or private keys certainly can be. So even chasing down the Internet it would be very difficult to stop it given sufficient motivation, like the Venezuelan hyperinflation where they are chasing down miners, wallets, and participants, and failing despite overwhelming force.

What about privacy? A completely public ledger recording every person and every transaction seems like a police state’s dream of enforcement and taxation. Is it private? Yes and no. The Bitcoin ledger is not written like “Senator Smith spent .0001 BTC on August 21st, 2015 to buy a sex toy from Guangzhou,” but Wallet #Hash2# transferred .00017 BTC to wallet #Hash3# at UTC 13:43:12 21:11:2017 – or not even that: it’s encrypted. Who is #Hash2#? You can go back, but it will only say #Hash2# exists and was created on Time:Date. Who is #Hash3#? The ledger only says #Hash3# was created a minute ago to receive the transaction. In fact, #Hash2# may have been created solely to mask the coin transferred from #Hash1#. So is it anonymous? Not exactly. Given enough nodes, enough access to the world’s routers, enough encryption, you might see #Hash2# was created in Pawtucket, and if #Hash2# is not using active countermeasures, perhaps begin to bring a cloudy metadata of #Hash2# possible transactions into focus, tying it to Amazon, then a home address, but the time and resources required to break through would be astronomical.

What about theft? Yes, like anything else it can be stolen. If you break into my house and tie me up, you can probably get the keys. This is also true online as you must log on, type a password that can be logged on a screen that can be logged over a network that can be logged, but think again about what you’re doing: does it make sense to break into every participant’s computer one by one? Most Bitcoin is held by a few early adopters, and probably those wallets were lost when their hard drives crashed, the users lost their passwords, or died before this computer experiment had any value. We know for a fact that all of Satoshi’s original coins, 2.2 million of them, have NEVER been spent, never moved on the ledger, suggesting either death or the austerity of a saint.

So even today hacking a wallet, is far more likely to net $1.00 than $1M. Take a page from Willie Sutton: when asked why he robbed banks, he said, “that’s where the money is.” So today. Where is the real money stolen, transferred? From the ’08 bailout, the kiting of fake bonds in the market, the MF Globals, the rigging of LIBOR or the fake purchase of EU bonds. You know, where the money is. At $160B market cap, Bitcoin is still one week’s purchase of central bank bond buying, i.e. a rounding error, no money at all. Hack a home wallet? I guess, but hacking Uber or Equifax once is a lot easier than hacking 100,000 wallets on 100,000 different computers. At least you know you’ll get something.

But MT Gox was hacked and 650,000 coins went missing. Surely Coinbase, Gemini, Poloniex are the same. Well…not exactly.

 

 

Check in for Chapter 2 tomorrow.

 

 

Oct 072017
 
 October 7, 2017  Posted by at 8:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Landscape at twilight 1890

 

BLS Caught Fabricating Wage Data (ZH)
Tropical Storm Nate Heads Into The Heart Of US Offshore Oil Industry (CNBC)
It’s ‘Crunch Time’ For Australian Households (BI)
JPMorgan Paid Fine for 2008 Mortgage Crisis With .. Phony Mortgages (N.)
EU Official Warns War a Possibility in Catalonia (VoA)
Spain Apologizes, Tone Softens In Catalonia Independence Crisis (R.)
OECD New Approaches to Economic Challenges (Steve Keen)
Mainstream Economists Live In A Parallel Universe (Ren.)
Light It Up (Jim Kunstler)
Russiagate Is More Fiction Than Fact (Nation)
Your Local Bank Could Be the Central Bank (BBG)
US Escalates Trade Dispute With UK And Canada Over Bombardier (G.)
Canada Will Pay Compensation To Thousands Of Indigenous ‘Stolen Children’ (R.)
FDP Chief Says Schaeuble ‘Not Tough Enough’ On Greece (K.)
Greece’s Ruling Syriza Party Falls Apart (K.)
Overcrowded Greek Refugee Camps Ill-Prepared For Winter: UNHCR (R.)

 

 

And loses 33,000 jobs while unemployment falls?! And 935,000 full time jobs are added. Time to stop paying any attention to the B(L)S. You can’t trust it.

BLS Caught Fabricating Wage Data (ZH)

[..] the BLS reported that the annual increase in Average Weekly Earnings was a whopping 2.9%, above the 2.5% expected, and above the 2.5% reported last month. On the surface this was a great number, as the 2.9% annual increase – whether distorted by hurricanes or not – was the highest since the financial crisis. However, a problem emerges when one looks just one month prior, at the revised August data. What one sees here, as Andrew Zatlin of South Bay Research first noted, is that while the Total Private Average Weekly Earnings line posted another solid increase of 0.2% month over month, an upward revision from the previous month’s 0.1%, when one looks at the components, it become clear that the BLS fabricated the numbers, and may simply hard-coded its spreadsheet with the intention of goalseeking a specific number.

Presenting Exhibit 1: Table B-3 in today’s jobs report. What it shows is that whereas there was a sequential decline in the Average Weekly Earnings for Goods Producing and Private Service-producing industries which are the only two sub-components of the Total Private Line (and are circled in red on the table below) of -0.8% and -0.1% respectively, the BLS also reported that somehow, the total of these two declines was a 0.2% increase! Another way of showing the July to August data: • Goods-Producing Weekly Earnings declined -0.8% from $1,118.68 to $1,109.92 • Private Service-Providing Weekly Earnings declined -0.1% from $868.80 to $868.18 • And yet, Total Private Hourly Earnings rose 0.2% from $907.82 to $909.19. What the above shows is, in a word, impossible: one can not have the two subcomponents of a sum-total decline, while the total increases. The math does not work.

This, as Zatlin notes, undermines not only the labor inflation narrative, but it puts into question the rest of the overall labor data, and whether there are other politically-motivated, goalseeked “spreadsheet” errors. We have sent an email to the BLS seeking an explanation for the above data fabrication, meanwhile here is what likely happened: a big, juicy fat-finger error, whether on purpose or otherwise because if one looks at the finalized July weekly earnings of $907.82, it’s precisely the same as what the August preliminary wage number was as released last month, also $907.82. For the excel fans out there, it means that the August totals were simply hard coded when the BLS shifted cells in the spreadsheet, becoming July.

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Will probably be a Cat 2-3 hurricane by then.

Tropical Storm Nate Heads Into The Heart Of US Offshore Oil Industry (CNBC)

As Tropical Storm Nate continued on its course toward the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, energy companies shut down offshore oil and gas platforms, while Louisiana braced for a potential hurricane. Nate is forecast to strengthen as it enters the Gulf and develop into a hurricane by the time it reaches the northern Gulf Coast on Saturday evening, the National Hurricane Center said Friday. Hurricane and storm surge watches are in effect for southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans, through the Mississippi-Alabama border. The Gulf is home to nearly one-fifth of all U.S. oil output. Drillers who pump crude from offshore platforms have lately produced at record levels above 1.7 million barrels a day. The region already had to contend with Hurricane Harvey in August.

“The major difference between Harvey and Nate is that the trajectory of Nate brings it right through the heart of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil and gas producing region,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. BP and Chevron are ceasing production on all platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, Reuters reported. Royal Dutch Shell and Anadarko Petroleum dialed back activity, while Exxon Mobil, Statoil and others are withdrawing workers. If Nate develops into a Category 2 or 3 hurricane, it could impact up to 80% of the Gulf’s output, Lipow forecast. The storm also has the potential to affect about 15% of U.S. refining capacity in the New Orleans area, Mississippi and Alabama. The region’s biggest refineries include Exxon Mobil’s Baton Rouge facility and Marathon Petroleum’s Garyville, Louisiana, plant, both capable of turning out more than 500,000 barrels a day.

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A whole nation full of debt slaves in denial. And not the only nation either.

It’s ‘Crunch Time’ For Australian Households (BI)

Australian households are in a vulnerable financial position, especially those who have taken out a mortgage. And in an era of weak incomes growth, soaring energy prices and high levels of indebtedness, with the prospect of higher interest rates on the way, many intend to cut discretionary spending in anticipation of even tighter household budgets. That’s the finding of the latest AlphaWise survey conducted by Morgan Stanley, which paints an unsettling picture on the outlook for not only Australia’s retail sector, but also the broader economy. Yes, the weakness in retail sales over the past two months may soon become entrenched. The “crunch time” for Australian households, as Morgan Stanley puts it, has begun. “In early June, we expressed the view that the Australian consumer faces a domestic cash flow and credit crunch,” the bank wrote in a note released this week.

“Income growth has not recovered, ‘cost of living’ inflation is re-accelerating and ‘macro-prudential’-related tightening of credit conditions is extending from housing into consumer finance.” In order to test how households may respond to higher interest rates, whether as a result of macroprudential measures to slow investor and interest-only housing credit growth or official moves from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Morgan Stanley conducted a national survey of 1,836 mortgagors to identify household conditions during late July and early August. Australia’s 2016 census found that 34.5% of households were currently paying off a mortgage. Morgan Stanley says the survey was designed to provide insight into the health of the household balance sheet, including their spending intentions as a result of higher mortgage rates. The news was not good.

“Findings from the AlphaWise survey confirm the stresses in the consumer sector we have been highlighting for some time now,” it says. “Most households have minimal buffers against a shock to their income, and expect to respond to higher debt servicing costs by drawing down on savings and cutting back on expenditure. “Other sectors of the economy may be able to offset some of the headline weakness, but the concentrated exposure of the household sector and economy to an extended housing market is posing an increasingly important structural and cyclical risk to consumer spending.” Of those households surveyed, 54% said they intended to cut back on expenditure in response to higher interest rates, with a further 25% planning to draw down on their savings to cope with higher servicing costs, a pattern that has been seen in Australia’s savings ratio which fell to a post-GFC low in the June quarter.

Somewhat alarmingly, 40% of those surveyed indicated that they did not save at all over the past year, particularly among low-income households. [..] “Only around 13% of respondents expect to be able to save more in the next 12 months..”

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Read the whole thing. It’s completely insane.

JPMorgan Paid Fine for 2008 Mortgage Crisis With .. Phony Mortgages (N.)

You know the old joke: How do you make a killing on Wall Street and never risk a loss? Easy—use other people’s money. Jamie Dimon and his underlings at JPMorgan Chase have perfected this dark art at America’s largest bank, which boasts a balance sheet one-eighth the size of the entire US economy. After JPMorgan’s deceitful activities in the housing market helped trigger the 2008 financial crash that cost millions of Americans their jobs, homes, and life savings, punishment was in order. Among a vast array of misconduct, JPMorgan engaged in the routine use of “robo-signing,” which allowed bank employees to automatically sign hundreds, even thousands, of foreclosure documents per day without verifying their contents.

But in the United States, white-collar criminals rarely go to prison; instead, they negotiate settlements. Thus, on February 9, 2012, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the National Mortgage Settlement, which fined JPMorgan Chase and four other mega-banks a total of $25 billion. JPMorgan’s share of the settlement was $5.3 billion, but only $1.1 billion had to be paid in cash; the other $4.2 billion was to come in the form of financial relief for homeowners in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. The settlement called for JPMorgan to reduce the amounts owed, modify the loan terms, and take other steps to help distressed Americans keep their homes. A separate 2013 settlement against the bank for deceiving mortgage investors included another $4 billion in consumer relief.

A Nation investigation can now reveal how JPMorgan met part of its $8.2 billion settlement burden: by using other people’s money. Here’s how the alleged scam worked. JPMorgan moved to forgive the mortgages of tens of thousands of homeowners; the feds, in turn, credited these canceled loans against the penalties due under the 2012 and 2013 settlements. But here’s the rub: In many instances, JPMorgan was forgiving loans on properties it no longer owned. The alleged fraud is described in internal JPMorgan documents, public records, testimony from homeowners and investors burned in the scam, and other evidence presented in a blockbuster lawsuit against JPMorgan, now being heard in US District Court in New York City.

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Big demos today against Catalans.

EU Official Warns War a Possibility in Catalonia (VoA)

The team captain of Spain’s storied football club Barcelona, which has become a focal point of secessionist Catalan sentiment, is urging politicians in Madrid and the Catalan capital to start negotiating about the future of Spain’s restive northeast province. “Before we do ourselves more damage, those in charge must open dialogue with each other. Do it for all of us. We deserve to live in peace,” Andrés Iniesta wrote on his Facebook page, apologizing at the same time for weighing in on “situations that are complex.” His appeal came as a top EU official Thursday warned that the separatist dispute, exacerbated by Catalan secessionists holding an illegal independence referendum Sunday, risks escalating into armed conflict.

“The position is very, very alarming. Civil war is conceivable there, in the middle of Europe,” Gunther Oettinger, the Germany EU commissioner said at an event in Munich. Oettinger and the EU Commission, the European bloc’s governing body, which fears Catalan independence might stir up separatism elsewhere in Europe, have also urged the authorities in Madrid and Barcelona to start negotiations and to avoid further provocations. But there are little signs of that happening. Both sides appear to be standing firm in Spain’s worst constitutional crisis since an attempted coup in 1981. [..] Nationalist sentiment is deepening fast: in Madrid observers have noted more buildings are sporting the Spanish national flag. Spaniards have long harbored an historical fear of dismemberment – Catalan nationalist sentiment was a key factor behind the Spanish civil war of the 1930s.

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Wonder how long that holds.

Spain Apologizes, Tone Softens In Catalonia Independence Crisis (R.)

Spain apologized on Friday for a violent police crackdown on Catalonia’s independence referendum, in a conciliatory gesture as both sides looked for a way out of the nation’s worst political crisis since it became a democracy four decades ago. Spain’s representative in northeast Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, made the apology just as Catalonia’s secessionist leader appeared to inch away from a plan to declare independence as early as Monday. “When I see these images, and more so when I know people have been hit, pushed and even one person who was hospitalized, I can’t help but regret it and apologize on behalf of the officers that intervened,” Enric Millo said in a television interview.

[..] Moments earlier, a Catalan parliament spokeswoman said the regional government’s leader, Carles Puigdemont, had asked to address lawmakers on Tuesday, in timing that appeared at odds with earlier plans to move an independence motion on Monday. Puigdemont wanted to speak on the “political situation”. The softer tone contrasted with remarks earlier on Friday from Catalonia’s head of foreign affairs who told BBC radio it would go ahead with an independence debate in the regional parliament. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has offered all-party political talks to find a solution, opening the door to a deal giving Catalonia more autonomy. But he has ruled out independence and rejected a Catalan proposal for international mediation.

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Steve in the lion’s den. “The OECD was one of the formal economic policy groups that wildly misinterpreted the economic data of 2007..”

OECD New Approaches to Economic Challenges (Steve Keen)

This is one of the highlights so far of my life as a rebel economist: giving an invited talk at the OECD. The OECD was one of the formal economic policy groups that wildly misinterpreted the economic data of 2007, believing that it heralded “sustained growth in OECD economies … underpinned by strong job creation and falling unemployment.” Five years later, they established the New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) initiative, and they’re trying to expand the horizons of economics beyond the narrow and fallacious confines of Neoclassical economics. Being invited to speak there, and getting such a positive reception from OECD Ambassadors, confirmed my belief that if change is to come in economics, it will come from formal economic bodies (the OECD, IMF, Central Banks and Treasuries) rather than university departments.

Formal bodies have to wear the consequences of being wrong about the economy, whereas Neoclassical-dominated university departments can retreat into isolation when the real world fails to conform to their fantasies about it. Nothing is certain however. The desire to fall back into ideologically comfortable but practically false ways of thinking about the economic system is strong. Groups like NAEC within the OECD need support, and they themselves need to support the young students in Rethinking Economics, who are far more amenable to a new paradigm than their hidebound academic instructors in the major Universities.

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“Neoclassical economists are not experts on money but experts in finding reasons to believe you can model capitalism as though money banks and debt don’t exist. “And then you give them the right to control the banking system.”

Mainstream Economists Live In A Parallel Universe (Ren.)

Neoclassical economic theory claims that the human being is a rational self-serving profit maximising unit. It claims to prove the market can handle anything. Classical economists model the economy based on the concept of rational consumers maximising utility and firms maximising profits. Their vision of the world claims that equilibrium is reached and the world functions best if there is no government, no trade unions and no monopolies. Professor Keen says mainstream economist change reality to fit their model. University campuses used to be about education, challenging people exposing them to ideas they didn’t necessarily have in the first instance. But Professor Keen says economics actually leads away from this possibility. “Economics starts by inculcating a view of how you should think about the economy that rules out a whole range of alternatives,” he said.

“It rules out thinking about the sort of work that I do, working from the top down, looking at the overall economy and modelling that way. They say ‘no, you’ve got to start from the isolated individual and you have to talk about individuals for maximising utility’. We’re talking about them as consumers or firms who are maximising profits. “In their mind that is the definition of a perfectly functioning system, but it is not the definition of the world in which we live. “Once you’ve got the mathematical structure of trying to do that, you have a very hard time treating anything else as a sensible analysis of capitalism. They rule out a whole lot of other ways of thinking.”

[..] “Imagine capitalism with no banks, no debt, and no money,” says Professor Keen. “You’re getting pretty close to being a neoclassical economist.” “Neoclassical economists are not experts on money but experts in finding reasons to believe you can model capitalism as though money banks and debt don’t exist. “And then you give them the right to control the banking system.”

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“..with half of the flyover population in an opiate daze, and chain-stores shuttering to the tune of 10,000 this year, and car leases expiring into a car market dependent on liar loans bundled into janky securities, and the debt problem festering away like a something dead under the floor boards.”

Light It Up (Jim Kunstler)

Grinning like Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, the Golden Golem of Greatness pronounced this interval of fine fall weather “the calm before the storm.” Hmmmm. Talk about cryptic. This was less than a week after he verbally smacked down Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for “wasting his time” trying to diplomatically reach “Little Rocket Man… “ whereby Rex riposted, calling the President a “moron.” Ordinarily — say, during the past 220-odd years of this nation’s existence — talk like that would prompt a resignation (though, there are no other instances of talk like that). illerson must think that for the good of the country he can’t resign, and God knows what kind of desperate notes are being swapped around between the State Department and the Pentagon.

[..] We are entering a slot of time where an awful lot of things might go wrong. What gets me is seeing the stock markets make new record highs every other day, whether Puerto Rico is destroyed overnight or hundreds of people are shot in a Las Vegas parking lot — and notwithstanding the overall phony-baloney condition of the American economy, with half of the flyover population in an opiate daze, and chain-stores shuttering to the tune of 10,000 this year, and car leases expiring into a car market dependent on liar loans bundled into janky securities, and the debt problem festering away like a something dead under the floor boards. Some kind of financial accident with a this-sucker-is-going-down flavor feels like it’s waiting to happen.

I don’t think Trump was referring to that either, but what if it came down around the same moment that we decided to light up North Korea? Or, alternately, if Rex Tillerson, Mike Pence, and a score of other senior politicos decide that its time for Trump to go? The president is looking mighty friendless these days, and more than a little reckless. I mean, for the good of the country, ladies and gentlemen, what are they waiting for? Will his generals defend him? Nah. Fuggedabowdit. I wonder what the code-name for their action will be. Operation Moron Overboard? The whole spectacle is starting to look like a Coen Brothers movie. When the time comes, I hope they will make the documentary about these strange days of October, 2017.

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But it will just keep going.

Russiagate Is More Fiction Than Fact (Nation)

In the electrified aftermath of the election, aides to Hillary Clinton and Obama pored over polling numbers and turnout data, looking for clues to explain what they saw as an unnatural turn of events. One of the theories to emerge from their post-mortem was that Russian operatives who were directed by the Kremlin to support Trump may have taken advantage of Facebook and other social media platforms to direct their messages to American voters in key demographic areas in order to increase enthusiasm for Trump and suppress support for Clinton. These former advisers didn’t have hard evidence that Russian trolls were using Facebook to micro-target voters in swing districts—at least not yet—but they shared their theories with the House and Senate intelligence committees, which launched parallel investigations into Russia’s role in the presidential campaign in January.

The theories paid off. A personal visit in May by Democratic Senator Mark Warner, vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “spurred the company to make some changes in how it conducted its internal investigation.” Facebook’s announcement in August of finding 3,000 “likely” Russian ads is now an ongoing “scandal” that has dragged the company before Congressional committees. Other election threats loom. A recent front-page New York Times article linking Russian cyber operations to voting irregularities across the United States is headlined, “Russian Election Hacking Efforts, Wider Than Previously Known, Draw Little Scrutiny.” But read on and you’ll discover that there is no evidence of “Russian election hacking,” only evidence-free accusations of it.

Voting problems in Durham, North Carolina, “felt like tampering, or some kind of cyberattack,” election monitor Susan Greenhalgh says, and “months later…questions still linger about what happened that day in Durham as well as other counties in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Arizona.” There is one caveat: “There are plenty of other reasons for such breakdowns—local officials blamed human error and software malfunctions—and no clear-cut evidence of digital sabotage has emerged, much less a Russian role in it.” The evidence-free concern over Russian hacking expanded in late September when the Department of Homeland Security informed 21 states that they had been targeted by Russian cyber-operations during the 2016 election. But three states have already dismissed the DHS claims, including California, which announced that after seeking “further information, it became clear that DHS’s conclusions were wrong.” Recent elections in France and Germany saw similar fears of Russian hacking and disinformation—and similar results.

In France, a hack targeting the campaign of election winner Emmanuel Macron ended up having “no trace,” of Russian involvement, and “was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone,” the head of French cyber-security quietly explained after the vote. Germany faced an even more puzzling outcome: Nothing happened. “The apparent absence of a robust Russian campaign to sabotage the German vote has become a mystery among officials and experts who had warned of a likely onslaught,” the Post reported in an article headlined “As Germans prepare to vote, a mystery grows: Where are the Russians?” The mystery was so profound that The New York Times also explored it days later: “German Election Mystery: Why No Russian Meddling?”

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RIpping apart the blockchain.

Your Local Bank Could Be the Central Bank (BBG)

In practice it is difficult to envisage a sustainable digital currency that would not be accessible to all; cryptocurrencies are increasingly attractive to the general public. As for privacy, a decentralized ledger, on top of the security advantage it brings, makes the anonymity attached to cash transactions technically possible, and is thus nothing new. The BIS acknowledges as much: While it may look odd for a central bank to issue a cryptocurrency that provides anonymity, this is precisely what it does with physical currency, i.e. cash. Perhaps a key difference is that, with a retail CBCC, the provision of anonymity becomes a conscious decision.

Some might argue that an anonymous payment network would run against the current trend in anti-money-laundering regulation, where the origin of invested cash is carefully vetted to avoid criminal or tax evasion activities. Technically, there is nothing to prevent central bank digital currencies from being fully traceable. Even a decentralized ledger (where transactions are recorded digitally across many computers) only provides the potential for anonymity but does not guarantee it. But if there is no desire for anonymity, then there would be no need for the ledger to be decentralized. The logical outcome would be for central banks themselves to offer retail services, taking deposits from the general public. The BIS considers this possibility:

“We argue that the main benefit that a consumer-facing retail CBCC would offer, over the provision of public access to (centralized) central bank accounts, is that the former would have the potential to provide the anonymity of cash. In particular, peer-to-peer transfers allow anonymity vis-à-vis any third party. If third-party anonymity is not of sufficient importance to the public, then many of the alleged benefits of retail CBCCs can be achieved by giving broad access to accounts at the central bank.” A central bank e-minting monopoly would fundamentally change the structure of the banking system, leading to an increased monetary basis and seigniorage. Any temptation to abuse the enhanced minting monopolies would be reduced not by new technology but by the competitive alternatives offered by other countries’ digital currencies, or even, if necessary, old-fashioned valuable commodities.

The introduction of CBBCs that are traceable would also bring about a revolutionary transformation of the financial system architecture. This is, quite obviously, the opposite of the libertarian ideology underpinning the original cryptocurrencies. It would also accelerate the dismantling of the banking system as we know it. With central banks offering retail services, commercial banks would lose deposits, and with it their ability to lend. It would curtail or end the role of the money multiplier – whereby banks lend more than they receive in deposits, thus increasing the overall money supply – in the economy, and so necessitate massive monetary creation to maintain levels of liquidity in the market. Lending would increasingly be made by regulated specialized funds.

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Strange and ugly.

US Escalates Trade Dispute With UK And Canada Over Bombardier (G.)

The US has escalated its trade dispute with Britain and Canada by announcing plans to slap a further 80% duty on the export of planes built by Bombardier. The move follows complaints by Boeing that Canadian-owned Bombardier, which employs more than 4,000 people in Belfast, had dumped its C Series jets at “absurdly low” prices. Bombardier is facing a planned 220% tariff as part of a separate investigation, the US Department of Commerce confirmed. A second levy of 80% is also being applied to Bombardier’s sales to the US after a preliminary finding that the jets were sold below cost price to Delta Air Lines in 2016. Boeing claimed that 75 aircraft were sold at nearly £10.6m below cost price. Bombardier dismissed the claim as “absurd”. The company is due to begin delivering a blockbuster order for up to 125 new jets to Atlanta-based Delta next year.

The US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said: “The United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade with Canada, but this is not our idea of a properly functioning trading relationship. We will continue to verify the accuracy of this decision, while doing everything in our power to stand up for American companies and their workers.” [..] The proposed duties would not take effect unless affirmed by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) early next year. To win its case before the ITC, Boeing must prove it was harmed by Bombardier’s sales, despite not using one of its own jets to compete for the Delta order. Bombardier said it was confident that the ITC would find Boeing had not been harmed, calling the Department of Commerce decision a case of “egregious overreach”. Delta said the decision was preliminary and it was confident the ITC “will conclude that no US manufacturer is at risk” from Bombardier’s plane.

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Australia next?! US?

Canada Will Pay Compensation To Thousands Of Indigenous ‘Stolen Children’ (R.)

Canada will pay up to C$750m in compensation to thousands of aboriginals who were forcibly removed as children from their families decades ago, promising to end “a terrible legacy”. The move is the latest attempt by the Liberal government of the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to repair ties with Canada’s often-marginalised indigenous population, which says it has been the victim of systemic racism for centuries. In the so-called “Sixties Scoop”, welfare authorities took about 20,000 aboriginal children from their homes between the 1960s and 1980s and placed them in foster care or allowed them to be adopted by non-indigenous families. The compensation package is designed to settle many of the lawsuits launched by survivors, who say the forced removal deprived them of their heritage and led to mental disorders, substance abuse and suicide.

“Language and culture, apology, healing – these are essential elements to begin to right the wrong of this dark and painful chapter,” said Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister in charge of relations with the indigenous population. Canada’s 1.4 million aboriginals, who make up about 4% of the population, experience higher levels of poverty and incarceration and have a lower life expectancy than other Canadians. They are often victims of violent crime and addiction. Indigenous activists complain Trudeau has broken repeated promises to improve their lives since taking office in late 2015. He reshuffled his cabinet in August to put more emphasis on helping aboriginal people. Bennett, at times fighting back tears, told a news conference she had heard “truly heartbreaking stories” about loss of identity and alienation.

Marcia Brown Martel, an aboriginal chief who led the campaign for compensation, lamented the “stealing of children” and noted some of those involved lived as far away as New Zealand. “Think of it as a puzzle, a great big puzzle. Pieces, people are missing,” she told reporters. [..] Trudeau and other Canadian leaders have already apologized for the many abuses committed over a 150-year period when 150,000 aboriginal children were forcibly separated from their parents and sent to church-run residential schools. In 2015, an official report said the schools were an attempt to end the existence of aboriginals as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada.

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A look at the future.

FDP Chief Says Schaeuble ‘Not Tough Enough’ On Greece (K.)

The leader of Germany’s Free Democrats (FDP), Christian Lindner, seen as a likely successor at the finance ministry if his pro-business party enters a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), has criticized outgoing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble for not being tough enough on Greece. “Mr Schaeuble did not manage to impose himself over the chancellor in many questions of European policy. Just remember the third aid package for Greece, which he originally did not want to do,” Lindner told German daily Handelsblatt in an interview Friday. The 38-year-old politician managed to lead the FDP back into parliament after a four-year absence on the back of a pledge to limit financial perils from the eurozone and an illiberal assault on Merkel’s open-doors refugee policy.

In the same interview, Lindner called for the creation of an insolvency law for eurozone states, while arguing that countries should be able to leave the common currency area while remaining in the European Union. In May, the FDP chief said that Greece should leave the euro temporarily until its economy was back on track. If the Greek debt is not sustainable as the IMF claims, Lindner said at the time, then it has to be restructured – and this cannot take place within the eurozone. Lindner avoided to say if his party would push to take over the Finance Ministry. “For us a change in fiscal policy is more important than a new minister,” said Lindner, who also expressed doubts about the prospects of a three-way alliance between CDU, FDP and the Greens, known as the “Jamaica coalition.”

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Due to lack of identity.

Greece’s Ruling Syriza Party Falls Apart (K.)

An overwhelming majority of SYRIZA’s “Socialist Trend” faction under MEP Costas Chrysogonos have voted to part ways with the ruling leftists over differences in policy. In a ballot held on Friday, the proposal was backed by 1,678, or 82.6%, of the faction’s 2,032 members. Only 31 wanted to stay with SYRIZA. Officials said the faction will take steps to transform into an independent political grouping. They added that more details will be announced next week. Representatives of the faction also accused SYRIZA of turning into “a true replica of the centralized mainstream parties.”

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“..four of the five island camps are hosting two or three times as many people as they were designed for..”

Overcrowded Greek Refugee Camps Ill-Prepared For Winter: UNHCR (R.)

Greece must speed up winter preparations at refugee camps on islands in the Aegean Sea where there has been a sharp rise in arrivals, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday. Nearly 5,000 refugees, mostly Syrian or Iraqi families, crossed from Turkey in September – a quarter of all arrivals this year, UNHCR data shows. While that is a fraction of the nearly 1 million who arrived in 2015 – due to a European Union deal with Turkey to block that route – four of the five island camps are hosting two or three times as many people as they were designed for. “UNHCR urges action on the islands to ease overcrowding, improve shelter, and stock and distribute appropriate and sufficient aid items,” said Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR representative in Greece.

In the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, one of the main entry points, more than 1,500 people are in makeshift shelters or tents without insulation, flooring or heating, UNHCR said. They include pregnant women, people with disabilities, and very young children. On nearby Samos, about 400 people are living in “very difficult” conditions and another 300, including families and lone children, are sleeping in tents in the woods due to a lack of space in the camp, UNHCR said. More than 3,000 people on Samos are crammed into facilities designed to hold 700. In January, refugees in Greece suffered sub-zero temperatures when an icy spell gripped parts of the country and scores of summer tents were weighed down by snow. More than 60,000 refugees and migrants have been trapped in Greece since Balkan countries along the northward overland route to western Europe sealed their borders in March 2016.

UNHCR has been gradually reducing its involvement on the islands since national institutions took over most services in August.

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Sep 012017
 
 September 1, 2017  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Seine with Pont de Clichy 1887

 

Monetary Stimulus: How Much Is Too Much? (Lebowitz)
Yes, You Should Be Concerned With Consumer Debt (Roberts)
Why We’re Doomed: Stagnant Wages (CHS)
US Fuel Shortages From Harvey To Hamper Labor Day Travel (R.)
Wells Fargo Says 3.5 Million Accounts Involved In Scandal (AP)
World’s Biggest Wealth Fund Reveals Bleak View on Global Trade (BBG)
New Math Deals Minnesota’s Pensions the Biggest Hit in the US (BBG)
Six Big Banks To Create A Blockchain-Based Cash System (R.)
Putin Warns Of ‘Major Conflict’ Over North Korea, Urges Talks (AFP)
Trump, Nuclear War And Climate Change Among Gravest Threats To Humanity (PA)
Greece Doesn’t Want Any More Rescues – But It Does Need Something Else (CNBC)
Hurricane Irma Turning Into Monster (ZH)

 

 

Take their power away or else.

Monetary Stimulus: How Much Is Too Much? (Lebowitz)

The amount of monetary stimulus increasingly imposed on the financial system creates false signals about the economy’s true growth rate, causing a vast misallocation of capital, impaired productivity and weakened economic activity. To help quantify the amount of stimulus, please consider the graph. Federal Reserve (Fed) monetary stimulus comes in two forms. First in the form of targeting the Fed Funds interest rate at a rate below the nominal rate of economic growth (blue). Second, it stems from the large scale asset purchases QE) by the Fed (orange). When these two metrics are quantified, it yields an estimate of the average amount of monetary stimulus (red) applied during each post-recession period since 1980. It has been almost ten years since the 2008 financial crisis and the Fed is applying the equivalent of 5.25% of interest rate stimulus to the economy, dwarfing that of prior periods.

The graph highlights that the Fed has been increasingly aggressive in both the amount of stimulus employed as well as the amount of time that such monetary stimulus remains outstanding. Amazingly few investors seem to comprehend that despite the massive level of monetary stimulus, economic growth is trending well below recoveries of years past. Additionally, as witnessed by historically high valuations, the rise in the prices of many financial assets is not based on improving economic fundamentals but simply the stimulative effect that QE and low interest rates have on investor confidence and financial leverage. Now consider the ramifications of a Fed that continues to increase the Fed Funds rate and moves forward with plans to slowly remove QE.

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America: the House that Debt Built.

Yes, You Should Be Concerned With Consumer Debt (Roberts)

First, the calculation of disposable personal income, income less taxes, is largely a guess and very inaccurate due to the variability of income taxes paid by households. Secondly, but most importantly, the measure is heavily skewed by the top 20% of income earners, needless to say, the top 5%. As shown in the chart below, those in the top 20% have seen substantially larger median wage growth versus the bottom 80%.

Lastly, disposable incomes and discretionary incomes are two very different animals. Discretionary income is what is left of disposable incomes after you pay for all of the mandatory spending like rent, food, utilities, health care premiums, insurance, etc. According to a Gallup survey, it requires about $53,000 a year to maintain a family of four in the United States. For 80% of Americans, this is a problem even on a GROSS income basis.

This is why record levels of consumer debt is a problem. There is simply a limit to how much “debt” each household can carry even at historically low interest rates. It is also the primary reason why we can not have a replay of the 1980-90’s. “Beginning 1983, the secular bull market of the 80-90’s began. Driven by falling rates of inflation, interest rates, and the deregulation of the banking industry, the debt-induced ramp up of the 90’s gained traction as consumers levered their way into a higher standard of living.”

“While the Internet boom did cause an increase in productivity, it also had a very deleterious effect on the economy. As shown in the chart above, the rise in personal debt was used to offset the declines in personal income and savings rates. This plunge into indebtedness supported the ‘consumption function’ of the economy. The ‘borrowing and spending like mad’ provided a false sense of economic prosperity. During the boom market of the 1980’s and 90’s consumption, as a%age of the economy, grew from roughly 61% to 68% currently. The increase in consumption was largely built upon a falling interest rate environment, lower borrowing costs, and relaxation of lending standards. (Think mortgage, auto, student and sub-prime loans.) In 1980, household credit market debt stood at $1.3 Trillion. To move consumption, as a% of the economy, from 61% to 67% by the year 2000 it required an increase of $5.6 Trillion in debt. Since 2000, consumption as a% of the economy has risen by just 2% over the last 17 years, however, that increase required more than a $6 Trillion in debt.

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Doomed growth projections.

Why We’re Doomed: Stagnant Wages (CHS)

Despite all the happy talk about “recovery” and higher growth, wages have gone nowhere since 2000–and for the bottom 20% of workers, they’ve gone nowhere since the 1970s. GDP has risen smartly since 2000, but the share of GDP going to wages and salaries has plummeted: this is simply an extension of a 47-year downtrend. [..] .. our system requires ever-higher household incomes to function–not just in the top 5%, but in the top 80%. Our federal social programs–Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid–are pay-as-you-go: all the expenditures this year are paid by taxes collected this year. As I have detailed many times, the so-called “Trust Funds” are fictions; when Social Security runs a deficit, the difference between receipts and expenses are filled by selling Treasury bonds in the open market–the exact same mechanism ther government uses to fund any other deficit.

The demographics of the nation have changed in the past two generations. The Baby Boom is retiring en masse, expanding the number of beneficiaries of these programs, while the number of full-time workers to retirees is down from 10-to-1 in the good old days to 2-to-1: there are 60 million beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare and about 120 million full-time workers in the U.S. Meanwhile, medical expenses per person are soaring. Profiteering by healthcare cartels, new and ever-more costly treatments, the rise of chronic lifestyle illnesses–there are many drivers of this trend. There is absolutely no evidence to support the fantasy that this trend will magically reverse.

Costs are skyrocketing and the number of retirees is ballooning, but wages are going nowhere. Do you see the problem? All pay-as-you-go programs are based on the assumption that the number of workers and the wages they earn will both rise at a rate that is above the underlying rate of inflation and equal to the rate of increase in pay-as-you-go programs. If 95% of the households are earning less money when adjusted for inflation, and their wealth has also declined or stagnated, then how can we pay for programs which expand by 6% or more every year? The short answer is you can’t.

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Are we going to add this to the cost of Harvey?

US Fuel Shortages From Harvey To Hamper Labor Day Travel (R.)

Travelers and fuel suppliers across the United States braced for higher prices and shortages ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend as the country’s biggest fuel pipelines and refineries curb operations after Hurricane Harvey. Just six days after Harvey slammed into the heart of the U.S. energy industry in Texas, the effects are being felt not just in Houston, but also in Chicago and New York, and prices at the pump nationwide have hit a high for the year. Supply shortages have developed even though there are nearly a quarter of a billion barrels of gasoline stockpiled in the United States. But much of it is held in places where it cannot be accessed due to massive floods, or too far away from the places it is needed. Some of it is unfinished, meaning it needs to be blended before it can go to gas stations.

Harvey has highlighted another weakness in the system: pipeline terminals typically only have a five-day supply in storage to load into the lines. Some of the biggest pipelines in the United States, supplying the northeast market and the Chicago area, have already shut down or reduced operations because they have no fuel to pump. “Gasoline is very much a ‘just-in-time’ fuel, for as many million barrels as they think we have,” said Patrick DeHaan, petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. “Sure, they are somewhere, but they still have to be mixed and blended together.” At least two East Coast refiners, including Philadelphia Energy Solutions and Irving Oil, have already run out of gasoline for immediate delivery as they have rushed to send supplies to the U.S. Southeast, Caribbean, Mexico and South America to offset the lack of exports since Harvey.

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Lock them up!

Wells Fargo Says 3.5 Million Accounts Involved In Scandal (AP)

The scope of Wells Fargo’s fake accounts scandal grew significantly on Thursday, with the bank now saying that 3.5 million accounts were potentially opened without customers’ permission between 2009 and 2016. That’s up from 2.1 million accounts that the bank had cited in September 2016, when it acknowledged that employees under pressure to meet aggressive sales targets had opened accounts that customers might not have even been aware existed. People may have had different kinds of accounts in their names, so the number of customers affected may differ from the account total. Wells Fargo said Thursday that about half a million of the newly discovered accounts were missed during the original review, which covered the years 2011 to 2015.

After Wells Fargo acknowledged the fake accounts last year, evidence quickly appeared that the sales practices problems dated back even further. So Wells Fargo hired an outside consulting firm to analyze 165 million retail bank accounts opened between 2009 and 2016. Wells said the firm found that, along with the 2.1 million accounts originally disclosed, 981,000 more accounts were found in the expanded timeline. And roughly 450,000 accounts were found in the original window. The scandal was the biggest in Wells Fargo’s history. It cost then-CEO John Stumpf his job, and the bank’s once-sterling industry reputation was in tatters. The company ended up paying $185 million to regulators and settled a class-action suit for $142 million. New managers have been trying to amends with customers, politicians and the public.

But it’s been tough, as new revelations keep coming. Wells Fargo said last month that roughly 570,000 customers were signed up for and billed for car insurance that they didn’t need or necessarily know about. Many couldn’t afford the extra costs and fell behind in their payments, and in about 20,000 cases, cars were repossessed. Other customers have filed lawsuits against Wells Fargo saying they were victims of unfair overdraft practices. Wells Fargo is also still under several investigations for its sales practices problems, including a congressional inquiry and one by the Justice Department. Wells Fargo said Thursday that of the 3.5 million accounts potentially opened without permission, 190,000 of those incurred fees and charges. That’s up from 130,000 that the bank originally said. Wells Fargo will refund $2.8 million to customers, in addition to the $3.3 million it already agreed to pay.

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Wise.

World’s Biggest Wealth Fund Reveals Bleak View on Global Trade (BBG)

Yngve Slyngstad, chief executive officer of Norges Bank Investment Management, as the fund is known, says the heyday of cross-border trade is probably behind us. “The question investors are asking themselves is if the easy wins already have been made,” Slyngstad said in an Aug. 29 interview from his office on the top floor of Norway’s central bank in Oslo. “The global supply chains have in a way had a one-time gain primarily through outsourcing of multinationals to China.” Norway’s wealth fund owns 1.3% of globally listed stocks, spread out over almost 80 countries. And with interest rates at record lows, the investor has cut its long-term return expectations to about 3% from 4%, even after winning approval from parliament to raise its share of equities to 70% from 60%.

Slyngstad, who became CEO in 2008 just as the global economy was sinking into the worst crisis since the Great Depression, noted that back then the fund rode out the turmoil by dumping bonds and buying stocks. “I don’t expect that we will act differently in any similar crisis in the future,” he said. During a recent conference on globalization, the fund’s chief strategist, Bjorn Erik Orskaug, suggested the world might be at an “inflection point” in trade, with shallower value chains and less cross-border production. And then there’s the protectionist agenda some governments are pursuing. “Is there also a political situation that could make it more challenging?” Slyngstad said. “Time will tell, but there’s of course a risk on the horizon.” He says the wealth fund’s extremely long-term investment timeline allows it to look past the noise coming from governments that come and go.

The fund will probably stay over-weighted in Europe, where it’s more of an active investor. But the only two economies that really matter are the U.S. and China, Slyngstad said. [..] As the fund approaches $1 trillion in value, its stated goal is to safeguard today’s oil wealth for future generations of Norwegians. It has surged in size since its inception two decades ago, generating an annual nominal return of 5.89%. Norway’s government last year started taking cash out of the fund for the first time, to make up for lower oil revenue. Withdrawals are set to hit about 72 billion kroner ($9.3 billion) in 2017, and remain at that level in coming years amid stricter fiscal rules.

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Once the creative accounting is removed, there won’t be much left.

New Math Deals Minnesota’s Pensions the Biggest Hit in the US (BBG)

Minnesota’s debt to its workers’ retirement system has soared by $33.4 billion, or $6,000 for every resident, courtesy of accounting rules. The jump caused the finances of Minnesota’s pensions to erode more than any other state’s last year as accounting standards seek to prevent governments from using overly optimistic assumptions to minimize what they owe public employees decades from now. Because of changes in actuarial math, Minnesota in 2016 reported having just 53% of what it needed to cover promised benefits, down from 80% a year earlier, transforming it from one of the best funded state systems to the seventh worst, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “It’s a crisis,” said Susan Lenczewski, executive director of the state’s Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement.

The latest reckoning won’t force Minnesota to pump more taxpayer money into its pensions, nor does it put retirees’ pension checks in any jeopardy. But it underscores the long-term financial pressure facing governments such as Minnesota, New Jersey and Illinois that have been left with massive shortfalls after years of failing to make adequate contributions to their retirement systems. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s rules, ushered in after the last recession, were intended to address concern that state and city pensions were understating the scale of their obligations by counting on steady investment gains even after they run out of cash – and no longer have money to invest. Pensions use the expected rate of return on their investments to calculate in today’s dollars, or discount, the value of pension checks that won’t be paid out for decades.

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Everybody wants their share of the pie.

Six Big Banks To Create A Blockchain-Based Cash System (R.)

Six new banks have joined a UBS-led effort to create a digital cash system that would allow financial markets to make payments and settle transactions quickly via blockchain technology. The group aims to launch the system late next year. Barclays, Credit Suisse, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, HSBC, MUFG and State Street have joined the group developing the “utility settlement coin” (USC), a digital cash equivalent of each of the major currencies backed by central banks, UBS said on Thursday. The group is in discussions with central banks and regulators and is aiming for a “limited ’go live’” in the latter part of 2018, UBS’s head of strategic investment and fintech innovation told the Financial Times.

The Swiss bank first launched the concept in September 2015 with London-based blockchain company Clearmatics, and was later joined on the project by BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, Santander and brokerage ICAP. The USC would be convertible at parity with a bank deposit in the corresponding currency, making it fully backed by cash assets at a central bank. Spending a USC would be the same as spending the real currency it is paired with. Blockchain works as a tamper-proof shared ledger that can automatically process and settle transactions using computer algorithms, with no need for third-party verification. Because it does not require manual processing, nor authentication through intermediaries, the technology can make payments faster, more reliable and easier to audit.

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Better talk with him.

Putin Warns Of ‘Major Conflict’ Over North Korea, Urges Talks (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Friday of a “major conflict” looming on the Korean Peninsula, calling for talks to alleviate the crisis after Pyongyang fired a missile over Japan this week. “The problems in the region will only be solved via direct dialogue between all concerned parties, without preconditions,” Putin said. “Threats, pressure and insulting and militant rhetoric are a dead end,” a statement from his office said, adding that heaping additional pressure on North Korea in a bid to curb its nuclear programme was “wrong and futile.” Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years after a series of missile tests by Pyongyang.

Early on Tuesday, the reclusive state fired an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 over Japan, prompting US President Donald Trump to insist that “all options” were on the table in an implied threat of pre-emptive military action. The UN Security Council denounced North Korea’s latest missile test, unanimously demanding that Pyongyang halt the programme. US heavy bombers and stealth jet fighters took part in a joint live fire drill in South Korea on Thursday, intended as a show of force against the North, Seoul said. Putin said he feared the peninsula was “on the verge of a major conflict” and called for all sides to sign up to a mediation programme drawn up by Moscow and Beijing. He echoed comments by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who in a Wednesday telephone call with US counterpart Rex Tillerson “underscored… the need to refrain from any military steps that could have unpredictable consequences.”

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Prime candidate for worst report ever. The Independent tweeetd: “12 Nobel Prize winners just warned Trump is one of the gravest threats to humanity “. But that’s not what the article by the Press Association says. It says two.

Trump, Nuclear War And Climate Change Among Gravest Threats To Humanity (PA)

Nobel Prize winners consider nuclear war and US President Donald Trump as among the gravest threats to humanity, a survey has found. More than a third (34%) said environmental issues including over-population and climate change posed the greatest risk to mankind, according to the poll by Times Higher Education and Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. But amid rising tensions between the US and North Korea, almost a quarter (23%) said nuclear war was the most serious threat. Of the 50 living Nobel Prize winners canvassed, 6% said the ignorance of political leaders was their greatest concern – with two naming Mr Trump as a particular problem. Peter Agre, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2003, described the US President as “extraordinarily uninformed and bad-natured”. He told Times Higher Education: “Trump could play a villain in a Batman movie – everything he does is wicked or selfish.”

Laureates for chemistry, physics, physiology, medicine and economics took part in the survey, with some highlighting more than one threat. Peace Prize and Literature Prize recipients were not canvassed. Infectious diseases and drug resistance were considered the gravest threats to humankind by 8% of respondents, while 8% cited selfishness and dishonesty and 6% cited terrorism and fundamentalism. Another 6% spoke of the dangers of “ignorance and the distortion of truth”. Despite high-profile figures Elon Musk and Professor Stephen Hawking expressing concern about the dangers associated with artificial intelligence, just two of those surveyed identified it as among the biggest threats facing humans.

John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education, said the survey offers “a unique insight into the issues that keep the world’s greatest scientific minds awake at night”. He said: “There is a consensus that heading off these dangers requires political will and action, the prioritisation of education on a global scale, and above all avoiding the risk of inaction through complacency.”

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Stockholm Syndrome?

Greece Doesn’t Want Any More Rescues – But It Does Need Something Else (CNBC)

Greece wants nothing more than to avoid another bailout — which means it needs debt relief. And so far, that’s the sticking point. “There is now light at the end of the tunnel,” Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said hopefully in June. After months of wrangling, the European Union and International Monetary Fund had just agreed to release more rescue funds to the perennially troubled nation, bringing the total from its third bailout alone to €40.2 billion ($47.75 billion). Euro zone finance ministers took very light steps toward debt relief at that time — they said they were willing to keep deferring interest on financial assistance Greece had already received — but those measures fell short of the relief Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was pressing for.

The current bailout program is set to end in September of next year. Greece has been wracked by perennial financial crises since 2010, and it even appeared at risk of leaving the euro zone altogether in 2015. Tsipras’s objective is to re-gain full market access to international bond markets and to leave institutional help behind, so the subject of long-term debt is one that will continue to dominate discussions as it draws closer to September 2018. In July, Greece dipped into bond markets after a 3-year hiatus, issuing 5-year debt at an average yield of 4.66%. Greece is expected to return to the market again in the next 12 months. But Greece’s debt isn’t manageable in the long-run without being either extended or forgiven, according to the IMF, which is pressing for easier budgetary targets for Greece while simultaneously undertaking reforms.

Its European creditors currently require it to achieve a primary surplus before debt service of 3.5% of gross domestic product. The ECB has also been emphatic that it will not include Greek government bonds in its own debt-buying mechanism, the Public Sector Purchase Program. In a June letter, ECB President Mario Draghi ruled out that possibility, saying the central bank’s staff wasn’t in a position to fully analyze Greece’s public debt. Analysts at Barclays have estimated that the inclusion of Greek debt into ECB’s bond-buying program would entail monthly purchases of around 115 million euros ($136.5 million).

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Not looking good.

Hurricane Irma Turning Into Monster (ZH)

Hurricane Irma continues to strengthen much faster than pretty much any computer model predicted as of yesterday or even this morning. Per the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) latest update, Irma is currently a Cat-3 storm with sustained winds of 115 mph but is expected to strengthen to a devastating Cat-5 with winds that could top out at 180 mph or more. Longer term computer models still vary widely but suggest that Irma will make landfall in the U.S. either in the Gulf of Mexico or Florida. Meteorological Scientist Michael Ventrice of the Weather Channel is forecasting windspeeds of up to 180 mph, which he described as the “highest windspeed forecasts I’ve ever seen in my 10 yrs of Atlantic hurricane forecasting.”

In a separate tweet, Ventrice had the following troubling comment: “Wow, a number of ECMWF EPS members show a maximum-sustained windspeed of 180+mph for #Irma, rivaling Hurricane #Allen (1980) for record wind”. The Weather Channel meteorologist also calculated the odds for a landfall along the eastern seaboard at 30%. Meanwhile, the Weather Channel has the “most likely” path of Irma passing directly over Antigua, Puerto Rico and Domincan Republic toward the middle of next week.

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