Oct 162017
 
 October 16, 2017  Posted by at 2:00 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »
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Marc Riboud Zazou, painter of the EIffel Tower 1953

 

Central bankers have never done more damage to the world economy than in the past 10 years. One may argue this is because they never had the power to do that. If their predecessors had had that power, who knows? Still, the global economy has never been more interconnected than it is today, due mostly to the advance of globalism, neoliberalism and perhaps even more, technology.

Ironically, all three of these factors are unremittingly praised as forces for good. But living standards for many millions of people in the west have come down and/or are laden with uncertainty, while millions of Chinese now have higher living standards. People in the west have been told to see this as a positive development; after all, it allows them to buy products cheaper than if they had been made in domestic industries.

But along with their manufacturing jobs, their entire way of life has mostly disappeared as well. Or, rather, it is being hidden behind a veil of debt. Still, we can no longer credibly deny that some three-quarters of Americans have a hard time paying their bills, and that is very different from the 1950s and 60s. In western Europe, this is somewhat less pronounced, or perhaps it’s just lagging, but with globalism and neoliberalism still the ruling economic religions, there’s no going back.

What happened? Well, we don’t make stuff anymore. That’s what. We have to buy our stuff from others. Increasingly, we lack the skills to make stuff too. We have become dependent on nations half a planet away just to survive. Nations that are only interested in selling their stuff to us if we can pay for it. And who see their domestic wage demands go up, and will -have to- charge ever higher prices for their products.

And we have no choice but to pay. But we can only pay with what we can borrow. As nations, as companies, and as individuals. We need to borrow because as nations, as companies, and as individuals we don’t make stuff anymore. It’s a vicious circle that globalization has blessed us with. And from which, we are told, we can escape only if we achieve growth. Which we can’t, because we don’t make anything.

 

So we rely on central bankers to manage the crisis. Because we’re told they know how to manage it. They don’t. But they do pretend to know. Still, if you read between the lines, they do admit to their ignorance. Janet Yellen a few weeks ago fessed up to the fact that she has no idea why inflation is weak. Mario Draghi has said more or less the same. Why don’t they know? Because the models don’t fit. And the models are all they have.

Economic models are more important in central banking than common sense. The Fed has some 1000 PhDs under contract. But Yellen, their boss, still claims that ‘perhaps’ the models are wrong, with it comes to inflation, and to wage growth. They have no idea why wages don’t grow. Because the models say they should. Because everybody has a job. 1000 very well paid PhDs. And that’s all they have. They say the lack of wage growth is a mystery.

I say that those for whom this is a mystery are not fit for their jobs. If you export millions of jobs to Asia, take workers’ negotiating powers away and push them into crappy jobs with no benefits, only one outcome is possible. And that doesn’t include inflation or wage growth. Instead, the only possible outcome is continuing erosion of economies.

The globalist mantra says we will fill up the lost space in our economies with ‘better’ jobs, service sector, knowledge sector. But reality does not follow the mantra. Most new jobs are definitely not ‘better’. And as we wait tables or greet customers at Wal-Mart, we see robots take over what production capacity is left, and delivery services erase what’s left of our brick and mortar stores. Yes, that means even less ‘quality’ jobs.

 

Meanwhile, the Chinese who now have taken over our jobs, have only been able to do that amidst insane amounts of pollution. And as if that’s not bad enough, they have recently, just to keep their magical new production paradise running, been forced to borrow as much as we have been -and are-, at state level, at local government level, and now as individuals as well.

In China, credit functions like opioids do in America. Millions of people who had never been in touch with the stuff would have been fine if they never had, but now they are hooked. The local governments were already, which has created a shadow banking system that will threaten Beijing soon, but for the citizens it’s a relatively new phenomenon.

And if you see them saying things like: “if you don’t buy a flat today, you will never be able to afford it” and “..a person without a flat has no future in Shenzhen.”, you know they have it bad. These are people who’ve only ever seen property prices go up, and who’ve never thought of any place as a ghost city, and who have few other ways to park what money they make working the jobs imported from the US and Europe.

They undoubtedly think their wages will keep growing too, just like the ‘value’ of their flats. They’ve never seen either go down. But if we need to borrow in order to afford the products they make in order to pay off what they borrowed in order to buy their flats, everyone’s in trouble.

 

And then globalization itself is in trouble. The very beneficiaries, the owners of globalization will be. Though not before they have taken away most of the fruits of our labor. What are you going to do with your billions when the societies you knew when you grew up are eradicated by the very process that allowed you to make those billions? It stops somewhere. If those 1000 PhDs want to study a model, they should try that one.

 

Globalization causes many problems. Jobs disappearing from societies just so their citizens can buy the same products a few pennies cheaper when they come from China is a big one. But the main problem with globalization is financial: money continually vanishes from societies, who have to get ever deeper in debt just to stand still. Globalization, like any type of centralization, does that: it takes money away from the ‘periphery’.

The Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Starbucks model has already taken away untold jobs, stores and money from our societies, but we ain’t seen nothing yet. The advent of the internet will put that model on steroids. But why would you let a bunch of Silicon Valley venture capitalists run things like Uber or Airbnb in your location, when you can do it yourself just as well, and use the profits to enhance your community instead of letting them make you poorer?

I see UK’s Jeremy Corbyn had that same thought, and good on him. Britain may become the first major victim of the dark side of centralization, by leaving the organization that enables it -the EU-, and Corbyn’s idea of a local cooperative to replace Uber is the kind of thinking it will need. Because how can you make up for all that money, and all that production capacity, leaving where you live? You can’t run fast enough, and you don’t have to.

This is the Roman Empire’s centralization conundrum all over. Though the Romans never pushed their peripheries to stop producing essentials; they instead demanded a share of them. Their problem was, towards the end of the empire, the share they demanded -forcefully- became ever larger. Until the periphery turned on them -also forcefully-.

 

The world’s central bankers’ club is set to get new leadership soon. Yellen may well be gone, so will Japan’s Kuroda and China’s Zhou; the ECB’s -and Goldman’s- Mario Draghi will go a bit later. But there is no sign that the economic religions they adhere to will be replaced, it’ll be centralization all the way, and if that fails, more centralization.

The endgame of that process is painfully obvious way in advance. Centralization feeds central forces, be they governmental, military or commercial, with the fruits of labor of local populations. That is a process that will always, inevitably, run into a wall, because too much of those fruits are taken out. Too much of it will flow to the center, be it Silicon Valley or Wall Street or Rome. Same difference.

There are things that you can safely centralize (peace negotiations), but they don’t include essentials like food, housing, transport, water, clothing. They are too costly at the local level to allow them to be centralized. Or everybody everywhere will end up paying through the nose just to survive.

It’s very easy. Maybe that’s why nobody notices.

 

 

Oct 082017
 
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Fred Lyon Barbary Coast 1950

 

A friend sent me a post from the DiEM25 website last week, entitled Critique of DiEM25 policy on immigrants and refugees. DiEM25 is a pan-European political movement of which former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is a co-founder.

I started writing some lines as a response to my friend. Then it became a bit more. Wouldn’t you know… And then it was a whole article. So here’s my comments to it first, and then the original by someone calling themselves ‘dross22′. Now, in case I haven’t made this sufficiently abundantly clear yet, in my view Yanis’ knowledge and intellect is probably far superior to mine, and I’m a fan. But…

I don’t mean to imply that the views in the comment posted at DiEM25 are those of Yanis, but I do think it’s good to point out that these views exist within the movement. Moreover, as I wrote a few days ago, Yanis himself also thinks the EU should become ‘a federal state’. And I don’t agree with that. In fact, I think that’s a sure-fire way to absolute mayhem. Catalonia is only the latest example of why that is. Greece is an obvious other.

 

From that post on the DiEM25 site (see full text below):

[..] .. local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state. But a progressive European state would inevitably require a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion. It would be hypocrisy to exclude Islam. Pluralism of values is a weapon of the establishment and we have to do away with it. In a Europe that is green nobody can afford pluralism in regards to lifestyle choices.

That’s quite the hand- and mouthful. Nationalism must be eradicated and religion radically opposed. Yeah, that should get you elected… You don’t want Islam in Europe, and therefore you want to do away with Christianity too. “..a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion.” That’s 2000 years of often deeply ingrained history and culture out the door and down the toilet. And don’t even get me started on statues. Don’t you dare.

Look, I‘m not a religious person, but I would never want to even try to take anyone’s faith away from them. That’s the Soviet Union, China. That’s not Europe. Nor do I see what’s wrong with pluralism, seems kind of Orwellian to me. “..local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state.”  Say what? Why? What kind of movement is this? That’s not thinking, that’s dogma. And not a very clever kind of it.

Pluralism (differences) is the essence and the beauty of Europe. Plus, because of its divergence in language, culture etc., forget about unifying the whole continent, if that was ever desirable. I know the author specifically narrows it down to pluralism of values and lifestyle choices, but the EU already has enough rules and laws that regulate the worst of that.

Moreover, Europe has bigger issues than ‘pluralism in lifestyle choices’. Europe is in very troubled economic times, even if the media won’t tell you that. Because of that it’s all oil on fire, pluralism, immigration, the lot. People that do have jobs have much shittier jobs (gig economy my donkey) than those who went before them. Much of the EU is mired in way over-leveraged mortgages and other household and state debt, it’s just that you wouldn’t know it to listen to politicians and media. 

And that’s without mentioning bank debt, corporate debt, non-performing loans. Greece is paying the price right now for the credit casino (the house always wins) run by French/German banks. Other countries will be too in the near future. As soon as interest rates go up, there’ll be a mushroom cloud on the financial horizon. And Draghi will have emptied all his guns when it happens, saving EU banks but not EU citizens.

If by values and lifestyle you mean only that Islam should not replace Christianity in Europe, I’m your man. But that doesn’t mean Christianity should be suppressed or obliterated because of this. What you do instead is make it clear that you can be muslim, but only in as far as what it teaches does not contradict various European laws. And you actively enforce that.

 

[..] .. there can be no doubt that our stance on the migrants is jeopardizing our electoral prospects and our ability to influence society.. [..] This Europe will certainly not put the migrants to good use or treat them well and this will lead them to open up further to the influence of Islamic radicalism with the usual consequences.

[..] The Islamic migrants and the minorities are rather insignificant pawns that are best sacrificed as our current political situation demands. The establishment sacrifices pawns, and even rooks for its own political ends. We have to do the same.

The language is nigh unpalatable. As for (im-)migrants, it is obvious that wanting to incorporate too many of them too fast can only lead to trouble. Apart from all other discussions about values etc. After the financial crisis, it’s Europe’s main problem today. Or perhaps it’s a toss-up between finance and politics.

Perhaps what’s an even bigger issue is that what Merkel says happens, does in the EU. In economics, and in politics, and on the migration question. There is no sovereignty left. No democracy. As I’ve written before, tell the French, or Italians, that they have no say left in their own country, that Berlin controls it all. And then wait for their response. They have not a clue. Nobody told them. They sure never signed up to be ruled by Germany. But they are.

Ergo: The EU continues to exist only by the grace of media deception. And that’s an awfully thin veneer. I don’t know the ins and outs of DiEM25, but these lines make me seasick. Prediction: It’ll all fall apart at the first serious challenge and/or debate. Too many differing views from too many different locations and languages, and not nearly sufficient critical thought. 

Love Yanis though. And love him for trying. But what he must have experienced is what we at the Automatic Earth did too in 2010/11/12. That is, when the Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss spoke in numerous locations in Italy, and we’re very grateful to our friends all over the country to make it happen, we needed translators at every talk. What I mean is you can get the big ideas across, but the details will always fall by the wayside. And that is Europe. 

 

A common European state is therefore neither desirable nor practical. The model of the European Parliament, with more translators than members of parliament, is as wrong as it is overkill. The EU is a step too far, a bridge too far. It serves a centralization dream, and the politics and economics that come with it, but it doesn’t serve the European people. 

Catalunya is just one more example of that. Greece is still the main eyesore, but you just wait till Spanish tanks appear on Barcelona’s Ramblas and Brussels has nothing. Their official response is that the use of ‘Proportionate Force’ is fine, but if that’s how you label having police in full battle gear beat up grandmas, how can you condemn tanks in the streets? Where’s the dividing line?

The EU is a giant failure. Ironically, it has done a lot of good on issues like food standards -though it tends to produce far too much paperwork on everything-, but the essence is it has -predictably- fallen victim to its upper echelons’ power grabbing. EU leaders don’t give a hoot what Europeans think, the way the important posts are divided means they don’t have to. And in the end, Germany wins (old British soccer joke).

Berlin, the European Commission, the ECB, they’re actively killing the Union, democracy, and all the good that has come out of Brussels. There’s no stopping it. And then Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM25 come along and say they ‘must’ “.. eradicate local European nationalism by creating a common European state.” 

Sorry boyos, wrong time, wrong place. Europe today must find a way to function without being anywhere near a common state, because it won’t have one for a long time. Focusing on that common state can only lead to the opposite: trouble, battle, even war between the different and numerous nation states.

 

To repeat myself once again: centralization, like globalization, only works as long as people feel they economically profit from it. In the current global and European economy, they do not, no matter what any media or politician tell you. Therefore, the focus should be on countries working together, not on becoming one state (or fiscal union, banking union). It’s not going to work, it’s going to cause major trouble, including war.

Greece may have bent over and let Berlin screw it up its donkey, but not all countries will react that way. Watch Catalonia, Hungary, Poland. And then what can Brussels do? It doesn’t have an army. Germany has a feeble one, for good reasons. NATO? The Visograd nations, Hungary etc, have different ideas about issues like immigration than Brussels and Berlin do.

How do Merkel et al plan to force them to change their ideas? Or, come to think of it, why would they want to? What Europe should be doing, but isn’t, and what a movement like DiEM25 should actively propagate, but isn’t either, is an immediate end to the deliberate creation of utter chaos in Libya, Iraq, Syria. But the European arms industry makes too much money off that chaos.

If that doesn’t stop, immigrants will keep coming. And that can only lead to more chaos in Europe too. It’s not sufficient to say you want immigration to stop. You need to take a stand against the forces that make it happen, starting with the forces in your own countries and societies (this very much includes your governments).

If you don’t focus on the basic conditions that must be fulfilled to ‘save Europe’, you will not save it. Europe is in such a crisis, or crises rather, that talking about programs and ideas from comfortable chairs is no longer a real option. Europe is very much like the orchestra on the Titanic: it keeps playing as if there is no threat ahead. And you have to tell them to stop playing. That’s your job.

Talking about what so and so would like to see by 2025 is a waste of time. But yeah, it’s comfortable, and comforting, to do it with a group of like-minded souls who fool themselves into thinking they’re smart and doing a good job. But the problem is here, now, not in 2025. And if you don’t work to solve it now, today, 2025 won’t look anything like what you have in mind.

Europeans must put a halt to European companies making billions on arms sales and oil in North Africa and the Middle East. And since these companies are protected and supported by the current leadership in Brussels and all other EU capitals, these will have to go too. That should be the focus. All the rest is the orchestra continuing to play.

Europeans don’t want a federal EU state. They don’t want to be forced to give up their national indentities, and they don’t want to lose their religions. Cue REM.

 

 

Still, Yanis has excellent ideas. As I said, I’m a fan. The way he describes his concept of parallel payment systems in the latter part of this recent video is outstanding, if you ask me. It’s the idea he never got to put into practice in Greece.

 

 

 

Here’s dross22’s full comment:

Critique of DiEM25 policy on immigrants and refugees (from DiEM 25’s official forum)

In my humble opinion the liberal way we’re approaching the refugee issue is very hard to market to the European demos. If Europe were one country and if the political climate were different, we’d have the resources to deal with the matter in the decent way we propagate. But unfortunately, Europe is currently at an advanced stage of disintegration making any discussion of a federal European state idle talk. As you all know, our mission here at DiEM is to get Europe out of the mire the establishment has got it into and then proceed to make of it a federal state. All of our very sensible and very realistic proposals take into account the fact that we’re not where we’d like to be. Yet when it comes to the refugee issue, we propagate a treatment that assumes away the current state of Europe.

Germany’s periphery and near east is divided between a collection of right-wing authoritarian states (Poland, Hungary, Ukraine etc.) and German industrial clients (Netherlands, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland). In the Balkan South we have Brussels-Berlin protectorates (Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia), a debt colony and testing ground of the establishment’s policies (Greece) and states ruled by criminal syndicates (Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria). In the Romance countries (including France) we have states on the verge of fiscal breakdown, and in Germany and Brussels, the core of the establishment, we have a host of ruling incompetents that can only survive by feeding the monster they created in 2010. The feces of that monster feeds nationalistic flies and worms everywhere.

This is not a Europe that can handle the refugee issue. Indeed, all it has managed to do is let Germany bear the burden of adjustment, hence contributing significantly to AfD’s resonance in German society and forcing a desperate establishment to go as far as to bribe Turkey to stem the flow. The establishment did this hideous thing for tactical reasons and the case can be made that, in part, they owe their political survival to how they instrumentalize and adapt to the reality of xenophobia. We too have to understand quickly that racism is here to stay.

This unfortunate development is due to two things. It’s Islamist radicalism in the Mid-East and Africa, where the migrants come from, leading to terrorist activity within Europe, and a widespread plebian racism against which, given an environment where a strong left has been absent for many decades, no sufficient immune defenses exist. This is even more so in the illiberal states that succeeded the Soviet Empire. Notwithstanding their relative lack of migrants, the masses there are saturated with an almost autistic sense of nationalism.

This being the situation of the Europe we live in, there can be no doubt that our stance on the migrants is jeopardizing our electoral prospects and our ability to influence society. It’s beneficial to continue to expose the unethical deal that the establishment has with Turkey but other than that we must cease with our polemic. Instead I propose adopting a different, more sophisticated electoral strategy. We should point out that we’re not opposed to migration in principle. That in fact migration empowers, not weakens a society. But that the surrounding situation is not always the same. When European masses went to America, they were going to a place where employment was in high demand and that had familiar institutions. Today we have a Europe in the midst of an existential crisis where unemployment is high and set to rise.

This Europe will certainly not put the migrants to good use or treat them well and this will lead them to open up further to the influence of Islamic radicalism with the usual consequences. The strong patriarchalist values of the Islamic masses are a social impediment too. Even the most passionate activists must admit that those people don’t share our progressive values and breed too much, which is an ecologically unsustainable behavior. Their values can change only in a progressive environment that we don’t yet have. So what we can immediately do is subject all migrants to review and keep those with valuable skills and small families. The rest should be escorted to their countries of origin. Until Europe changes we shall enforce a moratorium on unqualified migration from those countries.

In a green Europe consumption is limited and breeding is not encouraged. Immigration from failed states, motivated (among other factors) by the desire to consume more and breed more with better safety, is undesirable. It is a liability that exposes us to the heavy ammunition from vast areas of a right-wing that, lest we forget, is stronger than we, the defeated left. In a progressive Europe, borders are internally shot down and Europeans can move and settle everywhere. But we still require European borders. There is no reason to burden ourselves with masses that are unaccustomed to the institutions of advanced societies, pose a lingering threat to our security and come with strong reactionary values. Instead of denying that fact we should point to the structural similarities of their ideology with that of the far right.

Migrants from areas within reach of the Islamist terrorist network pose a danger to our domestic security in three ways. First of all, by bringing their tribal and religious rivalries within our borders, secondly by their potential terrorist activity against European citizens and thirdly by helping our local nationalism gain ground. That local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state. But a progressive European state would inevitably require a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion. It would be hypocrisy to exclude Islam. Pluralism of values is a weapon of the establishment and we have to do away with it. In a Europe that is green nobody can afford pluralism in regards to lifestyle choices. In a Europe where capital has no rights over the public, where it serves human potential and not unbridled, wasteful consumerism, there can be no pluralism.

We should give up on the migrants. I understand the sorrows of those people forced to flee their countries. But I am not willing to sacrifice the progressive future of Europe, to let bigots win and see them screw this place for good just for the sake of a small minority of people that don’t share our values and that, should the bigots win, will be subject to mass abuse anyway. The surest way to protect people with such backgrounds from the worst scenarios is to defeat the nationalist international. But this won’t be done unless we become psychologically detached from the minorities and from political correctness which are tools the establishment uses.

Let’s don’t forget that people with a migration background are vulnerable to racism too once they get comfortable. For example Turks in Germany vote en masse in favor of right-wing parties, even the AfD. I look up to people that have the remarkable courage to actively help those in need but I don’t believe this advances our movement at all. The Islamic migrants and the minorities are rather insignificant pawns that are best sacrificed as our current political situation demands. The establishment sacrifices pawns, and even rooks for its own political ends. We have to do the same.

I understand what co-founder Yanis said about the global wall and how borders divide the planet. But, in spite of their truth content, expressions such as ”borders are wounds on the face of the planet” are Soviet-era anti-colonialist slogans that today only serve to discredit those who use them. I admire someone who has the moral courage for such unorthodox opinions but these things sound crazy to the masses, especially today. There is much at stake with DiEM’s new deal and it is imperative to be more careful with our choice of words and positions. When Yanis was finance minister, he was careful not to be as open and frank as he would have been as an outsider. But he is no longer the outsider he was before 2015. None of us are. We are here to do politics and our actions and words should be subordinated to the pursuit of success in the political arena. Only success can materialize our agenda and defeat the monster of the establishment and the nationalist international.

 

 

And if you still don’t have enough then, read the Mises Institute’s Why Small States are Better.

In small states the government is closer to its citizens and by that better observable and controllable by the populace. Small states are more flexible and are better at reacting and adapting to challenges. Furthermore, there is a tendency that small states are more peaceful, because they can’t produce all goods and services by themselves and are thereby dependent on undisturbed trade.

 

 

Sep 302017
 
 September 30, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Boulevard de Clichy, Paris 1887

 

Trump’s 1,500-word Airball (Stockman)
Puerto Rico Supply Failure Stops Food, Water Reaching Desperate Residents (G.)
Abenomics: Bat-Shit-Crazy (Muir)
Congress Can Give Every American A Pony (Kelton)
Homeowners Face Double Whammy Of Interest Rates And Slumped Market (Ind.)
ECB Wants to Weed Out Smaller Banks to Cut Competition (DQ)
VW’s Dieselgate Bill Hits $30 Billion After Another Charge (R.)
Could Ryanair’s ‘Pilotgate’ Spell The End Of Cheap Flights? (Ind.)
Citizens United No More (Jim Kunstler)
The Slimy Business of Russia-gate (Robert Parry)
Catalan Government Says Millions Will Turn Out For Referendum (G.)
Aid Programs Are Designed To Keep Countries In Poverty (Ren.)

 

 

The White House should consult with Stockman. He’s been there. This is going nowhere good. “..after nine months of work these geniuses have come up with $6 trillion of easy to propose tax rate cuts and virtually no plan whatsoever to pay for them..”

Trump’s 1,500-word Airball (Stockman)

The Donald’s strong point isn’t his grasp of policy detail. The nine page bare-bones outline released yesterday is nothing more than an aspirational air ball that lacks virtually every policy detail needed to assess its impact and to price out its cost. It promises to shrink the code to three rates (12%, 25%, 35%), for example. But it doesn’t say boo about where the brackets begin and end compared to current law. Needless to say, a taxpayer with $50,000 of taxable income who is on the 15% marginal bracket today might wish to know whether he is in the new 12% or the new 25% bracket proposed by the White House. After all, it could change his tax bill by several thousand dollars. Similarly, to help pay for upwards of $6 trillion of tax cuts over the next decade, it proposes to eliminate “most” itemized deductions. These “payfors” would in theory increase revenues by about $3 trillion.

Then again, the plan explicitly excludes the two biggest deductions – the charitable deduction and mortgage deduction – which together account for $1.3 trillion of that total. And it doesn’t name a single item among the hundreds of deductions that account for another $1 trillion of current law revenue loss. They’re just mystery meat to be stealthily extracted during committee meetings after Congressman have run the gauntlet of lobbyists prowling the halls outside. Stated differently, after nine months of work these geniuses have come up with $6 trillion of easy to propose tax rate cuts and virtually no plan whatsoever to pay for them. In fact, this latest nine pages of puffery contains just 1,500 words – including obligatory quotes from the Donald and page titles. I hate to get picky, but the Donald’s team has been on the job for 250 days now. And all they came up with amounts to just three words each per day in office.

Read more …

Blaming Puerto Rico on Trump as well is cheap and easy. The Jones Act must go, but Congress has left it intact. So have successive presidents.

Puerto Rico Supply Failure Stops Food, Water Reaching Desperate Residents (G.)

Nine days after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, thousands of containers of food, water and medicine are stuck in ports and warehouses on the island, as logistical problems continue to stop desperately needed supplies from reaching millions of Americans. In many parts of the US territory, food, medicine and drinking water are scarce, and amid a growing humanitarian crisis, local researchers have suggested the death toll could be much higher than the 16 deaths reported so far. On Thursday, the White House temporarily waived the Jones Act – the 1920 legislation which had prevented foreign ships from delivering supplies from US ports to Puerto Rico. But the breakdown of the island’s supply chain has left many concerned that the move will not be enough to get goods to the people who need them most.

Yennifer Álvarez, a spokesperson for Puerto Rico’s governor, said about 9,500 shipping containers filled with cargo were at the port of San Juan on Thursday morning as the government struggled to find truckers who could deliver supplies across the island. The delivery issue is aggravated by an intense shortage of gasoline. About half of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 gas stations are out of action; at those that are open, people have been queuing for up to nine hours to buy fuel for vehicles or the generators which have become essential since the island is still without electricity. Rafael Álvarez, vice-president of Méndez & Co, a food distribution company based in San Juan, said he was worried that if fuel was not efficiently distributed soon, people might get desperate. “I really hope things are worse today than they are going to be tomorrow,” he said.

“People are getting very anxious with the heat and the lack of easily accessible drinkable water.” Because of Puerto Rico’s crippling economic crisis, few people had the money to afford more than a week’s worth of emergency supplies, said Alvarez. But if fuel was readily available, Alvarez said, goods could be efficiently delivered around the island and generators would reliably function, resolving many of the territory’s most pressing concerns. Alvarez’s warehouse is at 100% capacity with shelf-stable products including cereals, granola bars and pasta sauce. Yet although the goods are ready to move to local grocery stores, only around 25% of his normal distribution fleet is available, because of the shortage of fuel or damage inflicted by the storm. And few stores are open because they need diesel to power their generators.

“The food industry is really intact except for diesel fuel,” Alvarez said. “We need diesel fuel to operate.” Federal and state officials have said there is enough diesel on the island, but it too has been difficult to distribute. “You know, the gas and fuel issue is not a matter of how much do we have – it’s a matter of how we can distribute it,” Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, told NPR.

Read more …

“And just like that, Abeconomics was born. Since then the Bank of Japan balance sheet has swelled from 30% of GDP to 95%!”

Abenomics: Bat-Shit-Crazy (Muir)

Between 1999 and 2012, the Bank of Japan increased their balance sheet threefold, raising it from 10% of GDP to 30%. Many a pundit screamed about Japan’s irresponsible monetary policy, but then the 2008 Great Financial Crisis hit, and suddenly the BoJ’s policies didn’t seem that extreme. The Fed embarked on a massive quantitative easing program, followed by most of the rest of the developed world. Next thing you knew, the Bank of Japan’s bloated balance sheet seemed like just one of many. Post GFC, the rate at which these other Central Banks were expanding their balance sheet put extreme stress on the Japanese economy as the BoJ’s relatively tame quantitative easing policy was overwhelmed by the rest of the world. Global deflation was exported to Japan. And just when things couldn’t get worse, Japan was hit by the tsunami/nuclear disaster.

Paradoxically, this caused a spike in the USDJPY rate down to 75, with the Yen hitting an all-time high value against the US dollar. This proved the final straw for the Japanese people, and Prime Minister Abe was elected on a platform of breaking the back of deflation through innovative extreme policies. And just like that, Abeconomics was born. Since then the Bank of Japan balance sheet has swelled from 30% of GDP to 95%! It’s too easy to take this for granted. The blue tickets just seem to keep coming, and coming, and coming. Pretty soon, it all seems so normal. But it isn’t. Not even close. This is bat-shit-crazy monetary expansion. Forget about arguing whether it is appropriate or needed. It doesn’t matter. The markets don’t give a hoot about your opinion. Nor does the BoJ. Heck, they barely even care what Yellen or Trump thinks.

They are going to do what they think best for their people, and that means inflating the shit out of their currency. What I find amazing is how complacent the markets have become about all of this. Sure when Abeconomics first came to pass there were tons of worrisome hedge fund presentations about the inevitability of disaster. But since then Kyle Bass and all the other Japan skeptics have moved on to China, or to the most recent hedge-fund-herding-theme-of-the-day. Yet at one point a few years back a reporter asked Kyle if he could put on one trade for the next decade and couldn’t touch it, what would it be? Bass answered gold denominated in Yen. I have this sneaking suspicion our favourite Texas hedge fund manager’s call was way more prescient than even he imagines (I just hope Kyle hasn’t taken it all off to bet on the China collapse.)

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At the very least the topic warrants a serious discussion. Just saying Stephanie’s crazy is not that.

Congress Can Give Every American A Pony (Kelton)

In her new book, Hillary Clinton mocks Sen. Bernie Sanders’ populist agenda. BERNIE: I think America should get a pony. HILLARY: How will you pay for the pony? You might find Clinton’s question intuitively reasonable. If you promise to fight for big things, then you should draw a detailed road map to the treasure chest that will fund them all. After all, the money has to come from somewhere. But what if I told you that your intuition was all wrong? What if it turned out that the government really could give everyone a pony — and a chicken and car? That is, so long as we could breed enough ponies and chickens and manufacture enough cars. The cars and the food have to come from somewhere; the money is conjured out of thin air, more or less.

When Clinton asks where the money will come from, she’s ordering the government’s fiscal operations like so:
1. Government collects money from us in the form of taxes (T)
2. Government figures out how much it wants to spend and then borrows any additional money it needs (B)
3. Government spends the money it has collected (S)

Since none of us learned any differently, most of us accept the idea that taxes and borrowing precede spending – TABS. And because the government has to “find the money” before it can spend in this sequence, everyone wants to know who’s picking up the tab. There’s just one catch. The big secret in Washington is that the federal government abandoned TABS back when it dropped the gold standard. Here’s how things really work:
1. Congress approves the spending and the money gets spent (S)
2. Government collects some of that money in the form of taxes (T)
3. If 1 > 2, Treasury allows the difference to be swapped for government bonds (B)

In other words, the government spends money and then collects some money back as people pay their taxes and buy bonds. Spending precedes taxing and borrowing – STAB. It takes votes and vocal interest groups, not tax revenue, to start the ball rolling. If you need proof that STAB is the law of the land, look no further than the Senate’s recent $700-billion defense authorization. Without raising a dime from the rest of us, the Senate quietly approved an $80-billion annual increase, or more than enough money to make 4-year public colleges and universities tuition-free. And just where did the government get the money to do that? It authorized it into existence.

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The future inside all housing bubbles. And there are more of those than anyone acknowledges.

Homeowners Face Double Whammy Of Interest Rates And Slumped Market (Ind.)

Homeowners are facing a twin blow of increased mortgage payments and a slowing housing market, with London prices falling for the first time in eight years. Across the UK the average price of a home increased at its slowest slowest pace in more than four years in September, Nationwide said on Friday. The news came shortly after Bank of England governor Mark Carney gave his clearest signal yet that the central bank’s Monetary Policy Committee would raise its benchmark interest rate from 0.25%. “What we have said, that if the economy continues on the track that it’s been on, and all indications are that it is, in the relatively near term we can expect that interest rates would increase somewhat,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, on Friday. A rate hike would mean more expensive home loans for homeowners who have grown used to ultra-low interest rates.

The MPC meets on 2 November to make its decision and a rate rise would be the first in more than a decade. Any increase is expected to be small but would place additional strain on households already stretched amid higher inflation and weak wage growth. A 0.25% rise would mean a person with a £200,000 mortgage on the average UK variable rate of 4.6% would pay an extra £28.72 per month. An increase of 1% would add an extra £117.10 to payments, though this scenario is not expected to become a reality in the short term. Higher payments could prove painful for homeowners, especially as the housing market begins to stutter. London house prices fell 0.6% in the year to September, Nationwide said – the first annual drop since the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009. It was the first time since 2005 that London was the worst performing region in the country.

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Centralization is dead.

ECB Wants to Weed Out Smaller Banks to Cut Competition (DQ)

The biggest financial problem in Europe these days is that it is “over-banked,” according to Daniele Nouy, Chair of the ECB’s Supervisory Board, and thus in charge of the Single Supervisory Mechanism, which regulates the largest 130 European banks. In a speech bizarrely titled “Too Much of a Good Thing: The Need for Consolidation in the European Banking Sector,” Nouy blamed fierce competition for squeezing profits for many of Europe’s banks while steadfastly ignoring the much larger role in the profit squeeze played by the ECB’s negative-interest-rate policy. ECB President Mario Draghi agrees. The profits of the largest 10 European banks rose by only 5% in the first half of 2017, compared to 19% for the US banks, which benefited from higher interest rates, stronger capital markets, better capitalization, and larger market shares, according to a new report by Ernst and Young.

In its latest annual health check of European banks, Bain Capital found that 31 institutions, or 28% of the 111 financial institutions they assessed, are in the “high-risk” quadrant. Location seemed to be a far more important factor than size. Banks in Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain have become “a breed apart in continued distress,” the report said, adding: “Every single bank that has failed in the past decade and for which there are financial statements available…fell into this quadrant before their demise.” Scandinavian, Belgian, and Dutch banks figured prominently among the 38% of the banks that attained the strongest position, outperforming on virtually all financial indicators. By contrast, many German and UK banks fell into the second category, that of “weaker business model.” In fact, virtually all the large German names fit into this category as their profitability and efficiency languish at levels comparable with their Greek counterparts.

They include Deutsche Bank, which in the midst of its third revamp in so many years, just reported its worst revenues in three and a half years. Deutsche Bank is far from alone. The dismal reality is that nine long years after the global financial crisis began, many systemic European banks pose as big a risk to the financial system, if not bigger, as they did back then. The only major difference is that now they’re hooked on Draghi’s myriad monetary welfare schemes (LTRO, TLTRO I and II…), which have managed to keep them afloat even as the ECB’s monetary policy puts a massive squeeze on their lending margins by driving interest rates to unfathomably low levels. But rather than raising interest rates — a scary thought given how major Eurozone economies like Italy and Spain have come to depend on QE to keep servicing their public debt — the ECB plans to reduce competition in the banking sector by weeding out smaller banks.

It’s a process that is already well under way, as Nouy explained in her speech: “Since 2008, the number of banks in the euro area has declined by about 20%, to around 5,000. And the number of bank employees has fallen by about 300,000, to 1.9 million. Total assets of the euro area banking sector peaked in 2012 at about 340% of GDP. Since then, they have fallen back to about 280% of GDP.” But this is not about shrinking the size of the banking sector; it’s about shrinking the number of players within it and in the process creating trans-European banking giants. To achieve that goal, all Europe needs are “brave banks” that are willing to conquer new territory: “Cross-border mergers would do more than just help the banking sector to shrink. They would also deepen integration. And this would take us closer to our goal of a truly European banking sector.”

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Time for Merkel to stop cozying up to carmakers.

VW’s Dieselgate Bill Hits $30 Billion After Another Charge (R.)

Volkswagenis taking another $3 billion charge to fix diesel engines in the United States, lifting the total bill for its emissions test cheating scandal to around $30 billion. Shares in the German carmaker fell as much as 3% on Friday, as traders and analysts expressed dismay the company was still booking charges two years after the scandal broke. “This is yet another unexpected and unwelcome announcement from VW, not only from an earnings and cash flow perspective but also with respect to the credibility of management,” said Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst. Europe’s biggest automaker admitted in September 2015 it had used illegal software to cheat U.S. diesel emissions tests, sparking the biggest business crisis in its 80 year history. Before Friday, it had set aside 22.6 billion euros ($26.7 billion) to cover costs such as fines and vehicle refits.

On Friday, it said hardware fixes were proving tougher than expected, as it booked an additional 2.5 billion euro provision. “We have to do more with the hardware,” a VW spokesman said, adding U.S. customers were having to wait longer for their cars to be repaired. The news relates to the program to buy back or fix up to 475,000 2 liter diesel cars. In Europe, where only a software update is required for the 8.5 million affected cars, besides a minor component integration for about 3 million of those, fixes are running smoothly, the spokesman added. The additional provision will be reflected in third-quarter results due on Oct. 27, VW said. Ellinghorst, who has an “outperform” rating on VW shares, expects the company to report third-quarter group earnings before tax and interest of €4.04 billion. “You have to ask if this is a bottomless pit,” said one Frankfurt-based trader of the U.S. charges.

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Something needs to stop it.

Could Ryanair’s ‘Pilotgate’ Spell The End Of Cheap Flights? (Ind.)

Ryanair has apologised to 800,000 passengers for cancelling their flights because of a pilot shortage, and then misleading them about their rights. But an obligation to meet travellers’ out-of-pocket expenses has raised fears that airlines’ costs – and fares – could soar because of demands for recompense. Airlines who cancel flights appear to have an open-ended liability for out-of-pocket expenses, which could include anything from tickets for an FC Barcelona Champions’ League football match to lost wages. The payments are additional to EU requirements to cover hotel rooms and meals connected with flight disruption. Costs could feed through to more expensive tickets – which, with supply reduced because of mass cancellations by Ryanair, are already rising.

[..] The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had demanded a statement from Ryanair explaining its obligations under European passengers’ rights rules. The airline complied shortly before the 5pm deadline. The statement explains in unprecedented detail the options open to passengers whose flights are cancelled: a Ryanair flight, if one is available on the same route on the same or next day; a Ryanair flight from a nearby airport; a flight on one of Ryanair’s seven “disruption partner airlines”, including easyJet, Jet2, Aer Lingus and Norwegian; or “comparable alternative transport” by air, rail or road. Europe’s biggest budget airline also promises to “reimburse any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred by customers as a result of these flight cancellations”.

Passengers who have already accepted a refund or alternative Ryanair flight are able to reconsider, while those who have booked on a rival airline can claim the difference in fare paid. The improved offer to passengers could double Ryanair’s previous estimate of €50m in extra costs because of the debacle. This represents less than 5% of its expected full-year profit. But the obligation to refund “any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses” could add significantly more. “This could open the floodgates to claims,” said one senior aviation executive.

[..] The move came two weeks after Ryanair began to cancel hundreds of flights at very short notice, having “messed up” rostering of pilots. It initially cancelled a tranche of 2,100 departures until the end of October, saying that its winter programme would be unaffected. But on 27 September Ryanair said it would ground 25 of its jets this winter – representing one-16th of its fleet – and cut 18,000 flights from the schedules. By giving more than two weeks’ notice of cancellations, the airline avoided the obligation to pay cash compensation. Affected passengers were emailed with two options: a refund, or re-booking on a different Ryanair flight. The option to fly on a rival airline at Ryanair’s expense was not mentioned – an omission that infuriated the CAA’s chief executive, Andrew Haines.

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“..Okefenokee Swamp of identity politics and Russia paranoia..”

Citizens United No More (Jim Kunstler)

I have an idea for the political party out of power, the Democrats, sunk in its special Okefenokee Swamp of identity politics and Russia paranoia: make an effort to legislate the Citizens United calamity out of existence. Who knows, a handful of Republicans may be shamed into going along with it. [..] corporations have not always been what they are deemed to be today. They evolved with the increasingly complex activities of industrial economies. Along the way — in Great Britain first, actually — they were deemed to exist as the equivalent of legal persons, to establish that the liabilities of the company were separate and distinct from those of its owners. In the USA, forming a corporation usually required an act of legislation until the late 19th century.

After that, they merely had to register with the states. Then congress had to sort out the additional problems of giant “trusts” and holding companies (hence, anti-trust laws, now generally ignored). In short, the definition of what a corporation is and what it has a right to do is in a pretty constant state of change as economies evolve. [..] This homework assignment should be given to the Democratic members of congress, since they are otherwise preoccupied only with hunting for Russian gremlins and discovering new sexual abnormalities to protect and defend.

The crux of the argument is that corporations cannot be said to be entirely and altogether the equivalent of persons for all legal purposes. In law, corporations have duties, obligations, and responsibilities to their shareholders first, and only after that to the public interest or the common good, and only then by pretty strict legal prescription. It may be assumed that the interests of corporations and their shareholders are in opposition to, and in conflict with, the public interest. And insofar as elections are fundamentally matters of the public interest, corporations must be prohibited from efforts to influence the outcome of elections.

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“.. we are now in a phase of Russia-gate in which NGO “scholars” produce deeply biased reports and their nonsense is treated as front-page news..”

The Slimy Business of Russia-gate (Robert Parry)

The “Field of Dreams” slogan for America’s NGOs should be: “If you pay for it, we will come.” And right now, tens of millions of dollars are flowing to non-governmental organizations if they will buttress the thesis of Russian “meddling” in the U.S. democratic process no matter how sloppy the “research” or how absurd the “findings.” And, if you think the pillars of the U.S. mainstream media – The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and others – will apply some quality controls, you haven’t been paying attention for the past year or so. The MSM is just as unethical as the NGOs are. So, we are now in a phase of Russia-gate in which NGO “scholars” produce deeply biased reports and their nonsense is treated as front-page news and items for serious discussion across the MSM.

Yet, there’s even an implicit confession about how pathetic some of this “scholarship” is in the hazy phrasing that gets applied to the “findings,” although the weasel words will slip past most unsuspecting Americans and will be dropped for more definitive language when the narrative is summarized in the next day’s newspaper or in a cable-news “crawl.” For example, a Times front-page story on Thursday reported that “a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia seized on both sides of the [NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem] issue with hashtags, such as #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee.” The story, which fits neatly into the current U.S. propaganda meme that the Russian government somehow is undermining American democracy by stirring up dissent inside the U.S., quickly spread to other news outlets and became the latest “proof” of a Russian “war” against America.

However, before we empty the nuclear silos and exterminate life on the planet, we might take a second to look at the Times phrasing: “a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia.” The vague wording doesn’t even say the Russian government was involved but rather presents an unsupported claim that some Twitter accounts are “suspected” of being part of some “network” and that this “network” may have some ill-defined connection – or “links” – to “Russia,” a country of 144 million people. It’s like the old game of “six degrees of separation” from Kevin Bacon. Yes, perhaps we are all “linked” to Kevin Bacon somehow but that doesn’t prove that we know Kevin Bacon or are part of a Kevin Bacon “network” that is executing a grand conspiracy to sow discontent by taking opposite sides of issues and then tweeting.

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What will Barcelona look like on Monday morning?

Catalan Government Says Millions Will Turn Out For Referendum (G.)

The Catalan government has laid out its plans for the referendum on independence from Spain, claiming that more than 7,200 people will staff 2,315 polling stations across the region to stage a vote that has triggered the country’s worst territorial crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago. On Friday afternoon, the pro-independence regional government unveiled plastic ballot boxes and predicted that 60% of Catalonia’s 5.3 million eligible voters would head to the polls on Sunday in defiance of the Spanish government, the police and the courts. “Catalans will be able to vote,” said the region’s vice-president, Oriol Junqueras. “Even if someone attacks a polling station, Catalans will still be able to vote.” Junqueras gave no further details but called on people to behave responsibly and to ignore the “provocations of those who want to stop the vote”.

His words were echoed by the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, who told Reuters: “I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist.” On Friday afternoon, a large convoy of tractors driven by Catalan farmers and flying independence flags rolled into Barcelona to show support for the vote and to protest against moves to halt it. Both the Spanish government and the country’s constitutional court have declared the vote illegal. Over the past 10 days, the authorities have stepped up their efforts to stop the referendum, arresting 14 senior Catalan government officials, shutting down referendum websites, and seizing millions of ballot papers. Spain’s interior ministry has deployed thousands of extra police officers to the region and the infrastructure ministry announced on Friday that the airspace over Barcelona would be closed to helicopters and light aircraft until Monday.

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Nothing new.

Aid Programs Are Designed To Keep Countries In Poverty (Ren.)

The income gap between rich countries and poor countries is not diminishing. It has been increasing dramatically, and not only during colonialism. Since the 1960s, the income gap between north and south has tripled. “There’s something fundamentally wrong and it won’t be changed with a bit of aid here in there,” Hickel says. “We need to fundamentally restructure the global economy and make it fair.” Hickel’s central thesis is that there is nothing natural about poverty. His book examines structurally determined behaviour, designed in fact, to deliver the poverty outcomes we witness around the world. “One of the dominant understandings out there that I seek to question in the book is the idea that rich countries are giving aid to poor countries in any meaningful quantity,” he says.

“In fact there is a lot of aid given – it’s about $130 billion per year transferred from rich countries to poor countries. That’s an enormous amount of money.” Some of the money comes in the form of charity. A lot of it in the form of loans, with debt strings – and conditions – attached. “A lot of the aid that’s given comes with conditions attached that the recipients of the aid have to implement certain economic policies, or have to votes with the donor country in UN agreements and so on,” says Hickel. “There’s no free lunch.” “But even if we assume that there was a free lunch, that $130 billion dollars are really being transferred for free from rich countries the poor countries, even that is misleading because in fact vastly more than that amount flows in the opposite direction – from poor countries to rich countries – for all sorts of reasons.

“The biggest one is probably illicit financial flows, most of which are in the form of tax evasion by major multinational companies operating in the global south, headquartered often in rich countries that are effectively stealing wealth, their profits from global south countries and stashing them away in tax havens because of rules written by the WTO that make this practice possible.” The World Trade Organisation basically governs the rules of global trade, for the most part, centrally. It is a very anti-democratic institution, where the vast majority of bargaining power has long been in the hands of a handful of countries which get to determine rules that end up serving their interests. “That’s one of the reasons that we see these financial flows in such magnitude,” says Hickel.

“These financial flows outstrip the aid budget by a factor of 10. So for every dollar of aid that poor countries receive, they lose 10 dollars to multinational tax havens. Another one is debt service. Poor countries pay $200 billion per year in debt service to banks in rich countries. “And that’s just the interest payments on debts, many of which have been paid-off already many times over, some of which are accumulated by legitimate dictators. That’s a direct cash transfusion from from poor to rich. That outstrips the aid budget by a factor or two.”

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Feb 012017
 
 February 1, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Théodore Géricault The Raft of the Medusa 1819

 

Benoît Hamon won the run-off for the presidential nomination of the Socialist party in France last weekend. The party that still, lest we forget, runs the country; current president François Hollande is a Socialist, even if only in name, but he did win the previous election. Hamon ran on a platform of shortening the workweek from 35 to 32 hours, legalizing cannabis and ‘easing’ the country into a universal basic income of €750/month per capita. He’s way left of Hollande, who has a hilariously low approval rating of 4%.

Hamon doesn’t appear to have much chance of winning the presidency in the two voting rounds taking place on April 23 and May 7, but we all know how reliable election predictions are these days, and in that regard France is as volatile as the next country. With conservative runaway favorite François Fillon accused of having paid his wife $1 million for doing nothing and Marine Le Pen, already desperately short on funds, targeted by the EU over money, who knows what and who will decide the election? Hamon may simply be the only one left standing on the day after the vote.

I bring up Hamon, about whom I know very little, not least because he was more or less a late minute addition to the field that was supposed to have been an easy win for his former boss Manuel Valls, I bring up Hamon because he confirms something I’ve been talking about for a while. That is, the fact that ‘leftist France’ chooses to go even more left than expected, goes a way towards proving my ‘theory’ that voters in many if not most western countries will move away from their respective political centers, and towards extremes.

This is an inevitable consequence of traditional, less extreme, politicians and parties having all become clustered together in shapeless and colorless blobs in the center, both in the US and in most European countries, combined with the fact that all of their policies -especially economic ones- have spectacularly failed vast amounts of people (or voters, if you will).

The failure of their policies has been hidden from sight by interest rates squashed like bugs, ballooning central bank balance sheets, real estate bubbles, fabricated economic data, and fantasy stories in their media that seem(ed) to affirm the ‘recovery’ tales, but they all ‘forgot’ to -eventually- line up reality with the fantasies. They never made 99% of people actually more comfortable. The entire politics-economics-media deus ex machina has failed because it was/is based on lies and fake news, meant to hide economic reality (i.e. negative growth), and this will have grave consequences.

People have started noticing this despite the official and media-promoted data. And they’re not going to “un-notice”. Not only don’t people -once they find out- like having been lied to for years, they dislike worsening living conditions even more. And that’s all they get; the only people who get it better are the rich, because without that the machinery can’t continue pumping up the ‘official’ numbers.

 

And what do you get? People complain about Trump. And they focus on one of his -seemingly- crazy ideas: temporarily closing US borders to refugees from nations with large Muslim populations. Which is a fine thing to resist, because yes, it’s a pretty silly idea, but why haven’t they paid similar attention to how they’ve been lied to for years on both the economy and on Syria, on how Obama became the Drone King and how many innocent people lost their lives because of that?!

To how favorite all-American gal Hillary screwed up Northern Africa when she declared We Came We Saw He Died and the death of Libya’s Gaddafi, who gave his country the highest living standards in the region, free education and free health care, but was murdered by Hillary’s US troops, co-created the chaos that led to so many people wanting to flee their homelands in the first place?

Why is that? Why are there protests when people are halted at an American border crossing but not when American and British and French and Australian forces blow the very same people’s homes to smithereens? Could that have something to do with where the protesters get their information? With how much they know about what’s happening in the world before it reaches their doorsteps?

Yes, people are suffering, and it’s very unfair what’s happening to many caught in the Trump Ban, but does anyone really believe that that’s where it started, that this is the first time (or even a unique time) that protest is warranted, or more so? And if not, why is it happening? Because people only notice stuff when it hits them in the face, I would presume, but who among the protesters would volunteer to agree they live their lives with blinders on? Not many, I would venture. So why do we see what we do? Where were you when Obama ordered yet another child, a family, which hadn’t yet made it to a US airport but might as well have, to be collateral damage?

I get why you’re protesting the Trump ban, but I don’t get why that’s your prime focus. I am guessing that most of the protesters would not have voted Trump in the first place, and would have been much happier -to put it mildly- for Hillary to be president right now. But if you would have paid attention in history class, you would know that it was Hillary who brought the refugees to your welcome mats to begin with.

Take it a step further, like to the January 21 women’s march, and you would realize that the vast majority of the refugees would have much preferred to stay where they grew up, where the women in their families, their sisters and aunts and daughters used to live. Most of whom are gone now, they’re either dead or diaspora-ed to Jordan, Turkey, Alberta, Sweden, Greece. All on account of Obama and his crew. Who of course blamed it on Assad and Putin. “I killed 1000 children, but I had to because those guys are so dangerous….”

This generation of refugees, of the huddled masses that the Statue of Liberty is supposed to teach you about, didn’t come to America because it’s the promised land; they came because America turned their homeland into a giant pile of rubble surrounded by garbage heaps and minefields. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen pictures of Aleppo before it was destroyed, but I dare you to tell me there is even one existing American city today that’s more beautiful than Aleppo was before Americans and their allies reduced it to dust. Here you go. This is Aleppo before America got involved in Syria:

 

 

There’s very little left of that beautiful city, with its highly educated people and their lovely happy children. And none of that has anything at all to do with Donald Trump! I don’t want to give you pics of what Aleppo looks like now. I want you to remember how lovely it was before ‘we’ moved in, years go. Sure, what you hear and see in the west is that Assad and Putin are the bad guys in this story. But now that the US/EU supported ‘rebels’ are gone, dozens of schools are reopening, and medical centers, hospitals. Who are the bad guys now?

And yeah, Trump is an elephant, and elephants are always awkward and they’re messy and they tend to kick things over and when they make mistakes those tend to be huge, but how much valuable china does the US really have left anyway? Isn’t it all perhaps just a sliver off target, the demos, the outrage and indignation? Is the idea that your army can destroy people’s living environments with impunity without you protesting in anything approaching a serious way, and that then you get to demand, through protest, that those same people are allowed entry into your country? That’s way too late to do the right thing.

 

I started out making the point that as our politico-economic systems are failing, voters will move away from the center that devised and promoted those systems, and that this will happen in many countries. The US could have had Bernie Sanders as president, but the remaining powers in the center made that impossible. Likewise, many European countries will see a move towards either further left or further right.

Since the former is mostly dormant at best, while the latter has long been preparing for just such a moment, many nations will follow the American example and elect a right wing figurehead. This will cause a lot of chaos, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. People need to wake up and become active. The recent US demonstrations may be a first sign of that, even though they look largely out of focus. More than anything else, people need a mirror, they need to acknowledge that because they’ve been in a state of mindless self-centered slumber for so long, they have work to do now.

And that work needs to consist of more than yelling at the top of your lungs that Trump and Le Pen and Wilders are such terribly bad people. For one thing because that will only help them, for another because they were not the people who put you to sleep or were supporting mindless slaughter in faraway nations or were making up ‘official’ numbers as your economies were dumped into handbaskets on their way to hell. So ask yourselves, why did you believe what Obama was saying, or Merkel, or Cameron, Sarkozy, Rutte, you name them, while you could have known they were just making it all up, if only you had paid attention?

Why? What happened? Why did the term ‘fake news’ only recently become a hot potato, even though you’ve been bombarded with fake and false news for years? Is it because you were/are so eager to believe that your economy is recovering that any evidence to the contrary didn’t stand a chance? If so, do realize that for many people that was not true; it’s why they voted for the people you now so despise. Is it perhaps also because you’re so eager to believe your ‘leaders’ do the right thing that you completely miss out on the fact that they’re not? And whose fault is that?

 

In yet another angle, people claim that the planet’s in great peril because Trump doesn’t ‘believe’ in climate change. But it’s not Trump’s who’s the danger when it comes to climate change, you are, because you’re foolish enough to believe that things like last year’s infinitely bally-hood Paris Agreement (CON21) will actually ‘save’ something. That belief is more dangerous than a flat-out denial, because it lulls people into sleep, while denial keeps them awake.

It’s the idea that there’s still time to rescue the planet that’s dangerous, because it’s the perfect excuse to keep on doing what you were doing without having to feel too much guilt or remorse. You’re not going to save a single species with your electric car or whatever next green fad there is, the only way to do that is through drastic changes to your society and your own behavior.

That’s not only true with respect to the climate, it’s just as valid with respect to the refugees on your doorstep. If you want to rescue them, and those who will come after them, the only thing that makes any difference is making sure the bombing stops, that the US and European war machines are silenced. If you don’t do that, none of these protests are of any use. So sure, yeah, by all means, protest, but make sure you protest the real issues, not just a symptom.

That doesn’t mean you should shut the door in the face of these frail forms fainting at the door, that’s just insane, but it does mean that after welcoming your guests, you will also have to make sure what brought them there must stop. If you stop killing and maiming these people, and help rebuild Aleppo and a thousand other places, they won’t need to come to your door anymore.

 

As for the political field, unrest will continue and grow because the end of economic growth means the end of centralization, and our entire world, politically, economically, what have you, is based on these two things. Today, unrest is the only growth industry left. And it’s not going away anytime soon. It’s a new day, a new dawn, it’s just that unfortunately this is not going to be a pretty one.

Still, none of it is unexpected. The Automatic Earth has been saying for years, and with us quite a few others, that this was and is inevitable. Of course there are those who say that we cried wolf, but we’ll take that risk any day. Saw a nice very short video of Mike Maloney saying in 2011 that Obama would have to double US debt between 2008 and 2016 just to keep the entire system from starting to collapse, running to stand still, Alice, Red Queen and all. And guess what?

There’s the recovery as it’s been sold to you. It’s all been borrowed, to the last penny. Will Donald Trump double US debt once again? Will the EU countries do the same? How about Japan and China? And to think that federal debt isn’t even the worst threat, personal debt is, and so many of us carry so much of that, and try to pass off our mortgaged homes as assets, not debt. An increasingly desperate game on all fronts.

Jan 292017
 
 January 29, 2017  Posted by at 11:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Michael Andrews A Shadow 1974

Donald Trump’s Cruel Ban On Refugees Sets A Chilling Precedent (Robert Fisk)
Judges Block Parts of Trump’s Order on Muslim Nation Immigration (BBG)
Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence (Wittes)
Trump’s Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, And Resistance (IC)
Science Can Decode the Laws of History and Predict US Political Violence (PT)
UK Agrees £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey Despite Human Rights Abuse (Ind.)
Canada’s Justin Trudeau Takes A Stand On US Refugee Ban (BBC)
Centralization and the Decline of Europe (IL)
Muslims Make A Pitch For Populist Vote As Dutch Politics Turns Sharp Right (G.)
How Great the Fall Can Be (Greer)
This Could Be Greece’s Last Chance To Save Itself (CNBC)
Greece’s Best-Selling Daily To Cease Publication Due To Debts (AFP)
Second Man Dies At Lesbos Refugee Camp Within Days (Kath.)

 

 

Strong from Fisk: “It’s OK to use pilotless planes to assault men and women in other countries. It’s OK if your allies steal land from others for their own people, if you support Arab dictatorships that emasculate and execute and rape their prisoners, as long as they are “allies” of the USA.”

But do note: none of these things have occurred under Trump. So where were you when Obama became the Drone King? When Hillary said We Came We Saw He Died? Do you feel those things are less important or less cruel than what happened yesterday in US airports? Now is the time to speak.

Donald Trump’s Cruel Ban On Refugees Sets A Chilling Precedent (Robert Fisk)

So Donald Trump is going to f**k them all. No excuses for such filthy words today. I’m only quoting the man whose Pentagon offices he just used to disgrace himself – and America. For it was Secretary of Defence James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis who told Iraqis in 2003 that he came “in peace’ – he even urged his Marines to be compassionate – but said of those who might dare to resist America’s illegal invasion of their country: “If you f**k with me, I’ll kill you all.” There’s no getting round it. Call it Nazi, Fascist, racist, vicious, illiberal, immoral, cruel. More dangerously, what Trump has done is a wicked precedent. If you can stop them coming, you can chuck them out. If you can demand “extreme vetting” of Muslims from seven countries, you can also demand a “values test” for those Muslims who have already made it to the USA.

Those on visas. Those with residency only. Those – if they are American citizens – with dual citizenship. Or full US citizens of Muslim origin. Or just Americans who are Muslims. Or Hispanics. Or Jews? Refugees one day. Citizens the next. Then refugees again. No, of course, Trump would never visit such obscene tests on Jewish immigrants – for they would be obscene, would they not? – and nor will he stop Christians from Muslim countries. America has always condemned sectarian states, but now Trump declares that he approves of sectarianism. Minorities will be welcome – the Alawites of Syria, to whom Bashar al-Assad belongs, will presumably not count, and I guess we can expect all US embassies to have three queues for visa applicants. One for Muslims, one for Christians, and a third marked ‘Other’. That’s where most of us will be standing in line. And by doing so, we will automatically give approval to this iniquitous system – and to Trump.

There’s no point in wasting time over the obvious: that America has bombed, directly or indirectly, five of the seven nations on Trump’s banned list. Sudan just escapes, but the US blew a packed Iranian passenger airliner out of the sky in 1988 and has raised no objections to Israel’s bombing of Iranian personnel in Syria. So that makes six. There’s nothing to be gained by reiterating that the four countries whose citizens participated in the international crimes against humanity of 9/11 – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates and Lebanon – do not feature on the list. For the Saudis must be loved, cosseted, fawned over, approved, even when they chop off heads and when their citizens funnel cash to the murderers of Isis. Egypt is ruled by Trump’s “fantastic guy” anti-‘terrorist’ president al-Sisi. The glisteningly wealthy Emirates won’t be touched. Nor will Lebanon, although its tens of thousands of dual-national Syrians may have a tough time in the future.

But no, this vile piece of legislation is not aimed at nations. It’s targeting refugees, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The Muslim ones, that is, not the Christians. How can they ever withstand a “values test”? And what are America’s “values” anyway? It’s OK to attack sovereign states. It’s OK to use pilotless planes to assault men and women in other countries. It’s OK if your allies steal land from others for their own people, if you support Arab dictatorships that emasculate and execute and rape their prisoners, as long as they are “allies” of the USA. It’s OK to fast-track Saudi visas – as the Brits have been doing for years – even if they are members of the most inspirational Wahhabi cult in the world: membership includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Isis, you name it.

There’s even no value in touting our own participation in this charade. Having just patted the killer governments of the Gulf on the head – and heading off to do the same to Turkey’s autocrat-in-chief – our poodlet prime minister, fresh out of Washington, hasn’t uttered a word about Trump’s wickedness. Wasn’t it Britain – and America, for heaven’s sake – that was weeping copious tears, buckets of the stuff, for the 250,000 (or 90,000) Muslim refugees of eastern Aleppo a couple of months ago? And now, so much do we care for them, that they are being well and truly f****d.

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More of this please.

Judges Block Parts of Trump’s Order on Muslim Nation Immigration (BBG)

Two judges temporarily blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing parts of his order to halt immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries, after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the U.S. A nationwide ruling in Brooklyn, New York, barring refugees and visa holders already legally in the U.S. from being turned back came hours after the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued to halt the Jan 27 order. A separate order in Alexandria, Virginia, forbid the government from removing about 60 legal permanent residents of the U.S. who were being detained at Dulles International Airport.

Neither ruling strikes down the executive order, which will now be subject to court hearings. White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Saturday night. There were wrenching scenes – and angry protests – at major airports across the country before the court orders were issued. At Los Angeles International Airport, a lawyer reported that an 80-year-old insulin-dependent visitor was being held by officials and had no contact with her worried family. Shane Moss, a 38-year-old from Missouri, was returning from Thailand with his girlfriend, a dietician and joint Canadian-Iranian citizen with a valid work visa, when they were forced to separate. Hours later, he had not heard from her. “They won’t tell me anything,” Moss said. “I’m worn out. I’ve been up for 20-something hours and we’ve still got to get home to Kansas City.”

[..] The executive order, issued on Friday, bars citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, from entering the U.S. for the next three months in an effort to stop terrorists and gain hold of the immigration system. White House officials told reporters, before the court orders were issued, that green card holders from those countries who found themselves abroad and trying to come back would be evaluated case by case. Last year there were nearly 32,000 immigrant visas issued in the U.S. to the seven affected countries. The order also halts refugee resettlement to the U.S. for 120 days, and orders that refugee admissions for 2017 be cut to 50,000 from the planned limit of 110,000.

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This is from what I would call a decidedly right wing lawyer (though he also says he’s ‘pro-refugees’). “I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I’ve got no problem with drone strikes. I’m positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA’s interrogations in the years after September 11.” But who says: “It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.”

Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence (Wittes)

Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives. When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.

[..] I think we can, without drawing any kind of equivalence between this order and Jim Crow, make a similar point here: Is this document a reasonable security measure? There are many areas in which security policy affects innocent lives but within which we do not presumptively say that the fact that some group of people faces disproportionate burdens renders that policy illegitimate. But if an entire religious grouping finds itself irrationally excluded from the country for no discernible security benefit following a lengthy campaign that overtly promised precisely such discrimination and exactly this sort of exclusion, if the relevant security agencies are excluded from the policy process, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether the reasonable pursuit of security is the purpose, I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers—that of laughter.

So yes, the order is malevolent. But here’s the thing: Many of these malevolent objectives were certainly achievable within the president’s lawful authority. The president’s power over refugee admissions is vast. His power to restrict visa issuances and entry of aliens to the United States is almost as wide. If the National Security Council had run a process of minimal competence, it could certainly have done a lot of stuff that folks like me, who care about refugees, would have gnashed our teeth over but which would have been solidly within the President’s authority. It could have all been implemented in a fashion that didn’t create endless litigation opportunities and didn’t cause enormous diplomatic friction. How incompetent is this order? An immigration lawyer who works for the federal government wrote me today describing the quality of the work as “look[ing] like what an intern came up with over a lunch hour. . . . My take is that it is so poorly written that it’s hard to tell the impact.”

I would wax triumphant about the mitigating effect of incompetence on this document, but alas, I can’t do it. The president’s powers in this area are vast, as I say, and while the incompetence is likely to buy the administration a world of hurt in court and in diplomacy in the short term, this order is still going take more than a few pounds of flesh out of a lot of innocent people. Moreover, it’s a very dangerous thing to have a White House that can’t with the remotest pretense of competence and governance put together a major policy document on a crucial set of national security issues without inducing an avalanche of litigation and wide diplomatic fallout. If the incompetence mitigates the malevolence in this case, that’ll be a blessing. But given the nature of the federal immigration powers, the mitigation may be small and the blessing short-lived; the implications of having an executive this inept are not small and won’t be short-lived.

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It started at least a week ago.

Trump’s Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, And Resistance (IC)

Following an executive order signed late Friday, President Donald Trump on Saturday launched a sweeping attack on the travel rights of individuals from more than a half dozen Muslim majority countries, turning away travelers at multiple U.S. airports and leaving others stranded without answers — and without hope — across the world. Trump’s order triggered waves of outrage and condemnation at home and abroad, prompting thousands of protesters to flood several American airports and ultimately culminating in a stay issued by a federal district judge in New York City on the deportation of people who were being detained by immigration officials. Similar stays were issued by judges in Washington, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

The administration’s assault on civil liberties explicitly targeted the world’s most vulnerable populations – refugees and asylum seekers fleeing devastating wars – as well as young people with student visas pursuing an education in the United States, green card holders with deep roots in the country, and a number of citizens of countries not included in the ban. It also impacted American children traveling with, or waiting to meet, their non-citizen parents. With an estimated 500,000 people in the crosshairs, Trump’s order was carried out swiftly and sowed confusion among the nation’s immigration and homeland security agencies – which were excluded from the drafting process and were scrambling to understand how to implement it, according to media reports and two government officials who spoke to The Intercept.

Days before the executive order was signed, reports began to emerge that valid visa holders were suddenly being prevented from reentering the country after taking trips abroad. A senior U.S. immigration official, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, confirmed to The Intercept that the rash of unusual student visa revocations began roughly a week before the official order was signed. Many of the stories the official heard about were anecdotal. Others, however, the official was able to review via internal Department of Homeland Security monitoring systems. While visas are revoked every day with little explanation afforded to those affected, the backgrounds of the individuals in these cases raised no red flags, the official said.

On the contrary, the impacted individuals whose files the official reviewed included a young mother of a U.S. citizen child, and students at some of the nation’s top universities publicly recognized for their outstanding achievement. These students had already undergone rigorous U.S. government vetting before being admitted to the country, and had only traveled abroad briefly over their winter break. The Intercept has independently verified two of these stories by speaking to those denied entry, who asked that their names not be used because they are attempting to appeal the decisions.

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Interesting notion: “elite overproduction”.

Science Can Decode the Laws of History and Predict US Political Violence (PT)

Consider the “structural-demographic theory” that was first proposed by the sociologist Jack Goldstone and subsequently developed and tested with data by others, including myself. The theory explains major outbreaks of political violence, such as the French Revolution or American Civil War, by focusing on several interrelated processes. One is the falling or stagnating living standards of the general population. But contrary to the widely held view, popular discontent by itself is not a sufficient cause of a civil war or a revolution. A more important factor is what has been called “elite overproduction” – that is, the appearance of too many elite candidates vying for a limited supply of power positions within the government and the economy. As written about in my book War and Peace and War, elite overproduction results in intense intra-elite competition, polarisation, and conflict that ultimately takes violent forms.

[..] The structural-demographic theory has been tested by several investigators on many historical societies. The theory predicts very long-term cycles in which periods when societies are internally at peace are succeeded by waves of unrest. Both of these “integrative” and “disintegrative” phases are about a century long. The theory focuses entirely on the dynamics of political instability within states as external wars have a logic of their own (in fact, it is typically societies which are in their integrative phases that prosecute successful wars of external conquest). Our empirical investigations of a variety of historical societies confirm that they go through structural-demographic cycles. But on top of the long cycles are often superimposed shorter oscillations with periods of roughly 50 years.

It appears that people eventually tire of incessant fighting, so during the disintegrative phases human generations experiencing a lot of fighting tend to alternate with relatively peaceful ones. Recently the Journal of Peace Research published my article in which I tested the predictions of the theory on American data. Constructing and analysing a database on US political violence (between 1780 and 2010), I found that the dynamics of violent incidences were just as predicted by the theory: a long structural-demographic cycle with a 50-year cycle superimposed on it:

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This is really the worst news of all. Money, and the military-industrial complex, still rule supreme. Nothing at all will improve until we root it out.

UK Agrees £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey Despite Human Rights Abuse (Ind.)

The UK has signed a £100m deal to design new fighter jets for Turkey, despite the country’s President undertaking a severe crackdown on his regime’s opponents. Theresa May said it could open the way to billions of pounds worth of business, as she became the first foreign leader to visit Turkey since Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered a wave of arrests and sackings in the wake of last summer’s coup. Questioned over human rights concerns, Downing Street officials said the deal to design the TF-X jets was sealed in light of Turkey’s status as a Nato ally and claimed Ms May could approach human rights as a “separate” issue. The PM did warn the President it was “important” for him to uphold human rights, as the stony faced Turkish leader looked on.

The UK is already mired in controversy regarding some £3bn worth of licences granted to export arms to Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom embarked on a deadly bombing campaign in Yemen. The announcement in Ankara yesterday means BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace Industries have signed a “heads of agreement”, establishing a partnership for the development of the Turkish Fighter Programme or TF-X. Downing Street sources said the £100m contract has the potential to facilitate multibillion pound contracts between the UK and Turkish firms over the project’s 20-year lifetime. Ms May added: “It marks the start of a new and deeper trading relationship with Turkey and will potentially secure British and Turkish jobs and prosperity for decades to come.”

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How will Justin avoid a major battle with Washington? Build a wall?

Canada’s Justin Trudeau Takes A Stand On US Refugee Ban (BBC)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a stand on social media against the temporary US ban on refugees and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries Mr Trudeau underscored his government’s commitment to bringing in “those fleeing persecution, terror & war”. The US Department of Homeland Security said the entry ban would also apply to dual nationals of the seven countries. However, Mr Trudeau’s office says Canadian dual nationals are exempt. “We have been assured that Canadian citizens travelling on Canadian passports will be dealt with in the usual process,” a spokeswoman for Mr Trudeau said in an emailed statement.

US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn “confirmed that holders of Canadian passports, including dual citizens, will not be affected by the ban,” the statement said. Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is a dual national who arrived as a Somali refugee. Within hours, Mr Trudeau’s tweets had been shared more than 150,000 times. “Welcome to Canada” also became a trending term in the country. Mr Trudeau, who gained global attention for granting entry to nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees to Canada over the past 13 months, also sent a pointed tweet that showed him greeting a young refugee at a Canadian airport in 2015.

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Growth, centralization and decline. I’ve made the connection many times.

Centralization and the Decline of Europe (IL)

The famous French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand supposedly said that a weakness of the Bourbon monarchs was that they learned nothing and forgot nothing. If so, the genetic descendants of the Bourbons are now in charge of Europe. But before explaining why, let’s first establish that Europe is in trouble [..] because of statism and demographic change. What’s far more noteworthy, though, is that even the Europeans are waking up to the fact that the continent faces a very grim future. For instance, the bureaucrats in Brussels are pessimistic, as reported by the EU Observer. “…the report warns of a longer term risk for the EU economy. “As expectations of low growth ahead affect investment today, there is potential for a vicious circle,” the commission’s director general for economic and financial affairs writes in the report’s foreword. “In short, the projected pace of GDP growth may not be sufficient to prevent the cyclical impact of the crisis from becoming permanent (hysteresis), ” Marco Buti writes.”

The people of Europe share that grim assessment. Pew has some very sobering data on angst across the continent. Support for European economic integration – the 1957 raison d’etre for creating the European Economic Community, the EU’s predecessor – is down over last year in five of the eight EU countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2013. Positive views of the European Union are at or near their low point in most EU nations, even among the young, the hope for the EU’s future. The favorability of the EU has fallen from a median of 60% in 2012 to 45% in 2013.

Establishment-oriented voices in the United States also agree that the outlook is rather dismal. Writing in the Washington Post, Sebastian Mallaby offers a grim assessment of Europe’s future. “…since 2008…, the 28 countries in the European Union managed combined growth of just 4%. And in the subset consisting of the eurozone minus Germany, output actually fell. …most of the Mediterranean periphery has suffered a lost decade. …The unemployment rate in the euro area stands at 9.8%, more than double the U.S. rate. Unemployment among Europe’s youth is even more appalling: In Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus and Portugal, more than 1 in 4 workers under 25 are jobless.” The bottom line is that there’s widespread consensus that Europe is a mess and that things will probably get worse unless there are big changes.

But the key question, as always, is whether the changes are positive or negative. And this is why I started with a reference to the Bourbon kings. European leaders today also are infamous for learning nothing and forgetting nothing. [..] As Nassim Nicholas Taleb has sagely observed, it is centralization and harmonization that creates systemic risk. And all this talk about “common resources” and “public risk sharing” is simply the governmental version of co-signing a loan for the deadbeat family alcoholic. Yet Europe’s ideologues can’t resist their lemming-like march in the wrong direction. What makes this especially odd is that there is so much evidence that Europe originally became rich for the opposite reason.

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Elections in (7?) weeks and everyone turns right. Pragmatism, politicians call it.

Muslims Make A Pitch For Populist Vote As Dutch Politics Turns Sharp Right (G.)

Nourdin el Ouali has grown used to far-right attacks on Dutch Muslims, and to dog-whistle politics. But when the country’s prime minister wrote an open letter last week, in effect demanding that minorities integrate or “go away”, he was still shocked. Mark Rutte’s letter comes less than two months before a national election, and after months of watching populist Geert Wilders rising into the top position in national polls. If the election were held tomorrow his far-right party would probably be the largest in parliament. The letter did not directly mention Muslims, and began instead by attacking people who drop litter or spit on buses. However, in his warning of “something wrong” in Dutch society, the message was clear.

Rutte’s naked bid to woo far-right voters for the 15 March election prompted scathing criticism across mainstream society, and worry among Dutch Muslims, who have already endured a sharp rise in hate crime and say they face regular discrimination in daily life. “It concerns me a lot, because it’s the prime minister who wrote the letter,” says Ouali, a Rotterdam native, founder and city councillor for the progressive Nida party. “You would expect a different role from someone in this position, to rise above it all, bring people together – not writing this kind of letter where he really in a sneaky way talks about Dutch identity, implying there are groups [of Dutch citizens] that are a threat to the Dutch way of life.”

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“..those of my readers who have worked themselves up to the screaming point about the comparatively mild events we’ve seen so far may want to save some of their breath for the times ahead when it’s going to get much, much worse.

How Great the Fall Can Be (Greer)

What kinds of meltdowns are we going to get when internet service or modern health care get priced out of reach, or become unavailable at any price? How are they going to cope if the accelerating crisis of legitimacy in this country causes the federal government to implode, the way the government of the Soviet Union did, and suddenly they’re living under cobbled-together regional governments that don’t have the money to pay for basic services? What sort of reaction are we going to see if the US blunders into a sustained domestic insurgency—suicide bombs going off in public places, firefights between insurgent forces and government troops, death squads from both sides rounding up potential opponents and leaving them in unmarked mass graves—or, heaven help us, all-out civil war?

This is what the decline and fall of a civilization looks like. It’s not about sitting in a cozy earth-sheltered home under a roof loaded with solar panels, living some close approximation of a modern industrial lifestyle, while the rest of the world slides meekly down the chute toward history’s compost bin, leaving you and yours untouched. It’s about political chaos—meaning that you won’t get the leaders you want, and you may not be able to count on the rule of law or even the most basic civil liberties. It’s about economic implosion—meaning that your salary will probably go away, your savings almost certainly won’t keep its value, and if you have gold bars hidden in your home, you’d better hope to Hannah that nobody ever finds out, or it’ll be a race between the local government and the local bandits to see which one gets to tie your family up and torture them to death, starting with the children, until somebody breaks and tells them where your stash is located.

It’s about environmental chaos—meaning that you and the people you care about may have many hungry days ahead as crazy weather messes with the harvests, and it’s by no means certain you won’t die early from some tropical microbe that’s been jarred loose from its native habitat to find a new and tasty home in you. It’s about rapid demographic contraction—meaning that you get to have the experience a lot of people in the Rust Belt have already, of walking past one abandoned house after another and remembering the people who used to live there, until they didn’t any more. More than anything else, it’s about loss. Things that you value—things you think of as important, meaningful, even necessary—are going to go away forever in the years immediately ahead of us, and there will be nothing you can do about it.

It really is as simple as that. People who live in an age of decline and fall can’t afford to cultivate a sense of entitlement. Unfortunately, [..] the notion that the universe is somehow obliged to give people what they think they deserve is very deeply engrained in American popular culture these days. That’s a very unwise notion to believe right now, and as we slide further down the slope, it could very readily become fatal—and no, by the way, I don’t mean that last adjective in a metaphorical sense. History recalls how great the fall can be, Roger Hodgson sang. In our case, it’s shaping up to be one for the record books—and those of my readers who have worked themselves up to the screaming point about the comparatively mild events we’ve seen so far may want to save some of their breath for the times ahead when it’s going to get much, much worse.

Read more …

Greece can not save itself by agreeing to more cuts; it can only doom itself.

This Could Be Greece’s Last Chance To Save Itself (CNBC)

Despite decisive action proposed by the IMF to ease Greece’s financial burden, more turbulence lies ahead for the debt-ridden European nation, reveals the latest IMF report, which was delivered to the Fund’s board members for consultation. CNBC has received the report through a close source to the IMF. According to IMF deputy spokesman William Murray, the report will be discussed at the IMF’s board meeting on Feb.6. Among the reforms they are pressing are further cuts to pension programs and an increase in income taxes. Without a substantial pace of reforms, Greece will be unable to narrow the gap in its real per-capita income relative to the euro zone and remain prosperous and competitive. This has prompted the euro zone’s finance ministers to demand that Greece proceed with these necessary reforms until Feb. 20 or risk the IMF dissolving support of the Greek financial program.

In the latest report, the IMF claims the Greek banks have a weak capital structure and are exposed to the risk of nonperforming loans. The Greek banks’ current strategies require a reduction in the aggregate nonperforming loans ratio to 48, 42 and 34% by 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively, but these backloaded NPL reductions “do not appear consistent with the Greek authorities’ ambitious investment and growth assumptions.” Among the measures included in the IMF report is the push to rebalance the policy mix toward growth-friendly and equitable policies and to lower the threshold of tax-free income. “Greece’s revenue yields lag behind peers as high marginal tax rates applied on narrow bases encourage tax evasion, discourage labour participation in the formal economy and provide incentives for firms to relocate to low tax neighbouring countries,” the IMF report said.

In addition, the IMF supports a further reduction to Greece’s pensions, which in recent years have fallen by 40%. The report stresses that “while recent pension reforms have helped address expected long-run pressures from population aging, pensions for current retirees remain unaffordably high.” At this point, the IMF is very critical, claiming that “the Greek authorities did not see a need to reduce pension spending or the income tax credit.” The IMF is hardening its stance not only against Greece but also across the euro zone countries seeking greater debt relief for Greece. Yet even with with full implementation of policies agreed to under the ESM program, a debt sustainability analysis included in the report reveals that Greece’s public debt is “highly unsustainable.” It further emphasizes that Greece’s public debt and financing needs will become “explosive” in the long run if Greece is unable to replace highly subsided official sector financing with market financing at rates consistent with sustainability.

The IMF projects Greek debt will reach 170% of GDP by 2020 and 164% of GDP by 2022 but will rise thereafter, reaching around 275% of GDP by 2060. (This is based on the cost of debt rising over time as market financing replaces highly subsidized official sector financing. It should more than offset the debt-reducing effects of growth and the primary balance surplus. ) The country’s gross financing needs (defined as the sum of budget deficits and funds required to roll over debt that matures in the course of the year) will be higher: a 15% of GDP threshold by 2024 and a 20% of GDP threshold by 2031, reaching around 33% by 2040 and about 62% of GDP by 2060.

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It all falls apart.

Greece’s Best-Selling Daily To Cease Publication Due To Debts (AFP)

Two historic Greek newspapers, including the country’s best-selling daily, will cease publication, the debt-ridden Lambrakis Press Group announced on Saturday. “‘To Vima’ weekly and ‘Ta Nea’ daily are forced to cease their publication within days due to financial reasons,” the company said in a statement. Lambrakis Press Group (DOL) “is lacking any available resources and as a result it can’t support the printing of its newspapers and, of course, can’t ensure the unhampered operation of the other media outlets it owns,” it added. Besides the two newspapers DOL owns numerous magazines, news sites and the Vima FM radio. DOL failed to pay its €99 million ($106-million) debt obligations in December, Antonis Karakoussis, director of the Vima newspaper and Vima FM radio said on January 11.

He added that this situation was the result of the economic crisis Greece has faced since 2010 which has already led to the closure of many media outlets. In Saturday’s statement DOL accused the creditor banks of putting the press group in a special management regime without providing for the continuation of its publications. DOL says the creditor banks are withholding all its earnings “whether these come from newspaper sales or from advertisements”. Lambrakis Press Group, one of the shareholders of the Mega Channel TV station that is also heavily indebted, has also faced legal turmoil over the past months, with its president, Stavros Psycharis, being prosecuted for tax evasion and money laundering. With its particularly critical stance against Greece’s leftist Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras since his election in 2015, DOL has been, along with other Greek media moguls, the target of the government’s effort to “reestablish transparency” in what it calls a sector “of oligarchs”.

Read more …

Yes, it’s come to this. Lesbos resident Eric Kempson has more in the video.

Second Man Dies At Lesbos Refugee Camp Within Days (Kath.)

A 46-year-old Syrian man was found dead in his tent in the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos on Saturday morning. He was the second person to die at the facility last week, after the death of a 22-year-old Egyptian man a few days earlier. The deaths have highlighted the poor conditions that refugees face at camps on the Greek islands, especially during the current cold weather. The government is making efforts to create new facilities and move some migrants to the mainland but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees accused Athens last week of failing to respond to its proposals about improving conditions at the existing camps.

Read more …

Jan 132017
 
 January 13, 2017  Posted by at 4:45 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Rene Burri Alexandria Egypt 1962

2016 brought a lot of changes, or rather, brought them to light. In reality, the world has been changing for many years, but many prominent actors benefitted from the changes remaining hidden. Simply because their wealth and power and worldviews are better served that way.

It’s entirely unclear whether we will ever get a chance to see to what extent the efforts to hide developments have been successful, or even been perpetrated at all, because we don’t know to what extent truth and reality will be accessible in the future.

What we can say at this point in time is that the changes 2016 delivered were urgently needed. There are many people out there who just want to turn back the clock, and change everything back to how it was, but they can’t, and that’s a good thing, because the way things were was hurting too many people.

2016 will go down in history as the year when a big divide between groups of people in the western world became visible, a divide that had until then been papered over by real or imaginary wealth, as well as by ignorance and denial.

When politics and media conspire to paint for the public a picture of their choosing, they can be very successful, especially if that picture is what people very much wish to see, true or not. But as we’ve seen recently, our traditional media have become completely useless when it comes to reporting news; the vast majority have switched to reporting their own opinions and pretending that is news.

On the one hand, there is a segment of society that either has noticed no changes, or is so desperate to hold on to what they have left, that they resist seeing them. On the other hand, there are those who feel left behind by that first group, and by the idea that the world that is still functioning and even doing well.

The first group has been captivated by, and believed in, the incessantly promoted message of recovery from an economic, financial and gradually also political crisis. The second see in their lives and that of their friends and neighbors that this recovery is an illusion.

It’s like the old saying goes: you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. And that’s why you have Brexit and Trump and why you’re going to have much more of that, certainly across Europe. Things are not going well, and there is no recovery, for a large enough percentage of people that their votes and voices now swing the debates and elections.

It’s not even complicated. This week there was a report from Elevate’s Center for the New Middle Class that concluded that half of Americans, 160 million people, can’t afford to have a broken arm treated (at $1,400). And sure, you can say that perhaps that number is a bit too high, but there have been many such reports, that for instance say the majority of Americans have less than $1000 in savings, and can’t even afford a car repair.

In Britain numbers are not much different. Over the past decade, the country has been very busy creating an entire new underclass. If your economy is not doing well, and your answer to that is budget cuts and austerity, it’s inevitable that this happens, that you create some kind of two-tier or three-tier society. And then come election time, you run the risk of losing.

Both Britain and the US boast low unemployment numbers, but as soon as you lift the veil, what you see is low participation rates, low wages and huge numbers of part-time jobs stripped of all the benefits a job used to guarantee. It allows those who still sit pretty to continue doing that, but it’ll come right back to haunt you if you don’t turn it around, and fast enough.

For many people, Obama, Merkel, Cameron and the EU cabal have been disasters. For too many, as we now know. That doesn’t mean that Trump will fix the economic problems, but that’s not the issue. People have voted for anything but more of the same. Which in Britain they’re not even getting either, so expect more mayhem there.

In most places, some variety of right wing alternative is the only option available that is far enough removed from ‘more of the same’. Moreover, many if not most incumbent parties are in a deep identity crisis. Trump did away with the Republicans AND the Democrats, and they had better understand why that is, or they’ll be wholly irrelevant soon.

In Britain, the most important votes in many decades was lost by the Tories, who subsequently performed a musical chairs act and stayed in power. You lost! Losers are not supposed to stay in power! But the other guys are all too busy infighting to notice.

That identity crisis, by the way, is not a new thing. If you look across the western political spectrum, there are all these left wing and right wing parties happily working together, either in coalition governments or through other ‘productive’ forms of cooperation. So who are people going to vote for when they’re unhappy with what they’ve got? Where is that ‘change’ that they want? Not on the traditional left or right.

So you get Podemos and M5S and Trump and UKIP and Le Pen. It’s not their fault, or the voters’ fault, it’s the political establishment that has tricked itself into believing in the same illusion it’s been promoting to voters.

And yes, they have now proven that it’s possible to stave off, for a number of years, a deeper crisis, depression, by borrowing and printing ‘money’. Especially if you can at the same time hit the poorest in your society with impunity.

But in the end no amount of fake or false news on the economic front will allow you to continue the facade for too long, because people know when they can’t afford things anymore. The evidence here is somewhat more direct than with regards to political fake news, though they may well both follow the same pattern of ‘discovery’.

Our societies are still run as if there is no real crisis, as if it’s all just a temporary glitch, as if the incumbent models function just fine, and as if recovery is just around the corner. And we can make it look as if that is true, but only for an ever smaller amount of time, and for an ever smaller amount of people.

The basic issue here is not a political one. It’s economic. Our economic systems have failed, and they can’t be repaired. We should always have realized that no growth is forever, but at least we now know. Or could know, it’ll take a while to sink in.

Next up is a redo and revamp of those economic systems, but that is not going to be easy, and may not get done at all. The resistance may be too strong, warfare -economic or physical- may seem like a way out, there are many unknowns. We could, ironically, get quite far in that redo if we simply cut all the waste for our economic processes, but then again, that would have us find out that much of the system runs entirely on wasting stuff, and wasting less kills the system.

However that may be, and however it may turn out, this is where we find ourselves. Protesting Trump and Brexit is inevitable, but it doesn’t address any core issues. From a purely economic point of view, Obama failed spectacularly, as did David Cameron, as does Angela Merkel. And as do, we will find out in 2017, many other incumbent ‘leaders’.

Their successors, whatever political colors they may come from, will all come to power promising, and subsequently attempting, to restart growth. Which is no longer feasible across an entire country, or even if it were, it would mean squeezing other countries. With corresponding risks.

Trump and Brexit are necessary, perhaps even long overdue, in order to break the illusion that things could go on as they were. But they are not solutions. America needs a big wake-up. Trump looks likely to deliver one. That is needed for the rest of the country to wake from its slumber. Ask yourself: are you going to get weaker from dealing with a Trump presidency? Maybe not the best question, or at least not before having asked: do you know how weak you are right now?

For Britain to leave the EU is a great first step. As I’ve said many times, centralization is not an option without growth. And Brussels has shown us quite a few of the worst consequences of centralization. Nobody should want to be a part of that.

Summarized: for most people, 2017 will be the year of the inability to understand where their favorite worldview flew off the rails. Change can be a bitch. But change is needed to keep life alive.

Dec 072016
 
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Arthur Gerlach Children point towards Christmas toys at The Fair Department Store, Chicago 1940

 

The world is facing the “first lost decade since the 1860s”, said Bank of England governor Mark Carney this week. Arguably good for soundbite of the day, but the buck stops there. The only way that buck could have kept rolling would have been for Carney to take a critical look at himself and his employer(s), but there was none of that.

The Canadian import governor has no doubts about anything he’s done, or if he does he shows none. Instead he puts the blame for all that’s gone awry, on some -minor- elements of what he think globalization means, not with the phenomenon itself, or his enduring support for, and belief in, it. The problem with that is it’s indeed belief only; he can’t prove an inch of what he says.

Globalization is an act of faith inside a politico-economic belief system, and all it needs according to Carney and many others in his ‘church’ is a little tweaking. That globalization itself could be the driving force behind Brexit, Trump and the defeat of Italian PM Renzi does not enter into the faith’s ‘thought’ system.

Neither does the possibility that globalization is what it is, in and of itself, a process that in the end cannot be tweaked. That globalization is simply yet another form of centralization that follows the same rules and laws all other forms do, where power and wealth always, of necessity, wind up in the hands of a few, through pretty basic centrifugal forces.

Carney Lays Out Vision to Revive Benefits of Globalization

Mark Carney launched a defense of globalization and set out a manifesto for central bankers and governments to boost growth and make the world economy more equal. The Bank of England Governor said they must acknowledge that gains from trade and technology haven’t been felt by all, improve the balance of monetary and fiscal policy, and move to a more inclusive model where “everyone has a stake in globalization.” Carney’s speech in Liverpool, England, comes amid rising disquiet about the state of the world economy and political status quo that helped propel Donald Trump to victory in the U.S. presidential election and boost support for the U.K.’s exit from the European Union.

Trump isn’t right to favor more protectionist policies in response to globalization , Carney said in a television interview broadcast after his speech. The answer is to “redistribute some of the benefits of trade” and ensure that workers are able to acquire new skills. “Weak income growth has focused growing attention on its distribution,” Carney said in the speech.

“Inequalities which might have been tolerated during generalized prosperity are felt more acutely when economies stagnate.” Describing the world as facing the “first lost decade since the 1860s,” the BOE governor said public support for open markets is under threat and rejecting them would be a “tragedy, but is a possibility.”

Carney also defended the central bank’s current policy stance. The BOE has faced criticism from politicians after officials took measures including cutting interest rates and expanding asset purchases in August to support the economy after Britain’s June vote to leave the EU. “Low rates are not the caprice of central bankers, but rather the consequence of powerful global forces, including debt, demographics and distribution,” he said, adding that they helped to prevent a deeper economic downturn.

People like Carney will insist that globalization spurs growth, right up to the moment where they’re either voted out or fired. And they’ll probably keep on insisting until their dying days. But why are we in that “first lost decade since the 1860s” then? Is that really only because ‘we’ failed to “redistribute some of the benefits of trade”, something that can allegedly be easily rectified by enabling workers to ‘acquire new skills’?

Where is the proof for that? And why have economies stagnated in the middle of the entire process of globalization? Is that solely because ‘some of’ the benefits were not distributed well enough? If that is so, and wealth distribution is the only problem with globalization, at what point do we redistribute ourselves into the realm of communism? Where’s the dividing line? It all feels mighty vague and unsatisfactory, and not a little goal-seeked.

 

Like a large part of the Brexit voters in Britain, millions of Italians have been on the losing side of globalism’s ‘benefits distribution’. And this weekend they found an outlet for their frustration about it. Like Brexiteers voted against Cameron and Osborne much more than they voted for anything in specific, and Trump won because Americans are fed up with the Obama/Clinton/GOP model, Italians voted against PM Renzi and his idea to take power away from parliament and give it to him.

Judging from poll numbers, they also seem to have gained confidence in Beppe Grillo’s, and the Five Star Movement’s, ability to do something real in politics. It has taken a while, and that makes sense because the movement doesn’t fit the model of politics as they’ve known it all their lives.

 


Wikipedia

 

Also, there are many Italians who have largely agreed with much of what Grillo has been saying all along, but were deterred by the way he delivered it. Ask an Italian and they’re likely to say “too angry, too rude” when it comes to Grillo. And it’s true, his style doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest. But then that’s also exactly his forte. Because there comes a point when everything that does fit in, becomes suspect.

The old guard, from Renzi to Berlusconi to the socialists, will double their efforts to keep Grillo out of the center of power now. President Mattarella is in on it: he asked Renzi to stay on as PM until after the budget has been pushed through, and is then likely to install another technocrat government, tasked with changing laws with the express intent of making it harder for Grillo to get into power.

And Renzi, of course, is on the same wavelength as Carney, and the entire EU -and global- cabal: globalize, reform, re-distribute ‘some benefits’, execute more austerity, rinse and repeat.

What’s particular about Italy in this sense is what it has been able to preserve, unlike most other nations. That is, Italy has a lot of small enterprises, often family owned, with highly skilled workers. That doesn’t fit today’s globalization model, since it’s deemed not competitive enough when you’re forced to fight for market share.

But if globalization, and the entire growth model, is over anyway, as I’ve often asserted, it’s a whole different story. If that is true, the country had better save what’s left of its business model, because it’s ideal for a post-centralized world. ‘Workers’ wouldn’t have to ‘acquire new skills, and leave old and proven skills to be forgotten and gather dust.

 

The world is changing rapidly and that will become even a lot more evident in 2017. The incumbent economic and political systems, as well as their proponents and cheerleaders, are on the way out. They have all failed miserably. What comes next will be profoundly chaotic for quite a while, and that will be perilous. There is not one single (belief) system to replace them, there will be many and they will often clash.

In some places, the political right will prevail, in others the left. In most, from the look of things, neither will, if only because at the end of the day both left and right are still part of incumbent systems. Europe has a number of elections coming up and in at least some of these, parties from outside the incumbent systems will come out on top.

Whether they can then go on to form governments is perhaps another story; the system will not give up easily. But it is done. Carney’s recipe of ‘some’ redistribution of wealth and acquiring new skills is widely shared in power circles, and that will be the system’s undoing. All it has to offer is more talk about more growth and more globalization, and while people protest only the latter, neither is on offer.

One of the tools the media use to discredit anything that comes from outside the system is to label it all ‘populist’. It’s a miracle it hasn’t become a honor label yet. In Europe, all new rightwing parties (a label in itself) get called populist, Le Pen, Wilders, Frauke Petry in Germany, the Lega Nord in Italy. But so does someone like Beppe Grillo, who politically has nothing in common with these people.

Moreover, many of their ideas are not to the right of existing parties at all. Despite some of his views, new French Republican candidate François Fillon is not called a populist, ostensibly because he’s from a large incumbent party, but so are Trump and Sanders in the US, and they do get called populist.

 

Empty labels, fake news and oceans of debt keep the systems -somewhat- going for now. But the genie’s long left the bottle. The ‘incumbents’ have failed their people for far too long, most of all economically. And they keep on claiming that everything will be alright, everyone will be better off if only we execute more globalization, and give them all a few pennies more.

It really is too silly to be true that that is what existing systems and their servants are still trying to make everyone believe. While it is so obvious that so many have long stopped believing. You would think they’d change their messages to reflect that change in society. But they don’t know how. And it’s that very inability that feeds those pesky ‘populists’.

The same François Fillon could be a contender in France against anti-EU Le Pen because he’s expressed doubts on Brussels. Dutch PM Rutte has cautiously critiqued the union too. But those shifts in words if not real opinions come far too late. Britain has said No and there’s zero chance that more nations will not do the same. Just give them the option, give them a vote.

The only way to keep Europe from descending into chaos is to abandon the EU, lock the doors and throw away the keys. The same is true on a global scale, with all the globalist trade agreements that most people have long lost faith in. We will either see a peaceful transition to a system not based on centralization, or we will not see peace, period.

And to think economic meltdown hasn’t even truly started yet, has been kept hidden behind a wall of debt, and so many people are already so fed up with the whole shebang.

Aug 102016
 
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Dorothea Lange Youngest little girl of motherless family 1939

 

We can, every single one of us, agree that we’re either in or just past a -financial- crisis. But that seems to be all we can agree on. Because some call it the GFC, others a recession, and still others a depression. And some insist on seeing it as ‘in the past’, and solved, while others see it as a continuing issue.

I personally have the idea that if you think central banks -and perhaps governments- have the ability and the tools to prevent or cure financial crises, you’re in the more optimistic camp. And if you don’t, you’re a pessimist. A third option might be to think that no matter what central bankers do, things will solve themselves, but I don’t see much of that being floated. Not anymore.

What I do see are countless numbers of bankers and economists and pundits and reporters holding up high the concept of globalization (a.k.a. free trade, Open Society) as the savior of mankind and its economy.

And I’m thinking that no matter how great you think the entire centralization issue is, be it global or on a more moderate scale, it’s a lost case. Because centralization dies the moment it can no longer show obvious benefits for people and societies ‘being centralized’. Unless you’re talking a dictatorship.

This is because when you centralize, when you make people, communities, societies, countries, subject to -the authority of- larger entities, they will want something in return for what they give up. They will only accept that some ‘higher power’ located further away from where they live takes decisions on their behalf, if they benefit from these decisions.

And that in turn is only possible when there is growth, i.e. when the entire system is expanding. Obviously, it’s possible also to achieve this only in selected parts of the system, as long as if you’re willing to squeeze other parts. That’s what we see in Europe today, where Germany and Holland live the high life while Greece and Italy get poorer by the day. But that can’t and won’t last. Of necessity. It’s an inbuilt feature.

Schäuble and Dijsselbloem squeezed Greece so hard they could only convince it to stay inside the EU by threatening to strangle it to -near- death. Problem is, they then actually did that. Bad mistake, and the end of the EU down the road. Because the EU has nothing left of the advantages of the centralized power; it no longer has any benefits on offer for the periphery.

Instead, the ‘Union’ needs to squeeze the periphery to hold the center together. Otherwise, the center cannot hold. And that is something those of us with even just a remote sense of history recognize all too well. It reminds us of the latter days of the Roman Empire. And Rome is merely the most obvious example. What we see play out is a regurgitation of something the world has seen countless times before. The Maximum Power Principle in all its shining luster. And the endgame is the Barbarians will come rushing in…

Still, while I have my own interests in Greece, which seems to be turning into my third home country, it would be a mistake to focus on its case alone. Greece is just a symptom. Greece is merely an early sign that globalization as a model is going going gone.

Obviously, centralists/globalists, especially in Europe, try to tell us the country is an exception, and Greeks were terribly irresponsible and all that, but that will no longer fly. Not when, just to name a very real possibility, either some of Italy’s banks go belly up or the upcoming Italian constitutional referendum goes against the EU-friendly government. And while the Beautiful Brexit, at the very opposite point of the old continent, is a big flashing loud siren red buoy that makes that exact point, it’s merely the first such buoy.

But Europe is not the world. Greece and Britain and Italy may be sure signs that the EU is falling apart, but they’re not the entire globe. At the same time, the Union is a pivotal part of that globe, certainly when it comes to trade. And it’s based very much on the idea(l) of centralization of power, economics, finance, even culture. Unfortunately (?!), the entire notion depends on continuing economic growth, and growth has left the building.

 

 

Centralization/Globalization is the only ideology/religion that we have left, but it has one inbuilt weakness that dooms it as a system if not as an ideology. That is, it cannot exist without forever expanding, it needs perpetual growth or it must die. But if/when you want to, whether you’re an economist or a policy maker, develop policies for the future, you have to at least consider the possibility, and discuss it too, that there is no way back to ‘healthy’ growth. Or else we can just hire a parrot to take your place.

So here’s a few graphs that show us where global trade, the central and pivotal point of globalization, is going. Note that globalization can only continue to exist while trade, profits, benefits, keep growing. Once they no longer do, it will go into reverse (again, bar a dictator):

Here’s Japan’s exports and imports. Note the past 20 months:

 

 

Japan’s imports have been down, in the double digits, for close to 3 years?!

Next: China’s exports and imports. Not the exact same thing, but an obvious pattern.

 

 

If only imports OR exports were going down for specific countries, that’d be one thing. But for both China and Japan, in the graphs above, both are plunging. Let’s turn to the US:

 

 

Pattern: US imports from China have been falling over the past year (or even more over 5 years, take your pick), and not a little bit.

 

 

And imports from the EU show the same pattern in an almost eerily similar way.

Question then is: what about US exports, do they follow the same fold that Japan and China do? Yup! They do.

 

 

And that’s not all either. This one’s from the NY Times a few days ago:

 

 

And this one from last year, forgot where I got it from:

 

 

Now, you may want to argue that all this is temporary, that some kind of cycle is just around the corner and will revive the economy, and globalization. By now I’d be curious to see how anyone would want to make that case, but given the religious character of the centralization idea, there’s no doubt many would want to give it a go.

Most of the trends in the graphs above have been declining for 5 years or so. While at the same time the central banks in these countries have been accelerating their stimulus policies in ways no-one could even imagine they would -or could- just 10 years ago.

All of the untold trillions in stimulus haven’t been able to lift the real economy one bit. They instead caused a rise in asset prices, stocks, housing, that is actually hurting that real economy. While NIRP and ZIRP are murdering 95% of the people’s hope to retire when they thought they could, or ever, for that matter.

No, it’s a done deal. Globalization is pining for the fjords. But because it’s become such a religion, and because its high priests have so much invested in it, it’ll be hard to kill it off even just as an -abstract- idea. I’d say wherever you live and whenever your next election is, don’t vote for anyone who promotes any centralization ideas. Or growth. Because those ideas are all in some state of decomposing, and hence whoever promotes them is a zombie.

 

 

Lastly, The Economist had a piece on July 30 cheerleading for both Hillary Clinton and ‘Open Society’, a term which somehow -presumably because it sounds real jolly- has become synonymous with globalization. As if your society will be hermetically sealed off if you want to step on the brakes even just a little when it comes to ever more centralization and globalization.

The boys at Saxo Bank, Mike McKenna and Steen Jakobsen, commented on the Economist piece, and they have some good points:

Priced Out Of The ‘Open Society’

[..] The biggest problem facing globalism, however, is neither its hypocrisy nor its will-to-power – these are ordinary human failings common to all ideologies. Its biggest problem is much simpler: it’s very expensive. The world has seen versions of the wealthy, cosmopolitan ideal before. In both Imperial Rome and Achaemenid Persia, for example, societies characterised by extensive trade networks, multicultural metropoli and the rule of law (relative to the times) eventually succumbed to rampant inequality, inter-community strife, and expensive foreign wars in the case of Rome and a death-spiral of economic stagnation and constant tax hikes in the case of Persia.

That’s the center vs periphery issue all empires run into. US, EU, and all the supra-national organizations, IMF, World Bank, NATO, (EU itself), etc, they’ve established. None of that will remain once the benefits for the periphery stop. McKenna is on to this:

It seems near-axiomatic that, in the absence of the sort of strong GDP growth that characterised the post-World War Two era, the pluralist ideal might begin to show strains along the seams of its own construction. Such strains can be inter-ethnic, ideological, religious, or whatever else, but the legitimacy of The Economists’s favoured worldview largely came about due to the wealth and living standards it was seen to provide in the post-WW2 and Cold War era. Now that this is beginning to falter, so too are the politicians and institutions that have long championed it. In Jakobsen’s view, the rising tide of populist nationalism is in no way the solution, but it is a sign that globalisation’s elites have grown distant from the population as a whole.

I’d venture that the elites were always distant from the people, but as long as the people saw their wealth grow they either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

“The world has become elitist in every way,” says Saxo Bank’s chief economist. “We as a society have to recognise that productivity comes from raising the average education level… the key thing here is that we need to be more productive. If everyone has a job, there is no need to renegotiate the social contract.” Put another way, would the political careers of Trump, Le Pen, Viktor Orban, and other such nationalist leaders be where they are if the post-crisis environment had been one of healthy wage growth, inflation, an increase in “breadwinner” jobs, and GDP expansion?

Here I have to part ways with Steen (and Mike). Why do ‘we’ need to be more productive? Why do we need to produce more? Who says we don’t produce enough? When we look around us, what is it that tells us we should make more, and buy more, and want more? Is there really such a thing as “healthy wage growth”? And what says that we need “GDP expansion”?

Most people do not spend a great deal of time imagining ideal economic and political systems. Most just want to live satisfying lives among their friends and family, and to feel as if their leaders are doing all they can to enable such a situation. What matters are the data, and if these are not made to become more encouraging, calls for this particular empire’s downfall will come with the same fervour and the same increasing frequency that they have throughout history.

The problem is not that people are choosing the wrong system, it is that they are unhappy enough to want to change course at all. Unless the developed world can find a way to reform itself out of its present malaise, no amount of media-class vituperation over xenophobia, insularity or “the uneducated” will be sufficient to turn the tide.

McKenna answers my question, unwillingly or not. Because, no, ‘Most just want to live satisfying lives among their friends and family..’ is not the same as “they want GDP expansion”, no matter how you phrase it. That’s just an idea. For all we know, the truth may be the exact opposite. The neverending quest for GDP expansion may be the very thing that prevents people from living “satisfying lives among their friends and family”.

How many people see the satisfaction in their lives destroyed by the very rat race they’re in? Moreover, how many see their satisfaction destroyed by being on the losing end of that quest? And how many simply by the demands it puts on them?

The connection between “satisfying lives” and “GDP expansion” is one made by economists, bankers, politicians and other voices driven by ideologies such as globalization. Whether your life is satisfying or not is not somehow one-on-one dependent on GDP expansion. That idea is not only ideological, it’s as stupid as it is dangerous.

And it’s silly too. Most westerners don’t need more stuff. They need more “satisfying lives among their friends and family”. But they’re stuck on a treadmill. If you want to give your kids decent health care and education anno 2016, you better keep running to stand still.

Mike McKenna and Steen Jakobsen seem to understand exactly what the problem is. But they don’t have the answer. Steen thinks it is about ‘more productivity’.

And I think that may well be the problem, not the solution. I also think it’s no use wanting more productivity, because the economic model we’re chasing is dead and gone. A zombie pushing up the daisies.

But since it’s the only one we have, and even smart people like the Saxo Bank guys can’t see beyond it, it seems obvious that getting rid of the zombie idea may take a lot of sweat and tears and, especially, blood.

 

 

Jun 082016
 
 June 8, 2016  Posted by at 2:18 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Fred Stein Evening, Paris 1934

Two months ago, there was a referendum in Holland about an association agreement between the EU and Ukraine. A relatively new Dutch law states that with an X amount of signatures a referendum can be ‘forced’ by anyone. Before, during and -especially- after the vote, its importance was -and is actively being- pooh-poohed by both the Dutch government and the EU. That in itself paints the issue better than anything else. Both the call and the subsequent support for the referendum stem from resistance against exactly that attitude.

The Dutch voted No to the EU/Ukraine agreement. It was with a turnout not much above the validity threshold, but a large majority of those who did vote agreed they want no part of the deal. This puts Dutch PM Rutte in an awkward position, he can’t be seen ignoring the population. Well, at least not openly. The EU can’t validate the agreement, and with Holland still holding the chair of the Union until July 1, a meeting on the topic has been pushed forward until the last weekend of June. With Rutte still in charge, but only just, and with the June 23 UK Brexit vote decided.

Brussels is frantically looking for a way to push through the agreement despite the Dutch vote, and likely some sort of bland compromise will be presented, which Rutte’s spin doctors will put into words that he can -with a straight face- claim honor the vote while at the same time executing what that same vote specifically spoke out against.

The EU will claim that since 27 other nations did ‘ratify’ the agreement, the 67% of the 32% of Dutch voters who bothered to show up should not be able to block it. As they conveniently fail to mention that nobody in the other 27 countries had a chance to vote on the issue. Just imagine a Brexit-like vote in all 28 EU nations on June 23. Brussels knows very well what that would mean. There’s nothing it finds scarier than people having an active say in their lives.

 

All this is a mere introduction for what is a ‘western world wide’ trend that hardly anybody is able to interpret correctly. It what seems to many to be a sudden development, votes like the Dutch one are ‘events’ where people vote down incumbents and elites. But these are not political occurrences, or at least politics doesn’t explain them.

In the US, there’s Trump and Bernie Sanders. In Britain, the Brexit referendum shows a people that are inclined not to vote FOR something, but AGAINST current political powers. In Italy, a Five-Star candidate is set to become mayor of Rome, something two Podemos affiliated -former- activists have already achieved in Barcelona and Madrid.

All across Europe, ‘traditional’ parties are at record lows in the polls. As is evident when it comes to Brexit, but what when you look closer is a common theme, anything incumbents say can and will be used against them. (A major part of this is that the ’propaganda power’ of traditional media is fast coming undone.)

The collapse of the system doesn’t mean people swing to the right, as is often claimed, though that is one option. It means people swing outside of the established channels, and whoever can credibly claim to be on that outside has a shot at sympathy, votes, power, be they left or right. Whatever else it is they may have in common, first and foremost they’re anti-establishment.

 

To understand the reason all this is happening, we must turn our heads and face economics. Or rather, the collapse of the economy. Especially in the western world – the formerly rich world-, there is no such thing as separate political and economic systems anymore (if there ever were). There is more truth in Hazel Henderson’s quote than we should like: “economics [..] has always been nothing more than politics in disguise”.

What we have is a politico-economic system, with the former media establishment clinging to (or inside?!) its body like some sort of embedded parasite. A diseased triumvirate.

With the economy in irreversible collapse, the politico part of the Siamese twin/triplet can no longer hold. That is what is happening. That is why all traditional political parties are either already out or soon will be. Because they, more than anything else, stand for the economic system that people see crumbling before their eyes. They represent that system, they are it, they can’t survive without it.

Of course the triumvirate tries as hard as it can to keep the illusion alive that sometime soon growth will return, but in reality this is not just another recession in some cycle of recessions. Or, at the very minimum this is a very long term cycle, Kondratieff style, . And even that sounds optimistic. The system is broken, irreparably. A new system will have to appear, eventually. But…

‘Associations’ like the EU, and perhaps even the US, with all the supranational and global entities they have given birth to, NATO, IMF, World Bank, you name them, depend for their existence on an economy that grows. The entire drive towards globalization does, as do any and all drives toward centralization. But the economy has collapsed. So all this will of necessity go into reverse, even if there are very powerful forces that will resist such a development.

 

Despite what the media try to tell you, as do the close to 100% manipulated economic data emanating from various -tightly controlled- sources, the economy is not growing, and it hasn’t for years; the only thing that grows is debt. And you can’t borrow growth.

You can argue in fascinating philosophical debates about when this started, arguments can be made for Nixon’s 1971 abolishment of the -last vestiges of- the gold standard anywhere up to Clinton’s 1998 repeal of Glass-Steagall, or anything in between -or even after.

It doesn’t matter much anymore, the specifics are already gathering dust as research material for historians. The single best thing to do for all of us not in positions of politico/economic power is to recognize the irreversible collapse of the system. Since we all grew up in it and have never known anything else, that is hard enough in itself. But we don’t have all that much time to lose anymore.

The whole shebang is broke. This can easily be displayed in a US nominal debt vs nominal GDP graph:

 

 

That’s really all you need to know. That’s what broke the shebang. It is easy. And even if a bit more of the ‘surplus’ debt had been allowed to go towards the common man, it wouldn’t have made much difference. We’ve replaced growth with debt, because that is the only way to keep the -illusion of- the politico-economic system going, and thereby the only way for the incumbent powers to cling on to that power.

And that is where the danger lies. It’s not just that the vast majority of westerners will become much poorer than they are now, they will be forced to face powers-that-be that face the threat of seeing their powers -both political and economic- slip sliding away and themselves heading towards some sort of Marie-Antoinette model.

The elites-that-be are not going to take that lying down. They will cling to their statuses for -literally- dear life. That right there is the biggest threat we all face (including them). It would be wise to recognize all these things for what they really are, not for what all these people try to make you believe they are. Dead seriously: playtime is over. The elites-that-be are ready and willing to ritually sacrifice you and your children. Because it’s the only way they can cling on to their positions. And their own very lives.

It may take a long time still for people to understand the above, but it’s also possible that markets crash tomorrow morning and bring the facades of Jericho down with them. Waiting for that to happen is not your best option.

Feb 282015
 
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Fenno Jacobs Schoolchildren staging a patriotic demonstration, Southington, CT 1942

In an article about NATO exercises in Estonia, just 300 yards from the Russian border, Daniel McAdams at the Ron Paul Institute makes a point that I want to use to make a much broader point. Not the provide answers, though, just to provide questions. McAdams quotes the Guardian review of a book by George Sakwa:

NATO’s Russia Border Games

Russian military plane over international waters 25 miles from the UK coast is “real and present danger” to NATO. Yet… Yet yesterday US combat vehicles conducted a military parade and show of military force in Estonia just 300 yards – yards! – from the Russian border. That is just over 60 miles from downtown St. Petersburg. This is not a provocation, we are to believe. This is not a “real and present danger” to Russia. NATO is exempt from the rules it imposes on its enemies. In the Guardian’s review of a new book by Politics professor George Sakwa, the current fallout from a near quarter century of post-Cold War NATO policies is perfectly captured:

The hawks in the Clinton administration ignored all this, Bush abandoned the anti-ballistic missile treaty and put rockets close to Russia’s borders, and now a decade later, after Russia’s angry reaction to provocations in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine today, we have what Sakwa rightly calls a “fateful geographical paradox: that NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence”.

That line bears repeating: “NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence.”

Yes, that line bears repeating, but it bears much more than that: the line doesn’t go nearly far enough. Because NATO doesn’t only exist, it develops and changes. In fact, to justify its prolonged existence, NATO has turned from a force for peace into a warmonger. That way, the organization argues, consciously or not, it provides itself with a reason to exist. It now doesn’t just exist to manage the risks, it exists to create them. In doing so, NATO itself has become the biggest risk.

Regular readers will be well aware that I, like Ron Paul, have said many times that NATO should be dismantled (and not just NATO). Not only because it’s long outlived its original purpose, based in the Cold War, but because it increasingly attracts as leaders people who use ever more aggressive language for ever more elusive reasons. The latest in the series are new General Secretary Stoltenberg and General ‘Warhead’ Breedlove, both of whom seem hell bent on outdoing even Ukraine’s leadership pair of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk when it comes to making unsubstantiated claims about Russia, and about the situation in Ukraine – and Eastern Europe – in a broader sense.

My thesis is that all supranational organizations will eventually attract a certain kind of people as their leaders, and that these are inevitably the last kind of people we should want in these positions. But in the absence of effective democratic oversight, they end up there anyway. Therefore, the only way to counter this mechanism is to dismantle and abandon the organizations, while we still can. Which is not a given, since they function like power pyramids, in which ever more active power flows to an ever smaller top, until they become ‘untouchable’ by the nations that founded them in the first place.

These organizations don’t just fail to meet their originally stated purpose, they become entities dangerous to those they were meant to serve. That’s true for NATO, for the IMF, the World Bank, and the EU. They all end up serving only their most powerful members, at the cost of the smaller and less powerful. Since there is no mechanism to prevent this from happening while they exist, we must dismantle them.

There’s a strong correlation with an example from the economic world, in which corporations were originally incorporated for a specific project (e.g. building a bridge), a specific budget and a specific duration. And look at corporations now: there is no time limit to their existence, they are free to buy political control over our societies across generations, and they have even been granted person’s rights, though persons die and corporations no longer do.

What is true for corporations is just as true for supranational organizations: it’s all about scale. They are all – well, mostly – founded by well-meaning people, but these people ignore – willingly or not – to set time, financial and legal limits to them. And that’s a surefire recipe for disaster. The IMF upon its inception had lofty ideals behind it. But look at the damage it’s done across the globe. The World Bank was intended to help fight poverty in poor nations, but, like the IMF, has become an instrument for the rich to control these nations and prey on them.

And NATO has been busy ever since the Berlin wall came down, to resurrect the Cold War, without which it knows it must fear for its continued existence. It’s a twin sister of the American military complex, which creates threats out of nowhere and fights wars that all end in disaster, creating chaos along the way that forms the reason, and the cradle, for the next theater of war.

I’ve said before that I’m somewhat hesitant to include the US in the list of supranational organizations that should be dismantled, but if the country, the union, can’t find a way to reform and refind itself, I don’t see much reason for it to live on. The concentrated power bastion in Washington simply does too much harm to too many people, both at home and abroad. Nobody should have that sort of power.

If you have an entity that comprises 300 million people, it’s inevitable that ‘rulers’ over that entity need to be curtailed and limited in their powers from the get-go, or things will go awfully wrong. In the US, arguably, that has long since started to happen. The solution – in theory – is real simple: decentralize power. The solution in practice is much less obvious, since the people in power won’t volunteer to give up what they’ve got. A critical mass has been reached from which it will be very hard to retreat.

‘Once it reaches a certain threshold, the process of institutionalization becomes counterproductive’

Those are the words from a man I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, when pondering these issues, 20th century philosopher/priest Ivan Illich, whose criticism of ‘institutionalization’, mostly published in the 1970’s from Latin America, was largely inspired by, and directed at, the Catholic Church, not coincidentally the world’s – by far – earliest truly multinational corporation. Illich basically asserted that institutions tend to monopolize parts of societies that they should leave alone, because they belong to the people, and are essential to their well-being. From Wikipedia’s entry on Illich:

[e]lite professional groups . . . have come to exert a ‘radical monopoly’ on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a ‘war on subsistence’ that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but ‘modernized poverty,’ dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts.”

[2] Illich proposed that we should “invert the present deep structure of tools” in order to “give people tools that guarantee their right to work with independent efficiency.”[14]

Schools should not be able to declare themselves the only valuable source of education, nor hospitals that of health care. To Illich, the fact that he did see them do this anyway, meant people were being robbed of their freedom to learn, and to heal. In the same vein, NATO should not have a monopoly on defending us from ‘evil’ enemies, because it will create that evil just to justify its own apparatus, in the process robbing people of the ability to judge what is evil and what is not.

‘[I]nstitutions create the needs and control their satisfaction, and, by so doing, turn the human being and her or his creativity into objects’

And that of course moves us real close to what I said about supranational organizations and multinationals, and to what Sakwa said: “NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence.”. It shirks close to the Completion Backward Principle, in which first a need and a market is created and only then the product that fills that need.

My perhaps favorite Illich quote, which with a little imagination is one on one applicable to the entire institutionalization issue, is this:

Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value.

Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.

I never liked the education system I grew up in, any more than I like supranational institutions (it just took me a while to figure out the connection). High school was fine, because it was a breeze. But university was like running into a wall, multiple times. I just never had the idea that these people had anything I wanted. Just perhaps a degree that would have given me a ‘better’ job. But to go through 4-5-6 years of something I absolutely didn’t want, or saw the use of, seemed to be far too high a price to pay. This was way after Illich wrote what he did, though I didn’t read it until even much later again, but when I did, I still had a feeling of redemption, of: I’m not the only one who saw what I did.

And of course people will say that I’m an idiot to throw away a university degree when so many others would kill to have one. That all, however, proves Illich’s point, and it leads back to the same issue: universities have a monopoly on learning, which means people learn less and less, they only ‘learn’ to be cogs in a machine. And if you don’t get the degree, than no well-paying job for you. And that’s exactly what Illich says. It makes for societies of unhappy people, who can’t even provide for themselves, as all their ancestors could, because all they’ve learned is to be that cog.

I wanted to bring Ivan Illich into the discussion about NATO we’ve been having for a long time, with Ron Paul and myself saying it should be banned and its pieces ritually incinerated, because Illich makes the idea far more accessible that this is all part of a much larger pattern. That is to say, we tend towards centralization at all levels, mostly at first – seemingly – innocently, but soon with control moving beyond our perception.

Who controls NATO, or the IMF? I’m sure you understand it’s not you. Still, when an organization exhibits aggressive behavior in your name, or lends out your money in your name, you should at all times feel that you are in control, through those you elect to represent you. Well, do you? Or are you merely thinking: that’s too far away from me?

Organizations, like so many things in life, don’t scale up well, if at all. Beyond a certain critical mass, they become counterproductive, as Illich states. They become predators on their own creators. That goes as much for NATO, IMF and EU as it does for schools and hospitals.

Modern societies appear to create more and more institutions – and great swathes of the way we live our lives become institutionalized. ‘This process undermines people – it diminishes their confidence in themselves, and in their capacity to solve problems… It kills convivial relationships. Finally it colonizes life like a parasite or a cancer that kills creativity’ (Finger and Asún 2001: 10).

Experts and an expert culture always call for more experts. Experts also have a tendency to cartelize themselves by creating ‘institutional barricades’ – for example proclaiming themselves gatekeepers, as well as self-selecting themselves. Finally, experts control knowledge production, as they decide what valid and legitimate knowledge is, and how its acquisition is sanctioned.

Schooling – the production of knowledge, the marketing of knowledge, which is what the school amounts to, draws society into the trap of thinking that knowledge is hygienic, pure, respectable, deodorized, produced by human heads and amassed in stock…..

[B]y making school compulsory, [people] are schooled to believe that the self-taught individual is to be discriminated against; that learning and the growth of cognitive capacity, require a process of consumption of services presented in an industrial, a planned, a professional form;… that learning is a thing rather than an activity. A thing that can be amassed and measured, the possession of which is a measure of the productivity of the individual within the society. That is, of his social value.

It’s a trap we’ve set for ourselves, and over which we’ve now long lost control. Technology seems to make the world ‘smaller’, and to increase our control, but in effect it ends up doing the opposite. It makes us dumber, since we are now only cogs in a machine that others control, and over which we have no oversight. If the machine gets orders to go to war, the cogs will have to obey. That’s our world today, and that’s what the NATO issue teaches us. NATO is our Frankenstein. And if we don’t stop it now, it will end up coming after us.