Jun 092018
 
 June 9, 2018  Posted by at 8:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper Summertime 1943

 

Why Trump Is Targeting G-7 Nations On Trade (MW)
More Than Half Of American Homes Are Overvalued, CoreLogic Warns (ZH)
America Is House-Rich But Cash-Poor (MW)
Cities Struggle To Fend Off “Unstoppable Juggernaut” Of Chinese Homebuyers (ZH)
The Summer of Discontent (Jim Kunstler)
Facebook Shared Sensitive User Info Via “Secretive” Data Deals (ZH)
Canada First G7 Nation To Make Marijuana Legal (G.)
Trump Voices Support For Bipartisan Pot Legislation (Pol.)
7 In 10 Americans Are Overwhelmed By News, More Among Republicans (ZH)
Berlin Still Has ‘No Evidence’ From UK That Moscow Is Behind Skripal Case (RT)
Tourists To Med Told To Ditch Plastic To Avoid Huge Rise In Beach Litter (G.)
Microplastics In Our Mussels: The Sea Is Feeding Human Garbage Back To Us (G.)

 

 

Deficits and reserve currencies. Joined at the hip.

Why Trump Is Targeting G-7 Nations On Trade (MW)

President Trump has threatened Canada and France with higher tariffs if they don’t ease up on what he considers unfair policies, sparking fresh worries that a simmering dispute over trade will boil over and damage the world’s leading economies. The president clashed with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron in an extraordinary series of tweets ahead of meeting of G-7 leaders in Quebec. The G-7 consists of the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy. The U.S. has run huge trade deficits for years through both Republican and Democratic presidents. In 2017, the trade gap in goods rose to a nine-year high of $807 billion (the deficit was a smaller $552 billion if services are included).

China accounted for 47% of the U.S. trade deficit in goods in 2017, but the G-7 countries were responsible for another quarter. Germany ran the biggest trade surplus with the U.S., followed by Japan and Italy. The U.S. runs smaller deficits in goods with France and Canada, according to government figures. The U.S. actually posted a small surplus with Canada in 2017 if services are included, largely reflecting how much Canadians spend when visiting the 50 states. The U.K. is the only country with which the U.S. ran a goods and overall surplus.

Read more …

Long time pal Jesse Colombo posted this on Twitter. I wrote back:

“Sorry, my friend Jesse, but every single US home is overvalued. It just depends on the vantage point you look from. All prices have been distorted by the Fed’s policies, not just half of them. Arguably some more than others, but can that be the core argument here?”

More Than Half Of American Homes Are Overvalued, CoreLogic Warns (ZH)

A history of economic cycles dating back to the mid-1800s reveals a troubling outlook for today’s Central Bank induced bull market of hopes and dreams, which could be in the later innings. It is quite evident that Americans have quit saving as their gig-economy jobs have left them in financial ruin – now being squeezed by the higher cost of living. The charades of economic stability could continue for a little longer, with President Trump’s stealth quantitative easing program to Wall Street via debt-financed tax reform, which has induced a massive wave of more than $2.5 trillion in stock buybacks — a gift to corporate America.

No matter where one looks, the valuation of many financial assets are overextended, and new evidence today from CoreLogicshows this troubling picture very late into an economic cycle: More than half of U.S. residential real estate markets were overvalued in April. CoreLogic reports that residential real estate prices nationwide increased 6.9% year over year from April 2017 to April 2018. The firm’s Home Price Index (HPI) also shows a 1.2% rise on the month-over-month basis from March to April 2018. This has certainly sparked the debate of housing affordability across the nation with many millennials struggling to achieve the American dream.

CoreLogic Market Condition Indicators showed that 40% of the 100 largest metropolitan areas were overvalued in April, compared to 28% undervalued, and 32% in line with valuations. The report uncovers a shocking discovery that of the nation’s top 50 largest residential real estate markets, 52% were overvalued in April.

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Since they’re all overvalued, any talk of house-rich is shaky.

America Is House-Rich But Cash-Poor (MW)

The very same day Lindsay learned he wouldn’t qualify for a refinance, help arrived. It was a direct mail solicitation, in the form of a fake check “payable to Michael Lindsay for $186,000.” A company called Unison was offering money in exchange for an ownership stake in the Lindsay house. Lindsay investigated, and found Unison’s process both “professional” and “informative,” he said. “It had come down to the fact that the only other option I had was to sell the house,” Lindsay told MarketWatch. He hated that idea, since his two boys, who’d already been through so much, were thriving in their school district. And while he didn’t want to rule out downsizing, there was just too much emotion attached to the home where the boys had been born, where he and Vanessa had tracked their growth through pencil marks in the garage.

Ultimately, Lindsay said, “It just felt crazy that there was so much equity in the home and I couldn’t get at it.” He signed on with Unison. After just three weeks, the company had dispersed $200,000 in cash to pay off Lindsay’s creditors and allow him to do much-needed deferred maintenance on the house. Unison’s product, which it calls HomeOwner, has been around for years, but it’s really hit its stride in the past year or so. The housing market has not only recovered from the Great Recession, it’s heated up. According to an analysis from Attom Data, nearly 14 million Americans are now “equity rich” – meaning they have at least 50% equity in their homes. It bears repeating that many owners and communities are not so lucky: over a million Americans are underwater, and some cities and towns are still reeling under the weight of abandoned and vacant homes and stagnant micro-economies.

But for most of the country, rapidly rising home prices and a dearth of anything else to buy means people are staying in their homes longer, allowing them to accrue more and more equity: $15 trillion worth, to be exact. That may sound like a first-world problem, but as Lindsay’s example illustrates, all the equity in the world is worthless if it’s locked in an untouchable asset while medical bills, home improvement costs, and other expenses are mounting. And since home equity is usually most concentrated among those who’ve lived in their homes the longest, that’s often retirees – the people most in need of certain cash flow.

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Central banks and Chinese buyers.

Cities Struggle To Fend Off “Unstoppable Juggernaut” Of Chinese Homebuyers (ZH)

As we’ve pointed out time and time again, foreign – mainly Chinese – buyers seeking to park their ill-gotten gains beyond the reach of the Communist Party have – in addition to global capitals like New York City and London – favored a handful of cities in the Pacific Northwest, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Many of these cities – for example, Vancouver – have seen property values rise to levels that are unaffordable for local buyers. While the influx of capital helped fuel an economic recovery in the aftermath of the crisis, home values soon reached crisis levels that demanded action by local officials. Some places have tried to use taxes to deter foreign buyers. In some instances, the taxes worked – at least temporarily.

But with the flow of buyers refusing to slow despite efforts by the Chinese government to stop money moving offshore, many of these cities are getting desperate. And after years of occasional headlines, it appears the crisis has finally become dire enough for the mainstream press to start paying attention. To wit, government officials in Canada and Australia who spoke with the Wall Street Journal for a story about how Chinese homebuyers expressed concern that widespread foreign ownership has created bubbles in local real-estate markets. Even as Australia and New Zealand and some Canadian cities have raised taxes on foreign buyers, many are worried that home values will continue to climb, foiling policy makers best efforts to control them.

Since it passed an 8% foreign buyers tax last summer, Sydney says foreign buying hasn’t let up. Jon Ellis, chief executive of Investorist, an online portal for cross-border property transactions, said Chinese property buyers are an “unstoppable juggernaut”. In some markets with large Mandarin-speaking populations, locals can spot real-estate ads in Mandarin at bus stations and benches in the surrounding area. In response, Vancouver imposed a 15% foreign buyers tax back in 2016. When that didn’t work, city officials worked with the province on something more aggressive.

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“We’ll be fortunate if we can turn out brooms and scythes twenty years from now, let alone flying Teslas.”

The Summer of Discontent (Jim Kunstler)

The ill-feeling among leaders of the G-7 nations — essentially, the West plus Japan — was mirrored early this morning in the puking financial market futures, so odious, apparently, is the presence of America’s Golden Golem of Greatness at the Quebec meet-up of First World poobahs. It’s hard to blame them. The GGG refuses to play nice in the sandbox of the old order. Like many observers here in the USA, I can’t tell exactly whether Donald Trump is out of his mind or justifiably blowing up out-of-date relationships and conventions in a world that is desperately seeking a new disposition of things. The West had a mighty good run in the decades since the fiascos of the mid-20th century. My guess is that we’re witnessing a slow-burning panic over the impossibility of maintaining the enviable standard of living we’ve all enjoyed.

All the jabber is about trade and obstacles to trade, but the real action probably emanates from the energy sector, especially oil. The G-7 nations are nothing without it, and the supply is getting sketchy at the margins in a way that probably and rightfully scares them. I’d suppose, for instance, that the recent run-up in oil prices from $40-a barrel to nearly $80 has had the usual effect of dampening economic activity worldwide. For some odd reason, the media doesn’t pay attention to any of that. But it’s become virtually an axiom that oil over $75-a-barrel smashes economies while oil under $75-a-barrel crushes oil companies.

[..] There is also surprisingly little critical commentary on the notion that Mr. Trump is seeking to “re-industrialize” America. It’s perhaps an understandable wish to return to the magical prosperity of yesteryear. But things have changed. And if wishes were fishes, the state of the earth’s oceans is chastening to enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. Anyway, we’re not going back to the Detroit of 1957. We’ll be fortunate if we can turn out brooms and scythes twenty years from now, let alone flying Teslas. This will be the summer of discontent for the West especially. The fact that populism is still a rising force among these nations is a clue of broad public skepticism about maintaining the current order. No wonder the massive bureaucracies vested in that order are freaking out. I’m not sure Mr. Trump even knows or appreciates just how he represents these dangerous dynamics.

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Since this is their business model, period, it’s time to stop them.

Facebook Shared Sensitive User Info Via “Secretive” Data Deals (ZH)

If you feel like there’s been a new embarrassing revelation about Facebook’s privacy practices every day this week, well, you’re not entirely wrong. In the third bombshell report to drop since Moday, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Facebook struck customized data-sharing deals with a select group of companies, granting several of them special access to user records well after the point in 2015 when Facebook said it had shifted its privacy policies in response to learning that a researcher had improperly taken Facebook user data and sold it to Cambridge Analytica. The unreported agreements were known internally as whitelists.

They reportedly allowed certain companies to access sensitive information like phone numbers and a metric called “friend that measured the degree of closeness between users and others in their network,” the people said. The whitelist deals were struck with companies as diverse as Nissan and RBC Capital. The deals represented Facebook bending over backwards to allow special data access to a broader universe of companies, many of whom were valuable advertisers. Others needed the access to wind down unfinished projects after the new developer regulations. But some were granted the special access for “unspecified reasons” that WSJ apparently couldn’t crack.

WSJ also raises further questions about who had access to the data of billions of Facebook users and why they had access – and, what’s more, why didn’t Mark Zuckerberg mention any of this during the Congressional hearings? Facebook said companies were granted this special access as something of a workaround after Facebook stopped granting unfettered access to developers in 2015. Many of the details published in the report appeared vague – for example, WSJ couldn’t pin down how many Facebook clients had been granted this privilege. Perhaps that’s why they published it after 4 pm Eastern on a June Friday.

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Pot and opioids. Many more questions than answers.

Canada First G7 Nation To Make Marijuana Legal (G.)

Even places that have already taken the legalization plunge are hoping Canada will solve some mysteries. After Colorado legalized marijuana five years ago, for example, organized crime reacted by ramping up supplies of “black tar heroin, opiates and harder drugs”, said Dr Larry Wolk, the state’s top public health official. But Wolk says he is interested to watch that process unfold on a bigger scale in Canada, where the new law is expected to deal a much more significant blow to the black market. Any new mix of illicit drugs in the country could have new effects on public health. “What’s the impact of marijuana legalization on the opioid crisis?” he asked as an example.

“Does it actually act as a substitute so that people can get off opiates for chronic pain? Is there a positive impact? Or is it a negative impact, because as a result there’s more opiates in the black market? Is [pot] a gateway? We don’t really have an answer.” One delicate balance for Canadian authorities has been guessing at what kind of pricing will be low enough to eradicate illicit sales – yet not so low as to entice new users. Canada’s finance minister, Bill Morneau, recently said the goal is “keeping cannabis out of the hands of kids and out of the black market. That means keeping the taxes low so we can actually get rid of the criminals in the system”.

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The end of Sessions as AG? We’ll take it. While thinking about all the young black kids whose lives have been screwed for small amounts of pot.

Trump Voices Support For Bipartisan Pot Legislation (Pol.)

President Donald Trump said Friday he “probably will end up supporting” bipartisan legislation to bar the federal government from interfering with marijuana legalization laws at the state level, putting him at odds with efforts by his own Justice Department to crack down on the substance nationwide. The bill, unveiled by Sens. Cory Gardner of (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), lawmakers of two states that have voted to legalize certain types of pot use, would in effect give states the right to determine their own approach to regulating the drug.

Pressed on whether he supports the measure while addressing reporters outside the White House on Friday, the president said he supports it now and will “probably” support it going forward. “I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” Trump said of the lawmaker’s bill. “I know exactly what he’s doing, we’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.” The remarks stand in contrast to the actions of his own Justice Department, which under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has moved aggressively to crack down on the proliferation of laws to decriminalize and legalize cannabis.

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The less news people read, the more exhausted they are?!

7 In 10 Americans Are Overwhelmed By News, More Among Republicans (ZH)

In a period in which most Americans feel mentally exhausted by news flow — from Facebook’s trending stories to Twitter’s hashtags to Trump’s spontaneous tweeting — and of course, how could we not forget, the mainstream media’s constant barrage of very fake news, approximately 70% of Americans feel “overwhelmed by the amount of news there is,” according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted from Feb. 22 to March 04, 2018. Nearly 68% of Americans feel mentally exhausted by the high-rate of news in the modern era, compared with just 30% of Americans who enjoyed the amount of news they get.

Pew said today’s “feelings of information overload” is similar to how Americans felt during the 2016 presidential election. While it certainly seems like Americans are consuming too much media, Republicans are experiencing more news fatigue than anyone else. Roughly 77% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are mentally drained from the constant bombardment of news headlines, compared with just 61% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, said Pew. The report detailed that avid news watchers were less likely to experience mental fatigue than those who sparingly read headlines. For those who chase headlines “most of the time,” 62% reported psychological exhaustion, meanwhile, 78% of those who less frequently get news say they are overwhelmed.

The human brain which created this modern world is just not wired to process the vast amounts of information from news networks and social media. Americans are sleepwalking into a period of too much stimulation in tense periods, which could result in irrational decision making. America is stressed — its people are stressed — and there is just too much damn news. What could go wrong from here?

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That’s a surprise…NOT.

Berlin Still Has ‘No Evidence’ From UK That Moscow Is Behind Skripal Case (RT)

The German government has zero evidence from the British authorities that could back London’s claims that Moscow was behind the poisoning of the Skripals, German media reports. More than three months since the start of the probe into the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, the UK is still conspicuously tight-lipped when it comes to any real evidence that could prove its accusations against Russia. On Wednesday, the German government informed a parliamentary oversight committee during a closed hearing that it still has not received any evidence suggesting that Russia might well be behind the incident that took place in early March, German TV station RBB reports.

“It is [still] only known that the poison used in the attack was a nerve agent called Novichok, which was once produced in the Soviet Union,” Michael Goetschenberg, a correspondent of German ARD and an expert on security services, told RBB, commenting on the results of the hearing, which he is familiar with. Apart from this information, which was released by the British authorities soon after the incident, no new data on Russia’s alleged implication in this case was provided to Germany so far, he added. German intelligence has also found no Russian trace in this case so far, Goetschenberg said. “The BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence… has also contacted its own sources and tried to verify the information [about Russia’s potential involvement] in some way,” he told RBB, adding that it eventually failed to find any evidence pointing to Moscow as well.

Following the poisoning, which London blamed on Moscow using the now infamous wording “highly likely,” the UK and its allies expelled dozens of Russian diplomats, with Moscow giving a mirror response. Russia has categorically denied any involvement, and has complained that the victims were not allowed visits by Russian lawyers and diplomats, and the results of the investigation were kept secret. The Russian envoy to the UK has on several occasions alleged that London was even trying to “destroy” evidence in the probe.

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It is very easy for governments to simply ban the stuff. But for some reason they don’t. Selling the stuff and then asking people not to use it seems Kafkaesque. At best.

Tourists To Med Told To Ditch Plastic To Avoid Huge Rise In Beach Litter (G.)

Tourists are being urged to reduce their use of plastic as new figures reveal holidaymakers cause a 40% spike in marine litter in the Mediterranean each summer. Nearly all the waste created by the surge in tourism over the summer months in countries like Italy, France and Turkey is plastic litter, says WWF in a new report. In a matter of weeks over the holiday season the rise in plastic marine pollution contributes to the estimated 150m tonnes of plastic in the ocean. WWF said in its report the majority of plastic waste polluting the Mediterranean Sea comes from Turkey and Spain, followed by Italy, Egypt and France – countries to which more than 34 million British holidaymakers are preparing to travel this year.

Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF, said holidaymakers were leaving behind a toxic legacy of plastic waste. “The birds, fish and turtles of the Mediterranean are choking on plastic … plastic is ending up in the fish and seafood we eat on holiday. “We’re asking people to think about how they can cut down on the amount of single-use plastic they use and throw away on holiday,” she said. Steele urges holidaymakers to drink tap water where it is safe to do so, refuse plastic straws and skip the purchase of inflatable pool toys. “We can all be part of the solution and not the problem,” she said. In Europe plastics account for 95% of the waste in the open sea, posing a major threat to marine life, says WWF.

After China, Europe is the second largest producer of plastic in the world, producing 27m tonnes of plastic waste. The continent dumps up to an estimated 500,000 tonnes of macroplastics and 130,000 tonnes of microplastics in the sea every year, the report says. But delays and gaps in plastic waste management in most Mediterranean countries mean only a third of the 60m tonnes of plastic produced is recycled. Half of all plastic waste in Italy, France and Spain ends up in landfills. Home to almost 25,000 plant and animal species – of which 60% are unique to the region – the Mediterranean holds only 1% of the world’s water but contains 7% of all of the world’s microplastic waste. Plastics have also been found in oysters and mussels, while crisp packets and cigarettes have been found in large fish, WWF says.

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“Shakespeare’s Ariel looked down into the ocean and saw “something rich and strange”; we look down and see our consuming society reflected back at us.”

Microplastics In Our Mussels: The Sea Is Feeding Human Garbage Back To Us (G.)

Shellfish are the natural filter systems of our seas, mechanisms of purity. So, to discover in a report released on World Oceans Day that mussels bought from UK supermarkets were infested with microplastic seems like a final irony in the terrible story of the plasticisation of the sea. According to the study by the University of Hull and Brunel University London, 70 particles of microplastic were found in every 100 grams of mussels. There’s a vital disconnection here – highlighted by the bottled water you drink to wash down your moules-frites, and the fact that 89% of ocean trash comes from single-use plastic. No sea is immune from this plague, nor any ocean creature, from the modest mussel or zooplankton to the great whales.

I have just returned from Cape Cod, where, due to pollution and other anthropogenic effects, the North Atlantic right whale may be extinct by 2040 – a huge mammal about to vanish from the sight of the shores of the richest, most powerful nation on Earth. On the pristine, remote Cisco Beach on Nantucket, I watched a grey seal watching me – only to realise the sleek pelage of its midriff was bound with an orange plastic bag. Last month, off St Ives in Cornwall, I saw a cormorant tugging helplessly at a monofilament of fishing line that had trussed its bill to its arched neck. The underwater photographer Andrew Sutton sends a selfie from Costa Rica: he is holding miles of illegal plastic long line, tangled like a grotesque bouquet.

From Sri Lanka to the Mediterranean, our summer holiday idylls become places of mortality. That we cannot look underneath what Herman Melville called “the ocean’s skin” is part of the problem. It is as if, defeated by the sea’s mystery, we punish it for defying our dominion. And so, it wreaks its revenge, feeding our own rubbish back to us. Shakespeare’s Ariel looked down into the ocean and saw “something rich and strange”; we look down and see our consuming society reflected back at us.

Read more …

Oct 152016
 
 October 15, 2016  Posted by at 5:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Notre Dame Gargoyle, Paris France, 19th century

Former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke quotes my September 26 article “Why There is Trump” so extensively in this article for Consortium News that I thought I might as well post the whole thing here at the Automatic Earth too. The other sources he also quotes -John Gray, Stephen Hadley among them- help to put my points in a solid perspective, which is nice to see. I can only hope that this will open more people’s eyes to the fact that in the end of growth and centralization, we are witnessing the “most important global development in decades.”

Here’s Alastair Crooke:

 

 

Raul Ilargi Meijer, the long-standing economics commentator, has written both succinctly – and provocatively: “It’s over! The entire model our societies have been based on for at least as long as we ourselves have lived, is over! That’s why there’s Trump.

“There is no growth. There hasn’t been any real growth for years. All there is left are empty hollow sunshiny S&P stock market numbers propped up with ultra-cheap debt and buybacks, and employment figures that hide untold millions hiding from the labor force. And most of all there’s debt, public as well as private, that has served to keep an illusion of growth alive and now increasingly no longer can.

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. June 18, 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. June 18, 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

“These false growth numbers have one purpose only: for the public to keep the incumbent powers that be in their plush seats. But they could always ever only pull the curtain of Oz [Wizard of Oz] over people’s eyes for so long, and it’s no longer so long.

“That’s what the ascent of Trump means, and Brexit, Le Pen, and all the others. It’s over. What has driven us for all our lives has lost both its direction and its energy.”

Meijer continues: “We are smack in the middle of the most important global development in decades, in some respects arguably even in centuries, a veritable revolution, which will continue to be the most important factor to shape the world for years to come, and I don’t see anybody talking about it. That has me puzzled.

“The development in question is the end of global economic growth, which will lead inexorably to the end of centralization (including globalization). It will also mean the end of the existence of most, and especially the most powerful, international institutions.

“In the same way it will be the end of -almost- all traditional political parties, which have ruled their countries for decades and are already today at or near record low support levels (if you’re not clear on what’s going on, look there, look at Europe!)

“This is not a matter of what anyone, or any group of people, might want or prefer, it’s a matter of ‘forces’ that are beyond our control, that are bigger and more far-reaching than our mere opinions, even though they may be man-made.

“Tons of smart and less smart folks are breaking their heads over where Trump and Brexit and Le Pen and all these ‘new’ and scary things and people and parties originate, and they come up with little but shaky theories about how it’s all about older people, and poorer and racist and bigoted people, stupid people, people who never voted, you name it.

“But nobody seems to really know or understand. Which is odd, because it’s not that hard. That is, this all happens because growth is over. And if growth is over, so are expansion and centralization in all the myriad of shapes and forms they come in.”

Further, Meijer writes: “Global is gone as a main driving force, pan-European is gone, and whether the United States will stay united is far from a done deal. We are moving towards a mass movement of dozens of separate countries and states and societies looking inward. All of which are in some form of -impending- trouble or another.

“What makes the entire situation so hard to grasp for everyone is that nobody wants to acknowledge any of this. Even though tales of often bitter poverty emanate from all the exact same places that Trump and Brexit and Le Pen come from too.

“That the politico-econo-media machine churns out positive growth messages 24/7 goes some way towards explaining the lack of acknowledgement and self-reflection, but only some way. The rest is due to who we ourselves are. We think we deserve eternal growth.”

 

The End of ‘Growth’

Well, is global “growth over”? Of course Raul Ilargi is talking “aggregate” (and there will be instances of growth within any contraction). But what is clear is that debt-driven investment and low-interest-rate policies are having less and less effect – or no effect at all – in producing growth – either in terms of domestic or trade growth, as Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge writes:

President Barack Obama runs onto a stage in Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 3, 2013 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama runs onto a stage in Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 3, 2013 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“After almost two years of the quantitative easing program in the Euro Area, economic figures have remained very weak. As GEFIRA details, inflation is still fluctuating near zero, while GDP growth in the region has started to slow down instead of accelerating. According to the ECB data, to generate €1.0 of GDP growth, €18.5 had to be printed in the QE, … This year, the ECB printed nearly €600 billion within the frame of asset purchase programme (QE).”

Central Banks can and do create money, but that is not the same as creating wealth or purchasing power. By channelling their credit creation through the intermediary of banks granting loans to their favored clients, Central Banks grant to one set of entities purchasing power – a purchasing power that must necessarily have been transferred from another set of entities within Europe (i.e. transferred from ordinary Europeans in the case of the ECB), who, of course will have less purchasing power, less discretionary spending income.

The devaluation of purchasing power is not so obvious (no runaway inflation), because all major currencies are devaluing more or less pari passu – and because the authorities periodically steam hammer down the price of gold, so that there is no evident standard by which people can “see” for themselves the extent of their currencies’ joint downward float.

And world trade is grinding down too, as Lambert Strether of Corrente rather elegantly explains: “Back to shipping: I started following shipping … partly because it’s fun, but more because shipping is about stuff, and tracking stuff seemed like a far more attractive way of getting a handle on ‘the economy’ than economics statistics, let alone whatever books the Wall Streeters were talking on any given day. And don’t get me started on Larry Summers.

“So what I noticed was decline, and not downward blips followed by rebounds, but decline, for months and then a year. Decline in rail, even when you back out coal and grain, and decline in demand for freight cars. Decline in trucking, and decline in the demand for trucks. Air freight wobbly. No Christmas bounce at the Pacific ports. And now we have the Hanjin debacle — all that capital tied up in stranded ships, though granted only $12 billion or so — and the universal admission that somehow “we” invested w-a-a-a-a-a-y too much money in big ships and boats, implying (I suppose) that we need to ship a lot less stuff than we thought, at least across the oceans.

“Meanwhile, and in seeming contradiction not only to a slow collapse of global trade, but to the opposition to ‘trade deals,’ warehousing is one of the few real estate bright spots, and supply chain management is an exciting field. It’s disproportionately full of sociopaths, and therefore growing and dynamic!

“And the economics statistics seem to say nothing is wrong. Consumers are the engine of the economy and they are confident. But at the end of the day, people need stuff; life is lived in the material world, even if you think you live it on your device. It’s an enigma! So what I’m seeing is a contradiction: Less stuff is moving, but the numbers say ‘this is fine.’ Am I right, here? So in what follows, I’m going to assume that numbers don’t matter, but stuff does.”

 

Fake Elixir

Or, to be more faux-empirical: as Bloomberg notes in A Weaker Currency is no longer the Elixir, It Once Was: “global central banks have cut policy rates 667 times since 2008, according to Bank of America. During that period, the dollar’s 10 main peers have fallen 14%, yet Group-of-Eight economies have grown an average of just 1%. Since the late 1990s, a 10% inflation-adjusted depreciation in currencies of 23 advanced economies boosted net exports by just 0.6% of GDP, according to Goldman Sachs. That compares with 1.3% of GDP in the two decades prior. U.S. trade with all nations slipped to $3.7 trillion in 2015, from $3.9 trillion in 2014.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping greets President Barack Obama upon arrival for the G20 Summit at the Hangzhou International Expo Center in Hangzhou, China, Sept. 4, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Chinese President Xi Jinping greets President Barack Obama upon arrival for the G20 Summit at the Hangzhou International Expo Center in Hangzhou, China, Sept. 4, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

With “growth over,” so too is globalization: Even the Financial Times agrees, as its commentator Martin Wolf writes in his comment, The Tide of Globalisation is Turning: “Globalisation has at best stalled. Could it even go into reverse? Yes. It requires peace among the great powers … Does globalisation’s stalling matter? Yes.”

Globalization is stalling – not because of political tensions (a useful “scapegoat”), but because growth is flaccid as a result of a veritable concatenation of factors causing its arrest – and because we have entered into debt deflation that is squeezing what’s left of discretionary, consumption-available, income. But Wolf is right. Ratcheting tensions with Russia and China will not somehow solve America’s weakening command over the global financial system – even if capital flight to the dollar might give the U.S. financial system a transient “high.”

So what might the “turning tide” of globalization actually mean? Does it mean the end of the neo-liberalist, financialized world? That is hard to say. But expect no rapid “u-turn” – and no apologies. The Great Financial Crisis of 2008 – at the time – was thought by many to mark the end to neo-liberalism. But it never happened – instead, a period of fiscal retrenchment and austerity was imposed that contributed to a deepening distrust of the status quo, and a crisis rooted in a widespread, popular sense that “their societies” were headed in the wrong direction.

Neo-liberalism is deeply entrenched – not least in Europe’s Troika and in the Eurogroup that oversees creditor interests, and which, under European Union rules, has come to dominate E.U. financial and tax policy.

It is too early to say from whence the economic challenge to prevailing orthodoxy will come, but in Russia there is a group of prominent economists gathered together as the Stolypin Club, who are evincing a renewed interest in that old adversary of Adam Smith, Friedrich List (d. 1846), who evolved a “national system of political economy.” List upheld the (differing interests) of the nation to that of the individual. He gave prominence to the national idea, and insisted on the special requirements of each nation according to its circumstances, and especially to the degree of its development. He famously doubted the sincerity of calls to free trade from developed nations, in particular those by Britain. He was, as it were, the arch anti-globalist.

 

A Post-Globalism

One can see that this might well fit the current post-globalist mood. List’s acceptance of the need for a national industrial strategy and the reassertion of the role of the state as the final guarantor of social cohesion is not some whimsy pursued by a few Russian economists. It is entering the mainstream. The May government in the U.K. precisely is breaking with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s – and is breaking towards a List-ian approach.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the White Room No. 10 Downing Street in London, U.K., on July 19, 2016. [State Department Photo]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the White Room No. 10 Downing Street in London, U.K., on July 19, 2016. [State Department Photo]

Be that as it may (whether this approach swims more widely back into fashion), the very contemporary British professor and political philosopher, John Gray has suggested the key point is: “The resurgence of the state is one of the ways in which the present time differs from the ‘new times’ diagnosed by Martin Jacques and other commentators in the 1980s. Then, it seemed national boundaries were melting away and a global free market was coming into being. It’s a prospect I never found credible.

“A globalised economy existed before 1914, but it rested on a lack of democracy. Unchecked mobility of capital and labour may raise productivity and create wealth on an unprecedented scale, but it is also highly disruptive in its impact on the lives of working people – particularly when capitalism hits one of its periodic crises. When the global market gets into grave trouble, neoliberalism is junked in order to meet a popular demand for security. That is what is happening today.

“If the tension between global capitalism and the nation state was one of the contradictions of Thatcherism, the conflict between globalization and democracy has undone the left. From Bill Clinton and Tony Blair onwards, the center-left embraced the project of a global free market with an enthusiasm as ardent as any on the right. If globalisation was at odds with social cohesion, society had to be re-engineered to become an adjunct of the market. The result was that large sections of the population were left to moulder in stagnation or poverty, some without any prospect of finding a productive place in society.”

If Gray is correct that when globalized economics strikes trouble, people will demand that the state must pay attention to their own parochial, national economic situation (and not to the utopian concerns of the centralizing élite), it suggests that just as globalization is over – so too is centralization (in all its many manifestations).

The E.U., of course, as an icon of introverted centralization, should sit up, and pay attention. Jason Cowley, the editor of the (Leftist) New Statesman says: “In any event … however you define it, [the onset of ‘New Times’] will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.”

 

The Problem of Self-Delusion

So, to return to Ilargi’s point, that “we are smack in the middle of the most important global development in decades … and I don’t see anybody talking about it. That has me puzzled” and to which he answers that ultimately, the “silence” is due to ourselves: “We think we deserve eternal growth.”

President Barack Obama answers questions at a press conference at Konstantinovsky Palace during the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama answers questions at a press conference at Konstantinovsky Palace during the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

He is surely right that it somehow answers to the Christian meme of linear progress (material here, rather than spiritual); but more pragmatically, doesn’t “growth” underpin the whole Western financialized, global system: “it was about lifting the ‘others’ out of their poverty”?

Recall, Stephen Hadley, the former U.S. National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, warning plainly that foreign-policy experts rather should pay careful attention to the growing public anger: that “globalization was a mistake” and that “the elites have sleep-walked the [U.S.] into danger.”

“This election isn’t just about Donald Trump,” Hadley argued. “It’s about the discontents of our democracy, and how we are going to address them … whoever is elected, will have to deal with these discontents.”

In short, if globalization is giving way to discontent, the lack of growth can undermine the whole financialized global project. Stiglitz tells us that this has been evident for the past 15 years — last month he noted that he had warned then of: “growing opposition in the developing world to globalizing reforms: It seemed a mystery: people in developing countries had been told that globalization would increase overall wellbeing. So why had so many people become so hostile to it? How can something that our political leaders – and many an economist – said would make everyone better off, be so reviled? One answer occasionally heard from the neoliberal economists who advocated for these policies is that people are better off. They just don’t know it. Their discontent is a matter for psychiatrists, not economists.”

This “new” discontent, Stiglitz now says, is extended into advanced economies. Perhaps this is what Hadley means when he says, “globalization was a mistake.” It is now threatening American financial hegemony, and therefore its political hegemony too.

 

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.