Ilargi: Someone linked to this almost 8 year old article from Nicole (July 19 2010), on Twitter. And yes, it’s even more relevant now than it was when she wrote it. So here’s a re-run:
… the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 in the US, which drastically raised tariffs on imports, lead to retaliation by trading partners, and the resulting trade war dropped global trade by 66% between 1929 and 1934.
One more comment from me: Trump may be on to something with some of his tariff actions, but he risks having the US run headfirst into the brittleness of just-in-time supply lines.
Nicole Foss: As the world has become a smaller and smaller place over the last few decades, we think less about the differences between locations. Global trade has allowed us to circumvent many local constraints, evening out surpluses and shortages in a more homogenized world.
We have a just-in-time world built on comparative advantage, in the name of economic efficiency. Under this economic principle, every location should specialize in whatever activity it executes most efficiently and the resulting products from all areas would then be traded. The idea is that all will then be better off than they would have been had they attempted to cover all bases themselves for reasons of self-sufficiency.
Where countries had been inclined towards more expensive self-sufficiency, market forces have often made this approach untenable, as large cost differences can make countries or industries uncompetitive. Local production has been progressively out-sourced as a result.
By ‘better off’, economists mean that goods will be cheaper for all, thanks to global wage arbitrage and economies of scale. Globalization has indeed delivered falling prices for many consumer goods, particularly electronics. In an era of massive credit expansion (effectively inflation), such as we have lived through for decades, one would normally have expected prices to rise, as a lagging indicator of money supply expansion, but prices do not always follow money supply changes where other major complicating factors exist.
In recent years, the major complicating factors have been the ability to produce goods in places where wages are exceptionally low, the ability to transport those goods to consumer markets extremely cheaply and ready access to letters of credit.
For nominal prices (unadjusted for changes in the money supply) to fall during an inflationary period, real (inflation adjusted) prices must be going through the floor. This has been the effect of trade as we have known it, and it is all many of us have known. What we are not generally aware of is the vulnerability of the global trade system, due to the fragility of the critical factors underpinning it.
By producing goods, particularly essential goods, in distant locations, we create long and potentially precarious supply lines. While relative stability reigns, this vulnerability does not cause trouble and we enjoy cheap and plentiful goods. However, if these supply lines are disrupted, critical shortages could result. In a very complex just-in-time system, this may not take very long at all. Such as system is very brittle, as it has almost no redundancy, and therefore almost no resilience. When Jim Kunstler refers to efficiency as “the straightest path to hell”, it is this brittleness he is referring to.
The most ephemeral critical factor for trade is the availability of letters of credit. These became scarce during the first phase of the credit crunch in 2008, and the result was goods stuck in port even though there was robust demand for them elsewhere. Goods simply do not move without letters of credit, and these can dry up extremely quickly as a systemic loss of confidence results in a systemic loss of liquidity. In a very real way, confidence IS liquidity.
The Baltic Dry shipping index fell 96% in 2008 as a result, meaning that shipping companies were suffering. Although the index has recovered slightly during the recent long rally, it is still very depressed in comparison with its previous heights. Now that the rally appears to be over, on the balance of probabilities, letters of credit for shipping will come under renewed pressure, and goods will once again have difficulty moving. As demand also starts to fall, due to the loss of purchasing power in the depressionary era we are moving into, this will get far worse.
In a depression, trade is very adversely affected. One reason for this a highly protectionist beggar-thy-neighbour economic policies. For instance, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 in the US, which drastically raised tariffs on imports, lead to retaliation by trading partners, and the resulting trade war dropped global trade by 66% between 1929 and 1934.
Thanks to globalization, we are much more dependent on trade than people were in the 1930s. The combination of credit drying up on the one hand and global trade wars on the other is an extreme threat to our vulnerable supply lines. Add to that the general upheaval created by severe economic disruption, which can easily lead to increased physical risks to transporting goods, and the longer term potential for much higher energy prices, and we could see an outright collapse of global trade in the approaching years.
The benefits of self-sufficiency will be seen in places where it still exists. So long as the whole supply chain is local, localized production means being able to maintain access to essential goods at a time when obtaining them from overseas may be difficult or impossible. It is currently more expensive, but the relative security it can provide can be priceless in a dangerous world. The ability to produce locally does not arise overnight however, especially where there are no stockpiles of components. In places where it has been lost, it will take time to regain. There is no time to lose.
We will be returning to a world of much greater diversity as we lose the homogenizing effect of trade. That means the existing disparities between areas will matter far more in the future than they have in the recent past. We will need to think again about the pros and cons of our local regions – what they can provide and what they cannot, and for how many people. Some areas will be in a great deal of trouble when they lose the ability to compensate for deficiencies through trade. As the global village ceases to exist, the world will once again be a very large and variable place.
An alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile aimed at Hawaii was sent in error Saturday, sowing panic and confusion across the US state – which is already on edge over the risk of attack – before officials dubbed it a “false alarm.” Emergency management officials eventually determined the notification was sent just after 8:00 am during a shift change and a drill after “the wrong button was pushed” – a mistake that lit up phones across the archipelago with a disturbing alert urging people to “seek immediate shelter.” There were frenzied scenes of people rushing to safety – a bathtub, a basement, a manhole, cowering under mattresses. Adventurer Alison Teal called it “the worst moment of my life.”
The erroneous message came after months of soaring tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, with North Korea saying it has successfully tested ballistic missiles that could deliver atomic warheads to the United States, including the chain of volcanic islands. “I deeply apologize for the trouble and heartbreak that we caused today,” said Vern Miyagi, administrator of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency. “We’ve spent the last few months trying to get ahead of this whole threat, so that we could provide as much notification and preparation to the public. “We made a mistake,” he acknowledged in a press conference. “We’re going to take processes and study this so that this doesn’t happen again. “The governor has directed that we hold off any more tests until we get this squared away.”
[..] the cost of Housing, Medical Care, and Transportation have all risen sharply over the past 5-months with those three components comprising 67% of the inflation calculation. Clearly, the surge in “health care” related costs, due to the surging premiums of insurance due to the “Un-affordable Care Act,” pushed both consumer-related spending measures and inflationary pressures higher. Unfortunately, higher health care premiums do not provide a boost to production but drain consumptive spending capabilities. Housing costs, a very large portion of overall CPI, is also boosting inflationary pressures. But like “health care” costs, rising housing costs and rental rates also suppress consumptive spending ability.
Importantly, while households may be receiving a modest “tax cut” over the coming year, given the rise in three of the biggest expenditures in most households, whatever increase in incomes maybe received has likely already been absorbed by higher costs and debt service payments. “For the middle-class and working poor, which is roughly 80% of households, rent, energy, medical and food comprise 80-90% of the aggregate consumption basket.” – Research Affiliates. The problem for the Fed is that by pushing interest rates higher, under the belief there is a broad increase in inflation, the suppression of demand will only be exacerbated as the costs of variable rate interest payments also rise. With households already ramping up debt just to make ends meet, another increased expense will only serve to further suppress “consumer demand.”
In the US, the latest batch of data, released this week, showed retail sales climbed in December for the sixth straight month – though they missed expectations, with growth slowing to 0.3% MoM. With the personal savings rate at a 10 year low, the US consumer is now fully tapped out: This latest uptick in spending has presumably been fueled by debt, as credit-card borrowing has reached an all-time high. But another milestone in the history of global consumerism passed last month: As the Washington Post points out, China tied the US in 2018 in terms of domestic retail sales – according to data compiled by Mizuho. In some important categories, China has overtaken the US: With 17.6 million vehicles sold in the US in 2016, for example, but that was far below the 24 million passenger cars sold in China.
US automakers account for about one out of every five cars sold in China, even though the communist party placed a 10% tax on luxury cars and trucks imported from the United States. This economic heft has made the problem of confronting China intractable: China is now responsible for 20% of sales for some of the largest US corporations. This is making it difficult for Trump to confront Xi Jinping. Any restrictions on Chinese access to the US market would be met with barriers to American companies selling in China. One area where there’s a lot of agreement across the political spectrum is to go after China’s theft of US intellectual property. Over the summer, Trump ordered an investigation by the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to examine China’s IP policies.
China will step up oversight in the banking sector this year to reduce financial risks, the country’s banking regulator said, stressing that long-term efforts would be needed to control banking sector chaos. The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) said late on Saturday in a statement that its priorities included increasing supervision over shadow banking and interbank activities. “Banking shareholder management, corporate governance and risk control mechanisms are still relatively weak, and root causes creating market chaos have not fundamentally changed,” the CBRC said. “Bringing the banking sector under control will be long-term, arduous, and complex,” it said. The regulator said violations in corporate governance, property loans, and disposal of non-performing assets will be punished more strictly, and that it would strengthen risk control in interbank activities, financial products and off-balance sheet business.
China has repeatedly vowed to clean up disorder in its banking system. In recent months, regulators have introduced a series of new measures aimed at controlling risk and leverage in the financial system, with everything from lending practices to shadow banking under the microscope. Already in January, the CBRC has published regulations that put limits on the number of commercial banks that single investors can have major holdings in. President Xi Jinping has declared that financial security is vital to national security. The government is particularly concerned about the massive shadow banking industry, lending conducted outside of the regulated formal banking system. It fears that a big default or series of loan losses could cascade through the world’s second-biggest economy, leading to a sudden halt in bank lending.
Demands to open up Britain’s shady network of overseas tax havens are set to be used by the EU as leverage to force concessions during Brexit trade talks, The Independent understands. The European Commission will soon review whether British territories previously left off a Brussels tax haven blacklist should now be added – just as negotiations move on to the all-important future trade deal. Publicly EU officials say the blacklisting process has nothing to do with Brexit, but separate sources in Brussels told The Independent British territories where billions of pounds are stashed will come into play. One official made clear the EU would “go after” them, while another said the UK Government must ask itself if it wants to fly in the face of British public opinion on tax avoidance.
EU commissioners in December produced a blacklist of uncooperative tax jurisdictions, in a bid to clamp down on evasion and avoidance, tackle “threats” to members states’ tax bases and take on “third countries that consistently refuse to play fair”. But the 17 jurisdictions listed included no British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies, despite them being named in earlier EU lists and some being implicated in the Paradise Papers scandal. The EU had agreed the blacklisting screening process would be put on hold for territories caught in Hurricane Irma, meanwhile the UK is said to have pushed back against tougher sanctions for blacklisted territories. But officials confirmed that the screening process will now restart in “early spring” for British territories including Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Other British territories – Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey – promised to try and address EU concerns to stay off the list, which will now be reviewed annually.
Nigel Farage today makes a dramatic admission that the vote for Brexit could be overturned because Remainers have seized control of the argument over Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The former Ukip leader told the Observer that he was becoming increasingly worried that the Leave camp had stopped fighting their corner, leaving a well-funded and organised Remain operation free to influence the political and public debate without challenge. “The Remain side are making all the running,” said Farage. “They have a majority in parliament, and unless we get ourselves organised we could lose the historic victory that was Brexit.” On Thursday Farage angered many Brexiters, and many in Ukip, when he said he was coming round to the view that the country might need to hold a second referendum in order to close down the EU argument for good.
He said then that he believed such a vote would see the Brexit side win with a bigger majority than the one it achieved on 23 June 2016, when it triumphed by 52% to 48%. But, speaking on Friday, Farage appeared to change his tune, making clear that he was seriously worried that Brexit could be undone and reversed. The case for a complete break from the EU was no longer being made, even by pro-Brexit MPs in parliament, he said. Instead, the Remain camp was relentlessly putting out its message that a hard Brexit would be ruinous to the British economy and bad for the country, without people hearing the counter-argument that had secured Brexiters victory in the 2016 referendum campaign.
His latest intervention comes ahead of another vital week for the Brexit process in the House of Commons and as peers in the overwhelmingly pro-Remain House of Lords prepare to argue for retaining the closest possible links with the EU – and in some cases for a second referendum – when legislation reaches peers at the end of this month. Farage said he now had a similar feeling to the one he had 20 years ago when Tony Blair appeared to be preparing the country for an eventual entry into the euro. “I think the Leave side is in danger of not even making the argument,” he said. “The Leave groups need to regather and regroup, because Remain is making all the arguments. After we won the referendum, we closed the doors and stopped making the argument.”
Last Monday Farage held a meeting in Brussels with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, which, he said, left him convinced that the UK would not be offered the kind of deal that would be easy to sell as beneficial to the UK economy unless Leavers upped their game. “We no longer have a majority in parliament. I think we would lose the vote in parliament,” Farage said.
Humanity has been globalizing since our ancestors left Africa, the earliest economic migrants on record. Moreover, capitalism has been operating for two centuries like “heavy artillery,” in Marx and Engels’ words, using the “cheap prices of commodities” to batter “down all Chinese walls,” “constantly expanding market for its products” and replacing “the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency” with “intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.” It wasn’t until the 1990s, when we noticed the unleashing of momentous forces, that we required a new term to describe the emancipation of capital from all fetters, which led to a global economy whose growth and equilibrium relied on increasingly unbalanced trade and money movements. It is this relatively recent phenomenon – globalization, we called it – that is now in crisis and in retreat.
Only an ambitious new internationalism can help reinvigorate the spirit of humanism on a planetary scale. But before arguing in favour of that antidote, it is worthwhile recounting globalization’s origins and internal contradictions. In 1944, the New Deal administration in Washington understood that the only way to avoid the Great Depression’s return at war’s end was to transfer America’s surpluses to Europe (the Marshall Plan was but one example of this) and Japan, effectively recycling them to generate foreign demand for all the gleaming new products – washing machines, cars, television sets, passenger jets – that American industry would switch to from military hardware. Thus began the project of dollarizing Europe, founding the EU as a cartel of heavy industry, and building up Japan within the context of a global currency union based on the U.S. dollar.
This would equilibrate a global system featuring fixed exchange rates, almost-constant interest rates and boring banks (operating under severe capital controls). This dazzling design, also known as the Bretton Woods system, brought us a golden age of low unemployment and inflation, high growth and impressively diminished inequality. Alas, by the late 1960s, it was dead in the water. Why? Because the United States lost its surpluses and slipped into a burgeoning twin deficit (trade and federal budget), rendering it no longer able to stabilize the global system. Never too slow to confront reality, Washington killed off its finest creation: On Aug. 15, 1971, then-president Richard Nixon announced the ejection of Europe and Japan from the dollar zone. Unnoticed by almost everyone, globalization was born on that summer day.
There’s no such thing as a coincidence in Washington, so why the sudden, furious effort by Democrats and the media to give cover to the Steele dossier? As in, the sudden, furious effort that happens to coincide with congressional investigators’ finally being given access to FBI records about the Trump-Russia probe. This scandal’s pivotal day was Jan. 3. That’s the deadline House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation to turn over documents it had been holding for months. Speaker Paul Ryan backed Mr. Nunes’s threat to cite officials for contempt of Congress. Everyone who played a part in encouraging the FBI’s colonoscopy of the Trump campaign – congressional Democrats, FBI and Justice Department senior career staff, the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama political mobs, dossier commissioner Fusion GPS, the press corps – knew about the deadline and clearly had been tipped to the likelihood that the FBI would have to comply.
Thus the dossier rehabilitation campaign. Weeks before, the same crew had taken a desperate shot at running away from the dossier, with a New York Times special that attempted to play down its significance in the FBI probe. You can see why. In the year since BuzzFeed published the salacious dossier, we’ve discovered it was a work product of the Clinton campaign, commissioned by an oppo-research firm (Fusion), compiled by a British ex-spook on the basis of anonymous sources, and rolled out to the media in the runup to the election. Oh, and it appears to continue to be almost entirely false. When the best you’ve got is that a campaign orbiter made a public trip to Russia, you haven’t got much. But with Congress about to obtain documents that show the dossier did matter, it was time for a new line.
And so the day before the Nunes deadline, Fusion co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch broke their public silence to explain in a New York Times op-ed that what really matters was their noble intention – to highlight Donald Trump’s misdeeds. The duo took credit for alerting the “national security community” to a Russian “attack.” Meanwhile, Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, decided it was suddenly a matter of urgency that the nation see Mr. Simpson’s testimony, which he gave back in August. That move provided the cable news channels with more than 300 pages of self-serving material. Mr. Simpson extols his journalistic chops, praises the integrity of dossier author Christopher Steele (a “Boy Scout”), professes his love of country and his distaste for Russians (other than those paying him), and ladles on more disinformation about Mr. Trump.
Democrats and the media have spun this into a new contention: What mattered were the motives and credentials of the dossier’s creators, which were sufficient to give the FBI good cause to run with the document. Which you have to admit sounds a lot better than “Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Conjured Up an Opposition-Research Document That Was Fed to the Obama FBI, Which Then Used It to Spy on the Trump Campaign.” Even if that’s a more accurate headline.
Whistleblower Chelsea Manning, jailed for leaking classified information, is seeking election in the US state of Maryland, a document seen on Saturday says. The Federal Election Commission document, filed Thursday, lists Chelsea Elizabeth Manning of North Bethesda, Maryland, as a Democratic candidate for the United States senate. Manning, now 30, was an army intelligence analyst sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013 for leaking more than 700,000 classified documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The revelations by Manning, who is transgender and was then known as Bradley Manning, exposed covered-up misdeeds and possible crimes by US troops and allies.
Her actions made Manning a hero to anti-war and anti-secrecy activists but US establishment figures branded her a traitor. Then-president Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, leading to her release in May. During her incarceration, Manning battled for, and won, the right to start hormone treatment. On Twitter, she identifies herself as a “trans woman,” and carries the slogan: “Make powerful people angry.”
30% of people who fell ill in Greece in 2016 did not see a doctor, according to a new survey which found that 35.8% of those people who did not seek treatment did so due to the financial cost. The nationwide survey, based on a sample of 2,000 adults, was carried out in January 2017 by the National School of Public Health in Athens. The results, which highlight the impact of the financial crisis on access to medical care, were made available only recently. The study showed that the main reason Greeks consulted a health professional in 2016 was because they were experiencing a symptom or pain, with 47.4% giving that as a reason. In 2006 only 21% gave that as a main reason as most people visited doctors to receive medical prescriptions or routine checkups. Meanwhile, 26.4% of Greeks who needed healthcare in 2016 received it for free, compared to 52.6% in 2006.
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.
Henri Cartier-Bresson Trafalgar Square on the Day of the Coronation of George VI 1937
The Jackson Hole gathering of central bankers and other economics big shots is on again. They all still like themselves very much. Apart from a pesky inflation problem that none of them can get a grip on, they publicly maintain that they’re doing great, and they’re saving the planet (doing God’s work is already taken).
But the inflation problem lies in the fact that they don’t know what inflation is, and they’re just as knowledgeable when it comes to all other issues. They get sent tons of numbers and stats, and then compare these to their economic models. They don’t understand economics, and they’re not interested in trying to understand it. All they want is for the numbers to fit the models, and if they don’t, get different numbers.
Meanwhile they continue to make the most outrageous claims. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said in early July that “We have fixed the issues that caused the last crisis.” What do you say to that? Do you take him on a tour of Britain? Or do you just let him rot?
Fed head Janet Yellen a few days earlier had proclaimed that “[US] Banks are ‘very much stronger’, and another financial crisis is not likely ‘in our lifetime’. “ While we wish her a long and healthy life for many years to come, we must realize that we have to pick one: it has to be either a long life, or no crisis in her lifetime.
Just a few days ago, ECB President Mario Draghi somehow managed to squeeze through his windpipe that “QE has made economies more resilient”. Even though everybody -well, everybody who’s not in Jackson Hole- knows that QE has blown huge bubbles in lots of asset classes and caused severe damage to savings and pensions, problems that will reverberate through economies for a long time and rip entire societies apart.
But they really seem to believe what they say, all of them. Which is perhaps the biggest problem of all. That is, either they know better and lie straight-faced or they are blind to what they’re doing. Which might be caused by the fact that they are completely blind to what goes on in their countries and societies, and focus exclusively on banking systems. But that’s not where financial crises reside, or at least not only there.
No matter how much you earn, getting by is still a struggle for most people these days. 78% of full-time workers said they live paycheck to paycheck, up from 75% last year, according to a recent report from CareerBuilder. Overall, 71% of all U.S. workers said they’re now in debt, up from 68% a year ago, CareerBuilder said. While 46% said their debt is manageable, 56% said they were in over their heads. About 56% also save $100 or less each month, according to CareerBuilder.
Haven’t seen anything as ironic in a long time as having a company called CareerBuilder report on this. But more importantly, when almost 4 out of 5 people live paycheck to paycheck, that is a financial crisis right there. Just perhaps not according to the models popular in Jackson Hole. What do they know about that kind of life, anyway? So why would they care to model it?
Yellen’s Fed proudly report almost full employment -even if they felt forced to abandon their own models of it. But what does full employment constitute, what does it mean, when all those jobs don’t allow for people to live without fear of the next repair bill, the next hospital visit, their children’s education?
What does it mean when banks are profitable again and pay out huge bonuses while at the same time millions work two jobs and still can’t make ends meet? How is that not a -financial- crisis? In the economists’ models, all those jobs must lead to scarcity in the labor market, and thus rising wages. And then inflation, by which they mean rising prices. But the models fail, time and time again.
Moreover, talking about inflation without consumer spending, i.e. velocity of money, is empty rhetoric. 78% of Americans will not be able to raise their spending levels, they’re already maxed out at the end of each week, and 71% have debts on top of that. So where will the inflation, rising wages, etc., come from? When nobody has money to spend? Nobody can put that Humpty Dumpty together again.
An actual -as opposed to theoretical- recovery of wages and inflation will certainly not come from QE for banks, that much should be clear after a decade. And that is exactly where the problem is. That is why so many people work such shitty jobs. The banks may be more resilient (and that comes with a big question mark), but it has come at the cost of the economies. And no, banks are not the same as economies. Moreover, ‘saving’ the banks through asset purchases and ultra low rates has made ‘real economies’ much more prone to the next downturn.
The asset purchases serve to keep zombie firms -including banks- alive, which will come back to haunt economies -and central banks- when things start falling. The ultra low rates have driven individuals and institutions into ‘investments’ for which there has been no price discovery for a decade or more. Homes, stocks, you name it. Everyone and their pet hamster overborrowed and overpaid thanks to Bernanke, Yellen and Draghi, and their ‘policies’.
QE for banks didn’t just not work as advertized, it has dug a mile deep hole in real economies. No economy can properly function unless most people can afford to spend money. It’s lifeblood. QE for banks is not, if anything it’s the opposite.
Another -joined at the hip- example of what’s really happening in -and to- America, long term and deep down, and which will not be a discussion topic in Jackson Hole, is the following from the Atlantic on marriage in America. And I can hear the disagreements coming already, but bear with me.
Both the above 78% paycheck to paycheck number and the Atlantic piece on marriage make me think back of Joe Bageant. Because that is the world he came from and returned to, and described in Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War. The Appalachians. I don’t believe for a moment that Joe, if he were still with us, would have been one bit surprised about Trump. And reading this stuff, neither should you.
This is not something that is new, or that can be easily turned around anymore. This is the proverbial oceanliner which requires a huge distance to change course. Victor Tan Chen’s piece is a worthwhile read; here are a few bits:
Over the last several decades, the proportion of Americans who get married has greatly diminished—a development known as well to those who lament marriage’s decline as those who take issue with it as an institution. But a development that’s much newer is that the demographic now leading the shift away from tradition is Americans without college degrees—who just a few decades ago were much more likely to be married by the age of 30 than college graduates were.
Today, though, just over half of women in their early 40s with a high-school degree or less education are married, compared to three-quarters of women with a bachelor’s degree; in the 1970s, there was barely a difference. [..] Fewer than one in 10 mothers with a bachelor’s degree are unmarried at the time of their child’s birth, compared to six out of 10 mothers with a high-school degree.
The share of such births has risen dramatically in recent decades among less educated mothers, even as it has barely budged for those who finished college. (There are noticeable differences between races, but among those with less education, out-of-wedlock births have become much more common among white and nonwhite people alike.)
And then you make education so expensive it’s out of reach for a growing number of people… Insult and injury.
Plummeting rates of marriage and rising rates of out-of-wedlock births among the less educated have been linked to growing levels of income inequality. [..] Why are those with less education—the working class—entering into, and staying in, traditional family arrangements in smaller and smaller numbers? Some tend to stress that the cultural values of the less educated have changed, and there is some truth to that.
But what’s at the core of those changes is a larger shift: The disappearance of good jobs for people with less education has made it harder for them to start, and sustain, relationships. What’s more, the U.S.’s relatively meager safety net makes the cost of being unemployed even steeper than it is in other industrialized countries—which prompts many Americans to view the decision to stay married with a jobless partner in more transactional, economic terms.
And this isn’t only because of the financial ramifications of losing a job, but, in a country that puts such a premium on individual achievement, the emotional and psychological consequences as well. Even when it comes to private matters of love and lifestyle, the broader social structure—the state of the economy, the availability of good jobs, and so on—matters a great deal.
This is the erosion of social cohesion. And there is nothing there to fill that void.
Earlier this year, the economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson analyzed labor markets during the 1990s and 2000s—a period when America’s manufacturing sector was losing jobs, as companies steadily moved production overseas or automated it with computers and robots. Because the manufacturing sector has historically paid high wages to people with little education, the disappearance of these sorts of jobs has been devastating to working-class families, especially the men among them, who still outnumber women on assembly lines.
Autor, Dorn, and Hanson found that in places where the number of factory jobs shrank, women were less likely to get married. They also tended to have fewer children, though the share of children born to unmarried parents, and living in poverty, grew. What was producing these trends, the researchers argue, was the rising number of men who could no longer provide in the ways they once did, making them less attractive as partners.
The perks of globalization. Opioids, anyone?
[..] In doing research for a book about workers’ experiences of being unemployed for long periods, I saw how people who once had good jobs became, over time, “unmarriageable.” I talked to many people without jobs, men in particular, who said that dating, much less marrying or moving in with someone, was no longer a viable option: Who would take a chance on them if they couldn’t provide anything?
It’s not only Joe Bageant. These are also the people Bruce Springsteen talked about when he was still the Boss.
[..] The theory that a lack of job opportunities makes marriageable men harder to find was first posed by the sociologist William Julius Wilson in regard to a specific population: poor, city-dwelling African Americans. [..] In later decades of the last century, rates of crime, joblessness, poverty, and single parenthood soared in cities across the country.
[..] In a 1987 book, Wilson put forward a compelling alternative explanation: Low-income black men were not marrying because they could no longer find good jobs. Manufacturers had fled cities, taking with them the jobs that workers with less in the way of education—disproportionately, in this case, African Americans—had relied on to support their families. The result was predictable. When work disappeared, people coped as best they could, but many families and communities frayed.
By now it’s all Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town. That album is some 40 years old. That’s -at least- how long this has been going on. And why it’ll be so hard to correct.
Decades later, the same storyline is playing out across the country, in both white and nonwhite communities, the research of Autor, Dorn, and Hanson (as well as others) suggests. The factory jobs that retreated from American cities, moving to suburbs and then the even lower-cost South, have now left the country altogether or been automated away.
[..] “The kinds of jobs a man could hold for a career have diminished,” the sociologists wrote, “and more of the remaining jobs have a temporary ‘stopgap’ character—casual, short-term, and not part of a career strategy.” The result: As many men’s jobs have disappeared or worsened in quality, women see those men as a riskier investment.
This next bit is painful: life ain’t gonna get any better, so we might as well have kids.
At the same time, they are not necessarily postponing when they have kids. As the sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas have found in interviews with low-income mothers, many see having children as an essential part of life, and one that they aren’t willing to put off until they’re older, when the probability of complications in pregnancy can increase.
For mothers-to-be from more financially stable backgrounds, the calculation is different: They often wait longer to have children, since their career prospects and earnings are likely to improve during the period when they might otherwise have been raising a child. For less-educated women, such an improvement is much rarer.
Tan Chen follows up with a comparison of European and American safety nets, and suggests that “It’s not a matter of destiny, but policy”, but I don’t find that too relevant to why I found his piece so touching.
It describes a dying society. America is slowly dying, and not all that slowly for that matter. The Fed is comfortably holed up in Jackson Hole after having handed out trillions to bankers and lured millions of Americans into buying -or increasingly renting- properties that have become grossly overpriced due to its ZIRP policies, and congratulating itself on achieving “full employment”.
Why that ever became part of its mandate, g-d knows. I know, ML King et al. But. Thing is, when full employment means 78% of people have such a hard time making ends meet that they can’t afford to keep each other in a job by spending their money in stores etc., you’re effectively looking at a dying economy. Maybe we should not call it ‘full’, but ’empty employment’ instead.
Yeah, I know, trickle down. But instead of wealth miraculously trickling down, it’s debt that miraculously trickles up. How many Americans have mortgages or rents to pay every month that gobble up 40-50% or more from their incomes? That’d be a useful stat. Model that, Janet!
The article on marriage makes clear that by now this is no longer about money. The 40+ year crisis has ‘transcended’ all that. If and when money becomes too scarce, it starts to erode quality of life, first in individuals and then also in societies. It erodes the fabric of society. And you don’t simply replace that once it’s gone, not even if there were a real economic recovery.
But there will be no such recovery. As bad as things are for Americans today, they will get a whole lot worse. That is an inevitable consequence of the market distortion that QE has wrought: a gigantic financial crisis is coming. And the crowd gathered at Jackson Hole will be calling the shots once more, and bail out banks, not people. What’s that definition of insanity again?
I wasn’t going to do a Debt Rattle at all. Too much time spent in too narrow and claustrophobic echo chambers. Bunch of loud shrieking parrots. But we have to move on. Tell people who think it all makes sense that really, it doesn’t. What you see is not what you get.
Economics is all about cycles. Central banks trying to deny and prevent them just makes the seasons more extreme.
[..] according to one of the best minds on Wall Street today, Citi’s Matt King, what traders should be far more concerned about, is not who is in the Oval Office or how bombastic the war of words between the US and North Korea may be on any given day, but rather what central banks are preparing to unleash in the coming months. To underscore this, two weeks ago, King made a stark warning when he summarized that we are now more reliant on central banks banks holding markets together than ever before: “with asset prices displaying a high degree of correlation with central bank liquidity additions in recent years, that feedback loop makes the economy, upon which both corporate profitability and bank net interest margins depend, more reliant on central banks holding markets together than almost ever before. That delicate balance may well be sustained for the time being. But with central banks beginning to move, however gingerly, towards an exit, is it really worth chasing the last few bp of spread from here?”
One week later, he followed up with what was arguably his magnum opus on why the market is far too complacent about the threat to risk assets from the upcoming rounds of balance sheet normalization, summarized best in the following charts, showing the correlation between central bank asset purchases and the returns across global stock markets. The unspoken, if all too familiar, message was that riskier financial assets, such as credit and equities, have been artificially boosted by central bank actions, actions which are soon coming to an end whether voluntarily in the case of the Fed, or because the central bank is simply running out of eligible bonds to monetize, in the case of the ECB and BOJ.
In short, King is worried the global market is about to enter another tantrum. Is he right? To answer that question, another Citi strategist, Robert Buckland, admitting that “we are (always) worried”, takes a look at where we currently stand in the business cycle as represented by Citi’s Credit/Equity clock popularized also by Matt King in previous years.
For those unfamiliar, here is a summary of the various phases of the business cycle clock:
Phase 1: Debt Reduction – Buy Credit, Sell Equities Our clock starts as the credit bear market ends. Spreads turn down as companies repair balance sheets, often through deeply discounted share issues. This dilution, along with continued pressure on profits, keeps equity prices falling. For the present cycle, this phase began in December 2008 and ended in March 2009. Global equities fell another 21% even as US spreads tightened.
Phase 2: Profits Grow Faster Than Debt – Buy Credit, Buy Equities The equity bull market begins as economic indicators stabilise and profits recover. The credit bull market continues as improving cashflows strengthen company balance sheets. It’s all-round risk-on. This is usually the longest phase of the cycle. This began in March 2009, and according to most Wall Street analysts, is the phase we find ourselves in right now. Equity and credit investors both do well in this phase.
Phase 3: Debt Grows Faster Than Profits – Sell Credit, Buy Equities This is when credit and equities decouple again. Spreads turn upwards as fixed income investors become increasingly worried about deteriorating balance sheets. But equity markets keep rallying as EPS rise. Share prices are also boosted by the effects of higher corporate leverage, often in the form of share buybacks or M&A. This is the time to favour equities over credit.
Phase 4: Recession – Sell Credit, Sell Equities In this phase, equities recouple with credit in a classic bear market. It is associated with a global recession, collapsing EPS and worsening balance sheets. Insolvency fears plague the credit market, profit warnings plague the equity market. It’s all-round risk-off. Cash and government bonds are usually the best-performing asset classes.
Given the anti-Trump feeding frenzy, we continue to believe that a Swan is on its way bearing Orange. But if that’s not enough to dissuade the dip buyers, perhaps the impending arrival of the Red Swan will at least give them pause. The chart below comprises a picture worth thousands of words. It puts the lie to the latest Wall Street belief that the global economy is accelerating and that surging corporate profits justify the market’s latest manic rip. What is actually going on is a short-lived global credit/growth impulse emanating from China. Beijing panicked early last year and opened up the capital expenditure (CapEx) spigots at the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) out of fear that China’s great machine was heading for stall speed at exactly the wrong time.
The 19th national communist party Congress scheduled for late fall of 2017. This every five year event is the single most important happening in the Red Ponzi. This time the event is slated to be the coronation of Xi Jinping as the second coming of Mao. Beijing was not about to risk an economy fizzling toward a flat line before the Congress. Yet that threat was clearly on the horizon as evident from the dark green line in the chart below which represents total fixed asset investment. The latter is the spring-wheel of China’s booming economy, but it had dropped from 22% per annum growth rate when Mr. Xi took the helm in 2012 to 10% by early 2016. There was an eruption as dramatized in the chart. CapEx growth suddenly more than doubled in the one-third of China’s economy that is already saturated in excess capacity.
The state owned enterprises (SOE) in steel, aluminum, autos, shipbuilding, chemicals, building equipment and supplies, railway and highway construction etc boomed. It was as if a switch had been flicked on by Mr. Xi himself, SOE CapEx soared back toward the 25% year-over-year rate by mid-2016, keeping total CapEx hugging the 10% growth line. However, you cannot grow an economy indefinitely by building pyramids or any other kind of low-return/no return investment – even if the initial growth spurt lasts for years as China’s had. Ultimately, the illusion of Keynesian spending gets exposed and the deadweight costs of malinvestments and excess capacity exact a heavy toll. If the investment boom that was financed with reckless credit expansion is not enough, as was the case in China where debt grew from $1 trillion in 1995 to $35 trillion today, the morning-after toll is especially severe and disruptive. This used to be called a “depression.”
China’s propagated spurt in global trade and commodities was artificial and short-term. It was done to flatter China’s rulers at the 19th party congress. Now that a favorable GDP glide path has been assured, China’s planners and bureaucracy are already back at it trying to find some way to reel in its runaway credit growth and bloated economy before it collapses.
That specialization is the primary source of economic gain has been accepted by economists ever since the famous example of the pin factory with which Adam Smith opened The Wealth of Nations: “One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; . . . ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. . . . But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day.” David Ricardo extended Smith’s vision of specialization within a given industry to specialization between industries and nations, and made the argument that two countries can benefit from free trade even if one country is absolutely less competitive in both industries than the other.
In his hypothetical example, Portugal could produce both cloth and wine with less labor than England. If England specialized at the industry it was comparatively better at (cloth, obviously) and Portugal specialized in wine, then the total output of both industries would rise. This concept of the advantages of specialization became the core insight of economics, and it continues to be ingrained in and promoted by economists today. Lionel Robbins’s proposition that “Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses” is the dominant definition of economics. It implicitly emphasizes the importance of specialization, so that those “scarce means which have alternative uses” can be efficiently allocated to achieve the maximum level of output.
This belief in the advantages of specialization lies behind the incredulity with which economists have reacted to the rise of populist politicians like Donald Trump in the United States, as well as the United Kingdom’s vote for Brexit. They have, at their most self-righteous, blamed the rise of anti-globalization sentiment on the public’s irrational failure to appreciate the net benefits of trade. Or, more commonly, they have conceded that perhaps the electorate has reacted negatively because the gains from trade have not been shared fairly. There is, however, another explanation for why anti–free trade sentiment has risen: the gains from specialization at the national level were not there to share in the first place, for sound empirical reasons that were ignored in Ricardo’s example. That ignorance has been ingrained in economics since then, as Robbins’s definition—dominant and superficially persuasive, but fundamentally limited—gave economists a starting point from which they could not properly perceive either the advantages or the costs of globalization.
The Oxford English Dictionary has two definitions of the word “conservatism.” The first defines it as a “commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation”; the second defines it as “the holding of political views that favor free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.” The former definition strikes me as the classical definition; the latter, a more modern invention—as those who supported private ownership and free enterprise, such as John Locke and Adam Smith, were in their own times thought of as progressive liberals. But is there a conflict between the two? Not inherently. With the absolute monarchies either abolished or subordinated to the will of parliaments, private ownership and free enterprise have evolved into the status quo.
Given this, one can see how someone who defends this state of affairs might see him or herself as conservative. But in defending this status quo, many who think themselves conservative have instead slipped into supporting a truly radical social doctrine—namely, utilitarianism—a doctrine that has subsequently morphed into neoclassical or marginalist economics. This is a social doctrine that has very little concern for traditional values. Indeed, it often appears to be entirely nihilistic in its consideration of value and truth. Because utilitarianism in its modern form—neoclassical or marginalist economics—is often the primary doctrine used to defend private property and free enterprise, the two definitions from the Oxford dictionary mentioned earlier begin to clash with one another.
What is the essence of the utilitarian doctrine? At its heart, it is the conversion of the human being in all of his or her richness into simplistic, self-contained atoms that are motivated only by their reaction to pleasure and pain. The individual is viewed as a creature isolated from any community: All considerations of intersubjective dynamics are subordinated to atomistic subjective dynamics. Anything resembling intersubjectivity is, in the utilitarian doctrine, merely a product of atomistic desires. There is, as Margaret Thatcher once said, no such thing as society. Simultaneously, although the individual is stripped of all faculties but the ability to feel pleasure and pain, he or she is invested with the ability to perfectly calculate how to best maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Man is divested of his all-too-human nature and endowed with the extremes of animal desires and godlike, calculating omniscience.
Australia’s rising house prices reflect strong fundamentals, says Olumide Soroye, managing director of property data giant Corelogic’s US Information Solutions. Like Australia, which is experiencing rising house prices – which have doubled since the end of the global financial crisis – the US’s affordability is also worsening, Mr Soroye, who visited Australia and New Zealand last week, said. While the proportion of first-home buyers is higher in the US – 35% of total buyers compared with about 8 to 9% in Sydney and Melbourne – people trying to get into the housing markets for the first time are constrained in the US. Five years ago, first-home buyers were 50% of the US market. “The housing industry is in a time of major transformation and one of the forces at work that is going to drive that transformation is the affordability question,” Mr Soroye said.
“It exists here in the US and in Australia and New Zealand.” “Our view is the value of property since the GFC…the levels in the US while they are high they are still within range. We don’t think there is a systemic overvaluation.” “The question is, how does the system respond?” Mr Soroye said the use of macro-prudential tools – controlling lending to homebuyers – to cool the housing market was prudent and the US had done the same especially after the GFC. But that was not enough to reduce prices, and the key solution was supply, Mr Soroye said. He suggested government intervention, home design and the release of more suburban greenfield land supported by strong infrastructure. Reductions in stamp duty and assisted household funding could also help ease the affordability problem, Mr Soroye said.
Dispersing demand into the outer suburbs was another solution but it should be supported by fast trains and good roads. The pace of delivery of infrastructure must also be fast and timely. Importantly, the change in the designs of homes was crucial. Mr Soroye said in the US builders were starting to construct “multi-generational homes” to accommodate parents and their grown children on different floors. “In the context of the US, in 10 years 20% will be over 65. These are the type of parents who will have their millennial children come into their homes,” he said. “Millennials are over two thirds of first-home buyers so you need to figure out what to do with them.” And while planning was slow, particularly in NSW, Australia’s supply delivery was still better than the US and even the UK, Mr Soroye said.
Removing all trade tariffs and barriers would help generate an annual £135bn uplift to the UK economy, according to a group of pro-Brexit economists. A hard Brexit is “economically much superior to soft” argues Prof Patrick Minford, lead author of a report from Economists for Free Trade. He says eliminating tariffs, either within free trade deals or unilaterally, would deliver huge gains. Campaigners against a hard Brexit said the plan amounts to “economic suicide”. The UK is part of the EU customs union, and so imposes tariffs – taxes on imports – on some goods coming into the country. Countries in the customs union don’t impose tariffs on each other’s goods, and every country inside the union levies the same tariffs on imports from abroad. So, for example, a 10% tariff is imposed on some cars imported from outside the customs union, while 7.5% is imposed on roasted coffee. Other goods have no tariffs.
The UK has said it is leaving the EU’s customs union because as a member it is unable to strike trade deals with other countries. Prof Minford’s full report, From Project Fear to Project Prosperity, is due to be published in the autumn. He argues that the UK could unilaterally – before a reciprocal deal is in place – eliminate trade barriers for both the EU and the rest of the world and reap trade gains worth £80bn a year. The report foresees a further £40bn a year boost from deregulating the economy, as well as other benefits resulting from Brexit-related policies. Prof Minford says that when it comes to trade the “ideal solution” would still be free trade deals with major economic blocks including the EU. But the threat that the UK could abolish all trade barriers unilaterally would act as “the club in the closet”.
The EU would then be under pressure to offer Britain a free trade deal, otherwise its producers would be competing in a UK market “flooded with less expensive goods from elsewhere”, his introduction says. He argues UK businesses and consumers would benefit from lower priced imported goods and the effects of increased competition, which would force firms to raise their productivity. [..] During the referendum campaign last year Prof Minford stoked controversy by suggesting that the effect of leaving the EU would be to “eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech”. However in a recent article in the Financial Times he suggested manufacturing would become more profitable post-Brexit.
The firing of Steve Bannon is in my opinion the most significant event to happen during the Trump administration thus far. Moreover, it will have massive reverberations across the U.S. political spectrum for years and years to come. I wasn’t planning on writing today, but this news is so incredibly significant I find myself with little choice. Taking a step back, part of the reason I was immediately able to see through the Trump con was due to my upbringing in New York City. The guy was constantly in the news my entire life, so I had a pretty decent understanding of where he was really coming from and what makes him tick. The mindset of your typical NYC-based billionaire real estate developer is filled with all sorts of perspectives and priorities, but thoughts of populism are not amongst them.
Trump used populism to get elected, and then as soon as he won, immediately appointed some of the most destructive oligarchs imaginable to run his administration. The reason I warned about this incessantly at the time, is because I learned the lesson from the Obama administration. People = policy, and the people Trump was elevating were almost unanimously awful. Irrespective of what you think of Bannon, him being out means Wall Street and the military-industrial complex is now 100% in control of the Trump administration. Prepare for an escalation of imperial war around the world and an expansion of brutal oligarchy. The removal of Bannon is the end of even a facade of populism. This is now the Goldman Sachs Presidency with a thin-skinned, unthinking authoritarian as a figurehead.
Meanwhile, guess who’s still there in addition to the Goldman executives? Weed obsessed, civil asset forfeiture supporting Jefferson Sessions. The Trump administration just became ten times more dangerous than it was before. With the coup successful, Trump no longer needs to be impeached. Here’s another prediction. Watch the corporate media start to lay off Trump a bit more going forward. Rather than hysterically demonize him for every little thing, corporate media will increasingly give him more of the benefit of the doubt. After all, a Presidency run by Goldman Sachs and generals is exactly what they like. Trump finally came out of the closet as the anti-populist oligarch he is, and the results won’t be pretty.
Corporate media got the scalp it wanted, so the hysterical criticisms of him will die down. This is not to say I think the media will become pro-Trump, it just means the obsessive and aggressive propaganda will be dialed back considerably. Trump is now inline, and he will be rewarded by the establishment for that. He will learn that the more he gets with the program, the easier his life will be and the more secure his power. He is merely being conditioned, and my forecast is that Trump will gladly embrace the worst parts of the establishment going forward. Why? Because Trump’s true worldview fits in way more with Goldman Sachs and the military-industrial complex than with populism. It always has. The whole thing was just an act to get elected. Firing Bannon is just Trump coming home to who he always was. A ruthless oligarch.
History shows that maritime powers almost always have the upper hand in any clash; if only because moving goods by sea is cheaper, more efficient, easier to control, and often faster, than moving them by land. So there is little doubt that the US continues to have the advantage. Simple logic, suggests that goods should continue to be moved from Shanghai to Rotterdam by ship, rather than by rail. Unless, of course, a rising continental power wants to avoid the sea lanes controlled by its rival. Such a rival would have little choice but developing land routes; which of course is what China is doing. The fact that these land routes may not be as efficient as the US controlled sealanes is almost as irrelevant as the constant cost over-run of any major US defense projects. Both are necessary to achieve imperial status.
As British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson highlighted in his mustread East And West, empires tend to expand naturally, not out of megalomania, but simple commercial interest: “The true explanation lies in the very nature of the trade route. Having gone to all expenses involved… the rule cannot be expected to leave the far terminus in the hands of another power.” And indeed, the power that controls the end points on the trading road, and the power that controls the road, is the power that makes the money. Clearly, this is what China is trying to achieve, but trying to do so without entering into open conflict with the United States; perhaps because China knows the poor track record of continental empires picking fights with the maritime power. Still, by focusing almost myopically on Russia, the US risks having its current massive head-start gradually eroded. And obvious signs of this erosion may occur in the coming years if and when the following happens:
• Saudi Arabia adopts the renminbi for oil payments • Germany changes its stripes and cozies up to Russia and pretty much gives up on the whole European integration charade in order to follow its own naked self-interest. The latter two events may, of course, not happen. Still, a few years ago, we would have dismissed such talk as not even worthy of the craziest of conspiracy theories. Today, however, we are a lot less sure. And our concern is that either of the above events could end up having a dramatic impact on a number of asset classes and portfolios. And the possible catalyst for these changes is China’s effort to create a renminbi-based gold market in Hong Kong. For while the key change to our global financial infrastructure (namely oil payments occurring in renminbi) has yet to fully arrive, the ability to transform renminbi into gold, without having to bring the currency back into China (assuming Hong Kong is not “really” part of China as it has its own supreme court and independent justice system… just about!) is a likely game-changer.
Clearly, China is erecting the financial architecture for the above to occur. This does not mean the initiative will be a success. China could easily be sitting on a dud. But still, we should give credit to Beijing’s policymakers for their sense of timing for has there ever been a better time to promote an alternative to the US dollar? If you are sitting in Russia, Qatar, Iran, or Venezuela and listening to the rhetoric coming out of Washington, would you feel that comfortable keeping your assets, and denominating your trade, in dollars? Or would you perhaps be looking for alternatives? This is what makes today’s US policy hard to understand. Just when China is starting to offer an alternative—an alternative that the US should be trying to bury—the US is moving to “weaponize” the dollar and pound other nations—even those as geo-strategically vital as Russia—for simple domestic political reasons. It all seems so short-sighted.
So how much did it end up taking after ECB President Mario Draghi memorably said five years ago he’d do “whatever it takes” to save the euro? About €1.2 trillion ($1.4 trillion). That’s the amount that the ECB’s balance sheet has expanded in the half-decade since Draghi made those remarks at a conference in London (an ironic location from today’s post-Brexit perspective.) Deutsche Bank analysts including Luke Templeman go on to note there’s several things that have changed by that magnitude – €1.2 trillion – in the past five years, in an eerie Da Vinci Code-like confluence:
• The euro region’s gross domestic product has risen about €1.2 trillion
• The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has also climbed the equivalent of roughly €1.2 trillion
• The combined market cap of the FANG stocks – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet – has jumped about the equivalent of €1.2 trillion
Templeman and his colleagues warn against making too much of the symmetry. After all, for the U.S. numbers to be related, it would suggest “every bond the Federal Reserve bought drove people to spend more time on these websites.”
President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said the United States would have to cut 755 diplomatic staff in Russia and warned of a prolonged gridlock in its ties after the US Congress backed new sanctions against the Kremlin. Putin added bluntly that Russia was able to raise the stakes with America even further, although he hoped this would be unnecessary. A US State Department official denounced the move as a “regrettable and uncalled for act,” adding that Washington was now weighing a potential response. On Friday, the Russian foreign ministry demanded Washington cut its diplomatic presence in Russia by September 1 to 455 people – the same number Moscow has in the US.
“More than a thousand people – diplomats and technical personnel – were working and are still working” at the US embassy and consulates, Putin said in an interview with Rossia-24 television. The US State Department would not confirm the number of US officials serving at the mission. Putin added that an upturn in Russia’s relations with Washington could not be expected “any time soon.” “We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better,” he said. “But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for any time soon.” Putin warned that Russia could further ratchet up the pressure, but he hoped this would not be needed.
The undeniable improvement in living standards over the last 150 years is seen as evidence of progress. Improvements in diet, health, safe water, hygiene and education have been central to increased life spans and incomes. The lifting of billions of people globally out of poverty is a considerable achievement. But many of these individuals earn between $2 and $10 dollars a day. Their position is fragile, exposed to the vicissitudes of health, employment, economic conditions and political and societal stability. As William Gibson observed: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”. Economic progress also has come at a cost. Growth and wealth is increasingly based on borrowed money, used to purchase something today against the uncertain promise of paying it back in the future.
Debt levels are now unsustainable. Growth has been at the expense of existentially threatening environmental changes which are difficult to reverse. Higher living standards rely on the profligate use of under-priced, finite resources, especially water and energy, which have been utilised without concern about conservation for future use. Current growth, short-term profits and higher living standards for some are pursued at the expense of costs which are not evident immediately but will emerge later. Society has borrowed from and pushes problems into the future. The acquisition of material goods defines progress. The concept of leisure as shopping and consumption as the primary economic engine now dominate. Altering Bob Dylan’s lyrics, the Angry Brigade, an English anarchist group, described it as: “If you are not being born, you are busy buying”.
[19th-century Thomas Carlyle], who distrusted the “mechanical age”, would have been puzzled at the unalloyed modern worship of technology. Much of our current problems, environmental damage and pollution, are the unintended consequences of technology, especially the internal combustion engine and exploitation of fossil fuels. The invention of the motor vehicle was also the invention of the car crash. Technology applied to war continues to create human suffering. Mankind’s romance with technology increasingly is born of a desperate need for economic growth and a painless, cheap fix to problems such as reducing in greenhouse gas without decreasing living standards.
[..] Pre-occupation with narcissistic self-fulfilment and escapist entertainment is consistent with Carlyle’s concern about the loss of social cohesiveness, spirituality and community. His fear of a pervasive “philosophy of simply looking on, of doing nothing, of laissez-faire … a total disappearance of all general interest, a universal despair of truth and humanity, and in consequence a universal isolation of men in their own ‘brute individuality” … a war of all against all … intolerable oppression and wretchedness” seems modern.
In China, taxi rides aren’t just a form of transportation any more. They’ve also become useful for bond buyers doing due diligence. Dining out at restaurants is also helpful. It’s all part of a boom in field trips by market participants coming to grips with a new reality in China: the potential for bond defaults. After decades when authorities effectively provided blanket assistance to keep troubled companies from going under, the Communist leadership’s focus on shuttering unproductive assets has upended the market. A total of 45 onshore corporate bonds have defaulted since the start of last year, a surge from the eight recorded in 2014 and 2015 – which themselves were the first since the market was established in the 1980s. While China has the world’s third-largest bond market, corporate financial transparency can be limited, forcing investors to get creative.
“If you just sit in the office, you would never know if an issuer has actually closed business,” said Xu Hua at Colight Asset Management in Shanghai. “When you go to the local places, be sure to have a chat with taxi drivers or restaurant customers after talking to the issuer – ask them if they have friends working for the company. Has their friends’ pay been cut or raised this year? Has the company delayed paying salaries? What’s the local reputation?” Recent incidents have showcased concerns about corporate governance and disclosure standards. The onshore bonds of two China Hongqiao units slumped in March after the world’s biggest aluminum maker said full-year results may be delayed because of issues raised by its auditor. Bondholders of China Shanshui Cement are still trying to recoup most of their money – at one point the company said it couldn’t repay interest without a company seal.
Rideshare companies – mostly Uber, but now also Lyft elbowing into the scene – are changing the way business travelers look at ground transportation. In the process, these worker bees, who’re spending their company’s money, are not only crushing the taxi business but also that end of the rental car business. The collapse of business travel spending on taxis and rental cars is just stunning. And there is no turning back. Uber’s and Lyft’s combined share of the ground transportation market in terms of expense account spending in the second quarter has soared to 63%, with Uber hogging 55% and Lyft getting 8%. The share of taxis has plunged to 8%, now equal with Lyft for the first time, according to Certify, which provides cloud-based expense management software.
Uber hit that point in Q1 2015, when expense account spending on Uber matched spending on taxis for the first time, each with 25% of the market; rental cars still dominated with a 50% share. But that was an eternity ago. Note that the share of rental cars and taxis has declined at roughly the same rate. Uber’s growth in the business travel ground transportation market has continued despite its constant drumbeat of intricate debacles in the news, but the rate of growth has slowed. And Lyft’s rate of growth has surged. The chart above shows this surge in the growth rate of Lyft, which caused its share to jump from 3% a year ago to 8% now.
US Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday raised the possibility of deploying the Patriot anti-missile defence system in Estonia, one of three NATO Baltic states worried by Russian expansionism, Prime Minister Juri Ratas said. “We spoke about it today, but we didn’t talk about a date or time,” Ratas told state broadcaster ERR after Pence began a visit to the tiny frontline state. The Patriot is a mobile, ground-based system designed to intercept incoming missiles and warplanes. “We talked about the upcoming (Russian military) manoeuvres near the Estonian border… and how Estonia, the United States and NATO should monitor them and exchange information,” Ratas said.
Relations between Moscow and Tallinn have been fraught since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, joining both the EU and NATO in 2004 – a move that Russia says boosted its own fears of encirclement by the West. Concern in Estonia and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania surged after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and stepped up military exercises. Pence, in remarks to journalists in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, spoke in strong but general terms about US support for eastern European countries. On Monday, he heads to Georgia – a non-NATO member that is also worried about Russia – and then to Montenegro, which became NATO’s 29th member on June 5. “President (Donald) Trump sent me to Europe with a very simple message. And that is that America first doesn’t mean America alone,” Pence said.
Some European countries, namely Italy, Germany, France and the UK, are facing the so-called “substitution of nations,” where the national ethnical majority is disappearing physically and biologically, and is being substituted by migrants, according to a recent report. Sputnik Italy discussed the issue with Daniele Scalea, the author of the report. The recent report of the Italian-based Machiavelli Center of Political and Strategic Studies, “How immigration is changing Italian demographics” has revealed that a number of European countries are facing the “biological and physical extinction” of their national ethnicities. Ethnic majorities in such countries as Italy, Germany, France and the UK, are gradually turning into ethnic minorities, while being “substituted” by incoming migrants. Sputnik Italy discussed the issue with Daniele Scalea, an analyst at the center and the author of the report.
Migration is drastically changing the habitual course of life in Italy, he told Sputnik. The reason for the influx of African migrants into Europe is not wars or catastrophes, but an explosive demographic increase on the African continent, from 9% to 25% of the global population throughout the last century. While Europe, which accounted for over a fifth of the entire world population in 1950 (22%), is expected to make up just 7% of the world population in the year 2050, the%age of the African population will make a sweeping rise from 9% to 40%. Italy’s fertility rate is less than half of what it was in 1964, the analyst explained in his report. It has dropped from 2.7 children per woman to just 1.5 children per woman currently, a figure well below the replacement level for zero population growth of roughly 2.1 children per woman.
As of the first half of this year, Italy had over 5 million foreigners living as residents, a remarkable 25% growth relative to 2012 and a whopping 270% since 2002. At that time, foreigners made up just 2.38% of the population while 15 years later the figure has nearly trebled to 8.33% of the population. Moreover, even the children being born in Italy are overrepresented by immigrants, whose birthrate is considerably higher than native Italians, the study revealed. It is “unsurprising,” therefore, that Italian regions with the highest fertility rates are no longer in the south, as was usual the case, but in the Italian north and in the Lazio region, where there is a higher concentration of immigrants. If current trends continue, by 2065, first- and second-generation immigrants will exceed 22 million persons, or more than 40% of Italy’s total population.
By comparison, it was only in the not far-off 2001 that the percentage of foreigners living in Italy crossed the low threshold of 1%, which reveals the speed and magnitude of demographic change occurring in Italy, a phenomenon “without precedent” in Italy’s history, the study asserts.
Greece’s hard times aren’t over. A return to the bond market last week, the pledge of 8.5 billion euros ($9.5 billion) in new loans from euro-area creditors, the possibility of more money from the International Monetary Fund and a S&P Global Ratings outlook upgrade have coalesced to bolster investor sentiment that Greece has turned a corner. Trouble is, much depends on the country implementing reforms — dozens of the 140 measures agreed to are in various stages of application and more than 100 additional actions are needed to access the remaining 26.9 billion euros in funds before the current bailout program ends in August 2018. While the evidence of belt-tightening is everywhere in Greece, from falling incomes to rising poverty, the country has less to show in terms of structural overhauls.
Creditor demands for more measures threaten to become politically explosive as Greek citizens and businesses count the cost of the financial crisis that has thrown their lives into turmoil over the last seven years. Over the years, creditors have imposed reforms that have affected the daily lives of Greeks, from requiring receipts for tax breaks and e-prescriptions for patients to prevent abuse to pension payout cuts of as much as 50%. While Greece’s record of implementing reforms hasn’t won it any kudos, it is now hitting against even more challenging structural measures aimed at profoundly changing entrenched habits. The real problem is with reforms like fixing the tax system and the judiciary that require “long implementation,” said Gerassimos Moschonas, an associate professor of comparative politics at Panteion University in Athens. Belt-tightening measures have had a dramatic effect on life, making further long-lasting reforms difficult, he said.
“The income of an average household has decreased at least 40% during the crisis, poverty risk has increased 35.6%, pension cuts are enormous and there is over-taxation,” he said. Since Greece became the epicenter of the European debt crisis in 2010, the country has agreed to austerity measures to restructure its economy, which has shrunk by more than a quarter over the period. In exchange, euro-area creditors and the IMF have provided more than 260 billion euros in bailout funds to keep Greece afloat. “Progress with structural reforms has fallen far short of what is needed to allow Greece to succeed in the euro zone, but the program foresees some intensification of efforts,” the IMF said in its report on July 20.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government is struggling to squeeze pensions even more, allow Sunday openings for stores – which could threaten the livelihoods of small mom-and-pop shops that dot the country – consider further taxes and change labor laws that would make it even harder for employees to go on a strike. “There’s no serious implementation,” of difficult structural reforms, said Moschonas. “The Greek state has failed” to put them in place even after they were voted in parliament because of a lack of political will and the absence of technical expertise, he said.
Athens, like most urban centres, has been hardest hit by a crisis that has seen the country’s economic output contract by a devastating 26%. A study by the DiaNeosis thinktank found that 15% of the population, or 1,647,703 people, in 2015 earned below the extreme poverty threshold. In 2009 that number did not exceed 2.2%. The net wealth of Greek households fell by a precipitous 40% in the same period, according to the Bank of Greece. Unemployment, austerity’s most pernicious effect, hovers around 22%, by far the highest in the EU, despite a 5% drop in the last two years. Although the worst is over in terms of fiscal adjustment, few believe Greece will be able to escape a fourth bailout even if Athens regains market access when its current EU-IMF sponsored programme ends in August next year.
“It is very difficult to see the country being able to make a clean exit [from international stewardship] and raise the sort of money it needs to refinance its debt,” said Kyriakos Pierrakakis, director of research at DiaNeosis. “It will almost certainly need a new financial credit line, a bailout light, and that will come with new conditions.” In such circumstances, faith in government claims that the country has turned the corner – based as much on last week’s market foray as completion of a landmark compliance review and disbursement of €8.5bn in bailout funds – is in short supply. “Greeks can’t see any light at the end of any tunnel,” said Christodoulaki, shaking her head in disbelief. “They won’t believe anything at this point until they see it for real in front of their eyes.”
Across town in the communist party stronghold of Kaisariani, municipal authorities are already preparing for winter. In the giant 1960s concrete town hall, the social services department has lined up fundraising events, including concerts and theatre performances, to finance food donations that local stores and supermarkets can no longer afford to make. “Needs have grown exponentially,” said Marilena Christodoulou, her office wall adorned with the slogan “poverty is not a crime”.
Jean-Paul Sartre once famously stated that “a lost battle is a battle one thinks one has lost.” The tragic reality in Greece today, most Greeks, beaten down by the crisis and by the effects of what can be described as savage globalization, are plagued by feelings of collective guilt, self-loathing, hopelessness, feelings of inferiority, and apathy. The “inferiority” of Greece and the Greek people, and their “guilt,” are accepted as “facts of life.” It is, therefore, no surprise to see Greece ranked fourth worldwide in Bloomberg’s misery index for 2017. When one believes they have lost a battle, that means that they also recognize some other entity as the victor. In the case of Greece, that victor could be recognized as the EU and countries considered by average Greeks as “superior” and “civilized.” Writing in 1377, North African historian and historiographer Ibn Khaldun provides us with insights which could help explain Greece’s “xenomania” and nationwide Stockholm Syndrome today:
“The vanquished always want to imitate the victor in his distinctive mark, his dress, his occupation, and all his other conditions and customs. The reason for this is that the soul always sees perfection in the person who is superior to it and to whom it is subservient. It considers him perfect, either because the respect it has for him impresses it, or because it erroneously assumes that its own subservience to him is not due to the nature of defeat but to the perfection of the victor. If that erroneous assumption fixes itself in the soul, it becomes a firm belief. The soul, then, adopts all the manners of the victor and assimilates itself to him. This, then, is imitation.” It is, unfortunately, this very imitation that one observes in crisis-stricken Greece today. A society where the majority whines and complains, or simply gets up and leaves, but does not demand.
A nation that is demoralized; defeated; consumed by hopelessness; devoid of pride, self-respect, and self-confidence; paralyzed by fear; hampered by ignorance; and gripped by feelings of inferiority, cannot deliver change. This situation, of course, suits the powers that be magnificently. A society of self-loathers, a nation that is defeated and demoralized, will not pose a threat to those responsible for that oppression, while other “civilized” countries reap the ancillary benefits of the crisis, as the economic beneficiaries of the mass exodus and “brain drain” from Greece. This is savage globalization in action. In other words, Greece is a prime candidate for, in the words of Oscar López Rivera, the kickstarting of a decolonization process. His words may have been intended for Puerto Rico, but they are similarly applicable to Greece. But will the people of Greece heed Oscar’s words?
Slave traders today make a return on their investment 25-30 times higher than their 18th- and 19th-century counterparts. Siddharth Kara, a slavery economist and director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Business School, has calculated that the average profit a victim generates for their exploiters is $3,978 (£3,030) a year. Sex trafficking is so disproportionately lucrative compared to other forms of slavery that the average profit for each victim is $36,000. In his book Modern Slavery, to be published in October, Kara estimates that sex trafficking accounts for 50% of the total illegal profits of modern slavery, despite sex trafficking victims accounting for only 5% of modern slaves. Kara based his calculations, shared exclusively with the Guardian, on data drawn from 51 countries over a 15-year period, and from detailed interviews with more than 5,000 individuals who have been victims of slavery.
The first move to eradicate slavery was made in 1833, when the British parliament abolished it, 26 years after outlawing the trade in slaves. Nonetheless, at least twice as many people are trapped in some form of slavery today as were traded throughout the 350-plus years of the transatlantic slavery industry. Experts believe roughly 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves by professional traders between the 15th and 19th centuries. Today, the UN’s International Labour Organisation believes at least 21 million people worldwide are in some form of modern slavery. “It turns out that slavery today is more profitable than I could have imagined,” Kara said. “Profits on a per slave basis can range from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars a year, with total annual slavery profits estimated to be as high as $150bn.”
Upbeat data helped send world shares to a fourth all-time high in less than a month on Thursday as Wall Street edged higher in anticipation of solid earnings, while crude oil gained on evidence of stronger demand in China. Stocks were buoyed in Asia and elsewhere a day after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signaled a rise in interest rates would be less aggressive than some investors had expected. Sentiment was boosted after China reported upbeat data on exports and imports for June, the latest sign that the global growth is picking up a bit. That offset reports of higher production by key members of OPEC in a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), lifting oil prices.
The data pushed Asian shares up more than 1% and lifted MSCI’s 47-country gauge of global equity markets to a fresh record high with a gain of 0.29%. “Yesterday’s move was in response to Yellen comments that should inflation remain below the 2% target rate, the central bank will be less aggressive in their tightening program,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. “Today, the market is saying that’s old news and let’s focus on the matter at hand, which is earnings that will be coming out in earnest this week,” Stovall said. U.S. shares rose in anticipation second-quarter earnings will grow 7.8% for S&P 500 companies, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Britain’s public finances are in worse shape to withstand a recession than they were on the eve of the 2007 financial crash a decade ago and face the twin threat of a fresh downturn and Brexit, the Treasury’s independent forecaster has warned. The Office for Budget Responsibility – the UK’s fiscal watchdog – said another recession was inevitable at some point and that Theresa May’s failure to win a parliamentary majority in last month’s election left the public finances more vulnerable to being blown off course than they were in 2007. In its first in-depth analysis of the fiscal risks facing Britain, the OBR said its main message was clear: “Governments should expect nasty fiscal surprises from time to time – because policy can only reduce risks, not eliminate them – and plan accordingly.
“And they have to do so in the context of ongoing pressures that are likely to weigh on receipts and drive up spending and a variety of risks that governments choose to expose themselves to for policy reasons. This is true for any government, but this one also has to manage the uncertainties posed by Brexit, which could influence the likelihood or impact of other risks.” The OBR said the size of the UK’s Brexit divorce bill – currently a matter of dispute between London and Brussels – would have little impact on the public finances. But it noted that even a small fall in Britain’s underlying growth rate after departure from the EU would lead to a big increase in the country’s debt burden.
If a knock to trade with the rest of Europe caused productivity to slip by just 0.1 percentage points over the next 50 years, tax receipts would be £36bn lower. With spending growth left unchanged, the debt-to-GDP ratio would end up around 50 percentage points higher, the OBR added. The campaign group Open Britain said the OBR’s report showed “a hard Brexit poses a real threat to our economy. People voted for £350m a week for the NHS, not a £36bn black hole in the public finances that could mean severe cuts to the NHS”.
The IMF said on Thursday that while Canada’s economy has regained momentum, housing imbalances have increased and uncertainty surrounding trade negotiations with the United States could hurt the recovery. The report, written before the central bank raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday to 0.75%, also said the Bank of Canada’s current monetary policy stance is appropriate, and it cautioned against tightening. “While the output gap has started to close, monetary policy should stay accommodative until signs of durable growth and higher inflation emerge,” it said, adding that rate hikes should be “approached cautiously.” Cheng Hoon Lim, IMF mission chief for Canada, later clarified that even with Wednesday’s rate hike, monetary policy remains “appropriately accommodative.”
“The Bank of Canada’s increase of the policy rate reflects encouraging economic data over the past few months. We welcome the good news on the economy,” Lim said in an emailed statement. “Given the considerable uncertainty around the growth and inflation outlook, the Bank should continue to take a cautious approach in further adjusting the monetary policy stance,” she added. In a statement following its annual policy review with Canada, the IMF cautioned that risks to Canada’s outlook are significant – particularly the danger of a sharp correction in the housing market, a further decline in oil prices, or U.S. protectionism. It said financial stability risks could emerge if the housing correction is accompanied by a recession, but said stress tests have shown Canadian banks could withstand a “significant loss” on their uninsured residential mortgage portfolio, in part because of high capital position.
House prices in Toronto and Vancouver have more than doubled since 2009 and the boom has fueled record household debt, a vulnerability that has also been noted by the Bank of Canada. “The main risk on the domestic side is a sharp correction in the housing market that impairs bank balance sheets, triggers negative feedback loops in the economy, and increases contingent claims on the government,” the Fund said. The Fund also warned U.S. protectionism could hurt Canada, laying out a scenario for higher tariffs that could come with the renegotiation of NAFTA. If the United States raises the average tariff on imports from Canada by 2.1 percentage points and there is no retaliation from Canada, there would be a short-term impact on real GDP of about 0.4%.
Recall that as we showed first all the way back in 2011, the total cash on the books of commercial banks with operations in the US tracks the Fed’s excess reserves almost dollar for dollar. More importantly, the number is broken down by small and large domestic banks, as well as international banks. It is the last number that is of biggest interest, because now that Congress is finally scrutinizing the $4.5 trillion elephant in the room, i.e., the Fed’s balance sheet, it may be interested to know that approximately 40%, or $838 billion as of the latest weekly data, in reserves parked at the Fed belongs to foreign banks.
While we will reserve judgment, and merely point out that of the $100 or so billion in dividends and buybacks announced by US banks after the latest stress test a substantial amount comes directly courtesy of the Fed – cash that ultimately ends up in shareholders’ pockets – we will note that the interest the Fed pays to foreign banks operating in the US who have parked reserves at the Fed, amounts to $10.4 billion annualized as of this moment. This is a subsidy from the Fed, supposedly an institution that exists for the benefit of the US population, going directly and without any frictions to foreign banks, who – just like in the US – then proceed to dividend and buybacks these funds, “returning” them to their own shareholders, most of whom are foreign individuals.
While the number appears modest, it is poised to grow substantially as the Fed Funds rate is expected to keep growing, ultimately hitting 3.0% according to the Fed. Indicatively, assuming excess reserves remain unchanged for the next 2-3 years and rates rise to 3.0%, that would imply a total annual subsidy to commercial banks amounting to $65 billion, of which $25 billion would go to foreign banks every year. We wonder if this is the main reason why the Fed is so desperate to trim its balance sheet as it hikes rates, as sooner or later, someone in Congress will figure this out.
Unbeknownst to unassuming corporate bond holders, they too will soon be forced into the slow lane. For the moment, the vast majority fancy themselves that equally exasperating driver who won’t get out of the fast lane, determined to bully their way to their damned destination. As for the perils of tailgating, they’re for the other guy, the less agile driver with rubbery reflexes. That’s all good and well and has been for many years. Bond market fender benders are nearly nonexistent. The question is: Will central bankers worldwide turn placid parkways into highways to hell as they ‘remove accommodation,’ to borrow from their gently genteel jargon? That’s certainly one way to interpret Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s latest promise to shrink the balance sheet ‘appreciably.’
Care for a translation? How easily does “Aggressive Quantitative Tightening” roll off the tongue? Perhaps you’ve just bitten yours instead. Enter the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The Institute of International Finance (IIF), The Bank of International Settlements (BIS), and by the way, the Emerging Markets complex including and especially China. As a former central banker, it is with embarrassing ease yours truly can bandy about fantastic figures. No surprise that nary an eyebrow was raised at the latest figures out of the IIF that aggregate global debt is closing in on $220 trillion, as touched on last week. Consider that to be the broad backdrop. Now, narrow in on the IMF’s concerns that financial stability could be rocked by a rumble in US corporate debt markets.
Using firms’ capacity to service their debts from current earnings as a simple and elegant yard stick, the report warned that one in ten firms are failing outright. The last two years of levering up have exacted rapid damage: earnings have fallen to less than six times interest expense, this during an era of unprecedented low interest rates. And as record non-financial debt as a percentage of GDP quickly approaches 50%, the share of income required to service this mountain is at a seven-year high. Should financial conditions tighten (the report was published in April prior to the Fed’s June rate hike), one-in-five firms are likely to default, which rises to 22% if rates continue to rise.
“..The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border..”
Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six decades. The preliminary agreement sees Turkey receiving two S-400 missile batteries from Russia within the next year, and then producing another two inside Turkey, according to the Turkish official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokesman for Russia’s arms-export company Rosoboronexport OJSC said he couldn’t immediately comment on details of a deal with Turkey. Turkey has reached the point of an agreement on a missile defense system before, only to scupper the deal later amid protests and condemnation from NATO.
Under pressure from the U.S., Turkey gave up an earlier plan to buy a similar missile-defense system from a state-run Chinese company, which had been sanctioned by the U.S. for alleged missile sales to Iran. Turkey has been in NATO since the early years of the Cold War, playing a key role as a frontline state bordering the Soviet Union. But ties with fellow members have been strained in recent years, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pursuing a more assertive and independent foreign policy as conflict engulfed neighboring Iraq and Syria. Tensions with the U.S. mounted over U.S. support for Kurdish militants in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists, and the relationship with the European Union soured as the bloc pushed back against what it sees as Turkey’s increasingly autocratic turn.
Last month, Germany decided to withdraw from the main NATO base in Turkey, Incirlik, after Turkey refused to allow German lawmakers to visit troops there. The missile deal with Russia “is a clear sign that Turkey is disappointed in the U.S. and Europe,” said Konstantin Makienko, an analyst at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow think-tank. “But until the advance is paid and the assembly begins, we can’t be sure of anything.” The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border, the official said. The Russian deal would allow Turkey to deploy the missile defense systems anywhere in the country, the official said.
[..] The official said the systems delivered to Turkey would not have a friend-or-foe identification system, which means they could be deployed against any threat without restriction.
The scale of Turkey’s crackdown on alleged government opponents following last year’s attempted coup was confirmed by a top official, as the nation prepares to mark the anniversary of the failed putsch amid deepening concern over the rule of law. Authorities have fired 103,824 state employees and suspended 33,483 more since the July 15 bid to seize power by a section of the military, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in an interview. The purge of suspected followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by the government of orchestrating the coup attempt, is necessary to ensure national security, he said. ustice Ministry data showed 50,546 suspected members of Gulen’s organization were in prison on July 3, and that arrest warrants had been issued for 8,000 others. The preacher denies involvement in the takeover attempt.
“There might be crypto members of Feto who walk on the snow without leaving tracks,” Kurtulmus said, using an abbreviation of Gulen’s first name that officials have adopted since the defeated military power grab to refer to his movement. “Related agencies are carefully conducting their work against this possibility.” Just this week, Erdogan rebuffed criticism over the detention of a group of international rights activists, including the director of Amnesty International Turkey, as they held a workshop on an island off Istanbul. “They gathered as if they were holding a meeting to continue July 15,” the president said. Amnesty criticized Turkey on Tuesday after the detentions were extended by seven days. “It is truly absurd that they are under investigation for membership of an armed terrorist organization,” Amnesty Europe Director John Dalhuisen said in an email. “For them to be entering a second week in police cells is a shocking indictment of the ruthless treatment of those who attempt to stand up for human rights in Turkey.”
A group of cigarette company executives stood in the lobby of a drab convention center near New Delhi last November. They were waiting for credentials to enter the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty conference, one designed to curb smoking and combat the influence of the cigarette industry. Treaty officials didn’t want them there. But still, among those lined up hoping to get in were executives from Japan Tobacco International and British American Tobacco Plc. There was a big name missing from the group: Philip Morris International Inc. A Philip Morris representative later told Reuters its employees didn’t turn up because the company knew it wasn’t welcome. In fact, executives from the largest publicly traded tobacco firm had flown in from around the world to New Delhi for the anti-tobacco meeting.
Unknown to treaty organizers, they were staying at a hotel an hour from the convention center, working from an operations room there. Philip Morris International would soon be holding secret meetings with delegates from the government of Vietnam and other treaty members. The object of these clandestine activities: the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or FCTC, a treaty aimed at reducing smoking globally. Reuters has found that Philip Morris International is running a secretive campaign to block or weaken treaty provisions that save millions of lives by curbing tobacco use. [..] Confidential company documents and interviews with current and former Philip Morris employees reveal an offensive that stretches from the Americas to Africa to Asia, from hardscrabble tobacco fields to the halls of political power, in what may be one of the broadest corporate lobbying efforts in existence.
It was only a few decades ago that globalisation was held by many, even by some critics, to be an inevitable, unstoppable force. “Rejecting globalisation,” the American journalist George Packer has written, “was like rejecting the sunrise.” Globalisation could take place in services, capital and ideas, making it a notoriously imprecise term; but what it meant most often was making it cheaper to trade across borders – something that seemed to many at the time to be an unquestionable good. In practice, this often meant that industry would move from rich countries, where labour was expensive, to poor countries, where labour was cheaper. People in the rich countries would either have to accept lower wages to compete, or lose their jobs. But no matter what, the goods they formerly produced would now be imported, and be even cheaper.
And the unemployed could get new, higher-skilled jobs (if they got the requisite training). Mainstream economists and politicians upheld the consensus about the merits of globalisation, with little concern that there might be political consequences. Back then, economists could calmly chalk up anti-globalisation sentiment to a marginal group of delusional protesters, or disgruntled stragglers still toiling uselessly in “sunset industries”. These days, as sizable constituencies have voted in country after country for anti-free-trade policies, or candidates that promise to limit them, the old self-assurance is gone. Millions have rejected, with uncertain results, the punishing logic that globalisation could not be stopped. The backlash has swelled a wave of soul-searching among economists, one that had already begun to roll ashore with the financial crisis. How did they fail to foresee the repercussions?
Radioactive tritium, said to pose little risk to human health, will be released from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power complex into the sea, according to a top official of the plant operator. “The decision has already been made,” Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company, said in a recent interview with media outlets, referring to the discharge of tritium, which remains in filtered water even after highly toxic radioactive materials are removed from water used to cool the damaged reactors at the plant. At other nuclear power plants, tritium-containing water has routinely been released into the sea after it is diluted. But the move by Tepco has prompted worries among local fishermen about the potential ramifications for their livelihood as public perceptions about fish and other marine products caught off Fukushima could worsen.
They are the first public remarks by the utility’s management on the matter, as Tepco continues its cleanup of toxic water and tanks containing it continue to fill the premises of the plant, where three reactors suffered meltdowns after tsunami flooded the complex in March 2011 following a massive earthquake. Kawamura’s comments came at a time when a government panel is still debating how to deal with tritium-containing water at the Fukushima plant, including whether to dump it into sea. Saying its next move is contingent on the panel’s decision, Kawamura indicated in the interview that Tepco will wait for a decision by the government before it actually starts releasing the water into sea. “We cannot keep going if we do not have the support of the state” as well as Fukushima Prefecture and other stakeholders, he said.
Italians living below the level of absolute poverty almost tripled over the last decade as the country went through a double-dip, record-long recession. The absolute poor, or those unable to purchase a basket of necessary goods and services, reached 4.7 million last year, up from almost 1.7 million in 2006, national statistics agency Istat said Thursday. That is 7.9% of the population, with many of them concentrated in the nation’s southern regions. As Italy went through its deepest, and then its longest, recession since World War II between 2008 and 2013, more than a quarter of the nation’s industrial production was wiped out. Over the same period unemployment also rose, with the rate rising to as high as 13% in 2014 from a low of 5.7% in 2007. Joblessness was at 11.3% at last check in May.
For decades, Italy has grappled with a low fertility rate – just 1.35 children per woman compared with a 1.58 average across the 28-nation EU as of 2015, the last year for which comparable data are available. “The poverty report shows how it is pointless to wonder why there are fewer newborn in Italy,” said Gigi De Palo, head of Italy’s Forum of Family Associations. “Making a child means becoming poor, it seems like in Italy children are not seen as a common good.” The number of absolute poor rose last year in the younger-age classes, reaching 10% in the group of those between 18 and 34 years old. It fell among seniors to 3.8% in the age group of 65 and older, the Istat report also showed.
Earlier this year, the Rome-based parliament approved a new anti-poverty tool called inclusion income that is replacing existing income-support measures. It will benefit 400,000 households, for a total of 1.7 million people, Il Sole 24 Ore daily reported, citing parliamentary documents. The program will be funded with resources of around €2 billion ($2.3 billion) this year which should rise to nearly €2.2 billion in 2018, Sole also said
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she was gravely troubled by recent reports that federal agents were “stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests,” in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration law,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote. Trump has vowed to increase deportations and has widened the net of illegal immigrants prioritized for detention and removal. “We will review the letter and have no further comment at this time,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in an email.
Immigrant rights groups say federal agents have entered courthouses with increased frequency this year, including in California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas, said National Immigration Law Center staff attorney Melissa Keaney. “It’s definitely an issue we’re seeing a tremendous increase in under the new administration,” Keaney said by phone on Thursday. Cantil-Sakauye stopped short of questioning the legal right of federal agents to enter courthouses to locate and detain unauthorized immigrants. Her letter said the presence of immigration agents in California courthouses could undermine “public trust and confidence in our state court system,” which serves “millions of the most vulnerable Californians.”
Washington has a knack for ignoring long-term financial shortfalls and painting overly rosy scenarios about the future to make their numbers work in the here and now. Case in point: Donald Trump’s unrealistic projection that the U.S. economy will grow at 3% this year, when the latest GDP forecasts have actually been reduced to 1.8% by a number of economists. Then there is Social Security. Many politicians are just too intimidated, uninformed or complacent to tackle the unsustainability of Social Security — which by the latest tally will see its trust fund go to zero just 17 years from now, in 2034. But while fudging GDP numbers is dangerous for America’s economic outlook and the demise of Social Security in two decades is a serious long-term concern, America faces a mathematical problem that dwarfs both of these items: A pending pension crisis that could leave millions of Americans high and dry in the very near future.
Sure, it would be difficult for many if the U.S. economy stumbles under misguided Trump policies. And yes, the idea of even modest cuts to Social Security in the coming decades could serious affect millions of seniors. But take a look South Carolina’s government pension plan, which covers roughly 550,000 people – one out of nine state residents – but is a staggering $24.1 billion in the red. This is not a distant concern, but a system already in crisis. Younger workers are being asked to do much more to support the pensions of retirees. An analysis by the The Post and Courier of Charleston noted recently that “Government workers and their employers have seen five hikes in their pension plan contributions since 2012, and there’s no end in sight.” (Most now contribute 8.66% of their pay, vs. 6.5% before the changes.) At the same time, the pension fund has been chasing more stocks and alternative investments instead of relying on stable investments like bonds that may be much less volatile but generate only meager returns.
After the surprise election of Donald Trump, the head of Norway’s biggest oil company headed to Washington D.C. this month looking for reassurance. He came away as worried as ever. “I was looking for clarity, also some guidance, good advice, and also some people to talk to – new relationships within the administration,” Statoil CEO Eldar Saetre told a conference in Oslo on Thursday. “I have to be honest with you – I didn’t get much of any of it.” Saetre, whose company has stakes in three U.S. onshore areas and in the Gulf of Mexico, was concerned about the protectionist bent of the new president’s rhetoric. Combined with last year’s Brexit vote and looming elections in Europe where nationalists are gaining influence, he sees Trump’s victory as a threat to global free trade.
“From Brexit to Trump, we see warning signs that globalization could be going in reverse,” Saetre said at the annual Swedbank Energy Summit. “For our industry, I believe that would be very negative.” Trump’s energy policies could benefit oil producers in the U.S. by loosening regulations and freeing up more areas for drilling. However, his protectionist agenda could affect economic growth and trading relations with countries from neighboring Mexico to Asia. “Global collaboration and integrated markets have been and will remain key to make our industry prosper,” Saetre said. “Fair, open access to markets are keys to enable investments, value creation and jobs in our industry.” Cross-border cooperation is also essential to solve climate change, making it “more important than ever,” Saetre said.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that the Trump administration has no desire to get into trade wars, but certain trade relationships need to be re-examined to make them fairer for U.S. workers. At a news conference with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Mnuchin said that President Donald Trump views trade as important for economic growth. But when asked whether the Group of 20 finance ministers should explicitly reaffirm their past vow to resist protectionism, Mnuchin repeated his view that some U.S. trade relationships need to be re-examined to make them fairer and more reciprocal. “It is not our desire to get into trade wars,” Mnuchin said. “The president does believe in free trade but he wants free and fair trade.” Differences over trade could become a sticking point for G20 finance officials at a meeting in the spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany this weekend.
Schaeuble told Reuters in an interview that it was unclear whether the anti-protectionism language would remain in the G20 statement to be issued at the meeting’s close on Saturday. Given that Trump’s “America First” agenda, trade issues could be set aside for G20 leaders to tackle at a summit in July, Schaeuble said. But both Schaeuble and Mnuchin both said they had a constructive discussion ahead of the G20 meeting and pledged to work together through differences to promote growth. “It was a good start,” Schaeuble said of the meeting, adding that it was a positive sign for international cooperation and the G20 process. “We have found a good basis to talk openly about issues where we don’t have the same stance from the outset,” Schaeuble said. Mnuchin said the ministers agreed that they should fight currency manipulation.
This viral story looks sensationalized. Meals on Wheels gets just part of its funding from the Community Development Block Grant program. I included the article anyway because we’re getting into Bizarro World territory here: “You’re only focusing on recipients of the money,” Mulvaney said. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.'”
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, unveiled on Thursday, would cut federal funding for Meals on Wheels, a program that provides daily meals to millions of low-income seniors across the country. White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters at a press conference Thursday that Meals on Wheels “sounds great.” But he said that along with other anti-poverty programs, it is “not showing any results.” “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good,” Mulvaney told reporters. “We’re not going to spend money on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”
Trump’s budget would strip $3 billion from the Community Development Block Grant program, which supports a variety of community-development and anti-poverty programs. Those include Meals on Wheels, which provided 219 million meals to 2.4 million seniors in 2016. CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked Mulvaney if the funding cuts were “hard-hearted.” Mulvaney responded that reducing government spending on ineffective programs is “probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.” “You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re only focusing on recipients of the money,” Mulvaney said. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.'”
Jeroen Dijsselbloem may have to stand down as president of the Eurogroup which coordinates policy in the eurozone if he cannot retain his role as Dutch finance minister in a new coalition after his party was routed in Wednesday’s election. The Labor Party crashed from second to seventh place in preliminary results, losing more than three-quarters of its seats and making it hard for victorious liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte to retain Dijsselbloem in such a senior cabinet post, even though he has made clear his appreciation of his work. Neither man commented on the matter directly Thursday. Dijsselbloem is due to represent the Eurogroup at a G20 meeting in Germany Friday and to chair the monthly meeting of the 19 eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday.
While other eurozone finance ministers may seek his role, there is a lack of obvious contenders, particularly given that many governments will resist appointing a politician from the right because conservatives hold most other top EU jobs. It is just possible Dijsselbloem might retain his Dutch portfolio. There has also been speculation that the Eurogroup could keep him on as chairman even if he loses his national job – although some senior officials say that is most unlikely. Dijsselbloem, whose second 30-month term ends in January, has been popular with fellow ministers, balancing a background on the left with support from conservative Wolfgang Schaeuble, who wields Germany’s power on the Eurogroup and insists on strict terms for Greece and other states awarded bailout loans.
The Dutchman will remain in office for weeks, and possibly months, as Rutte struggles to put together a new coalition after Wednesday’s election. Rutte’s own party lost seats and the anti-immigration party of Geert Wilders finished in second place. Eurogroup rules do not stipulate that its president must be a serving finance minister. But senior eurozone officials have said lately that they do not believe fellow ministers would keep Dijsselbloem on if he lost his main job in The Hague. In the longer term, there has been talk of making the position a full-time one, with its own staff. But that is not yet agreed.
Anyone who doubted that the IMF is in deep trouble over its inane involvement in the toxic Greek bailout, and Berlin’s policy of extending Greece’s insolvency ad infinitum while the country’s social economy shrinks, should now have no more doubts. Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, yesterday introduced the IMF Reform and Integrity Act, which would require the U.S. to oppose the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) co-financing of a third Greek bailout with the European Stability Mechanism. If such co-financing were to go forward, the bill would prohibit the U.S. from supporting an IMF quota increase until funds are repaid in full.
“The IMF is supposed to be a lender of last resort, not a fig leaf of first resort for Eurozone members,” said Congressman Huizenga. “The IMF isn’t a fund to rescue political parties in creditor nations, nor should it be a junior partner to outside organizations that lack the commitment to do their work. For seven years now, the IMF has been used to shield Eurozone officials from their voters, which has tarnished the Fund’s reputation, prolonged Greece’s misery, and put off hard choices about Europe’s future that must be made regardless. As the IMF’s largest shareholder, the U.S. should ensure that the Fund remains independent and free from politicization that could put taxpayer dollars at risk. This bill will help make that a reality.”
In addition, the IMF Reform and Integrity Act cancels supplementary IMF funds that have already been deactivated, rescinding them and sending those resources back to the U.S. Treasury. The bill also clarifies existing law to require the U.S. Executive Director of the Fund to oppose any loan to a country whose debt is unsustainable.
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and a group of his colleagues are calling on the newly appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to immediately investigate how US taxpayer funds are being used by the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to support Soros-backed, leftist political groups in several Eastern European countries including Macedonia and Albania. According to the letter, potentially millions of taxpayer dollars are being funneled through USAID to Soros’ Open Society Foundations with the explicit goal of pushing his progressive agenda. “Unfortunately, we have received a credible report that, over the past few years, the U.S. Mission there has actively intervened in the party politics of Macedonia, as well as in the shaping of its media environment and civil society, often favoring left-leaning political group over others. We find these reports discoraging and, if true, highly problematic.”
“Much of the concerning activity in Macedonia has been perpetuated through USAID funds awarded to implementing entities such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. As the recipient of multiple grant awards and serving as a USAID contractor implementing projects in this small nation of 2.1 million people, our taxpayer funded foreign aid goes far, allowing Foundation Open Society – Macedonia (FOSM) to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left. Our foreign aid should only be used to promote a political agenda if it is in the security or economic interests of our country to do so, and even at that, we must be cautious and respectful in such an endeavor. We should be especially wary of promoting policies that remain controversial even in our own country and that have the potential to harm our relationship with the citizens of recipient countries.”
As Fox News pointed out, USAID gave nearly $15 million to Soros’ Foundation Open Society – Macedonia, and other Soros-linked organizations in the region, in the last 4 years of Obama’s presidency alone. “The USAID website shows that between 2012 and 2016, USAID gave almost $5 million in taxpayer cash to FOSM for “The Civil Society Project,” which “aims to empower Macedonian citizens to hold government accountable.” USAID’s website links to www.soros.org.mk, and says the project trained hundreds of young Macedonians “in youth activism and the use of new media instruments.” The State Department told lawmakers that in addition to that project, USAID has recently funded a new Civic Engagement Project which partners with four organizations, including FOSM. The cost is believed to be around $9.5 million. A citizen’s initiative called “Stop Operation Soros” has also published a white paper alleging U.S. money has been funding violent riots in the streets [..]
China may avoid having to pull out the big stick when it comes to reining in a record short-term borrowing spree by its smaller banks. The increased cost to lenders of issuing so-called negotiable certificates of deposit will naturally deflate a market that jumped by 90% in February from a year earlier, according to Ping An Securities. Demand is also waning for the securities, used by Chinese banks as a way of leveraging up investments and expanding their balance sheets, with mutual funds cutting their holdings to the lowest level in at least a year in January. “It’s unsustainable for commercial banks to take such high costs,” said Shi Lei at Ping An, a unit of China’s second-largest insurer. “NCDs are now even more expensive than short-term commercial paper. It will be corrected as lenders complete their adjustments in the term structure of the debt.”
Introduced by the People’s Bank of China in 2013 as a fresh source of money for smaller lenders which have difficulty competing for savings against big state banks, NCDs have morphed into a way for them to fund purchases of each other’s wealth-management products. That boosts refinancing risks in a banking system that will see a record 3.65 trillion yuan ($529 billion) of the notes maturing this quarter. This hasn’t escaped the attention of the authorities, with the PBOC looking at classifying NCDs as interbank liabilities, Caixin.com reported in January, a move that would quell growth in the market given limits on how much in interbank debt Chinese lenders are allowed to hold relative to their overall liabilities. The central bank has been ramping up its campaign to contain leverage since August, tightening money-market rates as a way of discouraging borrowing. The PBOC boosted borrowing costs for lenders Thursday, just hours after the Federal Reserve lifted benchmark interest rates.
On 10 January 2017 Canadian PM Justin Trudeau fired his minister of external affairs, Stéphane Dion, and replaced him with Chrystia Freeland, who was then minister of international trade. This cabinet shuffle might not have gotten much public notice except that Dion is a distinguished parliamentarian, former leader of the party and leader of the opposition, and a former key minister in the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. Freeland, on the other hand, is a well-known Ukrainian ultra-nationalist and self-declared Russophobe and hater of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The sacking of Dion was also noteworthy because Trudeau had run on an electoral platform in 2015 promising, inter alia, to improve Canadian relations with Russia, spoilt by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. When Dion became minister of external affairs, he confirmed the Liberal commitment to re-establish more constructive Canadian-Russian relations.
[..] Why should Canadians care one way or another whether their government supports the Ukraine and sends arms and advisors there to strengthen Ukrainian military forces? Well, the most important reason is that the present government in Kiev is illegitimate in spite of democratic appearances. It is the spawn of a violent coup d’état in February 2014, brokered and supported by the United States and the European Union, which overthrew the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovich. The vanguard of the Kiev coup d’état are neo-Nazi, fascist or ultra nationalist political and paramilitary organisations, notably the political party Svoboda, the paramilitary Pravyi sektor and various other paramilitary forces such as the so-called Azov and Aidar battalions. These paramilitary units were and are used to crush opposition in those parts of the Ukraine controlled by Kiev.
Neo-Nazi violence and intimidation worked in many places, but not in others. In the Crimea, the population united almost to the last man and woman, to toss out the putschist authorities and to vote for reunification with Russia. In the east, in the Donbass, the anti-fascist resistance repulsed Kiev punitive forces with heavy losses. These remarkable feats of arms, redolent of so many others in Russian history, were wasted by Moscow, which disregarded a first principle of war that one never lets an enemy withdraw to fight another day. «He who spares the aggressor», Stalin once remarked, «wants another war.» It may shock some people to hear Stalin quoted, but Plutarch, Sun Tzu, or Clausewitz might have said the same thing. Moscow supported the so-called Minsk peace accords which were never respected by the Kiev authorities. Ultra-nationalists even boasted that they had agreed to Minsk solely in order to rest and refit their beaten forces. It was only a ruse de guerre.
These are the forces which the Canadian government now supports with the enthusiastic backing of Minister Freeland. For her, it must be a lifelong dream-come-true. There has been much press comment during the last week or so about Freeland’s Ukrainian grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, a Nazi collaborator during World War II. Freeland claimed that he was only a refugee from Stalinist violence. He might have been, but he also collaborated with Nazi Germany. In many places in Europe, France and Italy, for example, collaborators were summarily shot or imprisoned after the war. In France, more than 5,000 were executed including Pierre Laval, a prominent French politician, who sided with Nazi Germany and vaunted collaboration to oppose the USSR. Another 38,000 French collaborators were jailed. Chomiak was lucky he was not hanged and that he ended up in northern Alberta, to die a well-to-do farmer.
The National Health System (ESY) is on the the brink of collapse, according to the Panhellenic Medical Association (PIS), which cited chronic shortages in staff and equipment at public hospitals around the country due to limited finances, and disruptions in the primary healthcare system. The association added that the only reason the health system is still running is due to the efforts of existing staff, whose endurance levels, however, are being put to the test. “The average age of ESY doctors is 60. And these people will be leaving in a few years,” said PIS president Michail Vlastarakos, adding that public hospitals need 6,500 additional permanent medical staff.
There was a 339% increase of in the number of first-time asylum applicants in Greece in 2016, which rose to 49,875 in 2016 from 11,370 in 2015, according to figures released by Eurostat on Thursday. On the basis of these figures, Greece ranks second among EU countries for the total number of asylum applications filed in relation to its population. Germany is first with 8,789 applications per million population, followed by Greece with 4,525 applications per million population. Third is Austria with 4,587, followed by Malta (3,989), Luxembourg (3,582) and Cyprus (3,350). The number of new asylum applicants on an EU level dropped to 1.204 million in 2016, for a percentage change of -4%, but were more than double the number of applicants in 2014. Most asylum applicants in EU member-states were Syrians (28%), Afghans (15%) and Iraqis (11%). In Greece, Syrians accounted for more than half of asylum applicants (53%), Iraqis for 10% and Pakistanis 9%.
Greece is being used as a testing ground for degrading asylum policies that fall short of the democratic values Europe would normally uphold, say refugee groups marking the first anniversary of a deal designed to slow arrivals to the continent. The accord struck last year between Turkey and the EU has been praised in some quarters for having slowed arrivals into Europe and reduced deaths in the Aegean sea. But basic human rights were lost in the process, the organisations claim. “Greece has become a testing ground for policies that are eroding international protection standards,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, in a joint report based on extensive fieldwork on Aegean islands where more than 14,000 men, women and children are trapped in abysmal conditions.
“Over the course of the year, there have been deaths, suicide attempts, people engaging in self harm, and children, women and men exposed to abuse and sexual violence.” The withering assessment, coming almost 12 months to the day since the agreement was reached between Ankara and Brussels, is in stark contrast to the official view of an accord hailed by the EU, at the time, as a breakthrough in the migration crisis. Agreed in exchange for €6bn in refugee aid to Ankara, it was seen as a vital step in resolving a crisis that at its height threatened to tear the bloc apart. Since its implementation, the number of refugees and migrants going to Europe via Turkey has dropped dramatically.
Islands such as Lesbos, which is near Turkey, are reporting 100 arrivals or fewer a day, while in 2015, when more than 1 million people streamed into Europe, it received 10,000 men, women and children over one weekend. But NGOs say the reality on the ground is that the deal has prolonged and exacerbated human suffering. The report found that, incarcerated on Greek islands, asylum seekers had been made to live in substandard and overcrowded conditions for months on end. With limited access to fair and effective asylum procedures they were subject to “a convoluted and constantly changing process” that lacked oversights and checks and balances. Often legal experts were unable to keep track of a system that was impossible for people to navigate alone.
A separate report by Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières warned that there were worrying levels of mental health problems among migrants and refugees in the Greek camps. It said people including children as young as nine were cutting themselves, attempting suicide and using drugs to cope with the “endless misery”. Mental health was “rapidly deteriorating due to the conditions created as a result of this deal”, Save the Children said. [..] The report expressed the NGOs’ fears that the deal would become a blueprint for crises elsewhere. “Beyond the deeply concerning situation in Greece, the EU is looking to replicate this model elsewhere, and, in so doing, risks setting a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world,” said the report.
Desperate refugees trapped in Greece are self-harming and attempting suicide as a result of “disastrous” EU policies, aid agencies have warned. More refugees are dying than ever before while attempting to reach Europe, almost a year after a controversial deal was struck with Turkey in an effort to prevent boat crossings across the Aegean Sea. The agreement has stranded thousands of asylum seekers in Greece, where aid agencies say children are among rising numbers of migrants trying to kill themselves after months trapped in squalid camps. Research by Save the Children found more than 5,000 minors are living in “appalling conditions” that are driving a mounting mental health crisis. It has recorded children as young as nine self-harming and 12-year-olds attempting suicide, sometimes filming themselves in the act, as well as a spike in drug and alcohol abuse by teenagers who are exploited by dealers in camps.
Violent protests and deaths are traumatising the youngest and most vulnerable refugees, whose families say they are too scared to let their children play out of sight in case they are hurt or abused. Save the Children staff report that some unaccompanied children live in “24-hour survival mode” and sleep in shifts to try to stay safe, while others disappear or pay smugglers to leave the Greek islands. “The EU-Turkey deal was meant to end the flow of ‘irregular migrants’ to Greece, but at what cost?” said Andreas Ring, Save the Children’s humanitarian representative. “Many of these children have escaped war and conflict only to end up in camps many of them call ‘hell’ and where they say they are made to feel more like animals than humans.” Since 20 March 2016, all migrants arriving on Greek islands have been held, under threat of deportation to Turkey, while their asylum applications are processed, but legal blocks have slowed transfers and left refugees in overcrowded tent camps for up to a year.
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei on Thursday slammed “shameful” politicians who ignore refugees as he launched a giant art installation centered on their fate at the National Gallery in Prague. Called “Law of the Journey”, the show features a 70-metre-long (230-foot-long) inflatable boat with 258 oversize refugee figures. A tribute to the thousands who have drowned crossing the Mediterranean, the piece is Ai’s biggest-ever installation. It will be on display until the end of the year. “My message is very clear: being a politician or a political group, you cannot be so short-sighted, you cannot have no vision, you cannot sacrifice human dignity and human rights for political gain,” Ai told AFP. “I think this is very, very shameful behaviour,” he added.
The Czech Republic and the other post-Communist central European members have rejected EU plans to allow Muslim refugees on their territories throughout the migrant crisis. Immigration from Muslim countries has become a hot political topic in these states, although most refugees have opted for wealthier western countries like Germany or Sweden. “If we see somebody who has been victimised by war or desperately trying to find a peaceful place, if we don’t accept those people, the real challenge and the real crisis is not of all the people who feel the pain but rather for the people who ignore to recognise it or pretend that it doesn’t exist,” said Ai. “That is both a tragedy and a crime,” said the 59-year-old painter, sculptor and photographer. Ai spent the last year visiting such migrant and refugee hotspots as the US-Mexican border badlands to the Turkish-Syrian frontier and crowded holding camps on Greek islands.
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.
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.
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.
Theodor Horydczak “Dome of US Capitol through trees at night” 1943
For the second time in a few weeks (see ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent), former British diplomat Alastair Crooke quotes me extensively, and I gladly return the favor. Crooke here attempts to list -some of- the difficulties Donald Trump will face in executing the -economic- measures he promised to take in his campaign. Crooke argues that, as I’ve indicated repeatedly, for instance in America is The Poisoned Chalice, the financial crisis that never ended may be one of his biggest problems.
Here, again, is Alastair Crooke:
We are plainly at a pivotal moment. President-Elect Trump wants to make dramatic changes in his nation’s course. His battle cry of wanting to make “America Great Again” evokes – and almost certainly is intended to evoke – the epic American economic expansions of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.
Trump wants to reverse the off-shoring of American jobs; he wants to revive America’s manufacturing base; he wants to recast the terms of international trade; he wants growth; and he wants jobs in the U.S. – and he wants to turn America’s foreign policy around 180 degrees.
The run-down PIX Theatre sign reads “Vote Trump” on Main Street in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. July 15, 2016. (Photo by Tony Webster Flickr)
It is an agenda that is, as it were, quite laudable. Many Americans want just this, and the transition in which we are presently in – dictated by the global elusiveness and search for growth (whatever is meant now by this term “growth”), clearly requires a different economic approach from that followed in recent decades.
As Raúl Ilargi Meijer has perceptively posited, greater self-reliance “is the future of the world, ‘post-growth’, and post-globalization. Every country, and every society, needs to focus on self-reliance, not as some idealistic luxury choice, but as a necessity. And that is not as bad or terrible as people would have you believe, and it’s not the end of the world … It is not an idealistic transition towards self-sufficiency, it’s simply and inevitably what’s left, once unfettered growth hits the skids. …
“Our entire world views and ‘philosophies’ are based on ever more and ever bigger and then some, and our entire economies are built upon it. That has already made us ignore the decline of our real markets for many years now. We focus on data about stock markets and the like, and ignore the demise of our respective heartlands, and flyover countries …
“Donald Trump looks very much like the ideal fit for this transition … What matters [here] is that he promises to bring back jobs to America, and that’s what the country needs … Not so they can then export their products, but to consume them at home, and sell them in the domestic market …There’s nothing wrong or negative with an American buying products made in America instead of in China.
“There’s nothing economically – let alone morally – wrong with people producing what they and their families and close neighbours themselves want, and need, without hauling it halfway around the world for a meagre profit. At least not for the man in the street. It’s not a threat to our ‘open societies’, as many claim. That openness does not depend on having things shipped to your stores over 1000s of miles, that you could have made yourselves, at a potentially huge benefit to your local economy. An ‘open society’ is a state of mind, be it collective or personal. It’s not something that’s for sale.”
A Great Wish
That’s Trump’s ostensible great wish, (it seems). It is not an unworthy one, but things have changed: America is no longer what it was in the Nineteenth or Twentieth centuries, neither in terms of untapped natural resources, nor societally. And nor is the rest of the world the same either.
Mr. Trump rather unfortunately may find that his chief task will not be the management of this Great Re-orientation, but more prosaically, fending off the headwinds which he will face as he hauls on the tiller of the economy.
In short, there is a real prospect that his ambitious economic “remake” may well be prematurely punctured by financial crisis.
These headwinds will not be of his making, and for the main part, they lie beyond human agency per se. They are structural, and they are multiple. They represent the accumulation of an earlier monetary doctrine which will fetter the President-elect into a small corner from which any chosen exit will carry adverse implications.
Ditto for anyone else trying to steer any ship of state in this contemporary global economy. Paradoxically – in an era moving toward greater self-sufficiency – what success Trump may have, however, will likely depend not on self-reliance so much as he would like.
For his foreign policy about turn, he will depend on finding common interest with Russian President Vladimir Putin (that should not be too hard) – and for the economic “about turn” – on Trump’s ability not to confront China, but to come to some modus vivendi with President Xi (less easy).
“Things are not what they were.” Complexity “theory” tells us that trying to repeat what worked earlier – in very different conditions – will likely not work if repeated later. In the Clinton era, for example, 85 percent of the U.S. population growth derived from the working-age population. The headwind that Trump will face is that, over the next eight years, 80 percent of the population growth will comprise 65+ year olds. And 65+ year olds are not a good engine of economic growth. This is not an uniquely American problem; it is a global trend too.
“The peak growth” (according to Econimica blog), “in the annual combined working age population (15-64 year/olds) among all the 35 wealthy OECD nations, China, Brazil, and Russia has collapsed since its 1981 peak. The annual growth in the working age population among these nations has fallen from +29 million a year to just +1 million in 2016 … but from here on, the working age population will be declining every year … These nations make up almost three quarters of all global demand for oil and exports in general. But their combined working age populations will shrink every year, from here on (surely for decades and perhaps far longer). Global demand for nearly everything is set to suffer.”
(FFR stands for Federal Funds Rate: i.e. the US key interest rate) Source: https://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html
And then there is China: It too is passing through a difficult “transition” from the old economy to an “innovative” one. It too, has an aging population and a debt problem (with a debt-to-gross domestic ratio reaching 247 percent). Trump argues that China deliberately holds down the value of its currency to gain unfair trade advantage, and he further suggests that he intends to confront the Chinese government on this key issue.
Again, Trump does have a point (many nations are managing their exchange rates precisely in order to try to “steal” a little bit extra growth from the diminished global pot). But as noted at Zerohedge, citing the analysis of One River Asset Management executive Eric Peters:
“What’s good for the US in this case [the rising dollar and interest rates in anticipation of ‘Trumponomics’], is not good for emerging markets (EMs). Emerging markets benefit from a weaker dollar, and you’re not going to get that. Emerging markets benefit from global capital flows moving in their direction and that’s not happening either. Back in February, emerging markets were in sharp decline, driven by (1) a strong dollar, (2) rising US interest rates, and (3) slowing Chinese growth. Then China spurred a massive credit stimulus, the Fed became wildly dovish, and the dollar declined sharply.
“Interest rates collapsed throughout the year. As the growing pool of dollar, euro and yen liquidity searched for a decent return, it headed to emerging markets. Trump has reignited the dollar rally, and his fiscal stimulus will force interest rates higher. This reversed everything. [the dollars are heading home]
“And to be sure, the Beijing boys don’t want to see material weakness ahead of next autumn’s Party Congress. But we’re currently near peak impulse from China’s Q1 stimulus.”
In short, Peters is saying that, with the appreciating dollar and rising interest rate environment, growth from emerging markets as a whole will falter, since emerging markets have effectively leveraged their economies to Chinese growth. It used to be the case that they were closely tied to U.S. growth, but it is now China which dominates the EMs’ trade flows [i.e. without China growth, the EMs languish]. The question is, can America reboot its growth whilst China and the EMs languish? It is another structural shift, whereas heretofore, it was vice versa: without U.S. growth, the EMs and China languished. Now it is the converse.
There are other structural changes of course which will make it harder for the industrially hollowed-out economies of the West to recuperate jobs off-shored earlier. Firstly, there has been a systemic shift of innovation and technology eastwards (often to a more skilled and better-educated workforce). This represents not only an economic event, but a redistribution of power too. In any case, technology in this new era is being more job destructive than creative.
In one sense, Trump’s economic plan to “get America working again” through massive debt-financed, infrastructure projects, harks back to the Reagan era, which was also a period in which the dollar was strong. But yet again, “things today are not what they were then.” Inflation then was at 13 percent, Interest rates were around 20 percent, and crucially, the U.S. debt to GDP ratio was a mere 35 percent (compared to today’s estimate of 71.8 percent or 104.5 percent with external debt included).
Then, as Jim Rickards has suggested, the strong dollar was deflationary (deliberately so), and interest rates had nowhere to go, but down. It was the beginning of the three decades’ bond boom, which finally seems to have come to an end, coincident with Trump’s election. Today, inflation has nowhere to go but up – as have interest rates – and the bond market, nowhere to go, but (perilously) down.
Growth and Jobs?
Can Trump then achieve growth and jobs through infrastructure expenditure? Well, “growth” is an ambiguous, shape-shifting term. The first chart shows both sides of the equation … the annual GDP growth and the annual federal debt incurred, spent, and (thus counted as part of the growth) to achieve the purported growth.
The second chart shows the annual GDP minus the annual growth in federal debt to achieve that “GDP growth.” In other words, unlike in the earlier Reagan times, more recently, the debt is producing no growth – but … well … just more debt, mostly.
In fact, what the second chart is reflecting is the dilution – through money “printing” – of purchasing power: away from one entity (the American consumer), through the intermediation of the financial sector, to other entities (mostly financial entities, and to corporations buying back their own shares). This is debt deflation: the American consumer ends having less and less purchasing power (in the sense of residual discretionary income).
The point here is that “growth” is becoming rarer everywhere. Russia and China, like everyone else, are in search for new sources for growth.
As Rickards has said, debt is the “devil” that can undo Trump’s whole schema: a “$1 trillion infrastructure refurbishment plan, along with his proposal to rebuild the military, will — at least in the short-term — significantly increase annual deficits. In fact, deficits are already soaring; the fiscal 2016 budget hole jumped to $587 billion, up from $438 in the prior year, for a huge 34% increase…in addition to this, Trump’s protectionist trade policies would implement either a 35% tariff on certain imports or would require these goods to be produced inside the United States, at much higher prices. For example, the increase in labor costs from goods made in China would be 190% when compared to the federally mandated minimum wage earner in the United States. Hence, inflation is on the way.”
In sum, self-sufficiency implies higher domestic costs and price rises for consumers.
Debt will rise. And there is seemingly already a buyers’ strike against U.S. government debt underway: well over a third of a $1 trillion worth of Treasuries were disposed of, and sold in the year to Aug. 31 by foreign Central Banks. And who is buying it? (Below, the chart shows what this purchasing looks like, as a percentage of total debt issued by the Treasury). Well, foreign central banks have disappeared. (The Chinese have not bought a U.S. Treasury bond since 2011.)
(Above: who purchased the marketable debt as a percentage, by period) Source.
It is the American public who are buying. Will they be willing to take on Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure spree? Or, will it be “printed” in yet another dilution of the American consumer’s purchasing power? The question of whether the infrastructure splurge does give growth hangs very much in the balance to such answers. (Equity shares in construction firms will do okay, of course).
The bottom line: (Michael Pento, Pento Report): “If interest rates continue to rise it won’t just be bond prices that will collapse. It will be every asset that has been priced off that so called ‘risk free rate of return’ offered by sovereign debt. The painful lesson will then be learned that having a virtual zero interest rate policy for the past 90 months wasn’t at all risk free. All of the asset prices negative interest rates have so massively distorted including; corporate debt, municipal bonds, REITs, CLOs, equities, commodities, luxury cars, art, all fixed income assets and their proxies, and everything in between, will fall concurrently along with the global economy.
“For the record, a normalization of bond yields would be very healthy for the economy in the long-run, as it is necessary to reconcile the massive economic imbalances now in existence. However, President Trump will want no part of the depression that would run concurrently with collapsing real estate, equity and bond prices.”
A Pending Financial Crisis
Trump, to be fair, has said consistently throughout the election campaign that whoever won the Presidential campaign to take office in January would face a financial crisis. Perhaps he will not face the “violent unwind” of the QE and bond bubble as some experts have predicted, but many more – according to Bank of America’s survey of 177 fund managers over the last six days, and controlling just under half a trillion of assets – expect a “stagflationary bond crash.”
This has major political implications. Trump is setting out to do no less than transform the economy and foreign policy of the U.S. He is doing this against a backdrop of many of the followers of the liberal élite, so angered at the election outcome, that they reject completely his electoral legitimacy (and, with the élites themselves staying mum at this rejection of the U.S. democratic process). Movements are being organized to wreck his Presidency (see here for example). If Trump does indeed experience a severe financial “unwind” at a time of such domestic anger and agitation, matters could turn quite ugly.
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.