Feb 182017
 
 February 18, 2017  Posted by at 4:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Jackson Pollock Shooting Star 1947

 

It’s amusing to see how views start to converge, at the same time that it’s tiresome to see how long that takes. It’s a good thing that more and more people ‘discover’ how and why austerity, especially in Europe, is such a losing and damaging strategy. It’s just a shame that this happens only after the horses have left the barn and the cows have come home, been fed, bathed, put on lipstick and gone back out to pasture again. Along the same lines, it’s beneficial that the recognition that for a long time economic growth has not been what ‘we’ think it should be, is spreading.

But we lost so much time that we could have used to adapt to the consequences. The stronger parties in all this, the governments, companies, richer individuals, may be wrong, but they have no reason to correct their wrongs: the system appears to work fine for them. They actually make good money because all corrections, all policies and all efforts to hide the negative effects of the gross ‘mistakes’, honest or not, made in economic and political circles are geared towards making them ‘whole’.

The faith in the absurd notion of trickle down ‘economics’ allows them to siphon off future resources from the lower rungs of society, towards themselves in the present. It will take a while for the lower rungs to figure this out. The St. Louis Fed laid it out so clearly this week that I wrote to Nicole saying ‘We’ve been vindicated by the Fed itself.’ That is, the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s.

Intriguing questions: was America at its richest right before or right after Nixon took the country off the gold standard in 1971? And whichever of the two one would argue for, why did he do it smack in the middle of peak wealth? Did he cause the downfall or was it already happening?

As per the St. Louis Fed report: “Real GDP growth fell and leveled off in the mid-1970s, then started falling again in the mid-2000s”. What happened during that 30-year period was that we started printing and borrowing with abandon, making both those activities much easier while we did, until the debt load overwhelmed even our widest fantasies ten years ago. And we’ve never recovered from that, if that was not obvious yet. Nor will we.

As the first graph below shows, there was still growth post-Gold Standard but the rate of growth fell and then “leveled off”, only to fall more after, to a point where Real GDP per Capita is presently 0.5% or so -little more than a margin error-. How one would want to combine that with talk of an economic recovery is hard to see. In fact, such talk should be under serious scrutiny by now.

Still, the numbers remain positive, you say. Yes, that’s true. But there’s a caveat, roughly similar to the one regarding energy and the return on it. Where we used to pump oil and get 100 times the energy in return that we needed to pump it, that ratio (EROEI) is now down to 10:1 or less. Alternative energy sources do little better, if at all. Whereas to run a complex society, let alone one like ours that must become more complex as we go along – or die-, we would need somewhere along the lines of a 20:1 to even 30:1 EROEI rate.

Another place where a similar caveat can be found is the amount of dollars it takes to produce a dollar of real growth. That amount has been increasing, and fast, to the point where it takes over $10 to create $1 or growth in the US and Europe, and China too moves towards such numbers.

Both our energy systems and our financial systems are examples of what happens when what we should perhaps call the rate of ‘productivity’ (rather than growth) falls below a critical mass: it becomes impossible to maintain, even keep alive, a society as complex as ours, which requires an increase in complexity to survive. In other words: a Real GDP per Capita growth rate of 0.5% is not enough to stand still, just like oil EROEI of 5:1 is not; there is growth, but not -nearly- enough to keep growing.

One does not get the impression that the St. Louis Fed economists who wrote the report are aware of this -though the title is suggestive enough-, they seem to lean towards the eternal desire for a recovery, but they did write it nonetheless. Do note the sharp drop that coincides with the 1973 oil crisis. We never ‘recovered’.

Why Does Economic Growth Keep Slowing Down?

The U.S. economy expanded by 1.6% in 2016, as measured by real GDP. Real GDP has averaged 2.1% growth per year since the end of the last recession, which is significantly smaller than the average over the postwar period (about 3% per year). These lower growth rates could in part be explained by a slowdown in productivity growth and a decline in factor utilization. However, demographic factors and attitudes toward the labor market may also have played significant roles.

The figure below shows a measure of long-run trends in economic activity. It displays the average annual growth rate over the preceding 40 quarters (10 years) for the period 1955 through 2016. (Hence, the first observation in the graph is the first quarter of 1965, and the last is the fourth quarter of 2016.)

 

Long-run growth rates were high until the mid-1970s. Then, they quickly declined and leveled off at around 3% per year for the following three decades. In the second half of the 2000s, around the last recession, growth contracted again sharply and has been declining ever since. The 10-year average growth rate as of the fourth quarter of 2016 was only 1.3% per year. Total output grows because the economy is more productive and capital is accumulated, but also because the population increases over time.

The same dynamics (or lack thereof) are reflected in a recent piece by Chris Hamilton, in which he argues that global growth -as expressed by growth in energy consumption- has largely been non-existent for years, other than in China. Moreover, China has added a stunning amount of debt to achieve that growth, and since its population growth is about to stagnate -and then turn negative-, this was pretty much all she wrote.

Global Growth is All About China…Nothing but China

Since 2000, China has been the nearly singular force for growth in global energy consumption and economic activity. However, this article will make it plain and simple why China is exiting the spotlight and unfortunately, for global economic growth, there is no one else to take center stage. To put things into perspective I’ll show this using four very inter-related variables…(1) total energy consumption, (2) core population (25-54yr/olds) size and growth, (3) GDP (flawed as it is), and (4) debt. First off, the chart below shows total global energy consumption (all fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, renewable, etc…data from US EIA) from 1980 through 2014, and the change per period. The growth in global energy consumption from ’00-’08 was astounding and an absolute aberration, nearly 50% greater than any previous period.

 

[..] here is the money chart, pointing out that the growth in energy consumption (by period) has shifted away from “the world” squarely to China. From 2008 through 2014 (most recent data available), 2/3rds or 66% of global energy consumption growth was China. Also very noteworthy is that India nor Africa have taken any more relevance, from a growth perspective, over time. The fate of global economic growth rests solely upon China’s shoulders.

 

China’s core population is essentially peaking this year and beginning a decades long decline (not unlike the world. The chart below shows total Chinese core population peaking, energy consumption stalling, and debt skyrocketing.

 

The chart below shows China’s core population (annual change) again against total debt, GDP, and energy consumption. The reliance on debt creation as the core population growth decelerated is really hard not to see. This shrinking base of consumption will destroy the meme that a surging Chinese middle class will drive domestic and global consumption…but I expect this misconception will continue to be peddled for some time.

 

• China of ’85-’00 grew on population and demographic trends.

• China of ’00-’15 grew despite decelerating population growth but on accelerating debt growth…this growth in China kept global growth alive.

• China of ’15-’30 will not grow, will not drive the global economy and absent Chinese growth…the world economy is set to begin an indefinite period of secular contraction. China ceased accumulating US Treasury debt as of July of 2011 and continues to sell while busy accumulating gold since 2011.

Unfortunately, neither quasi-democracies nor quasi-communist states have any politically acceptable solutions to this problem of structural decelerating growth and eventual outright contraction…but that won’t keep them from meddling to stall the inevitable global restructuring.

I can only hope that these data will convince more people that all the times I’ve said that growth is over, it was true. And perhaps even make them think about what follows from there: that when growth is gone, so is all centralization, including globalization, other than by force. This will change the world a lot, and unfortunately not always in peaceful ways.

What seems to have started (but was in the air long before) with Brexit and Trump, is merely a first indication of what’s to come. People will not accept that important decisions that affect them directly are taken by anonymous ‘actors’ somewhere far away, unless this promises and delivers them very concrete and tangible benefits. In fact, many have lost all faith in the whole idea, and that’s why we have Trump and Brexit in the first place.

This turn inward -protectionism if you will-, in the UK, US and many other places, is an inevitable development that follows from declining growth and soaring debt. Entire societies will have to be re-built from the ground up, and people will want to do that themselves, not have it dictated by strangers. At the same time, of course, those who profit most from centralization want that to continue. They can’t, but they will try, and hard.

Equally important, people who wish to try and save existing ‘central institutions’ for less selfish and more peaceful reasons should think twice, because they will fail too. It’s centralization itself that is failing, and the demise of the structures that represent it is but a consequence of that. We will see local structures being built, and only after that possibly -and hopefully- connect to each other. This is a big change, and therefore a big challenge.

Feb 172017
 
 February 17, 2017  Posted by at 11:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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John Collier Workmen at emergency office construction job, Washington, DC Dec 1941

 


Global Growth is All About China…Nothing but China (Econimica)
US Household Debt Is Dangerously Close To 2008 Levels (CNN)
“Seriously Delinquent” US Auto Loans Surge (WS)
3 Reasons The US Could Be Headed For A Fresh Debt Crisis (MW)
Fed President Says US Banks Have “Half The Equity They Need” (Black)
Harward Turns Down National Security Adviser Job Over Staffing Dispute (CBS)
The Swamp Strikes Back (Escobar)
Who’s Sucking Up All the World’s Safest Bonds? (WSJ)
Mary Jo White Seriously Misled the US Senate to Become SEC Chair (Martens)
European Financial Centres After Brexit (E.)
Putin Orders Russian Media To “Cut Back” On Positive Trump Coverage (ZH)
‘Bank Run’ under Capital Controls: Greeks withdraw €2.5bn in 45 days (KTG)

 

 

Let this sink in. Then realize how reliable Chinese numbers are. And that’s where all the ‘growth’ is in the world.

Global Growth is All About China…Nothing but China (Econimica)

Since 2000, China has been the nearly singular force for growth in global energy consumption and economic activity. However, this article will make it plain and simple why China is exiting the spotlight and unfortunately, for global economic growth, there is no one else to take center stage. To put things into perspective I’ll show this using four very inter-related variables…(1) total energy consumption, (2) core population (25-54yr/olds) size and growth, (3) GDP (flawed as it is), and (4) debt. First off, the chart below shows total global energy consumption (all fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, renewable, etc…data from US EIA) from 1980 through 2014, and the change per period. The growth in global energy consumption from ’00-’08 was astounding and an absolute aberration, nearly 50% greater than any previous period.

Of that growth in energy consumption, the chart below breaks down the sources of that growth among China (red), India/Africa (gold) and the rest of the world (blue). It’s plain to see the growth of Chinese energy consumption, the decelerating growth among the rest of the world, and the stagnant growth among India / Africa.

But here is the money chart, pointing out that the growth in energy consumption (by period) has shifted away from “the world” squarely to China. From 2008 through 2014 (most recent data available), 2/3rds or 66% of global energy consumption growth was China. Also very noteworthy is that India nor Africa have taken any more relevance, from a growth perspective, over time. The fate of global economic growth rests solely upon China’s shoulders.

The chart below shows China’s core population (annual change) again against total debt, GDP, and energy consumption. The reliance on debt creation as the core population growth decelerated is really hard not to see. This shrinking base of consumption will destroy the meme that a surging Chinese middle class will drive domestic and global consumption…but I expect this misconception will continue to be peddled for some time.

Read more …

Fewer delinquencies, says the Fed. But then look at the next article: “Seriously Delinquent” US Auto Loans Surge

US Household Debt Is Dangerously Close To 2008 Levels (CNN)

Total household debt climbed to $12.58 trillion at the end of 2016, an increase of $266 billion from the third quarter, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. For the year, household debt ballooned by $460 billion — the largest increase in almost a decade. That means the debt loads of Americans are flirting with 2008 levels, when total consumer debt reached a record high of $12.68 trillion. Rising debt hints that banks are extending more credit. Mortgage originations increased to the highest level since the Great Recession. Mortgage balances make up the bulk of household debt and ended the year at $8.48 trillion. However, growth in non-housing debt – which includes credit card debt and student and auto loans – are key factors fueling the rebound in debt.

Student loan debt balances rose by $31 billion in the fourth quarter to a total of $1.31 trillion, according to the report. Auto loans jumped by $22 billion as new auto loan originations for the year climbed to a record high. Credit card debts rose by $32 billion to hit $779 billion. At these rates, the New York Fed expects household debt to reach its previous 2008 peak sometime this year. But while that may sound alarming, there is one big difference between now and 2008, according to the Fed: Fewer delinquencies. At the end of 2016, 4.8% of debts were delinquent, compared to 8.5% of total household debt in the third quarter of 2008. There were also less bankruptcy filings – a little more than 200,000 consumers had a bankruptcy added to their credit report in the final quarter of last year, a 4% drop from the same quarter in 2015.

Read more …

“There’s nothing like loading up consumers with debt to make central bankers outright giddy.”

“Seriously Delinquent” US Auto Loans Surge (WS)

Bank regulators have been warning, now it’s happening. The New York Fed, in its Household Debt and Credit Report for the fourth quarter 2016, put it this way today: “Household debt increases substantially, approaching previous peak.” It jumped by $226 billion in the quarter, or 1.8%, to the glorious level of $12.58 trillion, “only $99 billion shy of its 2008 third quarter peak.” Yes! Almost there! Keep at it! There’s nothing like loading up consumers with debt to make central bankers outright giddy. Auto loan balances in 2016 surged at the fastest pace in the 18-year history of the data series, the report said, driven by the highest originations of loans ever. Alas, what the auto industry has been dreading is now happening: Delinquencies have begun to surge.

This chart – based on data from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, which varies slightly from the New York Fed’s data – shows how rapidly auto loan balances have ballooned since the Great Recession. At $1.112 trillion (or $1.16 trillion according to the New York Fed), they’re now 35% higher than they’d been during the crazy peak of the prior bubble. Note that during the $93 billion increase in auto loan balances in 2016, new vehicle sales were essentially flat. No way that this is an auto loan bubble. Not this time. It’s sustainable. Or at least containable when it’s not sustainable, or whatever. These ballooning loans have made the auto sales boom possible.

Read more …

Not a new topic, but some useful numbers.

3 Reasons The US Could Be Headed For A Fresh Debt Crisis (MW)

Subprime car loansThe amount of total open car loans just topped $1 trillion, according to credit ratings firm Experian. But is that a sign of consumer confidence … or a cause for alarm? According to the latest data, from the third quarter of 2016, about 1 in 5 car loans are made to subprime borrowers, at an average interest rate of almost 11%. And broadly speaking, the average car loan in the U.S. is for a balance of almost $30,000 and a monthly payment of about $500. With stats like that, it’s no wonder the default rate on car loans is rising. A study by lending analysis firm Lending Times recently found that auto loan delinquencies are up over 21% compared with 2012 levels. A senior vice president at TransUnion, one of the three major credit rating bureaus, recently said he expects “a modest increase in delinquency” for auto loans going forward, too.

Just image what would happen if rates tick a bit higher. After all, if homeowners who were “underwater” on their homes in 2007 could shrug off the impact of a foreclosure on their credit report and simply walk away from a big mortgage, then why in the world would they stick with a double-digit interest rate on a car loan — especially as that car ages or breaks down? The real weight of these loans continues to hit the balance sheets of lenders, with net subprime losses continuing to march upward in December to 8.52%. Standard & Poor’s U.S. Auto Loan Tracker noted that while some of the acceleration was seasonal, “the year-over-year increases indicate that 2017’s losses could surpass last year’s levels.” No wonder the New York Fed called subprime auto debt a “significant concern” at the end of last year.

Student loans Hedge-fund guru Bill Ackman has said “I think that the government’s going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars” on student loans. And while that may sound like hysterics, when you consider that there is roughly $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt, according to the Federal Reserve, that number doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Most of that is owned by the federal government via subsidized loans, too, with a recent Bloomberg report estimating the government owned some $850 billion in student loan debt as of 2014. Even a modest default rate would quite literally eat up hundreds of millions of dollars in a hurry. The losses for the government are disturbing, but at least can be made up with higher taxes or cuts elsewhere in the budget. There’s no relief for the millions of young Americans who are stuck paying for their college degree instead of spending on consumer goods.

Government-insured mortgagesAfter the collapse of subprime mortgages during the financial crisis, banks learned a hard lesson about these risky home loans. But if you think that means they avoided all loans to less-than-stellar borrowers, think again. The New York Fed recently juxtaposed the rise of government-insured mortgages vis-à-vis the decline in subprime lending to find that “government insurance programs rapidly expanded and more than filled the void.” That mirrors a report from ProPublica back in 2012 that estimated 9 in 10 mortgages issued at the time were being guaranteed by taxpayers via government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And while standards are moderately higher for loans with this government backstop than precrisis loans to subprime borrowers, “they are not low-risk loans,” write the New York Fed economists. “The combination of high leverage and low credit scores documented above translates into extremely high default rates.”

Read more …

It’s all about political power.

Fed President Says US Banks Have “Half The Equity They Need” (Black)

In a scathing editorial published in the Wall Street Journal today, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, blasted US banks, saying that they still lacked sufficient capital to withstand a major crisis. Kashkari makes a great analogy. When you’re applying for a mortgage or business loan, sensible banks are supposed to demand a 20% down payment from their borrowers. If you want to buy a $500,000 home, a conservative bank will loan creditworthy borrowers $400,000. The borrower must be able to scratch together a $100,000 down payment. But when banks make investments and buy assets, they aren’t required to do the same thing. Remember that when you deposit money at a bank, you’re essentially loaning them your savings.

As a bank depositor, you’re the lender. The bank is the borrower. Banks pool together their deposits and make various loans and investments. They buy government bonds, financial commercial trade, and fund real estate purchases. Some of their investment decisions make sense. Others are completely idiotic, as we saw in the 2008 financial meltdown. But the larger point is that banks don’t use their own money to make these investments. They use other people’s money. Your money. A bank’s investment portfolio is almost entirely funded with its customers’ savings. Very little of the bank’s own money is at risk. You can see the stark contrast here. If you as an individual want to borrow money to invest in something, you’re obliged to put down 20%, perhaps even much more depending on the asset.

Your down payment provides a substantial cushion for the bank; if you stop paying the loan, the value of the property could decline 20% before the bank loses any money. But if a bank wants to make an investment, they typically don’t have to put down a single penny. The bank’s lenders, i.e. its depositors, put up all the money for the investment. If the investment does well, the bank keeps all the profits. But if the investment does poorly, the bank hasn’t risked any of its own money. The bank’s lenders (i.e. the depositors) are taking on all the risk. This seems pretty one-sided, especially considering that in exchange for assuming all the risk of a bank’s investment decisions, you are rewarded with a miniscule interest rate that fails to keep up with inflation. (After which the government taxes you on the interest that you receive.) It hardly seems worth it.

Read more …

Murky.

Harward Turns Down National Security Adviser Job Over Staffing Dispute (CBS)

Vice Admiral Robert Harward has rejected President Trump’s offer to be the new national security adviser, CBS News’ Major Garrett reports. Sources close to the situation told Garrett Harward and the administration had a dispute over staffing the security council. Two sources close to the situation confirm Harward demanded his own team, and the White House resisted. Specifically, Mr. Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.

Harward, a 60-year-old former Navy SEAL, served as deputy commander of U.S. Central Command under now-Defense Secretary James Mattis. He previously served as deputy commanding general for operations of Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Harward has also commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan for six years after the 9/11 attacks. Under President George W. Bush, he served on the National Security Council as director of strategy and policy for the office of combating terrorism.

Read more …

As I said: the New Cold War is being fought INSIDE the US.

The Swamp Strikes Back (Escobar)

The tawdry Michael Flynn soap opera boils down to the CIA hemorrhaging leaks to the company town newspaper, leading to the desired endgame: a resounding victory for hardcore neocon/neoliberalcon US Deep State factions in one particular battle. But the war is not over; in fact it’s just beginning. Even before Flynn’s fall, Russian analysts had been avidly discussing whether President Trump is the new Victor Yanukovich – who failed to stop a color revolution at his doorstep. The Made in USA color revolution by the axis of Deep State neocons, Democratic neoliberalcons and corporate media will be pursued, relentlessly, 24/7. But more than Yanukovich, Trump might actually be remixing Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping: “crossing the river while feeling the stones”. Rather, crossing the swamp while feeling the crocs.

Flynn out may be interpreted as a Trump tactical retreat. After all Flynn may be back – in the shade, much as Roger Stone. If current deputy national security advisor K T McFarland gets the top job – which is what powerful Trump backers are aiming at – the shadowplay Kissinger balance of power, in its 21st century remix, is even strengthened; after all McFarland is a Kissinger asset. Flynn worked with Special Forces; was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); handled highly classified top secret information 24/7. He obviously knew all his conversations on an open, unsecure line were monitored. So he had to have morphed into a compound incarnation of the Three Stooges had he positioned himself to be blackmailed by Moscow.

What Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak certainly discussed was cooperation in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, and what Moscow might expect in return: the lifting of sanctions. US corporate media didn’t even flinch when US intel admitted they have a transcript of the multiple phone calls between Flynn and Kislyak. So why not release them? Imagine the inter-galactic scandal if these calls were about Russian intel monitoring the US ambassador in Moscow. No one paid attention to the two key passages conveniently buried in the middle of this US corporate media story. 1) “The intelligence official said there had been no finding inside the government that Flynn did anything illegal.” 2) “…the situation became unsustainable – not because of any issue of being compromised by Russia – but because he [Flynn] has lied to the president and the vice president.” Recap: nothing illegal; and Flynn not compromised by Russia. The “crime” – according to Deep State factions: talking to a Russian diplomat.

Vice-President Mike Pence is a key piece in the puzzle; after all his major role is as insider guarantor – at the heart of the Trump administration – of neocon Deep State interests. The CIA did leak. The CIA most certainly has been spying on all Trump operatives. Flynn though fell on his own sword. Classic hubris; his fatal mistake was to strategize by himself – even before he became national security advisor. “Mad Dog” Mattis, T. Rex Tillerson – both, by the way, very close to Kissinger – and most of all Pence did not like it one bit once they were informed.

Read more …

A big way in which central banks distort markets.

Who’s Sucking Up All the World’s Safest Bonds? (WSJ)

The world is running out of safe financial assets. One reason may be regulators’ push to make trading safer. A scarcity of safe collateral can create bouts of volatility in the markets where investors fund their purchases. Economists also worry that a lack of quality public-sector assets leads the private sector to create less reliable and riskier substitutes. Global rules increasingly require that investors deposit cash as security, called margin, when they trade with each other. This money is often left at clearinghouses, which are intermediaries that stand between buyers and sellers and step in if one of the parties won’t make good on a transaction. Regulators are trying to give these clearinghouses more heft to make the financial system safer.

The clearinghouses, in turn, have to do something with the cash, and they frequently take it to repurchase, or “repo,” markets, where they lend it out in exchange for high-quality assets such as German bunds or U.S. Treasurys. That has the effect of vacuuming up safe assets. Paradoxically, cash—at least its electronic form—isn’t ultrasafe: It needs to be left in bank deposits, and even the strongest banks have some risk. Treasurys and bunds don’t. Europe’s dearth of safe assets is especially acute. According to a semiannual survey released Tuesday by the International Capital Market Association, demand for collateral in the eurozone increased significantly in the second half of 2016. The ECB and other central banks across the developed world have been blamed for this safe-asset scarcity because they have bought trillions of dollars worth of government bonds in a bid to boost economic growth.

However, during a speech last month, ECB official Yves Mersch pointed to clearinghouses as a key culprit, and warned that “the requirements for trades to be centrally cleared are still being introduced, so the demand from market infrastructure to exchange cash for collateral will rise.” Data are scarce, but the latest figures from the Bank for International Settlements show that more than half of the notional amount outstanding of derivatives transactions was centrally cleared by the end of 2014, after new regulation was enacted—twice as much as in 2009.

Read more …

“Americans will continue to be relegated to the status of dumb tourist in their own country.”

Mary Jo White Seriously Misled the US Senate to Become SEC Chair (Martens)

Less than two weeks after Mary Jo White was nominated to become Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission by President Barack Obama on January 24, 2013, White filed an ethics disclosure letter advising that she would “retire” from her position representing Wall Street banks at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. White wrote on this subject in great detail, stating:

“Upon confirmation, I will retire from the partnership of Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP. Following my retirement, the law firm will not owe me an outstanding partnership share for either 2012 or any part of 2013. As a retired partner, I will be entitled to the use of secretarial services, office space and a blackberry at the firm’s expense. For the duration of my appointment, I will forgo these three benefits, though I may pay for some secretarial services at my own expense. Pursuant to the Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP Partners Retirement Program, I will receive monthly lifetime retirement payments from the firm commencing the month after my retirement. However, within 60 days of my appointment, the firm will make a lump sum payment, in lieu of making monthly retirement payments for the next four years. Within 60 days of my appointment, I also will receive payouts of my interest in the Debevoise & Plimpton LLP Cash Balance Retirement plan and my capital account.”

Yesterday it was widely reported in the business press that Mary Jo White is returning to her former law firm as a partner representing clients who face government investigations. She will also fill the newly created position of Senior Chair of the law firm. This news is highly significant because it would appear that the U.S. Senate was seriously misled by White’s ethics letter in its deliberations to confirm her as the top cop of Wall Street. The news is also highly significant because it will mark the fourth time in four decades that Mary Jo White has spun through the revolving doors of Debevoise & Plimpton (where she represented serial law violators) to government service (prosecuting serial law violators).

[..] Until there is meaningful legislative reform of political campaign financing and revolving door appointments, Americans will continue to be relegated to the status of dumb tourist in their own country.

Read more …

Bankers have too much money and too much power.

European Financial Centres After Brexit (E.)

“WHEN the vote took place,” says Valérie Pécresse, “it was an opportunity for us to promote Île de France”, the region around Paris of which she is the elected head. Two advertising campaigns were prepared, depending on the result of Britain’s referendum last June on leaving the European Union. The unused copy ran: “You made one good decision. Make another. Choose Paris region.” Brexit has made Paris bolder. Once Britain leaves Europe’s single market, the many international banks and other firms that have made London their EU home will lose the “passports” that allow them to serve clients in the other 27 states. Possibly, mutual recognition by Britain and the EU of each other’s regulatory regimes will persist. But no one can rely on the transition to Brexit being smooth, rather than a feared “cliff edge”. Best to assume the worst.

Britain is expected to start the two-year process of withdrawal next month. Given the time needed to get approval from regulators, find offices and move (or hire) staff, financial firms have long been weighing their options. London will remain Europe’s leading centre, but other cities are keen to take what they can. The Parisians are pushing hardest, pitching their city as London’s partner and peer. “I don’t see the relationship with London as a rivalry,” says Ms Pécresse. “The rivalry is not with London but with Dublin, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Frankfurt.” Especially, it seems, Frankfurt. Paris has more big local banks, more big companies and more international schools than its German rival. London apart, say the French team, it is Europe’s only “global city”. When, they smirk, did you last take your partner to Frankfurt for the weekend?

This month the Parisians were in London, briefing 80 executives from banks, asset managers, private-equity firms and fintech companies. They are keen to dispel France’s image as an interventionist, high-tax, work-shy place. The headline corporate-tax rate is 33.3% but due to fall to 28% by 2020. A scheme giving income-tax breaks to high earners who have lived outside France for at least five years will now apply for eight years after arrival or return, not five. The Socialists, who run the city itself, and Ms Pécresse’s Republicans are joined in a business-friendly “sacred union”, says Gérard Mestrallet, president of Paris Europlace, which promotes the financial centre. Ms Pécresse and others play down the risk that Marine Le Pen, of the far-right, Eurosceptic National Front will win the presidential election this spring.

Read more …

“Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” the U.S. president tweeted.

Putin Orders Russian Media To “Cut Back” On Positive Trump Coverage (ZH)

Trump’s honeymoon with capital markets is on the rocks, kept alive only by the occasional soundbite about “massive” or “phenomenal” tax cuts; it now appears that the US president’s – until recently – amicable relationship with Russia is also quickly souring. According to Bloomberg, the Kremlin has ordered Russian state media to cut “way back” on their fawning coverage of President Donald Trump, in what three sources told BBG is a “reflection of growing concern among senior Russian officials that the new U.S. administration will be less friendly than first thought.” The Russian president has defended his decision saying it is the result of declining interest among the Russian viewers in Trump’s rise to power, but Bloomberg adds that some of the most popular TV segments on Trump touched on ideas the Kremlin would rather not promote, such as his pledge to “drain the swamp.”

The suggestion is that since Trump is looking to end governmental corruption, the “authoritarian” Putin should be worried; and yet instead of “draining the swamp” Trump has filled it by surrounded himself with precisely those bankers he used as populist examples of all that is wrong with the government. As such, Putin should greet Trump’s failed “swamp draining” although that part did not make it into the Bloomberg report. Putin’s decree comes at a time of rising anti-Russian sentiment in Washington, where U.S. spy and law-enforcement agencies are conducting multiple investigations to determine the full extent of contacts Trump’s advisers had with Russia during and after the 2016 election campaign.

According to Bloomberg, the order marks a stark turnaround from just a few weeks ago when Russia hailed Trump’s presidential victory as the beginning of a new era of cooperation between the former Cold War foes. “Trump’s campaign was watched with rapture as news anchors gushed over the novelty of hearing an American presidential candidate praise Putin. But the wall-to-wall coverage went too far for the Kremlin’s liking.” In January, Trump reportedly received more mentions in the media than Putin, relegating the Russian leader to the No. 2 spot for the first time since he returned to the Kremlin in 2012 after four years as premier, according to Interfax data.”

That said, there has certainly been a chilling in relations between Trump and Putin. In recent weeks, numerous White House officials, including Trump, have criticized Russia for its annexation of Crimea and the subsequent violence in Ukraine. Trump on Wednesday accused Putin of seizing Crimea from Ukraine in a series of Twitter posts that were delivered amid a flurry of allegations that his team has ties to Russia. “Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” the U.S. president tweeted. As Bloomberg concludes, Russian officials, who had readily commented to local media on earlier news from Washington, suddenly became less talkative after the Crimea comment. And so, with Trump-Putin relations suddenly in purgatory, and Trump’s domestic “Russia-facing” exposure in chaos, it is now unclear how Trump will pivot away to restore what many had hoped would lead to a restoration in normal relations between the two countries.

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And there we go again.

‘Bank Run’ under Capital Controls: Greeks withdraw €2.5bn in 45 days (KTG)

Delays in the talks between Greece and its lenders have brought back the ghost of Grexit. The grave disagreement between the IMF and the European lenders, Grexit bombshell flying around and Greece’s reluctance to accept additional austerity measures have increase uncertainty among citizens – for one more time. And what do citizens do when they feel political and economical insecurity? The run to banks and withdraw deposits. 2.5 billion euros left Greek banks in the last 45 days. And this despite the capital controls that allow Greeks to withdraw a maximum of just €1,800 per month. However, in better situation are those who brought back cash to the banks. Cash that was largely withdrawn before the capital controls were imposed in July 2015 as a result of a major bank run from November 2014 until end of June 2015.

Those who pulled the cash from under the mattress and brought it to bank are allowed to withdraw money above the €1800 cap. According to newspaper Eidiseis, the cash withdrawal in the last 45 days has set bankers in alert. In addition to cash withdrawals, business loans and mortgage, amounting a total of €500 million, turned red. A sign that the delay in the conclusion of the second review has increased uncertainty among the Greeks, as the daily notes. Speaking to the daily, sources from the Union of Greek Banks said that “time is not working in our favor.” They stressed that the government and the lenders should reach a compromise. Beginning of February, Greek websites for economic news had reported that more than one billion euros was withdrawn in January 2017.

According to a report of November 2015, more than €120 billion left the Greek banks during the years of the crisis. €45 billion left the banks during November 2014 – 2015. 80% of this amount, that is some €36 billion are been kept in homes, company safes or in bank lockers.

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Feb 132017
 
 February 13, 2017  Posted by at 10:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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New York City Under 26 Inches Of Snow, 1947

 


Why Does Economic Growth Keep Slowing Down? (StLouisFed)
The Market Will Be Repricing Dramatically Downward – Stockman (CNBC)
Jim Rogers: “A Lot Of People Will Disappear” (ZH)
US Trade Deficit Last Year Was Widest Since 2012 (WSJ)
Trump Reviews Top White House Staff After Tumultuous Start (Pol.)
Mike Flynn’s Position as National Security Adviser Grows Tenuous (WSJ)
Refugee-Embracing Trudeau Set to Bite His Tongue on Trump Visit (BBG)
Romania Protests Enter Day 13, Call For Government Of ‘Thieves’ To Resign (G.)
Germany Repatriates Gold Faster Than Planned As Faith In Euro Plunges (RT)
Brussels’ Hypocrisy Over The Closing Of Borders (Nikos Devletoglou)
Greece: The Low-Noise Collapse Of An Entire Country (FE)

 

 

Even though the St. Louis Fed people can’t seem to read their own numbers properly, or at least interpret them, here it is. As the Automatic Earth has said for many years: the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s.

Everything after that was borrowed or printed. Here’s the proof. Sent this to Nicole earlier saying ‘We’ve been vindicated by the Fed itself.’ “Real GDP growth fell and leveled off in the mid-1970s, then started falling again in the mid-2000s”

Why Does Economic Growth Keep Slowing Down? (StLouisFed)

The U.S. economy expanded by 1.6% in 2016, as measured by real GDP. Real GDP has averaged 2.1% growth per year since the end of the last recession, which is significantly smaller than the average over the postwar period (about 3% per year). These lower growth rates could in part be explained by a slowdown in productivity growth and a decline in factor utilization. However, demographic factors and attitudes toward the labor market may also have played significant roles. The figure below shows a measure of long-run trends in economic activity. It displays the average annual growth rate over the preceding 40 quarters (10 years) for the period 1955 through 2016. (Hence, the first observation in the graph is the first quarter of 1965, and the last is the fourth quarter of 2016.)

Long-run growth rates were high until the mid-1970s. Then, they quickly declined and leveled off at around 3% per year for the following three decades. In the second half of the 2000s, around the last recession, growth contracted again sharply and has been declining ever since. The 10-year average growth rate as of the fourth quarter of 2016 was only 1.3% per year. Total output grows because the economy is more productive and capital is accumulated, but also because the population increases over time. The next figure compares long-run growth rates of real GDP and real GDP per capita. Both series display similar behavior. Although population growth has been slowing, the effect is not big enough to change the qualitative results described above. The third figure adds long-run growth rates of real GDP divided by the labor force. Dividing by the labor force instead of the total population accounts for the effects of changing demographics and labor market attachment.

From the 1970s until the 2000s, long-run growth rates of real GDP divided by the labor force remained well below those of real GDP per capita. There are two main factors that explain this: 1) Lower fertility and longer lifespans steadily increased the potential labor force relative to the total population. 2) Labor force participation increased significantly from the 1960s until 2000, largely driven by increased female labor force participation. When accounting for both of these factors, economic activity from 1975 to 1985 looks more depressed than in the two decades that followed. This seems consistent with the negative effects that the 1970s oil shocks and efforts to reduce inflation in the early 1980s had on the economy.

The trend in labor force participation reversed in 2000, as participation rates have been steadily decreasing since then. This explains why real GDP divided by labor force growth rates are now higher than real GDP per capita growth rates. Having accounted for the long-term effects of changes in demographics and labor market attitudes, we can now look at the effects of productivity growth and factor utilization. The final figure compares long-run growth rates in real GDP divided by the labor force with long-run growth rates in total factor productivity and long-run averages of capacity utilization (i.e., the actual use of installed capital relative to potential use). Note that data for capacity utilization are only available since 1967.

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“The market is apparently pricing in a huge Trump stimulus. But if you just look at the real world out there, the only thing that’s going to happen is a fiscal bloodbath and a White House train wreck like never before in U.S. history.”

The Market Will Be Repricing Dramatically Downward – Stockman (CNBC)

Stocks are booming under President Donald Trump, but long-time critic David Stockman warns traders are living in a “fantasy land” that can’t last —and Trump’s policies will derail the market for years to come. The former Reagan administration OMB director appeared on CNBC’s “Futures Now”last week to emphasize that Trump has become seemingly distracted by issues other than his proposed economic agenda. That should be a particular point of worry for investors, who Stockman argued have been far more optimistic about Trump’s presidency than might be warranted by the facts. In other words, while all three major market indexes continued to hit record highs last week, the former Reagan aide sees the current market rally as moot and not reflective of the current political climate.

“What’s going on today is complete insanity,” said Stockman. “The market is apparently pricing in a huge Trump stimulus. But if you just look at the real world out there, the only thing that’s going to happen is a fiscal bloodbath and a White House train wreck like never before in U.S. history.” Since the election, the S&P 500 Index has rallied more than 8%, the Nasdaq about 6% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average a whopping 10%. Last week, all three benchmarks rallied to new record highs. Yet if anything, according to Stockman’s predictions, those gains may be lost. Most of Trump’s actions “[have] nothing to do with the economic agenda” he’s proposed, Stockman told CNBC. That, along with a debt ceiling debate that will take place on March 15 in Congress, and a market rally that has gone on for a while, leads Stockman to think that a big downturn is on the way.

“There’s going to be no tax action this year,” said Stockman, echoing the concerns of Goldman Sachs and a few other Wall Street economists who say Trump’s plans for the economy are facing mounting political risks. Last week, the president vowed that tax reform could happen this year, and promised an announcement within the next few weeks. “If there’s any next year it will be deficit neutral, which means it’s not going to add the $15 to earnings like these people expect,” Stockman said, speaking of the rosy expectations of some analysts who think tax reform could boost corporate earnings in the medium-term. “My argument is there is not going to be any economic rebound, there is not going to be any profit surge,” Stockman added. “Therefore the market will be repricing dramatically downward once it’s clear that that’s the case.”

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Rogers adds a new dimension of doom: “..a lot of institutions, people, companies even countries, certainly governments and maybe even countries are going to disappear.”

Jim Rogers: “A Lot Of People Will Disappear” (ZH)

On the Greater Depression… …get prepared because we’re going to have the worst economic problems we’ve had in your lifetime or my lifetime and when that happens a lot of people are going to disappear. In 2008 Bear Stearns disappeared, Bear Stearns had been around over 90 years. Lehman Brothers disappeared. Lehman Brothers had been around over 150 years. A long, long time, a long glorious history they’ve been through wars, depression, civil war they’ve been through everything and yet they disappear. So the next time around it’s going to be worse than anything we’ve seen and a lot of institutions, people, companies even countries, certainly governments and maybe even countries are going to disappear.

I hope you get very worried. When you start having bear markets as you I’m sure well know one bad thing happens and another bad thing happens and these things snowball just like in bull markets good news comes out then more good news comes out the next thing you know you’re five or six or seven years into a bull market. Well bear markets do the same thing and so we have a lot of bad news on the horizon. I haven’t even gotten to war. I haven’t even gotten to trade war or anything like that but you know things do go wrong.

On Trump and the possibility of trade wars…and real wars Mr. Trump has also said he’s going to have trade war with China, Mexico, Japan, Korea a few other people that he has named. He swore that on his first day in office he would impose 45% tariffs against China. He’s been there three weeks, two or three weeks and he hasn’t done it yet but he still got it in his head I’m sure or maybe he’s just another politician like all the rest of them. He says one thing and he doesn’t mean it at all but he does have at least three people in high levels in his group who are very, very keen to have trade wars with China and other people.

If he does that Eric, it’s all over. I mean history is very clear that trade wars always lead to problems, often to disaster, sometimes even to real war, a shooting war. So I don’t know, I’m not sure Mr. Trump knows. He said so many things and many of the things are contradictory. Now if he’s not going to have trade wars with various people then chances are for a while happy days are here… [The dollar is] going to go too high, may turn into a bubble, at which point I hope I’m smart enough to sell it because at some point the market forces are going to cause the dollar to come back down because people are going to realize, oh my gosh, this is causing a lot of turmoil, economic problems in the world and it’s damaging the American economy. At that point the smart guys will get out. I hope I’m one of them.

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Sputtering engines all around.

US Trade Deficit Last Year Was Widest Since 2012 (WSJ)

The U.S. logged a $502.25 billion trade deficit in 2016, the largest in four years and a gap President Donald Trump is setting out to narrow to bolster the U.S. economy. The new president faces obstacles in the coming months and years, including the potential for a stronger dollar, larger federal budget deficits and low national saving rates compared with much of the rest of the world, all of which could force trade deficits to widen. As in past years, the 2016 gap reported Tuesday by the Commerce Department reflected a large deficit for U.S. trade in goods with other countries, offset in part by a trade surplus for services. The gap in terms of goods only was $347 billion with China last year, $69 billion with Japan, $65 billion with Germany and $63 billion with Mexico.

For December, the total trade gap decreased 3.2% from November to a seasonally adjusted $44.26 billion. Exports rose 2.7%, including increased sales of civilian airplanes and aircraft engines. Imports were up 1.5% in December, including a rise in car imports. [..] The interplay between trade, growth and employment is complex and difficult to manage. The U.S. has run trade deficits for decades, during periods of expansion and low unemployment as well as during recessions and high unemployment. The gap widened starting in the late 1990s with China’s emergence as a world trading power and recent research shows a surge of imports from China put downward pressure on U.S. wages and manufacturing employment.

Economists generally say trade has overall if uneven benefits, including lower prices for consumers.In 2016, the total deficit rose modestly from the prior year to its highest dollar level since 2012. But it shrank slightly to 2.7% as a share of U.S. economic output after hovering at 2.8% of GDP in 2013 through 2015. The gap fundamentally reflects the fact that Americans consume more than they produce relative to the rest of the world. To shrink the gap, they would either have to produce more or consume less. If Americans consumed less, the deficit could contract along with the broader economy, as happened during the 2001 and 2007-2009 recessions, leaving workers no better off. To produce more, U.S. firms could export more or take market share from imports. Tariffs could help that happen, but other countries might retaliate.

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This was always going to happen. It’s been clear from the start that not all these people would last very long. It’s Trump-style: throw out some stuff and see what sticks. And this is where the anti-Trump stance of the media bites: WaPo or CNN or NYT or in this case Politico have lost any and all signs of objectiveness. Which colors their reporting on this too, or so one must assume. We could have done with some credible sources.

Trump Reviews Top White House Staff After Tumultuous Start (Pol.)

President Donald Trump, frustrated over his administration’s rocky start, is complaining to friends and allies about some of his most senior aides — leading to questions about whether he is mulling an early staff shakeup. Trump has told several people that he is particularly displeased with national security adviser Michael Flynn over reports that he had top-secret discussions with Russian officials about and lied about it. The president, who spent part of the weekend dealing with the Flynn controversy, has been alarmed by reports from top aides that they don’t trust Flynn. “He thinks he’s a problem,” said one person familiar with the president’s thinking. “I would be worried if I was General Flynn.”

Yet Trump’s concern goes beyond his embattled national security adviser, according to conversations with more than a dozen people who have spoken to Trump or his top aides. He has mused aloud about press secretary Sean Spicer, asking specific questions to confidants about how they think he’s doing behind the podium. During conversations with Spicer, the president has occasionally expressed unhappiness with how his press secretary is talking about some matters — sometimes pointing out even small things he’s doing that he doesn’t like. Others who’ve talked with the president have begun to wonder about the future of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Several Trump campaign aides have begun to draft lists of possible Priebus replacements, with senior White House aides Kellyanne Conway and Rick Dearborn and lobbyist David Urban among those mentioned.

Gary Cohn, a Trump economic adviser who is close with senior adviser Jared Kushner, has has also been the subject of chatter. For now, Priebus remains in control as chief of staff. He was heavily involved in adviser Stephen Miller’s preparation for appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, which drew praise from the president. If there is a single issue where the president feels his aides have let him down, it was the controversial executive order on immigration. The president has complained to at least one person about “how his people didn’t give him good advice” on rolling out the travel ban and that he should have waited to sign it instead of “rushing it like they wanted me to.” Trump has also wondered why he didn’t have a legal team in place to defend it from challenges.

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A very strange position to be in for a career intelligence man.

Mike Flynn’s Position as National Security Adviser Grows Tenuous (WSJ)

The White House is reviewing whether to retain National Security Adviser Mike Flynn amid a furor over his contacts with Russian officials before President Donald Trump took office, an administration official said Sunday. Mr. Flynn has apologized to White House colleagues over the episode, which has created a rift with Vice President Mike Pence and diverted attention from the administration’s message to his own dealings, the official said. “He’s apologized to everyone,” the official said of Mr. Flynn. Mr. Trump’s views toward the matter aren’t clear. In recent days, he has privately told people the controversy surrounding Mr. Flynn is unwelcome, after he told reporters on Friday he would “look into” the disclosures.

But Mr. Trump also has said he has confidence in Mr. Flynn and wants to “keep moving forward,” a person familiar with his thinking said. Close Trump adviser Steve Bannon had dinner with Mr. Flynn over the weekend, according to another senior administration official, and Mr. Bannon’s view is to keep him in the position but “be ready” to let him go, the first administration official said. Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, as of Sunday evening hadn’t yet weighed in, the official said. Mr. Flynn initially said that in a conversation Dec. 29 with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, he didn’t discuss sanctions imposed that day by the outgoing Obama administration, which were levied in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Flynn now concedes that he did, administration officials said, after transcripts of his phone calls show as much. He also admits he spoke with the ambassador more than once on Dec. 29, despite weeks of the Trump team’s insisting it was just one phone call, officials said. Mr. Pence, in television interviews, vouched for Mr. Flynn, based on a private conversation, and he was angered he repeated information publicly that turned out to be untrue, administration officials said. Messrs. Pence and Flynn spoke twice on Friday, one official said. If Mr. Flynn had promised any easing of sanctions once Mr. Trump took office, he may have violated a law that prohibits private citizens from engaging in foreign policy, legal experts have said.

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Who does the headlines at Bloomberg?

Refugee-Embracing Trudeau Set to Bite His Tongue on Trump Visit (BBG)

More than two decades ago, with Donald Trump already atop a real-estate empire, a young Justin Trudeau set out to explore the world. He toured Europe and Africa with friends, hiding their beer from customs agents before boarding the Trans-Siberian railway to China. On the train, he sketched, read “War and Peace” and gazed at the remnants of the Soviet Union. It was a defining trip, he’d later write, that left him praising both diversity and compromise. Both values will be tested Monday. The now-45-year-old Canadian prime minister – hailed by Joe Biden as one of the last champions of liberalism – heads to Washington for his first meeting with the new U.S. president, 70, whose bellicose statements and immigration restrictions reveal a deep gulf between the two leaders. But U.S. liberals hoping for Trudeau to emerge as Trump’s foil shouldn’t hold their breath.

He’s already bit his tongue and focused almost exclusively on an economic relationship that accounts for three-quarters of Canada’s exports. The White House visit will test just how far Trudeau can go to woo the president and preserve trade without selling out his core values. “We both got elected on commitments to strengthen the middle class, and support those working hard to join it,” Trudeau said last week. “And that’s exactly what we’re going to be focused on.” He has little choice. Nearly two-thirds of all Canadian trade is with the U.S., the highest ratio of Group of 20 nations and quadruple all but Mexico. Almost all of Canada’s oil goes to the U.S. and most of the country’s manufacturing is geared toward meeting U.S. demand. Americans hold C$2.3 trillion ($1.8 trillion) in Canadian assets, almost exactly the same amount held by Canadians in the U.S. A Deutsche Bank report this month that looked at the potential impact of Trump policies on all the U.S.’s major partners found Canada would be among the hardest hit, forcing the country to cede about $70 billion in trade to the U.S. [..]

The threats to Canada from Trump’s agenda go beyond trade. Trump has shown an interest in overhauling the U.S. tax system in a way that would impose financial disincentives against imports. The border-adjusted tax plan would focus levies on domestic income and imports while exempting exports and offshore income. It has met opposition from retailers and oil refiners but is supported by major exporters. It’s unclear whether the president fully favors that approach. All this, however, is unlikely to be detailed Monday. Instead, Trudeau will seek to lay out a joint economic narrative with Trump. The prime minister’s conciliatory spirit traces back to that Trans-Siberian railway trip. On New Year’s Eve 1994, Trudeau drank vodka with the conductor, captivated by stories but abhorred by “his casual racism to our fellow passengers,” he wrote in his autobiography.

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Corruption interrupted.

Romania Protests Enter Day 13, Call For Government Of ‘Thieves’ To Resign (G.)

Tens of thousands of Romanians have braved the cold and returned to the streets in protest, calling on the government to resign as they accused it of attempting to water down anti-corruption laws. “Thieves! Resign!” chanted protesters gathered in front of the seat of government in Bucharest on Sunday night, as they used the lights from their mobile phones to project the blue, yellow and red colours of the Romanian flag. Up to 50,000 protesters took part in the Bucharest march, according to Romanian media reports. The authorities did not give any estimate of their own. Some 20,000 more took to the streets in other major cities, calling on the government to stand down. “We want to give the government a red card,” one of the protesters, 33-year-old businessman Adrian Tofan, said.

Sunday’s demonstrations, the 13th consecutive day of protests against the government, took place despite the administration backing down over a planned controversial decree which would have made abuse of power a crime punishable by jail only if the sums involved exceeded 200,000 lei ($47,500). The demonstrations, the largest since the ousting and summary execution of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, have continued despite the resignation on Thursday of justice minister Florin Iordache. “The justice minister’s resignation isn’t enough after what they tried to do,” said Tofan. Another demonstrator also said he had completely lost faith in the government. “We want this government to stand down. We don’t trust it, they want us to go backwards,” said Bogdan Moldovan, a doctor.

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Highly speculative, but….“..some economists in Germany say the repatriated gold may be needed to back a new deutschmark should the eurozone collapse..”

Germany Repatriates Gold Faster Than Planned As Faith In Euro Plunges (RT)

Berlin is bringing home its gold reserves stored in New York, London and Paris faster than scheduled, Germany’s central bank said Thursday. The move is linked to surging euroskepticism, as new governments in France and Italy may ditch the single currency. The German Bundesbank has already moved 583 tons of gold out of New York and Paris, planning to have a half of its gold back in Germany by the end of 2017, which is ahead of the 2020 plan. The rest will be split between the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Bank of England. “We have a lot of discussions about Trump, regarding implications on monetary policy, macroeconomics, etc., but we trust the central bank of the US,” Bundesbank board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele told a news conference. “Trump has not triggered a discussion about the storage facility in New York,” he said.

As French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and Italy’s 5-Star Movement are openly calling to pull out of the euro, some economists in Germany say the repatriated gold may be needed to back a new deutschmark should the eurozone collapse. During the Cold War, 98% of Germany’s bullion was stored abroad, and so far the biggest repatriation was in 2000 when the Bundesbank repatriated 931 tons from the Bank of England. When the relocation is complete, Germany will still have 1,236 tons in New York, 432 tons in London and the rest in Frankfurt. The current repatriation involves moving 300 tons from New York and 374 tons from Paris. The Bundesbank said it is not worried about keeping gold in England despite Brexit, as London remains a key gold trading market and a safe place. Germany has the second-largest gold reserves in the world after the US with 3,381 tons.

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Amen.

Brussels’ Hypocrisy Over The Closing Of Borders (Nikos Devletoglou)

Sir, It seems remarkable that today’s leaders of the EU, encouraged by the overreaction of the global mass media, reserve for themselves the appearance of virtue and goodness and generally resent the refreshing American principle summed up by president Donald Trump as America First. Americans have shed blood, along with vast material expense, defending human rights in Europe — regardless of ethnicity, geography, culture or religion, demonstrably having guaranteed the continent’s survival in freedom and subsequent prosperity, including that of Germany, after the second world war.

The EU’s hypocrisy offends. Indeed, it remains a mystery how Brussels feels justified in its heavy criticism of America’s increasing vigilance over its own borders when the EU itself continues to turn a blind eye to the formidable barbed-wire militarised fortifications erected all along the northern frontiers of Greece by its neighbours, pitilessly blocking the passage of hundreds of thousands refugees desperately fleeing the war in Syria. These refugees still dearly hope to reach Germany first and eventually other parts of Europe, but are instead inhumanely trapped in Greece practically under the authority of the EU — which, further, even condones the closing of borders in Austria and Hungary. These are provocative double standards. The scant remaining resources in Greece are already stretched to their limits.

Previously prosperous islands in the Aegean Sea – Chios, Samos and Lesbos were until recently celebrated high-profile tourist destinations worldwide – are currently overrun by multitudes of refugees, understandably aggressively inclined by now, at the expense of social cohesion elsewhere in Greece as well. Still worse, the country remains undeservedly caught in a deepening economic and financial crisis, a result of blind austerity policies inspired by Germany that the EU rigorously enforces to this day, manifestly ruling out growth and prosperity in Greece any time soon. Both the IMF and the European authorities still fail to appreciate that reducing Greek debt by one-third in the present circumstances would consistently reflect the social, economic and financial damage they themselves have caused by arbitrarily depressing the Greek economy since 2010.

Nicos E Devletoglou, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Athens, Greece

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Bitter, bitter tragedy. “The human and social cost of this austerity policy is not included in the Excel tables of the Eurogroup. But it is paid cash by the population.”

Greece: The Low-Noise Collapse Of An Entire Country (FE)

European officials may argue that their bailout is working, they welcome the recovery of Greece and the budget surpluses, but the situation is quite different: passively we are witnessing the low-noise collapse of a whole country. While forecasts foresee a rebound of the Greek economy in 2016, with growth of at least 2.6%, these risks once again prove to be false. If a slight start was recorded at the beginning of the year, it continued to slacken. In the last few months, the engine seems to have stalled. According to Markit figures published on February 1st, manufacturing activity recorded its largest decline in 15 months. “The decline is related to both the decline in production and new orders. While rising import prices have accelerated to their highest level in 70 months, companies nevertheless lower their selling prices,” explains the economic and financial institute, pointing to the fall in consumption and the lack of outlets.

In seven years Greece’s GDP decreased by a third. Unemployment affects 25% of the population and 40% of young people between 15 and 25 years. One third of companies have disappeared in five years. Successive cuts imposed everywhere in the name of austerity now bite in all regions. There are no more trains, no more buses in whole parts of the country. No more schools, sometimes. Many secondary schools had to close in the most remote corners because of lack of funding. Per capita spending on health has declined by a third since 2009, according to the OECD. More than 25,000 doctors were dismissed. Hospitals lack personnel, medicines, everything. The human and social cost of this austerity policy is not included in the Excel tables of the Eurogroup.

But it is paid cash by the population. One fifth of the population lives without heating or telephone. 15% of the population has now fallen into extreme poverty compared to 2% in 2009. The Bank of Greece, which cannot be suspected of complacency, has drawn up a report on the health of the Greek population, published in June 2016. The figures it gives are overwhelming: 13% of the population are excluded medical care; 11.5% cannot buy prescription drugs; People with chronic health problems are up to 24.2%. Suicides, depression, mental illness show exponential increases. Worse: while the birth rate has fallen by 22% since the beginning of the crisis, the infant mortality rate almost doubled in a few years to reach 3.75% in 2014.

After seven years of crisis, austerity and European plans, the country is exhausted, financially, economically and physically. “The situation is getting worse. What we need most now is food. This shows that the problems relate to the essential and not the quality of life. It’s about subsistence,” says Ekavi Valleras, head of the NGO Desmos. And it is to this country that Europe asks moreover to assume alone or almost the reception of the refugees coming to Europe.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 272016
 
 December 27, 2016  Posted by at 10:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Joan Miró Caballo, Pipa y Flor Roja (Horse Pipe and Red Flower) 1920

 

I was surprised to see how surprised I was, like I’m sure millions of people were, to see the term ‘fake news’ pop up in what are still called ‘respectable’ (which is by now really just another word for ‘old’) news outlets.

Because a huge part of what they have been feeding their readers and viewers for years is that very thing: fake news. Who needs a bunch of bored highschool kids in small town Montenegro when you have the offices of America’s ‘official’ news sources at your disposal?

That there are still people trying to make a serious point by quoting anything at all published in the Washington Post -and to an only slightly lesser extent the New York Times- is beyond me. And not a little bit beyond. Well, that people still read these sheets is just as incredible, I grant you that.

I haven’t kept count of the number of ‘articles’ the WaPo has published over the past year or so -the election campaign- that referred to unsubstantiated reports emanating from anonymous US intelligence sources about Russian involvement in everything bad under the sun, but I’m dead certain that put together they would add up to a Christmas bestseller of respectable size. A chance missed there, gents. You could have had your own garbage lead your own bestseller lists. Snake, tail.

And it’s not as if it was a new thing for them either, what’s new is the sheer volume and the concerted campaign we’re talking about. We of course had a similar thing in 2003 with the Weapons of Mass Destruction ‘fantasy’. Now that I mention it, how is it possible that Colin Powell is still walking around free, and Cheney and W.?

When did it become de rigueur to lie to the people, let alone Congress and the UN? What have we become? When did that happen? Remember Ukraine, and the stories you were told about that, less than 3 years ago? Crimea? G-d I hope Trump will get rid of Victoria Nuland.

Trump called the UN a sad club for people to “get together, talk and have a good time”. Is he wrong? Really? If so, do tell, how wrong is he? Perhaps wrong in the same way that the IMF is wrong for letting Christine Lagarde keep her plush tax-free seat after being convicted for handing €400 million in French taxpayer money to a crony? That kind of wrong?

I’m thinking there are still awfully few people who understand what’s happening in the world. What’s changing. And I don’t hold out much hope that they will until it hits them smack upside the backs of their heads.

Why there’s Trump and Brexit, and why many more changes are in the offing. Well, it’s precisely because the UN and EU and IMF and Capitol Hill are self-serving ‘clubs’ filled with unaccountable and overpaid people who have turned the world into a godawful mess.

Not for themselves, they’re fine, thank you very much, they all have pensions from here to Rome and back again for the rest of their lives, but for everyone else. G-d I hope Trump will come through on his pre-election promise to limit the terms of American Congressmen and Senators. And that this is subsequently applied to all these ‘clubs’. Because if anything, it’s them who are the bane of this world. Public service…

There may be fine individuals among them, that’s not even -the worst of- the point, it’s the dilapidated, decayed, rotten to the core institutions that they ‘serve’ which are the problem. They serve themselves and they serve the institutions, the one thing they sure don’t serve is the people. You know who’s given (‘voted’) them those lavish pensions and benefits? They themselves did, and their predecessors.

The UN is supposed to keep the peace in the world. Well, works like a charm, doesn’t it? The IMF is tasked with keeping 200 or so nations in reasonably balanced economic conditions. Got it down. The US Congress was set up as a pillar of democracy, but it’s occupied by guys and gals who spend so much more time raising funds for their next campaign than representing those who voted them in, that they need lobbyists to tell them which way to vote.

As for the EU, is it even possible they’re the worst of the bunch? Europe is falling apart before all of our eyes, and they’re all in full tard denial about it. They are turning Greece into a third world country, they’re alienating Britain to the point where the English will, once they wake up to what’s going on, want to set Brussels on fire. And why? There’s no point left to any of it at all.

Italy’s a goner, once enough Italians realize what the ECB wants to do to their banks. France is such a key member nobody wants to even imagine it falling, so its broke banks are ignored. Holland will come very close to voting in Wilders, which means Nexit. Germany is destabilizing rapidly. Spain has been a hornets’ nest for years. Etc.

And again: why? Well, because the Obama/Merkel model has so dramatically failed. All these places where left and right work together to produce a shapeless blob somewhere in the center that has no identity and doesn’t speak out for anyone.

You just wouldn’t know it from reading the Washington Post. Or any comparable old and respected medium in any of these European countries. It’s not just the politics that have failed, it’s its propaganda machine too.

This is something that manifests itself differently in different places, but it shouldn’t be that hard to see the ties that bind it all together. For one thing, because, not even touched on so far, the amount of fake financial news that has been forced down our throats for decades, and increasingly so: the worse things get, the bigger the lie…

There is no economic recovery. Never was. Not in the US, not in Europe anywhere. It’s a fairy tale. There are plates shifting, sure. You can cherry pick a region stateside that does well if only you select the ‘right’ stats. Like you can say employment is on a roll, if you’re willing to discard the number of ‘newly created’ jobs that are part time.

And yes, if you just completely ignore that 94 million Americans are not counted at all in unemployment numbers, Obama has been a big success. It’s just that those 94 million have a vote, too. We will see that exact same dynamic, and we have already started, play out all across Europe.

It’ll be much messier, for instance because in Holland last time I looked 81 different political parties were vying to take part in the upcoming elections, but the end result will be the same. That is, the existing order will be voted out. Not everywhere, and it won’t be replaced by radically different parties and people in all places, but do please understand that it doesn’t have to.

In Europe, it’s not and/and, it’s if/or. As in, if either Italy or France or Holland vote in a party that wants to leave the EU or the Euro, it’s game over. The endgame will be almighty messed up because of all the laws and regulations the EU has invented, but eventually the walls of Brussels will crumble. Good riddance too.

I’ve said it a hundred times before, all the institutions mentioned before, EU, IMF, UN and yes, even Congress, exist by the grace of growth. People accept them only as long as they can show reasonable proof that they bring economic benefits. As soon as that’s gone (or I should say as soon as people figure it out), so are they.

People are going to vote for someone close to their own lives, their own world, to lead them in times of contraction. That is inevitable. It’s why Trump won, and it’s also why he’s set to fail. Isn’t that a lovely paradox? We’re going to split up into smaller entities, economic contraction guarantees it.

And while everyone tries to talk you into thinking that’s terrible, there’s no reason why it should be. We can work together in many different ways. All these supranational institutions have merely become straight jackets that serve only the people who work inside them and those outside who benefit from keeping up appearances and clinging to power.

That of course gets us back to the Washington Post and its comatose brethren. The US press has been a full accomplice with Washington in reporting fake news about the recovery, and it’s not there. Never has been. The Dow Jones says one thing, the votes for Trump say another. In the end, democracy is that simple. Same goes for Britain, same goes for continental Europe.

And there’s no doubt that Trump is an iceberg-sized gamble, but a change had to come. A change from the monsoon of fake news we have all been fed, but also initially a change that won’t be able to help itself from being replete with more fake news, from all sides.

Put it this way: in 2016, the engine of change got cranked up. In the new year, it will accelerate. That is 2017. That is what the new year will bring.

Nov 212016
 
 November 21, 2016  Posted by at 4:45 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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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)

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: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

(FFR stands for Federal Funds Rate: i.e. the US key interest rate) Source: http://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.

Hollowed-Out Economies

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.

Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

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: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

(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.

Nov 132016
 
 November 13, 2016  Posted by at 5:57 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »
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Esther Bubley Waiting for Greyhound bus trip from Memphis to Louisville, KY 1943

 

Been scribbling several some post-election notes over the past few days, it seemed a good idea to not publish things too soon after the upset, even if I at least had the advantage that it wasn’t that much of a surprise or upset. But I’ve read far too many people too eager to write about how they haven’t moved an inch, and too many others who have -mostly reluctantly- moved but don’t know how or where to. It’s okay to think about such matters first, guys and dolls. Make that: it’s better. There’s too much nonsense out there as is. Why bother adding to the pile? Here’s a few thoughts in no particular order:

 

 

The transition we find ourselves in, into an era as profoundly different as it will be from the one that preceded it, can only possibly be chaotic. Smooth is not an option. Because it takes much time for people to recognize let alone accept that there is such a transition to begin with, and not everyone acknowledges or accepts it at the same time. Many never will at all, they will be left behind in their own realities tied down by the chains of what once was.

This transition is the one away from economic growth and globalization -centralization in general- and towards smaller, less centered and grandiose, politics and markets. It is not an idealistic transition towards self-sufficiency, it’s simply and inevitably what’s left once unfettered growth hits the skids. It doesn’t have to be anywhere near as bad as people would have you believe, or at least not necessarily so. What could make it real bad, though, is the widespread resistance and denial which seem certain to meet it.

Our entire worldviews 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, even as we experience Brexit and Trump and similar movements set to come to many more countries.

Donald Trump looks very much like the ideal fit for this transition – but nor because he understands the issue itself, or its implications. What matters is 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.

That 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. What would be terrible is if all we do is try and restart growth and globalization, because that would be a hideous waste of time and resources.

You’ll be flooded in the years to come, even more than today if you can imagine, with terms like protectionism and isolationism and even populism, but ignore all that. There’s nothing economically -let alone morally- wrong with people producing what they and their families and close neighbors themselves want and need without hauling it halfway around the world for a meagre profit, handing over control of their societies to strangers in the process.

There’s nothing wrong or negative with an American buying products made in America instead of in China. 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.

 

 

Earlier this week I read what looks to be an apt observation: ‘Every white person in New York who didn’t vote for Trump is now out in the streets protesting against him’. But the people who protest now are miles off target and months too late: they should have stood up for Bernie when it became clear that the Hillary camp and the DNC conspired to oust him. Indeed, Bernie himself should have stood up back then, not for himself but for his supporters; they would have stood up with him.

Whether they all like it or not, being asleep and/or silent when big things happen that count, does carry a price. If you drop the ball, you can’t just pick it back up again and pretend it didn’t fall. Shouting ‘not my president’ in the wake of an election is a sign of weakness, no matter how well-intentioned. The protests should have taken place before the election, not after.

Moreover, to a large extent people are up in protest against the image the Hillary campaign and the media have painted of Trump, not the man himself. A difference they cannot see. Would these same people have been protesting if Hillary had won? No, they wouldn’t. But why?

Many voices expressed the wish that Americans would vote for Hillary, a story about a woman and a glass ceiling, instead of for the male and allegedly sexist and misogynist Donald Trump. Simply because she’s a woman, and it’s time for a female president.

These voices have been consistently and for a long time been blind to the fact that Hillary’s campaign and Foundation, in legal, shady and downright illegal ways, have long been financed to a substantial degree by uber-rich men in charge of Middle East oil extracting nations who have far more misogynist views and attitudes towards women than Trump will ever have.

These men carry things like misogyny, racism, xenophobia and homophobia high and proudly in their banners. Also, they’re well on their way towards obliterating not just an entire country in Yemen, but indeed an entire people, all with the enthusiastic support of Obama, Hillary and their friends and donors in the arms industry. And lest we forget, they sponsor ISIS too. Is that the future Americans want?

 

 

The bright side is the chances of a war with Russia have gone down substantially. While the odds have gone up dramatically of much fewer US servicemen and -women being sent abroad to engage in endless and countless battles and wars that never seemed to have much to do with the US, going back all the way to Korea and Vietnam.

How can either of these things can be perceived as negative? The continuation and expansion of -often proxy- hostilities versus Moscow would have been cast in stone had Hillary been elected, it was a milestone of her entire campaign. And a major part of this would have been fought at some desert location in the Middle East.

Where America has needlessly squandered the lives of many of its young and finest, to and in a mad scramble over control of oil resources which has resulted in nothing but a shapeless chaos that has equally needlessly killed millions of people, sent millions of others fleeing their homes and razed entire ancient civilizations, accomplishments that will follow America around the world for many years to come. Is that the future Americans want? Double down?

There’s -undeniably- still a risk that Donald Trump will succumb to the mighty hand of the military industrial complex. But at the same time, he may well be the country’s -and the world’s- best if not only chance at making that hand that much less mighty. There may be many things wrong with Trump -there are- but being in the pockets of arms manufacturers and other doctors of death is so far not among them, to our best knowledge.

 

 

Hillary and her crowd ran the entire election process from inside a cocoon, built largely on hubris and a lack of contact with the world outside. They had the media so much on their side that TV and newspapers became part of the Hillary cocoon, and reporters got locked into a groupthink mode that then in its turn infected the campaign itself.

What I mean is you can’t stop at saying Trump is a disaster, so let’s pick the other side, it was always very much a choice between two disasters. And at the same time, as I wrote at the Automatic Earth the day of the election, the US presidency is a poisoned chalice. There’s nothing simple about this.

Trump means a big clean-up for the GOP, and the Hillary loss means the chance for the Democrats to do the same. You bet those folks realize achingly well they could have won with Bernie. Hopefully that wing can take over substantially from the lying conniving machinery the DNC has turned out to be.

Someone summed it up as: Trump swept aside the Republicans, the Democrats, the Bush dynasty and the Clinton dynasty, all in one fell swoop, and we should perhaps be thankful to him for that.

 

 

Trump has run his campaign catering to the anger that exists among Americans. And people experience and label that as ‘terrible’ and ‘awful’. His Republican friends and opponents find it terrible, because it scares the bejeezus out of them, and they’re too scared to go anywhere near that anger. Trump embraced the anger. Because he knew from the start, instinctively, that it was the only way he could win.

And you can think like the majority of your peers do, that all that commingling with the anger, with racists and bigots and what have you, is inexcusable. But what you miss out on if you take that approach and hold on to it, is that in that case the anger does not get addressed at all. It’s instead left free to just wander over the land and fester and grow on society, out of reach of politics, media, everything.

A certain by now very vilified cartoonist explained that what Trump does is to ‘feel’ what the angry crowd wants, and then play into it by making over the top statements targeted at the anger. That way this crowd will follow him, gather around him. This has worked like a charm. But no, that doesn’t make him look like a certain German dictator.

Because it does not mean that Trump is going to literally do everything he said in the over the top statements he made. It’s all just a basic sales trick. Trump makes the angry people feel like he knows, and cares about, their grievances. Just like a car salesman makes you think he knows just what you want and need in a car, and praises the assets of that car in such a way that it touches that part of you which makes you want the car.

But that doesn’t mean at the end of the day he’ll drive the same car home that you just bought off of him. He makes you think he is like you, and knows what you want, so he can sell you that car. That’s all. He’s judged you to be the right ‘target’ for that vehicle.

That is how Trump has reeled in America’s hidden anger, how he has gathered its lost hidden mob. And before you say anything else, it’s perhaps a good idea to wonder where that anger would go without Trump. Because it’s not going to go away by itself. It’s been growing and festering for a long time, and it’s well-armed, lest you forget.

The question then becomes: would America be a better, or a safer, place if the entire angry part of its population had again, and still, been ignored by everyone? Or is it better to have them gathered under the umbrella of Donald Trump? Take your pick. Don’t be shy.

Another way to phrase the issue is this: without the exact same sales tactics that Trump used to ‘gather the anger’ around him, the TV ads (most ads in general) you see on a daily basis would look completely different. Whatever products these ads sell, from detergents to cars, they do it by referring to your unconscious, not your rational abilities.

The ads, like Trump, sell feelings, not facts (if you don’t get that, you’re lost).

Yet nobody would think of taking the companies whose products are advertized this way to court -nobody even gets really angry with them- because the happy smily people and unending open roads bathed in sunshine from the ads do not magically appear once you purchase the product. We would even find that crazy, that anyone might take the images shown in the ads, literally.

We should interpret Trump’s campaign words along those same lines, the same way we ‘undergo’ the ads that play to our subconscious. The problem is, how do you do that? How do you interpret what you are largely unaware of on a rational level?

The president-elect will now need the same skills in order to ‘come down that mountain’ without antagonizing each and every side of the discussion, of the nation. He’ll have to convince the liberal camp that he didn’t mean everything he said in a literal sense, while at the same time keeping his ‘angry mob’ satisfied that he will do enough of what he promised them.

That will take a lot of persuading. But at the same time that happens to be the one thing he’s really good at. He’ll have to convince his voters that he’s not breaking his promises, just adjusting them in ways that will, if at all possible, be even more beneficial to them than the original ones.

Difficult, but if he can convince them that there are signs, delivered relatively fast, that their living conditions are improving, he may succeed. They just vent their anger at people that are visibly not themselves, but that’s not where the anger stems from.

 

 

There are all sorts of nasty things going on, racists and supremacist etc. But you can’t say that Trump caused that to happen. The most you could say is that he gives the people involved in that stuff the idea that because someone finally hears them, they can, are allowed to, make themselves heard.

But just because a few loose cannons let loose, doesn’t mean America has 60 million loose cannons who all voted for Trump and should all be condemned including Trump himself for good measure because there’s a few incidents. Not only is that a misinterpretation of what goes on, it prevents you from understanding what lies behind.

Those incidents at least have a lot to do with the fact that so many ignored Americans live in what Washington has long considered flyover country. It would be a lot more positive and productive at this point in time if everyone looks at what they themselves have gotten wrong over the past years -not just this election campaign- before pointing fingers at everyone but themselves.

But seeing the dug-in heels in Britain almost five months after the Brexit vote, it’s hard to get your hopes up about people coming together, or even doing some genuine introspection. It’s easier to just remain stuck in your comfy little rut.

Thing is, the world is rapidly changing -it already has-, America is changing, Britain is, and many more countries will, it just takes an election to show how much. We’re transitioning to a next phase, and trying to deny we are with all our might, good luck and good night.

Or in a more poetic fashion – we can do that too-:

 

the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul

 

 

 

 

Oct 232016
 
 October 23, 2016  Posted by at 7:55 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Ungovernability
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Inge Morath Street Corner at World’s End London 1954

 

Over the summer I introduced a two-fold assertion: 1) global economic growth is over (and has been for years and won’t come back for many more years) and 2) the end of growth marks the end of all centralization, including globalization. You can read all about these themes in “Globalization Is Dead, But The Idea Is Not” and “Why There is Trump” There are also extensive quotes of the second essay in wicked former UK MI6 spymaster Alastair Crooke’s “‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent”.

When I say ‘the end of growth’, I don’t mean that in a Limits to Growth kind of way, or peak oil or things like that. Not because I seek to invalidate such things, but because I mean economics, finance only. Our economies simply ceased growing, and quite a few years ago. The only reason that is not, and very widely, recognized is the $21 trillion and change that central banks have conjured up ostensibly to kickstart a recovery that always remains just around the corner.

That those $21 trillion will have massive negative effects on all of us is not my point either right now. Just that growth is gone. And that’s hard enough to swallow for a system that’s based uniquely on that growth. That is what this ‘essay’ is about: what consequences that will have.

All that said, I don’t have the idea that too many people are willing to accept the notion of the end of eternal economic growth (let alone right this minute), nor of globalization’s demise. Which may be partially understandable, but not more than that. Instead, quite a few people may honestly feel that the end of growth will make ‘leaders’ try for more, not less, centralization/globalization, but that, if it happens, is temporary. Unless, as I wrote earlier, we see dictators in the west.

Because, as I said in those articles, the overbearing principle is, and must be, that when centralized power ceases to deliver benefits to people, they will no longer accept that decisions about their – ever poorer- lives are taken by people hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they live. People allow that only when they reap sufficient benefits from it. With growth gone, there are no such benefits left. Look at Greece and Italy and Brexit, and look at why Trump is where he is.

 

Since it will apparently take a while for the above to sink in – which is not because I’m wrong-, I’m a little hesitant to introduce the next assertion, which is very closely related to the other two and takes it a step further. That assertion is that there are multiple countries in the western world -and perhaps beyond- today that run a serious risk of becoming de facto ungovernable. I’ll refrain from using the term anarchy.

I’ve been playing around in my head for a while with the thought that it is striking that the last two major global powers, which together have dominated world politics and economics for over 200 years, look well on their way towards becoming ungovernable. It is perhaps even more striking that nobody appears to understand or even contemplate this.

Both Britain and America are caught in an apparent trap in which various groups of their citizens blame each other for everything that’s going wrong with their lives -which admittedly is plenty-. But that’s where the end of growth and globalization comes in: societies are in urgent need of new ways of organizing themselves, of formulating new goals, priorities and policies.

And since nary a soul recognizes that the old ways have expired, this is bound to be a very difficult process. Before formulating anything new, we will first see (well, we already do) forces, movements and individuals rise to the fore whose claim to fame is kicking against the existing grain without providing much in the way of -coherent- ideas of what should come next.

In fact, most of these ‘transitory forces’ don’t even realize or acknowledge the need for any novel paradigms; they -often hugely- gain in popularity basing themselves on talk of tweaking existing paradigms, on the notion of pretty much leaving things as they are but with a few different focus points here and there. Re-arranging deckchairs.

And if anyone would try on ‘real change’, they’d likely be voted down in record numbers, because the end of growth will mean loss of wealth and prosperity everywhere. And neither the people nor the times are ready for that message. Let alone the media machine or the establishment it serves. Which would rather go to war than admit they lost and give up their profits.

 

Before moving on to the most prominent and perhaps urgent examples, the US and UK, let’s take a look at a handful or so European countries. By the way, the European Union is a prime example of an entity that is caught blinded on the way towards being ungovernable like a deer in 27/28 pairs of headlights. No growth, no EU.

In the same way that, as I explained in the earlier articles, all supranational entities face the fate of the dodo. Or at least the existing ones do, with their structures geared towards ever increasing centralization of power and money. Countries, societies, people will always find ways to trade and cooperate, and they will again, but the next time they do it will be only if and when they keep control over decisions that concern what’s important to them.

But on to those European countries on their way towards challenging existing power structures and governability. Italy has a -constitutional- referendum on December 4, and it looks right now like PM Renzi will lose that, opening the way for our friend Beppe Grillo and his M5S Five Star movement to take over. Beppe wasn’t against the euro when we met in 2010, but he is now. And M5S has since grown hugely, into a solid national force.

In the rich core of the EU, there are general elections in Holland in March 2017, France in April and Germany in September 2017. Holland’s traditional parties have been losing clout for a long time, and Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam anti-EU pro-Freedom party scores big in the polls. And that in a country that says it’s doing great, talks about raising wages across the board and is stuck in a massive housing bubble.

France has a president, Hollande, who’s polling lower numbers (a while ago it was 6%) than any US president probably ever did in history, and that’s saying something. France has new crown princes on Hollande’s Socialist side in PM Manuel Valls and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, but they are badly tainted by Hollande’s ‘achievements’.

They have old crown princes for the Republican conservative party in ex-PM Sarkozy and the for some reason very popular Alain Juppé, but both can really only try and steal votes from Marine Le Pen’s Front National by leaning ever further right. Which leaves Le Pen, who has sworn to take France out of the EU, as the no. 1 contender.

Given what might happen in Italy, Holland and France, one must wonder what the September 2017 German elections will even matter anymore when they happen. Unless an M5S type movement stands up there, Merkel will have no choice but to pull sharply to the right to try and hold off the right wing AfD from getting into a kingmaker position. Germany’s once proud and strong left wing movement looks bound for near extinction.

Belgium and Spain don’t have elections scheduled for 2017, but both have recently endured long periods without functioning governments, and both look no closer to solving the issues than they were before. Just look at Wallonia blocking the CETA trade deal between the EU and Canada. One might say they already are, for all intents and purposes, on the verge of being ungovernable.

Grillo, Wilders, Le Pen and Spain’s Podemos are very different people and movements, but what they have in common is they can produce such a backlash in their respective countries, win or lose, that they can render the existing political structures obsolete and thereby their countries ungovernable. Maybe, then, those structures are already obsolete, and maybe that’s why they’ve gained such popularity?!

 

Plenty of candidates in Europe for governmental chaos; and I haven’t even touched on many countries, including in Eastern Europe, where the end of growth will shatter many dreams and promises of better lives that have been put on hold indefinitely. Even as many Czechs and Polish workers risk being sent back home from countries like Britain. Europe truly is a continent full of powder kegs. Even before you add refugees.

However, I still think the US and UK are first in line when it comes to the risk of being rendered ungovernable. Partly simply because of timing, and partly because the differences between various ‘groups’ and movements are as pronounced as they are already today. Both countries are running out of carpet to sweep their dirt under.

A conspicuous part in all this is played by the nations’ respective media, who seem to have given up all attempts at pretending to be neutral, a.k.a. ‘journalistic’. Traditional media, newspapers and radio and TV channels, used to have reporters and then, separately, they would have opinion columns, and the difference would be clear. But that’s all gone, every single article is now an opinion piece, which goes a long way towards explaining why people turn their backs on them.

The MSM media are digging their own graves. Or, rather, their graves were being digitally dug anyway, and they’re greatly speeding up the process of their own demise. What America and Britain would need right now is a ‘traditional media outlet’ -just one- that is actually objective; the first one that tries that approach could make a killing, but all are scared of being killed in the process.

Moreover, most ‘reporters’ have fooled themselves into thinking that they ARE objective; that ‘objective’ means Trump and Brexit MUST be condemned, as well as everyone and everything that has anything to do with the two, and some that don’t, like Putin. Which happens to play a major role into how both countries inexorably slide down into a state of chaos.

Their traditional political parties are self-immolating as we speak, and yet in neither country is there space for new parties to stand up. That seems to be a major difference (perhaps it’s an Anglo thing?) from countries in continental Europe, and even there things are screaming out of hand. The post-growth model appears to be: new parties or not, the incumbents are toast. Plenty room for big gaping holes.

 

Post Brexit, the UK has the Tories, who lost the Brexit vote but for some reason are still in power, just with a different figurehead. But they are hopelessly divided in pro-Brexit and pro-EU factions, and they appear so far to be messing up anything at all having to do with Brexit. All the egos collide too, of course; egos are all that politics has left to provide us.

Then there’s the Labor Party, which is equally hopelessly divided into the pro-Corbyn camp and the anti-Corbyn ‘Blairites’, which have conducted a kind of guerrilla warfare that might put the Viet Cong to shame. The Blairites have made such a fuss over Corbyn not being electable that they made their wishes come true like a boomerang. But that’s the MPs, not the voters or even the party members, who are behind Corbyn in massive droves.

The UK doesn’t have a general election scheduled until 2020, but with all the infighting and even more importantly the ‘real’ start of Brexit that’s supposed to come in early 2017, and/or a potential parliamentary vote seeking to make the referendum null and void, it’s hard to see how the country could NOT descend into total chaos way before 2020.

The people who were comfortable before June 23 blame it all on ‘Brexiteers’, but they conveniently forget that before that date they completely ignored the people who did vote to Leave the EU, and are therefore now grasping at straws when it comes to explanations. The term ‘deplorables’ has been patented by the Hillary camp, but it seems to express quite well how Remain feels about Brexit voters today. And that’s toxic for any society.

This is just not good enough. Brexit voters from what I can see are a mix between those who have been hit hardest by former PM Cameron and his goon squad (and ignored by Remainers), and those who really find the EU a failed experiment, an aspect I rarely see discussed in Britain. They should be elated to be rid of Brussels, but it’s all only about how much money they will have short term, not about identity or pride or anything.

A country full of people pointing fingers at others, while remaining blind to their own failures. The mote and the beam, a recipe for mayhem. So you have this entire godawful political mess, and now imagine throwing in the end of growth, and deteriorating economic circumstances from here on in.

Britain had better start some kind of National Conversation first on where it wants to go, hire something in the vein of a bunch of National Therapists to tell people it’s not okay to blame everything on somebody else, whether they’re Brits or foreigners, or, with Scotland planning another independence vote, we could be back all the way to Braveheart.

 

That leaves the US. The country that has elections before any of the other ‘basket cases’. And, this being America, the land that’s better than anyone at painting pictures of itself as tempting as they can be false, the antagonism is dripping off the walls and through the streets. The land that discusses which lives matter.

It’s glaringly obvious that the majority of the US media would like you to believe that when it comes to ungovernability, a Trump victory would be a sure bet to lead the US into political mayhem. That may be true, though it’s by no means guaranteed, they make it up as they go along, but a Hillary win may well end up being even worse.

As I wrote mid-September in “Hillary Became Unelectable Long Ago”, Mrs. Clinton faces a ton of unanswered questions that will not just go away just because she might win a vote. If anything, scrutiny may well increase, and a lot, if she wins on November 8. And that’s not just because the Donald is a sore loser (which also may or may not be true).

There are a lot of intelligence (FBI) voices protesting the decision to not charge Hillary for her email shenanigans. There are plenty of serious issues related to the capture of the DNC by Hillary’s campaign, and the subsequent ousting of Bernie Sanders and all his supporters. The campaign went so far as to pay people to -violently- disrupt Trump events. Now spell democracy for me.

What may play an even bigger role going forward is the unrelenting blame game played by the campaign on Russia and Vladimir Putin, a litany of allegations for which precious little proof, if any, has been presented. Trying to link Putin to Trump to Julian Assange may have seemed a winning election strategy, and it may prove to be one, crazy as it is, but on November 9 the world will still keep turning and-a churning. And where are they all then?

Trump will not forget this. The Republicans won’t. The FBI won’t. All the people who support Wikileaks won’t. Vladimir Putin won’t. And neither will the leaders of a lot of other countries. They have now seen that sovereign nations and their leaders can be used as cannon fodder in a US election, or any other US political purposes, and that’s going to make them feel queasy, and then some, for a long time.

It’s very hard to see how Hillary and her people, as well as the American media, can climb down from the stance they’ve taken. It’s not exactly something you can easily apologize for after the fact. So the only thing to do would be to dig in and persevere.

 

For the media, as I said, it’ll be merely another step towards irrelevance. Just a bit steeper. For Hillary and her supporters, it won’t be that smooth of a way down. When they dig in deeper into their trenches, all that’s left them is to try and escalate the Russia tension.

But while an attack on Russia may go down reasonable well in American minds, Hillary would need to involve NATO, and there are plenty of member countries, and their citizens, who will not accept anything of the kind, no matter what their leaders say. The fact that NATO relies on unity would become a liability instead of an asset, in the same way that the EU will experience.

NATO would fall apart if the US under a Hillary presidency attacks Russia. So would the EU, which will fall apart anyway. And that’s just on the international front.

Domestically, the Obama reign has been ‘saved’ by those trillions from the Fed, by the crazy growth in debt, both public and private, and by a list as long as your arm of questionable ‘official’ data, unemployment numbers, personal ‘wealth’, that sort of thing. While we all know that there would not be a Trump if those numbers reflected Americans’ real lives.

Trump may go away, though it won’t be in silence, but what he represents will not. And what he represents is 180º squarely removed from Hillary. And it’s not going to be subdued, silent or obedient. Blaming that on Trump, or on things he says, misses the point by a mile.

Given what the Hillary campaign has perpetrated, given the links to the Clinton Foundation, and given a ton of other things, it’s not all that crazy that Trump says he may not accept an election result off the bat. And given what many voices in the Democratic party, including Obama, have said in the past about elections and systems being rigged, it’s nonsense to try and demonize him for suggesting that.

Of course American elections can be rigged. Hanging chads or not. As long as people have to wait in line for hours in certain districts to cast their vote, and as long as Diebold machines are used, they can be rigged. But you can’t say it out loud?

 

Look, if Trump wins, how docile will the Democrat crowd be, given the propaganda machine targeted at Putin and Assange and anyone else (Bernie!) who dared stand in Hillary’s way? If the result is close, will Hillary accept it without a single protest or question? She won’t. But if Trump says he’ll keep you in suspense about the exact same thing, he’s a threat to democracy itself?

Points of view and belief are so far apart that indeed, democracy is under threat. But not because of Trump. That threat goes back to times long before him.

Hillary owes her position, and her wealth, to the Saudis and Qataris and Wall Street banks and US industrial/military neocons. And they will all demand that she return the favor. But they want something completely different than the people who vote for her. And since the economy is shrinking, she will have to take whatever it is they demand in return for putting her on her pedestal, away from the people who voted for her.

And no matter how much propaganda is unleashed upon Americans, as they see their lives deteriorate, they will be on to this, more and more. And they will lean towards Trump or Bernie Sanders -or someone else in the future-, anyone they feel expresses their frustration.

Hillary won’t be able to ‘cure’ the economy any more than Obama has, she won’t have the Fed’s virtual trillions to help her veil the real state of the economy, and she’s already close to the lowest ‘likeability’ rate in history to begin with.

I’m thinking Trump would probably be an awful president, but he perhaps wouldn’t be the worst option. And I’m saying that from the point of view of keeping America governable going forward, something he may well screw up yuugely, but at least he’s not certain to.

It’ll be hard to keep America quiet in the years to come whoever wins, and I’m going to have to think about this more, I just wanted to say for now that what many people think and claim is a given, is not. And that is a big thing given that the elections are only 16 days away.

Oct 152016
 
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Notre Dame Gargoyle, Paris France, 19th century

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

Here’s Alastair Crooke:

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The End of ‘Growth’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fake Elixir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Post-Globalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Problem of Self-Delusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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