Claude Monet The Pond at Montgeron 1876
Haldane is not the dumbest of central bankers. But this is crazy. See, the question is this: would Brexit have been prevented by not listening to people, or did not listening to them cause Brexit? And what’s wrong with calling a ship Boaty McBoatface? Maybe it’s an idea to listen more to people, not less? What else would you like to decide for people to protect them from their own madness?
The public should not have a direct say in setting interest rates because they can show “madness” when making collective decisions – just look at Boaty McBoatface, the Bank of England’s chief economist has warned. Central bankers have come under pressure to be more accountable to the public after the financial crisis and years of ultra-low interest rates, but it could be dangerous to hold a referendum on rates. It would be feasible to canvas the public online, said Andy Haldane, but could be dangerous. He pointed to the example of Boaty McBoatface, the name chosen in a public ballot for a new polar research ship last year, winning 80pc of votes cast. The National Environmental Research Council overruled the public and called the ship “Sir David Attenborough”, instead using the comedy name for a smaller submersible.
“This is an object lesson in the perils of public polling for policy purposes,” Andy Haldane, the chief economist, said in a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “Sometimes, there is madness in crowds.” He joked: “For some, it was a shameful example of the perils of populism.” He does propose more regular surveying of the public on the economy so the Bank of England knows what people think and how they are affected by monetary policy, however. Mr Haldane also said that “Marmite-gate” – the public row between Tesco and supplier Unilever over the price of the yeast extract spread – was useful in preparing the public for a bout of price rises. “Arguably, “Marmitegate” raised public awareness of rising inflation much more effectively than any amount of central bank jawboning,” he said. “Stories, like Marmite itself, stick.”
Typically the Bank of England struggles to get its message through to the public, often because officials use long words and technical language rather than using phrases which normal people use. “Simple words can make a dramatic difference to readability. ‘Inflation and employment’ leaves the majority of the public cold. ‘Prices and jobs’ warms them up,” he said. Officials should learn from Facebook and from pop songs to learn how to speak in a way which is more clear for the general public, rather than specialist audiences of financiers, Mr Haldane said. “Facebook posts are more likely to be shared the more frequent nouns and verbs and the less frequent adverbs and adjectives,” he said. “The ratio of nouns and verbs to adverbs and adjectives in an Elvis song is 3.3. In my speeches it is 2.7.”
Hard to believe, this. Brits are scared, they would hoard. It’s just not in their banks accounts that they do. It’s Go To The Mattresses time.
British households ran down their savings to a record low at the end of 2016 and disposable incomes fell in a warning sign for the economy that a squeeze in living standards is under way. The savings ratio – which estimates the amount of money households have available to save as a%age of their total disposable income – fell sharply in the fourth quarter to 3.3% from 5.3% in the third. It was the lowest since records began in 1963 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and suggested that people are increasingly dipping into their savings to maintain spending. “Today’s figures should set alarm bells ringing. The last thing our economy needs right now is another consumer debt crisis,” said the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady.
“People raiding their piggy banks and borrowing more than they can afford is what helped drive the last financial crash.” In a further sign that household finances are coming under increasing strain from rising inflation and falling wage growth, disposable incomes also fell over the quarter. Real household disposable income – which adjusts for the impact of inflation – shrank by 0.4% compared with the previous three months, the steepest drop in nearly three years. UK growth since the financial crisis has been heavily reliant on consumer spending. The ONS confirmed the wider UK economy grew by 0.7% between October and December, but economists said a weaker consumer backdrop could weigh on growth in the coming months. Growth in 2016 was unrevised at 1.8% as the ONS updated its estimates.
And the rest of the world.
If you’ve been paying attention to the ongoing degradation of the American economy since the last financial crisis, you’re probably flabbergasted by the fact that our economy has managed to make it this far without imploding. I know I am. I find myself shocked with every year that passes without incident. The warning signs are there for anyone willing to see, and they are flashing red. Even cursory research into the numbers underlying our system will tell you that we’re on an unsustainable financial path. It’s simple math. And yet the system has proven far more durable than most people thought. The only reasonable explanation I can think of, is that the system is being held up by wishful thinking and willful ignorance.
If every single person knew how unsustainable our economy is, it would self-destruct within hours. People would pull their money out of the banks, the bonds, and the stock market, and buy whatever real assets they could while their money is still worth something. It would be the first of many dominoes to fall before the entire financial system collapses. But most people don’t want to think about that possibility. They want the relative peace and prosperity of the current system to continue, so they ignore the facts or try to avoid them as much as possible. They keep their money right where it is and cross their fingers instead. In other words, the only thing propping up the system is undeserved confidence.
Unfortunately, confidence can’t keep an unsustainable system running forever. Nothing can. And our particular system is brimming with economic bubbles that aren’t going to stay inflated for much longer. Most recessions are associated with the bursting of at least one kind of bubble, but there are multiple sectors of our economy that may crash at roughly the same time in the near future. [..] Our economy is awash in cheap money and financial bubbles that threaten to wipe out tens of trillions of dollars worth of savings, investments, and assets. Everyone can close their eyes and hum while they hope that everything is going to be just fine, but it won’t be.
But the economy is fine, of course…
With enough iron ore to construct Paris’s Eiffel Tower nearly 13,000 times over, China’s ports are bursting with stockpiles of the raw material and some of them are demolishing old buildings to create more storage space, trading sources said. China’s domestic iron ore production jumped 15.3% in January-February as a price rally last year extended into 2017, causing imported ore to pile up at the ports of the world’s top buyer. Stockpiles are at their highest in more than a decade and are affecting prices. Inventory of imported iron ore at 46 Chinese ports reached 132.45 million tonnes on March 24, SteelHome consultancy said, the highest since it began tracking the data in 2004. A third of the stocks belongs to traders and the rest is owned by China’s steel mills, SteelHome said.
That volume would make about 95 million tonnes of steel, enough to build 12,960 replicas of the 324-metre (1,063-foot) high Eiffel Tower in Paris. Global iron ore prices are now at just above $80 a tonne from a 30-month peak of $94.86 reached in February, largely due to the growing port inventory. Prices surged 81% last year, bringing relief to miners after a three-year rout. The rally stretched into 2017, inspiring marginal producers to resume business and lifting supply as China’s steel demand waned. Further falls in the price of iron ore risk shuttering Chinese capacity again. That could boost China’s reliance on top-grade exporters Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
Not going to stop as long as we don’t stop it.
The Eurozone’s 20 biggest banks earned over a quarter of their profits in tax havens in 2015, according to a report released Monday by Oxfam. The report details how, in 2015, top Eurozone banks generated €25 billion in profits in low-tax territories like the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands and the American state of Delaware. Despite the massive profits, the banks only conducted 12% of their total business and employed 7% of their workers in those countries – a clear sign of the “tricks” that banks are willing use to avoid countries with stricter tax regimes, according to Oxfam’s Manon Aubry, one of the report’s authors. In Europe, banking is now the only sector in which companies must declare country-by-country tax and profit figures, thanks to legislation passed in the wake of the financial crisis.
The anti-poverty NGO Oxfam took advantage of the new data to write its report. Several of France’s biggest banks figure prominently in the report, including BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale and BPCE (which owns Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne). French banks declared almost €2 billion in profit in Luxembourg, as much as they reported in Germany and Spain combined, despite the fact that Luxembourg’s population is only 1% that of Spain’s. Some of the most telling figures come from discrepancies between profit and other key economic measures. “Société Générale, for instance, reported 22% of its profits in tax havens,” Oxfam’s Aubry told FRANCE 24, “but only 4% of its employee pay was generated there.”
In another example, BNP Paribas declared €134 million of profit in the Cayman Islands in 2015, although it had zero employees there. However, Servane Costrel, Wealth Management Press Officer for BNP Paribas, said that these figures were “obsolete”. “Profits earned in the Cayman Islands were taxed in the United States,” Costrel told FRANCE 24 by email. “But this is a non-issue since that figure [of profits in the Cayman Islands] dropped to zero in 2016.”
Save the right from the right. That should work. The French massively hate their own politicial system.
Not long ago, Francois Fillon was considered the most likely winner of the French presidential election in May. But after he was charged for embezzlement over suspicions of fake parliamentary jobs for his wife and children, even his European allies seem to have lost hope. Meanwhile, the fear of seeing far-right candidate Marine Le Pen taking power is growing. “People are worried, they are wondering what is going on in France,” Joseph Daul, president of the European People’s Party (EPP), told EUobserver on the margins of the EPP congress in Malta this week. “And it goes further than that. There are already committees, at the highest level, working on the hypothesis that France leaves the euro and the EU,” he said. He declined to specify whether these working groups were in EU capitals or in the EU institutions.
Officials in Brussels have warned about the consequences for France and the EU if Le Pen were to be elected, but have said so far that that they do not want to envisage a Le Pen scenario. The National Front (FN) leader has said that she wants to “do away with the EU,” and has promised to organise a referendum on the country’s EU membership. Her possible election “has been a risk for some time,” a high level EU source said recently, pointing to the “explosion” of the two main parties, the Socialist Party (PS) of outgoing president Francois Hollande and Fillon’s Republicans. In the most recent poll published on Wednesday (29 March), Socialist Party (PS) candidate Benoit Hamon was credited with only 10% of voting intentions and Fillon with 18%. Both were far behind Le Pen (with 24%) and independent candidate Emmanuel Macron (with 25.5%).
Pecora for health care.
My suggestion for real reform of the medical racket looks to historical precedent: In 1932 (before the election of FDR, by the way), the US Senate formed a commission to look into the causes of the 1929 Wall Street Crash and recommend corrections in banking regulation to obviate future episodes like it. It is known to history as the Pecora Commission, after its chief counsel Ferdinand Pecora, an assistant Manhattan DA, who performed gallantly in his role. The commission ran for two years. Its hearings led to prison terms for many bankers and ultimately to the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, which kept banking relatively honest and stable until its nefarious repeal in 1999 under President Bill Clinton — which led rapidly to a new age of Wall Street malfeasance, still underway.
The US Senate needs to set up an equivalent of the Pecora Commission to thoroughly expose the cost racketeering in medicine, enable the prosecution of the people driving it, and propose a Single Payer remedy for flushing it away. The Department of Justice can certainly apply the RICO anti-racketeering statutes against the big health care conglomerates and their executives personally. I don’t know why it has not done so already — except for the obvious conclusion that our elected officials have been fully complicit in the medical rackets, which is surely the case of new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, a former surgeon and congressman who trafficked in medical stocks during his years representing his suburban Atlanta district. A new commission could bypass this unprincipled clown altogether.
It is getting to the point where we have to ask ourselves if we are even capable of being a serious people anymore. Medicine is now a catastrophe every bit as pernicious as the illnesses it is supposed to treat, and a grave threat to a nation that we’re supposed to care about. What party, extant or waiting to be born, will get behind this cleanup operation?
“..it’s unclear whether we will land back in something like the mid-nineteenth century, or go full-bore medieval, or worse.”
We’ve been sowing the seeds for our predicament since the end of World War II. You might even call this process “The Victory Disease.” In practical terms it represents sets of poor decisions with accelerating bad consequences. For instance, the collective decision to suburbanize the nation. This was not a conspiracy. It was consistent with my new theory of history, which is Things happen because they seem like a good idea at the time. In 1952 we had plenty of oil and the ability to make a lot of cars, which were fun, fun, fun! And we turned our war production expertise into the mass production of single family houses built on cheap land outside the cities. But the result now is that we’re stuck in a living arrangement with no future, the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.
Another bad choice was to offshore most of our industry. Seemed like a good idea at the time; now you have a citizenry broadly impoverished, immiserated, and politically inflamed. Of course, one must also consider the possibility that industrial society was a historic interlude with a beginning, middle, and end, and that we are closer to the end of the story than the middle. It was, after all, a pure product of the fossil fuel bonanza, which is also coming to an end (with no plausible replacement in view.) I don’t view all this as the end of the world, or of civilization, per se, but we’re certainly in for a big re-set of the terms for remaining civilized. I’ve tried to outline where this is all going in my four-book series of the “World Made By Hand” novels, set in the near future.
If we’re lucky, we can fall back to sets of less complex social and economic arrangements, but it’s unclear whether we will land back in something like the mid-nineteenth century, or go full-bore medieval, or worse. One thing we can be sure of: the situation we face is one of comprehensive discontinuity — a lot of things just stop, beginning with financial arrangements and long-distance supply lines of resources and finished goods. Then it depends whether we can respond by reorganizing life locally in this nation at a finer scale — if it even remains a unified nation. Anyway, implicit in this kind of discontinuity is the possibility for disorder. We don’t know how that will go, and how we come through it depends on the degree of disorder.
At some point I can see this turning into a Free Mandela kind of movement.
For Ecuador’s 15 million inhabitants, Sunday’s presidential election runoff will pose a fundamental question: whether to continue with a leftwing government that has reduced poverty but also brought environmental destruction and authoritarian censorship, or to take a chance on a pro-business banker who promises economic growth but is accused of siphoning money to offshore accounts. But they are not the only ones for whom the result will be critically important. Thousands of miles away, in the country’s tiny embassy in central London, Julian Assange will be watching closely to see if his four and a half years of cramped asylum could be coming to an abrupt, enforced end. Guillermo Lasso, the businessman and leading opposition candidate, has vowed that if he wins, the WikiLeaks founder’s time in the embassy will be up.
Lasso has said he would “cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate”, because his presence in the Knightsbridge embassy was a burden on Ecuadorian taxpayers. His government opponent, Lenin Moreno, has said Assange would remain welcome, albeit with conditions. “We will always be alert and ask Mr Assange to show respect in his declarations regarding our brotherly and friendly countries,” Moreno said. The most recent polling showed Moreno at least four percentage points ahead of his rival, though earlier polls had Lasso in the lead, and many analysts caution that the results are within the margin of error. Could this weekend really trigger the beginning of the end for Assange’s extraordinary central London refuge? Neither Lasso’s victory, nor precisely what he would do if he won, are certain (he later softened his position to say Assange’s status would be “reviewed”).