Debt is serfdom, capital in all its forms is freedom. If we accept that our financial system is nothing but a wealth-transfer mechanism from the productive elements of our economy to parasitic, neofeudal rentier-cartels and self-serving state fiefdoms, that raises a question: what do we do about it? The typical answer seems to be: deny it, ignore it, get distracted by carefully choreographed culture wars or shrug fatalistically and put one’s shoulder to the debt-serf grindstone. There is another response, one that very few pursue: fanatic frugality in service of financial-political independence. Debt-serfs and dependents of the state have no effective political power, as noted yesterday in It Isn’t What You Earn and Owe, It’s What You Own That Generates Income. There are only three ways to accumulate productive capital/assets: marry someone with money, inherit money or accumulate capital/savings and invest it in productive assets. (We’ll leave out lobbying the Federal government for a fat contract or tax break, selling derivatives designed to default and the rest of the criminal financial skims and scams used so effectively by the New Nobility financial elites.)
This is a syndicated repost courtesy of Confounded Interest. To view original, click here. Reposted with permission. Bloomberg has nice piece on the battle between JPMorganChase’s Jamie Dimon and the Minneapolis Fed’s Neel Kashkari. (Bloomberg) Jamie Dimon is America’s most famous banker, and Neel Kashkari is its most outspoken bank regulator, so it’s not a shock that they would eventually come to blows. What’s interesting is that their contretemps is over an acronym that most Americans have never heard of, but one that may be central to preventing another recession. TLAC, which is pronounced TEE-lack, is something you need to know about if you want to judge the sparring between Dimon, the well-coiffed chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Kashkari, the very bald man who ran for governor of California on the Republican ticket and is now president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. On April 6, Kashkari went after Dimon in a way that circumspect central bankers ordinarily don’t. In an essay published on Medium and republished on the Minneapolis Fed website, he challenged Dimon’s assertion in his annual letter to shareholders that 1) there’s no longer a risk that taxpayers will be stuck with the bill if a big bank fails, and 2) banks have too much capital (meaning an unnecessarily thick safety cushion). Wrote Kashkari: ‘Both of these assertions are demonstrably false.’
News coming out of Venezuela over the past two years has reeked of corruption and failed political leadership: a long list of shortages, rampant poverty, incrimination of the opposition, and a recent move that puts the regime of Nicolas Maduro one step closer to a dictatorship. And these are only the developments that are recorded, with a recent LA Times Op-Ed suggesting that a Venezuelan homicide epidemic rages ‘unreported’ due to the country’s scrapping of crime statistics reporting over a decade ago. Despite all of this, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) expects Venezuela, endowed with the world’s largest oil reserves (depending on who you ask), to play a major role in the cartel’s plan to curb global supply. In OPEC’s November agreement, Venezuela accounted for almost 10 percent of the net supply cut from member nations (calculated as cuts minus allotted increases)
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Apr 11, 2017.
On January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) officially came into effect, virtually eliminating all tariffs and trade restrictions between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Bill Clinton, who lobbied extensively to get the deal done, said it would encourage other nations to work towards a broader world-trade pact. ‘NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs,’ said Clinton, as he signed the document, ‘If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t support this agreement.’ Ross Perot had a contrary perspective. Lobbying heavily against the agreement, he noted that if it was ratified, Americans would hear a giant ‘sucking sound’ as jobs went south of the border to Mexico. It’s a Complicated World Fast forward 20 years, and NAFTA is a hot-button issue again. Donald Trump has said he is working on ‘renegotiating’ the agreement, and many Americans are sympathetic to this course of action. However, coming to a decisive viewpoint on NAFTA’s success or failure can be difficult to achieve. Over two decades, the economic and political landscape has changed. China has risen and created a surplus of cheap labor, technology has changed massively, and central banks have kept the spigots on with QE and ultra-low interest rates. Deciphering what results have been the direct cause of NAFTA – and what is simply the result of a fast-changing world – is not quite straightforward.
Long-time Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren refers to the murky agencies at work to ensure this planetary plan stays on track as the ‘deep state,’ in his book of the same name. He writes that it includes key elements of the national security state, which ensure continuity of policy despite the superficial about-faces from one administration to the next. The deep state is effectively a warlike oligarchy, hell-bent on full spectrum dominance, driven by a lust for wealth and power, and anxious to inscribe its name in history. Specifically, Lofgren says, the deep state includes the Department of Defense, the State Department, the National Intelligence Agencies, Wall Street, the defense industry, and the energy consortium, among other major private players. They share common agendas, operate a revolving door of employees, and have a collective distaste for democracy, transparency, and regulation. The deep state is the link between military interventions and trans-pacific trade deals, between sanctions and IMF loans. All of these tools, be they arms or loans or legal structures, serve a single purpose: the overarching control of world resources by a global community of corporate elites. One can also see how these three instruments of policy and power all do tremendous damage to a particular entity, the nation-state.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Mar 12, 2017.
Ever since governments began banning and licensing different parts of the economy, the black market has made sure people still have access to the things they need. Unstable governments always turn on their own citizens by using price controls, heavy taxes, and even the threat of imprisonment to prop up their failing systems. As conditions inevitably deteriorate, as they have in Venezuela and Greece, the underground economy becomes invaluable to those living through the crisis. The shadow economy refers to more than just the trade of illegal goods. A grey market, for example, provides legal products that have become difficult to find. Since basic things like toilet paper, medicine, and even food have disappeared from store shelves in Venezuela, the peer-to-peer network has become the only reliable way to secure life’s necessities. In desperate situations like this, the existence of independent merchants can mean the difference between life and death. Even the value of Venezuela’s currency has started to move away from the government’s control. At one point, the official exchange rate was fraudulently set at 10 bolivars per U. S. dollar, while on the black market it was trading at 1,000 to one. This action hurt millions by suppressing wages across the country and eroding any remaining trust. Inflation has quickly become the most imminent threat to the Venezuelan people, stealing the value of their labor and savings. For years, the bolivar has experienced hyperinflation, increasing the cost of living almost exponentially. The State’s desperate response was to institute price controls, but that has only led to shortages across the board. Luckily, the unregulated markets have been able to determine the true value of goods and provide vital support for the struggling communities. Many people think that so-called price gouging is unethical, but isn’t it better to buy what you need at twice the price than to not be able to get it at all?
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Mar 10, 2017.
Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, has confirmed that it hired the consultancy of Tony Podesta, the elder brother of John Podesta who chaired Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, for lobbying its interests in the United States and proactively seeking the removal of various Obama-era sanctions, the press service of the Russian institution told TASS on Thursday. “The New York office of Sberbank CIB indeed hired Podesta Group. Engagement of external consultants is part of standard business practices for us,” Sberbank said. Previously, The Daily Caller reported that Tony Podesta was proactively lobbying for cancellation of a range of anti-Russian sanctions against the banking sector. In particular, he represented interests of Sberbank and was paid $170,000 for his efforts over a six-month period last year to seek to end one of the Obama administration’s economic sanctions against that country. Podesta, founder and chairman of the Podesta Group, is listed as a key lobbyist on behalf of Sberbank, according to Senate lobbying disclosure forms. His firm received more than $24 million in fees in 2016, much of it coming from foreign governments, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Former President Barack Obama imposed the Russian sanctions following the break out in violence in east Ukraine in 2014.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Mar 9, 2017.
It didn’t take much for the Greek bank run jog to return: with Greece once again stuck between an IMF rock and a Schauble hard case, and whispers that another bailout may be on the horizon, the local population took advantage of whatever capital controls loopholes they could find, and withdrew money from the local banking sector, which to this day remains on ECB life support, almost two years after the 3rd Greek bailout in the summer of 2015. According to Greece central bank data, Greek private sector bank deposits declined in January for the second month in a row, driven by renewed concerns over the country’s neverending bailout. Business and household deposits fell by 1.63 billion, or 1.34% month-on-month to 119.75 billion ($126.8 billion), the lowest level since November 2001. The January outflow follows a “jog” of 3.4 billion in December, making the two-month drop the worst since the latest Greek bailout panic in July of 2015.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Feb 28, 2017.
The biggest banks on Wall Street, both foreign and domestic, have been repeatedly charged with rigging and colluding in markets from New York to London to Japan. Thus, it is natural to ask, have the big banks formed a cartel to rig the prices of their own stocks? This time last year, Wall Street banks were in a slow, endless bleed. The Federal Reserve had raised interest rates for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis on December 16, 2015 with strong hints that more rate hikes would be coming in 2016. Bank stocks never do well in a rising interest rate environment because their dividend yield has to compete with rising yields on bonds. Money gravitates out of dividend paying stocks into bonds and/or into hard assets like real estate based on the view that it will appreciate from inflationary forces. This is classic market thinking 101. Bizarrely, to explain the current run up in bank stock prices, market pundits are shoving their way onto business news shows to explain to the gullible public that bank stocks like rising interest rates because the banks will be able to charge more on loans. That rationale pales in comparison to the negative impact of outflows from stocks into bonds (if and when interest rates actually do materially rise) and the negative impact of banks taking higher reserves for loan losses because their already shaky loan clients can’t pay loans on time because of rising rates. That is also classic market thinking 101. Big bank stocks also like calm and certainty – as does the stock market in general. At the risk of understatement, since Donald Trump took the Oath of Office on January 20, those qualities don’t readily come to mind in describing the state of the union. Prior to the cravenly corrupt market rigging that led to the epic financial crash in 2008 (we’re talking about the rating agencies being paid by Wall Street to deliver triple-A ratings to junk mortgage securitizations and banks knowingly issuing mortgage pools in which they had inside knowledge that they would fail) the previous episode of that level of corruption occurred in the late 1920s and also led to an epic financial crash in 1929. The U. S. only avoided a Great Depression following 2008 because the Federal Reserve, on its own, secretly funneled $16 trillion in almost zero interest rate loans to Wall Street banks and their foreign cousins. (Because the Fed did this without the knowledge of Congress or the public, this was effectively another form of market rigging. Had the rest of us known this was happening, we also could have made easy bets on the direction of the stock market.)
Toxic loans as a result of corruption, political kickbacks, fraud, and abuse. The Bank of Italy’s Target 2 liabilities towards other Eurozone central banks – one of the most important indicators of banking stress – has risen by 129 billion in the last 12 months through November to 358.6 billion. That’s well above the 289 billion peak reached in August 2012 at the height of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. Foreign and local investors are dumping Italian government bonds and withdrawing their funding to Italian banks. The bank at the heart of Italy’s financial crisis, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), has bled 6 billion of ‘commercial direct deposits’ between September 30 and December 13, 2 billion of which since December 4, the date of Italy’s constitutional referendum. Italy’s new Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who took over from Matteo Renzi after his defeat in the referendum, said his government – a virtual carbon copy of the last one – is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop MPS from collapsing and thereby engulfing other European banks. His options would include directly supporting Italy’s ailing banks, in contravention of the EU’s bail-in rules passed into law at the beginning of this year. Though now, that push comes to shove, the EU seems happy to look the other way. While attention is focused on the rescue of MPS, news regarding another Italian bank, Banca Erturia, has quietly slipped by the wayside.
This post was published at Wolf Street on Dec 18, 2016.
As the mainstream media continues to blast Trump with allegations of conflicts of interest related to his many real estate holdings around the world, at least one conflict they won’t have to worry about anymore is his holdings of public stocks. Per the Washington Post, a Trump spokesman told the press yesterday that Trump unloaded all of his public shares back in June. Then, in what was supposed to be an interview congratulating Trump for his Time Person of the Year award, Matt Lauer of the Today Show decided to grill the president-elect on his public stock holdings and why he decided to sell. “Well I’ve never been a big person for the stock market, frankly. But, over the years I bought stocks. And, I bought them when they were low and I saw what was going on with interest rates were so low that it almost seemed like it was easy to predict what was going to happen with the stock market.” When pressed on why he chose June to dump all his shares, Trump responded simply that he felt “like I was very much going to be winning.”
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 7, 2016.
Former Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher recently gave a speech identifying the Federal Reserve’s easy money/low interest rate policies as a source of the public anger that propelled Donald Trump into the White House. Mr. Fisher is certainly correct that the Fed’s policies have ‘skewered’ the middle class. However, the problem is not specific Fed policies, but the very system of fiat currency managed by a secretive central bank. Federal Reserve-generated increases in money supply cause economic inequality. This is because, when the Fed acts to increase the money supply, well-to-do investors and other crony capitalists are the first recipients of the new money. These economic elites enjoy an increase in purchasing power before the Fed’s inflationary policies lead to mass price increases. This gives them a boost in their standard of living. By the time the increased money supply trickles down to middle- and working-class Americans, the economy is already beset by inflation. So most average Americans see their standard of living decline as a result of Fed-engendered money supply increases.
As the dust settles from the recent presidential election, it’s becoming clear that a large part of the sentiment behind the vote for Trump reflects a deep dissatisfaction from middle and lower-class working families. The traditional fruits of prosperity have been rising higher and farther out of reach for them, as their ability to make a living wage has been eroding year-over-year, for decades. They’ve now reached the point where they no longer trust the empty promises that have been sold them by a steady stream of politicians — on both side of the aisle — who have lined their own pockets with lobbyist money while overseeing a tremendous shift of society’s wealth to crony corporations and the top 1%. Trump’s victory can largely be summed up as a defiant yelp from the masses decrying: “I may not know what the solution is, but I’m damn sure more of the same ain’t it!” Of course, we here at PeakProsperity.com are in full agreement with that righteous anger. Through borrowing way too much, bailing out rather than prosecuting bad actors, printing trillions of “thin air” dollars, a deliberate pursuit of financial repression and other schemes — the future prosperity of the “everyday American” has been stolen by those in power and those positioned closest to the trough. Mathematically, this orgy of excess needs to be balanced by severe austerity; an austerity the elites refuse to suffer but are forcing onto everybody else. No wonder the masses are pissed. Few visuals drive this injustice home better than this one of historical bank CD interest rates. Note how they’ve been in steady collapse since the mid-1980s:
‘Economic Shock & Awe’ turns into ‘Nightmare Without End’ On Tuesday November 8, Narenda Modi, the prime minister of India, the world’s second most populous nation and Asia’s third largest economy, announced in a public address to the nation that India’s two biggest denomination notes, the 1,000 rupee and 500 rupee bills, were now worthless and would have to be replaced with newly designed bills. That was six days ago. Since then all hell has broken loose. Official Motives There are plenty of reasons for the government’s action. Partly it was intended to flush out the cash hoardings of black market operators and stop the rampant corruption permeating all levels of business and government in India. It is also part of the government’s plan to thwart counterfeiters and bring more stashed currency into the banking system. One of the biggest beneficiaries will be the nation’s nascent digital economy. Paytm, India’s largest digital wallet startup, hailed the move. ‘This is the golden age to be a tech entrepreneur in India. Especially a fintech one,’ tweeted Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the company’s founder, whose investors include Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. ‘Keep the money digital.’ The coffers of both the nation’s government and banks are also expected to benefit handsomely. According to some reports, banks’ non-performing loan ratios have already shrunk in recent days as small and mid-sized businesses that had been defaulting on repayments suddenly started rushing to banks to repay the money they owed. As for the government, it hopes to boost its tax revenues from the current anemic level of 17% of GDP to somewhere closer to the OECD average of 34%.
This post was published at Wolf Street on November 15, 2016.
Last week, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned from circulation the country’s two largest denomination banknotes, of 500 rupees ($7.50) and 1000 rupees ($15). The shocking move – kept secret and set to take place overnight – was intended to flush out the cash hoardings of black market participants and stop the corruption currently permeating all levels of business and government in India. The two banknotes, rumoured to account for almost 80% of the cash in circulation, were used primarily to avoid paying taxes and to pay bribes. However, the rupee ban has managed only to create chaos and desperation for millions of Indian citizens. They were left with no money to buy basic amenities, and saw their dearly earned savings being wiped out overnight. They queued in front of the banks and rushed to their ATMs, scrambling to exchange the worthless banknotes in the brief window of opportunity provided. Both banks and ATMs ran out of money, as India’s printing presses rushed to keep up by printing new lower-denomination currency. But many Indians are so sick of corruption that they are willing, albeit grudgingly, to bear these hardships if the move should end it. They don’t know that it won’t: the move did little more than temporarily inconvenience the large money launderers and tax evaders, who have already found loopholes allowing them to profit from and minimize the effects of the government’s move – and that is a good thing.
President-elect Trump stated in his victory speech that he intends to make America great again by infrastructure spending. Unfortunately, he is unlikely to have the room for manoeuvre to achieve this ambition as well as his intended tax cuts, because the Government’s finances are already in a perilous state. It is also becoming increasingly likely that the next fiscal year will be characterised by growing price inflation and belated increases in interest rates, against a background of rising raw material prices. That being the case, public finances are not only already fragile, but they are likely to become more so from now on, without any extra spending on infrastructure or fiscal stimulus. So far, most informed commentaries on the prospects for inflation have concentrated on the negative effects of an expansionary monetary policy on the private sector. With the pending appointment of a new President with ideas of his own, this article turns our attention to the effects on government finances. Government outlays are already set to increase, due to price inflation, more than the GDP deflator would suggest. The deflator is always a dumbed-down estimate of price inflation. At the same time, tax receipts will tend to lag behind any uplift from price inflation. Furthermore, the wealth-transfer effect of monetary inflation over a prolonged period reduces the ability of the non-financial private sector to pay the taxes necessary to compensate for the lower purchasing power of an inflating currency. Trump is a businessman. Such people often think that running a country’s economy is merely a scaled-up business project. Not so. Countries can be regarded as not-for-profit organisations, and democratic ones are driven by the consensus of diverse vested interests. The only sustainable approach is to stand back and give individuals the freedom to run their own affairs, and to discretely discourage the business of lobbying. President Calvin Coolidge expressed this best: ‘Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business’.
This post was published at GoldMoney on NOVEMBER 10, 2016.
Some climate scientists, concerned with the warming impact of rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, have proposed that to keep temperatures cool what is needed is more pollution. More specifically, they suggest that more particulate pollution in the upper reaches of the atmosphere would reflect the sun’s radiation back into space and thereby have a cooling effect, as has been demonstrated in the past when large volcanic eruptions have led to years without summers. In a similar way, policymakers across much of the developed world, concerned about rising inequality, are recommending the introduction of a guaranteed minimum income. However, just as it appears senseless to send soot into the air to correct the atmospheric damage wrought by over a hundred years of fossil fuel burning, so too is it senseless to expect easy money for the poor to correct the damage caused by over 30 years of easy money for the banking system and the rich. The creation of money by central banks and the banking system has predictable consequences. As the economic thinker Henry Hazlitt wrote in his 1965 book, ‘What You Should Know about Inflation’ (keeping in mind that for Hazlitt, inflation refers not to an increase in prices but rather to an increase in the quantity of money): ‘Inflation makes it possible for some people to get rich by speculation and windfall instead of by hard work. It rewards gambling and penalizes thrift. It conceals and encourages waste and inefficiency in production. It finally tends to demoralize the whole community. It promotes speculation, gambling, squandering, luxury, envy, resentment, discontent, corruption, crime, and increasing drift toward more intervention which may end in dictatorship.’ From the early 1970s onwards, the ability of central banks and the banking system to create money from nothing has distorted the incentives upon which healthy market economies depend. While the reasons for expanding the quantity of money in circulation always seem benign, be they ‘to avoid a financial crisis’ or ‘to reduce unemployment’ the truth is that every dollar so created increases inequality while simultaneously sapping productivity.
This post was published at Mises Canada on OCTOBER 19, 2016.
During the last year of his reign of error, our beloved Nobel Peace Prize winner, Obama ran out of government accounting gimmicks to falsely proclaim Federal deficits have been falling. His legacy of debt accumulation will go down in history as the last dying gasps of a crumbling empire built upon Keynesian delusions, political corruption, and a Deep State establishment hellbent upon retaining power at the cost of global war and financial collapse. The entirely fabricated government propaganda data point known as the Federal deficit skyrocketed by 34% in fiscal 2016 (Federal year is Oct. 1 to Sept. 30). The reported deficit in FY15 was a mere $438 billion. Obama and his brain dead minions had boasted about such a small deficit. The country has been in existence for 227 years and Obama had the balls to boast about ‘achieving’ the 8th highest deficit in our history. Just for some context, the savior also led the country to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th highest deficits in the country’s history. Bumbling Bush achieved the 7th highest in the glorious year of 2008. The $149 billion surge in the reported deficit to $587 billion is a national disgrace and happened during a year in which we supposedly aren’t waging any real wars. Even with artificially suppressed interest rates, interest on the national debt went up by $30 billion. The Obamacare abortion has caused healthcare spending to soar, blowing a hole in the Federal budget. Remember Obama bloviating about Obamacare not adding one dime to the national debt? He was right. It’s adding trillions of dimes to the national debt. But, at least every family in America has gotten that promised $2,500 savings in their annual premiums. Right?
For a long time, I’ve advocated that the world’s governments should default on their debt. I recognize that this is an outrageous-sounding proposal. However, the debts accumulated by the governments of the U.S., Japan, Europe and dozens of other countries constitute a gigantic mortgage on the next two or three generations, as yet unborn. Savings are proof that a person, or a country, has been living below their means. Debt, on the other hand, is evidence that the world has been living above its means. And the amount of government debt and liabilities in the world is in the hundreds of trillions and growing rapidly, even with essentially zero percent interest rates. This brings up several questions: Will future generations be able to repay it? Will they be willing to? And, if so, should they? My answers are: No, no and no. The ‘should they’ is one moral question that should be confronted. But I’ll go further. There’s another reason government debt should be defaulted on: to punish the people stupid enough, or unethical enough, to lend governments the money they’ve used to do all the destructive things they do. I know it’s most unlikely you’ve ever previously heard this view. And I recognize there would be many unpleasant domino-like effects on today’s over-leveraged and unstable financial system. It’s just that, when a structure is about to collapse, it’s better to have a controlled demolition, rather than waiting for it to collapse unpredictably. That said, governments will perversely keep propping up the house of cards, and building it higher, pushing the nasty consequences further into the future, with compound interest. With that in mind, a few words on the euro, the E.U. and the European Central Bank are in order.
Following on the story of how aggressive cross-selling requirements spurred employees to abuse customers and commit fraud at Wells Fargo, this week the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin accused Morgan Stanley of ‘dishonest and unethical conduct’ within the state and Rhode Island relating to employee contests that were run to push securities-based loans onto customers from January 2014 to April 2015. See Morgan Stanley unit accused of high pressure sales tactics: ‘This complaint lays bare the culture at Morgan Stanley that bred the high-pressure effort to cross-sell banking products to its brokerage customers without regard for the fiduciary duty owed to the investor,’ Galvin said in a statement. ‘This contest was relatively local, but the aggressive push to cross-sell was company wide.’ There should be no shock in any of this. Anyone who has dealt with an investment bank the past few years will have experienced cross-selling first hand. Employees are trained to recommend customers with any apparent resources (assets or income) to one of the bank’s army of ‘advisors’. Cross-selling is the business model of today’s finance sector. It has been the motivation for merging different product and advisory firms since the 1990′s when Glass Steagall (1933) divisions between deposit taking and product sales were eroded and then rescinded in 1999. This chart shows the massive consolidation since 1995 which has created the 4 largest US banks today: Citi, JP Morgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.