The Five Stages Of Central Bankers' Failure
Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,
Central bankers must accept the complete and utter failure of their policies if we are to move forward.
Central bankers are now in the denial and anger stages of Kubler-Ross's famed stages of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Central bankers are in denial that all their trillions of dollars, euros, yen and yuan have completely and utterly failed to achieve the desired result: "organic" (i.e. unmanipulated by central states/banks) expansion of productivity, investment and household earnings.
Central bankers not only continue to insist their free money for financiers will eventually "trickle down" to the masses--they're angry that the masses aren't buying it. Central bankers are now blaming the masses for maintaining a perverse psychological state of disbelief in the omnipotence of central banks and their policies.
Central bankers are raging at the psychology of hesitant households, which they finger as the cause of global weakness: if only people believed everything was great, they'd borrow and blow tons of money, and the ship would leave port with a full head of steam.
The central bankers have spent seven years constructing "signals" that are supposed to create a psychological state of euphoria that leads to more borrowing and spending. The stock market is at all-time highs--don't those stupid masses get it? That's the "signal" that all's well and they should get out there and borrow more money to enrich the banks!
Central bankers' anger is not directed at the source of the policy failures--themselves--but at the masses, whose BS detectors suggest all the signals are manipulated and therefore worthless. The skeptical psychology of the masses is akin to the mark at the 3-card monte table: the crooked dealer (in this case, the central banks) has let the mark win a few rounds to "prove" the game is honest, but the mark remains skeptical.
This is infuriating central bankers, who counted on the marks falling for the rigged game. This wasn't supposed to happen, they rage; the Keynesian bag of tricks was supposed to work. Stage-managed perception (i.e. rising markets mean the economy is healthy and vibrant) was supposed to trump reality (i.e. the economy is sick, dependent on the dangerous drugs of debt and speculation).
Next up: bargaining. Central bankers are kneeling at the false gods of the Keynesian Cargo Cult and saying that they'll offer "helicopter money" (more fiscal stimulus) if only the financial gods restore "growth."
They hope that by being "good central bankers" the gods will delay the inevitable destruction of their empires of debt.
There are now signs of debilitating depression in central bankers. The failure of their policies is finally sinking in, and central bankers are sagging under the depressing reality. They look somber, freeze up at the microphone, and have withdrawn from "whatever it takes" euphoria as they realize that another round of free money for financiers and manipulated markets will only make the problems worse and erode what's left of their crumbling credibility.
Only when central bankers accept the complete and utter failure of their policies and accept the reality that their policies have increased wealth inequality and crippled the global economy with debt, speculation and manipulation, can we finally move forward.
Until then, we're stuck with the world central bankers have created: a world of rising wealth and income inequality, of permanent manipulation of markets as a means of managing perceptions and of speculative debt/leverage bubbles that will burst with a ferocity few expect or understand.
Editorial Note: We should do like Iceland did to their criminal bankers - arrest and jail them when they violate laws.
Will We Never Learn? The Economic Lessons From Venezuela's Current Collapse
Shops are being looted as Venezuela's citizens, who live on top of the world’s largest oil reserves, are literally starving and dying for lack of food and medicine; all while the country’s gold reserves are being sold to finance its debt. With 1.8 million signatures on a petition for a referendum on Nicolas Maduro’s presidency, the country is threatening to become a failed state.
Venezuela is in crisis...
So, Ricardo Hausmann, former minister of planning for Venezuela, explains (via Project Syndicate) how too much heteredoxy (read - monetary policy experimentation and central planning and control) can kill you...
Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, it has been common to chastise economists for not having predicted the disaster, for having offered the wrong prescriptions to prevent it, or for having failed to fix it after it happened. The call for new economic thinking has been persistent – and justified. But all that is new may not be good, and that all that is good may not be new.
The 50th anniversary of China’s Cultural Revolution is a reminder of what can happen when all orthodoxy is tossed out the window. Venezuela’s current catastrophe is another: A country that should be rich is suffering the world’s deepest recession, highest inflation, and worst deterioration of social indicators. Its citizens, who live on top of the world’s largest oil reserves, are literally starving and dying for lack of food and medicine.
While this disaster was brewing, Venezuela won accolades from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the Economic Commission for Latin America, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the US Center for Economic Policy Research, among others.
So what should the world learn from the country’s descent into misery? In short, Venezuela is the poster child of the perils of rejecting economic fundamentals.
One of those fundamentals is the idea that, to achieve social goals, it is better to use – rather than repress – the market. After all, the market is essentially just a form of self-organization whereby everyone tries to earn a living by doing things that others find valuable. In most countries, people buy food, soap, and toilet paper without incurring a national policy nightmare, as has happened in Venezuela.
But suppose you do not like the outcome the market generates. Standard economic theory suggests that you can affect it by taxing some transactions – such as, say, greenhouse-gas emissions – or giving money to certain groups of people, while letting the market do its thing.
An alternative tradition, going back to Saint Thomas Aquinas, held that prices should be “just.” Economics has shown that this is a really bad idea, because prices are the information system that creates incentives for suppliers and customers to decide what and how much to make or buy. Making prices “just” nullifies this function, leaving the economy in perpetual shortage.
In Venezuela, the Law of Just Costs and Prices is one reason why farmers do not plant. For that reason, agro-processing firms shut down. More generally, price controls create incentives to flip goods into the black market. As a result, the country with the world’s most extensive system of price controls also has the highest inflation – as well as an ever-expanding police effort that jails retail managers for holding inventories and evencloses the borders to prevent smuggling.
Fixing prices is a short dead-end street. A longer one is subsidizing goods so that their price remains below cost.
These so-called indirect subsidies can quickly cause an immense economic mess. In Venezuela, subsidies for gasoline and electricity are larger than the budget for education and health care combined; exchange-rate subsidies are in a class of their own. With one daily minimum wage in Venezuela, you can buy barely a half-pound (227 grams) of beef or 12 eggs, or 1,000 liters (264 gallons) of gasoline or 5,100 kWh of electricity – enough to power a small town. With the proceeds of selling a dollar at the black market rate, you can buy over $100 at the strongest official rate.
Under these conditions, you are unlikely to find goods or dollars at official prices. Moreover, since the government is unable to pay providers the necessary subsidy to keep prices low, output collapses, as has happened with Venezuela’s electricity and health sectors, among others.
Indirect subsidies are also regressive, because the rich consume more than the poor – and hence appropriate more of the subsidy. This is what underpins the old orthodox wisdom that if you want to change market outcomes, it is better to subsidize people directly with cash.
Another bit of conventional wisdom is that creating the right incentive structure and securing the necessary know-how to run state-owned enterprises is very difficult. So the state should have only a few firms in strategic sectors or in activities that are rife with market failures.
Venezuela disregarded that wisdom and went on an expropriation binge. In particular, after former President Hugo Chávez was reelected in 2006, he expropriated farms, supermarkets, banks, telecoms, power companies, oil production and service firms, and manufacturing companies producing steel, cement, coffee, yogurt, detergent, and evenglass bottles. Productivity collapsed in all of them.
Governments often struggle to balance their books, leading to over-indebtedness and financial trouble. Yet fiscal prudence is one of the most frequently attacked principles of economic orthodoxy. But Venezuela shows what happens when prudence is frowned upon and fiscal information is treated as a state secret.
Venezuela used the 2004-2013 oil boom to quintuple its external public debt, instead of saving up for a rainy day. By 2013, Venezuela’s extravagant borrowing led international capital markets to shut it out, leading the authorities to print money. This caused the currency to lose 98% of its value in the last three years. By the time oil prices fell in 2014, the country was in no position to take the hit, with collapsing domestic production and capacity to import, leading to the current disaster.
Orthodoxy reflects history’s painfully acquired lessons – the sum of what we regard to be true. But not all of it is true. Progress requires identifying errors, which in turn calls for heterodox thinking. But learning becomes difficult when there are long delays between action and consequences, as when we try to regulate the water temperature while in the shower. When reaction times are slow, exploring the heterodox is necessary, but should be done with care. When all orthodoxy is thrown out the window, you get the disaster that was the Chinese Cultural Revolution – and that is today’s Venezuela.
More in Debt Than Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands Rejects Rescue
Brian Chappatta BChappatta Bloomberrg.com
May 31, 2016 — 5:00 AM EDT
Congress’s plan to throw a lifeline to Puerto Rico is making waves in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The measure that passed a House committee last week would allow for a federal control board to oversee the finances -- and potentially restructure the debt -- of any U.S. territory, even though Puerto Rico is the only one now asking for help. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp and Rep. Stacey Plaskett have blasted the bill, warning that it may tarnish its standing with investors. That concern is already starting to materialize: Returns on its securities are trailing the $3.7 trillion municipal market for the first time since 2011.
The Caribbean island, Puerto Rico’s closest American neighbor, has a sliver of the population -- about 104,300 -- and a fraction of the debt, with $2.4 billion across all issuers. But divvied up, that’s $23,000 of obligations per person, even more than Puerto Rico’s $20,000. The two Caribbean territories with a shared culture also have similar fiscal strains: declining populations, underfunded pensions, histories of borrowing to cover budget shortfalls and unemployment rates that are twice as high as the U.S. mainland’s.
“It’s the same template: Over a period of years, you keep issuing debt to cover your operating deficits, your economy isn’t growing, your population isn’t growing, but your liabilities keep growing,” said David Ashley, an associate portfolio manager at Thornburg Investment Management, which holds $11.5 billion in municipal bonds. “Just by virtue of math, your per-capita debt just continues to rise, probably to an unsustainable level at a certain point.”
Territory bonds have long lured buyers across the U.S. because the interest on the securities isn’t taxed at the federal, state or local level. And unlike some American local governments, the territories -- - American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- can’t file for bankruptcy. That made investors confident they’d be paid back, a faith that was lost as Puerto Rico defaulted and Congress advanced legislation providing a way for distressed territories to reduce their debts in court if needed.
Virgin Islands leaders insist the government can and will pay what it owes, in part because of the way the bonds are structured. Many securities are backed by specific revenue streams, like excise taxes tied to rum production by Diageo Plc and Cruzan International Inc., that go straight from the U.S. Treasury to an escrow agent. Even bonds backed by gross receipt taxes, which offering documents say are “secured by its full faith and credit and taxing power,” also give the trustee a lien on the levies.
Virgin Islands officials say they’ve had to borrow to make up for discrepancies in how the federal government funds territories relative to states. They’ve called on Congress to extend tax credits for low-income workers to their residents and bolster Medicare and Medicaid payments as well. None of that was included in the Puerto Rico bill.
“Congress has passed the buck and hasn’t done what they needed to do for many years,” Plaskett, the Virgin Island’s non-voting representative in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “We’re already operating at a disadvantage to the other states, and have had to utilize other monies, such as bonds, to pay for everyday expenses that the people of the territories need.”
In a year when municipal-bond investors can’t get enough high-yielding bonds, the Virgin Islands are an exception. The territory’s debt has gained 2.2 percent so far in 2016, compared with 2.8 percent for all municipal securities, S&P Dow Jones Indices data show. It would be the first time since 2011 its obligations have trailed the market.
Its securities are mostly in the lowest investment-grade tier, unlike Puerto Rico’s, which are deemed virtually certain to default. If the Virgin Islands issued pure general obligations, however, Fitch Ratings says it would rate them BB-, the third-highest junk rank. “In terms of the debt load, on a per-capita basis, on an income basis, it’s high,” said Marcy Block, the Fitch analyst who tracks the Virgin Islands. Aside from indebtedness, the Virgin Islands is grappling with similar economic and demographic trends as its beleaguered Caribbean counterpart.
The Virgin Islands’s real gross domestic product dropped in each of four years through 2014, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Like Puerto Rico’s, its contraction has been exaggerated by migration as residents leave in search of jobs. The Virgin Island’s population is down 10 percent from its 2008 peak, according to BEA data, and the unemployment rate is 11.1 percent.
The Department of Interior said in a September 2011 report that the Virgin Island’s pension plan may be unable to pay what it promised by 2025, though a measure passed last year could delay that by a few years.
Mapp, who’s unaffiliated with a political party, said in his first budget message a year ago that the territory’s general-fund revenue hasn’t been enough to cover expenses for the past two decades. The island may end this year in deficit as well.
Yet he says the Virgin Islands “have no financial issues close to or mirroring those of Puerto Rico.”
“We’re in a precarious situation -- we have an enormous budget deficit and we’ve been struggling with that for quite some time,” Plaskett said. “Should we be using bonds for operating costs? I have always argued no, but it’s a necessity because Congress has not done its responsibility to give economic tools and support to the territories to be able to grow their own economies.”
Former Morgan Stanley Chief Asia Economist: "Don't Listen To The Ruling Elite, The World Economy Is In Real Trouble"
Authored by Andy Xie, the former Morgan Stanley chief Asia-Pacific economist, originally posted Op-Ed at The South China Morning Post,
Andy Xie says the world's elite that are attending the G7, G20, Davos and other wasteful meetings are wrong to try to pin the blame for the turmoil on people’s psychology; all signs point to a prolonged period of global stagnation and instability.
Before the current G7 meetings waste of time, The G20 working group meeting in Shanghai didn’t come up with any constructive proposals for reviving the global economy and, instead, complained that the recent market turmoil didn’t reflect the “underlying fundamentals of the global economy”. The oil price has declined by 70 per cent since June 2014, while the Brazilian real has halved, and the Russian rouble is down by 60 per cent. The global economy is on the cusp of another recession, and these important people blamed it all on some sort of psychological problem of the people.
Over the past two decades, the global economy has been blessed with the entry and participation of 800 million hard-working Chinese, plus the information revolution. The pie should have increased enough in size to make most people happier. Yet, the opposite has happened. The world has gone from one crisis to another. People are complaining everywhere. This is due to mismanagement by the very people who attend the G20 meetings, the Davos boondoggle, and so many other global meetings that waste taxpayers’ money and put inept leaders in the limelight.
One major complaint that people have is that the system is rigged – that is, the rising income concentration is not due to free market competition, but a rigged system that favours the politically powerful. This is largely true. The new billionaires over the past two decades have come mostly from finance and property. Few made it the way Steve Jobs or Bill Gates did, creating something that makes people more productive.
The most important factor in the rigged system is monetary policy being used to pump up financial markets in the name of stimulating growth for people’s benefit. This is essentially the trickle-down wealth effect, that is, making some people in the financial food chain rich while the spillover gives people a few crumbs. Yet, instead of crumbs, the wealth effect has pumped up property prices in Manhattan, London and Hong Kong, as well as the price of modern art. Essentially, the wealth effect has stayed within the small circle of the wealthy. And these people show up at Davos to congratulate policymakers on their “successes”.
Wasting resources is an equally important factor in making the global economy weak and prone to crisis. After the 2008 financial crisis, the US government and Federal Reserve spent trillions of dollars to bail out the people who created the crisis. Instead of facing bankruptcy and jail, these people have become richer than ever. Predictably, they have used their resources to rig the system further.
After 2008, when Beijing launched a massive investment push, the global ruling elite all praised China for saving the global economy. China has increased credit by over US$20 trillion to finance the construction of factories and homes. However, investment does not guarantee final demand. The process of building up a factory creates demand. But, when it is completed, it needs to sell its goods to someone. What China did was build even more factories to keep this factory occupied. This Ponzi scheme couldn’t last long. We are just seeing the beginning of its devastating consequences.
China’s overinvestment has pumped up commodity prices, which has led to another Ponzi scheme. As major central banks cut interest rates to zero, credit demand didn’t respond in general, as businesses didn’t see growing demand from people who were suffering income erosion. The commodity boom justified credit demand for the time being. Trillions of dollars were poured into the energy sector, and trillions more into other commodity industries. Businesses in emerging economies that were pumped up by rising commodity prices borrowed US$9 trillion. This mountain of debt is floating on a commodity Ponzi scheme that is floating on China’s investment Ponzi scheme. Its bursting is just the beginning. Its impact on the global financial system could be bigger than the 2008 financial crisis.
In addition to the bursting of the global commodity bubble, China’s overcapacity bubble will kill global capital expenditure for many years to come. Even though Chinese investment isn’t growing like before, investment at half of gross domestic product is still adding overcapacity by over US$1 trillion per year – the problem is getting bigger.
All indications are that China wants to export the overcapacity. And why not? China overinvested to bail out the global economy. It shouldn’t pay the whole price for the mistake.
China’s strategy would lead to de-industrialisation in most of the world, in particular middle-income emerging economies. Weak capital expenditure would lead to weak employment and labour income. The resulting bankruptcies may further weaken the global credit system.
The global economy is facing years of stagnation, deflation and financial crises. The current economic managers will resort to the same tricks of pumping up the financial markets with liquidity, to no avail. In the meantime, political instability will spread around the world. It will take a long time for the right leaders to emerge.
Initially, populists will win. Their policies, unfortunately, will focus on protectionism and rolling back the World Trade Organization system. That will lead to further economic turmoil in the global economy. Protectionism may suddenly jump-start inflation that will quickly become hyperinflation, which would certainly lead to violent revolutions.
The world is on the cusp of a prolonged period of stagnation and instability. Our ruling elite is blaming it on people seeing things. Their strategy is to change people’s psychology. Unfortunately for them, the world is catching fire and that fire will eventually reach their Davos chalets.
One of the World's Most Expensive Countries Is Debating Giving Away Money
Switzerland's unconditional basic income initiative proposes $30,000-a-year payout for everyone
Catherine Bosley cbSwiss Bloomberg.com
The Swiss are discussing paying people $2,500 a month for doing nothing.
The country will vote June 5 on whether the government should introduce an unconditional basic income to replace various welfare benefits. Although the initiators of the plan haven’t stipulated how large the payout should be, they’ve suggested the sum of 2,500 francs ($2,500) for an adult and a quarter of that for a child.
It sounds good, but — two things. It would barely get you over the poverty line, typically defined as 60 percent of the national median disposable income, in what’s one of the world’s most expensive countries. More importantly, it’s probably not going to happen anyway.
Switzerland's People Power
Plebiscites are a common part of Switzerland’s direct democracy, with multiple votes every year. The basic income initiative is taking place after the proposal gathered the required 100,000 signatures, though current polls suggest it won’t get any further. The idea of paying everyone a stipend has also piqued interest in other countries, such as Canada, the Netherlands and Finland, where an initial study began last year.
The initiators say the sum they’ve mentioned would allow for a “decent existence.” Still, on an annual basis, it would provide only 30,000 francs — just above the 2014 poverty line of 29,501 francs.
About one in eight people in Switzerland were below the level in that year, according to the statistics office. That’s more than in France, Denmark and Norway. Among those over 65, one in five were at risk of being poor.
“It’s not like you see abject poverty in Switzerland,” said Andreas Ladner, professor of political science at the University of Lausanne. “But there are a few people who don’t have enough money, and there are some people who work and don’t earn enough.”
Among the proponents of basic income is former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who says it's necessary as automation and robots increasingly eliminate jobs.
“A rich country like Switzerland has the great opportunity to try out this great experiment,” he said.
The initiative doesn’t lay out the conditions under which non-citizens would qualify.
The proposal is opposed by the government, which says the stipend would mean higher taxes, create disincentives to work and cause a skills shortage. The economy is already hamstrung by the franc’s strength, with businesses warning they’ll move production to less pricey locations to reduce costs.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that such an initiative could weaken our economy,” said Interior Minister Alain Berset.
That view has struck a chord with the electorate: Polls show some 60 percent also oppose it.
We're In The Eye Of A Global Financial Hurricane
Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,
The only "growth" we're experiencing are the financial cancers of systemic risk and financialization's soaring wealth/income inequality.
The Keynesian gods have failed, and as a result we're in the eye of a global financial hurricane.
The Keynesian god of growth has failed.
The Keynesian god of borrowing from the future to fund today's consumption has failed.
The Keynesian god of monetary stimulus / financialization has failed.
Every major central bank and state worships these Keynesian idols:
1. Growth. (Never mind the cost or what kind of growth--all growth is good, even the financial equivalent of aggressive cancer).
2. Borrowing from the future to fund today's keg party, worthless college diploma, particle board bookcase, stock buy-back, etc. (oops, I mean "investment")--a.k.a. deficit spending which is a polite way of saying this unsavory truth: stealing from our children and grandchildren to fund our lifestyles today.
3. Monetary stimulus / financialization. If private investment sags (because there are few attractive investments at today's nosebleed valuations and few attractive investments in a global economy burdened with massive over-production and over-capacity), drop interest rates to zero (or below zero) to "stimulate" new borrowing... for whatever: global carry trades, bat guano derivatives, etc.
Here is my definition of Financialization:
Financialization is the mass commodification of debt and debt-based financial instruments collaterized by previously low-risk assets, a pyramiding of risk and speculative gains that is only possible in a massive expansion of low-cost credit and leverage.
That is a mouthful, so let's break it into bite-sized chunks.
Home mortgages are a good example of how financialization increases financial profits by jacking up risk and distributing it to suckers who don't recognize the potential for staggering losses.
In the good old days, home mortgages were safe and dull: banks and savings and loans institutions issued the mortgages and kept the loans on their books, earning a stable return for the 30 years of the mortgage's term.
Then the financialization machine revolutionized the home mortgage business to increase profits. The first step was to generate entire new types of mortgages with higher profit margins than conventional mortgages. These included no-down payment mortgages (liar loans), no-interest-for-the-first-few-years mortgages, adjustable-rate mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and so on.
This broadening of options (and risks) greatly expanded the pool of people who qualified for a mortgage. In the old days, only those with sterling credit qualified for a home mortgage. In the financialized realm, almost anyone with a pulse could qualify for an exotic mortgage.
The interest rate, risk and profit margins were all much higher for the originators. What's not to like? Well, the risk of default is a problem. Defaults trigger losses.
Financialization's solution: package the risk in safe-looking securities and offload the risk onto suckers and marks. Securitizing mortgages enabled loan originators to skim the origination fees and profits up front and then offload the risk of default and loss onto buyers of the mortgage securities.
Securitization was tailor-made for hiding risk deep inside apparently low-risk pools of mortgages and rigging the tranches to maximize profits for the packagers at the expense of the unwary buyers, who bought high-risk securities under the false premise that they were "safe home mortgages."
Financialization-- which can only expand to dominate an economy if it is supported by a central bank bent on expanding credit--has two inevitable and highly toxic consequences:
-- Risk seeps into every nook and cranny of the financial system, greatly increasing the odds of a systemic domino reaction in financial meltdowns. This is precisely what we saw in the 2008-09 Global Financial Meltdown (GFM): supposedly "contained" subprime mortgages toppled dominoes left and right, bringing the entire risk-saturated system to its knees.
-- Extraordinary wealth and income inequality, as those closest to the central bank money/credit spigots can scoop up income-producing assets first at much lower costs than Mom and Pop Main Street investors.
The rising anger of the masses left behind by the central bank / financialization wealth harvesting machine is the direct result of Keynesian monetary stimulus that rewards debt-based speculative gambles by those closest to the cheap-credit spigots.
As I explain in my book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform, the only possible output of central bank monetary stimulus is financialization, and the only possible output of financialization is unprecedented wealth and income inequality.
The global financial system is in the eye of an unprecedented hurricane. While central bankers are congratulating themselves on their god-like mastery of Nature, and secretly praying to the idols of the Keynesian Cargo Cult every night, the inevitable consequence of borrowing from the future, the obsession with "growth" at any cost and financialization /monetary stimulus, a.k.a. the rich get richer thanks to central banks is systemic collapse.
Don't fall for the mainstream media and politicos' shuck-and-jive that all is well and "growth" will return any day now. The only "growth" we're experiencing are the financial cancers of systemic risk and financialization's soaring wealth/income inequality.