An in depth analysis of WHY YOU ARE WRONG

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Wise Chinese

As the U.S. and the west's bubble economy implodes, exposing the thin air at it's core, the political players and crony capitalists have grasped at the hope that they can pull the world's last solvent countries into one last "collective" effort to save themselves.They need a bigger rug to sweep the dirt under. Luckily, it looks like China, which was already burned on U.S. investments will not be in on this. This is wise.

"Asked whether China might pursue economic policies aimed at saving the world, Mr. Lou said that the country’s leaders had a narrower focus. “China can only save herself because the scale of China is still rather small,” he said, adding that while China has more people than any other country, economic output is still low enough that the Chinese economy is not yet big enough to have a big effect on the global economy.

“If China can do a good job domestically, that is the best thing it can do for the world,” he said.

Mr. Lou’s comments represent the clearest statement yet that as global financial markets have plunged this year and economies have slowed, the attention of China’s leaders is turning inward."

The Chinese government seems to have a grip on how small it's economy still is and how much it needs to retain it's currency reserves and savings to boost it's own productivity.

They also are rightly afraid of the ever changing legal and financial environment in America with it's ever changing soup of programs and bailouts sold as way to "instill confidence in the markets."

"Mr. Lou said that the sheer pace of new initiatives and new rules issued by Western regulatory agencies was disconcerting and made it even harder for him to choose worthwhile investments. “If it is changing every week, how can you expect me to have confidence?” he asked."

That leaves the government ever more reliant on the printing press to fund it's schemes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Weimar America 2 : Start The Presses

I want to warn you that there may be a bit of bold type in this post. Even I am still occasionally shocked by the actions of the government, by large numbers and still have the quaint belief that America is still a semi rational nation under the rule of law.

So, in my last Weimar America (yes it looks like a series) post, I warned about the risk of hyperinflation and what might happen if Fed began to "monetise" our ballooning debt by creating money out of thin air. Please tell me they are not doing it, but more and more wise people (the people who predicted this mess, like Peter Schiff, Jim Rogers and many others) are telling me this is what has begun to happen.

"You’ll also find this little snippet in the article, “Most of the money, about $5.5 trillion, comes from the Federal Reserve, which as an independent entity does not need congressional approval to lend money to banks or, in “unusual and exigent circumstances,” to other financial institutions.

Just another reminder that the private, run for profit, Federal Reserve has the printing presses cranked on overdrive in order to bailout Wall Street and the big banks, while the homeowner and the middle class see their savings devalued out of existence.

“If you print money all the time, the money becomes worth less,” warns Diane Lim Rogers, chief economist with the Concord Coalition, but its an empty threat to delirious traders and investors drunk on a record stock market rally after the government pumped more fake liquidity into the bloated bubble.

Veteran investor Jim Rogers echoed the sentiment, predicting the dollar is “going to lose its status as the world’s reserve currency,” adding, “It will be devalued and it will go down a lot. These guys in Washington, they want to debase the currency.”

A website called Prison Planet might be run by kooks you say, but the story's link is to an article in The San Fransisco Chronicle and quotes major investors and other sources like The Concord Coalition which could hardly called fringe.

"A deficit arises when the government's expenditures exceed its revenues in a particular year. Some estimate that the federal deficit will exceed $1 trillion this fiscal year as a result of the economic slowdown and efforts to revive it.

The Fed's activities to shore up the financial system do not show up directly on the federal budget, although they can have an impact. The Fed lends money from its own balance sheet or by essentially creating new money. It has been doing both this year."

The article also points out that these 8.5 Trillion in obligations and promises represent 60% of America's GDP.

Now one other question might come up. It sounds like other countries like England are also deep in a hole and are doing the same thing. Doesn't this mean that we are OK cause the dollar can't fall against anything if other currencies are falling too? The short answer is that all these currencies will fall against any real store of value like gold or any reasonably sound currency like those of Japan, China and other countries we owe money to.

The whole process is accompanied by constant reassurances that this is a temporary thing, and we will act responsibly in the future even though 60 years or more of U.S. history tell you that is very unlikely. The goal as usual is to kick the pain and hard decisions down the road to another administration or generation.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Weimar America

Sorry, they pulled that one since they want you to see the full film.

I've put a lot of videos and links about America's debt and financial condition in this post. I think that only by understanding this condition fully can one see the connection between America today and that of Weimar Germany.

Most people, to the extent they know anything about the Weimar Republic know only a few things-- it was a period of interesting art, Mann, Kandinsky, Klee, Grosz; -- something about carts of money to buy loaves of bread-- and finally, that it was shortly followed by the Third Reich.

Here is an extended quote from the book, The Age Of Inflation. The roots of Germany's problems began with the promises of Bismark's welfare state and the way Germany financed the costs of WWI.

"Like all the other banks, it offered assistance to the central government in financing the war effort. Since taxes are always unpopular, the German government preferred to borrow the needed amounts of money rather than raise its taxes substantially. To this end it was readily assisted by the Reichsbank, which discounted most treasury obligations.

A growing percentage of government debt thus found its way into the vaults of the central bank and an equivalent amount of printing press money into people's cash holdings. In short, the central bank was monetizing the growing government debt.

By the end of the war the amount of money in circulation had risen fourfold and prices some 140 percent. Yet the German mark had suffered no more than the British pound, was somewhat weaker than the American dollar but stronger than the French franc. Five years later, in December 1923, the Reichsbank had issued 496.5 quintillion marks, each of which had fallen to one-trillionth of its 1914 gold value.[1]

How stupendous! Practically every economic good and service was costing trillions of marks. The American dollar was quoted at 4.2 trillion marks, the American penny at 42 billion marks. How could a European nation that prided itself on its high levels of education and scholarly knowledge suffer such a thorough destruction of its money? Who would inflict on a great nation such evil which had ominous economic, social, and political ramifications not only for Germany but for the whole world? Was it the victors of World War I who, in diabolical revenge, devastated the vanquished country through ruinous financial manipulation and plunder? Every mark was printed by Germans and issued by a central bank that was governed by Germans under a government that was purely German. It was German political parties, such as the Socialists, the Catholic Centre Party, and the Democrats, forming various coalition governments, that were solely responsible for the policies they conducted. Of course, admission of responsibility for any calamity cannot be expected from any political party."

This was just the start of the problem. Germany was already deep in debt but it didn't feel like it could handle the sharp recession all the industrial countries had as they demobilized. To put off this pain and potential instability, they began to spend more and more. Many, many people, soldiers, farmers, workers and businesses needed help.

"Immediately after the war the German government, under the leadership of the Socialist Party, embarked upon heavy expenditures for health, education, and welfare. The demands on the treasury were extremely heavy anyway because of demobilization expenses, the demands of the Armistice, the disorders of the revolution, and the staggering deficits of the nationalized industries, especially the railroads, postal services, telephone, and telegraph. Public administration by the new men raised to power by the revolution, nevertheless, was extravagant, as the resources made available by the creation of new money were apparently unlimited. A number of measures for the nationalization of certain industries (e.g., the coal, electrical, and potash industries) were introduced, but failed to become law. The eight-hour day was enacted, and labor unions were given many legal immunities and privileges. In fact, a system of labor councils was set up which authorized the workers in each enterprise to elect representatives who shared in the management of the company! While government expenditures rose by leaps and bounds, the revenue suffered a gradual decline until, in October 1923, only 0.8 percent of government expenses were covered by tax revenues. For the period from 1914 to 1923 scarcely fifteen percent of the expenses were covered by means of taxes. In the final phase of the inflation the German government experienced a complete atrophy of the fiscal system."

The immediate effects of their actions weren't clear to most and the monetary authorities went to great lengths to tell people that the inflation people saw in their daily lives wasn't really there.

The other thing that reminds one of this time was not just that Germany was up to it's eyeballs in debt but that this debt was largely owed to foreigners who had once considered it a good credit. They continued to lend and only slowly realized their mistake. When they did, the Mark dropped like a stone and the real pain began.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Long Depression

The recent market situation has a lot of people researching the word "Depression". For most people, the word evokes one era alone but there are perhaps closer links between our current problems and other periods in world history. One that I know about pretty well (but most Americans don't) is the inflationary depression in post WWI Germany. Another that some people are mentioning is the long serious depression of the 1870's. I thought I'd do a post on it because it was also a critical period in the history of Andrew Carnegie and early Pittsburgh. I'd like thoughts and feedback on this from history buffs, historians and people who heard tales from that time.

One thing that seems to come out is that real deep brutal downturns across entire economies seem to linked to fiat money. This was of course very true in Germany's crisis, and most economists now admit the Great Depression's original root cause was in the careless monetary expansion since the creation of the Federal Reserve. That is not to say particular regions and industries cannot suffer downturns in any economy. I also noticed that Depressions often closely follow wars and the debts they leave behind 1873 followed the Civil War and the Franco Prussian War, The Weimar period followed WWI as did the Great Depression.

Anyway here are a bunch of quotes and links to make sense of. Scott Reynold's Nelson places the starting point of the downturn in Europe.

"The problems had emerged around 1870, starting in Europe. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, formed in 1867, in the states unified by Prussia into the German empire, and in France, the emperors supported a flowering of new lending institutions that issued mortgages for municipal and residential construction, especially in the capitals of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. Mortgages were easier to obtain than before, and a building boom commenced. Land values seemed to climb and climb; borrowers ravenously assumed more and more credit, using unbuilt or half-built houses as collateral. The most marvelous spots for sightseers in the three cities today are the magisterial buildings erected in the so-called founder period."

I'm going to make a wild guess from the little I know of Bismark's ideology that the German and likely the Austrian States had some role in this credit promotion. And similar policies were promoted in the U.S. "expressed by railroad speculator Jay Cooke in 1869: "Why," he asked, "should this Grand and Glorious country be stunted and dwarfed--its activities chilled and its very life blood curdled by these miserable 'hard coin' theories--the musty theories of a bygone age." [1]

Of course Jay Cooke appears again at the center of the storm."In September 1873, Jay Cooke & Company, a major component of the United States banking establishment, found itself unable to market several million dollars in Northern Pacific Railway bonds. Cooke's firm, like many others, was invested heavily in the railroads. At a time when investment banks were anxious for more capital for their enterprises, President Ulysses S. Grant's monetary policy of contracting the money supply made matters worse. While businesses were expanding, the money they needed to finance that growth was becoming more scarce.

Cooke and other entrepreneurs had planned to build the nation's second transcontinental railroad, called the Northern Pacific Railway. Cooke's firm provided the financing, and ground was broken near Duluth, Minnesota, for the line on February 15, 1870. But just as Cooke was about to swing a $300 million government loan in September 1873, reports circulated that his firm's credit had become nearly worthless. On September 18, the firm declared bankruptcy.[6][7][8] The Northern Pacific would not be completed until 1883, and then by another financier: Henry Villard.[9][10]

This period also marks the transfer of global power from Europe to America. At the end of it, the few strongly operated firms with cash and little debt were able to buy out their weaker competitors. Carnegie Steel and Standard Oil come to mind.

Next Up --- A comparison to Weimar Germany.