Thursday, May 13, 2010
Hair of the Dog?
The ever wise Dennis Kneale, in the video below, quotes "most economists" as saying the cure for today's debt crisis is "the hair of the dog that bit me", or "load up on debt", "the hang-over cure".
A shot of whiskey in the morning? Is this the $IMFS in a nutshell?
Yes indeed it is.
Nassim Taleb, on the other hand, calls our mountain of debt a tumor. He says we must remove the tumor and do to everyone, including the US, what we did to the Greeks: force austerity. But he goes on to point out this is impossible in a democracy. It is only possible when you are doing it to someone else.
So, he says, we will proceed into hyperinflation. And this hyperinflation will be brought on one day by people "buying gold", or "running to currencies without a government". Nassim also mentions that "Larry Summers seems to be treating the US economy the way he treated Harvard, with his bogus projections". (Please see: "Harvard Swaps Are So Toxic Even Summers Won't Explain" in Gold: The Ultimate Hedge Fund for more on this perspective.)
Here is the interview...
Did you notice Nassim's body language at the end of the interview? He was leaning far away from the hosts. I think the phrase "don't shoot the messenger" applies well to theoreticians like Nassim Taleb who try to warn us that some big event is coming, unmistakably, unavoidably, inevitably.
Some time ago I wrote, "There is an important difference between practitioners and theoreticians both in science and economics. Practitioners have always ridiculed the warnings of theoreticians and philosophers in almost all areas of human endeavor. Their attacks usually begin by pointing out the lack of practical experience of the theoreticians. But it is a very important role that theoretician play in society, to point out things that have been overlooked by the practitioners.
"The problem today is that our markets are built, run and enforced entirely by former practitioners with a clear disdain for theoreticians and their warnings of low-frequency, high-impact inevitable events. This dynamic sets us up for catastrophic failures every once in a while."
You probably noticed that Nassim is not only a theoretician, but also a practitioner. (Join Nassim's 12,590 followers on Twitter here.)
I would like add that I agree 100% with Nassim Taleb here. I have been following him and writing about him, Benoit Mandelbrot, Black Swans, Chaos Theory, Fractals, hyperinflation and inevitable high-impact events ever since the market crash in 2008. Please note from above that Taleb says things are worse now, and then watch this interview that I first posted on October 24, 2008:
Nassim's job as a theoretician is to take the "Black" out of "Black Swan". It is to show us that the collapse of the entire system is a normal event. This is important. Systemic collapse is normal. Hyperinflation is normal. Resets are normal. In this case, normal does not mean common, it simply means inevitable.
James Aitken in his May 10, 2010 newsletter, "Notes from a Small Island" writes...
In September 1999, Charles Perrow of Princeton published Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies.
Mr. Perrow uses the term “normal accident” in part as a synonym for "inevitable accidents." This categorization is based on a combination of features of high-risk systems: interactive complexity and tight coupling.
Normal accidents in a particular system may be common or rare ("It is normal for us to die, but we only do it once."), but the system's characteristics make it inherently vulnerable to such accidents, hence their description as "normal."
A normal accident occurs where systems are sufficiently complex to allow unexpected interactions of failures to defeat the best safety measures, and sufficiently tightly coupled to allow the failures to cascade into an even larger disaster, such as the one still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hair of the dog, Dennis, really? Here is something Philipp Hildebrand, Chairman of the Governing Board of the Swiss National Bank, said during opening remarks at the High-Level Conference on The International Monetary System in Zurich...
“Arguably, much of the debate surrounding the international monetary system boils down to the following question: how sustainable is an international monetary regime, in which one national currency serves as the international reserve asset? Over the past few decades, this question has been examined under different perspectives.
“A first perspective was the so-called “Triffin dilemma”, discussed in the context of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate regime. This discussion highlighted that increasing indebtedness of the reserve-issuing country would in time undermine the very confidence that forms the basis for the reserve asset status.
“A second perspective refers to the alleged “exorbitant privilege” of the reserve-issuing country. It highlights the asymmetry in the adjustment to shocks, as the reserve-issuing country has the privilege of not being under much pressure to adjust to current account deficits, at least over the short and medium term…”
I have been saying this for a while now. What the US federal government and the Fed have done is transfer systemic debt risk into the currency, making it more explosive than anyone can imagine. Europe is undergoing this same transfer of risk right now. But there is still a subtle difference between the euro and the dollar. Here is an extract from my post, No Free Lunch...
There are some clever deflationists that will tell you that the dollar is going to rise in value giving Ben, Tim, Barack and the entire DC gang a lengthy free lunch, all because of the giant debt overhang in the economy that backs the US dollar. The thinking goes something like this. The world is full of debt. The dollar is backed by this debt, and is therefore balanced by it. As long as the debt remains, it must be serviced with dollars which drives up the demand for dollars, and therefore the value of dollars. If the service of the debt starts to fail then the dollar will start to fall making the service of the debt easier (with cheaper dollars) and the service will then resume, raising the dollar back up. I call this the see-saw theory...
The problem is, you see, the biggest debtor of all is the very printer of the currency all that debt is denominated in. And this debtor is now picking up ALL of the slack left behind by everyone else. Only his debt service will never fail, because he can print that service with the click of a mouse. And since he doesn't have to seek dollars on the open market, his debt has the OPPOSITE effect of all other debt. Instead of driving up demand for the dollar, it drives it down (and drives up supply at the same time)!
Normal debt = dollar demand up, dollar supply down.
US Fed Gov't debt = dollar demand down, dollar supply way up!
As the dollar starts to fall in value, this has no effect whatsoever on the ability of the world's biggest debtor's ability to service it, and therefore has no see-saw-leverage effect that raises the value of the dollar back up. Instead, it has the exact OPPOSITE effect... once again. Because now this biggest debtor must print even MORE dollars to suck in the same SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT of the real economy at ZERO cost.
And here is another way I illustrated this effect in pictures...
This first diagram shows how private debt service, private reinvestment and productive enterprise normally act as a counter-cycle to credit-based inflation. But the only way it works under the global dollar reserve system is for the debt hole to grow infinitely deeper while the accumulation of paper bonds and bills is piled infinitely higher. There is no balance or reset mechanism in place. Only catastrophic collapse:
This next diagram shows in a simple picture what happens when the private debtor fails to keep up with infinite expansion. This is Greece as well as your neighbor that lost his house. Once you remove the private counterbalance the Fed must pick up the slack. Notice that there is no longer a counter-rotational flow:
This next diagram shows about where we are today. We are monetizing the failing debt. We are replacing credit money with base money, and the US federal deficit is the enabler of this process. As FOA said:
My friend, debt is the very essence of fiat. As debt defaults, fiat is destroyed. This is where all these deflationist get their direction. Not seeing that hyperinflation is the process of saving debt at all costs, even buying it outright for cash. Deflation is impossible in today's dollar terms because policy will allow the printing of cash, if necessary, to cover every last bit of debt and dumping it on your front lawn! (smile) Worthless dollars, of course, but no deflation in dollar terms!"
At some point soon, in between the above diagram and the next one, the markets are going to repudiate any more dollar debt in recognition of what is unfolding. This event will propel us into this last diagram as the Fed will be forced to print every last dollar spent by the US federal government, and that's a lot of dollars. This diagram represents Weimar Germany in the 1920's, Zimbabwe in the 2000's and the USA in the 2010's:
(The above diagrams came from my post Greece is the Word)
A little "hair of the dog" I'd say. Or maybe a little too much "hair of the dog".
As regular FOFOA readers know, I believe the BIS (the Bank for International Settlements) is prepared to manage the clearing of international trade after the inevitable collapse of the dollar. And the preferred clearing mechanism at the BIS? Gold, of course, at a much higher value than today. A "physical-only" value!
The IMF would of course prefer to be the "global banker", using SDRs which are mostly dollars, but who do you think will win the confidence game this time? The IMF encourages more "hair of the dog", just like Dennis Kneale! What about the BIS?
Here is what the BIS thinks...
The Western world keeps spending its way to disaster
by Neil Reynolds
The Globe and Mail
Published on Wednesday, May. 12, 2010
The Swiss-based Bank of International Settlements (BIS), the oldest international financial institution in the world, has functioned as the central bank of central bankers for 80 years. In a working paper written by three senior staff economists (“The future of public debt: prospects and implications”), released in March, BIS warns that Greece isn't the only Western economy with hazard lights flashing.
Indeed, it names 11 more: Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Britain – and the United States. Without “drastic measures,” BIS says, all of these countries will hit a wall of debt.
When the senior economists at BIS warn 12 of the richest countries on Earth that they must take drastic action to reduce debt, you know that it’s time to check the air bags. The only thing you don't know, that you need to know, is the precise time of the crash. The lesson is already obvious: Governments can't drive recklessly, use only the accelerator for braking and not eventually crash.
The BIS paper notes that the public debt of 30 OECD countries will (on average) exceed 100 per cent of GDP within the next year, “something that has never happened before in peacetime.” But it warns that conventional debt-to-GDP ratios are misleading – missing “enormous future costs” that are already authorized by past fiscal commitments, that will inexorably inflate public debt further still.
By the end of 2011, the BIS economists calculate, U.S. government debt will have risen from 62 per cent of GDP in 2007, not quite three years ago, to 100 per cent. Britain’s debt will have risen from 47 per cent of GDP to 94 per cent. Italy’s debt will have risen from 112 per cent of GDP to 130 per cent. All together, the public debt of the 12 countries will have risen from 73 per cent of combined GDP to 105 per cent.
At this debt level, the risk of sovereign default rises rapidly. But the BIS analysis says this unprecedented debt level will itself increase “precipitously” in coming years. It will not, as each of these countries separately insists, fall.
For one thing, the BIS report says, countries that proclaim spending restraint generally do not actually do it. Normally, they hold the line – temporarily. Normally, they slow the rate of increase – temporarily. All pronouncements aside, the BIS report says, these 12 countries have made such grandiose spending commitments that they are predestined for higher debt. The U.S. debt-GDP ratio will hit 150 per cent in the next decade. Britain’s debt-GDP ratio will hit 200 per cent. Japan’s debt-GDP ratio will hit 300 per cent.
These increases in debt, the BIS report says, are untenable. The financial markets, of course, won't permit them. The only mystery, the BIS report says, is exactly when the markets will intervene. History shows, the report says, that when the markets do rebel, they often do so instantaneously and decisively – often without much warning.
“When, in the absence of fiscal actions, will investors start demanding a much higher compensation for the risk of holding the increasingly large amounts of public debt that [these countries] are going to issue to finance their extravagant ways?” the BIS economists ask. “The question is when will markets start putting pressure on governments, not if,” they respond.
When the markets do require a much higher risk premium, the consequences will be felt around the world – on rich and poor countries alike, on the thrifty as well as on the profligate. These consequences will certainly fall on Canada as well. If it takes Europe to save Greece, what will it take to save Europe? Emerging economies have done a better job than the rich countries in controlling debt. Asian government debt stands at 40 per cent of GDP; Central European government debt stands at 28 per cent; Latin American government debt stands at 37 per cent.
In its most spooky, mind-boggling analysis, the BIS economists try to determine the share of GDP that interest rates would require – assuming, across the next 30 years, that the 12 governments kept spending as they are spending now. In the case of the United States, interest payments would cost 22 per cent of GDP in 2040. In the case of Britain, interest payments would cost 27 per cent. For Britain, this would shove the government’s share of GDP close to 80 per cent.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty are right to press the more profligate countries for an exit strategy from stimulus spending. But what the rich economies actually need is an exit strategy from too much spending of all kinds and a return to some pragmatic recognition of the limits of government.
The writers of the BIS report are Stephen Cecchetti, head of the BIS monetary and economic department; M.S. Mohanty, director of the BIS macroeconomic analysis department; and Fabrizio Zampolli, BIS’s senior economist. Their report deserves both attention and action.
© Copyright 2010 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Presented here unmodified under the Fair Use Doctrine of International Copyright Law
And just because I find it so darn intriguing, I present this excerpt from a letter written by a retired financial analyst in his eighties,
Mr. Johnston of Houston, Texas to his sons and posted on the
Gold-Eagle.com website back in 1997...
"The BIS, the Central Bank's central bank, was formed in 1930 to handle the collection of German war debt following World War I. Its members are the central banks of the industrial world, such as the Bank of England, the German Bundesbank, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Bank of Japan, and so on. It is almost certainly the most powerful financial institution in the world. Never once in its long history has it ever had to ask for help from any government.
A definite coolness exists between the BIS and the United States. This goes back to the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, held to set up the machinery for resuming world business after World War II. Even though this conference established the gold-backed U.S. dollar as the only reserve currency, the U.S. did everything it could to torpedo the BIS and give sole power to the American sponsored International Monetary Fund. The war was not over in 1944, but the combatants still got together and defeated this U.S. grab. In the final showdown, the Europeans and Japan never completely trusted the U.S.
As the years went by, the BIS suspicions were justified. The U.S. began to abuse its reserve currency role by simply printing dollars. American companies began to buy control of businesses all over the world. In 1971, President Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard, and introduced the novel idea of floating currencies. Meanwhile, the U.S. national debt began to increase each year, until it now stands at about $5.5 Trillion, an astronomic amount that can ever, ever be repaid. It was clear that the U.S. was out of control.
Along about 1972, I began to spend a great deal of time and effort in studying the BIS and its agenda. The first thing I found was that although the U.S. had turned its back on gold, the BIS were aggressively buying it. By 1990, the BIS were by far the largest holder of gold, with more than one billion ounces. This amounts to an outright corner on gold.
The next thing I learned is that the BIS are extremely closemouthed. It keeps a low profile. Its favorite M/O is the sneak attack. They have their own word for this – "coup". Their ideal coup is one where the victim is taken by surprise, and does not even know what hit him. The BIS tries to leave no fingerprints. Thus their coups often become perfect crimes.
The third thing I learned was that the BIS had two ironclad objectives. Both were so bold that they would take your breath away:
1) To destroy the Soviet Union, as a threat to world peace.
2) To destroy the dollar as the worlds reserve currency.
We all know that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. This was done by the BIS without firing a shot. They simply loaned large sums of money to the Soviets, and then called the loans. Just a routine castration! A simple foreclosure. This is how they got the Russian gold.
The second goal, of bringing down the dollar as a reserve currency, has not yet been reached, but I believe it soon will be."
I'll also remind you of this Q&A I posted in "The Gold Man" (not Goldman) at the BIS:
Q: **One other item you might clarify for me is "Who is really behind BIS?**
A: Perhaps, "who control them"?
Q: **The Swiss?
Q: **The eurocentral banks?
Q: **Who does BIS really represent?
A: "old world, gold economy, as viewed thru modern eyes" or " way to move from US$ without war".
Q: **Why was Saudi Arabia just included in BIS?
Q: **Has Saudi Arabia gone with Europe?
As you ponder the above while choking down the bitterness of more "hair of the dog that bit you" being forced down your throat by the politicians, I'll leave you with this tasty morsel from financial advisor and Zero Hedge contributor, Michael Krieger today...
"I feel very bad for the German people. Not only do I feel bad for them but I can empathize. I too am being forced to sit back and watch this comedy of errors as a corrupt, inept and increasingly dangerous class of elitist political and financial oligarchs destroys my nation.
"On Sunday night an ex-client that I have remained in contact with since my days at Bernstein sent me an email with a simple question: “What do you think of the bailout.” I didn’t have time to answer it during trading Monday but when I finally sat down I wrote the following.
"Basically, it’s a total joke as is everything else the politicians have done. No one and nothing is allowed to fail and this relates to the fact that the global monetary and financial system is a complete house of cards. It’s insanely bullish for gold. If Germans rioted they would be in the streets today. They totally got sold out beyond belief. But it doesn’t seem to be in their nature to riot so rather I think they will dump their Euros and buy gold. That’s how Germans riot.
"With every passing day and every new bailout of the global banks (which is all this is, all TARP was, and all everything has been) more and more people awaken to the fact it’s all a total scam. This will just accelerate the process of dumping the paper currencies we use today in favor of hard assets as this system is obviously coming down.
"A lot of people keep asking, is this the same as post Bear Stearns? I mean here is the biggest difference in my mind. Back then people believed in the system, the market and what we have going generally. Not now. Not anymore. Thousands more people every day figure out it’s rigged and it’s a ponzi scheme."