Saturday, April 23, 2011
Chapter 84 – Bond salesmen's propaganda that "a dollar is a dollar" should be rewritten to say "a dollar is 3¢"
Since most ordinary people, bankers, and company presidents have never studied currency theory, they swallow it hook, line, and sinker when the bond salesmen tell them, "a dollar is a dollar." That piece of propaganda should be rewritten to say "a dollar is 3¢." The nominal dollar is officially worth no more than 14¢ of its 1940 value, unofficially only 3¢.
If computed in 1940 constant dollars, not more than $1,380 exists of the US $46,000 per capita gross public and private debt. More than $44,628 has been destroyed by inflation. But sadly, the owners of this debt do not want to hear about it. They do not wish to know that bonds are issued by governments with the sole purpose of debasement.
To my knowledge, no government in history has paid its debts in currency equal to the purchasing power of the currency lent to them. The people always lose their money on bonds.
It angers me. Bond salesmen should be thrown into the East River.
-The above was written in 1985 by Dr. Franz Pick, in the book "The Triumph of Gold" sent to me by one of my readers. The photos are from Time Magazine.
The whole point of the deflation versus hyperinflation debate is about the denouement, the final outcome of this 100-year dollar experiment. It is about the ultimate end, and the debate has been going on ever since the 70s when the dollar was separated from gold and it became clear that there would be an end. The debate is about determining the best stance someone should take who has plenty of net worth. And I do mean PLENTY. People of modest net worth, like me, can of course participate in the debate. But then it can become confusing at times when we think about shortages or supply disruptions of necessities like food. Of course you need to look out for life's necessities first and foremost. But beyond that, there is real value to be gained by truly understanding this debate.
I want to apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I have to be thorough if I want to have any chance of winning Rick Ackerman over to the hyperinflation/Freegold side. And I think there is a chance. While deflation and inflation are practically polar opposites, deflation and hyperinflation look almost identical on the surface, with the main difference being the wheelbarrows of worthless cash. As I wrote in 2009 in The Waterfall Effect:
There is a quote I like that comes from Le Metropole Cafe. It goes, "we will have deflation in everything we own, and inflation in everything we use". This is partly true. It is true during the run up to the rubber band snapping. It is true until we hit the waterfall. At that point I have my own version of the quote. "We will have hyperDEflation in everything measured against real money, GOLD, and we will have hyperINflation in everything measured against paper dollars."
My latest post on this subject was called Big Gap in Understanding Weakens Deflationist Argument in response to Rick Ackerman's "Big Gap in Logic Weakens Hyperinflation Argument". Rick also received responses from Jim Willie and Gonzalo Lira. Last week, with regard to Lira and Willie, Rick reported to his readers in "Rick's Picks":
I’ve concluded there is little to gain arguing on the one hand with a guy who turns rabid whenever someone contradicts him, even in a friendly way; and on the other, with a preening narcissist who comes to argumentation in the same state of sexual arousal that Jeffrey Dahmer must have experienced hovering over the fresh corpses of teenage boys. These guys are bad news, as lacking in civility and manners as buzzards in a scrum, and you’d do well to avoid them both. You might try tuning instead to the hyperinflation arguments of Steve Saville, Peter Schiff and a few others who seem less concerned with trouncing, slicing and dicing opponents than with presenting facts that might better prepare you for the financial crisis ahead. The very best of them, in my opinion, is FOFOA blogspot, where the essays are erudite, the discussion elevated and the arguments as knowledgeable as any you will find on the web.
I would first like to thank Rick Ackerman, and to also acknowledge his perspicacity in this particular regard. And because he has demonstrated such a discerning acumen in his preference for hyperinflationists (among other things), I will try, once again, to help him see the way. As our own Blondie likes to say (and I paraphrase for clarity), "you don't own your baggage, it owns you." Here is Rick's baggage, in his own words:
My instincts concerning deflation were hard-wired in 1976 after reading C.V. Myers’ The Coming Deflation. The title was premature, as we now know, but the book’s core idea was as timeless and immutable as the Law of Gravity. Myers stated, with elegant simplicity, that “Ultimately, every penny of every debt must be paid — if not by the borrower, then by the lender.” Inflationists and deflationists implicitly agree on this point — we are all ruinists at heart, as our readers will long since have surmised, and we differ only on the question of who, borrower or lender, will take the hit. As Myers made clear, however, someone will have to pay. If you understand this, then you understand why the dreadnought of real estate deflation, for one, will remain with us even if 30 million terminally afflicted homeowners leave their house keys in the mailbox. To repeat: We do not make debt disappear by walking away from it; someone will have to take the hit.
Rick repeats what he calls "C.V. Myers' dictum" quite often in his deflation-oriented posts: “Ultimately, every penny of every debt must be paid — if not by the borrower, then by the lender.” I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this dictum is Rick's baggage, his foundational deflation premise, in a nutshell. And it leads him to his "bottom line" or his analytical conclusion:
Rick's Picks Commenter SD1: To my knowledge, no bank has ever made provisions in their lending criteria. So to anyone subscribing to the hyperinflation theory, all I can say is there is nothing I, and millions of other North Americans, would love more than to take $250,000 of worthless, hyperinflated money that we worked a few days to make, to pay off a mortgage that would otherwise have taken twenty-five to thirty years to repay.
Rick Ackerman:That’s the bottom line, as far as I’m concerned.
In this post I will explain the flaw in Myers' dictum. I will go into great detail as to why the missing component in the dictum is the essential (and inevitable) one. I will show how this one flaw in Rick's premise sends his otherwise excellent analysis careening 180 degrees in the wrong direction (with regard to the subject of this post). And I will explain the proper frame of reference from which to view what I am describing. How's that for a kick-off?
First Myers' dictum. “Ultimately, every penny of every debt must be paid — if not by the borrower, then by the lender.” Rick: "Inflationists and deflationists implicitly agree on this point — we are all ruinists at heart, as our readers will long since have surmised, and we differ only on the question of who, borrower or lender, will take the hit." Me: Yes, someone will pay. But there is a third option that is missing from Myers' dictum. "The hit" can be socialized:
"Human nature has followed this path for thousands of years. You know the old joke about outrunning the bear? Well, these lenders will influence our financial policy as such. They will try to get their debt securities liquefied first, spend the fiat and in this process outrun you and I. Leaving anyone they can beat to the mercy of the hyperinflation bear eating their remaining fiat assets…"
"…hyperinflation is the process of saving debt at all costs, even buying it outright for cash… because policy will allow the printing of cash, if necessary, to cover every last bit of debt and dumping it on your front lawn!"
(The quotes are from FOA on Hyperinflation and FOA on Currency Styling, Currency Management, Dollar Hyperinflation and End Game Scenarios respectively.)
As many of you know, I came to this debate, with no baggage and no hard opinion, in 2008. And in the "doom and gloom internet community" where I arrived there was definitely an equal helping of both deflation and inflation/hyperinflation talk. Most of it I found less than convincing (on both sides). The "deflation side" is actually bigger than you might think. Most of the peak this or peak that crowd, the majority of the survivalist community, and the Great American Collapse people are all expecting a sort of grand deflation, whether they understand the arguments or not.
If you want to think of a grand deflation as a deflating—or grand contraction—of economic activity that was previously "energized" by massive trade deficits, massive credit expansion, and the massive structural malinvestment that flows from those easy money expansions, well then I too am expecting a sort of grand deflation, in many of the same ways they are. But one thing I have learned from the writer that made the most sense to me, the writer that I found most convincing from within my "past baggage" vacuum, is that "deflationists" as a group still have a big gap in understanding.
Rick became a deflationist in the 1970s by his own account. And he certainly wasn't alone. I wasn't even aware of the existence of such a debate in the 1970s let alone 2007, so I can hardly add the wide perspective necessary in this debate from my own personal experience. What I can do, instead, is to share with you this excerpt from the one that spoke convincingly to me, the one that informed my developing view in 2008.
One point I hope you'll find curious in this excerpt is that deflationists have always fixated on residential real estate. This is one of Rick Ackerman's, almost obsessive, objections to the hyperinflation case, and it clearly has roots in his kind. This was written in 2001, just as the housing bubble was developing. My notes in [brackets]:
Somewhere in the 1970s era I was exposed to the thinking of several different deflationists. It seemed that all of their conclusions came to the same end: that dollar deflation would rule the day, no matter what. Mind you now,,,,,, most of them were split on the finer points of the issue, but for all of them; [de]flation would have its day even if prices would rise somewhat. Deflation was always the final outcome.
One of the central themes in these thoughts was concerning how this coming deflation would impact plain old residential real estate. You see, most of these guys advocated selling excess residential property because it was, sooner or later, going down for the count. Mostly because the mortgage markets would be destroyed in the deflation and nobody could buy [prices would collapse to the cash price].
-- Note: The reader has to understand that these discussions were directed towards people and investors that had plenty of net worth. And I do mean Plenty! The argument wasn't about how to survive; rather how to balance a truly conservative estate portfolio. --
As time has passed we can see several major flaws in their thinking. Flaws that cost them a bunch of credibility, if not personal money. [I want to jump in here with a quick quote from Gary North written in 2002:
"I remember in 1975 hearing C. V. Myers tell attendees at a gold conference, 'If you get this one wrong, you'll lose everything.' He was predicting deflation. He got it wrong. He didn't lose everything."
And now back to FOA] One point, that I have touched on here several times, was in understanding just how much ourselves and our economic structure would and did evolve into accepting fiat money use. Even though it was, "god forbid", separated from gold.
In one area alone, the bond markets, investors reacted far differently than deflationists thought they would. Twenty ++ years ago [again, this was written in 2001], it was expected that just gross increases in money printing alone would be enough to crash the bond markets. Not talking about price inflation here, but money inflation and that should have started a deflationary fall in our credit markets. It almost happened, several times, but never followed through. It seemed that the market function had evolved to accept fiat inflation as a prerequisite to modern economic function. In a like comparison to today's thinking; investors assumed that as long as we had an expanding economic stance [nominal GDP growth, credibility inflation and financial product appreciation], sourced by inflating fiat supply, price inflation would not impact long bond credibility. We saw confirmation of this over many years. We saw that our credit markets, especially long bonds, were used in spite of the price inflation threat. Indeed, there was a ready [highly liquid] market demand for bond purchases.
In hind sight, long term holders of bonds did do very well if their position was part of a balanced holding and they didn't need to sell at bad times. Even now, dollar bonds have gained as rates are pushed lower.
Back to the thought:
This whole IMF dollar system has always been based on an expanding fiat theory that swells [nominal] GDP over time. Investors that bet on deflation coming along, after each of our bouts of inflation, were badly burned as deflation was overcome. Economic function returned, essentially because price inflation could not rout the overall market for long credit.
The flaw in all of this was in the reserve structure of our Dollar IMF money system. The fact that the world had to walk, lock step, with our money policy meant that their goods production would almost always be cheaper than ours; keeping local US price inflation under control. In other words; local US-based price inflation could not get out of hand as long as the rest of the world was willing to use their economic production to control it by selling [products cheaper than we could produce them] into our expanding fiat system.
In this, the dollar [and its securities, and their derivatives] could be inflated without end while our credit markets functioned in a non-inflationary environment.
But there is an end.
A money system like this has a definite timeline and that point is reached when the world can move away from keeping price inflation low in the US. That point is reached when Another money system comes along to challenge the dollar and, in the process, offer these other goods-producing countries a chance to buy some "lifestyle" for themselves.
At first, the show is dull as investors keep right on buying into the dollar argument above: that an expanding fiat base builds non-inflationary [nominal] growth [in both GDP and securities]. This is one reason traders still buy US long credit, not to mention chasing rising dollar exchange rates; they expect more of the last several decades of economic theory to keep right on going. It won't.
The dollar faction saw its match early in the 90s as the Euro was taking shape. To counter this threat, as I have outlined here in several ways, they promoted derivative hedges as a way of insuring dollar dominance. These hedges, including gold derivatives, only served to leverage the entire dollar / IMF system beyond its ability to serve as a real fiat money system, today. [See (my title): Is the Fed selling Hyperinflation Insurance Backed Only by Hyperinflation?]
I mean; that our whole dollar landscape has now become just a trading asset arena: it's now evolving away from any meaningful currency use to trade for real goods. It can head in no other direction because our local economic structure, the USA economic base, cannot possibly service even a tiny fraction of the buying power currently held in dollars worldwide.
So what does this have to do with Real estate?
Take a look at any broad section of the US; Northeast, SouthWest, etc.. If any of the deflationists were correct, their reasoning back in the late 70s and early 80s should have produced at least an average fall in Residential real estate. Can any of you find an "average" of property today, that is lower than early 80s prices?
Of course I'm not talking about the spikes in Hawaii, New York, Denver or San Francisco; those are just blips on an ever rising inflation scale. Even if they fall some from here, it isn't part of a deflationary act playing out. Average home prices will rise all across this country no matter what the future economy holds. A super inflationary stance by the Fed means that even unemployed workers can buy a house and pay for it! Watch how this all comes about. The Dow will not be much different when seen ten years from now; a drop to 5,000 then off again, is a real possibility! [Note: The Dow dropped from 11,000 in 2001 down to 7000 and back up to 12,000 in 2011. Again, FOA wrote this ten years ago in 2001]
The same is true for anything perceived as something real: "even silver" (grin).
The difference is in the drastic ups and downs derivatives will place on all asset markets. My point is that we are on an "end time run" in fiat dollar production that will soon produce a spike in real price inflation that crushes hedge vehicles. One item alone, physical gold, because it is the main wealth asset behind the next currency system [See: RPG #1], will outrun everything by a wide margin. No matter the derivative's hold on it!
As the Euro builds a base [which is happening right now in 2011 – see this, this, this, this, this and this], it will drive an inflationary recognition into our credit markets, then freezing up our derivative markets. That perception will fuel a complete failure of our bond markets and force the Fed to buy up any and all credit; paying in full. [Paying full price for deflating assets? Oh my, would the Fed ever do that? The deflationists never saw it coming!] If needed, Bush and congress will see to it that enough money is printed so we are paid in cash for everything! Don't laugh, this is where we are headed.
[I must insert here the rest of the famous FOA quote from above. I affectionately call it "the front-lawn dump" and it was coined by FOA a full 18 months before Bernanke's famous "Helicopter drop" speech:
"My friend, debt is the very essence of fiat. As debt defaults, fiat is destroyed. This is where all these deflationists 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!"
Okay, now back to the original excerpt…] In the meantime, whether or not our economy is growing, stalling or failing, will have little or no impact on price inflation.
You see, living with real serious price inflation goes something like this:
---- "Honey, I talked to Fred again, he can't sell his house! Poor guy, he has had it up for two years now and has to raise his asking price again. No takers, yet. The last couple was just about to close but took a month too long; they almost got the cash together, too. He backed out to raise the asking price, again. Oh well, that's not so bad, we had to jump ours up three times before selling." ----
Inflation runs crazy when a money system is forced to "print out". We will "print out" our dollar, too. Getting there just takes time and an alternative system to cause it.
Now I do realize that it takes a certain talent to distill deep wisdom from a 10-year-old internet forum post. And I can almost hear some of you out there screaming, "but but but… house prices DID collapse… d… d… DEFLATION!" Wrong. Sorry. Residential real estate will ultimately crash to its non-leveraged cash price as credit disappears, just like the deflationists think. But that ultimate cash price, once reached, may actually be higher than today's leveraged prices and be outrunning the availability of cash needed to clear the market! And all the while real estate will keep crashing in real terms (gold).
There is always a shortage of cash during a full-bore, in-your-face hyperinflation, which is why the printer has to keep adding zeros. His press simply cannot keep up with prices at established denominations. It is also why the first to touch the new cash (the "elite") have a very valuable advantage. Hyperinflation is a grand competition for lifestyle retention in the face of forced austerity, just like a race! Here, look at this from the excerpt:
"Honey, I talked to Fred again, he can't sell his house! Poor guy, he has had it up for two years now and has to raise his asking price again. No takers, yet. The last couple was just about to close but took a month too long; they almost got the cash together, too. He backed out to raise the asking price, again. Oh well, that's not so bad, we had to jump ours up three times before selling."
I'll bet the deflationists were thinking in terms of deposit+loan=price, rather than cash. Wrong paradigm. Sorry. When the hyperinflation hits in a reference point purely-symbolic fiat currency paradigm, the market will try to clear for the rising symbolic cash price while the hard currency price (denominated in gold) continues to drop like a stone. Deflationists do have one thing right. Real estate is not a very good investment when preparing for what's coming. That doesn't mean home loan debt won't be hyperinflated away though. It most likely will be. And if you are lucky enough to catch the bottom in the reference point gold paradigm during the crisis, bless you. But it's still a poor investment choice right now, even at 5% down, compared to putting that same cash into physical gold. More on this in a moment.
The point of sharing this FOA excerpt was that deflationists, like other groups that have established encampments cluttered with old baggage, tend to miss what is actually unfolding. And for that, you might want to start with my post The Debtors and the Savers. Understanding the balance necessary to keep the peace between these two groups is fundamental to understanding the political will behind the inevitability of both Freegold and dollar hyperinflation.
Rick seems to have a number of hang-ups when it comes to both gold and hyperinflation. His biggest is obviously real estate and the modern home mortgage. He simply cannot seem to fathom how a system designed and managed by The Power Elites could ever deliver a "windfall" to overleveraged, underwater homeowners or shady, uncouth gold bugs. And, frankly, if you don't make the effort to understand what is actually unfolding, there's a good chance it won't.
To the deflationist, "a dollar is a dollar" just like it is to ordinary people, bankers, company presidents and bond salesmen in the quote at the top. And even though the dollar has already lost almost 99% of its original gold purchasing power, Rick believes The Power Elite will make sure it stays strong until you have worked off every last dollar you owe. Because someone has to pay! (He's right about that.) And it's not going to be "them". (He's mostly right about that too.)
The dollar has a long, storied past. To believe "a dollar is a dollar" is to simply ignore its history. Of course I'm not implying that deflationists are unaware of this chart:
But I am saying that they think the collapse of the dollar's financial system will strengthen the dollar itself and make prices fall in the end. This is a funny notion when you take the totality of the dollar's journey into consideration.
The dollar was once worth 1.555 grams of gold. Then it was reduced to .888 grams of gold. Today it is able to purchase .02 grams of gold, but only at the margin. Notice that I said "able to purchase" instead of "is worth," and I also added "at the margin." That's because the dollar is not worth .02 grams of gold today. Around 60 years into its 100-year life, not unlike the human retirement age, the dollar retired to become a purely symbolic, completely worthless token. And in the big scheme of things, this "retirement from value" is not such a bad thing. Someone emailed me a question the other day and this was my reply:
I don’t see much wrong with your grasp of the subject, other than those worthless tokens are actually a good thing. What sets us apart from those monkeys is our ability to divide labor in a way that resists the second law of thermodynamics and allows us to organize our environment.
This division of labor requires us to use a medium of exchange in order to avoid the double coincidence of wants.
The question then becomes, what is better as a medium of exchange? Should it be something of value? Or is it more beneficial to the anti-entropic process for it to be something purely symbolic and worthless?
If you answered “something of value” I would ask, Why? Is it because you want to hoard that thing in the case that you produce more than you consume? And what is the net effect on man’s battle against entropy if the circulation of that valuable medium slows due to hoarding? Conversely, with a worthless medium, why not just exchange it for that same valuable thing if, in fact, you do produce more than you consume? Seems simple enough to me.
You see, this is where we are today. We are using, as a medium of exchange, a purely symbolic, completely worthless token. The logical action, then, is to exchange surplus worthless tokens for something of value. Yet still today, most everyone hoards up purely symbolic, completely worthless tokens in the form of the debt of more tokens to be worked off and paid by someone else. In fact, globally, this debt far exceeds the ability for it to ever be paid (worked off by future labor), at least not at today's dollar purchasing power of .02 grams of gold. And yet it will be paid by someone, just as the deflationists promise! So the question then becomes, how can an impossible debt be paid?
Answer: if it cannot be worked off by future labor, it will be worked off by past labor, the net surplus of which was erroneously stored in debt and dollars. The icing on the cake is that it is also the past labor of "someone else," if the profits can be capitalized and the losses socialized. Precisely the process we have witnessed over the past three years, for those with eyes to see.
Rick Ackerman's somewhat-myopic focus is on home mortgages as the lynch pin that will keep this worthless, symbolic token valuable while you toil on the chain-gang working off your debt of worthless tokens. So let's take a look at the larger picture to gauge the strength of this pin and the stress it must endure.
Total US mortgage debt is a little over $14 trillion. That number includes you and your neighbors. Of that $14 trillion, about $6 trillion sits on the balance sheets of banks and $9 trillion has been packaged and sold to savers like pension funds. Of that $9 trillion held by savers, about $5 trillion is guaranteed by the US government.
So here's Rick's lynchpin that's going to keep all of you indebted homeowners honest: $14 trillion - $5 trillion guaranteed = $9 trillion. And that $9 trillion lynchpin is so powerful because it is held by politically connected and powerful banksters and pension funds, or so they say. Now in a minute I'll tell you why these two groups would rather have all that debt printed and the cash handed to them than to watch even 20% of you default on your mortgages. But first, let's step back and take a wider look at what might be exerting shear stress on this supposed lynch pin.
Total worthless token debt in the US, both public and private, is around $55 trillion, four times as big as that backed by physical real estate. If we add in the government's unfunded liabilities (which definitely apply shear stress to the dollar's lynch pin), that number comes in around $168 trillion. And that is simply the promises to deliver worthless, purely symbolic tokens, at some time in the foreseeable future, emanating from within the United States. Meanwhile the US produces enough "goods and services" (loosely defined) every year to be purchased by 14 trillion of these purely symbolic tokens at their present level of purchasing power. And with a trade deficit of around $500 billion per year, it appears the US is consuming roughly 103.5% of what it produces every year, in real terms.
So in real terms, that is, in terms of the dollar's purchasing power as it stands today, it would take, let's see… $168T/($14T produced - $14.5T consumed)= x years… hmm… somehow it's going to take us negative 336 years to deliver those promised dollars at today's purchasing power. Remember I said this debt would be "worked off" in the past, without the use of a time machine I might add? Well here you go—past surplus labor foolishly stored in dollars and dollar financial instruments and their derivatives will be tendered. Of course the deflationists want you to know that we will be forced to reduce our consumption to below our production in order to pay those off. And once again, they are correct, though not in the way they think.
Reducing consumption means reducing your standard of living. Some call it austerity. But with forced austerity also comes the competition to avoid reducing your standard of living. And herein lies the inevitability of US dollar hyperinflation.
You see, those Power Elites that Rick thinks are going to support the dollar and its $169 trillion burden (excluding derivatives) simply to make sure you'll work off your $9 trillion dollar mortgage at today's purchasing power are the same ones that will resist personal austerity measures the most. And as all good deflationists know, you simply cannot resist the irresistible without breaking something. And what they will ultimately break in their competition to maintain lifestyle is the value of the dollar, which will actually break quite easily due to the mountainous (think: landslide) shear stress applied to it right now.
Now let's go back to those "banksters" that, along with the politically powerful pension funds, are part of the Power Elite that are going to keep the dollar strong enough so that your mortgage isn't hyperinflated away. Remember, this is roughly $6 trillion, or 3.5% of the dollar's debt problem, that is still sitting on the balance sheet of banks, yet gradually being absorbed and/or guaranteed by the Fed and/or the US government.
This is simple logic: Do you think they'd rather offload that debt onto the Fed's book in exchange for full cash value? Or would they prefer to hold onto those notes while you struggle to pay them off in symbolic tokens over the next 25 years? How about this: Is it better for the health of the bank to take possession of the houses (and then have to sell them) that roughly 20% of the troubled homeowners are walking away from? A 2009 jingle mail study showed that close to a fifth of troubled mortgages in the U.S. involved borrowers who were strategically defaulting. That represents roughly a 10% hit to the asset side of the banks' balance sheets. Yet the banks' liabilities (deposits created when the loans were originated) remain, fully insured by the FDIC which has no money.
Through the magic of commercial bank double-entry bookkeeping, the banks' balance sheets are actually not exposed to decreases in the purchasing power, or present value of purely symbolic, completely worthless token dollars. They are, however, exposed to decreases in the value of their assets and to the risk of default that flows from deflation. Deposits are nominal liabilities that remain when assets deflate. So supporting deflation would be, to a bank, like suffering a masochism fetish.
Rick thinks the banks will defend their assets by keeping the dollar strong. But that only keeps their liabilities that much harder to meet while the effects of deflation tend to shrink their assets making it even harder still. Ignoring the dollar for a moment, and the flaw in Myers' dictum, what happens to a bank's balance sheet if all of the loans are defaulted at the same time? Or if the asset value of all of their collateral collapsed at the same time? It would have precisely the same impact. So would a mixture of the two. The banks have and are experiencing precisely this type of squeeze. How has their "guardian angel" the Fed responded so far?
Rick Ackerman's view of the banks' incentive or preference to prevent (as if they had that control) hyperinflation is exactly bass ackward. A bank's balance sheet becomes severely damaged in deflation, yet it is made whole through hyperinflation.
As for the pension funds, they hold this debt not for its value to maturity, but for its appreciation in a falling interest-rate environment and its liquidity in trade. Pension funds get in trouble when they cannot perform nominally. They hold nominal assets and make nominal promises (like 8% returns) which simply cannot be met in a deflation. However, as disastrous as hyperinflation is for pensioners (the funds' clients), it is a Godsend for the politically-connected pension managers who were being crushed by deflation.
So once again, the incentive or preference of those who hold the note on your mortgage to prevent (as if they had that control) hyperinflation is simply not there. In fact, as I will show in a minute, there will be ample incentive for these politically connected Power Elite Giants to actually encourage the kind of printing that will take an Icelandic-style currency collapse into full-blown Zimbabwe-style wheelbarrow hyperinflation. More on this in a moment.
What you see is the result of the perspective you choose
A small-minded ant's only interaction with Giants may be getting stepped on or sprayed with deadly poison. So from the ant's limited perspective, this activity of killing ants is what Giants live for, what motivates them, and what they spend their time scheming and planning for. Don't limit yourself to the ant's perspective. If you want to find the tasty morsels left by Giants, you've got to start thinking like a Giant. You can read more about ants in my post Life in the Ant Farm.
In his latest of several posts on this subject, Rick Ackerman presented two responses that he found "of particular interest." The second one is so ldo that I won't spend much time on it. It is a comment that explains the old truism, "you can't eat your gold." That's right, gold is not at its highest and best use being spent (circulated) as a currency during a hunger crisis. Instead, if you are one with PLENTY of net worth, gold is the very best way to shuttle your wealth THROUGH a crisis to the other side. If you are forced to deploy this wealth for food during a crisis, then you apparently planned poorly.
And with a little understanding of how a monetary collapse actually unfolds, flipping the switch on illusions and revealing reality, you'll find that the actual crisis itself will be relatively short-lived. My best guess is 6 months maximum—for the worst of it—beginning when the normal distribution of food abruptly stops. So transporting your wealth to the other side should be of great importance to those with significant savings. But if you are one of the ants that cannot distinguish between a monetary collapse and the myriad other problems with our civilization (i.e. you think that when the money collapses everything else goes to permanent sh-t as well—it doesn't by the way, look at history), then you probably think we'll be in a Mad Max wasteland for a generation or more after the dollar finally goes the way of the peso.
In that case, you should probably buy yourself a Texas ranch, a lot of guns, and a few friends to help you shoot those guns, like the Circle K Cowboys. The way I see it, the monetary collapse is going to reverse and ultimately correct many of those myriad other problems because reality will be uncovered and freed to exert its more balanced supply and demand dynamic.
But that's enough on the Texas Rancher's Thunderdome wasteland. The first of the two responses that Rick found "of particular interest" was an email he received from Charles Hugh Smith, the man "Of Two Minds" who is bothered by the "conviction" (or what he perceives as single-mindedness) of others, particularly hyperinflationists. He said as much in the email:
What bothers me is the widespread conviction that hyperinflation is “guaranteed.”
Smith is truly a man of two minds. He likes to stay uncommitted and agile, to trade against the crowd:
I certainly wouldn’t want to debate anyone because my arguments are those of a trader, basically, not an economist. Maybe we will get hyperinflation, I don’t claim to know… This smells like a one-sided trade to me, even if it is more of a meme than a trade.
I am up on a hill with a wide view of the valley. In this post I am attempting to share the framework in which you, too, can see what I see rolling in. It is a tsunami called currency collapse coming in, following a violent financial and economic earthquake, which in our case will end in probably the most devastating hyperinflation the world has ever seen. And the more people that come to see what I see rolling in; the more people that join me safely on higher ground with a view of the valley below, the more the man of two minds likes his contrarian position in the valley below. Did you see that newish video out of Japan? The one I have in mind?
In order to share my view with you, I am going to patiently work my way through Smith's email, correcting errors and explaining the flaws in his perspective as I go:
As we’ve both said, the other issue is, how do the Elites benefit from hyperinflation?
I think we can safely define Charles Smith's "Elites" by his own words as the Financial (Wall Street) Elites, the politically powerful (including politically connected corporations and unions/union pension funds), the "banksters robbing us blind" and "CONgress" along with all the politicians running this country into the ground; basically everyone running the Dollar International Monetary and Financial System (the $IMFS). And he asks how do "they" benefit from hyperinflation? Well, they will benefit, in the same way that those closest to the printer benefit tremendously in all hyperinflations. But more importantly, Smith's core perspective on "the Elites" is wrong. He makes the same mistake Karl Marx made, which I explained in my post The Debtors and the Savers. [I know, this is the second time I've linked this post. It is intentional. I'll probably do it one more time as well.]
What I described in that post last July is the essential foundation to the framework for understanding why US dollar hyperinflation and Freegold are, simply, unavoidable, or to use Smith's word, "guaranteed." I have been accused of overconfidence in my views. But I specifically and actively limit the scope of this blog to only these two topics. I'm certainly not a know-it-all. I only describe the things that can be clearly seen, and how to ascend to that perspective.
Was the Japanese guy shooting that video up on a hill overconfident about his view of the tsunami rolling in while those still down in their houses had a more rational, balanced opinion? Perhaps they were of two minds; on the one hand, there had just been a Richter scale 9 earthquake and they lived in a tsunami warning zone. On the other hand, they were not exactly ocean-front properties and it would have to be a pretty big tsunami to bring the ocean over that levee. Surely they would hear it coming giving them plenty of time to escape. It's all about perspective. With the proper perspective you can see things more clearly.
In The Debtors and the Savers I wrote:
Today we have many fine, intelligent and exacting analysts all looking at the same economic data and coming up with vastly different analyses of the present global financial crisis. What sets them all apart from each other is not intelligence, or math skills, or even popularity. What sets them apart is the foundational premises on which they operate.
And a false premise can skew a brilliant analysis 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Few analysts fully disclose their premises. But Karl Marx did, and in this we can find the one, key flaw that sent his analysis off in a disastrous direction.
Marx writes, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle." He got this part right! What he got wrong was his delineation of the classes.
Marx's classes were:
1. Labour (the proletariat or workers) - anyone who earns their livelihood by selling their labor and being paid a wage for their labor time. They have little choice but to work for capital, since they typically have no independent way to survive.
2. Capital (the bourgeoisie or capitalists) - anyone who gets their income not from labor as much as from the surplus value they appropriate from the workers who create wealth. The income of the capitalists, therefore, is based on their exploitation of the workers.
Simply put, Marx says it's the rich versus the poor. According to Marx the rich exploit the poor to get themselves a "labor-free income", which spawns a class struggle.
This is an attractive perspective because it requires only a cursory, superficial judgment to place someone into one of the two camps, the rich or the poor. If someone is driving a Bentley we immediately know which group they are in, right?
As I said, Marx got one thing right. History does bear out the dramatic story of centuries of class struggle. But if we eliminate his one small flawed premise, we can see it all much more clearly.
The two classes are not the Labour and the Capital, the rich and the poor, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, or the workers and the elite. The two classes are the Debtors and the Savers. "The easy money camp" and "the hard money camp". History reveals the story of these two groups, over and over and over again. Always one is in power, and always the other one desires the power.
1. Debtors - "The easy money camp" likes to spend (and redistribute) money it did not earn, either by borrowing it, taxing the savers for it, or printing it. They like easy money because it is always and everywhere constantly inflating, easing the repayment of their debts.
2. Savers - "The hard money camp" likes to live within their means and save any excess for the future. They prefer hard money (or in some cases "harder" money) because it protects their savings and forces the debtors to work off their debts.
1789, the French Revolution, "the hard money camp" had been in power since 1720 when John Law's easy money collapsed, and starting in 1789 "the easy money camp" killed "the hard money camp" and took back the power. This is the way "the easy money camp", the Debtors, usually take power... by revolting against the hard repayment of their spending habits…
Obviously I don't want to reprint the whole article here, which is why I linked it three times. So please go read it.
But here's the fatal flaw in this Marxian paradigm; many of we, the modern proletariat, are savers who would prefer hard money like gold to protect our savings. It is we, the savers, that are punished by the current easy money system. That's why I delineated the groups as the Debtors and the Savers, otherwise known as "the easy money camp" and "the hard money camp."
And with the proper view of who Smith's Elite CONspirators really represent—the easy money camp, the debtors, the hungry collective—the answer to his question begins to develop. It is the opposing camp, the savers, that will be most-punished by hyperinflation and it is Smith's Elite that will profit the most during the race to spend.
If you can start to think of the administrators of the $IMFS, the "banksters", politicians and Western Capitalists in charge of the system as being firmly entrenched in the Debtor camp, you are well on your way to a very rewarding enlightenment. I realize this is counterintuitive, and counter also to much of the baggage that accumulates while reading other "hard money" writers on the Internet, which is why I spend so much time on it. But once it clicks, you'll be like, "OMG! WTF was I thinking?" I have conversed via email with many extremely intelligent people that have had this momentous "click", so I am tempted to consider that I may be on to something.
So call me overconfident if that makes you feel better, but I'm not going to be wishy-washy about what I can see. I'm certainly not of two minds on this.
How will "the Elite" profit from hyperinflation? By being the first to spend the bills with new zeros added and thereby outrunning the rest of us in the race to spend and winning the competition to retain standard of living. Hyperinflation is the end result of the dollar-debt timeline, there is no other way it can end. Only the severity is a variable to be considered.
Rick Ackerman and other deflationists agree with me that the unsustainable, unstable mountain of debt must and will collapse. And they view "the Elite" as the capitalist creditors and the rest of us poor working saps as the proletariat debtors. Therefore they believe that when the debt mountain collapses, their version of "the Elite" will not print Zimbabwe-style because, even though they just took a tremendous haircut on their bonds, they want to be sure that the super-saps among us, the proletariat that are still working, will continue to service the remainder with dollars of today's purchasing power.
This is a bass-ackward view in my opinion. The hungry collective provides ample political backing and sufficient naiveté for "the [Western] Elite" to print the full face value of their bonds and dump that worthless paper on the public's front lawn. Furthermore, deflationists like Ackerman as well as practically all mainstream economists provide plenty of cover in the form of plausible deniability that hyperinflation would be the inevitable result.
But the story runs deeper still. The reason I have been putting "the Elite" in quotes or referring to them as "Smith's Elite" is because, not only does he have the delineation wrong, but he is myopically focused on only one quarter of the bigger picture.
Some of you, I know, like to think in terms of grand conspiratorial conflicts, a "Clash of the Titans" (Clash of the Elites if you will), or something like that. Well I can probably help you with that view in this "Debtors v. Savers" paradigm.
We have the West which is roughly only 25% of the world's population, and then we have the rest of the world. And oh yes, they have their own "Elite". You'd probably guess that "the West" represents "the debtors" in this paradigm. But you'd be wrong to assume that the rest of the world is taking "the hard money camp" stance.
It is true, we are at the end of one of the longest-running "easy money camp" regimes. And these things usually swing back to the other side. But history has taught the world that while easy money regimes end in financial collapse, hard money regimes usually end in bloodshed. And it's usually the blood of the hard money campers that is shed. (See: the French Revolution.)
So the rest of the world has taken a different stance this time. It has been "in the works" for several decades.
Q: **Who does BIS really represent?
A: "old world, gold economy, as viewed thru modern eyes" or "way to move from US$ without war".
Those are the words of ANOTHER from my post "The Gold Man" (not Goldman) at the BIS. The BIS truly represents "the rest of the world" from a monetary perspective. It is the "trade union" of their Central Banks. All is not as it seems on the surface.
So how do you view an "old world gold economy" through modern eyes? And how do you move there peacefully with the easy money camp? It's quite simple actually. You let nature take its course, you support that natural course however long it takes (rather than pathologically fighting nature like the dollar system does with its obsessive-compulsive drive to control), and you don't deprive the easy money camp of their precious fiat. It's Freegold. It is about allowing meritocracy to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes of the dollar's inevitable collapse. It's not about a transfer of wealth. It is about a re-born meritocracy. The transfer of wealth that will take place is what blinds most people from seeing its inevitable approach.
More from Charles Hugh Smith via Rick's Picks:
As we’ve both said, the other issue is, how do the Elites benefit from hyperinflation? The only answer I’ve ever received is “they’ve already bought gold.” Yeah, right. As I noted, there’s $7T in gold, total, half of which is owned by central banks, and there’s $160T in financial wealth to protect in the world. Even if gold went to $10K/oz there would be no more than $35 T in gold in private hands, and by that time, the gold in Fort Knox (or in the PBoChina vaults, etc.) would be enough to establish a gold-backed currency. Meanwhile, the Financial Elites would have lost all their financial wealth. Have they really transferred all their wealth out of all financial instruments and totally into gold and land? If so, then [who] owns the $160T in financial wealth?
First of all, it is unclear exactly how much gold there is, but it's probably over $8T by now, and only about 18% of it is owned by central banks, not anywhere near half. That leaves $6.6T in private hands, at today's price.
Smith exposes his ant-like perspective in this paragraph when he implies the Giants that own the lion's share of $160T in financial products should have already crashed the value of those financial products and exploded gold in the stampede from one to the other, if a collapse of the dollar was really on the horizon. On the contrary, you have to think like a Giant to see the best way to move your Giant wealth from one system to the next. True Giants do not panic out like ants, nor like ants imagine that Giants would. True Giants know that if they panicked out, with the weight they carry, they would end up transferring much LESS wealth into the new system.
Viewed from the Giant's perspective, you can see that most all of that dollar value, that $160T will vanish in a flash. And when that happens, the market for paper promises of gold delivery will also collapse and vanish as physical gold gaps up (in my estimation) 40x. That's right, $160T vanishes, and $6.6T worth of gold—in private hands—gaps up to $264T.
Oooh. Now I'll bet I've got the deflationists screaming! "You can't turn $160T into $264T in a flash during a deflationary collapse!" Au contraire, mon frère. What you see is the result of the perspective you choose. Reader "Reven" recently asked this same question, to which I replied:
It is a fallacy to compare a snapshot of gold with a snapshot of "global asset values" because it ignores the time dimension in which gold flows. Even if you are correct about everything in the world (other than gold) being worth [$160T] in 2011 constant dollars, the value of all the gold can be multiples of that amount. It is theoretically unlimited, unlike paper wealth which is self-limiting by its own objective metrics and economic ties. Paper wealth is limited to the upside but unlimited to the downside. Gold is the inverse of paper, unlimited to the upside, limited to the downside. It's not the total stock of gold that matters, but the flow from those that already hold it.
Here are a few snippets from my post How Can We Possibly Calculate the Future Value of Gold?
1. the storage of purchasing power is size-unlimited in a solid medium with potentially infinite confidence and one that does not infringe upon anything else, and
2. the storage of purchasing power in a flawed medium with a mathematical limit (like debt) is constrained roughly to the aggregate purchase price of everything in the world at any point in time, with a decent margin of error.
This transfer of wealth that is coming is not a direct and equal transfer. It is not like pouring one pitcher into another. It is more like flipping a switch on the virtual matrix. Turning off the monetary plane that hovers over the physical plane and claims to tell you how much "stored purchasing power" everyone has. When you turn it off, all that purchasing power disappears in a flash. And then what lies beneath is exposed in daylight, the real physical world. No real capital is destroyed, only the myth is destroyed. But true capital is exposed and revalued.
And as I said earlier, true capital as a storage for purchasing power has no limit whatsoever to its total size relative to normal prices. This is because it uses the time dimension with unequalled confidence. Absolute confidence allows it to stretch as far out into time as it wants. And this confidence is a self-reinforcing, self-sustaining feedback loop in the same way that a faulty store of purchasing power is self-limiting by its intrinsic lack of infinite durability.
Commodities and paper investments are limited to the upside by economic forces and future earnings metrics respectively. Yet they are unlimited to the downside for the same reasons. Gold, on the other hand, has none of the upside limitations that everything else has. It will only find its point of equilibrium when enough "stock" is reassigned to "flow" to meet demand.
Lastly, understand that currency flows through assets, not into them. In fact, a limited amount of dollars can flow through the same gold many times, over and over, driving it higher and higher with each pass, as long as new gold stock is not coaxed out of hiding. And the interesting thing in this process is that, as I said above, it actually causes the opposite of the expected supply/demand reaction. With each pass-through of the dollar more "flow gold" is moved into "stock gold", not the other way around like commodities and paper.
This is the feedback loop. It is confirmation to the gold investor that his gold is a good investment. And it also says something very distinct about the alternatives. Namely that they are failing. And with this confirmation, it is from existing gold holders that less supply comes. This is not true of any other investment class because they all have objective metrics for valuation or economically limiting forces. All except gold.
So, cutting to the chase once again, the biggest fallacy in your model is using "Total above ground gold" as your point of comparison. It's not the stock that matters, it's the flow.
Now, if you have a supercomputer you can try to run this unimaginably complex flow algorithm. But be careful with your assumptions. One wrong assumption can throw the whole thing off by orders of magnitude.
Back to Smith. Here's that same paragraph again. Let's see if we can answer his questions a little more concisely now that we have a new perspective:
As we’ve both said, the other issue is, how do the Elites benefit from hyperinflation? The only answer I’ve ever received is “they’ve already bought gold.” Yeah, right. As I noted, there’s $7T in gold, total, half of which is owned by central banks, and there’s $160T in financial wealth to protect in the world. Even if gold went to $10K/oz there would be no more than $35 T in gold in private hands, and by that time, the gold in Fort Knox (or in the PBoChina vaults, etc.) would be enough to establish a gold-backed currency. Meanwhile, the Financial Elites would have lost all their financial wealth. Have they really transferred all their wealth out of all financial instruments and totally into gold and land? If so, then owns the $160T in financial wealth?
Yes, they've bought the gold and it's still priced at around $6.6T, at least that portion that is in private ownership. No, there will be no gold-backed currency because we aren't going back to "hard money" because "your Elites" wouldn't like that. No, they won't lose all their wealth; they will gain wealth. Here are the steps as viewed, not by ants, but by Gi-ants:
Step 1: Buy up as much physical gold as you can over a couple decades without running the price and without panicking out of your paper, while the Western investor is caught up in all manner of paper including paper gold.
Step 2: Wait patiently for the inevitable financial collapse. As Rick Ackerman himself wrote, "financial collapse is not just likely, but inevitable."
Step 3: When the collapse comes, sell that $XXXT in "financial wealth" to the printer for fresh cash at full face value in the name of "saving the system" and "survival of the country and the Western way of life."
Step 4: Spend the new cash.
Step 5: Adjust your balance sheet from the old paradigm where it used to read $160T paper/$6.6T gold to the new paradigm where it now reads $0 paper/$264T gold. A net gain of $97.4T.
Now I must explain here that I don't view this as a nefarious plan, plot or con. It is simply the way you deal with the inevitable collapse of the global reserve currency at the end of its financial timeline. And if you are a Gi-ant, it's the clearest way to transfer your wealth through the crisis and into the future. You don't do it with a high-yielding bond Con and a sustained deflation. LOL Gimme a break!
And if you think Congress will prevent the Fed from doing what it did in 2008… and 2009, 2010 and 2011… guess again. The USG will face a real, existential shut down this time. Nothing like the charade that happens every few years when it's time to renew the budget or raise the debt ceiling. This will be the real deal. Congress will DEMAND that the Fed print "for the good of the country" (and for their own paychecks).
Back to Smith:
This explanation — that the wealthy have already transferred their financial assets into gold and land and thus they don’t care if all money, bonds, mortgages, derivatives, insurance policies, etc. all go to zero and is wiped off the books as an asset—makes no sense because it doesn’t explain who is the bag holder to all this “fiat-based” wealth. If the wealthy don’t own all these financial assets, who does? Who did they sell it all to? Yet we know that the Financial Elites own all this financial wealth and thus it will not be in their self-interest to see it wiped out. Only debtors, i.e. Central States, want to see hyperinflation to wipe out their debt. But who considers all that sovereign debt an interest-paying asset? The Financial Elites, that’s who, along with politically powerful union pension funds, banks, etc.
Yes, I know I have already addressed everything in this paragraph. But I wanted to show you how silly it starts to read once you have a different perspective. Moving on:
Everyone seems to forget that debt is an asset to the guy on the other side of the trade. The debtor would love hyperinflation but the owner of the debt will resist hyperinflation with every fiber of his being — and that includes the Financial Elite who own the debt.
Okay, here Smith moves into the first of his two strongest complaints about hyperinflationists. Remember up at the beginning of this post I wrote that in 2008 I didn't find many of the arguments convincing on either side of the debate? That is, until I read FOA? Well, clearly Mr. Smith has not read much of my blog, not that I'd expect he had, because his two complaints are completely backward in their reasoning.
Those two complaints are that he views hyperinflationists as i) not considering that debt is an asset to someone else, and ii) that hyperinflationists don't understand that hyperinflation is a POLITICAL event and not a mechanical or "deterministic" event. Once again I had to LOL when I read this backward view.
I think it's time for me to post links to my three part series again, in which I DRIVE HOME these two topics… and how they inevitably end in hyperinflation, not deflation:
Just Another Hyperinflation Post - Part 1
Just Another Hyperinflation Post - Part 2
Just Another Hyperinflation Post - Part 3
If you haven't yet read them, you should probably start with the post I made just prior to those, Credibility Inflation, in order to understand what is actually deflating in our hyperinflation.
Basically, regarding Smith's paragraph above, "the guy on the other side of the trade," if he is well-connected enough to be considered "the Financial Elite who own the debt" would prefer to be relieved of that "asset" at full face value as long as he's getting that cash first. Remember, hyperinflation is a race, not against the bear (you can't outrun the bear) but against your neighbor.
This is basically a “politics of experience” analysis, and very few are equipped to understand such an analysis, as it’s outside their econometric comfort zone. They prefer a deterministic financial analysis that there are “laws” of economics which lead to hyperinflation, etc. Meanwhile, for me, there are only political choices, a narrow band of which lead to hyperinflation and a bunch of others which do not. This kind of analysis doesn’t lend itself to refutation or confirmation by financial models of the sort being bandied about — it’s a behavioral analysis and a political one.
I have yet to see how banks and the Financial Elites would benefit from hyperinflation. Without getting too fancy, it’s obvious that holders of debt, those collecting interest on debt assets, would be wiped out by hyperinflation. Thus as a simple matter of self-interest, we can deduce they will not favor policies that lead to hyperinflation. If the owners of debt (Treasuries, mortgages, corporate debt, commercial paper, etc.) were politically powerless, then we could expect them to be steamrolled by those who would benefit from hyperinflation. But they are not politically powerless — it’s the debtors who are powerless, except for the Central State, and it’s beholden to the Financial Elites who have captured the political and regulatory classes that govern the State.
This is the introduction of Smith's "it's about politics, and hyperinflationists don't get that" argument, which he refined in his next post on his own blog titled "Con of the Decade" or something like that. (By the way, this came out after Smith's blog post, but if there's any truth to it, it pretty much demolishes Smith's con idea and ensures—or insures—hyperinflation.) In that post Charles Hugh Smith pretty much threw down the gauntlet on this issue in the opening paragraph:
I described The Con of the Decade last July (2010). The Con makes me a heretic in the cult religion of Hyperinflation. I consider myself an agnostic about the destruction of the U.S. dollar and hyperinflation (basically the same thing), but my idea that hyperinflation is fundamentally a political process makes me a heretic. I skimmed a few of the dozens of comments posted on Rick's Picks and Zero Hedge after they posted one of my expositions on this dynamic, and didn't see even one comment in favor of this perspective.
Now I'm not sure if this is technically a straw man fallacy if Smith has never read FOA or FOFOA. Perhaps not. In any case, here are a few quotes from my hyperinflation posts:
What is a deflationist? It is one who looks very closely at the present structure of everything, the laws, the rules, the regulations, what is supposed to happen, who should fail, etc… but ignores the political (collective) will that backs it all up. The same political will that always changes the rules to suit its needs as surely as the sun rises. And it is this political will that makes dollar hyperinflation a certainty this time around.
As FOA warned 12 years ago, these bailouts were always baked into the cake. They are a mandatory function of the political will that backs the entire system. This is the main element that all of the deflationists miss.
The political will (which is the same as the collective will in my lexicon) always does whatever will lessen the immediate pain, even if it will most certainly cause greater pain later. This is the part that is as reliable as the sun rising.
Because we have a purely symbolic currency, a dollar-denominated deflation is impossible... because of the political will I mentioned above!
But this is also where the political (collective) will comes into play. It will NOT let that savers' balloon deflate. The Fed is helpless against the debtors' balloon and the credit/debt feedback loop, but it is most certainly NOT helpless against the savers' balloon.
The Fed has the power to keep the savers' balloon 100% full if it wants to, and the political will to fully back that action.
This is an excellent description of what the deflationists see, and also why they don't see the rest of the big picture. They view the monetary world as a machine rather than a human ecology. They underestimate the will of the "politicians and bureaucrats who are playing God." And they also underestimate the power of fear and monetary velocity.
I think you get the picture. But if you really want to get to the heart of this subject and see where Smith and the deflationists (notice I'm not calling Smith a deflationist here) go wrong on cause and effect with regard to hyperinflation and political will, you should read noteworthy deflationist Mish Shedlock's comment under my "Part 3" where he defended his post saying:
"I explicitly said hyperinflation is a political event… The amazing thing is I was agreeing with you…"
And my responding comment where I wrote:
"…Velocity can have the same exact effect as printing. Would you agree with this statement? Fear is the spark that ignites it. And then the government will need to fund itself in this hyperinflationary environment. This will entail THE massive printing that always follows immediately after hyperinflation starts. ***THIS IS THE POLITICAL EVENT THAT I AM TALKING ABOUT*** Not the priming beforehand. That's already done. We are already in the summer of 1922…
…It is this LATER political event that is 100% guaranteed. That our government will debase its currency TO ANY DEGREE to ease its own fiscal pain. And as for the cause, the prime, it's already there. Has been for at least 10 or 12 years now…"
And then Mish's follow-up where he writes:
"…I agree with FOFOA about what starts hyperinflation. I wish I would have made that perfectly clear in my post.
I disagree with him in regards to whether or not "politics" or as FOFOA calls it (loss of faith) makes the US more vulnerable.
It was a very gentle disagreement."
I didn't call Smith a deflationist because I don't know if he is. I haven't read enough of his blog to know if he's ever categorized himself. Usually deflationists are happy to categorize themselves as such, as in the case of Mish and Ackerman. But Smith appears to be a simple skeptic, a man of two minds, as he wrote in closing of that email to Rick Ackerman:
Maybe we will experience hyperinflation after all. I am a skeptic, not a true believer, but I am certainly open to it as a possibility. I think all the financial arguments are somewhat akin to biblical debates about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. They are fundamentally deterministic and apolitical, while the actual process of setting policies that lead to hyperinflation is entirely political.
I have no econometric arguments against hyperinflation, I only have political ones. But since politics sets policy, then hyperinflation is necessarily a political choice. So a political analysis will trump an econometric one in my view.
But I could be wrong. As a basically poor person, I don’t have much of a stake in either outcome.
If Charles Hugh Smith happens to be reading this post, and I hope he is, I would like to point out that my hyperinflation arguments cover the gamut. And thanks to Rick Ackerman, I now have kudos from both camps, deflation and (hyper)inflation:
Deflation camp: "The very best of them, in my opinion, is FOFOA blogspot, where the essays are erudite, the discussion elevated and the arguments as knowledgeable as any you will find on the web."
[Hyper]Inflation camp: "FOFOA is probably one of the very best analyst in the whole world. The more I read from him, the more I am convinced of his vast superiority over most experts and analysts, probably of the Schiff-Turk caliber… This is one of the very best contributions in the inflation-deflation debate. It is long and detailed, but the topic is extraordinarily complex."
I really despise self-promoting in this way and risking coming across as if I think too highly of myself. The truth is quite the opposite, and I only post these so that skeptics like Smith will at least consider my arguments rather than dismissing them outright. I know my posts are long, and I know that some people think I'm just a crazy gold bug, which I am not. So there has to be a good reason for a skeptic to make that commitment of time and energy. And if he's read this far in my longest post ever, then at least that's something!
Now before I wrap this treatise up, there was one thing I said I would come back to that I haven't yet. And that is, if hyperinflation is guaranteed, why aren't all these hyperinflationists snatching up real estate left and right on the leverage that's still available? I, for one, don't have a mortgage. I don't even have any debt because I don't have an income, other than donations from this blog, to cover the carrying cost. And back when I was following Peter Schiff he was a proud renter too. Perhaps he still is, I don't know. There are literally dozens of answers to this question, almost all of them extremely personal. But the bottom line is that real estate will continue to fall in real terms even more than having an LTV of 95% hyperinflated away would cover.
Even if you accept that hyperinflation is 100% certain, real estate is still a poor investment choice to carry your wealth through. Gold is so much better that real estate shouldn't even be considered an investment choice (choice, as in a new investment) beyond your primary residence. Even with 10x or even 20x presumed leverage in a near-term debt wipeout, unleveraged gold is still a much better choice. And in addition to it being the lesser choice, leveraged real estate also carries a non-zero political risk in hyperinflation. I'm giving this an extremely low probability in today's world, but under any kind of conservative and personal "one percent doctrine" it must be factored heavily into the equation that includes expected leverage and the carrying costs on an unknowable timetable. This is an excerpt from an email I received a while ago:
Today I read a short little book titled Fiat Money Inflation in France by Andrew White (published 1912). My general impression is that there is no law so insane that it can't be enacted during a hyperinflation. As you may know, they even passed a law such that debts increased along with the issuance of further currency, so that for every so many additional assignats printed, one's debts increased by 25%. Thus they took away the one silver lining of currency debasement for the middle class. What a nightmare. I liked this bit:
"All this vast chapter in financial folly is sometimes referred to as if it resulted from the direct action of men utterly unskilled in finance. This is a grave error. That wild schemers and dreamers took a leading part in setting the fiat money system going is true; that speculation and interested financiers made it worse is also true; but the men who had charge of French finance during the Reign of Terror and who made these experiments, which seem to us so monstrous, in order to rescue themselves and their country from the flow which was sweeping everything to financial ruin, were universally recognized as among the most skillful and honest financiers in Europe. Cambon, especially, ranked then and ranks now as among the most expert in any period. The disastrous results of all his courage and ability in the attempt to stand against the deluge of paper money show how powerless are the most skillful masters of finance to stem the tide of fiat money calamity when one it is fairly under headway; and how useless are all enactments which they can devise against the underlying laws of nature."
Okay, last thought on the real estate home front, and then I'll let it go. I have a question for Rick and his commenter SD1 from the top of the post. Remember they wrote:
Rick's Picks Commenter SD1: To my knowledge, no bank has ever made provisions in their lending criteria. So to anyone subscribing to the hyperinflation theory, all I can say is there is nothing I, and millions of other North Americans, would love more than to take $250,000 of worthless, hyperinflated money that we worked a few days to make, to pay off a mortgage that would otherwise have taken twenty-five to thirty years to repay.
Rick Ackerman:That’s the bottom line, as far as I’m concerned.
How close to the business end of the printing press are these millions of North Americans? You guys seem to assume that, during hyperinflation, millions of American mortgage payers will have access to this river of cash early enough to benefit overall. By the time they get their hands on it they may be struggling to meet other skyrocketing expense like property taxes and, uh, food. Wages won't keep up. Most people simply won't be able to keep up. And most of those who do will find that their wealth relative to those closest to the printing press will be declining. Like I said this is about outrunning the next guy, not the bear.
This is why I wrote, "if you don't make the effort to understand what is actually unfolding, there's a good chance [hyperinflation] won't [deliver any windfall in your direction]." If you really want "to pay off a mortgage that would otherwise have taken twenty-five to thirty years to repay," then you'd be best equipped to do so by buying some physical gold right now!
Here is Rick's premise once again: “Ultimately, every penny of every debt must be paid — if not by the borrower, then by the lender.” If the borrowers can't pay, at least not in full, and certainly not in real terms (today's purchasing power), and the politically connected lenders won't take the hit, that only leaves the third option which C.V. Myers missed and Rick can't seem to fathom.
How do I know hyperinflation is inevitable? I know that they will do the "front lawn dump" not only because they said they would do it, and then did it, and they continue doing it, but because it makes absolutely no logical sense, from their perspective, to NOT do it in the face of a crushing deflationary collapse like both Rick and I see as inevitable. It will be judged an infinitely better option than immediate total economic collapse. And besides, 75% of the world has been waiting patiently, for a long time, to get off the dollar standard. And it has prepared for this very, inevitable, eventuality. So it won't be fought from abroad.
This is very important: Once hyperinflation commences it is characterized by a running shortage of cash, even though it appears like the opposite to the outside observer. The currency collapses in value against economic goods because the debt and the credit collapsed. There is no credit, only cash, and there is a shortage of cash for everyone, including the Elite and the government. So they, the Elite/government, print and print for their own survival while saying it is for yours.
And for those of you that think they won't do it because they'll be afraid it will end the dollar, end the Fed, or end fiat currency altogether, guess again. Not a chance! After it's all said and done, Bernanke will say some sweet things like his cuddly Zimbabwe counterpart did in this 2009 interview:
Gideon Gono: "I've been condemned by traditional economists who said that printing money is responsible for inflation. Out of the necessity to exist, to ensure my people survive, I had to find myself printing money. I found myself doing extraordinary things that aren't in the textbooks…
"There are certain things, policies with the benefit of hindsight, where we could've managed our affairs better… We are [only] human…
"Only a fool does not change course when it is necessary. Because economics is not an exact science, you want to be able to be relevant. The only constant is change and adaptation…
"It's a free market, a business which must be allowed to succeed or fail…
"What keeps me bright and looking forward to every day is that it can't be any worse. And those who have studied the history of economies know that we are down, but that the only thing that can happen is we will move up. That is a certainty…
"I am modestly credited with the survival strategy of my country. The issue is if you want to break Zimbabwe and want it to fall, just deal with one man. You deal with Gideon Gono…
"I'm a normal guy: I miss going to the supermarket. One would like more freedom…
"If you raise the interest rate you'll be friends of people who have access to money. If you lower the interest rate, you'll be the darling of borrowers, but pensioners will curse you to hell. It's never about popularity. At all times you are definitely hurting some people in the economy…
"It's impossible to be directing the course of an entire economy and divorce yourself from politics. Politics are important because the turnaround of the economy hinges on political stability, but I can't tell when that will happen…
"I have been in the trenches during every moment of survival for my country. Any central bank governor is of necessity. When things go bad, we governors are the fall guys. No other governor in the world has had to deal with the kind of inflation levels that I deal with, no other governor has to come up with the gymnastics and strategy for the survival of his country. But let me say that in my bank resides the cutting edge of the country. I'm privileged to be the leader of that team."
Zimbabwe still has a Central Bank, and Dr. Gideon Gono still has a job as its governor. It will likely be no different for Bernanke and the Fed. Extreme times call for extreme measures. And that's how it will be spun. They will print for survival and they will say it was for the survival of America. The dollar will end this thing without reserve currency status, more like the peso. But at least we'll have Freegold!
In our time and for the first time in the modern US dollar history, the US will embark into a classic hyperinflation for the sake of retaining its own lessened dollar for trade use. As destructive as that might be to players in this financial house, it is better than immediate total economic failure. It will evolve in a form much like the course of any other third world country, if its currency too was suddenly deprived of world reserve status. We will, like people the world over, learn to live with it and live in it. Truly, our dollar and economy will not go away, but its function, use and value will change dramatically.
FOA/ your Trail Guide
Something filled up
My heart with nothing
Someone told me not to cry
But now that I'm older
My heart is colder
And I can see that it's a lie
Children, wake up
Hold your mistake up
Before they turn the summer into dust
If the children don't grow up
Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up
We're just a million little gods causing rainstorms
Turning every good thing to rust
I guess we'll just have to adjust
With my lightning bolts a-glowin'
I can see where I am going to be
When the reaper, he reaches and touches my hand
With my lightning bolts a-glowin'
I can see where I am going
With my lightning bolts a-glowin'
I can see where I am go-going
You better look out below!
Thursday, April 7, 2011
With gold near its all-time high, it's time for another Eurosystem MTM party. And just maybe, there is a timely message here for Congress and the U.S. Treasury.
Yesterday President Obama vowed to veto the Republican's short-term spending bill, and today Washington is facing a possible full-on government shutdown in less than 26 hours when the cash funding runs out.  Not only that, but while the cash will run out at midnight tomorrow, April 8, it appears the national credit card will be all used up a little more than a month later, on May 16.  Calling this a dire situation may be an understatement.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, they have just released the new market-based revaluation of their monetary reserve assets, including gold. They do this once every three months. It sort of lets the world know the true, market-based strength of their monetary foundation. It's not that the currency is redeemable in government gold like the old gold standard. They simply make sure physical gold is available, tax free, at the floating market price. You can even buy it at the bank. This acts as a nice counterbalance for those who worry about saving in a depreciating fiat currency. And by publicly reporting the gold revaluation every quarter, the European Central Bank leads this stabilizing practice by example.
By contrast, the U.S. Treasury gold has never been marked to market. It is still marked on the books at the price set, not by the free market, but by the edict of President Richard Nixon in 1973:
U.S. Treasury website:
"The book value of gold is currently $42.2222 per troy ounce."
Federal Reserve website:
"3. Gold stock is valued at $42.22 per fine troy ounce."
U.S. Mint website:
"The gold is held as an asset of the United States at book value of $42.22 per ounce."
Here's the latest from the U.S. Treasury:
Current Report: March 31, 2011
Click on images to enlarge
And here's the latest from the Eurosystem:
6 April 2011 - Consolidated financial statement of the Eurosystem as at 1 April 2011
Quarter-end revaluation of the Eurosystem’s assets and liabilities
In line with the Eurosystem’s harmonised accounting rules, gold, foreign exchange, securities holdings and financial instruments of the Eurosystem are revalued at market rates and prices as at the end of each quarter. The net impact of the revaluation on each balance sheet item as at 1 April 2011 is shown in the additional column “Difference compared with last week due to quarter-end adjustments”. The gold price and the principal exchange rates used for the revaluation of balances were as follows:
Gold: EUR 1,007.250 per fine oz.
USD: 1.4207 per EUR
JPY: 117.61 per EUR
Special drawing rights: EUR 1.1161 per SDR
Now this may not seem like a very big deal to the casual observer. But I'm about to tell you why it should at least be an option on the minds of everyone in Congress, the White House and the U.S. Treasury, especially today.
But first, you may want to review my last RPG update:
Reference Point: Gold - Update #1
After refreshing your memory of the last update, you may notice that the valuation of the Eurosystem's gold actually dropped by EUR 16.7 billion since last quarter. But that's okay. That's how it is supposed to work, as the reference point for currencies. Because you'll also notice that the U.S. stockpile of gold rose in market value $15 billion during that same timeframe. As I wrote in Update #1:
The Fed doesn't even have actual gold on its balance sheet... It has "gold certificates" issued to it by the U.S. Treasury from the past monetization of U.S. Treasury gold at $42.22/oz. I suppose, technically, if the U.S. Treasury wanted to revalue its gold to the market price today, the proper yet antiquated process would be for the Fed to credit the Treasury's spending account with new dollars representing the difference in price. Today that would be about $355 billion fresh dollars for Congress to spend.
And today, three months later, that amount of untapped U.S. hard asset equity is $370 billion! The reason U.S. gold went up and European gold went down is simply because the dollar went down and the euro went up. That's the point of Reference Point Gold! It's what Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, was talking about. It's really no big deal! But today it may be a big deal to Congress.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Geithner sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader, and Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican Leader warning that the U.S. Credit Card will be maxed out by May 16. Geithner wrote:
I am writing to update you on the Treasury Department’s projections regarding when the statutory debt limit will be reached and to inform you about the limits of the available measures at our disposal to delay that date temporarily.
In our previous communications to Congress, we provided regular estimates of the likely time period in which the debt limit could be reached. We can now make that projection with more precision. The Treasury Department now projects that the debt limit will be reached no later than May 16, 2011.
If the debt limit is not increased by May 16, the Treasury Department has authority to take certain extraordinary measures, described in detail in the appendix, to temporarily postpone the date that the United States would otherwise default on its obligations. These actions, which have been employed during previous debt limit impasses, would be exhausted after approximately eight weeks, meaning no headroom to borrow within the limit would be available after about July 8, 2011. At that point the Treasury would have no remaining borrowing authority, and the available cash balances would be inadequate for us to operate with a sufficient margin to meet our commitments securely.
As Secretary of the Treasury, I would prefer to avoid resorting to these extraordinary measures. The longer Congress fails to act, the more we risk that investors here and around the world will lose confidence in our ability to meet our commitments and our obligations.
If Congress does not act by May 16, I will take all measures available to me to give Congress additional time to act and to protect the creditworthiness of the country. These measures, however, only provide a limited degree of flexibility—much less flexibility than when our deficits were smaller.
For these reasons, default by the United States is unthinkable. This is not a new or partisan judgment; it is a conclusion that has been shared by every Secretary of the Treasury, regardless of political party, in the modern era.
Treasury has been asked whether it would be possible for the Treasury to sell financial assets as a way to avoid or delay congressional action to raise the debt limit. This is not a viable option. To attempt a “fire sale” of financial assets in an effort to buy time for Congress to act would be damaging to financial markets and the economy and would undermine confidence in the United States.
Selling the Nation’s gold, for example, would undercut confidence in the United States both here and abroad. A rush to sell other financial assets, such as the remaining financial investments from the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act programs, would impose losses on American taxpayers and risk damaging the value of similar assets held by private investors without generating sufficient revenue to make an appreciable difference in when the debt limit must be raised. Likewise, for both legal and practical reasons, it is not feasible to sell the government’s portfolio of student loans.
Nor is it possible to avoid raising the debt limit by cutting spending or raising taxes. Because of the magnitude of past commitments by Congress, immediate cuts in spending or tax increases cannot make the necessary cash available. And, reductions in future spending commitments cannot supply the short-term cash needed. In order to avoid an increase in the debt limit, Congress would need to eliminate annual deficits immediately.
As the Congressional Research Service stated in its February 11, 2011 report:
“If the debt limit is reached and Treasury is no longer able to issue federal debt, federal spending would have to be decreased or federal revenues would have to be increased by a corresponding amount to cover the gap in what cannot be borrowed. To put this into context, the federal government would have to eliminate all spending on discretionary programs, cut nearly 70% of outlays for mandatory programs, increase revenue collection by nearly two-thirds, or take some combination of those actions in the second half of FY2011 (April through September 30, 2011) in order to avoid increasing the debt limit. Additional spending cuts and/or revenue increases would be required, under current policy, in FY2012 and beyond to avoid increasing the debt limit.”
None of those budget policy choices is feasible or responsible. As a consequence, given that Congress has imposed on itself the requirement for periodic increases, there is no alternative to enactment of an increase in the debt limit.
I am encouraged that the leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress have clearly stated in public over the last few weeks and months that we cannot default on our obligations as a nation and therefore have to increase the debt limit. Because the date by which we need to increase the limit is growing nearer, I hope that the leadership in both houses will help us impress upon all Members the gravity of this issue and the imperative of timely action.
President Obama is strongly committed to working with both parties to restore fiscal responsibility, and he looks forward to working with Congress to achieve that critically important objective. In the meantime, it is critical that Congress act to increase the debt limit so that the full faith and credit of the United States is protected.
I hope this information is helpful as you plan the legislative schedule for the coming weeks.
Timothy F. Geithner
Rock, meet hard place. Indeed!
Now I certainly do not have the solution to America's debt or budget problems. But it does seem to lil' ol' me that Congress has right now run up against a hard wall. And I do know a way they could at least buy themselves a little more time to figure it out.
Okay, here goes. Now pardon my French, but Timothy Geithner is a moron. I realize it is too much to ask that anyone in Treasury understand currency theory, since no school has taught currency theory in generations, but why Tim even mentions "Selling the Nation’s gold" when it has so far only been monetized up to $42.22 per ounce is beyond ignorant. How about this? Rather than selling the gold, why don't you just value it like the rest of the world? Why not just mark it to the market price of gold on the Treasury books? If you, Congress, are going to insist on an honest accounting of America's liabilities, why not properly account for her ASSETS as well?
And then… the U.S. Treasury, under the daft guidance of the G-man, can issue new gold certificates to the Federal Reserve. As anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of double-entry bookkeeping knows, the balance sheet must balance. For every asset there is a liability, and vice versa. This is basic stuff. You don't need to be a banking "expert". And so far the Fed only carries $11 billion of the Treasury's gold on the asset side under the gold heading. Today we have room to add $370 billion more, and that means fresh Fed liabilities—also known as U.S. dollars—accruing as fully paid-up credits to the Treasury account for the government to use however it deems appropriate.
Again, I realize this doesn't solve any of the big problems, but it does buy some time. And furthermore, it is not a bad or reckless thing to do. It is the right thing to do! America has an untapped asset. You can use it without selling it for gosh sake! And just like the old gold certificates, the new ones will NOT be redeemable by the Fed or any other banks in physical gold. They will simply be an accounting entry on the Fed balance sheet. In the future, that gold can be mobilized, if necessary, in defense of the U.S. dollar. But only with the approval of Congress. The physical gold remains the property of the United States. It will simply be monetized by properly revaluing it as the monetary reserve asset that it is, and placing it—at its proper valuation, updated quarterly—on the asset side of the central bank's balance sheet, just like the ECB.
I want to be very clear here. This has absolutely nothing to do with Ron Paul's bill. Nothing against Ron Paul, but he may not like this because he has other plans. And this has nothing to do with a new gold standard, or legal tender laws or ending the Fed. You don't have to be a gold bug to support this. It is simply common sense. What isn't common sense is the U.S. having the only darn gold hoard in the world that's valued at the ridiculous price of $42 an ounce, having a Treasury Secretary then talk about selling that asset, and having a Congress that's about to shut down the government because it can't find some money.
You want honest accounting? Well how about accounting honestly for our… that's right, OUR assets?
You know, I'll bet even Obama would go for it. The timing is quite exquisite. Did you know that this very week is the 78th anniversary of Executive Order 6102? That's right. 72 years ago this week, Obama's role model, Franklin D. Roosevelt "forbade the Hoarding of Gold Coin, Gold Bullion, and Gold Certificates" by U.S. citizens. And in his acceptance speech in 2008, Obama talked about people putting “their hands on the arc of history” and bending it “once more towards the hope of a better day”. How auspicious would it be for him to now harken back to the FDR gold confiscation, on the eve of a government shut-down, and finally set the U.S. gold free?
I've even got a catchy name for the new Executive Order. He could call it "Executive Order: Freegold". And it would buy you, Congress, some much needed time; it would buy a new $370 billion deposit in the Treasury account; and it would usher in the currency-stabilizing effects of Robert Zoellick's and the ECB's Reference Point Gold.
I do realize that some of you will scoff at such a "small" figure as $370 billion in the grand scheme of our debt and deficit. But gold becomes more and more useful and efficient at higher and higher valuations. This is not just a cheap accounting trick for the U.S.—rest of the world be damned. No, this is a paradigm of global and personal reserve asset value, based on unencumbered equity and physicality, rather than debt and paper promises.
And not only might these new gold-revaluation dollars be spent on government obligations, but any given periodic rise in the price of gold could also be used as an "asset swap" (gold certs for Treasuries) right on the Fed books in order to mitigate the swelling of the Fed's balance sheet and the money supply, or just to retire some of the debt. Other Central Banks are already well out in front of the U.S. on this Mark to Market paradigm. And once again the timing for a bold move like this is very well suited to the present undertaking of international monetary reform. The U.S. could once again be the hero!
Now, as you all know, I am not an activist. I am only an observer. But if some of you were to send this post to your representatives in Congress as a sort of "Open Letter to Congress", I could certainly look the other way. It would probably take only one member to actually "get it". But then again, that may be asking too much of Congress.
 Obama vows to veto short-term bill -Washington Times
 http://www.treasury.gov/connect/blog/Pages/letter-to-congress.aspx (Timothy Geithner's letter to Congress)