Archives for December 2012

Government and Big Banks Joined Forces to Violently Crush Peaceful Protests

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by George Washington.

The definition of fascism used by Mussolini is the “merger of state and corporate power“.

Government and the big banks are in a malignant, symbiotic relationship. And our economy now exhibits a merger of state and bank power.

Prominent economist Robert Kuttner said in 2009:

What we have is something perilously close to a dictatorship of the Fed and the Treasury, acting in the interests of Wall Street.

The government and banks use anti-terror laws to stifle dissent.

As Naomi Wolf reports, they joined efforts to violently crush the occupy protests:

The violent crackdown on Occupy [which was protesting the SAME THING as the Tea Party … and the Boston Tea Party] last fall … was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves.

[A newly-released document] shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council. And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens. ….

Plans to crush Occupy events, planned for a month down the road, were made by the FBI – and offered to the representatives of the same organizations that the protests would target ….

The FBI – though it acknowledges Occupy movement as being, in fact, a peaceful organization – nonetheless designated OWS repeatedly as a “terrorist threat”….

[The executive Director of The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund – the group which obtained the document] points out the close partnering of banks, the New York Stock Exchange and at least one local Federal Reserve with the FBI and DHS, and calls it “police-statism”:

“This production [of documents], which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement … These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”

The documents show stunning range: in Denver, Colorado, that branch of the FBI and a “Bank Fraud Working Group” met in November 2011 – during the Occupy protests – to surveil the group. The Federal Reserve of Richmond, Virginia had its own private security surveilling Occupy Tampa and Tampa Veterans for Peace and passing privately-collected information on activists back to the Richmond FBI, which, in turn, categorized OWS activities under its “domestic terrorism” unit. The Anchorage, Alaska “terrorism task force” was watching Occupy Anchorage. The Jackson, Michigan “joint terrorism task force” was issuing a “counterterrorism preparedness alert” about the ill-organized grandmas and college sophomores in Occupy there. Also in Jackson, Michigan, the FBI and the “Bank Security Group” – multiple private banks – met to discuss the reaction to “National Bad Bank Sit-in Day” (the response was violent, as you may recall). The Virginia FBI sent that state’s Occupy members’ details to the Virginia terrorism fusion center. The Memphis FBI tracked OWS under its “joint terrorism task force” aegis, too. And so on, for over 100 pages.

Eric Zuesse notes:

The FBI was organizing against the OWS movement even before it was known to the general public, and they kept on their campaign against it, until it was dead.

***

The FBI’s police-state snooping and tracking of Occupy Wall Street … had begun even before most Americans knew that there was any such movement for the FBI to snoop against.

In other words, the reason why Barack Obama’s “Justice” Department refuses to prosecute even a single one of the mega-bank executives who profited so enormously from having defrauded both mortgagees and the investors in mortgage-backed securities, and who were bailed out by future U.S. taxpayers whose government purchased those remaining “toxic assets” at 100 cents on the dollar, is clear: we live in a police state, and these elite crooks control it. This is not real democracy.

Voters were given a choice in November between a President like that but whose liberal rhetoric is condemnatory of “Wall Street,” versus a professional stripper of corporations, whose rhetoric was overtly supportive of Wall Street. And voters chose the former. But this nonetheless is a police state, not an authentic democracy.

Mussolini would recognize it as fascism.

A Faux Deal and Ongoing Currency Wars

Gold This Time Last Year – A Faux Deal and Ongoing Currency Wars

Courtesy of Jesse's Cafe Americain

The waters are a little muddied this time around because of the fiscal fluff and the January debt ceiling policy scrum to come, but lo and behold, gold rallied sharply on the last day of the year, after a series of repeated hits lower.

How unusual.

New year, same old games.

And Washington announced, in time before the markets close, that they reached a deal, kind of. 

No grand bargain, but a deferral.

It looks like the Senate will agree to avert the tax increases for those with less than 450,000 per year in income, arrangements on capital gains, 40% inheritance tax on estates over 5 million, and AMT. It appears they will leave the budget cut wrangling for the debt ceiling fight in January, and possibly every two months next year after that. 

The House will not have a chance to vote for it until later this week most likely.

And at the bottom, an update on Jim Rickards on the ongoing currency wars.
 

 

Cliff Deal – Winners and Losers

Courtesy of Bruce Krasting

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My read of the President's speech is that there is a deal that will avoid the cliff. So go enjoy New Year’s Eve. Give it another 30 days, and we’ll be right back into the soup. My scorecard on the deal.

-If you’re unemployed, you’re a winner. You get another extension of benefits.

-If you’re employed, you’re a loser. Fully 155m workers are going to pay 2% more on income starting tomorrow. The increase in FICA taxes will come to a lumpy $120B. This will rank as one of the largest YoY tax increases in history. This is a very regressive tax increase. There is a $108K cap on what is subject to FICA taxes, so high incomes do not feel the bite. But those who earn an average income will see a meaningful reduction in disposable income ($2,000 per household).

This is a decidedly un-Democratic outcome. The rich avoid taxes, lower incomes pays a disproportionate share. Who insisted that this unfair outcome was part of the deal? Answer: Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. Don’t blame the Republicans when your next check has an extra bite out of it. “Go figure?,” on this outcome.

-If you make between $250 and $400k, you are a very big winner, congratulations. Half of the top 2% just got a free pass.

-If you make over $450k, the cliff deal says you may have to pay more taxes. I wouldn’t worry too much about the top 1% – that group has 18% of all income. The move from 35 to 39.6% for America’s richest will not matter a bit. None of them paid the old rate, they won’t pay the new higher rate either.

-If you’re one of the 33 million taxpayers who avoided falling prey to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) by the last minute patch, you dodged a bullet. This would have taken an average of $4k out of your pocket. I’m happy for you.

-If you’re one of the 4 million hopeless losers who have been stuck with AMT in prior years, you’re going to get stuck again. I’m one of those poor souls who is mired in this tax trap. It's a very unfair outcome for me. I make a fraction of the top 1%, but because of AMT, I pay a minimum federal tax of 28% while the top 1% pays an average of only 15%. Where’s the damn cyanide?

-The defense industry will have the bubbly out tonight, no sequestration for them for the time being. Phew! I was really sweating this one!

-Investors will also have the Champagne out. They dodged a bullet – at least for the next 60 days…..Keeping the 15% Cap Gains rate for most incomes is a plus, the new 20% rate for the top filers is a gift.

-The American people are very big losers. The cliff deal just sets up another crises before the snow melts. Nothing has been accomplished that addresses the uncertainty factor. The deal insures a big deficit for 2013. It will not increase tax revenue from the top 1%. It will result in a big increase in payroll taxes that will hurt the bottom 40%.

-Washington is the biggest loser of all. Democrats, Republicans, Senate, House and Obama all come off looking like chumps. They didn’t deliver anything but a Band Aid. I give the cliff deal a D-.

 

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Gold Has Longest Streak of Annual Gains Since 1920

Courtesy of Mish.

Bloomberg reports Gold Extends Longest Streak Since 1920 on Central-Bank Stimulus.

Gold rose, capping the longest annual gain since at least 1920, on renewed concern that central banks from Europe to China will take steps to spur economic growth and as U.S. leaders near a budget deal.

Gold futures for February delivery gained 1.2 percent to settle at $1,675.80 at 1:41 p.m. on the Comex in New York, while prices for immediate delivery jumped as much as 1.5 percent. Through Dec. 28, the metal had slumped for five straight weeks as the deadline for the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect tomorrow loomed. President Obama said today at a White House event that an agreement was “within sight.”

Record Average

The metal averaged a record $1,670.71 this year in New York even as it slid 6 percent since September, the biggest quarterly drop since 2004. The run of annual gains in the immediate delivery market is the longest since at least 1920. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI gauge of 24 commodities gained 0.3 percent

This year, bullion gained 7 percent on the Comex, where floor trading will be closed tomorrow for New Year’s Day. Platinum futures rallied 9.8 percent this year in New York and palladium gained 7.2 percent as labor unrest in South Africa helped curb supply. Silver increased 8.3 percent.

Amusing Irony

The amusing irony, as noted in Poison Pill and Gold Debate is that someone posting under the name “Uncle Frank” made the following accusation.

Mish relishes chaos and financial ruin for this country so his gold holdings shoot-up in value. Everyone has an ulterior motive you know.”

“Uncle Frank” is devoid of clear thinking because fiscal prudence is the one thing that would be bad for gold.

Repeating what I said earlier ….

Regardless of my personal beliefs regarding gold (that one would be prudent to buy and hold gold), I actually advocate government and Fed policies that are contrary to my recommendations.

My reasons are easily explained:

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China Manufacturing PMI Shows Modest Growth; Don’t Expect Bounce to Last

Courtesy of Mish.

The HSBC China Manufacturing PMI™ shows modest growth this month. The index is at 51.5 with growth above 50.

After adjusting for seasonal factors, the HSBC Purchasing Managers’ Index™ (PMI™) – a composite indicator designed to give a single-figure snapshot of operating conditions in the manufacturing economy – posted 51.5 in December, up from 50.5 in November, signalling a modest improvement of operating conditions in the Chinese manufacturing sector. Moreover, it was the highest index reading since May 2011.

Input prices at manufacturing plants continued to increase in December, and for the third successive month. The rate of inflation eased slightly from November but remained marked overall. Average tariffs also increased during December, after remaining broadly similar in November. Output charges rose at an accelerated pace that, although modest, was the quickest in 14 months. Anecdotal evidence suggested that tariffs were raised in line with rising market demand and higher input costs.

Purchasing activity rose at a marked rate in December, the fastest since March 2011. Exactly 17% of panellists reported increased input buying. Consequently, stocks of purchases also rose. Even though the pace of stock accumulation was only slight, it was the quickest in two years. Rises in input buying and stocks of purchases were generally associated with higher new order volumes.

Comment

Commenting on the China Manufacturing PMI™ survey, Hongbin Qu, Chief Economist, China & Co-Head of Asian Economic Research at HSBC said:

“December’s final manufacturing PMI picked up for the fourth consecutive month to a 19-month high, thanks to the faster new business flows and the end of destocking. Such a momentum is likely to be sustained in the coming months when infrastructure construction runs into full speed and property market conditions stabilise. This, plus Beijing’s reiteration of keeping pro-growth policy in place into the coming year, should support a modest growth recovery of around 8.6% y-o-y in 2013, despite the ongoing external headwinds.”

Pollyanna Outlook

I beg to differ with Hongbin Qu.

There is no reason to believe property market conditions will stabilize. Nor is there any reason to believe infrastructure construction will run at “full speed” for any significant length of time.

Indeed, should either of those happen, China’s already massive rebalancing problem will just get worse.

Realistic Outlook

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Gold, Stock Market Up as Fiscal Cliff Can-Kicking Deal at Hand

Courtesy of Mish.

S&P 500 futures are up 24 points (1.7%) and gold is up $22 (1.3%) on news McConnell-Biden Said Close to Deal Except for Sequester

The White House and congressional negotiators have agreed to contours of a deal to avert the fiscal cliff including tax cut extensions, with the remaining sticking point being how to handle automatic military and domestic cuts, according to an official familiar with the talks.

Income tax cuts would be extended on families earning up to $450,000, the official said, with rates rising to 39.6 percent on incomes above that.

Rates on estate taxes would rise to 40 percent, on amounts above $5 million. Extensions of business tax breaks would continue through the end of 2013. There would be a permanent fix to the alternative minimum tax threshold.

The Medicare payment rate for doctors would be extended through 2013.

The contours of the possible deal would generate $600 billion toward deficit reduction. The debate over how to postpone automatic federal spending cuts remains. Democrats propose postponing it for a year, while Republicans want to allow cuts to begin taking effect with the new year.

Debate on How to Further Postpone Begins

In simple terms, Congress will achieve zero budget cuts if Democrats get their way. Republicans appear to be quite fine with that as long as military spending is not cut.

Thus, out of a trillion dollar budget deficit, Congress will have addressed a mere $60 billion a year in revenue and something close to $0 in budget cuts, allegedly avoiding a fiscal cliff but in reality creating a far bigger one a few years down the road.

Last year, before the election, Republicans could have gotten $10 in budget cuts for every $1 of additional revenue. Now they have agreed to tax hikes, getting virtually nothing in return.

The only hope for sanity is the House punts this bill a mile high, but don’t count on it.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

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China manufacturing activity hits 19-month high

China manufacturing activity hits 19-month high (via AFP)

China's manufacturing activity surged to a 19-month high in December, British bank HSBC said Monday, adding to signs of recovery in the world's second-largest economy. The year's final purchasing managers' index (PMI) from the lender hit 51.5, up from 50.5 in November when the figure returned to growth…

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Washington and Colorado as precedent for cannabis legalization?

 

Source: reblololo.tumblr.com via Charlie on Pinterest

Washington and Colorado as precedent for cannabis legalization? (via GlobalPost)

An unwanted item on President Obama’s second term agenda was contributed by voters in Colorado and Washington State who, by impressive margins on November 6, passed ballot measures making it legal to smoke pot recreationally, without any prescription or medical justification.

The outcomes in these two states are being described as a historic moment, one that draws comparisons to the end of Prohibition. More broadly, these votes may signal a change in the way citizens think about drugs and drug policy in the United States, a trend revealed in recent public opinion polls.

Legalization and de-criminalization of marijuana and, perhaps, other drugs is a subject for serious national discussion that may or may not lead to changes in public attitudes and public policy. At the moment, such a conversation does not have the urgency of other issues, including the rising public demand that the president and congress do something to control gun violence and make our schools safer. Events like the brutal slaying of 20 first graders in Newtown, Connecticut, can quickly alter any list of priorities for a re-elected president and a new Congress.

As Colorado and Washington State work to implement the wishes of the voters, a clash looms with the federal government, which still views marijuana as a Schedule I prohibited substance and has cracked down on citizens in states, like California and Montana that have voted to allow medical marijuana.

In a statement the day after the election, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency said the Justice Department was reviewing the ballot measures and declined to comment directly on how officials would respond to them. But he said the agency’s enforcement of federal drug laws “remains unchanged.”

The US attorneys in Denver and Seattle responded with nearly identical statements, offering no clue on whether they would sue to block the measures from being put into effect.

In Colorado, the federal government has largely allowed the state-regulated medical-marijuana industry to operate, and supporters said they hoped the government would take a similar laissez-faire stance as the new more open laws took effect.

Although elected officials, parents’ groups and top law enforcement figures were opposed, the measures in both states had strong support among voters who saw little harm with regulating marijuana in ways similar to alcohol. Colorado’s marijuana law passed with 54 percent support, and Washington’s with 55 percent.

Colorado and Washington are among 18 states with medical marijuana laws, but they become the first in the nation to approve the use for recreational purposes. A similar measure in Oregon failed, but is expected to be back on the ballot.

Supporters say the laws will end thousands of small-scale drug arrests while freeing law enforcement to focus on larger crimes. They estimate that taxing marijuana will bring in millions of dollars of new revenue for governments, and will save court systems and police departments additional millions.

Opponents warned that the law — despite its 21-year age minimum — would set Colorado and Washington on a course that would encourage teenagers to use marijuana.

Those favoring recreational use of marijuana point to the American experience with Prohibition as a historical marker.

It was a slightly hysterical atmosphere created by World War I that generated support for national prohibition. Under the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, which provided for enforcement; the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol was prohibited. One result was the growth of a black market to serve Americans who would not be deterred from drinking. Prohibition drove prices up because suppliers risked legal punishments. It removed an important source of government revenue and added costs of enforcement. By the late 1920s support for Prohibition began to erode and in 1933 the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th.

Although the US government has battled drugs for decades, the term "War on Drugs" was not widely used until President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973 to announce "an all-out global war on the drug menace."

Over the past 40 years, the US government has spent more than $2.5 trillion dollars fighting the War on Drugs. Despite the ad campaigns, increased incarceration rates and a crackdown on smuggling, the number of illicit drug users in America has risen over the years and now counts 19.9 million American users. A large portion of their supply makes its way into the country through Mexico.

In 2009, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by three former presidents of Mexico, Brazil andColombia stating that “the war on drugs has failed.” They were referring to the central message of a report by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy. The presidents proposed a paradigm shift in drug policies based on three guiding principles:

Reduce the harm caused by drugs, decrease drug consumption through education and aggressively combat organized crime. They also proposed, as a public health measure, the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use.

This past June in Cartagena, Colombia, hemispheric leaders barely mentioned addiction. Instead, according to Alma Guillermoprieto writing in The New York Review of Books, for the first time in 40 years “the leaders of the summit openly debated whether the best way to stop the rolling disaster was an end of the US-sponsored and -dictated war on drugs, and at least partial legalization, or regulation, of the drug trade.”

The official US response was made clear by President Obama, himself. “The United States is not going to legalize or de-criminalize drugs” the president told a group of Latin newspapers the day before the summit, “Because doing so would have serious negative consequences, in all our countries, in terms of health and public safety. Moreover, legalizing and decriminalizing drugs would not eliminate the danger posed by transnational organized crime.”

As the first states to treat small amounts of marijuana like alcohol, Colorado and Washington are sure to become national test cases. While we wait for direction from the federal government, there are many questions to consider.

• Has the drug war truly failed?

• If marijuana is broadly legalized in the US, what might be the impact on violence in Mexico and other countries over control of production, transport and sale of illegal drugs?

• In shaping a drug policy for the future, how important is the cost of the drug war ($51 billion annually), the critical overcrowding of prisons (2.4 million Americans were incarcerated in local, state and federal prisons on drug law violations in 2009), and the heavy burden on poor families when a parent is imprisoned on drug convictions?

• Prohibition and the war on drugs have demonstrated that vice-control efforts are susceptible to corruption because the financial temptations are so enormous. Would legalization lessen corruption that is tied to illegal distribution and sale of pot?

• Taxing marijuana sales is seen as a potential source of revenue. Should this tax revenue be earmarked for important state and local services: public safety, education, infrastructure repairs, and health care, including funding treatment programs?

• How might legalization influence the use of cocaine, heroine and methamphetamines in the US?

• What can we learn from the long campaign to discourage the use of cigarettes? It is legal but the product is heavily taxed, and extensive publicity campaigns and news coverage have been persuasive in persuading the public that smoking poses a serious health risk.

• Is the use of drugs a moral issue? Is there a moral distinction between the use of drugs and alcohol or tobacco?

Bob Giles is commentary editor for GlobalPost. He was a newspaper journalist for more than 40 years and recently retired as curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.
 

BoJ will work with new govt, governor says

BoJ will work with new govt, governor says (via AFP)

The head of Japan's central bank has vowed to work with the nation's new government to tackle deflation, according to an interview published on Saturday. "The Bank of Japan, not just the government, will support efforts to strengthen growth potential," governor of the bank, Masaaki Shirakawa, told…

[Read more…]

Covered Calls – The Hidden Risk for 2013 and Beyond

Covered Calls – The Hidden Risk for 2013 and Beyond

Courtesy of Paul Price at Market Shadows

I’ve scaled way back on covered call writing (selling calls) lately.

For the last three decades, writing calls has worked very well for me. Writing calls on shares of stocks is the simplest, most conservative approach to option trading. “Covered call writing” means

  • you own the underlying shares (each sold call is “covered” by 100 shares of stock), and
  • you’re agreeing to sell 100 shares, or some round multiple of 100, for a set price through a predetermined expiration date.

Note: Selling one call is making a contract to sell 100 shares of the underlying stock at a particular price on or before a particular date. In a “covered call” scenario, because you already own the shares, you do not risk being forced to buy the shares at higher prices. Selling a “naked call,” in contrast, means you don’t own the shares and would have to first buy them to sell them – if the stock is dramatically higher, that would entail a significant loss – it’s a much riskier trade.

Here’s a generic example of covered call writing:

Covered Call Generic Example

So what’s not to like? Why have I been reluctant to use this strategy?

Because, in the crazy world of QE Infinity, there is a real possibility of a market melt-up due to a major dollar devaluation.

A look at December’s action in the Japanese Yen and the Nikkei 225 shows how this could play out in the U.S. Although Japanese stocks traded higher, Japanese companies didn’t become more valauble in real terms. Shares surged because the local currency collapsed.

Yen versus Dollar   30-days and 1-year

Nikkei 225 Total Return Index

 

Japan’s newly reinstalled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared his intent to print unlimited Yen. He intends to increase government borrowing to fund public works projects.

The U.S. central bank – the Federal Reserve – is also printing money to fund government spending. As the U.S. continues down this road, the value of the U.S. dollar will continue dropping.

We all tend to forget where prices were years ago. Here’s a reminder:

1972 Median Income- Cost of Living

The bulk of the inflation between 1972 and now came without the printing presses running full speed ahead. Now they are. As I argued in Washington’s Biggest Lie (and Why it Continues to be Told), Washington has been lying about true rate of inflation. At some point in the future, America will see much higher prices on everyday goods. The only question remaining is on the timing.

In this environment of price inflation, stocks should do extremely well on a nominal basis. They represent true earnings power rather than fiat-based (full faith and credit) pieces of paper. Selling covered calls now is betting that you can predict when a big rise in share prices will occur – because when that happens, having sold calls will forfeit the upside to stock appreciation.

Our market will ultimately skyrocket on the dollar becoming “worth less” rather than “worthless.”  The last thing you would want in that environment is to have your real assets turned back into paper money. That’s the risk we’re now taking when selling call options.

Potential premium income you get from committing to sell at a set price months in advance may pale next to any sudden price surges. You might very well get away with it for a few option cycles only to lose big when the ultimate flight out of paper money finally happens.

If you do not anticipate this possibility in advance, it will probably be too late to fix. This unexpected risk is not being priced in now because it appears to be such a black swan event.

I’m going with the old adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This is not a good time to be selling calls.

******

Special Offer from PSW: Click on this link to try Phil’s Stock World FREE! 

Online Education and College Degrees at Far Lower Prices is the Future; Virtual Classrooms to Reach 1 Billion People

Courtesy of Mish.

I received an interesting email from “James in Arizona” today. James offers this comment on online education.

Greetings from Arizona, Mish,

I ran across this website while exploring various online options for my daughter (in high school, but she’s very computer savvy, so I’m looking for options to expand her interests/basis). It is EdX, an online education group started by Harvard and MIT, but other universities are joining.

Hopefully this online education program will finally put a torpedo in the expense of college.

Have a wonderful New Year, and thanks so much for the effort you put forth on your blog, and educating those like me.

James in Arizona

Virtual Classrooms to Reach 1 Billion People

The above video is a disappointing infomercial, but the courses available are genuine.

Here is a sample of free courses offered in the link above.

  • Foundations of Computer graphics
  • Circuits and electronics
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Software as a service
  • Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Computation
  • Introduction to Solid State Chemistry

The classes are free but unfortunately you do not get credit hours for them. Eventually you will.

The cost of education will come down for the simple reason it has to. The price of college education is not only ridiculous, but unsustainable.

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Stephen Roach On Why Abe’s Aggression Won’t Save Japan

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

 

Source: photo.sankei.jp.msn.com via r o b i n on Pinterest

 

Submitted by Tyler Durden.

Authored by Stephen Roach, originally posted at Project Syndicate

The politicization of central banking continues unabated. The resurrection of Shinzo Abe and Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party – pillars of the political system that has left the Japanese economy mired in two lost decades and counting – is just the latest case in point.

Japan’s recent election hinged critically on Abe’s views of the Bank of Japan’s monetary policy stance. He argued that a timid BOJ should learn from its more aggressive counterparts, the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. Just as the Fed and the ECB have apparently saved the day through their unconventional and aggressive quantitative easing (QE), goes the argument, Abe believes it is now time for the BOJ to do the same.

It certainly looks as if he will get his way. With BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa’s term ending in April, Abe will be able to select a successor – and two deputy governors as well – to do his bidding.

But will it work? While experimental monetary policy is now widely accepted as standard operating procedure in today’s post-crisis era, its efficacy is dubious. Nearly four years after the world hit bottom in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, QE’s impact has been strikingly asymmetric. While massive liquidity injections were effective in unfreezing credit markets and arrested the worst of the crisis – witness the role of the Fed’s first round of QE in 2009-2010 – subsequent efforts have not sparked anything close to a normal cyclical recovery.

The reason is not hard to fathom. Hobbled by severe damage to private and public-sector balance sheets, and with policy interest rates at or near zero, post-bubble economies have been mired in a classic “liquidity trap.” They are more focused on paying down massive debt overhangs built up before the crisis than on assuming new debt and boosting aggregate demand.

The sad case of the American consumer is a classic example of how this plays out. In the years leading up to the crisis, two bubbles – property and credit – fueled a record-high personal-consumption binge. When the bubbles burst, households understandably became fixated on balance-sheet repair – namely, paying down debt and rebuilding personal savings, rather than resuming excessive spending habits.

Indeed, notwithstanding an unprecedented post-crisis tripling of Fed assets to roughly $3 trillion – probably on their way to $4 trillion over the next year – US consumers have pulled back as never before. In the 19 quarters since the start of 2008, annualized growth of inflation-adjusted consumer spending has averaged just 0.7% – almost three percentage points below the 3.6% trend increases recorded in the 11 years ending in 2006.

Nor does the ECB have reason to be gratified with its strain of quantitative easing. Despite a doubling of its balance sheet, to a little more than €3 trillion ($4 trillion), Europe has slipped back into recession for the second time in four years.

Not only is QE’s ability to jumpstart crisis-torn, balance-sheet-constrained economies limited; it also runs the important risk of blurring the distinction between monetary and fiscal policy. Central banks that buy sovereign debt issued by fiscal authorities offset market-imposed discipline on borrowing costs, effectively subsidizing public-sector profligacy.

Unfortunately, it appears that Japan has forgotten many of its own lessons – especially the BOJ’s disappointing experience with zero interest rates and QE in the early 2000’s. But it has also lost sight of the 1990’s – the first of its so-called lost decades – when the authorities did all they could to prolong the life of insolvent banks and many nonfinancial corporations. Zombie-like companies were kept on artificial life-support in the false hope that time alone would revive them. It was not until late in the decade, when the banking sector was reorganized and corporate restructuring was encouraged, that Japan made progress on the long, arduous road of balance-sheet repair and structural transformation.

US authorities have succumbed to the same Japanese-like temptations. From quantitative easing to record-high federal budget deficits to unprecedented bailouts, they have done everything in their power to mask the pain of balance-sheet repair and structural adjustment. As a result, America has created its own generation of zombies – in this case, zombie consumers.

Like Japan, America’s post-bubble healing has been limited – even in the face of the Fed’s outsize liquidity injections. Household debt stood at 112% of income in the third quarter of 2012 – down from record highs in 2006, but still nearly 40 percentage points above the 75% norm of the last three decades of the twentieth century. Similarly, the personal-saving rate, at just 3.5% in the four months ending in November 2012, was less than half the 7.9% average of 1970-99.

The same is true of Europe. The ECB’s über-aggressive actions have achieved little in the way of bringing about long-awaited structural transformation in the region. Crisis-torn peripheral European economies still suffer from unsustainable debt loads and serious productivity and competitiveness problems. And a fragmented European banking system remains one of the weakest links in the regional daisy chain.

Is this the “cure” that Abe really wants for Japan? The last thing that the Japanese economy needs at this point is backsliding on structural reforms. Yet, by forcing the BOJ to follow in the misdirected footsteps of the Fed and the ECB, that is precisely the risk that Abe and Japan are facing.

Massive liquidity injections carried out by the world’s major central banks – the Fed, the ECB, and the BOJ – are neither achieving traction in their respective real economies, nor facilitating balance-sheet repair and structural change. That leaves a huge sum of excess liquidity sloshing around in global asset markets. Where it goes, the next crisis is inevitably doomed to follow.

Monetary Malpractice: Moral Maladay

Courtesy of Gordon T. Long of GordonTLong.com,

We have a Crisis of Trust in America and it has become so pervasive that it is paralyzing America's natural inclination towards risk taking and innovation. This Crisis in Trust is a direct result of Monetary Malpractice and the Moral Malady which it has inflicted on America.

Some would argue that the lack of growth and jobs has created a sense of uncertainty in America which has manifested into historically low levels of confidence and sentiment. I would argue the cause is a crumbling foundation of trust and the cause and effect the opposite.

 

 

It is a Crisis of Trust which is the foundation for confidence and sentiment levels in a nation. Trust fosters certainty and a sense of security. Uncertainty is the death knell for business investment and finance. Today's plummeting capital investment in America means slower growth and an even tougher job market lay ahead. So where does a Crisis of Trust stem from and why do we suddenly have one?

Monetary Malpractice – Moral Malady

.

Obama Issues Executive Order Granting Pay Raises to Congress, the Vice President, Judges; Any Raise is Too Much; Congress Approval Rating is 18%

Courtesy of Mish.

Congress has done such a beautiful job handling the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling that president Obama felt it mandatory to issue an Executive Order Giving Biden, Congress Pay Raises

President Barack Obama issued an executive order to end the pay freeze on federal employees, in effect giving some federal workers a raise. One federal worker now to receive a pay increase is Vice President Joe Biden.

According to disclosure forms, Biden made a cool $225,521 last year. After the pay increase, he’ll now make $231,900 per year.

Members of Congress, from the House and Senate, also will receive a little bump, as their annual salary will go from $174,000 to 174,900. Leadership in Congress, including the speaker of the House, will likewise get an increase.

Here’s the list of new wages, as attached to President Obama’s executive order

“A new executive order has been issued providing for a new pay schedule beginning ‘on the first day of the first applicable pay period beginning after March 27, 2013,'” reports FedSmith.com. “The pay raise will generally be about 1/2 of 1%.”

Congress Approval Rating is 18%

The latest Gallup poll taken December 19, 2012, shows Congress Approval Remains at 18% During Fiscal Cliff Debate

Eighteen percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, as leaders continue to work toward a solution to the looming fiscal cliff. That approval rating is unchanged from last month, but remains low from a historical perspective.

Republicans’ approval of Congress fell slightly to 14% from 16% in November, while Democrats’ approval increased slightly to 21% from 19%. The resulting seven-point partisan gap in approval of Congress is the largest measured since June 2011, with the exception of the 16-point gap prior to the election in October of this year.

Any Raise is Too Much

I happen to think any raise is too much.

Perhaps Obama thinks 18% approval is a stunningly good achievement following the brilliant Congressional handling of fiscal cliff issues, the smooth handling of healthcare, and the always steady handing of the budget deficit and debt ceiling.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

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Government Dependents Outnumber Those With Private Sector Jobs In 11 U.S. States

Government Dependents Outnumber Those With Private Sector Jobs In 11 U.S. States

The Number Of People On Welfare Exceeds The Number Of People With Jobs In 11 StatesAmerica is rapidly becoming a nation of takers.  An increasing number of Americans expect the government to take care of them from the cradle to the grave, and they expect the government to dig into the pockets of others in order to pay for it all. 

This philosophy can be very seductive, but what happens when the number of takers eventually outnumbers the number of producers?  In 11 different U.S. states, the number of government dependents exceeds the number of private sector workers. 

This list of states includes some of the biggest states in the country: California, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Maine, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, New Mexico and Hawaii.  It is interesting to note that seven of those states were won by Barack Obama on election night.  In California, there are 139 "takers" for every 100 private sector workers.  That is crazy!  The American people have become absolutely addicted to government money, and it gets worse with each passing year.  If you can believe it, entitlements accounted for 62 percent of all federal spending in fiscal year 2012.  It would be one thing if we could afford all of this spending, but unfortunately we simply cannot.  We are drowning in debt, and we are stealing more than a hundred million more dollars from future generations with each passing hour.  No bank robber in history can match that kind of theft.

Yes, we will always need a safety net.  There are many people out there that simply cannot take care of themselves.  We certainly don't want to see anyone sleeping in the streets or starving to death.

But if the number of people jumping on to the safety net continues to grow at the current pace, the net will break and it will not be available for any of us.

For example, the number of Americans on food stamps grew from about 17 million in 2000 to more than 47 million today.  It nearly tripled in just 12 years.

What will happen if it nearly triples again over the next 12 years?

The federal government even has a website (benefits.gov) that guides people through the process of figuring out what welfare programs they can take advantage of.

Overall, the federal government runs nearly 80 different "means-tested welfare programs" and more than 100 million Americans are already enrolled in at least one of those programs.

Yes, I realize that figure is very hard to believe.  I had a hard time believing it when I first came across it.

And it is even more shocking when you realize that the figure of 100 million Americans does not even include those who only receive Social Security or Medicare.

Today, there are 56.76 million Americans on Social Security.

To support all of those Americans on Social Security, there are only about 94.75 million full-time private sector workers.

So there are just 1.67 full-time private sector workers to support each American that is on Social Security.

Medicare is also growing like crazy.  As I wrote about the other day, the number of Americans on Medicare is expected to grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.

How much farther can we push things before the entire system collapses?

In order to support this exploding entitlement system, we need a lot more Americans to be working good paying jobs.

Unfortunately, millions of good paying jobs continue to be shipped overseas and they aren't coming back.

We are even losing good jobs to our own prisoners.  The United States has the largest prison population in the world by far, and the exploitation of that low wage labor pool has become a boom industry in America.  Even Microsoft and Boeing are using prison labor now.  Just check outthis video.

Meanwhile, there are millions upon millions of law-abiding Americans that cannot find jobs and that cannot take care of their families.

So poverty and dependence on the government are absolutely exploding.  We have a system that is so messed up that it is hard to even put it into words.  The middle class is being viciously shredded, and most Americans just continue to applaud the politicians from both parties that are doing this to us.

Our economy is being gutted at the same time that the welfare state is experiencing unprecedented growth.  Instead of giving us real answers, our "leaders" just continue to borrow, spend and print more money.  We are about to hit the debt limit again, and the Obama administration is saying that we should just do away with the debt limit permanently.

Most of our politicians don't seem to understand that they are systematically destroying our economy and the bright futures that our children and our grandchildren were supposed to have.

But there are some politicians out there that get it.  Unfortunately, many of them live in other countries.  For example, Canadian MP Pierre Poilievre seems to have a firm grasp on what debt is doing to the United States.  The following are some excerpts from one of his speeches…

"By 2020, the US Government will be spending more annually on debt interest than the total combined military budgets of China, Britain, France, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, India, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Spain, Turkey, and Israel."

"Through government spending the indulgence of one is the burden of another; through government borrowing, the excess of one generation becomes the yoke of the next; through international bailouts, one nation's extravagance becomes another nation's debt"

"Everyone takes, nobody makes, work doesn't pay, indulgence doesn't cost, money is free, and money is worthless."

You can see his entire speech right here.

And if we continue down this path it is most definitely true that our money will eventually become worthless at some point.  Just today I was down at the grocery store, and a can of chili that I was able to get on sale for 75 cents a couple of years ago now has a "sale price" of $1.69.  If the Federal Reserve keeps recklessly printing dollars, eventually we will be fortunate to get a can of chili for 10 bucks.  Things cost too much already, and the Fed seems absolutely determined to cut the legs out from under the U.S. dollar.

Unfortunately, printing money is the only way that we are going to be able to service the gigantic amounts of debt that we are accumulating.

According to Chris Cox and Bill Archer, two men who served on Bill Clinton's Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform, there is no way in the world that we could raise taxes high enough to pay for all of the obligations that we are currently taking on.  They say that even if we taxed all corporations and all individuals at a 100% tax rate on all income over $66,193,  "it wouldn't be nearly enough to fund the over $8 trillion per year in the growth of U.S. liabilities."

Are you starting to get an idea of how much trouble we are in?

We don't have enough money to pay for all of this.

We are broke.

Our current economy is a debt-induced illusion, and we will soon be waking up to a tremendous amount of pain.

Are you ready?

Are You Ready?

 

The IMF On China’s Over-Investment

The IMF on Overinvestment

 

Source: ecoseed.org via Ecoseed on Pinterest

Courtesy of Michael Pettis at China Financial Markets

The IMF’s Il Houng Lee, Murtaza Syed, and Liu Xueyan have published a very interesting and widely noticed study called “Is China Over-Investing and Does it Matter?” In it they argue that there is strong evidence that China is over-investing significantly. According to the abstract:

Now close to 50 percent of GDP, this paper assesses the appropriateness of China’s current investment levels. It finds that China’s capital-to-output ratio is within the range of other emerging markets, but its economic growth rates stand out, partly due to a surge in investment over the last decade. Moreover, its investment is significantly higher than suggested by cross-country panel estimation.

This deviation has been accumulating over the last decade, and at nearly 10 percent of GDP is now larger and more persistent than experienced by other Asian economies leading up to the Asian crisis. However, because its investment is predominantly financed by domestic savings, a crisis appears unlikely when assessed against dependency on external funding. But this does not mean that the cost is absent. Rather, it is distributed to other sectors of the economy through a hidden transfer of resources, estimated at an average of 4 percent of GDP per year.

The article is well worth reading because it makes a very strong case, perhaps a little late, for what many of us have been arguing for the past seven or eight years. China’s investment rate is so high, we have argued, that even ignoring the tremendous evidence of misallocated investment, unless we can confidently propose that Beijing has uncovered a secret formula that allows it (and the tens of thousands of minor government officials and SOE heads who can unleash investment without much oversight) to identify high quality investment in a way that no other country in history has been able, there is likely to be a systematic tendency to wasted investment.

Interestingly enough, while two of the authors of the study work for the IMF, Liu Xueyan, the third, is a Senior Fellow in the Institute of Economic Research at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China. I don’t know how much we should read into this, but it is worth noting that both the World Bank report in March and this IMF study have involved input from important mainland think tanks.

This is noteworthy because both the World Bank report and this study have come out very strongly in the direction that the China “skeptics” have been arguing for many years. They identify the urgent need for adjustment and suggest – very delicately – how difficult it will be. I assume that this is all part of the tough debate that is taking place within policy-making circles over the need to implement the very difficult political reforms that will be a necessary part of the economic rebalancing, and I guess the reformers are eager to recruit the World Bank and the IMF to their points of view.

How much overinvestment?

One of the implications of the study is that households and SMEs have been forced to subsidize growth at a cost to them of well over 4% of GDP annually. My own back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the cost to households is actually 5-8% of GDP – perhaps because I also include the implicit subsidy to recapitalize the banks in the form of the excess spread between the lending and deposit rates – but certainly I agree with the IMF study that this has been a massive transfer to subsidize growth.

This subsidy also explains most of the collapse in the household share of GDP over the past twelve years. With household income only 50% of GDP, a transfer every year of 4% of GDP requires ferocious growth in household income for it just to keep pace with GDP, something it has never done until, possibly, this year.

The size of the transfer makes it very clear that without eliminating this subsidy – which basically means abandoning the growth model – it will be almost impossible to get the household and consumption shares of GDP to rise if China still hopes to maintain high GDP growth. The transfer of wealth from the household sector to maintain high levels of investment is simply too great, and this will be made all the more clear as the growth impact per unit of investment declines.

Another implication of the IMF study is that to get into line with other equivalent countries at this stage of its economic takeoff, China would have to reduce the investment share of GDP by at least ten percentage points and perhaps as much as twenty. Aside from pointing out that the sectors of the economy that have benefitted from such extraordinarily high investments are unlikely to celebrate such a finding, I have three comments. First, after many years in which China has invested far more than other countries at its stage of development, one could presumably argue that in order to get back to the “correct” ratio, investment should be lower than the peer group, not equal to the peer group. In that case investment has to drop by a lot more than ten percentage points.

After all if China’s deviation from the experience of other countries is meaningful, then after a few years of substantial deviation, it cannot be enough for China simply to return to the mean. It must come in lower than the mean for a few years so that on average the deviation is eliminated.

Second, even if China had kept investment at the “correct” level, as measured by the peer group, this would not imply that China has not overinvested. I haven’t been able to dig deeply into the comparison countries, but the study does list them, and a very quick glance suggests that many of these countries, after years of very high investment, themselves experienced deep crises or “lost decades”.

This implies to me that these countries themselves overinvested, and so even if Chinese investment levels were not much higher than that of the peer group (and it was mainly in the past decade that Chinese investment rose to much higher levels than that of the peer group, and not in the 1990s, exactly as we have been suggesting using more qualitative measures), this could nonetheless be worrying. China would still have a difficult adjustment for the same reasons that many if not most of the peer group countries also had difficult adjustments.

The average number driven by the peer group sample, in other words, is not in itself an “optimal” level of investment. It might already be too high. That Chinese investment levels have been so much higher than theirs is all the more worrying.

How much would growth have to slow?

My third point is more technical. If Chinese investment levels are much higher than optimal (assuming the peer group average is indeed optimal), of course the best solution for China is immediately to reduce investment until it reaches the right level. The longer investment rates are too high, the greater the impact of losses that have eventually to be amortized, and the worse off China is likely to be.

But it will be very hard for China to bring investment down as a share of GDP by ten full percentage points very quickly. Let us assume instead that China has five years to bring investment levels down to the “correct” level, and let us assume further that the “correct” level is indeed ten percentage points below where it is today. Both assumptions are, I think, dangerous because I am not convinced that an investment level of 40% of GDP is the “correct” level for China going forward (I think it must be much lower) and I don’t think China has five years to make the necessary adjustment without running a serious risk of a financial crisis.

But let us ignore both objections and give China five years to bring investment down to 40% of GDP from its current level of 50%. Chinese investment must grow at a much lower rate than GDP for this to happen. How much lower? The arithmetic is simple. It depends on what we assume GDP growth will be over the next five years, but investment has to grow by roughly 4.5 percentage points or more below the GDP growth rate for this condition to be met.

If Chinese GDP grows at 7%, in other words, Chinese investment must grow at 2.3%.  If China grows at 5%, investment must grow at 0.4%. And if China grows at 3%, which is much closer to my ten-year view, investment growth must actually contract by 1.5%. Only in this way will investment drop by ten percentage points as a share of GDP in the next five years.

The conclusion should be obvious, but to many analysts, especially on the sell side, it probably needs nonetheless to be spelled out. Any meaningful rebalancing in China’s extraordinary rate of overinvestment is only consistent with a very sharp reduction in the growth rate of investment, and perhaps even a contraction in investment growth.

In fact I think over the next few years China will indeed undergo a sharp contraction in investment growth, but my point here is simply to suggest that even under the most optimistic of scenarios it will be very hard to keep investment growth high. Either Beijing moves quickly to bring investment growth down sharply, or overinvestment will contribute to further financial fragility leading, ultimately, to the point where credit cannot expand quickly enough and investment will collapse anyway.

This is just arithmetic. The extent of Chinese overinvestment – even if we assume that it has not already caused significant fragility in the banking system and enormous hidden losses yet to be amortized – requires a very sharp contraction just to get back to a “normal” which, in the past, was anyway associated with difficult economic adjustments. It is hard to imagine how such a sharp contraction in investment will itself not lead to a sharp drop in GDP growth, and the IMF paper recognizes this:

To the extent that elevated levels of investment during the post-crisis period in China were somehow abnormal and necessitated by the sharp external slowdown, the challenge now is how to return to a more “normal” level of investment without compromising growth and macroeconomic stability.

This will be my last post of 2012. I wish all my readers a wonderful 2013.

This is an abbreviated version of the newsletter that went out three weeks ago.  Academics, journalists, and government and NGO officials who want to subscribe to the newsletter should write to me at chinfinpettis@ yahoo dot com, stating your affiliation, please.  Investors who want to buy a subscription should write to me, also at that address.

 

[Formatting, bolding, courtesy of Zero Hedge]


A Re-look at my “Calls” for 2012

Courtesy of Bruce Krasting.

A year ago I made a number of projections for 2012 (Link). The following are ones that I got more right than wrong:

2012

  • Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential candidate. The election will go to Obama. The battleground states will be Pennsylvania and Ohio. Billions will be spent on getting the votes in those states. Republicans will retain their majority in the House.
  • There will be no new legislation of significance in 2012. 

  • In December of 2012, the Fed will be free to initiate another round of QE. An $800 billion Large Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP) will follow. The Fed’s new POMO operations will be divided equally between Treasury bonds and Agency Mortgage paper.

  • Europe’s economic problems will not be solved. Every effort will be made to kick the can down the road. Neither the can nor the road will collapse; that will happen in 2013. EU GDP will struggle to hold zero.

  • The US housing market will stabilize. Rental costs will rise by 7%. This, coupled with extremely low debt costs, will increase the demand for homes.

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America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff

America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff

By 

(Originally published at Naked Capitalism)

How today’s fiscal austerity is reminiscent of World War I’s economic misunderstandings

When World War I broke out in August 1914, economists on both sides forecast that hostilities could not last more than about six months. Wars had grown so expensive that governments quickly would run out of money. It seemed that if Germany could not defeat France by springtime, the Allied and Central Powers would run out of savings and reach what today is called a fiscal cliff and be forced to negotiate a peace agreement.

But the Great War dragged on for four destructive years. European governments did what the United States had done after the Civil War broke out in 1861 when the Treasury printed greenbacks. They paid for more fighting simply by printing their own money. Their economies did not buckle and there was no major inflation. That would happen only after the war ended, as a result of Germany trying to pay reparations in foreign currency. This is what caused its exchange rate to plunge, raising import prices and hence domestic prices. The culprit was not government spending on the war itself (much less on social programs).

But history is written by the victors, and the past generation has seen the banks and financial sector emerge victorious. Holding the bottom 99% in debt, the top 1% are now in the process of subsidizing a deceptive economic theory to persuade voters to pursue policies that benefit the financial sector at the expense of labor, industry, and democratic government as we know it.

Wall Street lobbyists blame unemployment and the loss of industrial competitiveness on
government spending and budget deficits – especially on social programs – and labor’s demand to share in the economy’s rising productivity. The myth (perhaps we should call it junk economics) is that (1) governments should not run deficits (at least, not by printing their own money), because (2) public money creation and high taxes (at lest on the wealthy) cause prices to rise. The cure for economic malaise (which they themselves have caused), is said to be less public spending, along with more tax cuts for the wealthy, who euphemize themselves as “job creators.” Demanding budget surpluses, bank lobbyists promise that banks can provide the economy with enough purchasing power to grow. Then, when this ends in crisis, they insist that austerity can squeeze out enough income to enable private-sector debts to be paid.

The reality is that when banks load the economy down with debt, this leaves less to spend on domestic goods and services while driving up housing prices (and hence the cost of living) with reckless credit creation on looser lending terms. Yet on top of this debt deflation, bank lobbyists urge fiscal deflation: budget surpluses rather than pump-priming deficits. The effect is to further reduce private-sector market demand, shrinking markets and employment. Governments fall deeper into distress, and are told to sell off land and natural resources, public enterprises, and other assets. This creates a lucrative market for bank loans to finance privatization on credit. This explains why financial lobbyists back the new buyers’ right to raise the prices they charge for basic needs, creating a united front to endorse rent extraction. The effect is to enrich the financial sector owned by the 1% in ways that indebt and privatize the economy at large – individuals, business and the government itself.

This policy was exposed as destructive in the late 1920s and early 1930s when John Maynard Keynes, Harold Moulton and a few others countered the claims of Jacques Rueff and Bertil Ohlin that debts of any magnitude could be paid if governments would impose deep enough austerity and suffering. This is the doctrine adopted by the International Monetary Fund to impose on Third World debtors since the 1960s, and by European neoliberals defending creditors imposing austerity on Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal.

This pro-austerity mythology aims to distract the public from asking why peacetime governments can’t simply print the money they need. Given the option of printing money instead of levying taxes, why do politicians only create new spending power for the purpose of waging war and destroying property, not to build or repair bridges, roads and other public infrastructure? Why should the government tax employees for future retirement payouts, but not Wall Street for similar user fees and financial insurance to build up a fund to pay for future bank over-lending crises? For that matter, why doesn’t the U.S. Government print the money to pay for Social Security and medical care, just as it created new debt for the $13 trillion post-2008 bank bailout? (I will return to this question below.)

The answer to these questions has little to do with markets, or with monetary and tax theory. Bankers claim that if they have to pay more user fees to pre-fund future bad-loan claims and deposit insurance to save the Treasury or taxpayers from being stuck with the bill, they will have to charge customers more – despite their current record profits, which seem to grab everything they can get. But they support a double standard when it comes to taxing labor.

Shifting the tax burden onto labor and industry is achieved most easily by cutting back public spending on the 99%. That is the root of the December 2012 showdown over whether to impose the anti-deficit policies proposed by the Bowles-Simpson commission of budget cutters whom President Obama appointed in 2010. Shedding crocodile tears over the government’s failure to balance the budget, banks insist that today’s 15.3% FICA wage withholding be raised – as if this will not raise the break-even cost of living and drain the consumer economy of purchasing power. Employers and their work force are told to save in advance for Social Security or other public programs. This is a disguised income tax on the bottom 99%, whose proceeds are used to reduce the budget deficit so that taxes can be cut on finance and the 1%. To paraphrase Leona Helmsley’s quip that “Only the little people pay taxes,” the post-2008 motto is that only the 99% have to suffer losses, not the 1% as debt deflation plunges real estate and stock market prices to inaugurate a Negative Equity economy while unemployment rates soar.

There is no more need to save in advance for Social Security than there is to save in advance to pay for war. Selling Treasury bonds to pay for retirees has the identical monetary and fiscal effect of selling newly printed securities. It is a charade – to shift the tax burden onto labor and industry. Governments need to provide the economy with money and credit to expand markets and employment. They do this by running budget deficits, and this can be done by creating their own money. That is what banks oppose, accusing it of leading to hyperinflation rather than help economies grow.

Their motivation for this wrong accusation is self-serving and their logic is deceptive. Bankers always have fought to block government from creating its own money – at least under normal peacetime conditions. For many centuries, government bonds were the largest and most secure investment for the financial elites that hold most savings. Investment bankers and brokers monopolized public finance, at substantial underwriting commissions. The market for stocks and corporate bonds was rife with fraud, dominated by insiders for the railroads and great trusts being organized by Wall Street, and the canal ventures organized by French and British stockbrokers.

However, there was little alternative to governments creating their own money when the costs of waging an international war far exceeded the volume of national savings or tax revenue available. This obvious need quieted the usual opposition mounted by bankers to limit the public monetary option. It shows that governments can do more under force majeur emergencies than under normal conditions. And the September 2008 financial crisis provided an opportunity for the U.S. and European governments to create new debt for bank bailouts. This turned out to be as expensive as waging a war. It was indeed a financial war. Banks already had captured the regulatory agencies to engage in reckless lending and a wave of fraud and corruption not seen since the 1920s. And now they were holding economies hostage to a break in the chain of payments if they were not bailed out for their speculative gambles, junk mortgages and fraudulent loan packaging.

Their first victory was to disable the ability – or at least the willingness – of the Treasury, Federal Reserve and Comptroller of the Currency to regulate the financial sector. Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and their fellow Wall Street giants hold veto power the appointment of key administrators at these agencies. They used this beachhead to weed out nominees who might not favor their interests, preferring ideological deregulators in the stripe of Alan Greenspan and Tim Geithner. As John Kenneth Galbraith quipped, a precondition for obtaining a central bank post is tunnel vision when it comes to understanding that governments can create their credit as readily as banks can. What is necessary is for one’s political loyalties to lie with the banks.

In the post-2008 financial wreckage it took only a series of computer keystrokes for the U.S. Government to create $13 trillion in debt to save banks from suffering losses on their reckless real estate loans (which computer models pretended would make banks so rich that they could pay their managers enormous salaries, bonuses and stock options), insurance bets gone bad (underpricing risk to win business to pay their managers enormous salaries and bonuses), arbitrage gambles and outright fraud (to give the illusion of earnings justifying enormous salaries, bonuses and stock options). The $800 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and $2 trillion of Federal Reserve “cash for trash” swaps enabled the banks to continue their remuneration of executives and bondholders with hardly a hiccup – while incomes and wealth plunged for the remaining 99% of Americans.

A new term, Casino Capitalism, was coined to describe the transformation that finance capitalism was undergoing in the post-1980 era of deregulation that opened the gates for banks to do what governments hitherto did in time of war: create money and new public debt simply by “printing it” – in this case, electronically on their computer keyboards.

Taking the insolvent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage financing agencies onto the public balance sheet for $5.2 trillion accounted for over a third of the $13 trillion bailout. This saved their bondholders from having to suffer losses from the fraudulent appraisals on the junk mortgages with which Countrywide, Bank of America, Citibank and other “too big to fail” banks had stuck them. This enormous debt increase was done without raising taxes. In fact, the Bush administration cut taxes, giving the largest cuts to the highest income and wealth brackets who were its major campaign contributors. Special tax privileges were given to banks so that they could “earn their way out of debt” (and indeed, out of negative equity).[1] The Federal Reserve gave a free line of credit (Quantitative Easing) to the banking system at only 0.25% annual interest by 2011 – that is, one quarter of a percentage point, with no questions asked about the quality of the junk mortgages and other securities pledged as collateral at their full face value, which was far above market price.

This $13 trillion debt creation to save banks from having to suffer a loss was not accused of threatening economic stability. It enabled them to resume paying exorbitant salaries and bonuses, dividends to bondholders and also to pay counterparties on casino-capitalist arbitrage bets. These payments have helped the 1% receive a reported 93% of the gains in income since 2008. The bailout thus polarized the economy, giving the financial sector more power over labor and consumers, industry and the government than has been the case since the late 19th-century Gilded Age.

All this makes today’s financial war much like the aftermath of World War I and countless earlier wars. The effect is to impoverish the losers, appropriate hitherto public assets for the victors, and impose debt service and taxes much like levying tribute. “The financial crisis has been as economically devastating as a world war and may still be a burden on ‘our grandchildren,’” Bank of England official Andrew Haldane recently observed. “‘In terms of the loss of incomes and outputs, this is as bad as a world war.’ he said. The rise in government debt has prompted calls for austerity – on the part of those who did not receive the giveaway. ‘It would be astonishing if people weren’t asking big questions about where finance has gone wrong.’”[2]

But as long as the financial sector is winning its war against the economy at large, it prefers that people believe that There Is No Alternative. Having captured mainstream economics as well as government policy, finance seeks to deter students, voters and the media from questioning whether the financial system really needs to be organized in the way it is. Once such a line of questioning is pursued, people may realize that banking, pension and Social Security systems and public deficit financing do not have to be organized in the way they are. There are better alternatives to today’s road to austerity and debt peonage.

Today’s financial war against the economy at large

Today’s economic warfare is not the kind waged a century ago between labor and its industrial employers. Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012.) The weapon in this financial warfare is no larger military force. The tactic is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enables creditors to seize employee pension savings. And Indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers.

Workers have become so deeply indebted on their home mortgages, credit cards and other bank debt that they fear to strike or even to complain about working conditions. Losing work means missing payments on their monthly bills, enabling banks to jack up interest rates to levels that used to be deemed usurious. So debt peonage and unemployment loom on top of the wage slavery that was the main focus of class warfare a century ago. And to cap matters, credit-card bank lobbyists have rewritten the bankruptcy laws to curtail debtor rights, and the referees appointed to adjudicate disputes brought by debtors and consumers are subject to veto from the banks and businesses that are mainly responsible for inflicting injury.

The aim of financial warfare is not merely to acquire land, natural resources and key infrastructure rents as in military warfare; it is to centralize creditor control over society. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency.

The emerging financial oligarchy seeks to shift taxes off banks and their major customers (real estate, natural resources and monopolies) onto labor. Given the need to win voter acquiescence, this aim is best achieved by rolling back everyone’s taxes. The easiest way to do this is to shrink government spending, headed by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Yet these are the programs that enjoy the strongest voter support. This fact has inspired what may be called the Big Lie of our epoch: the pretense that governments can only create money to pay the financial sector, and that the beneficiaries of social programs should be entirely responsible for paying for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, not the wealthy. This Big Lie is used to reverse the concept of progressive taxation, turning the tax system into a ploy of the financial sector to levy tribute on the economy at large.

Financial lobbyists quickly discovered that the easiest ploy to shift the cost of social programs onto labor is to conceal new taxes as user fees, using the proceeds to cut taxes for the elite 1%. This fiscal sleight-of-hand was the aim of the 1983 Greenspan Commission. It confused people into thinking that government budgets are like family budgets, concealing the fact that governments can finance their spending by creating their own money. They do not have to borrow, or even to tax (at least, not tax mainly the 99%).

The Greenspan tax shift played on the fact that most people see the need to save for their own retirement. The carefully crafted and well-subsidized deception at work is that Social Security requires a similar pre-funding – by raising wage withholding. The trick is to convince wage earners it is fair to tax them more to pay for government social spending, yet not also to ask the banking sector to pay similar a user fee to pre-save for the next time it itself will need bailouts to cover its losses. Also asymmetrical is the fact that nobody suggests that the government set up a fund to pay for future wars, so that future adventures such as Iraq or Afghanistan will not “run a deficit” to burden the budget. So the first deception is to treat only Social Security and medical care as user fees. The second is to aggravate matters by insisting that such fees be paid long in advance, by pre-saving.

There is no inherent need to single out any particular area of public spending as causing a budget deficit if it is not pre-funded. It is a travesty of progressive tax policy to only oblige workers whose wages are less than (at present) $105,000 to pay this FICA wage withholding, exempting higher earnings, capital gains, rental income and profits. The raison d’être for taxing the 99% for Social Security and Medicare is simply to avoid taxing wealth, by falling on low wage income at a much higher rate than that of the wealthy. This is not how the original U.S. income tax was created at its inception in 1913. During its early years only the wealthiest 1% of the population had to file a return. There were few loopholes, and capital gains were taxed at the same rate as earned income.

The government’s seashore insurance program, for instance, recently incurred a $1 trillion liability to rebuild the private beaches and homes that Hurricane Sandy washed out. Why should this insurance subsidy at below-commercial rates for the wealthy minority who live in this scenic high-risk property be treated as normal spending, but not Social Security? Why save in advance by a special wage tax to pay for these programs that benefit the general population, but not levy a similar “user fee” tax to pay for flood insurance for beachfront homes or war? And while we are at it, why not save another $13 trillion in advance to pay for the next bailout of Wall Street when debt deflation causes another crisis to drain the budget?

But on whom should we levy these taxes? To impose user fees for the beachfront reconstruction would require a tax falling mainly on the wealthy owners of such properties. Their dominant role in funding the election campaigns of the Congressmen and Senators who draw up the tax code suggests why they are able to avoid prepaying for the cost of rebuilding their seashore property. Such taxation is only for wage earners on their retirement income, not the 1% on their own vacation and retirement homes.

By not raising taxes on the wealthy or using the central bank to monetize spending on anything except bailing out the banks and subsidizing the financial sector, the government follows a pro-creditor policy. Tax favoritism for the wealthy deepens the budget deficit, forcing governments to borrow more. Paying interest on this debt diverts revenue from being spent on goods and services. This fiscal austerity shrinks markets, reducing tax revenue to the brink of default. This enables bondholders to treat the government in the same way that banks treat a bankrupt family, forcing the debtor to sell off assets – in this case the public domain as if it were the family silver, as Britain’s Prime Minister Harold MacMillan characterized Margaret Thatcher’s privatization sell-offs.

In an Orwellian doublethink twist this privatization is done in the name of free markets, despite being imposed by global financial institutions whose administrators are not democratically elected. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and EU bureaucracy treat governments like banks treat homeowners unable to pay their mortgage: by foreclosing. Greece, for example, has been told to start selling off prime tourist sites, ports, islands, offshore gas rights, water and sewer systems, roads and other property.

Sovereign governments are, in principle, free of such pressure. That is what makes them sovereign. They are not obliged to settle public debts and budget deficits by asset selloffs. They do not need to borrow more domestic currency; they can create it. This self-financing keeps the national patrimony in public hands rather than turning assets over to private buyers, or having to borrow from banks and bondholders.

Why today’s fiscal squeeze adds to the economy’s costs and imposes needless austerity

The financial sector promises that privatizing roads and ports, water and sewer systems, bus and railroad lines (on credit, of course) is more efficient and will lower the prices charged for their services. The reality is that the new buyers put up rent-extracting tollbooths on the infrastructure being sold. Their break-even costs include the high salaries and bonuses they pay themselves, as well as interest and dividends to their creditors and backers, spending on stock buy-backs and political lobbying.

Public borrowing creates a dependency that shifts economic planning to Wall Street and other financial centers. When voters resist, it is time to replace democracy with oligarchy. “Technocratic” rule replaces that of elected officials. In Europe the IMF, ECB and EU troika insists that all debts must be paid, even at the cost of austerity, depression, unemployment, emigration and bankruptcy. This is to be done without violence where possible, but with police-state practices when grabbers find it necessary to quell popular opposition.

Financializing the economy is depicted as a natural way to gain wealth – by taking on more debt. Yet it is hard to think of a more highly politicized policy, shaped as it is by tax rules that favor bankers. It also is self-terminating, because when public debt grows to the point where investors (“the market”) no longer believe that it can be repaid, creditors mount a raid (the military analogy is appropriate) by “going on strike” and not rolling over existing bonds as they fall due. Bond prices fall, yielding higher interest rates, until governments agree to balance the budget by voluntary pre-bankruptcy privatizations.

Selling saved-up Treasury bonds to fund public programs is like new deficit borrowing

If the aim of America’s military spending around the world is to prepare for future warfare, why not aim at saving up a fund of $10 trillion or even $30 trillion in advance, as with Social Security, so that we will have the money to pay for it?

The answer is that selling saved-up Treasury bills to finance Social Security, military spending or any other program has the same monetary and price effect as issuing new Treasury bills. The impact on financial markets – and on the private sector’s holding of government debt – by paying Social Security out of past savings – that is, by selling the Treasury securities in which Social Security funds are invested – is much like borrowing by selling new securities. It makes little difference whether the Treasury sells newly printed IOUs, or sells bonds that it has been accumulating in a special fund. The effect is to increase public debt owed to the financial sector.

If the savings are to be invested in Treasury bonds (as is the case with Social Security), will this pay for tax cuts elsewhere in the budget? If so, will these cuts be for the wealthy 1% or the 99%? Or, will the savings be invested in infrastructure, or turned over to states and cities to help balance their budget shortfalls and underfunded pension plans?

Another problem concerns who should pay for this pre-saving. The taxes needed to pre-fund a savings build-up siphon off income from somewhere in the economy. How much will the economy shrink by diverting income from being spent on goods and services? And whose income will taxed? These questions illustrate how politically self-interested it is to single out taxing wages to save for Social Security in contrast to war-making and beach-house rebuilding.

Government budgets usually are designed to be in balance under normal peacetime conditions, so most public debt has been brought into being by war (prior to today’s financial war of slashing taxes on the wealthy). Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (Book V) traced how each new British bond issue to raise funds for a military action had a dedicated tax to pay its interest charges. The accumulation of such war debts thus raised the cost of living and hence the break-even price of labor. To prevent this from undercutting of British competitiveness, Smith urged that wars be waged on a pay-as-you-go basis – by full taxation rather than by borrowing and entailing interest payments and taxes (as the debt itself rarely was amortized). Smith thought that populations should feel the cost of war directly and immediately, presumably leading them to be vigilant in checking grandiose projects of empire.

The United States issued fiat greenback currency to pay for much of its Civil War, but also issued bonds. In analyzing this war finance the Canadian-American astronomer and monetary theorist Simon Newcomb pointed out that all wars must be paid for in the form of tangible material and lives by the generation that fights them. Paying for the war by borrowing from bondholders, he explained, involved levying taxes to pay the interest. The effect was to transfer income from the Western states (taxpayers) to bondholders in the East.

In the case of Social Security today the beneficiary of government debt is still the financial sector. The economy must provide the housing, food, health care, transportation and clothing to enable retirees to live normal lives. This economic surplus can be paid for either out of taxation, new money creation or borrowing. But instead of “the West,” the major payers of the Social Security tax are wage earners across the nation. Taxing labor shrinks markets and forces the economy into austerity.

Quantitative easing as free money creation – to subsidize the big banks

The Federal Reserve’s three waves of Quantitative Easing since 2008 show how easy it is to create free money. Yet this has been provided only to the largest banks, not to strapped homeowners or industry. An immediate $2 trillion in “cash for trash” took the form of the Fed creating new bank-reserve credit in exchange for mortgage-backed securities valued far above market prices. QE2 provided another $800 billion in 2011-12. The banks used this injection of credit for interest rate arbitrage and exchange rate speculation on the currencies of Brazil, Australia and other high-interest-rate economies. So nearly all the Fed’s new money went abroad rather than being lent out for investment or employment at home.

U.S. Government debt was run up mainly to re-inflate prices for packaged bank mortgages, and hence real estate prices. Instead of alleviating private-sector debt by writing down mortgages in line with the homeowners’ ability to pay, the Federal Reserve and Treasury created money to support property prices – to push the banking system’s balance sheets back above negative net worth. The Fed’s QE3 program in 2012-13 created money to buy mortgage-backed securities each month, to provide banks with money to lend to new property buyers.

For the economy at large, the debts were left in place. Yet commentators focused only on government debt. In a double standard, they accused budget deficits of inflating wages and consumer prices, yet the explicit aim of quantitative easing was to support asset prices. Inflating asset prices on credit is deemed to be good for the economy, despite loading it down with debt. But public spending into the “real” economy, raising employment levels and sustaining consumer spending, is deemed bad – except when this is financed by personal borrowing from the banks. So in each case, increasing bank profits is the standard by which fiscal policy is to be judged!

The result is a policy asymmetry that is opposite from what most epochs have deemed fair or helpful to economic growth. Bankers and bondholders insist that the public sector borrow from them, blocking the government’s power to self-finance its operations – with one glaring exception. That exception occurs when the banks themselves need free money creation. The Fed provided nearly free credit to the banks under QE2, and Chairman Ben Bernanke promised to continue this policy until such time as the unemployment rate drops to 6.5%. The pretense is that low interest rates spur employment, but the most pressing aim is to provide easy credit to revive borrowing and bid asset prices back up.

Fiscal deflation on top of debt deflation

The main financial problem with funding war occurs after the return to normalcy, when creditors press for budget surpluses to roll back the public debt that has been run up. This imposes fiscal austerity, reducing wages and commodity prices relative to the debts that are owed. Consumer spending shrinks and prices decline as governments spend less, while higher taxes withdraw revenue. This is what is occurring in today’s financial war, much as it has in past military postwar returns to peace.

Governments have the power to resist this deflationary policy. Like commercial banks, they can create money on their computer keyboards. Indeed, since 2008 the government has created debt to support the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector more than the “real” production and consumption economy.

In contrast to public spending for goods and services (or social programs that increase market demand), most of the bank credit that led to the 2008 financial collapse was created to finance the purchase property already in place, stocks and bonds already issued, or companies already in existence. The effect has been to load down the economy with mortgages, bonds and bank debt whose carrying charges eat into spending on current output. The $13 trillion bank subsidy since 2008 (to enable banks to earn their way out of negative equity) brings us back to the question of why taxes should be levied on the 99% to pre-save for Social Security and Medicare, but not for the bank bailout.

Current tax policy encourages financial and rent extraction that has become the major economic problem of our epoch. Industrial productivity continues to rise, but debt is growing even more inexorably. Instead of fueling economic growth, this of credit/debt threatens to absorb the economic surplus, plunging the economy into austerity, debt deflation and negative equity.

So despite the fact that the financial system is broken, it has gained control over public policy to sustain and even obtain tax favoritism for a dysfunctional overgrowth of bank credit. Unlike the progress of science and technology, this debt is not part of nature. It is a social construct. The financial sector has politicized it by pressing to privatize economic rent rather than collect it as the tax base. This financialization of rent-extracting opportunities does not reflect a natural or inevitable evolution of “the market.” It is a capture of market structures and fiscal policy. Bank lobbyists have campaigned to shift the economic arena to the political sphere of lawmaking and tax policy, with side battlegrounds in the mass media and universities to capture the hearts and minds of voters to believe that the quickest and most efficient way to build up wealth is by bank credit and debt leverage.

Budget deficits as an antidote to austerity

Public debts everywhere are growing, as taxes only cover part of public spending. The least costly way to finance this expenditure is to issue money – the paper currency and coins we carry in our pockets. Holders of this currency technically are creditors to the government – and to society, which accepts this money in payment. Yet despite being nominally a form of public debt, this money serves as public capital inasmuch as it is not normally expected to be repaid. This government money does not bear interest, and may be thought of as “equity capital” or “equity money,” and hence part of the economy’s net worth.

If taxes did fully cover government spending, there would be no budget deficit – or new public money creation. Government budget deficits pump money into the economy. Conversely, running a budget surplus retires the public debt or currency outstanding. This deflationary effect occurred in the late 19th-century, causing monetary deflation that plunged the U.S. economy into depression. Likewise when President Bill Clinton ran a budget surplus late in his administration, the economy relied on commercial banks to supply credit to use as the means of payment, charging interest for this service. As Stephanie Kelton summarizes this historical experience:
The federal government has achieved fiscal balance (even surpluses) in just seven periods since 1776, bringing in enough revenue to cover all of its spending during 1817-21, 1823-36, 1852-57, 1867-73, 1880-93, 1920-30 and 1998-2001. We have also experienced six depressions. They began in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893 and 1929.

Do you see the correlation? The one exception to this pattern occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the dot-com and housing bubbles fueled a consumption binge that delayed the harmful effects of the Clinton surpluses until the Great Recession of 2007-09.[3]

When taxpayers pay more to the government than the economy receives in public spending, the effect is like paying banks more than they provide in new credit. The debt volume is reduced (increasing the reported savings rate). The resulting austerity is favorable to the financial sector but harmful to the rest of the economy.

Most people think of money as a pure asset (like a coin or a $10 dollar bill), not as being simultaneously a public debt. But to an accountant, a balance sheet always balances: Assets = Liabilities + Net Worth. This liability-side ambivalence is confusing to most people. It takes some time to think in terms of offsetting assets and liabilities as mirror images of each other. Much as cosmologists assume that the universe is symmetrical – with positively charged matter having an anti-matter counterpart somewhere at the other end – so accountants view the money in our pocket as being created by the government’s deficit spending. Holders of the Federal Reserve’s paper currency technically can redeem it, but they will simply get paid in other denominations of the same currency.

The word “redeem” comes from settling debts. This was the purpose for which money first came into being. Governments redeem money by accepting it for tax payment. In addition to issuing paper currency, the Federal Reserve injects money into the economy by writing checks electronically. The recipients (usually banks selling Treasury bonds or, more recently, packages of mortgage loans) gain a deposit at the central bank. This is the kind of deposit that was created by the above-mentioned $13 trillion in new debt that the government turned over to Wall Street after the September 2008 crisis. The price impact was felt in financial asset markets, not in prices for goods and services or labor’s wages.

This Federal Reserve and Treasury credit was not counted as part of the government’s operating deficit. Yet it increased public debt, without being spent on “real” GDP. The banks used this money mainly to gamble on foreign exchange and interest-rate arbitrage as noted above, to buy smaller banks (helping make themselves Too Big To Fail), and to keep paying their managers high salaries and bonuses.

This monetization of debt shows how different government budgets are from family budgets. Individuals must save to pay for retirement or other spending. They cannot print their own money, or tax others. But governments do not need to “save” (or tax) to pay for their spending. Their ability to create money means that they do not need to save in advance to pay for wars, Social Security or other needs.

Keynesian deficit spending vs. bailing out Wall Street to keep the debt overhead in place

There are two kinds of markets: hiring labor to produce goods and services in the “real” economy, and transactions in financial assets and property claims in the FIRE sector. Governments can run budget deficits by financing either of these two spheres. Since President Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA programs in the 1930s, along with his public infrastructure investment in roads, dams and other construction – and military arms spending after World War II broke out – “Keynesian” spending on goods and services has been used to hire labor or pay for social programs. This pumps money into the economy via the GDP-type transactions that appear in the National Income and Product Accounts. It is not inflationary when unemployment exists.

However, the debt that characterized the Paulson-Geithner bailout of Wall Street was created not to spend on goods and services, but to buy (or take liability for) mortgages and bank loans, insurance default bets and arbitrage gambles. The aim was to subsidize financial losses while keeping the debt overhead in place, so that banks and other financial institutions could “earn their way” out of negative net worth, at the economy’s expense. The idea was that they could start lending again to prevent real estate prices from falling further, saving them from having to write down their debt claims to bring levels back down within the ability to be paid.

Why tax the economy at all? And why financial and tax reform should go together.

Taxes pay for the cost of government by withdrawing income from the parties being taxed. From Adam Smith through John Stuart Mill to the Progressive Era, general agreement emerged that the most appropriate taxes should not fall on labor, capital or on sales of basic consumer needs. Such taxes raise the break-even cost of employing labor. In today’s world, FICA wage withholding for Social Security raises the price that employers must pay their work force to maintain living standards and buy the products they produce.

However, these economists singled out one kind of tax that does not increase prices: taxes on the land’s rental value, natural resource rents and monopoly rents. These payments for rent-extraction rights are not a return to “factors of production,” but are privatized levy reflecting privileges that have no ongoing cost of production. They are rentier rake-offs.

Land is the economy’s largest asset. A site’s rental value is set by market conditions – what people pay for being able to live in a good location. People pay more to live in prestigious and convenient neighborhoods. They pay more if there is local investment in roads and public transportation, and if there are parks, museums and cultural centers nearby, or nice shopping districts. People also pay more as the economy grows more prosperous, because one of the first things they desire is status, and in today’s world this is defined largely by where one lives.

Landlords do not create this site value. But speculators may seek to ride the wave by buying property on credit, where the rate of land-price gain exceeds the interest rate. This “capital” gain is the proverbial free lunch. It is created by public investment, by the general level of prosperity, and by the terms on which banks extend credit. In a nutshell, a property is worth whatever a bank will lend, because that is the price that new buyers will be able to pay for it.

This logic was more familiar to the public a century ago than it is today. A property tax to collect this “free lunch” rent is paid out of the rent. This leaves less to be capitalized into new interest-bearing loans – while freeing the government from having to tax labor and industrial capital. So this tax not only is “less bad” than others; it is actively desirable to reduce the debt overhead. Rent levels are not affected, but the government collects the rent instead of the property owner or, at one remove, the mortgage banker who turns this rent into a flow of interest by advancing the purchase price of rent-yielding properties to new buyers.

Real estate was the major source of rising net worth and wealth for America’s middle class for over sixty years, from the return to peace in 1945 until the 2008 financial collapse. Rising property prices were fueled largely by banks providing mortgage credit on easier terms. But by 2008 these terms had reached their limit. Interest rates were seemingly as low as they could go. So were down payments (zero down payment) and amortization rates (zero, with interest-only loans) and property values were becoming fictitious as a result of a tidal wave of fraud by the banking system’s property appraisers, while the income statements of borrowers also was becoming fictitious (“liars’ loans,” with the main liars being the mortgage writers).

If the rise in real estate prices (mainly site values) had been taxed, there would have been no financial overgrowth, because this price-gain would have been collected as the tax base. The government would not have needed to tax labor either via income tax, FICA wage withholding or consumer sales. And taken in conjunction with the government’s money-creating power, there would have been little need for public debt to grow. Taxing rent extraction privileges thus would minimize debt levels and taxes on the 99%.

The next leading form of economic rent is taken by oil, gas and mining companies from the mineral deposits created by nature, as well as by owners or leasers of forests and other natural resources. Classical economics from David Ricardo onward defined such income received by landlords, mining companies, forestry and fisheries as “economic rent.” It is not profit on capital investment, because nature has provided the resource, not human labor or expenditure on capital – except for tangible capital investment in the buildings erected on the land, saws to cut down trees, earth-moving equipment to do the mining, and so forth.

The basic contrast is between a productive industrial economy and a rent-extracting one in which special privileges, monopoly pricing and economic rents divert spending away from tangible capital investment and real output. Classical economists defined economic rent generically as “empty” pricing in excess of technologically necessary costs of production. This would include payments to pharmaceutical companies, health management organizations (HMOs) and monopolies above their necessary cost of doing business. Much like paying debt service, such economic rent siphons market revenue away from tangible production and consumption.

It was to demonstrate this that Francois Quesnay developed the first national income statistics, the Tableau Économique. His aim was to show that the landed aristocracy’s rental rake-offs should form the basis for taxation rather than the excise taxes that were burdening industry and making it uncompetitive. But for the past hundred years, commercial banks have opposed property taxes, because taxing the land’s rent would mean less left over to pay interest. Some 80 percent of bank loans are for real estate, mainly to capitalize the rental value left untaxed. A property and wealth tax would reduce this market – along with the government’s need to borrow, and hence to pay interest to bondholders. And without a fiscal squeeze there would have been less of an opportunity for the financial sector to push to privatize what remains of the public domain.

Today’s central financial problem is that the banking system lends mainly for rent extraction opportunities rather than for tangible capital investment and economic growth to raise living standards. To maximize rent, it has lobbied to untax land and natural resources. At issue in today’s tax and financial crisis is thus whether the world is going to have an economy based on progressive industrial democracy or a financialized and polarizing rent-extracting society.

The ideological crisis underlying today’s tax and financial policy

From antiquity and for thousands of years, land, natural resources and monopolies, seaports and roads were kept in the public domain. In more recent times railroads, subway lines, airlines, and gas and electric utilities were made public. The aim was to provide their basic services at cost or at subsidized prices rather than letting them be privatized into rent-extracting opportunities. The Progressive Era capped this transition to a more equitable economy by enacting progressive income and wealth taxes.

Economies were liberating themselves from the special privileges that European feudalism and colonialism had granted to favored insiders. The aim of ending these privileges – or taxing away economic rent where it occurs naturally, as in the land’s site value and natural resource rent – was to lower the costs of living and doing business. This was expected to make progressive economies more competitive, obliging other countries to follow suit or be rendered obsolete. The era of what was considered to be socialism in one form or another seemed to be at hand – rising role of the public sector as part and parcel of the evolution of technology and prosperity.

But the landowning and financial classes fought back, seeking to expunge the central policy conclusion of classical economics: the doctrine that free-lunch economic rent should serve as the tax base for economies seeking to be most efficient and fair. Imbued with academic legitimacy by the University of Chicago (which Upton Sinclair aptly named the University of Standard Oil) the new post-classical economics has adopted Milton Friedman’s motto: “There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” (TINSTAAFL). If it is not seen, after all, it has less likelihood of being taxed.
The political problem faced by rentiers – the “idle rich” siphoning off most of the economy’s gains for themselves – is to convince voters to agree that labor and consumers should be taxed rather than the financial gains of the wealthiest 1%. How long can they defer people from seeing that making interest tax-exempt pushes the government’s budget further into deficit? To free financial wealth and asset-price gains from taxes – while blocking the government from financing its deficits by its own public option for money creation – the academics sponsored by financial lobbyists hijacked monetary theory, fiscal policy and economic theory in general. On seeming grounds of efficiency they claimed that government no longer should regulate Wall Street and its corporate clients. Instead of criticizing rent seeking as in earlier centuries, they depicted government as an oppressive Leviathan for using its power to protect markets from monopolies, crooked drug companies, health insurance companies and predatory finance.

This idea that a “free market” is one free for Wall Street to act without regulation can be popularized only by censoring the history of economic thought. It would not do for people to read what Adam Smith and subsequent economists actually taught about rent, taxes and the need for regulation or public ownership. Academic economics is turned into an Orwellian exercise in doublethink, designed to convince the population that the bottom 99% should pay taxes rather than the 1% that obtain most interest, dividends and capital gains. By denying that a free lunch exists, and by confusing the relationship between money and taxes, they have turned the economics discipline and much political discourse into a lobbying effort for the 1%.

Lobbyists for the 1% frame the fiscal question in terms of “How can we make the 99% pay for their own social programs?” The implicit follow-up is, “so that we (the 1%) don’t have to pay?” This is how the Social Security system came to be “funded” and then “underfunded.” The most regressive tax of all is the FICA payroll tax at 15.3% of wages up to about $105,000. Above that, the rich don’t have to contribute. This payroll tax exceeds the income tax paid by many blue-collar families. The pretense is that not taxing these free lunchers will make economies more competitive and pull them out of depression. The reality is the opposite: Instead of taxing the wealthy on their free lunch, the tax burden raises the cost of living and doing business. This is a major reason why the U.S. economy is being de-industrialized today.

The key question is what the 1% do with their revenue “freed” from taxes. The answer is that they lend it out to indebt the 99%. This polarizes the economy between creditors and debtors. Over the past generation the wealthiest 1% have rewritten the tax laws to a point where they now receive an estimated 66% – two thirds – of all returns to wealth (interest, dividends, rents and capital gains), and a reported 93% of all income gains since the
Wall Street bailout of September 2008.

They have used this money to finance the election campaigns of politicians committed to shifting taxes onto the 99%. They also have bought control of the major news media that shape peoples’ understanding of what is happening. And as Thorstein Veblen described nearly a century ago, businessmen have become the heads most universities and directed their curriculum along “business friendly” lines.
The clearest way to analyze any financial system is to ask Who/Whom. That is because financial systems are basically a set of debts owed to creditors. In today’s neo-rentier economy the bottom 99% (labor and consumers) owe the 1% (bondholders, stockholders and property owners). Corporate business and government bodies also are indebted to this 1%. The degree of financial polarization has sharply accelerated as the 1% are making their move to indebt the 99% – along with industry, state, local and federal government – to the point where the entire economic surplus is owed as debt service. The aim is to monopolize the economy, above all the money-creating privilege of supplying the credit that the economy needs to grow and transact business, enabling them to extract interest and other fees for this privilege.

The top 1% have nearly succeeded in siphoning off the entire surplus for themselves, receiving 93% of U.S. income growth since September 2008. Their control over the political process has enabled them to use each new financial crisis to strengthen their position by forcing companies, states and localities to relinquish property to creditors and financial investors. So after monopolizing the economic surplus, they now are seeking to transfer to themselves the economic infrastructure, land and natural resources, and any other asset on which a rent-extracting tollbooth can be placed.

The situation is akin to that of medieval Europe in the wake of the Nordic invasions. The supra-national force of Rome in feudal times is now situated in Washington, with Christianity replaced by the Washington Consensus wielded via the IMF, World Bank, WTO and its satellite institutions such as the European Central Bank, backed by the moral and ideological role academic economists rather than the Church. And on the new financial battlefield, Wall Street underwriters have used the crisis as an opportunity to press for privatization. Chicago’s strong Democratic political machine sold rights to install parking meters on its sidewalks, and has tried to turn its public roads into privatized toll roads. And the city’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel has used privatization of its airport services to break labor unionization, Thatcher-style. The class war is back in business, with financial tactics playing a leading role barely anticipated a century ago.

This monopolization of property is what Europe’s medieval military conquests sought to achieve, and what its colonization of foreign continents replicated. But whereas it achieved this originally by military conquest of the land, today’s 1% do it l by financializing the economy (although the military arm of force is not absent, to be sure, as the world saw in Chile after 1973).

The financial quandary confronting us

The economy’s debt overhead has grown so large that not everyone can be paid. Rising default rates pose the question age-old question of Who/Whom. The answer almost always is that big fish eat little fish. Big banks (too big to fail) are eating little banks, while the 1% try to take the lion’s share for themselves by annulling public and corporate debts owed to the 99%. Their plan is to downgrade Social Security and Medicare savings to “entitlements,” as if it is a matter of sound fiscal choice not to pay low-income payers while rentiers at the top re-christen themselves “job creators,” as if they have made their gains by helping wage-earners rather than waging war against them.

The problem is not Social Security, which can be paid out of normal tax revenue, as in Germany’s pay-as-you-go system. This fiscal problem – untaxing real estate, oil and gas, natural resources, monopolies and the banks – has been depicted as financial – as if one needs to save in advance by a special tax to lend to the government to cut taxes on the 99%.

The real pension cliff is with corporate, state and local pension plans, which are being underfunded and looted by financial managers. The shortfall is getting worse as the downturn reduces local tax revenues, leaving states and cities unable to fund their programs, to invest in new public infrastructure, or even to maintain and repair existing investments. Public transportation in particular is suffering, raising user fees to riders in order to pay bondholders. But it is mainly retirees who are being told to sacrifice. (The sanctimonious verb is “share” in the sacrifice, although this evidently does not apply to the 1%.)

The bank lobby would like the economy to keep trying to borrow its way out of debt and thus dig itself deeper into a financial hole that puts yet more private and public property at risk of default and foreclosure. The idea is for the government to “stabilize” the financial system by bailing out the banks – that is, doing for them what it has not been willing to do for recipients of Social Security and Medicare, or for states and localities no longer receiving revenue sharing, or for homeowners in negative equity suffering from exploding interest rates even while bank borrowing costs from the Fed have plunged. The dream is that the happy Greenspan financial bubble can be recovered, making everyone rich again, if only they will debt-leverage to bid up real estate, stock and bond prices and create new capital gains.

Realizing this dream is the only way that pension funds can pay retirees. They will be insolvent if they cannot make their scheduled 8+%, giving new meaning to the term “fictitious capital.” And in the real estate market, prices will not soar again until speculators jump back in as they did prior to 2008. If student loans are not annulled, graduates face a lifetime of indentured servitude. But that is how much of colonial America was settled, after all – working off the price of their liberty, only to be plunged into the cauldron of vast real estate speculations and fortunes-by-theft on which the Republic was founded (or at least the greatest American fortunes). It was imagined that such bondage belonged only to a bygone era, not to the future of the West. But we may now look back to that era for a snapshot of our future.

The financial plan is for the government is to supply nearly free credit to the banks, so that they can to lend debtors enough – at the widest interest-rate markups in recent memory (what banks charge borrowers and credit-card users over their less-than-1% borrowing costs) – to pay down the debts that were run up before 2008.

This is not a program to increase market demand for the products of labor. It is not the kind of circular flow that economists have described as the essence of industrial capitalism. It is a financial rake-off of a magnitude such as has not existed since medieval European times, and the last stifling days of the oligarchic Roman Empire two thousand years ago.

Imagining that an economy can be grounded on these policies will further destabilize the economy rather than alleviate today’s debt deflation. But if the economy is saved, the banks cannot be. This is why the Obama Administration has chosen to save the banks, not the economy. The Fed’s prime directive is to keep interest rates low – to revive lending not to finance new business investment to produce more, but simply to inflate the asset prices that back the bank loans that constitute bank reserves. It is the convoluted dream of a new Bubble Economy – or more accurately a new Great Giveaway.

Here’s the quandary: If the Fed keeps interest rates low, how are corporate, state and local pension plans to make the 8+% returns needed to pay their scheduled pensions? Are they to gamble more with hedge funds playing Casino Capitalism?

On the other hand, if interest rates rise, this will reduce the capitalization multiple at which banks lend against current rental income and profits. Higher interest rates will lower prices for real estate, corporate stocks and bonds, pushing the banks (and pension funds) even deeper into negative equity.

So something has to give. Either way, the financial system cannot continue along its present path. Only debt write-offs will “free” markets to resume spending on goods and services. And only a shift of taxes onto rent-yielding property and tollbooths, finance and monopolies will save prices from being loaded down with extractive overhead charges and refocus lending to finance production and employment. Unless this is done, there is no way the U.S. economy can become competitive in international markets, except of course for military hardware and intellectual property rights for escapist cultural artifacts.

The solution for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is to de-financialize them. Treat them like government programs for military spending, beachfront rebuilding and bank subsidies, and pay their costs out of current tax revenue and new money creation by central banks doing what they were founded to do.

Politicians shy away from confronting this solution mainly because the financial sector has sponsored a tunnel vision that ignores the role of debt, money, and the phenomena of economic rent, debt leverage and asset-price inflation that have become the defining characteristics of today’s financial crisis. Government policy has been captured to try and save – or at least subsidize – a financial system that cannot be saved more than temporarily. It is being kept on life support at the cost of shrinking the economy – while true medical spending for real life support is being cut back for much of the population.

The economy is dying from a financial respiratory disease, or what the Physiocrats would have called a circulatory disorder. Instead of freeing the economy from debt, income is being diverted to pay credit card debt and mortgage debts. Students without jobs remain burdened with over $1 trillion of student debt, with the time-honored safety valve of bankruptcy closed off to them. Many graduates must live with their parents as marriage rates and family formation (and hence, new house-buying) decline. The economy is dying. That is what neoliberalism does.

Now that the debt build-up has run its course, the banking sector has put its hope in gambling on mathematical probabilities via hedge fund capitalism. This Casino Capitalist has become the stage of finance capitalism following Pension Fund capitalism – and preceding the insolvency stage of austerity and property seizures.

The open question now is whether neofeudalism will be the end stage. Austerity deepens rather than cures public budget deficits. Unlike past centuries, these deficits are not being incurred to wage war, but to pay a financial system that has become predatory on the “real” economy of production and consumption. The collapse of this system is what caused today’s budget deficit. Instead of recognizing this, the Obama Administration is trying to make labor pay. Pushing wage-earners over the “fiscal cliff” to make them pay for Wall Street’s financial bailout (sanctimoniously calling their taxes “user fees”) can only shrink of market more, pushing the economy into a fatal combination of tax-ridden and debt-ridden fiscal and financial austerity.

The whistling in the intellectual dark that central bankers call by the technocratic term “deleveraging” (paying off the debts that have been run up) means diverting yet more income to pay the financial sector. This is antithetical to resuming economic growth and restoring employment levels. The recent lesson of European experience is that despite austerity, debt has risen from 381% of GDP in mid-2007 to 417% in mid—2012. That is what happens when economies shrink: debts mount up at arrears (and with stiff financial penalties).

But even as economies shrink, the financial sector enriches itself by turning its debt claims – what 19th-century economists called “fictitious capital” before it was called finance capital – into a property grab. This makes an unrealistic debt overhead – unrealistic because there is no way that it can be paid under existing property relations and income distribution – into a living nightmare. That is what is happening in Europe, and it is the aim of Obama Administration of Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Erik Holder et al. They would make America look like Europe, wracked by rising unemployment, falling markets and the related syndrome of adverse social and political consequences of the financial warfare waged against labor, industry and government together. The alternative to the road to serfdom – governments strong enough to protect populations against predatory finance – turns out to be a detour along the road to debt peonage and neofeudalism.

So we are experiencing the end of a myth, or at least the end of an Orwellian rhetorical patter talk about what free markets really are. They are not free if they are to pay rent-extractors rather than producers to cover the actual costs of production. Financial markets are not free if fraudsters are not punished for writing fictitious junk mortgages and paying ratings agencies to sell “opinions” that their clients’ predatory finance is sound wealth creation. A free market needs to be regulated from fraud and from rent seeking.

The other myth is that it is inflationary for central banks to monetize public spending. What increases prices is building interest and debt service, economic rent and financial charges into the cost of living and doing business. Debt-leveraging the price of housing, education and health care to make wage-earners pay over two-thirds of their income to the FIRE sector, FICA wage withholding and other taxes falling on labor are responsible for de-industrializing the economy and making it uncompetitive.

Central bank money creation is not inflationary if it funds new production and employment. But that is not what is happening today. Monetary policy has been hijacked to inflate asset prices, or at least to stem their decline, or simply to give to the banks to gamble. “The economy” is less and less the sphere of production, consumption and employment; it is more and more a sphere of credit creation to buy assets, turning profits and income into interest payments until the entire economic surplus and repertory of property is pledged for debt service.

To celebrate this as a “postindustrial society” as if it is a new kind of universe in which everyone can get rich on debt leveraging is a deception. The road leading into this trap has been baited with billions of dollars of subsidized junk economics to entice voters to act against their interests. The post-classical pro-rentier financial narrative is false – intentionally so. The purpose of its economic model is to make people see the world and act (or invest their money) in a way so that its backers can make money off the people who follow the illusion being subsidized. It remains the task of a new economics to revive the classical distinction between wealth and overhead, earned and unearned income, profit and rentier income – and ultimately between capitalism and feudalism.

Footnotes

[1]

No such benefits were given to homeowners whose real estate fell into negative equity. For the few who received debt write-downs to current market value, the credit was treated as normal income and taxed!

[2]

Philip Aldrick, “Loss of income caused by banks as bad as a ‘world war’, says BoE’s Andrew Haldane,” The Telegraph, December 3, 2012. Mr. Haldane is the Bank’s executive director for financial stability.

[3]

Stephanie Kelton, “The ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Hoax,” http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-kelton-fiscal-cliff-economy-20121221,0,2129176.story, December 21, 2012
.

Picture Source: feminine-flower.tumblr.com via Anne on Pinterest

Lamarck and the Missing Lnc

Fascinating discoveries in epigenetics continue at a rapid pace:

Scientists May Have Finally Unlocked Puzzle of Why People Are Gay – US News and World Report ~ Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance may play a role in sexual orientation.

An Epi Phenomenon ~ Stephen Baylin discovered an epigenetic modification that occurs in most cancers. Baylin also identified a handful of tumor suppressor genes that are silenced by DNA methylation. Methylation of cytosine bases in the promoter region of genes plays a key role. 

Inherited Resistance to Cocaine ~ Cocaine-using rat fathers pass epigenetic changes on to their sons that make them resistant to coke addiction.

Lamarck and the Missing Lnc

Epigenetic changes accrued over an organism’s lifetime may leave a permanent heritable mark on the genome, through the help of long noncoding RNAs.

By Kevin V. Morris

Infographic: The Epigenetic Lnc View full size JPG | PDF

Infographic: The Epigenetic Lnc
Credit: Precision Graphics

Excerpt:

Just as epigenetics was gaining acceptance within the general scientific community, scientists began reporting observations of a newly identified phenomenon called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, or the passage of epigenetic changes from a parent to its offspring. Recent experimental work in mice, worms, and pigs has found evidence that some degree of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance may take place.[1. B.T. Heijmans et al., “Persistent epigenetic differences associated with prenatal exposure to famine in humans,” PNAS, 105:17046–49, 2008.],[2. T.B. Franklin et al., “Epigenetic transmission of the impact of early stress across generations,” Biol Psychiatry, 68:408–15, 2010.],[3. O. Rechavi et al., “Transgenerational inheritance of an acquired small RNA-based antiviral response in C. elegans,” Cell, 147:1248–56, 2011.],[4. M. Braunschweig et al., “Investigations on transgenerational epigenetic response down the male line in F2 pigs,” PLoS ONE, 7: e30583, 2012.]

A fascinating 2008 study that looked at people born during the Dutch Hunger Winter in 1944–1945 hints at the possibility that transgenerational epigenetic inheritance also occurs in humans.1 Adults who were conceived during the famine had distinct epigenetic marks that their siblings born before or after the famine did not. These marks reduced the production of insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) and affected the growth of the famine-gestated children. Notably, these marks were retained for several decades in the afflicted individuals. While these observations suggest the possibility of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, the modifications could also have occurred in utero as a result of famine conditions rather than being inherited in the germline. Therefore, whether such a distinct phenomenon occurs in humans remains to be definitively determined.

However, in model experimental systems, there is strong evidence for transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.2,3,4 In one study carried out in mice, an environmental stress that resulted in aggressive behavior in males caused the same behavior in their offspring.[5. T.B. Franklin, I.M. Mansuy, “Epigenetic inheritance in mammals: evidence for the impact of adverse environmental effects,” Neurobiol Dis, 39:61–65, 2010.] Notably, the offspring had changes in the DNA methylation patterns of particular genes. Collectively, these and other transgenerational studies all point to the notion that selective pressure can be applied from the environment and passed on to daughter cells and offspring.

Full article: Lamarck and the Missing Lnc | The Scientist Magazine®.

Inherited Resistance to Cocaine

This is fascinating and if applicable to humans (and why wouldn't it be?) has enormous implications. Cocaine not doing enough for you lately – talk to daddy. 

Inherited Resistance to Cocaine

Cocaine-using rat fathers pass epigenetic changes on to their sons that make them resistant to coke addiction.

By Ed Yong 

Wikpedia, DEAIf a rat becomes addicted to cocaine, you might expect that its offspring would also be predisposed to using the drug, especially since drug addiction is heritable and tends to run in families. Instead, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania (U Penn) have shown that the sons of cocaine-using male rats find the drug less rewarding, and are more likely to resist addiction.

The findings, published today (16 December) in Nature Neuroscience, “were the exact opposite of what we expected,” said U Penn’s Chris Pierce, who led the study. His team showed that cocaine use leads to epigenetic changes in a rat’s brain that boost the levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These same changes are seen in the sperm of drug-taking rodent parents, and can be passed on to their male pups.

Although it is not yet clear if the results apply to humans, Pierce said in a statement that “the implications of findings such as these for the descendants of cocaine addicts are profound.”

“It’s very interesting, but also very scary,” said Paul Kenny, a neuroscientist at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida who was not involved in the study. “When you think about behavior, you think about your own behavior, not the fact that you could influence the behavior of your offspring through epigenetics. If other people find similar effects, and it’s a robust phenomenon that equally translates into humans, it’s something people need to be aware of.” (Read more about the possible heredity of epigenetic changes in The Scientist’s recent feature, “Lamarck and the Missing Lnc.”)

Keep reading: Inherited Resistance to Cocaine | The Scientist Magazine®.

16 Things About 2013 That Are Really Going To Stink

16 Things About 2013 That Are Really Going To Stink

Courtesy of Michael at Economic Collapse

The beginning of the year has traditionally been a time of optimism when we all look forward to the exciting things that are going to happen over the next 12 months. Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of things about 2013 that we already know are going to stink. Taxes are going to go up, good paying jobs will continue to leave the country, small businesses will continue to be destroyed, the number of Americans living in poverty will continue to soar, our infrastructure will continue to decay, global food supplies will likely continue to dwindle and the U.S. national debt will continue to explode.

Our politicians continue to pursue the same policies that got us into this mess, and yet they continue to expect things to magically turn around. But that is not the way that things work in the real world. Bad decisions lead to bad outcomes. Instead of realizing that what we are doing is not working, our “leaders” continue to give us more of the same. As a result, there are going to be a lot of things about 2013 that will not be great. Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that everything will be “okay” somehow is not going to help anyone. We’ve got to make people understand exactly what is happening and why it is happening if we ever hope to see real changes.

 

The following are 16 things about 2013 that are really going to stink…

#1 Taxes Are Going To Go Up

Even if a fiscal cliff deal is reached, some taxes will still go up next year.  And if no deal is reached, there will be a whole bunch of different tax increases in 2013.

According to CBS News, these tax increases would be very painful for the middle class…

If lawmakers fail to work out any sort of deal, there will be severe long-term consequences for the economy: According to the Tax Policy Center, going off the "cliff" would affect 88 percent of U.S. taxpayers, with their taxes rising by an average of $3,500 a year; taxes would jump $2,400 on average for families with incomes of $50,000 to $75,000. Because consumers would get less of their paychecks to spend, businesses and jobs would suffer.

#2 The Middle Class Is About To Be Scorched By The Alternative Minimum Tax

Of more immediate concern for the middle class is the Alternative Minimum Tax.  Many Americans have never heard of the AMT, but it is truly one of the worst things about our tax code.

If Congress does not act, and right now it does not look promising, millions of middle class households will see a massive increase in their tax bills for 2012.

According to one analysis, households that are forced to pay the AMT will end up paying an extra $3,700 in taxes…

Unless Congress acts by the end of the year, more than 26 million households will for the first time face the AMT, which threatens to tack $3,700, on average, onto taxpayers’ bills for the current tax year. Because those people have never paid the AMT, they have no idea they are in its crosshairs — put there by a broader stalemate over tax policy that has kept Congress from limiting the AMT’s reach.

Do you have an extra $3,700 sitting around to send to Uncle Sam?

If not, you had better contact your representatives in Congress and scream like crazy about passing a fix for the AMT.  They have always gotten it done before, but this year there is so much animosity between the Republicans and the Democrats that nothing may end up getting done.

#3 The Economy Will Continue To Get Worse

Despite all of the talk in the mainstream media and from our politicians that our economy is getting better, the truth is that the U.S. economy continued to decline in 2012.  If you doubt this, just read the 75 statisticsin this article.

And there are a whole host of signs that the economy is starting to slow down even more as we enter 2013.  For example, consumer confidence in the United States has experienced its largest two-month drop in over a year, and retail sales during the holiday season turned out to bequite disappointing.

#4 Good Paying Jobs Will Continue To Be Shipped Out Of The United States

Thanks to decades of "free trade agreements", workers in the United States must directly compete for jobs with hundreds of millions of workers on the other side of the globe that live in countries where it is legal to pay slave labor wages.

We continue to see millions of jobs being shipped out of the country and our politicians stand by and do nothing.

Most Americans have no idea how this emerging one world economic system works.  The beautiful product that you buy at the big retail store may have been made by someone working in some of the most horrific conditions imaginable.

A 42-year-old woman named Julie Keith recently found this letterinside a box of Halloween decorations that had been made in China…

"If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization. Thousands people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.

People who work here have to work 15 hours a day without Saturday, Sunday break and any holidays. Otherwise, they will suffer torturement, beat and rude remark. Nearly no payment (10 yuan/1 month).

People who work here, suffer punishment 1-3 years averagely, but without Court Sentence (unlaw punishment). Many of them are Falun Gong practitioners, who are totally innocent people only because they have different believe to CCPG. They often suffer more punishment than others."

But both political parties continue to tell us how wonderful it is that we are trading with communist China.  They see no problem with the fact that good paying jobs that used to be performed in America are now being performed by slave laborers on the other side of the planet.  And most Americans continue to support this system by filling their shopping carts with lots of stuff that has "made in China" stamped on it.

#5 Small Businesses Will Continue To Be Destroyed

At the same time, small businesses all over America are being strangled to death by taxes and regulations.  Just consider the following numbers from a previous article

We are told that the economy is supposed to be "recovering", but the number of "startup jobs" at new businesses has fallen for five years in a row.  According to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data performed by economist Tim Kane, there were almost 12 startup jobs per 1000 Americans back in the year 2006.  By 2011, that figure had fallen to less than 8 startup jobs per 1000 Americans.

How is our economy ever going to thrive if we keep killing off our small businesses?

#6 Hunger And Poverty Will Continue To Explode To Unprecedented Levels

As the U.S. economy bleeds jobs and loses small businesses, the number of Americans living in poverty continues to explode.

Here are some numbers to show to people who still don't understand how desperate the situation is…

-Families that have a head of household under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

-According to U.S. Census data, 57 percent of all American children live in a home that is either considered to be "poor" or "low income".

-For the first time ever, more than a million public school students in the United States are homeless.  That number has risen by 57 percentsince the 2006-2007 school year.

#7 The Number Of Americans On Food Stamps Will Continue To Increase

If the economy is recovering, then why does the number of Americans on food stamps continue to soar?

As I wrote about yesterday, about 17 million Americans were on food stamps back in the year 2000.

Today, more than 47 million Americans are on food stamps.

Does anyone want to explain to me how that is a sign that things are getting better?

Back in the 1970s, about one out of every 50 Americans was on food stamps.  Today, about one out of every 6.5 Americans is on food stamps.

How much worse do things have to get before people realize that what we are doing is not working?

#8 Millions Of Americans Are About To Lose Their Unemployment Benefits

During this economic crisis, an unprecedented number of American families have been relying on unemployment benefits in order to stay afloat.

Well, if no agreement is reached in Washington D.C., millions of Americans will shortly lose those benefits

Three million Americans may become unwitting casualties of the political war in Washington over the fiscal cliff.

Since 2008, the federal government has funded extensions of the unemployment insurance offered by states, more than tripling the amount of aid available to the unemployed in some areas. But the program is expensive, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating it would cost $30 billion to extend it through 2013. President Barack Obama wants to extend the benefits for another year, but Congress has already pared back the program, and Republicans insist it represents the kind of largesse Washington can no longer afford.

#9 Our Infrastructure Will Continue To Rot And Decay

The United States once had the most beautiful infrastructure in the entire world.  Our highways, bridges, airports, railroads, sewer systems and electrical grids were the envy of the entire planet.

Well, now we don't even have enough money to repair what we already have, so our infrastructure will continue to rot and decay in 2013…

Highways and bridges will need $2.5 trillion in upgrades if they are to survive for another 50 years — a must-do to keep commerce thriving. And that figure doesn't even take into account the airports, railroads, subways, sewage-treatment plants, waterworks, levees, electric grids, pipelines, and all of those other expensive systems that people ignore until they break down.

#10 Many Of Our Major Cities Will Continue To Be Transformed Into Festering Hellholes

A lot of our major cities are also rapidly degenerating.  Detroit is one of my favorite examples, but the same kinds of things could be said about dozens of other major cities all over the country.  The following is a brief excerpt from one of my recent articles

If you can believe it, more than 50 percent of all children in Detroit are living in poverty, and close to 50 percent of all adults living in the city are functionally illiterate.  The high school graduation rate in Detroit is down to about 25 percent, and the city has become a breeding ground for gangs and violence.  The number of murders in Detroit is already higher than last year, and recently groups of young men toting AK-47s have been running around robbing gas stations.  How much worse can things possibly get for Detroit?

#11 State And Local Governments Will Find Ways To Squeeze Even More Money Out Of Us

In case you haven't noticed, state and local governments all over the country are bleeding cash and are desperate for money.  In 2013 you can expect them to continue to find more ways to squeeze even more money out of all of us.  Here is one example…

Over the course of 2013, the District government will add 134 traffic cameras to its network, more than doubling the size of a system that generated $85 million in revenues for the city in its last fiscal year.

Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump told The Washington Examiner that the city will intensify its camera-based efforts to cite motorists for speeding and stoplight violations while also adding cameras to detect other moving violations.

#12 Drug Cartels Will Continue To Easily Cross Our Borders And Terrorize Our Citizens

The federal government continues to refuse to protect our borders, and that means that drug runners and gang members will continue to pour into the United States.

Down in the Southwest, many ranchers are being absolutely terrorized by these criminals.  The following is from a recent NBC News article

Just before nightfall, 73-year-old rancher Jim Chilton hikes quickly up and down the hills on his rugged cattle-grazing land south of Tucson, escorting two U.S. Border Patrol agents.

He wants to show them the disturbing discovery he made earlier in the day: a drug-smugglers' camp on his private property.  Stacked together under a stand of trees are blankets, jackets, food, water, binoculars and bales of marijuana from Mexico wrapped in burlap. The smugglers, themselves, are nowhere in sight and are believed to have fled the area, which is about 10 miles north of the Mexican border.

Chilton has had his house burglarized a couple of times and his family regularly encounters groups of armed drug smugglers coming across from Mexico…

Their cattle fences are frequently cut and paths heading north from Mexico cross their property.  Beckham says a smuggler even fired shots at him while he walked his land with a U.S. Border Patrol agent.  Several illegal border crossers have also approached his house at night–one even reaching his hand into their bathroom window.

"Several years ago, one of my children was taking a shower and had a gentleman reach into the shower while he was in there, and he came out screaming, absolutely refusing to take a shower for the next couple months."

But even if you don't live along the border, all of this still affects you.  According to government figures, Mexican drug cartels are actively operating in more than 1,200 U.S. cities right now.  They are probably hard at work in the community where you live.

So what is the Obama administration doing to fix the problem?

Not much.

In fact, the Obama administration is actually encouraging people to come to the U.S. and become dependent on the system.  If you can believe it, there is actually a website run by the Department of Homeland Security that teaches immigrants how to apply for welfare benefits once they get into the United States.

#13 Social Decay Will Continue To Accelerate

All over America we are seeing signs of social breakdown.  Here is yetanother example

A woman sleeping on a street bench outside a drug store was doused with an accelerant and set on fire early Thursday morning in Van Nuys.

Witnesses told police that a man poured liquid — possibly a beverage containing alcohol — on the sleeping woman at about 1 a.m. outside a Walgreens store near Van Nuys Boulevard and Sherman Way. He lit a match and ran from the location, witnesses told police.

Who would just run up and set a woman on fire?

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident.  For many more examples like this, please see this article: "20 Shocking Examples Of How Sadistic And Cruel People Have Become".

We need to admit that we have a major problem on our hands.  Violent crime in the United States increased by 18 percent in 2011, and another huge increase is expected when the numbers for 2012 come out.

America is changing, and not for the better.

#14 Global Food Supplies Will Continue To Dwindle

Did you know that for six of the last eleven years the world has consumed more food than it has produced?

As a result, global food reserves have reached their lowest level in almost 40 years.

So what is going to happen if the world continues to eat more food than it makes?

Let us hope that there is not another major drought in 2013.  If there is, we could be looking at a very serious food crunch.

#15 Wall Street Will Continue To Resemble A Giant Casino

Our financial system seems to have not learned any lessons from the financial crash of 2008.

Instead of admitting their mistakes, they just continue to engage in even more reckless behavior.

Today, there are four major U.S. banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.

At some point that house of cards is going to collapse and we will be facing a derivatives crisis of unprecedented magnitude.

Will it be in 2013?

#16 The U.S. National Debt Will Cross The 17 Trillion Dollar Mark

In 2013, our national debt will blow past the 17 trillion dollar mark and start heading toward 18 trillion dollars.

How stupid can we possibly be?

During the first four years of the Obama administration, the U.S. national debt has grown by about as much as it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that George W. Bush took office.

It really takes something to match more than 200 years of debt accumulation in less than four years.

But our politicians don't seem to care about all of this debt.  They will continue to steal more than 100 million dollars from our children and our grandchildren every single hour of every single day.  That is beyond criminal, and yet the American people don't seem to care.

What in the world has happened to this country?

Of course not everything about 2013 will be bad.  Personally, I am looking forward to an exciting year.  I have a new book that will be coming out, and my family is blessed and healthy.  I would like to wish all of you a very blessed 2013.  Things may be falling apart all around us, but that doesn't mean that we can't have a great year even in the midst of all the chaos.

 

Happy 2013

Blowing Up: The Transfer Of French Nuclear Technology To China

 

Source: wewastetime.files.wordpress.com via Tim on Pinterest

 

Blowing Up: The Transfer Of French Nuclear Technology To China

Courtesy of Wolf Richterwww.amazon.com/author/wolfrichter

Technology transfers, whether on a contractual basis or through theft, have long bedeviled companies that want to benefit from China’s cheap labor and 1.3 billion consumers. Automakers, aerospace companies, technology outfits…. it’s the price they have to pay. But when it seeped out that the largely state-owned nuclear industry in France was trying to sell its secrets to China to make a deal, oh là là!

That the French have been through this with their high-speed train technology, the TGV, was hammered home on Wednesday when China opened the world’s longest high-speed rail line—1,428 miles between Beijing and Guangzhou. It extended the high-speed rail network to 5,800 miles. And the network will practically double over the next three years if government funding continues to flow. By comparison, it will take the US, or more precisely California, an unknown number of years, perhaps as many as 20, to complete the link between San Francisco and Los Angeles [California’s High-Speed Rail to Nowhere].

On the Beijing-Guangzhou line, trains will run at a maximum speed of 186 mph, specs that the TGV mastered decades ago. Initially, China struggled to develop its own technology. After it tripped badly, it decided to import some trains, and the missing technology, from Japan, Germany, and France.

They all got a piece of the pie. Alstom of France won an order for 60 sets of its latest tilt-technology trains, the Pendolino. Three were delivered fully assembled; six were delivered in kits and assembled by an entity of China National Rail; and the remainder were manufactured in China with some imported components and a lot of transferred technology. And that was mostly it for TGV sales in China. Now, China has the ability to manufacture its own trains. It’s pushing the technology to the next level. And it will become a formidable anywhere in the world, even in California.

Nuclear energy—where France has also been proudly on the forefront—was going to be next. Until the scandal of massive nuclear-technology transfers broke into the open. The central figure, Henri Proglio, CEO of mega-utility EDF that owns France’s 58 active nuclear reactors but derives almost half of its revenues from outside France, has come under investigation by the Inspector General of Finance (IGF). Of particular interest: the agreement to sell nuclear and industrial secrets and knowhow to China in order to conclude a deal that had been “aborted.”

On Thursday, the government announced that it would try to shed some light on the relationship between the French nuclear industry and its Chinese partners. And on Friday, it was leaked that the government, which owns 84.4% of EDF, will sack Proglio in February or March and replace him with the CEO of state-owned railroad SNCF, Guillaume Pépy, who immediately denied being “candidate for anything.” The revolving door of state-owned companies.

The intrigue goes back years. In January 2012, during the presidential campaign, a confidential agreement bubbled up, signed in Beijing on April 29, 2010, by Proglio and He Yu, the CEO of China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPC). It envisioned a tight partnership concerning the “design” of nuclear reactors and the transfer of nuclear technologies—to the point where Chinese specialists would be associated with the construction of reactors … in France.

The Socialists, including Jean-Marc Ayrault who would become Prime Minister, raised a ruckus: A Chinese company might soon build nuclear power plants in France? Areva, the government-owned nuclear conglomerate and crown jewel of French nuclear technology, might soon have to compete with a Chinese company for reactors in France? A shock too many for the battered “Made in France,” which had become a campaign issue.

Then, on April 19, 2012, just three days before the presidential elections, after more embarrassing details made it into the media, Finance Minister François Baroin put a hold on that contract. Turns out, apparently, EDF would hand over secrets about France’s entire stock of nuclear power plants to the Chinese. Nevertheless, in October, after the storm had settled, EDF, Areva, and CGNPC signed a contract. It remains confidential. Nothing has leaked out.

The unions were particularly worried. They demanded transparency concerning the technology transfers. They feared the effects on employment in the nuclear energy industry. They feared that much of it might shift to China.

Now, the government might be having second thoughts. The IGF is intensely interested in the first agreement between EDF and CGNPC that defined a partnership whose goal it was to build nuclear power plants together. The plants would be equipped with a new reactor type, the latest and greatest alternative to the catastrophically over-budget and now stalled European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) that Areva had been pushing for years. That EDF, which was mostly government-owned, could even envision a deal that would hurt Areva, which was wholly government-owned, was simply too galling.

Simultaneously, there was another fight in France. A tiny street-theater company decided to attack an evil American multinational giant. But there are complications: political connections, government subsidies, Coca-Cola commercialism, perhaps world domination, and awesome art. Read…. French Artists Strike Out Against Evil American Empire.

Cushing 50 Million, Boom & Bust Cycles, US Debt & Recession

Cushing 50 Million, Boom & Bust Cycles, US Debt & Recession

Courtesy of EconMatters

Cushing Magic 50 Club

The final EIA Inventory report for 2012 is coming out on Friday, and according to the API report, Cushing inventories increased another 2.23 million barrels to a record 49.2 million. All this build in Cushing happened even as the Seaway pipeline began pumping crude from Cushing, Oklahoma to a major U.S. refining hub in Houston, Texas in May of 2012.

 

 

The problem here is that U.S. and Canadian oil production is increasing faster and producing more oil than Cushing can build extra storage or increase pipeline capacity, and or bring new pipeline projects online from Cushing to Houston.  Oil stored at Cushing basically jumped from 30 million barrels to 50 million barrels in 2012, an increase of 20 million barrels which is just an incredible feat, just imagine if there were no pipelines pumping oil to Houston in 2012. In fact, full capacity including shell capacity would have been completely filled to the gills, and Cushing would have to stop accepting oil into its facilities.

Goldman Sachs Forecasting Prowess

Goldman Sachs forecast that the spread between Brent and WTI would reduce to $4 at the beginning of 2013, they forecast this early in 2012, and have since backtracked from this forecast, but even their backtracking seems way off at this pace.

 

 

But you cannot take anything Goldman Sachs says about oil forecasting with any seriousness, given their past record on price predictions, remember the $200 oil price forecast, what Day Dreamers… the global economy would collapse long before it got to $200 as the entire global supply chain from China Manufacturing, to Country specific subsidies for its citizens rely on a certain price input to make their numbers work. Blow out that input cost by even 30%, and the proverbial recession starts hitting the fan, and something the Saudi`s have known for a while, you won`t be able to give oil away at $35 a barrel!

We have had paper recessions thanks to the actions of the Central Banks for the most part, but a true organic recession started by out of control input costs cannot be alleviated by any central bank planning, and that is what Goldman Sachs failed to realize. Once Oil gets too high, it effectively slits its own throat!

Holiday Pump Job & Speculators

The speculators are pushing oil up again over the past two weeks during thinly traded holiday market on low volume with the diehards trying to make their yearly numbers look better, but the fundamentals for WTI and Brent don`t bode well for 2013 with the North American production output putting downward pressure on WTI prices, and the expected increase in Oil production from Iraq, Kazakhstan, Sudan and others putting downward pressure on Brent prices.

Speculators have all but left the Gold and Silver markets towards the end of 2012, are the oil markets the next frontier where the easy bullish speculation dries up? Right now everyone and their uncle is in the weak Yen trade, but that speculation has already come along way, it is very crowded, and it wouldn`t be the first time that Japan fails to weaken their currency. How many times has this trade failed over the past 3 years?

US Austerity Only a Matter of Time

With the global economy basically being artificially supported by central bank policies, the real issue is of a global debt problem that is not getting any better, only worse, and is unsustainable. The global economy appears headed for another decade of deleveraging in a massive deflationary loop cycle that has only just begun for the most powerful consumer of Oil products in the world, namely the U.S. economy, as the United States has yet to take their austerity medicine, and that is the real elephant in the room.

 

 

When this finally happens expect WTI and Brent to be priced in the $45 a barrel range. As when the U.S. gets a cold, the entire global supply chain gets the flu! And with a 16 trillion dollar debt issue and climbing, that`s going to be one major austerity project, then the real deflationary loop kicks in.

The government cuts back spending, the economy goes into recession, china manufacturing recedes, oil and commodities contract, those resource laden economies go into recession, and the whole loop feeds back into itself, and you have a global recession of epic proportions. It`s just a question of when the United States can no longer kick the can down the road before the entire world is held hostage just like Europe over the U.S. version of an austerity mandated project. 

Supply versus Demand

So in the short term they can build more storage facilities and more pipelines out of Cushing, but the North American production increases are always going to be more than the measures applied to alleviate this glut because the fundamentals of high oil prices in a 2% at best economic growth engine that is borrowing the future through artificial means of stimulation at the present just reinforces that the real issue is one of demand versus supply. At current prices there is going to continue to be more production coming online versus the demand to eat up that supply. Simple economic theory, and the solution is probably two-fold: a reduction in prices to increase demand, and ultimately, a cutback in production around the world.

 

 

Bear Cycle in Oil

There will be a major pullback in oil prices, we are presently already in the deflationary stage, but you haven`t seen anything yet, because we are increasing production (we currently produce more than we consume each day) around the world as prices are real high relative to demand. What happens when the central bank stimulus stops being effective, and it stops altogether, and the debt issues are finally addressed? That is when the real recession takes hold, and the only solution then to massive oversupply is stopping production. The real question is who stops production: is it North America, Russia or OPEC? The real answer in the boom and bust cycles that play out in oil industry is all of the above, in the end everyone is going to have to cut back production as prices are going to drop like a rock in the next bear cycle in the oil industry.

OPEC Losing Relevance & Power

You see the diamond industry has an effective cartel to keep supply off the market, but since we do not have a global cartel, and because of the boom price in crude oil over the last decade, we now have a global production market once again in oil with all kinds of new participants all over the world who are not members of OPEC, so with robust growth in global production around the world, and no global cartel, you get an oversaturation of the market, and that is what we are starting to experience right now, and its effects will really start to show up in 2013 and 2014.

2015 Outlook

Then in 2015 companies are going to start losing money in their production projects, and some tough decisions are going to have to be made. And this all assumes a decent global economy, I figure the U.S. will be able to kick the majority of the can down the road for the next 2 to 3 years, but after that the austerity project in the U.S. will become front and center. And you think politics are nasty now, just wait till 2015/2016 that`s when the fun really starts.

In fact we may have to create an entirely new independent political party to clean up the budget deficit and spending mess that Washington has morphed into today. But make no mistake it will be cleaned up one way or another, either through austerity or outright default!

So enjoy your job in North Dakota while you can, be sure to put extra income into savings, because my guess is that in four years, after oil pulls back, those projects are no longer sustainable, and the world goes back to the default supplier of OPEC until the next Boom investing cycle starts all over again.

 

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Mercy! Isn’t a Late Day Selloff Illegal?

Courtesy of Mish.

I hope you are as outraged as I am by this late-day stock market action.

S&P 500 Futures 10-Minute Chart

Since when is a late day selloff legal? And for an entire hour with six consecutive red candles!

And in the month of December too! What happened to my Santa Rally? I demand a Congressional inquiry.

Goodness! I was sure such action was illegal. Clearly, it should be illegal, and I thought it was already.

It’s no wonder Fiscal Cliff legislation failed. Republicans and Democrats alike forgot to pass circuit-breaker provisions to halt (or better yet prevent) market declines late in the day, as well as this late in the year.

Please call your Senators and Representatives today, demanding their immediate attention on this matter.

After all, everyone knows that jobs and fiscal prudence are irrelevant. It’s the stock market that’s vital to the economy.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

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