Inflation: An Expansion of Counterfeit Credit

Inflation: An Expansion of Counterfeit Credit

By Keith Weiner

The Keynesians and Monetarists have fooled people with a clever sleight of hand. They have convinced people to look at prices (especially consumer prices) to understand what’s happening in the monetary system.

Anyone who has ever been at a magic act performance is familiar with how sleight of hand often works. With a huge flourish of the cape, often accompanied by a loud sound, the right hand attracts all eyes in the audience. The left hand of the illusionist then quickly and subtly takes a rabbit out of a hat, or a dove out of someone’s pocket.

Watching a performer is just harmless entertainment, and everyone knows that it’s just a series of clever tricks. In contrast, the monetary illusions created by central banks, and the evil acts they conceal, can cause serious pain and suffering. This is a topic that needs more exposure.

The commonly accepted definition of inflation is “an increase in consumer prices”, and deflation is “a decrease in consumer prices.” A corollary is a myth that stubbornly persists: “today, a fine suit costs the same in gold terms as it did in 1911, about one ounce.” Why should that be? Surely it takes less land today to raise enough sheep to produce the wool for a suit, due to improvements in agricultural efficiency. I assume that sheep farmers have been breeding sheep to maximize wool production too. And doesn’t it take less labor to shear a sheep, not to mention card the wool, clean it, bleach it, spin it into yarn, weave the yarn into fabric, and cut and stitch the fabric into a suit?

Consumer prices are affected by a myriad of factors. Increasing efficiency in production is a force for lower prices. Changing consumer demand is another force. In 1911, any man who had any money wore a suit. Today, fewer and fewer professions require one to be dressed in a suit, and so the suit has transitioned from being a mainstream product to more of a specialty market. This would tend to be a force for higher prices.

I don’t know if a decent suit cost $20 (i.e. one ounce of gold) in 1911. Today, one can certainly get a decent suit for far less than $1600 (i.e. one ounce), and one could pay 3 or 4 ounces too for a high-end suit.

My point is that consumer prices are a red herring. Increased production efficiency tends to push prices down, and monetary debasement tends to push prices up. If those forces balance in any given year, the monetary authorities claim that there is no inflation.

This is a lie.

Inflation is not rising consumer prices. One can’t understand much about the monetary system from inside this box. I offer a different definition.

Inflation is an expansion of counterfeit credit.

Most Austrian School economists realize that inflation is a monetary phenomenon. But simply plotting the money supply is not sufficient. In a gold standard, does gold mining create inflation? How about private lending? Bank lending? What about Real Bills of Exchange?

As I will show, these processes do not create inflation under a gold standard. Thus I contend the focus should be on counterfeit credit. By definition and by nature, gold production is never counterfeit. Gold is gold, it is divisible and every piece is equivalent to any other piece of the same weight.

Gold mining is arbitrage: when the cost of mining an ounce of gold is less than one ounce of gold, miners will act to profit from this opportunity. This is how the market signals that it needs more money. Gold, of course, has non-declining marginal utility, which is what makes it money in the first place, so incremental changes in its supply cause no harm to anyone.

Similarly, if Joe works hard, saves his money, and gives a loan of 100 ounces to John, this is an expansion of credit. But it is not counterfeit or illegitimate or inflation by any useable definition of the term.

By extension, it does not matter whether there are market makers or other intermediaries in between the saver and the borrower. This is because such middlemen have no power to expand credit beyond what the source—the saver—willingly provides. And thus bank lending is not inflation.

Below, I will discuss various kinds of credit in light of my definition of inflation.

In all legitimate credit, at least two factors distinguish it from counterfeit credit. First, someone has produced more than he has consumed. Second, this producer knowingly and willingly extends credit. He understands exactly when, and on what terms, with what risks he will be paid in full. He realizes that in the meantime he does not have the use of his money.

Let’s look at the case of fractional reserve banking. I have written on this topic before. To summarize: if a bank takes in a deposit and lends for a longer duration than the deposit, that is duration mismatch. This is fraud and the source of banking system instability and crashes. If a bank lends deposits only for the same or shorter duration, then the bank is perfectly stable and perfectly honest with its depositors. Such banks can expand credit by lending, (though they cannot expand money, i.e. gold), but it is real credit. It is not counterfeit.

Legitimate lending begins with someone who has worked to save money. That person goes to a bank, and based on the bank’s offer of different interest rates for different durations, chooses how long he is willing to lock up his money. He lends to the bank under a contract of that duration. The bank then lends it out for that same duration (or less).

The saver knows he must do without his money for the duration. And the borrower has the use of the money. The borrower typically spends it on a capital purchase of some sort. The seller of that good receives the money free and clear. The seller is not aware of, nor concerned with, the duration of the original saver’s deposit. He may deposit the money on demand, or on a time deposit of whatever duration.

There is no counterfeiting here; this process is perfectly honest and fair to all parties. This is not inflation!

Now let’s look at Real Bills of Exchange, a controversial topic among members of the Austrian School. In brief, here is how Real Bills worked under the gold standard of the 19th century. A business buys merchandise from its supplier and agrees to pay on Net 90 terms. If this merchandise is in urgent consumer demand, then the signed invoice, or Bill of Exchange, can circulate as a kind of money. It is accepted by most people, at a discount from the face value based on the time to maturity and the prevailing discount rate.

This is a kind of credit that is not debt. The Real Bill and its market act as a clearing mechanism. The end consumer will buy the final goods with his gold coin. In the meantime, every business in the entire supply chain does not necessarily have the cash gold to pay at time of delivery.

This problem of having gold to pay at time of delivery would become worse as business and technology improved to allow additional specialization and thus extend the supply chain with additional value-added businesses. And it would become worse as certain goods went into high demand seasonally (e.g. at Christmas).

The Real Bill does not come about via saving and lending. It is commercial credit that is extended based on expectations of the consumer’s purchases. It is credit that arises from consumption, and it is self-liquidating. It is another kind of legitimate credit.

For more discussion of Real Bills, see the series of pieces by Professor Antal Fekete (starting with Lecture 4).

Now let’s look at counterfeit credit. By the criteria I offered above, it is counterfeit because there is no one who has produced more than he has consumed, or he does not knowingly or willing forego the use of his savings to extend credit.

First, is the example where no one has produced a surplus. A good example of this is when the Federal Reserve creates currency to buy a Treasury bond. On their books, they create a liability for the currency issued and an asset for the corresponding bond purchase. Fed monetization of bonds is counterfeit credit, by its very nature. Every time the Fed expands its balance sheet, it is inflation.

It is no exaggeration to say that the very purpose of the Fed is to create inflation. When real capital becomes more scarce, and thus its owners become more reluctant to lend it (especially at low interest rates), the Fed’s official role is to be the “lender of last resort”. Their goal is to continue to expand credit against the ever-increasing market forces that demand credit contraction.

And of course, all counterfeit credit would go to default, unless the creditor has strong collateral or another lever to force the debtor to repay. Thus the Fed must act to continue to extend and pretend. Counterfeit credit must never end up where it’s “pay or else”. It must be “rolled”. Debtors must be able to borrow anew to repay the old debts—forever. The job of the Fed is to make this possible (for as long as possible).

Next, let’s look at duration mismatch in the financial system. It begins in the same way as the previous example of non-counterfeit credit—with a saver who has produced more than he has consumed. So far, so good. He deposits money in a bank, and this is where the counterfeiting occurs. Perhaps he deposits money on demand and the bank lends it out. Or perhaps he deposits money in a 1-year time account and the bank lends it for 5 years. Both cases are the same. The saver is not knowingly foregoing the use of his money, nor lending it out on such terms and length.

This, in a nutshell, is the common complaint that is erroneously levied against all fractionally reserved banks. The saver thinks he has his money, but yet there is another party who actually has it. The saver holds a paper credit instrument, which is redeemable on demand. The bank relies on the fact that on most days, they will not face too many withdrawal demands. However, it is a mathematical certainty that eventually the bank will default in the face a large crowd all trying to withdraw their money at once. And other banks will be in a similar position. And the collapsing banking system causes a plunge into a depression.

There are also instances where the saver is not willingly extending credit. The worker who foregoes 16% of his wage to Social Security definitely knows that he is not getting the use of his money. He is extending credit, by force—i.e. unwillingly. The government promises him that in exchange, they will pay him a monthly stipend after he reaches the age of retirement, plus most of his medical expenses. Anyone who does the math will see that this is a bad deal. The amount the government promises to pay is less than one would expect for lending money for so long, especially considering that the money is forfeit when you die.

But it’s worse than it first seems, because the amount of the monthly stipend, the age of retirement, and the amount they pay towards medical expenses are unknown and unknowable in advance, when the person is working. They are subject to a political process. Politics can shift suddenly with each new election.

Social Security is counterfeit credit.

With legitimate credit, there is a risk of not being repaid. However, one has a rational expectation of being repaid, and typically one is repaid. On the contrary, counterfeit credit is mathematically certain not to be repaid in the ordinary course. This is because the borrower is without the intent or means of ever repaying the loan. Then it is a matter of time before it defaults, or in some circumstances forces the borrower to repay under duress.

Above, I offered two factors distinguishing legitimate credit:

1. The creditor has produced more than he has consumed

2. He knowingly and willingly extends credit

Now, let’s complete this definition with the third factor:

3. The borrower has the means and the intent to repay

Every instance of counterfeit credit also fails on the third factor. If the borrower had both the means and the intent to repay, he could obtain legitimate credit in the market.

A corollary to this is that the dealers in counterfeit credit, by nature and design, must work constantly to extend it, postpone it, “roll” it, and generally maintain the confidence game. Counterfeit credit cannot be liquidated the way legitimate credit can be: by paying it back normally. Sooner, or later, it inevitably becomes a crisis that either hurts the creditor by default or the debtor by threatening or seizing his collateral.

I repeat my definition of inflation and add my definition of deflation:

Inflation is an expansion of counterfeit credit.

Deflation is a forcible contraction of counterfeit credit.

Inflation is only possible by the initiation of the use of physical force or fraud by the government, the central bank, and the privileged banks they enfranchise. Deflation is only possible from, and is indeed the inevitable outcome of, inflation. Whenever credit is extended with no means or ability to repay, that credit is certain to eventually become a crisis that threatens to harm the creditor. That the creditor may have collateral or other means to force the debtor to take the pain and hold the creditor harmless does not change the nature of deflation.

Guest Post: New Jersey Will Pay You $1000 To Destroy The 2nd Amendment

Submitted by Brandon Smith of Alt Market

New Jersey Will Pay You $1000 To Destroy The 2nd Amendment

There is nothing more disgusting or detestable than a citizen informant.  Without citizen informants, tyrants could never retain the kind of power they wield.  In fact, without citizen informants, totalitarian movements would never gain traction.  This is why EVERY functional oligarchy throughout history has implemented programs designed to encourage the development of common spies, using the promise of monetary reward, or collective recognition.  

Sadly, there are many in our society that would gladly sell out their closest friends and family to the tortures of authoritarian bureaucracy for nothing more than a firm pat on the head and a few fiat dollars.  If there was ever a more degraded lot of bottom feeding opportunist scum, the citizen informant is the very epitome.

With the implementation of the “See Something, Say Something” program, and the increasing drive by the White House to institute community watch efforts to route out “extremists”, showcased quite clearly in strategic outlines like the  ‘Empowering Local Partners To Prevent Violent Extremism In The United States’:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/empowering_local_partners.pdf

The issue of informant networking has come to the forefront in America.  My personal view is that these nauseating and diseased people should be treated as treasonous as any globalist, regardless of stated intention.  That said, in an environment rife with extraneous poverty, informancy cannot be avoided.  Plenty of men and women, stricken with empty wallets and bellies, are extraordinarily prone to betrayal, regardless of their inherent morality.  This is the kind of world we will soon be living in, and this is the kind of environment that corrupt officials like those in New Jersey are prone to exploit.  Pathetic, weak, cowardly, but ultimately dangerous sheep unknowingly serving the very men who would seek to enslave them. 

In terms of 2nd Amendment rights, I find the very idea of debate rather pointless.  The logic is undeniable.  If you cannot defend yourself, you are a victim.  Period.  You become food for predators and parasites.  Any state government or national government which actively seeks to disarm its citizens is suspect.  I couldn’t care less about their stated rationalizations or rhetoric.  In New Jersey, in Chicago, in Washington D.C., or anywhere else for that matter, an innocent man who is disarmed by law will always be victimized by an outlaw who armed through criminality.  The concept of reduced crime through gun confiscation is so naïve it warrants considerable analysis.  Through such efforts, good men are left defenseless, while evil men are free to wreak havoc. 

The 2nd Amendment is not a negotiable or debatable pillar of the Constitution.  It is absolute in its protection.  Every American, regardless of the temporary circumstances of the times, is free to arm and defend himself from ANY enemy, from average criminals, to government thugs.  The gun confiscation program featured in the video below, and instituted by officials in New Jersey, should not be taken lightly.  The pure idiocy inherent in its premise cannot be ignored.  New Jersey’s willingness to pay off potential informants could very well be a petri dish test for much more expansive programs across the country in the future.  If we cannot stop the corruption and anti-constitutionalism of a pathetic state like New Jersey, then how can we expect to disrupt the same brand of corruption throughout the U.S.?

Guns are simply not the issue.  An armed and educated populace is a populace safe from crime.  This is a fact.  New Jersey’s informant program is a travesty of justice, not only because it encourages American on American treason, but also because it ignores the very purpose behind the Second Amendment; to create a populace free from the fear of tyranny.  If we do not put an end to the anti-gun tides in New Jersey, we should fully expect to see such atrocities against freedom planted at our own front doors in the near future.  There are no exceptions to the Constitution.  New Jersey is not outside of its jurisdiction.  Every person in that state deserves the same protections as anyone else.  We must disrupt the sick and perverted no questions asked buy off policies now prominent in that region, or be subject to the same in the near future…

Is Ron Paul 2012's Black Swan?

The Great Non Debate

For five years, the writing on the wall has been crystal clear. As 2007 began, the US Foreclosure Market Report for 2006 showed that foreclosures for the year had reached 1.2 million, an increase of 42 percent over the 2005 figure. In early February 2007, in the midst of a growing rash of bankruptcies among small US sub-prime mortgage issuers, New Century Financial announced that it was “recalculating” its “profits for the previous three quarters. New Century was one of the three biggest mortgage brokers in the US. In two days, its stock price dropped 40 percent. Six months later, President Bush was calling the now obvious collapse in the US real estate market a “blip” on the US economy. Two months after that, the stock market peaked. A year after that, in September/October 2008, the global economy froze solid and was only thawed by the biggest explosion of money creation in history. Now, here we are at the start of 2012. Nothing has changed. No positive steps have been made. The symptoms have been disguised under an avalanche of palliatives but the disease continues to eat away at the substance of the system on which it feeds. The major effort of government and “mainstream” analysts everywhere has been to avoid, deflect and actively silence any nascent discussion of the root of the problem.

The root of the problem is perfectly illustrated in the fact that since August 1971, the funded debt of the US government has risen from $US 400 Billion to $US 15,236 Billion. The severity of the problem is illustrated by the fact that with Mr Obama having yet to complete his third full year as President, he has presided over $US 4,600 Billion (or almost one-third) of that increase. The root of the problem is the abandonment of money – the final legal connection between Gold and the US Dollar was ended in August 1971. The severity of the problem is the grotesque expansion of what has taken its place.

None of this has been or is being discussed because the establishment in the US and everywhere else does not want it discussed. A REAL “black swan event” – an event that deviates by 180 degrees from what is “normally expected” – would be a political debate over root causes and basic principles. The great merit of Ron Paul – and the great service he is giving to his own and every other nation – is the fact that he is doing everything he can to raise the debate to that level. That makes Dr Paul a unique politician, a man who tells people what most of them DON’T want to hear or understand.

Or at least they don’t think they want to understand it. Dr Paul’s great and merited attractiveness to a growing number of admirers has a very simple source. He is that rarest of creatures – a FREE man. He is beholden to nobody. He has developed his ideas and his convictions over a long and fruitful life of independent thinking. He does not compromise. He homes in on the fundamental issue and principle of any political issue and serves it up without salt or other “seasoning”. He says what he means and he means what he says. He is the living embodiment of the “dream” that most Americans have long since given up on as they saw it slip further and further beyond their grasp. He is the only prominent person who is doing everything he can to turn the non-debate which masquerades as the “mainstream” in the US and global political economy into something of substance. That, far more than the presidency, is his goal.

Bill Buckler

Eight Simple Truths You Need To Know About 2012

Submitted by Simon Black 

Eight Simple Truths You Need To Know About 2012

Yesterday we discussed certain events that, in my view, are nearly
mathematical certainties. Things like a restructuring of public pensions
and Social Security in Europe and the US. Western governments blocking
Internet and mobile networks. War. The US government being forced to
issue debt in a foreign currency.

All of these events are underpinned by a simple premise:

1) Public and private debts included, most western nations are insolvent. Big time.

2) History shows that economic growth in such an environment is nearly impossible
when such a large percentage of GDP must be allocated solely to
interest. Most countries in this position either default or
[hyper]inflate. Both have catastrophic consequences.

3) Continued political and monetary intervention in the economy is counterproductive.
From ‘Cash for Clunkers’ to negative real interest rates, such
intervention only serves to make the problems, and their impacts, much
worse.

4) The combined ingredients of sovereign insolvency; a global
financial system based on worthless paper currency; and consumptive,
import-oriented, public entitlement economies have created conditions for an epic, long-term economic depression.

5) Deteriorating economic conditions drive social unrest. [In fact, there’s a great paper
by two European economists which defines an explicit correlation
between government budget cuts and things like rising crime rates,
riots, and even attempted revolution.]

6) Faced with a marauding population that threatens their own survival, governments will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo: their power, our expense.
Again, history shows that police states, boogeyman enemies, a total
loss of privacy, capital controls, higher taxes, etc. will all become
the norm.

7) None of these delay tactics can prevent human and financial
capital from eventually migrating to where they are treated best. This
will ultimately force a complete system reset by starving the beast.

8) This is not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last.
This time is NOT different. Our modern society is not a unique and
special snowflake that can ward off the consequences that have plagued
empires for millennia.

Everything from the way I invest to how I allocate my time and plan
for the future is based on this view. It’s why I’m in Chile, why we
purchased a 1,000+ acre farm, and why we plan on sharing it with
like-minded people.

I may be a bit early, but I’d much rather be early than thinking
through these implications while I’m packing my bags. After all, things
can ‘feel’ quite normal for a long time. Changes take place gradually, then faster and faster, until the decay looks like an upside-down hockey stick.

The Roman Empire, for example, began its spectacular decline shortly
after Augustus became de facto emperor in 27 BC. He was followed by a
long series of dismal failures– Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, etc.
But Rome muddled along for hundreds of years, wavering between growth
and decay.

The changes were gradual. A little currency debasement here, a bit of
excess spending there, and throw in plenty of assassinations and
foreign wars for good measure.  Along the way, though, thinking people
could see the writing on the wall… and many of Rome’s citizens set sail
for greener pastures.

The gradual changes became more and more pronounced… and the more
pronounced, the more people left. As Gibbon recounts in his seminal
work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the city of Rome lost nearly 75% of its population in the Empire’s final 50-years in the 5th century.

History is full of other examples of once proud nations that, facing
problems for decades (or even centuries), completely unwound in a matter
of years. The Ottoman Empire. The Ming Dynasty. Feudal France. The Soviet Union.

Bottom line, when the real change comes, it comes very, very quickly.

Think about the pace of change these days. It’s quickening. Europe is
a great case study for this– when concerns about Greece first surfaced,
European leaders were able to contain the damage. There was disquiet,
but it soon dissipated.

Fast forward to today. We can hardly go a single day without a major,
market-rocking headline. And European politicians’ attempts to assuage
the damage have a useful half life that can be measured in days…
sometimes hours now.

Like the Ottomans, the Soviets, the Romans before them, Western civilization is entering the phase where its rate of decline will start looking like that upside-down hockey stick.

There is no crystal ball that can tell us exactly how/when it will
all go down. It stands to reason that certain events (perhaps this
year’s Presidential elections in the US, Russia, France, etc.) will be
pivotal in the decline, but suffice it to say that time is not on our side given the pace of change.

Each of us has a finite amount of resources– time, energy, capital,
etc. And I really want to encourage you to think clearly and
deliberately about how you allocate those resources… e.g. you’re better
off buying an ounce of gold than making a political campaign
contribution.

2011 was a challenging year. 2012 will likely prove even more. But this isn’t anything to dread. It’s is an incredibly exciting time to be alive– change should be embraced, not feared.

Empires always run their course. Bubbles burst. But creative, thinking human beings always survive and thrive.

Two Lectures On The History Of Austrian Economics

When it comes to the types of people in this world, there are those who say that the only way to fix the current economic catastrophe is to keep doing more of the same that got us in this condition in the first place (these are the people who say mean regression is irrelevant, and 10 men and women in an economic room can overturn the laws of math, nature, physics, and everything else and determine what is best for 7 billion people), and then there is everyone else. The former are called Keynesians. The latter are not. Only those in the former camp don’t see the lunacy of their fundamental premise, a good example of which is the following. Luckily, the world is nearing the tipping point when the camp of the former, which for the simple reason that it allowed the few to steal from the many under the guise that it is for the benefit of all, is about to be overrun, hopefully peacefully and amicable but not necessarily, and the camp of the latter finally has its day in the sun. Naturally, when that happens the status quo loses, as the entire educational and employment paradigm is one which idolizes the former and ridicules the latter even though the former has now proven beyond a shadow of a doubt it is a miserable failure (ref: $20+ trillion excess debt overhang which will, without doubt, lead to a global debt repudiation or restructuring, with some components of “odious debt”). So for all those still confused what some of the core premises of the ascendent “latter” are, below we present two one-hour lectures by Israel Kirzner. We urge readers to set aside two hours, which otherwise would be devoted to watching rubbish on TV or waiting in line for In N Out burger, and watch the two lectures below. Because, contrary to what the voodoo shamans of failure will tell you, there is a way out. It is a very painful way, but it does exist. The alternative is an assured and complete systemic collapse once the can kicking finally fails. 


Presenting The Exchange Stabilization Fund In 5 Parts: Is This The Real "Plunge Protection Team"?

When it comes to the fabled President’s Working Group on Capital Markets, also known as the Plunge Protection Team, the myths about the subject are certainly far greater than any underlying reality. To be sure, vast amounts of popular folkflore has been expounded into the public arena, with most of it being shot down simply due to it assuming conspiracy theories of such vast scale that the human mind is unable to grasp the complexity, and ultimately the inverse Gordian Knot makes an appearance with the claim that vast conspiracies are largely untenable simply because it is impossible to keep a secret from so many people for so long. Yet what if the secret is not a secret at all but is fully out in the open, and is only a matter of interpretation, and contextualizing? Why just 3 years ago it would appear preposterous to allege the capital markets are a ponzi and that the Fed does everything in its power to keep stocks higher. Well, what a difference three years make: now the Chairman himself in a Washington Post OpEd has admitted that the sole gauge of Fed success is the loftiness of the Russell 2000, neither unemployment nor inflation really matter now that the Fed’s third mandate has been fully whipped out. Furthermore, Keynesian economics, and the entire top echelon of the educational system have also been accurately represented as a paradigm which merely perpetuates the status quo as the alternative is the realization that the whole system is a house of cards. As for the global capital markets being nothing short of a ponzi, we merely point you to the general direction of Europe, the ECB and the continent’s banks, where the monetary interplay is nothing short of the world’s biggest pyramid scheme. Yet the PPT, or whatever it is informally called, does not exist? Consider further that only recently did it become known that the former SecTres Hank Paulson himself was exposed as presenting material non-public information to a bevy of Goldman arb desk diaspora hedge funds, headed by with none other than the head of the President’s Working Group on Capital Markets Asset Managers committee David Mindich. So, if contrary to all the evidence that there is some vast underlying pattern, if not a conspiracy per se, one were to take the leap of faith and take the next step, where would one end up? Well, most likely looking at the Exchange Stabilization Fund, or ESF, which Eric deCarbonnel has spent so much time trying to unmask. Is it possible that the ESF, located conveniently at the nexus between US monetary policy, foreign policy and last but not least, a promoter of the interests of the US military-industrial complex, is precisely the  organization that so many have been trying to expose for years? Watch and decide for yourself.

As a reminder deCarbonnel is not some tinfoil hat clad sub-basement dweller – it was his input that led us to the realization that in attempting to control the Treasury curve, the Fed will, and already has, experiment with selling puts on various Treasury maturities in an attempt to generate reflexivity whereby the synthetic determines the value of the underlying (something ETFs are now doing so very well), the value naturally always being higher, higher, higher irrelevant of what underlying demand there is (and as we showed last week, with a record amount of international outflows in the past month, the demand, at least from abroad, is just not there). So what does Eric assert?

Quite a bit as it turns out.

After months of work, the video series on the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund is finally finished!

Why you should watch these five videos:

It is impossible to understand the world today without knowing what the ESF is and what it has been doing. Officially in charge of defending the dollar, the ESF is the government agency which controls the New York Fed, runs the CIA’s black budget, and is the architect of the world’s monetary system (IMF, World Bank, etc). ESF financing (through the OSS and then the CIA) built up the worldwide propaganda network which has so badly distorted history today (including erasing awareness of its existence from popular consciousness). It has been directly involved in virtually every major US fraud/scandal since its creation in 1934: the London gold pool, the Kennedy assassinations, Iran-Contra, CIA drug trafficking, HIV, and worse…

So while nursing that New Year’s Day hangover, take some time and watch this series of videos. If nothing else, even if they are merely the extended ramblings of some person that one can quickly dismiss as just the latest fringe lunatic, they do present an alterantive reality to what so many may be accustomed to. After all at the end of the day imagination, the ability to think outside the box, and to see patterns where previously there were none, is the greatest threat to the falling and declining status quo by far.

DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven declined 2.3% in October

by CalculatedRisk on 12/27/2011 02:55:00 PM

The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported:

• Travel on all roads and streets changed by -2.3% (-6.0 billion vehicle miles) for October 2011 as compared with October 2010.

• Travel for the month is estimated to be 254.0 billion vehicle miles.

• Cumulative Travel for 2011 changed by -1.4% (-36.0 billion vehicle miles).

The following graph shows the rolling 12 month total vehicle miles driven.

Vehicle MilesClick on graph for larger image.

In the early ’80s, miles driven (rolling 12 months) stayed below the previous peak for 39 months. 

Currently miles driven has been below the previous peak for 47 months – so this is a new record for longest period below the previous peak – and still counting! And not just moving sideways … the rolling 12 months is declining.

The second graph shows the year-over-year change from the same month in the previous year.

Vehicle Miles Driven YoYThis is the eight straight month with a year-over-year decline in miles driven. 

This decline is probably due to high gasoline prices and the sluggish economy. Maybe habits are changing …

http://youtu.be/hCeuNUWJzmk Things sure have changed in the past 30 years… transcript (full ve

Things sure have changed in the past 30 years…

transcript (full version can be found here):

Good evening.

At Christmas time, every home takes on a special beauty, a special warmth, and that’s certainly true of the White House, where so many famous Americans have spent their Christmases over the years. This fine old home, the people’s house, has seen so much, been so much a part of all our lives and history. It’s been humbling and inspiring for Nancy and me to be spending our first Christmas in this place.

We’ve lived here as your tenants for almost a year now, and what a year it’s been. As a people we’ve been through quite a lot — moments of joy, of tragedy, and of real achievement — moments that I believe have brought us all closer together. G. K. Chesterton once said that the world would never starve for wonders, but only for the want of wonder.

At this special time of year, we all renew our sense of wonder in recalling the story of the first Christmas in Bethlehem, nearly 2,000 year ago.

Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great and good philosopher and teacher. Others of us believe in the divinity of the child born in Bethlehem, that he was and is the promised Prince of Peace. Yes, we’ve questioned why he who could perform miracles chose to come among us as a helpless babe, but maybe that was his first miracle, his first great lesson that we should learn to care for one another.

Tonight, in millions of American homes, the glow of the Christmas tree is a reflection of the love Jesus taught us. Like the shepherds and wise men of that first Christmas, we Americans have always tried to follow a higher light, a star, if you will. At lonely campfire vigils along the frontier, in the darkest days of the Great Depression, through war and peace, the twin beacons of faith and freedom have brightened the American sky. At times our footsteps may have faltered, but trusting in God’s help, we’ve never lost our way.

Just across the way from the White House stand the two great emblems of the holiday season: a Menorah, symbolizing the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, and the National Christmas Tree, a beautiful towering blue spruce from Pennsylvania. Like the National Christmas Tree, our country is a living, growing thing planted in rich American soil. Only our devoted care can bring it to full flower. So, let this holiday season be for us a time of rededication.

Christmas means so much because of one special child. But Christmas also reminds us that all children are special, that they are gifts from God, gifts beyond price that mean more than any presents money can buy. In their love and laughter, in our hopes for their future lies the true meaning of Christmas.

So, in a spirit of gratitude for what we’ve been able to achieve together over the past year and looking forward to all that we hope to achieve together in the years ahead, Nancy and I want to wish you all the best of holiday seasons. As Charles Dickens, whom I quoted a few moments ago, said so well in “A Christmas Carol,” “God bless us, every one.”

Good night.

Note: The President spoke at 9 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio and television.

Japan Will Raise More Cash From Debt Issuance Than Taxes For Fourth Year In A Row

by Tyler Durden

While the world is watching Europe and the US for signs of imminent decoupling, and now has added China to its insolvency focus list, things in Japan, which is “fine” courtesy of a self-destruct autopilot, are just getting plain ridiculous. As we reported earlier this year, Japan’s marketable public debt, already the largest in the world at $11.2 trillion compared to America’s $10 trillion (of course this assumes the whole SSN sleight of hand is funded, which it isn’t), is due to surpass ¥1 quadrillion (sounds like Germany in the early 1920’s and millards) any month now (aka the exponential phase). And that’s just the beginning. As Bloomberg reports, “Bond sales to the market will climb to a record 149.7 trillion yen ($1.9 trillion), while the national budget’s reliance on debt for funding will rise to an unprecedented 49 percent in the year starting April 1, Japan’s government said Dec. 24. The government said it plans to sell 44.2 trillion yen of new bonds to fund 90.3 trillion yen of spending in next fiscal year’s budget. It estimates that tax revenue will total 42.3 trillion yen in fiscal 2012, meaning that new bond sales will exceed tax revenue for a fourth year.” In other words, in a world increasingly disconnected form any sort of reality, very soon no taxes at all will be needed: after all each and every government (or uber-union in teh EU’s case, once the imploding Eurozone turns to the final Deus Ex – a fiscal protectorate issuing joining Eurobonds) will simply fund all its cash needs by printing its own money (again, see “The Death of Money”…Germany 1922). Naturally, anyone daring to suggest that this is beyond idiotic will be given an MMT 101 manual and/or incarcerated for grand treason. And any last voices of sanity will be promptly muted: “I think the reliance on bonds to compile budgets is reaching its limit,” Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi said Dec. 24, after the announcement of the budget plan. Oh please, as if there is any alternative. Because Japan, just like the US, relies on the Primary Dealer grand repo Ponzi (anyone who still hasn’t read the following presentation from Citi which explains the grand shadow ponzi inexquisite detail, without any academic BS, is strongly urged to do so immediately) scheme to keep the lie afloat: “There is no sign that Japan’s outstanding debt will be reduced,” said Shinji Nomura, chief debt strategist in Tokyo at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., one of the 25 primary dealers obliged to bid at government-debt sales. “Japan’s lawmakers aren’t serious enough. Europe’s debt crisis isn’t a fire on the other side of the river.” End result: near record low interest rates: “Japan’s benchmark bond yield is set to end the year below 1 percent, the second-lowest among developed bond markets, as the nation’s current-account surplus makes it a haven from Europe’s financial crisis.” So somehow a “current account” surplus makes unprecedented ponziness ok. But yes, Shinji is absolutely right: neither Japan’s, nor anyone else’s public debt will ever be reduced as at this point the best holders can hope for is the debt to keep rolling, albeit at ever lower rates due to the exponential rise in gross notional, where even the smallest uptick in interest rates will bring the whole house of cards tumbling down. In other news, and to all the neo-Keynesians out there, we post the following thought experiment: according to the head priest economic growth derives from debt issuance. And since apparently every country (yes, yes, that has its own currency) can issue infinite amounts of debt, why doesn’t the US and Japan (and the EU post Eurobonds), simply announce it will monetize, aka print, an infinite amount of debt tomorrow? Shouldn’t that lead to global GDP promptly rising by infinity %? Or is there an actual problem with this hypothetical scenario which takes current debt trends to their ludicrous extreme. As for Japan, more from Bloomberg: The cost of insuring Japan’s bonds against default climbed to the highest in 2 1/2 months last week. Five-year credit- default swaps tied to government bonds rose to 143 basis points on Dec. 20, the highest level since Oct. 5, according to CMA prices. The swaps were 142 basis points on Dec. 22. CMA is owned by CME Group Inc. and compiles prices quoted by dealers in the privately negotiated market. Total debt issuance, including securities to replace maturing debt and so-called zaito bonds sold for government agencies, will increase by 4.6 trillion yen to a record 174.2 trillion yen, the Ministry of Finance said Dec. 24. Japan’s benchmark 10-year bond yield was unchanged at 0.97 percent on Dec. 22 as a 0.8 percent drop in the Nikkei 225 Stock Average supported demand for debt. The Ministry of Finance said it will expand each monthly auction of debt maturing in 10 and 20 years by 100 billion yen in 2012 from the original plan for this year. The government in November increased sales of two- and five-year debt by 100 billion yen at each auction after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda approved a 12.1 trillion yen third extra budget to fund earthquake rebuilding “The government is increasing issuance of long-term and super-long-term bonds because it wants to borrow for a long period while interest rates are still low,” said Naomi Hasegawa, senior fixed income strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. in Tokyo. The nation’s economic expansion will probably slow after annualized 5.6 percent growth in the three months ended September fueled by demand related to the March 11 earthquake. The median estimate of 11 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News is for growth of 0.42 percent this quarter. Of the 10 polled this month, five predicted GDP will shrink. Still, maybe some are finally awaking to the insanity…

The Nightmare After Christmas

 

By Detlev Schlichter of The Cobden Center

The Nightmare After Christmas

The pathetic state of the global financial system was again on display this week. Stocks around the world go up when a major central bank pumps money into the financial system. They go down when the flow of money slows and when the intoxicating influence of the latest money injection wears off. Can anybody really take this seriously?

On Tuesday, the prospect of another gigantic cash infusion from the ECB’s printing press into Europe’s banking sector, which is in large part terminally ill but institutionally protected from dying, was enough to trigger the established Pavlovian reflexes among portfolio managers and traders.

None of this has anything to do with capitalism properly understood. None of this has anything to do with efficient capital allocation, with channelling savings into productive capital, or with evaluating entrepreneurship and rewarding innovation. This is the make-believe, get-rich-quick (or, increasingly, pretend-you-are-still-rich) world of state-managed fiat-money-socialism. The free market is dead. We just pretend it is still alive.

There are, of course those who are still under the illusion that this can go on forever. Or even that what we need is some shock-and-awe Über-money injection that will finally put an end to all that unhelpful worrying about excessive debt levels and overstretched balance sheets. Let’s print ourselves a merry little recovery.

How did Mr. Bernanke, the United States’ money-printer-in-chief put it in 2002? “Under a paper-money system, adetermined government can always generate higher spending…” (Italics mine.)

Well, I think governments and central banks will get even more determined in 2012. And it is going to end in a proper disaster.

Lender of all resorts

Last week in one of their articles on the euro-mess, the Wall Street Journal Europe repeated a widely shared myth about the ECB: “With Germany’s backing, the ECB has so far refused to become a lender of last resort, …” This is, of course, nonsense. Even the laziest of 2011 year-end reviews will show that the ECB is precisely that: A committed funder of states and banks. Like all other central banks, the ECB has one overriding objective: to create a constant flow of new fiat money and thus cheap credit to an overstretched banking sector and an out-of-control welfare state that can no longer be funded by the private sector. That is what the ECB’s role is. The ECB is lender of last resort, first resort, and soon every resort.

Let’s look at the facts. The ECB started 2011 with record low policy rates. In the spring it thought it appropriate to consider an exit strategy. The ECB conducted a number of moderate rate hikes that have by now all been reversed. By the beginning of 2012 the ECB’s policy rates are again where they were at the beginning of 2011, at record low levels.

So why was the springtime attempt at “rate normalization” aborted? Because of deflationary risks? Hardly. Inflation is at 3 percent and thus not only higher than at the start of the year but also above the ECB’s official target.

The reason was simply this: states and banks needed a lender of last resort. The private market had lost confidence in the ability (willingness?) of certain euro-zone governments to ever repay their massive and constantly growing debt load. Certain states were thus cut off from cheap funding. The resulting re-pricing of sovereign bonds hit the banks and made it more challenging for them to finance their excessive balance sheets with money from their usual sources, not least U.S. money market funds.

So, in true lender-of-last resort fashion, the ECB had to conduct a U-turn and put those printing presses into high gear to fund states and banks at more convenient rates. While in a free market, lending rates are the result of the bargaining between lenders and borrowers, in the state-managed fiat money system, politicians and bureaucrats define what constitutes “sustainable” and “appropriate” interest rates for states and banks. The central bank has to deliver.

The ECB has not only helped with lower rates. Its balance sheet has expanded over the year by at least €490 billion, and is thus 24% larger than at the start of the year. This does not even include this week’s cash binge. The ECB is funding ever more European banks and is accepting weaker collateral against its loans. Many of these banks would be bust by now were it not for the constant subsidy of cheap and unlimited ECB credit. If that does not define a lender of last resort, what does?

And as I pointed out recently, the ECB’s self-imposed limit of €20 billion in weekly government bond purchases (an exercise in market manipulation and subsidization of spendthrift governments but shamelessly masked as an operation to allow for smooth transmission of monetary policy) is hardly a severe restriction. It would allow the ECB to expand its balance sheet by another €1 trillion a year. (The ECB is presently keeping its bond purchases well below €20 billion per week.)

Deflation? What deflation?

It is noteworthy that there still seems to be a widespread belief that all this money-printing will not lead to higher inflation because of the offsetting deflationary forces emanating from private bank deleveraging and fiscal austerity.

This is an argument I came across a lot when I had the chance in recent weeks to present the ideas behind my book to investors and hedge fund managers in London, Edinburgh and Milan. Indeed, even some of the people who share my outlook about the endgame of the fiat money system do believe that we could go through a period of falling prices first, at least for certain financial assets and real estate, before central bankers open the flood-gates completely and implement the type of no holds barred policy I mentioned above. Then, and only then will we see a dramatic rise in inflation expectations, a rise in money velocity and a sharp rise in official inflation readings.

Maybe. But I don’t think so. I consider it more likely that we go straight to higher inflation.

The deleveraging in the banking sector is the equivalent of austerity in the public sector: it is an idea. A promise. The reflationary policy of the central bank is a fact. And that policy actively works against private bank deleveraging and public sector debt reduction.

Consider this: The present credit crisis started in 2007. Yet, none of the major economies registered deflation. All are experiencing inflation, often above target levels and often rising. In the euro-area, over the past twelve months, the official inflation rate increased from 2 percent to 3 percent.

From the start of 2011 to the beginning of this month, the U.S. Federal Reserve boosted the monetary base by USD 560 billion, or 27 percent. So far this year, M1 increased by 17.5 percent and M2 by 9.5 percent.

Below is the so-called “true money supply” for the U.S. calculated by the Mises Institute.

As the Mises-Institute’s Doug French pointed out, total assets held by the six biggest banks in the U.S. increased by 39% over the past 5 years. Maybe this is not surprising given that in our brave new world of limitless fiat money, credit contraction is strictly verboten.

In the UK the official inflation reading is at around 5 percent, but nevertheless in October the Bank of England embarked on another round of “quantitative easing”. It has so far expanded its balance sheet by another £50 billion in not even three months, which constitutes balance sheet growth of about 20 percent.

What we have experienced in the UK in 2011 provides a good forecast in my view for the entire Western world for 2012: rising unemployment, weak or no growth, failure of the government to rein in spending, growing public debt, further expansion of the central bank’s balance sheet, rising inflation.

Death of a safe haven

And what about Switzerland? Here the central bank expanded its balance sheet by 40 percent over just the first three quarters of the year, and almost tripled the monetary base over the same period of time. Most of this even occurred before the 6th of September, the day on which Mr. Hildebrand, the President of the Swiss National Bank, told the world and his fellow Swiss countrymen and women that the whole safe-haven idea was rubbish and that Switzerland was now joining the global fiat money race to the bottom.

Deflation has become the bogeyman of the policy establishment. It must be avoided at all cost! Of course for most of us regular folks deflation would simply mean a tendency toward lower prices. It would mean that the capacity of the capitalist economy to increase the productivity of labour through the accumulation of capital and to thus make things more affordable over time (a true measure of rising general wealth) would accurately be reflected in falling nominal prices. The purchasing power of money would increase over time. This, however, would require a form of hard and apolitical money. Instead we are constantly told that our economy needs never-ending monetary debasement in order to function properly. We are constantly told to fear nothing more than deflation, which can only be averted by a determined government and a determined central bank. And the never-ending supply of new fiat money.

Appropriately, there is no talk of exit strategies any longer.

Given the size of the already accumulated imbalances I think a stop to this madness of fiat money creation would be painful at first but hugely beneficial in the long run. I am the last to say that no risk of a very painful deflationary correction exists. But a correction is now unavoidable in any case, and every other policy option will make the endgame only worse. Even if I am wrong on the near-term outlook on inflation and even if all this money-printing does not lead to higher inflation readings imminently, it will still be a hugely disruptive policy. Money injections obstruct the dissolution of imbalances and invariably add new imbalances to the economy, including new debt and capital misallocations, that will make even more aggressive money printing necessary in the future.

The nationalization of money and credit

Herein lies a fundamental contradiction in our present system: The desire for constant inflation and constant credit expansion requires that the banks be shielded from the effects of their own business errors. Allowing capitalism’s most efficient regulators, profit and loss, to do the regulating, would mean that banks could face the risk of bankruptcy – this is, of course, the ultimate disciplinary force in capitalism. This could then lead to balance sheet correction and thus periods of deflation. Ergo, banks cannot be capitalist enterprises at full risk of bankruptcy as long as constant credit growth and inflation are the overriding policy goals. The constant growth of the banking sector must be guaranteed by the state through the unlimited provision of bank reserves from a lender-of-last resort central bank.

That banks get ever bigger, that they routinely hand out multi-million dollar bonuses, and that they frequently get bailed out, is not a result of the greed of the bankers – a stupid explanation anyway, only satisfactory to the intellectually challenged and perennially envious – but is integral to the fiat money system.

Banking under state protection ultimately means banking under state control. In the end it means state banking. And this is where we are going.

Last week the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England announced plans to tighten the control over the balance sheet management and the risk-taking of private banks. This is just the beginning, believe me. The nationalization of money and credit will intensify in 2012 and beyond. More regulation, more restriction, more control. Not only in defence of the bankrupt banks but also the bankrupt state. We will see curbs on trading, short-selling restrictions and various forms of capital controls.

A system of state fiat money is incompatible with capitalism. As the end of the present fiat money system is fast approaching the political class and the policy bureaucracy will try and defend it with everything at their disposal. For the foreseeable future, capitalism will, sadly, be the loser.

The conclusion from everything we have seen in 2011 is unquestionably that the global monetary system is on thin ice. Whether the house of cards will come tumbling down in 2012 nobody can say. When concerns about the fundability of the state and the soundness of fiat money, fully justified albeit still strangely subdued, finally lead to demands for higher risk premiums, upward pressure on interest rates will build. This will threaten the overextended credit edifice and will probably be countered with more aggressive central bank intervention. That is when it will get really interesting.

We live in dangerous times. Stay safe and enjoy the holidays.

In the meantime, the debasement of paper money continues.