Our fragile “hothouse” economy
by Charles Hugh Smith
from Of Two Minds
Posted November 03, 2011
Financialization has led to a “hothouse” global economy where the slightest disruption in central bank/Central State intervention will cause the sickly flowers to wilt and expire.
Of the three great financial truths that have been left unspoken for the past four years out of sheer dread, lest their mere mention collapse our economy, let’s start with the most obvious:
The first great financial truth: If the Federal Reserve and Federal government ever crimped the dripline of “easing” and bailouts, America’s financial sector would promptly roll over and expire.
Does this strike you as a robust, flexible, transparent system? Of course not. Rather, it is a “hothouse” financial sector, one that needs constant injections and a carefully controlled environment just to keep it alive.
And since the U.S. economy has been fully financialized, it is now dependent on financial machinations and skimming for its “growth,” profits and the debt expansion that fuels everything else, including the metastasizing Savior State, a gargantuan aggregation of an unaccountable National Security State with crony-capitalist cartels and a dependency-inducing Welfare State.
Without the debt conjured into existence by the Fed, Treasury and the financial sector, even the mighty multi-tenacled Savior State would quickly starve.
As a result of our dependence on financialization and exponential debt, our entire economy has become a weak, sickly “hothouse” economy which can only survive in a narrow band of temperature, debt injections and opaque manipulations of data and what’s left of the nation’s shriveled markets.
Once exposed to Nature, i.e. “wild” transparent markets that are allowed to discover the price of all assets naturally, then both the nation’s financial sector and its economy would implode.
The second great financial truth is that the financial sector has long been detached from the real economy. The real economy is for chumps; the “no-risk” skimming of monetary legerdemaine is the raison d’etre of the entire financial sector, a point brilliantly made in this “must read” essay posted on Zero Hedge: MF Global Shines A Light On Monetarism’s Incapacity To Enhance The Real Economy. Granted, some of the financialization schemes described are not that easy to grasp, but here’s the primary point:
That is why this system has to change at some point. It is exactly designed to be misleading, and the reason is so very simple. In any fractional system there will be a desire to amplify that fraction to the maximum degree. But in doing so, participants recognize that the process of maximization entails creating negative human emotions and perceptions since history is not really that kind to this manner of fractionalization. So the system has institutionalized, abetted by the very regulators that are supposed to cap fractions and leverage, these methodologies of hiding just how much financial entities have engaged in maximizing themselves under the cover of mathematical precision.
The Panic of 2008 was supposed to correct these excesses and remedy the fact that risks have not been accurately priced for decades. Yet the system has resisted every effort, simply settling for redefining the appearance of safety yet again. Somewhere in that mathematical pursuit of maximum fractions, the very goal of finance changed, as if traditional banking was no longer sufficient to support the pursuit’s ever-growing ambitions. So the financial economy has broken away from the real economy, using the ironic cover story of enhancing price discovery to the process of intermediation.
The fact that money is disconnected from the real economy never enters the consciousness of monetarists since money is always the answer. But make no mistake, the primary reasons for this global malaise are that money has lost its productive capacity and its proper place as a tool within the system.
The third great unspoken truth is that the conventional Status Quo – the financial punditry, the Cargo Cult of Keynesianism, the incestuous academic community, the PhDs in the Fed and Treasury, the politico lackeys, the self-serving think-tanks of both empty ideologies (“which is better, Bud or Bud Light?”), not to mention the lobbyists, revolving door toadies and all the other hangers-on in New York and Washington – have no Plan B and certainly no Plan C. In other words, they are utterly clueless about what to do when their abject and total failure becomes unavoidably obvious.
It is of course a crisis of self-service; nobody dares put their own status, wealth, power and perks at risk by thinking independently, much less speaking All That Cannot Be Spoken Lest This Sucker Implode.
But it is also a monumental lack of imagination; the lackeys and toadies cannot imagine any other Beast other than the one whose teat they have sucked all their lives. They live in mortal fear not of being ignorant or lacking in imagination – those deficiencies are too obvious to contest – but of the truth of the system’s increasing weakness and vulnerability being openly revealed.
America’s (and the world’s) financial sector is a fragile, sickly hybrid which will shrivel and expire the moment it is placed in the real, dynamic world. And because the global economy has become dependent on the slouching beast of financialization, it too is fragile and sickly, sensitive to the slightest perturbations and exquisitely vulnerable to any disruption of the constant life support offered by central banks and Central States.
It is neither capitalism nor socialism, but a twisted hybrid of the worst traits of each.
I happened to catch a brief interview on DW TV (German TV, with English announcers and subtitles) of one of the few ECB (European Central Bank) officials with the integrity to resign in protest at the ECB’s blatant interventions in the bond market (buying Italian bonds to prop up a market that would implode the second ECB support vanished) and the central bank’s slippage toward money-printing as the answer to every problem.
This gentleman said that the ECB had to monitor the global economy 24 hours a day lest some tiny policy mistake bring the entire shaky edifice down.
Does that strike you as a description of a robust, adaptable, capitalist system based on transparancy and price discovery of assets? Of course not; it describes a hothouse economy, always on the ragged edge of collapse if its central bank and Central State minders make the tiniest error in its care.
For four precious years we have been force-fed nothing but lies, obfuscation, misdirection, fear-mongering, spin, sins of omission, misinformation, propaganda, false rumors and false hopes. The hothouse is slowly falling apart, and the sickly global financial sector is wilting. The financial media is heralding every “save” and every “rescue” with ever-shriller enthusiasm, lest a contagion of truth spread through the hothouse like a chill wind.
But we can be sure of one thing: those who know better have already sold, and it is now the job of the politico lackeys and the toadies of the Mainstream Media to convince the bagholders to hold on and not sell, because “everything’s been rescued.” Distilled to its essence, that is their one and only job: to convince you not to sell. That keeps the bid up for their Masters to sell into.
If history is any guide, the final collapse will be triggered by an apparently “controllable” event, something like the bankruptcy of MF Global. All eyes are on Greece’s referendum, apparently scheduled for December 4 or 5; but regardless of the vote, does a “yes” or “no” change that nation’s fundamental insolvency? No, it doesn’t.
Does the passage of some toothless law in Italy magically render that nation solvent? No, no, a thousand times no; none of these public-relations tricks can change the fact that all these nations are insolvent, the banks are insolvent, and even France and Germany are staggering under unprecedented burdens of debt.
The smart money sold in May, 2010, and the disbelievers among the Power Elite sold in May 2011, or perhaps August. Now those below the smart money (but still above the dumb money) are sniffing the fetid hothouse air, where the rank, sweaty desperation of the minders is now ever-present.
So the apparatchiks and foot soldiers have been ordered to keep the dumb money from selling, until their “betters” can sell into a rumor-juiced bid. This explains the sudden jump in the S&P 500 on every rumor of rescue, as if an over-indebted and leveraged-26-to-1 financial system can be rescued with “belt-tightening” and ECB intervention with taxpayer money.
The entire euro “project” was a scam that enabled a vast new scale of financialization. Now that the “project” is falling apart, the bagholders who bought into the shuck-and-jive are nervous and fearful; has it all really been “saved”?
No, it hasn’t; it cannot be saved. The only “solution” available is to sell: sell now, while there is still a bid. Sell fast, sell hard, sell everything denominated in euros. That is precisely what the Status Quo fears the most: an awakening continent of bagholders and debt-serfs.
Anyone thinking the euro (and eurozone) can’t possibly go down until after the Greek referendum may well find their confidence in the Status Quo’s “rescue” has been sorely misplaced.
500 Million Debt-Serfs: The European Union Is a Neo-Feudal Kleptocracy (July 22, 2011)
The Dynamics of Doom: Why the Eurozone Fix Will Fail (July 25, 2011)
The European Model Is Also Doomed (February 7, 2009)
When Debt-Junkies Go Broke, So Do Mercantilist Pushers (March 1, 2010)
Why the Euro Might Devolve into Euro1 and Euro2 (March 2, 2010)
Why the Eurozone Is Doomed (May 10, 2010)
Ireland, Please Do the World a Favor and Default (November 29, 2010)
Why The European Union Is Doomed (March 28, 2011)
Greece, Please Do The Right Thing: Default Now (June 1, 2011)
Why the Eurozone and the Euro Are Both Doomed (June 23, 2011)
Greece Is a Kleptocracy (June 28, 2011)