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We’re heading for economic dictatorship

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by Janet Daley via the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada (originally posted on The Telegraph)
November 27, 2012

Forget about that dead parrot of a question – should we join the eurozone? The eurozone has officially joined us in a newly emerging international organisation: we are all now members of the Permanent No-growth Club. And the United States has just re-elected a president who seems determined to sign up too. No government in what used to be called “the free world” seems prepared to take the steps that can stop this inexorable decline. They are all busily telling their electorates that austerity is for other people (France), or that the piddling attempts they have made at it will solve the problem (Britain), or that taxing “the rich” will make it unnecessary for government to cut back its own spending (America).

So here we all are. Like us, the member nations of the European single currency have embarked on their very own double (or is it triple?) dip recession. This is the future: the long, meandering “zig-zag” recovery to which the politicians and heads of central banks allude is just a euphemism for the end of economic life as we have known it.

Now there are some people for whom this will not sound like bad news. Many on the Left will finally have got the economy of their dreams – or, rather, the one they have always believed in. At last, we will be living with that fixed, unchanging pie which must be divided up “fairly” if social justice is to be achieved. Instead of a dynamic, growing pot of wealth and ever-increasing resources, which can enable larger and larger proportions of the population to become prosperous without taking anything away from any other group, there will indeed be an absolute limit on the amount of capital circulating within the society.

The only decisions to be made will involve how that given, unalterable sum is to be shared out – and those judgments will, of course, have to be made by the state since there will be no dynamic economic force outside of government to enter the equation. Wealth distribution will be the principal – virtually the only – significant function of political life. Is this Left-wing heaven?

Well, not quite. The total absence of economic growth would mean that the limitations on that distribution would be so severe as to require draconian legal enforcement: rationing, limits on the amount of currency that can be taken abroad, import restrictions and the kinds of penalties for economic crimes (undercutting, or “black market” selling practices) which have been unknown in the West since the end of the Second World War.

In this dystopian future there would have to be permanent austerity programmes. This would not only mean cutting government spending, which is what “austerity” means now, but the real kind: genuine falls in the standard of living of most working people, caused not just by frozen wages and the collapse in the value of savings (due to repeated bouts of money-printing), but also by the shortages of goods that will result from lack of investment and business expansion, not to mention the absence of cheaper goods from abroad due to import controls.

And it is not just day-to-day life that would be affected by the absence of growth in the economy. In the longer term, we can say good-bye to the technological innovations which have been spurred by competitive entrepreneurial activity, the medical advances funded by investment which an expanding economy can afford, and most poignantly perhaps, the social mobility that is made possible by increasing the reach of prosperity so that it includes ever-growing numbers of people. In short, almost everything we have come to understand as progress. Farewell to all that. But this is not the end of it. When the economy of a country is dead, and its political life is consumed by artificial mechanisms of forced distribution, its wealth does not remain static: it actually contracts and diminishes in value. If capital cannot grow – if there is no possibility of it growing – it becomes worthless in international exchange. This is what happened to the currencies of the Eastern bloc: they became phoney constructs with no value outside their own closed, recycled system.

When Germany was reunified, the Western half, in an act of almost superhuman political goodwill, arbitrarily declared the currency of the Eastern half to be equal in value to that of its own hugely successful one. The exercise nearly bankrupted the country, so great was the disparity between the vital, expanding Deutschemark and the risibly meaningless Ostmark which, like the Soviet ruble, had no economic legitimacy in the outside world.

At least then, there was a thriving West that could rescue the peoples of the East from the endless poverty of economies that were forbidden to grow by ideological edict. It remains to be seen what the consequences will be of the whole of the West, America included, falling into the economic black hole of permanent no-growth. Presumably, it will eventually have to move towards precisely the social and political structures that the East employed. As the fixed pot of national wealth loses ever more value, and resources shrink, the measures to enforce “fair” distribution must become more totalitarian: there will have to be confiscatory taxation on assets and property, collectivisation of the production of goods, and directed labour.

Democratic socialism with its “soft redistribution” and exponential growth of government spending will have paved the way for the hard redistribution of diminished resources under economic dictatorship. You think this sounds fanciful? It is just the logical conclusion of what will seem like enlightened social policy in a zero-growth society where hardship will need to be minimised by rigorously enforced equality. Then what? The rioting we see now in Italy and Greece – countries that had to have their democratic governments surgically removed in order to impose the uniform levels of poverty that are made necessary by dead economies – will spread throughout the West, and have to be contained by hard-fisted governments with or without democratic mandates. Political parties of all complexions talk of “balanced solutions”, which they think will sound more politically palatable than drastic cuts in public spending: tax rises on “the better-off” (the only people in a position to create real wealth) are put on the moral scale alongside “welfare cuts” on the unproductive.

This is not even a recipe for standing still: tax rises prevent growth and job creation, as well as reducing tax revenue. It is a formula for permanent decline in the private sector and endless austerity in the public one. But reduced government spending accompanied by tax cuts (particularly on employment – what the Americans call “payroll taxes”) could stimulate the growth of new wealth and begin a recovery. Most politicians on the Right understand this. They have about five minutes left to make the argument for it.

War – Some observations

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“Preventive war was an invention of Hitler. Frankly, I would not even listen to anyone seriously that came and talked about such a thing.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

“We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

“How far can you go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without?”
–Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

“As Americans mindlessly celebrate another Memorial Day with cookouts, beer and burgers, the U.S. war machine keeps churning. As we brutally enforce our will on foreign countries, we create more people that hate us. They don’t hate us for our freedom. They hate us because we have invaded and occupied their countries. They hate us because we kill innocent people with predator drones. They hate us for our hypocrisy regarding democracy and freedom. Just when we had the opportunity to make a sensible decision by leaving Iraq and exiting the Middle East quagmire, Obama made the abysmal choice to casually sacrifice more troops in the Afghan shithole. We have thrown over $1.3 trillion down Middle East rat holes over the last 11 years with no discernible benefit to the citizens of the United States. George Bush and Barack Obama did this to prove  they were true statesmen. The Soviet Union killed over 1 million Afghans, while driving another 5 million out of the country and retreated as a bankrupted and defeated shell after ten years. Young Americans continue to die, for whom and for what? Our foreign policy during the last eleven years can be summed up in one military term, SNAFU – Situation Normal All Fucked Up. These endless foreign interventions under the guise of a War on Terror are a smoke screen for what is really going on in this country. When a government has unsolvable domestic problems, they try to distract the wilfully ignorant masses by proactively creating foreign conflicts based upon false pretences.”
– Jim Quinn, The Burning Platform, May 27, 2012, excerpt article, “War Pigs – The Fall of a Global Empire”

“I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”
– General Douglas MacArthur

“What kind of a civilized society allocates 44% of the taxes taken from its people to war? Only 2.5% of your taxes go to science, energy, and environment. Only 2.2% of your taxes go to education and jobs. You produce the results that you would expect from your investments. A full 13% of our population doesn’t have a high school diploma (20% of African Americans and 43% of Latinos) and only 30% have a college degree. How do we expect to lead the world in technology and research with these figures? But we do lead the world in government issued student loan debt with $1 trillion and rising.”
– Jim Quinn, The Burning Platform, May 27, 2012, excerpt article, “War Pigs – The Fall of a Global Empire”

“The military don’t start wars. Politicians start wars.”
– General William Westmoreland

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

“My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”
– George Washington

“The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
– General Omar Bradley

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.”
– Albert Einstein

Written by aurick

28/11/2012 at 12:16 am

The third president (1743 – 1826) of the United States, a man who towered above all

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“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“A private central bank issuing the public currency is a greater menace to the liberty of the people than a standing army.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“Paper is poverty, it is only the ghost of money, and not money itself.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it always to be kept alive.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“I have the consolation of having added nothing to my private fortune during my public service, and of retiring with hands clean as they are empty.”
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to Count Diodati, 1807

“No government ought to be without censors and where the press is free, no government ever will.”
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Washington, September 9, 1792

“An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.”
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Melish, January 13, 1813

“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched.”
–Thomas Jefferson, Resolutions, 1803

“Experience has shown that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
– Thomas Jefferson

” I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”
–Thomas Jefferson, to Archibald Stuart, 1791

“No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity.”
–Thomas Jefferson

Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietam servitutem. (“I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude”)
–Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 30 January 1787.

Self-Interest and the Pathology of Power: The Corruption of America, Part 2

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by Charles Hugh Smith
Posted February 9, 2012
The self-interest of the alcoholic is to keep drinking. Is this truly in his best interests? The answer illuminates the pathology of power in America.
IF WE IGNORE THE LIP SERVICE SHOWERED ON “REFORM”, WE FIND THAT THERE IS REALLY ONLY ONE STRATEGY in America: extend and pretend. Individuals, households, communities, cities, states, enterprises and the vast sprawling Empire of the Federal government and its many proxies – all are engaged in extend and pretend.
The closest analog is a seriously ill alcoholic who tells himself he just has a hang-over when it’s abundantly clear he is suffering from potentially terminal cancer. With a hang-over, extend and pretend is the only strategy that works: you can try various “magic potions” to relieve the symptoms, but the only real cure is to give the body enough time to cleanse itself of the toxins you’ve created and pretend to be functioning in the meantime.
In the case of aggressive cancer, then extend and pretend is the worst possible strategy: ignoring the rapid progression of the disease only makes eventual treatment more difficult and uncertain. The only way to treat cancer is to face it straight-on, learn as much as you can about the disease and the spectrum of treatments, consider the side-effects and consequences of various treatment strategies, and then get to work radically transforming your entire life, mind, body and spirit to effect the cure.
Why do we perpetrate the delusion of a hang-over when it’s painfully clear we have cancer? We’re afraid, of course; we fear the unknown and find comfort in the belief that nothing has to really change. We call this denial, but it arises from fear and risk aversion. In the moment, amidst all the swirling chaos of fear and uncertainty, we choose extend and pretend because it seems to be in our self-interest.
This is the ontology of extend and pretend: a delusional view of our self-interest. The drunk is terrified of not being able to drink himself into a stupor; in that dysfunctional state of being, then he perceives his self-interest as denying he has cancer because he knows that treatment will require him to stop drinking. In effect, what he perceives as acting in his self-interest is actually an act of self-destruction.
Political and social revolutions occur when the productive classes realize the Status Quo no longer serves their self-interests. In other words, the revolution is first and foremost an internal process of recognition and enlightenment: all the propaganda issued by the Status Quo, i.e. that it serves the best interests of the productive classes, is finally recognized as false. As this awakening begins, a divergence between the definitions of self-interest by the Power Elites (financial and political) and the productive classes begins to open. This is extremely dangerous to the Power Elites, who are fundamentally parasitical and predatory: their wealth and power all flow from the labor, taxes, debt service and passivity/complicity of the productive classes.
The Power Elites’ time-honored strategy to protect their own wealth and grip on power has three components: one is to pursue a strategy of pervasive, ceaseless propaganda to persuade the productive classes that the system is sound, fair and working for them; the second is to fund diversionary “bread and circuses” for the potentially troublesome lower classes, and the third is to harden the fiefdoms of power and wealth into an aristocracy that is impervious to the protests of debt-serfs and laborers below.
In addition to “the system is working for you” social control myth, the wealth/power aristocracy also invokes various fear-based social control myths: external enemies are threatening us all, so ignore your debt-serfdom and powerlessness, etc. In the ideal Power Elite scenario, a theocracy combines faith and State: not only is it illegal to resist the Aristocracy, you will suffer eternal damnation for even thinking about it.
Ask yourself this: how much influence do you as a citizen, voter and taxpayer have over the Federal Reserve? If we’re honest, we must confess that the Federal Reserve is as remote to us as any branch of the North Korean government: we have zero influence over it, and the same can be said of our elected representatives. This is the definition of an aristocracy, oligarchy (a power structure in which power is held by a small number of people), kleptocracy, etc.
The Power Elite has a key advantage over the citizenry: its own self-interest is clear. The citizenry must entertain this question: is the Status Quo really working for me or not? The Power Elite aristocracy has no such confusion: the Status Quo is working beautifully for them, and the only threat to their wealth and power is the possibility that the productive classes might opt out and stop paying the taxes and debt service which funds the parasitical Power Elite. Thus the Power Elite has a single goal: to persuade and coerce the citizenry into accepting their powerlessness and debt-serfdom as a pathological form of self-interest.
There is another dynamic to the Power Elite aristocracy’s grip on concentrated wealth and power: the self-selecting, self-perpetuating pathology of the aristocracy and the Upper Caste that so slavishly serves them. Author Chris Sullins identified this dynamic as one of self-propagating fractals (The MacRib is Back! September 23, 2008):
There are readers who might feel I’m being very hard on the public with the comparison so far. But look how people have allowed their names to be changed. They have gone from being called citizens to consumers. A citizen is a very human word which denotes awareness, involvement, and participation. It’s a word that sounds active and conscious in its very nature. A consumer by contrast sounds far more passive. A lot of other animals and even inanimate processes consume things. A consumer sounds like sheep grazing.
Once a populace accepts a self-definition that strips out their participation as anything but passive consumers, then the maintenance of power boils down to test-marketing new social control myths and fear-mongering. This sophisticated level of marketing and predation requires a highly trained class of servants: an Upper Caste of technocrats, middle managers, marketers, lobbyists, “creatives,” engineers, etc. who do the heavy lifting that keeps the Power Elite’s wealth and status not just intact but expanding. The reward for this service is a hefty salary that enables the purchase of the signifiers of upper-middle class existence and an intoxicating proximity to power and status visibility, i.e. some measure of recognition as “being somebody important.”
Until very recently I reckoned this Upper Caste of loyal servants comprised about 20% of the American populace, but upon closer examination of various levels of wealth and analysis of advert targeting (adverts only target those with enough money/credit to buy the goods being offered), I now identify the Upper Caste as only the top 10% (the aristocracy is at most the top 1/10th of 1%). Wealth and income both fall rather precipitously below the top 10% line, and as globalization and other systemic forces relentlessly press productivity into fewer hands, then the rewards aggregate into a smaller circle of laborers.
As noted yesterday in Social Fractals and the Corruption of America (Of Two Minds, February 8, 2012), you cannot aggregate healthy, thrifty, honest, caring and responsible people into a group that is dysfunctional, spendthrift, venal and dishonest unless those individuals have themselves become dysfunctional, spendthrift, venal and dishonest.
This is the ontology of the pathology of power: If you want to join the elite levels of the Upper Caste, where “doing God’s work” is a daily practice of fraud, embezzlement, misrepresentation, collusion, purposeful obfuscation, all in service of a pathologically self-destructive notion of self-interest, then you must become dysfunctional, venal and dishonest (with becoming spendthrift in service of acquiring signifiers of status a close fourth).
Since non-pathological people will quit or be fired, then these fractals of corruption are self-selecting and self-perpetuating. This is true not just of financial America but of elected officialdom. Anyone who is still naive or delusional enough to think that getting elected to Congress or the state legislature will empower “doing good” will soon learn the ropes: the next election is less than two years away, and if you want to retain your grip on power you’re going to need a couple million dollars.
And if you want to “get something done,” you will need to take orders from your party leadership and service your donors. I once had a friend who by extraordinary effort got himself elected to the state legislature. Being a young idealist, he actually refused to vote as his party leadership directed: thus identified as a rebel, he was predictably out two years later.
So much for “working within the system.” By the time all the donors, lobbyists, leeches and parasites have been properly serviced, the “reform” bill is 2,000 pages long. As a result of the feudal structure of wealth and power in America and the self-reinforcing, self-propagating fractals of pathological servitude, the citizenry are increasingly remote from power. The aristocracy, like feudal lords in distant, fortified castles, demands obedient service of the powerless citizenry: work hard, pay your taxes and service your debt – and fears any awakening of true self-interest.
Just because a devoted member of the Upper Caste is allowed to enter the castle to do his work doesn’t mean he is part of the aristocracy. That glow of proximity to power is his reward for dutifully slaving away as a higher-order serf.
The American Revolution was triggered not by a sudden upwelling of noble ideals, but by the realization of the landed nobility and productive classes that the commercial and political domination of Great Britain was placing their wealth and liberty at risk.
Put another way: they awoke to the fact that the Status Quo no longer served their essential self-interests. When the Upper Caste and productive classes reach this same conclusion, then perhaps they will elect a transformational third party to sweep away the corrupt political class. This new party must embody a moral imperative that acts as a social fractal: retaining power is not the goal. If the people want to restore the pathological aristocracy to power in two years, then by all means let them have it. They will do so without our complicity, interest payments, labor and servitude, for we have opted out of pathology.

Europe Doesn’t Get It

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by Peter Tchir
of TF Market Advisors
Posted December 7, 2011 

I STILL THINK THE MOST LIKELY SCENARIO IS THAT SOME AGREEMENT TO AGREE IS MADE AT THE SUMMIT, which is then followed up by increased printing from the ECB, coupled with new Fed policies and fresh IMF money.  Although that still seems the most likely, I am getting concerned that Europe is once again missing the point.

Many EU leaders seem to actually believe that the Treaty changes are important.  The reality is the market could care less about treaty changes.  The market cares about only one thing, that the ECB will announce new, bigger, more aggressive sovereign purchases.  That’s all the market cares about.  The market believes that the treaty changes provide an excuse for the ECB and IMF to ramp up their efforts.  The EU can do all the treaty changes it wants, but if it is not followed up with aggressive new printing policies, the markets will sell-off.

Not only are politicians acting as though the treaty changes mean much, there is even talk about being able to implement changes without national votes. That idea horrifies me on a personal level as it is yet again trashing any sense of democracy, but it is bad for the markets.  I have been assuming that the meeting will result in another agreement to agree. That is relatively easy to pull together. Since it doesn’t really mean much, any countries that aren’t really on board, can be cajoled into holding hands for the photo op and pretending they agree long enough for the ECB and IMF to throw more money at the problem.

Agreement is far less likely if real permanent changes are being implemented. It is one thing to agree to the plan on the condition that you have to go back and get approval. It is much more risky for someone to agree to permanent changes implemented using some backdoor legal technique. Talk of actually implementing policy action this week is actually a negative as it makes it less likely that they can announce a “successful” summit.

On a side note, my favorite part of the proposal is the fines for going over the approved limits. So countries that have the biggest deficits will be fined, adding to those deficits? Debtor’s prison never worked very well, so why this would accomplish much is beyond me and would likely be waived any time it could be used. But no one on Wall Street has bothered to read the treaty proposals because no one cares, all anyone cares about is that the ECB uses it as an excuse to print.

Yesterday’s FT rumor of ESM and EFSF working together was yet another reason to be afraid that Europe doesn’t get it. Not only would implementing both at the same time place the AAA rated countries at greater risk of downgrade, it ignores the fact that EFSF has been a total failure. I thought Europe had moved beyond floating yet another iteration of something that hasn’t worked. The fact that they haven’t is a potential indication that the printing presses aren’t going to be turned on as soon as the market would like.

Finally, there is more and more talk about what the national central banks can do. People are acting as though they were cleaning the living room, and found some money when they lifted up the cushions on the couch.  This is not “found” money. Participants and lenders are well aware of these reserves.  They can be used for example to fund loans to the IMF to lend back to some countries, though I don’t fully understand why they can’t just lend to the countries directly, but I assume there is some law that lending to the IMF lets them circumvent. But there will be a cost to these actions. There will be a consequence, and although it will later be viewed as “unintended” the consequences are actually foreseeable. The countries with large reserves at the national central bank level have a reduced cost of funds because of those reserves. Lenders are not always totally stupid. There is value that is being realized from having those reserves. Using them to create loans for the IMF will impact that country’s ability to borrow. Plain and simple.

The fact that many pundits are treating this as newfound money that can be used any which way, without consequences is absurd and is yet another example of why so many ideas have failed. Any plan that raids the national central banks for money for the PIIGS needs to be thought through more carefully and the potential costs need to be addressed. The cost/benefit analysis may be worth the risk, but I suspect serious analysis would show that it is a bad idea. The cost/benefit should be about zero since it is just shifting money from one place to another. There really is no obvious reason to believe that this is a net positive. In the real world it is likely negative because as we have seen time and again, these changes break the existing model and that causes confusion which more than offsets any potential benefit (not triggering CDS is a shining example).

So while we limp along towards the most likely outcome, the risk of disappointment or even outright failure continues to grow. The inability to hold yesterday’s rumor rally is a signal that the market has moved well past the short squeeze phase and is now trading long.

All the world’s a stage

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by Peter Tchir
of TF Market Advisors
Posted December 5, 2011

I CAN’T HELP BUT FEEL THAT WE ARE WATCHING A PERFORMANCE THIS WEEK. It feels like the actions, the meetings, and the statements are all very scripted. It seems reasonably clear which ending they are going for, but many of their actions also fit the “alternative” ending so it remains imperative to be cautious.

Roles for “bit” players have been cut

Last week, for the first time, the EU seemed to be able to muzzle the minor players and even limit the lines of the big players. The Finance minister summit was a failure. Nothing useful came out of it. EFSF was a total flop. The bank backstop plans are at a national level and revolve around the idea of getting banks to borrow even more in the short term and not extend their maturities.

In spite of the obvious failure, there were relatively few comments. Rather than getting headlines of disputes, or even headlines of bigger and better ways to leverage, they seemed to let it die a relatively calm death and move on. This was a chance for every finance minister to get their quotations in the news, but they seemed reasonably constrained. There were far fewer comments about the ECB or even from ECB members. To me, it seems that the big players (Merkozy and Draghi) have taken control of the play and are trying to get it to the ending they want.

The “Script”

Germany took great pains last week to distance themselves from ECB decisions. The speeches made it clear that the ECB should be “independent”.  This has been taken as a sign that Germany is relenting on letting the ECB print. By affirming the ECB’s independence, Germany can, in theory, explain that it wasn’t responsible for the printing. There is also a chance that this is a way to take the blame off of Germany if the ECB decides not to print.  That seems less likely, but not everyone, especially at the ECB, believes printing is a solution, so this could be a way for them to take the focus off of Germany’s “nein”.

According to the script, Merkel and Sarkozy will become the Merkozy again tonight so that they can ride into this week’s summit with a “renewed joint focus”, blah, blah, blah. There is no way that they don’t act as though they have some agreement (even if they don’t). We won’t know what is discussed, we won’t know how much time is spent working out plans for a summit failure, all we will get is another handholding moment meant to encourage the market. I suspect that more time “off screen” will be spent discussing preparations for a failed summit, but all we will see is smiling confident faces.

At this point, I will give the politicians some credit. For the first time in months they seem to be writing the script. They aren’t just taking whatever script Wall Street hands them, and trying to act that out. The Wall Street scripts haven’t worked and have been unbelievable. The  politicians are finally taking control and trying to develop their own plan, and selling Wall Street on how viable it is. Since they are politicians, they are actually trained at figuring out what can get done and selling it to the people.  It probably won’t work, but at least they are doing what they are good at, and it would be hard to do worse than listening to another round of self-serving Wall Street advice.  On a refreshing note, at least we have agreement on something, Wall Street and politicians now both think the other group doesn’t understand anything and has no sense of timing.

The “puppets” are pushing through austerity in Italy and Greece. They can be held up as shining examples to other countries of what needs to be done. They aren’t the heroes of the story, but are there so that the Merkozy can point them out and show that i) it can be done, and ii) when it is done, the EU and IMF will come through with additional funds.  The “it” they got done won’t be well defined (but this is a movie, not the real world anyways) but the reward those good countries receive will be highlighted.

So the meeting will have Merkozy telling the smaller and problematic countries what a great future lies ahead for the eurozone. They will talk about the sacrifices they are making to ensure the viability of the future. There will be no criticism of the plan as only “friends and family” reports will get the inside scoop, and the “trailer” will be played over and over as part of the advertising campaign. We, the audience, will suspect that all the best parts of the play are in the “trailer” but we won’t be able to dig deep enough to argue against it.

The puppets will tell the other countries how happy they are that they have finally adopted austerity with growth to move forward and that they are excited about this opportunity to be part of the renewed commitment to the eurozone. Anyone who tries to figure out how austerity and growth work together, or where the money is coming, or any other details, will be escorted from room, and will be Clockwork Oranged into reading “fringe blogging websites” until they accept that details are bad, and only vague notions and slogans can “solve” anything.

At the end of the day, any holdouts will get invited to special meetings with the Merkozy. This is where they will be asked what they want to get in order to support the agreement, and reminded, that it is only an agreement in principle so they might as well say yes now, and they can always reject it later. These dark little meetings where the bribes are given and the futility of the agreement are discussed will only be available on the director’s cut, but will make people cringe when they realize what went on.

So in the end, according to script, everyone will get a chance for a joint communiqué and photo up where they talk about their commitment to implement these progressive changes. Every person who truly thinks about it for more than a minute, will know that it is a sham. They will see what has gone on, but it won’t matter. The “critics” will fall all over themselves to proclaim the success of the summit and that we are witnessing the birth of a new and better Euro. For a few days at least, the airwaves will be filled with the excitement that the “great leadership” exhibited by the Merkozy, and the diligence of the puppets, has led to such a monumental agreement. The future will be so bright, some might even “wear shades” when they discuss what has been accomplished.  Tears wouldn’t even shock me.

Then before anyone can complain that the positive reviews were bought, or that the script is flimsy, we will see the next wave of activity. This will be like a giant publicity machine, trying to turn a horrible movie into an Oscar winner through the sheer strength of publicity and graft.

The ECB will cut rates by 50 bps. The ECB will announce further participation in the secondary markets and hint at the ability and willingness to print money. The IMF will announce some new programs. The EFSF will start participating in the primary market. Even the Fed might hint at future QE (if not actually doing anything).

Then the leaders can sit back and hope their magic works.  Hope that their story has been bought and that the markets can take off and that they won’t actually have to implement much.  Yes, I think this is the key here.  They know that the treaty agreement changes are unlikely to be implemented.  They know the ECB has limits, that the IMF is going to struggle to do what people seem to believe they can do, they just hope that this is enough to give the markets so much confidence that they don’t have to do anything.  A market that can swing 6% on a 50 bp rate cut, might be manipulated into going so high that confidence is regained, long enough to buy time.

The “alternative ending”

So far, the directors have rejected the alternative ending. They don’t think that America in particular is ready for a non Hollywood ending, but they are filming some scenes just in case.  Fortunately many of the scenes are exactly the same as in the preferred ending. In the alternative ending, Merkozy and the puppets can’t convince everyone to go along with the communiqué. They can’t convince them that it is really meaningless so there is no point to disagree. Somehow the summit ends without the decision to move forward.

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Fooled Again!

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by John Rubino
Posted December 2, 2011

THE PATTERN IS BY NOW SO FAMILIAR THAT IT DESERVES A PLACE BESIDE other technical indicators like moving averages and Fibonacci retracements. It begins with part or all of the global economy appearing to implode under its five-decade accumulation of debt. The public sector/central bank nexus responds with a liquidity injection, leading the markets to rally explosively and the pundits to declare the problem fixed. Then the markets gradually remember that liquidity and solvency are two different things, and that the mortgage lenders/money center banks/PIIGS countries/hedge funds/State and local governments, etc., are insolvent, not illiquid. And the cycle begins again.

But what to call it? “Sucker rally” seems a little too benign and prosaic for a process that looks more like fraud perpetrated on a learning-disabled, desperately-credulous victim.

“Death throes of a decadent system” is accurate but too pretentious and doesn’t convey the cyclical (and cynical) nature of the process.

“Financial terrorism” is better, since the regularity of the cycle — and the fact that central banks have absolute control over the timing — imply that there’s massive insider trading going on, possibly as part of a scheme by the (name your favorite elite conspiracy group) to suck as much wealth out of the system as possible before finally letting it collapse. Still, the term doesn’t convey the comic aspect of rich, supposedly-astute players getting suckered over and over. Incompetent money managers are funny.

In the end, what it’s called is less important than the fact that it’s a great trading indicator. Starting in 2007, if you’d gone long risk when the markets were falling apart — on the assumption that panicked governments would quickly intervene — and then taken profits and gone short a few weeks after the intervention, you’d have made a fortune from all the volatility.

The current market looks like another perfect set-up: A week ago, Europe was collapsing, China was slowing down and the US budgeting process was paralyzed. Stocks around the world had fallen hard, and a Euro-zone breakup was being actively planned for by governments and trading exchanges. Armageddon, in other words. So the central banks inject another hit of liquidity and Germany and the ECB appear to embrace the commingling of the continent’s balance sheets. And voila, the bulls are back in charge.

Now, trading strategies work until they don’t, and there’s always the risk that this latest bailout will actually fix the world’s problems and usher in a new era of consumer-led growth with soaring corporate profits, low inflation, and rising share prices. But…nah, why even give this possibility serious consideration? Nothing that was promised this week will make much of a near-term difference. Lower reserve requirements in China and cheaper dollar-denominated loans in Europe are just tweaks to already existing programs. More fiscal integration in Europe is inevitable if the common currency is to function as promised. But think for a moment about what this implies — Germany and France getting to micromanage Italy’s pension and tax system — and it clearly isn’t happening this month. Getting from here to a German-run Europe will take maybe five more near-death experiences, and in any event won’t address the fact that even Germany’s balance sheet (when you include its unfunded liabilities) really isn’t AAA.

So, the pattern should hold: “Risk-on” trades work this week, then things get choppy for a while. Then the markets grow cautious and finally terrified. The most likely catalyst for the panic stage is the massive, front-loaded refinancing schedule that Italy and Spain have unwisely set up for early 2012. But it could be anything. The point is to be short risk when it hits but not to marry the position, because more liquidity is on the way. The con will keep working as long as the world continues to see fiat currencies as valuable.