The Financial Endgame Slowly Plays Out - and then...
... the Sudden Systemic Implosion which will usher in the Brave New World
This article first appeared on www.clivemaund.com
"Capitalism requires people to be quiet souls in the workplace and wild pagans at the cash register" - Ron Chernow, 1949, US Journalist
Amongst the growing plethora of warnings, some erudite some emotional, Mr. Paul Volcker's commentary in the Washington Post entitled, "The Economy on Thin Ice", of April 10th, has to be taken very seriously, given the former's position as Chairman of the Fed from 1979 to 1987, when he was succeeded by Alan Greenspan. Volcker was forced into making very tough economic decisions in 1980, which he did by raising interest rates sharply to cool a vastly overheated market. Volcker acted as the Fed Chairman should, responsibly, and, therefore, like few other market commentators has immense "gravitas" when he flags up major economic issues as he has done. However, the magnitude of the present Fed Chairman's problems are on a hitherto unimaginable scale. No country, or central bank, has ever attempted an exercise in FIAT money creation of such truly breathtaking proportions before. Moreover, no exercise in FIAT money creation has ever successfully worked over the long-term in any nation where it has been attempted. Before the post WW2 acceptance of the US dollar as a proxy global currency, no country has had the unique opportunity to try such an exercise out on a global scale. Dr Greenspan knows this. So, you may well ask, what on earth is he up to?.... and, equally importantly, why is it being done?
It is easy to caste Dr Greenspan as the befuddled "Mr McGoo" leading America to economic and financial ruin. However, such a denigration of this man's abilities is entirely misleading and dangerously erroneous. The Fed has some of the finest financial and economic brains on the planet. Therefore, the more acceptable answer as to why the (digital) US$ money base has been exploded on an astronomic scale has to centre on it being a part of a globally based economic and political strategy. The fact that this strategy has not been spelled out to "the world at large" implies a hidden agenda, and, furthermore, a conspiracy. Whilst "the conspiracy theory of history" is mocked by the media as the realm of scaremongers, the ignorant and the naïve, anyone who has merely studied the history of Britain's Kings and Queens, over the last 1,000 years, will readily see that conspiracies were very much part of court life, national government and Britain's international policy. Nothing has changed. Indeed, with the advent of widespread literacy, modern media and information technology, the obfuscation of, and power to corrupt facts has been raised to a new and more sophisticated plane.
"Baking the news cake" for palatable reception and consumption is an art form perfected for specific markets, based on the cultural and educational profile of the local, national or even international consumer. CNN, CNBC , NBC and Fox News are little more than propaganda organisations serving up a daily "McNews" for the generally poorly read and travelled, culturally naïve, and generally poorly educated US consumer, on the basis that those who eat junk, drink junk, read junk, watch junk and listen to junk deserve, well... just more junk? Mr. Hitler and Dr Goebbels would have been heartily jealous of such a malleable and docile, if not to say almost bovine populace, who could readily absorb such shallow rubbish and believe it all! Unfortunately, the insidious US style media is polluting the planet in the global attempt to produce a "dumbed down", ignorant, poorly educated and malleable global serfdom, hooked on trashy TV and video entertainments and other such puerile nonsense, and moreover, up to their necks in debt and easy credit. Again, one is led to ask why? Aren't we living in the enlightened 21st Century?..... or, are we regressing to type, as demonstrated over thousands of years of human suffering at the hands of our own dubious species?
Over the past four years, since the great stock market bubble topped out at over 11,000 on the DOW, innumerable commentators have been expecting the inevitable crash. However, time and again the Fed has wrong footed the bears, making apparent fools of many experienced and intelligent commentators, including lesser mortals like this writer. To a large extent, very few people are listening to the bears as a result of their dismal track record. Complacency is currently rife, as the markets defy financial and economic logic, and its economic paradigms and models are apparently refuted by the "new economics" of never ending FIAT expansion, akin to medieval alchemy. However, even at the physical scale of stars and galaxies, periods of great expansion are followed by sudden and very rapid implosion, as gravitational forces overcome spent nuclear reaction. In this writers' view, the end of the great global FIAT experiment, based on the United States Dollar, will end, not as most people think and hope for, as a well orchestrated gentle descent, but suddenly and very brutally like a collapsing red giant reduced to a white dwarf or X-ray star. Furthermore, an event, or a multiplicity of major events, such as a continuing rise in the price of energy and oil and/or sudden economically forced global rebalancing will be the trigger for a collapse of the entire financial "house of cards". This will destroy all the paper currencies, without any exception, as they are all interlinked within the global markets, and none are backed by gold or anything else of finite defined value. In this circumstance, Richard Russell's views on gold and silver rise to the fore, and he is to be much commended for "sticking to his guns". In this writers view he is 100% right.
For the average person in the US, Canada, Britain, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, not to mention much of the European Community, the quality of life is steadily declining amidst the illusion of paper wealth represented by assets such as houses, bonds and stocks. Since 1982, the money supply has been progressively pumped up at an ever expanding rate, whilst real earnings have been in steady decline, under steady erosion through real inflation as opposed to the statistically incorrect CPI as corrupted by manipulative "jiggery pokery" by successive governments.
The prime instrument in this global economic game has been one fundamental to the lives of everyone; i.e., the house you live in. Unless the householder is rich enough to afford to own two or more houses, which most are not, then the paper gain in the steadily, but rapidly rising, price of his home can only be realized if he sells his home and move into a lesser house in the same area, or, one of similar quality and size in a less attractive or sought after location. Most people do not like moving home for obvious reasons. Therefore, the only benefit one gains from ever rising house prices, and property prices in general, is if one can use some of the increased equity in ones home to finance other consumption needs, such as: education; cars; consumer durables; holidays; home improvements and non-essential luxuries such as speed boats and jet skis. As many writers have pointed out, a home is a source of finance amidst falling real earnings, a veritable private bank ATM to be tapped into as deemed necessary. This happy little arrangement has been facilitated and expanded by an increasingly lax and accommodative banking environment, which seems almost disinterested in whether one can ever repay ones debts in the face of unemployment or illness. Again, it is necessary to ask why this is being allowed to happen? And, furthermore, why does it fly in the face of prudent money lending, as deemed sensible practice, since the creation of the banking system. Why have supposedly responsible governments allowed it to happen without imposing regulations to protect the consumer from himself and for himself?
In the event of a collapse in the heretofore ever rising housing market, often at a factor of 3 to 5 times the increase in average earnings over a sustained period of nearly 20 years, one's house becomes a "financial lobster pot". Given the low equity in most new home purchases, in a collapsing market the mortgagee is little more than a tenant, albeit with a thumping great paper debt to pay off over the rest of his or her miserable life. In other words, modern society has reverted to one of Baronial serfdom reminiscent of 11th Century Europe at its impersonal worst. Genuine democracy and freedom has vanished in that other great illusion - so called Democracy. The biggest fear a family man will hold is losing his job. What a pernicious instrument of societal control the home has become. It's a corporate shareholders dream come true. Like a dead albatross slung around the neck of "the ancient mariner", as he thinks: "how I wish I had never bought this house!", and, how I wished that I had saved for what I have purchased and that it really did belong to me. The deep evil of credit, whose use appeals to man's darkest and bleakest being, as an instrument of acquisition, exploitation and control, will be brought home to the unthinking US, UK, Australian, and Canadian consumer like his very worst nightmares. As Yoda says to Luke Skywalker in the "Empire Strikes Back", "you're not scared? .....You soon will be! Oh yes! You soon will be!"
The downside of the exploding property market is immense and highly insidious. The vast inflation of property prices has served to bring about the following:
Distort the cost structure of the entire economy through increased "on costs" of mortgages, rentals and leases, which are recovered through higher charges on all goods and services;
Inflated house prices push homes into higher tax thresholds including: sales tax, stamp duties, council or local authority taxes and capital gains tax resulting in increased costs of living;
The increased purchase price, and lower equity downpayment in homes for most buyers, requires them to take out ARM's (adjustable rate mortgages) rather than fixed rate mortgages. This increases the lender's exposure to financial risks in an environment of rising interest rates, when unemployment and job loss risks increase. Furthermore, most mortgages issued in ARM contracts are junk status loans, backed by derivatives, with little or no financial due diligence performed by the lender on the debtor;
Further distortions due to high and rising house prices mean that vital labour mobility is restricted throughout the economy as lower wage earners, in important sectors of the economy, cannot afford to take out a loan or move from a location of low house prices to one of high prices. Such key labour includes: teachers, medical staff, police, firemen, and drivers of public transport vehicles;
Large mortgages, or home loans, come with a deep psychological load on the mind of the mortgagee or borrower. The thought that you have a mountainous debt overhanging your daily life effectively dominates your life whether you like to admit it or not. The fear of losing ones job, becoming ill, or having an accident, where you cannot pay your monthly bill, resulting in your family being made homeless is a socially destructive and degenerative influence, colouring a person's outlook on life and their entire social behaviour. The net result is greater mental stress and physical illness, increased crime, drug and drinking offences. In some, and by no means rare, cases, suicide results.
Now the great game plan starts to make some sense. Higher home loans and the greater indebtedness of society are well on their way to creating a modern version of serfdom, in which people will work for a nominal income from the cradle to the grave, merely giving birth to a new generation of serfs, as they live their constrained lives earning nominal wages, never being able to somehow get ahead as their income is whittled away by taxes, debt servicing charges and interest payments, and everyday (and ever rising) living expenses. Lives for most will comprise a few small pleasures and, mostly, endless drudgery in making the elite few richer and able to enjoy what most people can never have or even dream about having.
Modern Industrial-Corporate Dynastic families owe their origins to the age of technological expansion and industrial development in the 19th Century. The prime interest of these families is to insure their dynastic inheritance of power and wealth. The mentality of the rich and powerful is absolutely no different to what it is was in the age of Pharoah's, Kings and more obvious and recent megalomaniacs like Hitler with his 1,000 year Reich. Wealth and power corrupts and distorts the entire mental philosophy of those who wield such power. The main effect is to numb the senses to the feelings and wellbeing of all people and the enormous social responsibility that comes with wealth. Evidence of the preoccupation of the rich and powerful with grandiose, conspicuous consumption is evident in the French Chateaux, colossal British Estate Homes, Aztec and Egyptian monolithic structures and huge Roman villas etc. Time and again, throughout history, from Chinese Emperors, European Kings, Indian Moguls, and modern era Dictators, man has quested for dynastic power over his fellow human beings, murdering countless millions of ordinary people in the process, oblivious and indifferent to their suffering. Man's lack of wisdom and responsibility to his fellow beings has not changed, only his technology and knowledge base have, which he largely uses, unwisely, to further his personal ends. The current financial game plan is just another variant of an age-old desire to control people, this time not with brutal, and highly obvious and alarming, armies of jackbooted asphalt soldiers, but with pinstripe-suited, educated, suave bankers offering easy credit and good times, like the fox to Pinocchio in Walt Disney's classic film. How easily are the people gulled into economic slavery! Their hedonistic greed for easy and immediate acquisition of goods and comforts to fulfil a perceived need, that they cannot afford to pay for, is being used to enslave them; as in Judo, the Japanese art of self defence, a person's body and normal behavioural reactions are used to bring them down.
Hand in hand with the strategy of enslaving people with credit is a much wider-ranging, multi-pronged attack against the entire fabric of society's cohesion. The facilitating of divorce laws, abortion, gay rights, and a raft of more insidious measures such as the progressive downgrading of the education system, except of course for the elite schools like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Browne, MIT, Cornell, Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, UMIST, Durham, or ANU and Melbourne in Australia, etc, where the offspring of the elite get their university training. Furthermore, in most countries students have to pay for their education by taking out bank loans, financially enslaving them before they have commenced their working lives! At the 1st grade universities, academic requirements remain high to generally exclude those who have not had a good private education. Furthermore, these universities are usually located in more exclusive and more expensive towns, such as Oxford and Cambridge, further discouraging the poor from shouldering the extra costs of attending these schools.
In the scheme of the world to come, society is utterly atomised and totally malleable. Every aspect of normal home and social life is now under attack, and people are so preoccupied with debt repayment and just keeping their heads above water, that they are not able to focus on, let alone comprehend, the society they will bequeath to their own children. To keep the ordinary citizens happy, they are plied with constant mindless entertainments, similar to those staged by the Roman Emperors with their endless Games held in grand stadiums such as the Coliseum in Rome. These distract the minds of the masses from the reality of their pathetic existence. An ample supply of cheap food is also available through a sophisticated mass distribution and integrated farming system, provided by the powerful and omnipresent supermarket chains such as Wal Mart, Sears, Tesco's, Sainsbury's, Safeway, K Mart, ASDA, Coles, etc. The availability of cheap and plentiful food helps keep the mass of society placid and content. Furthermore, the availability of fast, hyper-processed, junk food is a godsend for planners as it is resulting is widespread obesity on a global scale. Obese people lack the impetus to protest and are typically inactive and sedentary.
The present concern over the massive US twin deficits does not worry the Fed for the simple reason that they fully understand what they are doing. Everything is pretty much going perfectly to plan. They know that one day the system will collapse, but only when they want it to, and have all their plans in place ready for that day. Since the creation of the Fed in 1913, the US has steadily but increasingly pursued a strategy of flooding the world with US dollars. Following WW2, which saw the destruction of the old power Europe, the US dollar was the only currency, with its solid backing of 22,000 tonnes of gold, and a strong and debt free US economy, backed by a strong resource base and pre-eminent military power, which could serve as financial collateral for international trade and settlements. However, first the militarily drawn out Korean War of 1950 and 1952, and then the enormously costly Vietnam War debacle, from 1962 to 1975, progressively sapped US economic power and undermined the dollar. In 1968, the post war Bretton Woods Agreement in which the gold price was fixed at US$35 per fine ounce was rescinded, and the US dollar was largely taken off the gold standard. The final vestige of gold backing for the US dollar was removed by President Nixon in 1971. This single act opened the credit floodgates and gold rapidly rose to US$ 120 per ounce by 1976. Thereafter, under Paul Volcker's tenure as Fed Chairman, FIAT expansion accelerated as the dollar was no longer tied to anything. By 1979, the inflation of the money supply was literally going out of control. Gold soared to US$ 850 an ounce and silver rocketed to US$50. Volcker had to act, and did so decisively, by using the only effective tool in his armoury, interest rates, raising them rapidly to 22%. This induced a severe financial recession which the incoming Chairman Alan Greenspan relieved by once again opening the liquidity spigot, financing Ronald Reagan's huge expansion of the US military in the 1980's, and a huge accumulation of US national debt. The economic brakes were applied to a vastly overheated economy in 1989 by raising rates into the teens again. However, from 1992 to 2000, the US has seen the liquidity spigot opened to an unimaginable level. The injection of so much cash into any economy is bound to cause major distortions and excess, and it did. The rest is history and is well known to readers. However, the colossal equity bubble has spilled over into an even larger bond market and now real estate bubble. US mega debts are collectively something of the order of US$ 45 trillion, comprising US$ 8 trillion of federal debts. The trade deficit is motoring along at US$ 600 billion + per annum, and the US needs to import US$ 2.6 billion a day to finance its debt. Furthermore, the war in Iraq, planned action in Iran, and maintenance of 700 + US military bases worldwide is accelerating military expenditure.
A serious attempt at resolution of the gigantic US economic imbalances is considered unlikely in the near future as the liquidity spigot is still pretty much wide open. Real interest rates are still negative or approximate to zero.
As is well known by most readers, the entire monetary system relies on the symbiotic relationship between the US consumer, financed by his vastly asset inflated house, bonds and equities, and provision of cheap labour in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia and India where much manufacturing has been outsourced by global companies. The US citizen will, over time, be reduced to earn the same wages as his Chinese and Filipino counterparts. He hasn't realized it yet, but he is being progressively reduced to sweatshop labour by being reduced to accepting a job at MacDonald's or Wal-Mart on US$ 7 per hour. Now manufacturing has been largely outsourced or relocated to China or other Asian nations. However, the time will come, maybe by 2015 or 2020, when his wages will be reduced sufficiently to make relocating manufacturing in Ohio an attractive proposition. Welcome to globalization and the New World Order. This is all wonderful of course if you are one of the owners of the means of production and the capital base. You can play one nation off against another, arbitrage wage rates and maximize profits, and reduce your labour force to compliant and malleable serfs. All this comes with the added benefit of "the Sword of Damocles" hanging over each employee's head in the form of a debt mountain. What a brilliant scheme this all is!
Far from being idiotic and improvident, Mr Greenspan's Fed has been a main control box for what is a brilliant global plan, awe inspiring in its breadth, depth and vision, and staggering in its extremely cynical execution. This is surely mankind at his most devious and is corruption of power taken to an ultimate level.
Using his incredible advantage of having a global currency, in which all commodities are traded, and all international loans and settlements made, the Fed has not only created an internal US Dictatorship via credit, but has gulled China, Japan and SE Asia into a brilliant trap. The highly imbalanced trading relationship between China, Japan and the US is well known, and has been frequently described in some detail by Morgan Stanley's Chief Economist, Mr. Stephen Roach. In this relationship, the US buys the majority of Chinese and Japanese goods with digital dollars (real money simply no longer exists) running up huge accounting surpluses with which they buy heaps of meaningless paper in the form of US Treasury Bonds and Equities, enabling the "economic merry go round" to happily continue. In this highly distorted and imbalanced market, no one dare flinch. It is the ultimate "Prisoner's Dilemma Game", and how Mr. Greenspan, a brilliant Harvard academic, must love every minute of it. The cost of anyone throwing in the towel and jettisoning the dollar is quite simply awesome. No one has the courage to dare try. Like it or not, Asia is America's hostage politically and economically and can be crippled at a moments notice. China has no internal market to replace the US consumer, and Japan, Taiwan and Korea are relatively saturated markets. However, Greenspan knows that this "circus" cannot be sustained forever. The dollar is under heavy pressure in the open market as nerves are jangling at the sheer size of the imbalances and awareness of the eventual correction. Europe has to a large degree borne the cost of this great experiment, with a 25% appreciation of the Euro, over three years, impacting seriously on their economies. Should the dollar drop significantly in coming weeks/months the Europeans will be screaming for Greenspan to raise rates into real positive territory before they are left no option but to short the dollar and precipitate a market crisis.
To add to the above, commodities, not least oil, are on an ever-upwards trajectory precipitated by sustained and increasing Asian demand. Eventually, the inherent inflationary costs, global trade and financial distortions will conspire collectively to force a resolution of current imbalances. The longer this situation is sustained, the greater will be the correction required. A soft, low trajectory, landing is considered highly unlikely. The system will implode when it finally goes. The US dollar's value is only a perceived value. Its real value is nothing. When the realisation dawns that there is going to be no nicely "stage managed" end to this situation, the normal human reaction will be to "hit the exits". The history of the markets is not one based on simple mathematical logic. Man is first and foremost driven by his primeval instincts; i.e., greed and fear. The latter is the more powerful of these instincts. When this market goes, it will do so across almost all sectors and go very fast. Greenspan knows this. This is the grand denouement of his global scheme, as any other end was never possible as it would fly in the face of simple mathematical and economic logic. We will then have his Brave New World, and the US will have Patriot Acts 1 and 2, and the Ministry of Homeland Security to sweep up the mess, as the citizenry finally wake up to their awful predicament. Those who have paid for their homes and hold private hoards of gold and silver will be the only ones able to enjoy any form of normal life. However, the future for the US looks pretty bleak given its current political drift. I thank God I don't live there!