Author Archives: MN Gordon

     

 

 

What Constitution?

One of the many downfalls of being the United States Secretary of the Treasury is the requirement to place one’s autograph on the face of the Federal Reserve’s legal tender notes. There, on public display, is an overt record of a critical defect.  A signature endorsement of a Federal Reserve note by the Treasury Secretary represents their personal ratification of unconstitutional money.

 

 

 

There it is, plain as day. The former treasury secretary clearly put his signature on money with highly dubious legal credentials. Evidently he must have found it agreeable though. [PT]

 

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Flowing Toward the Great Depression

All remaining doubts concerning the place the U.S. economy and its tangled web of international credits and debts is headed were clarified this week. On Monday, Mark Yusko, CIO of Morgan Creek Capital Management, told CNBC that:

 

“…we’re flowing toward the path of 1928-29 when Hoover was president. Now Trump is president. Both were presidents with no experience who come in with a Congress that is all Republican, lots of big promises, lots of things that don’t happen and the fall is when people realize, ‘Wait, it hasn’t played out the way we thought.’ [By the fall], we’ll have a lot more evidence of declining growth. Growth has been slipping.”

 

A famous bad juju moment – the crash of 1929. Two of the annotations require a bit of elaboration. The so-called “Babson break” was a large down day on September 5 1929, two days after the market had peaked. Roger Babson was an entrepreneur (he inter alia invented the parking meter), an economic theorist and a famous skeptic who had already voiced doubts about the stock market bubble of the 1920s on numerous occasions before that day. This was the first time the market didn’t shrug his warnings off, and although it recovered most of the loss on the next trading day, it was the beginning of the end. “Fisher” refers to economist Irving Fisher, who famously announced “stocks have reached a permanent plateau” two weeks before the top. Fisher was a very wealthy man at the time, but lost the bulk of his fortune in the ensuing bear market. Although he couldn’t forecast his way out of a paper bag, his work has become the foundation of much of what is considered “orthodox” economic theory these days. His contemporaries Hayek and Mises, who like Babson warned of the coming crash, are shunned by the prevailing central planning paradigm. Hayek did so in the spring of 1929, when he said that there was no chance of a recovery in Europe unless interest rates decreased, which would require the collapse of the boom in the US; he added that this was very likely going to happen later that year. Mises was offered a well-remunerated post at Creditanstalt in the summer of 1929 and declined the offer. When asked why, he replied that he thought a great crash was coming soon and he didn’t want his name to be associated with it. Of course, Mises himself would probably point out that “prediction” is not a task of economic science. We just wanted to note in passing that these great economic theorists were also quite adept at sussing out what nearly everybody else missed at the time. Causal-realist economic theory does provide some advantages. [PT] – click to enlarge.

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A Great Big Dud

Many of today’s economic troubles are due to a fantastic guess.  That the wealth effect of inflated asset prices would stimulate demand in the economy.

The premise, as we understand it, was that as stock portfolios bubbled up investors would feel better about their lot in life.  Some of them would feel so doggone good they’d go out and buy 72-inch flat screen televisions and brand-new electric cars with computerized dashboards on credit.

 

The Wilshire 5000 total market index vs. federal debt and real GDP (indexed, 1990=100) – mainly there is an ever wider gap between asset prices and the underlying economic output, and although federal debt has grown by leaps and bounds in the Bush-Obama era, it can’t hold a candle to asset price inflation either. If asset prices were an indication of how an economy is doing, we would have arrived in Utopia by now. Unfortunately that is not the case, as asset prices primarily reflect monetary inflation. Just consider the extreme example of Venezuela’s IBC General Index, which went from 40,000 to 120,000 points, while the economy contracted by 21% in real terms (officially, that is. If one were to apply private sector estimates of inflation, it would look a lot worse). It is certainly true that economic aggregates are benefiting from bubble conditions to some extent, but that is essentially phantom prosperity. If you burn all your furniture, your home will be warm – that this might be problematic only becomes glaringly obvious once all the furniture is gone, because then it will not only be cold, but there will be nothing left to sit on either. When the red line on this chart reverts to the mean (or the “other extreme”), there will be a lot of gnashing of teeth, as many of the mistakes made during the bubble era will be unmasked. [PT] – click to enlarge.

 

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Disproportionate Rewards

The International Monetary Fund reported an unpleasant outlook for the U.S. economy on Wednesday.  The IMF, as part of its annual review, believes the U.S. economic model isn’t working as well as it could to generate shared income growth.

 

Supping with the IMF (we recommend trying to avoid invitations to structurally adjusted suppers if possible. Their air of finality is reportedly unbearable). [PT]

 

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Crashing Unemployment

Dear Mr. Dudley, Your recent remarks in the wake of last week’s FOMC statement were notably unhelpful. In particular, your explanation that further rate hikes are needed to prevent crashing unemployment and rising inflation stunk of rotten eggs. Quite frankly, crashing unemployment is a construct that’s new to popular economic discourse, and a suspect one at that. Years ago, prior to the nirvana of globalization, the potential for wage inflation stemming from full employment was the main concern.

 


US unemployment rate vs. labor force participation rate. The employment situation may not be as all-around copacetic as the U3 unemployment rate seems to indicate… just a hunch.

 

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Down the Rabbit Hole

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get,” is oft attributed to the White Rabbit from Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland.  Where this axiom appears within the text of the story is a mystery.  But we suspect the White Rabbit must utter it about the time Alice follows him down the rabbit hole.

 

Pick a rabbit to follow…

 

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Mass Infusions of New Credit

 

“The bank is something more than men, I tell you.  It’s the monster.  Men made it, but they can’t control it.” – John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

 

Something strange and somewhat senseless happened this week. On Tuesday, the price of gold jumped over $13 per ounce.  This, in itself, is nothing too remarkable.  However, at precisely the same time gold was jumping, the yield on the 10-Year Treasury note was slip sliding down to 2.15 percent.

 

It looks hungry… once it is finished with this little Godzilla snack, it will probably come for the rest of us.

Illustration by Larry T Quach

 

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One Ear to the Ground, One Eye to the Future

Treasury yields are attempting to say something.  But what it is exactly is open to interpretation.  What’s more, only the most curious care to ponder it. Like Southern California’s obligatory June Gloom, what Treasury yields may appear to be foreshadowing can be somewhat misleading.

 

Behold, the risk-free tide…

 

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Labors with No Fruits

It’s been a long row to hoe for most workers during the first 17 years of the new millennium.  The soil’s been hard and rocky.  The rewards for one’s toils have been bleak.

 

Ma and Pa farm worker lean against one of their recent productions to mug for the  daguerreotypist. Their happiness at a job well done is marred by misgivings about their remuneration in real terms.

Photo credit: Maple Valley Historical Society

 

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When Mount Vesuvius Blew

 

“Injustice, swift, erect, and unconfin’d,
Sweeps the wide earth, and tramples o’er mankind”

– Homer, The Iliad

 

Everything was just the way it was supposed to be in Pompeii on August 24, 79 A.D.  The gods had bestowed wealth and abundance upon the inhabitants of this Roman trading town.  Things were near perfect.

 

Frescoes in the so-called “Villa of the Mysteries” in Pompeii, presumed to depict scenes from a Bacchus cult (Bacchus is the Roman version of the Greek god Dionysus, essentially a party god, responsible for alcoholic supplies, fertility and the arts). He was thought to bring divine joy and ecstasy, but also blind rage (reflective of the dual nature of what happens when people get high on wine). Bacchus and his followers could not be fettered. The spread of Bacchus worship could be seen as a subtle sign of the increase in hedonism and debauchery that often becomes evident in high civilizations as they reach their zenith of power and prosperity. That was certainly true of Rome at the time these frescoes were created. Although the empire would eventually become even larger in terms of territory, it reached its cultural high point around the time Caesar and Augustus did away with its Republican form of government.

 

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Bernanke Redux

Somehow, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke found time from his busy hedge fund advisory duties last week to tell his ex-employer how to do its job.  Namely, he recommended to his former cohorts at the Fed how much they should reduce the Fed’s balance sheet by.  In other words, he told them how to go about cleaning up his mess.

 

Praise the Lord! The Hero is back to tell us what to do! Why, oh why have you ever left, oh greatest central planner of all time. We are not worthy.

 

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Licking the Log

American workers, as a whole, are facing a disagreeable disorder.  Their debt burdens are increasing.  Their incomes are stagnating.

 

There are many reasons why.  In truth, it would take several large volumes to chronicle all of them.  But when you get down to the ‘lick log’ of it all, the disorder stems from decades of technocratic intervention that have stripped away any semblance of a free functioning, self-correcting economy.

 

Happy workers from the distant past…

 

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