The ANC, Communism and Umkontho we Sizwe
A veritable flood of articles has been published in the mainstream media in recent days on occasiom of South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela passing on recently. We want to take a look at a few aspects of Mandela's and South Africa's history that have not received as much attention as they probably deserve. Most of the world is understandably (and rightly) fawning over Mandela and his achievements, but the US state department had him designated as a terrorist until 1990 and for several decades regarded him as a communist sympathizer. Of course every feted revolutionary leader who has managed to vanquish the oppressors of his people was a 'terrorist' at some point in the past. Anyone who leads an armed revolt against a government is designated a terrorist by those he fights.
How to Deal with Economic History
In a recent article at the NYT entitled 'Incredible Credibility', Paul Krugman once again takes aim at those who believe it may not be a good idea to let the government's debt rise without limit. In order to understand the backdrop to this, Krugman is a Keynesian who thinks that recessions should be fought by increasing the government deficit spending and printing gobs of money. Moreover, he is a past master at presenting whatever evidence appears to support his case, while ignoring or disparaging evidence that seems to contradict his beliefs.
Among the evidence he ignores we find e.g. the 'stagflation' of the 1970's, or the inability of Japan to revive its economy in spite of having embarked on the biggest government deficit spending spree ever in a modern industrialized economy. Evidence he likes to frequently disparage is the evident success of austerity policies in the Baltic nations (evident to all but Krugman, one might say).
Something Is Cooking
By now it has made the rounds that both Super Mario and Thomas Jordan, chairman of the 'Zimbabwe of the Alps' (h/t Jim Grant) suddenly have found out they are either too busy with urgent work or have prior engagements that keep them from appearing at Jackson Hole.
This is potentially quite significant, as whenever these guys postpone long awaited public appearances at important meetings, they are hatching out something big, which they then spring on us mere mortals at the earliest opportunity. The Jackson Hole pow-wow certainly qualifies as an important meeting, as all the CB bigwigs tend to go there, accompanied by a gaggle of academic apologists for central monetary planning who give them new ideas. Everybody gets to hold a speech or present a paper, and we can be fairly sure that the informal gatherings are inter alia used to talk about policy coordination.
… or Why Trying to Prove a Point about Economics with 'Just Two Charts' is a Really Bad Idea
The Gold Standard Debate Revisited
The discussion over the GOP's gold standard proposals continues in spite of the fact that everybody surely knows the idea is not even taken seriously by its proponents – as we noted yesterday, there is every reason to believe it is mainly designed to angle for the votes of disaffected Ron Paul and Tea Party supporters, many of whom happen to believe in sound money. As we also pointed out, there has been a remarkable outpouring of opinion denouncing the gold standard. Unfortunately many people are misinformed about both economic history and economic theory and simply regurgitate the propaganda they have been exposed to all of their lives. Consider this our attempt to present countervailing evidence.
As we have often pointed out in these pages, to our mind the euro area crisis is not a currency crisis. It is primarily a debt crisis; a crisis of the bloated European welfare states and the fractionally reserved and way overextended banking systems they harbor. Due to the supra-national status of the central bank it is no longer possible for member nations to simply 'paper over' their economic policy mistakes and so their errors have been revealed for all to see. Instead of being able to surreptitiously impoverish the citizenry by means of inflation and devaluation, the political classes have been forced to face facts.
In this sense, the euro is a great success: it has so far averted an inner-European outbreak of 'beggar-thy neighbor' devaluations. The usual robbing of savers had to be at least partially shelved.
It is entirely mistaken to argue that the monetary union can only work if a so-called 'fiscal union' is established. It is true that the monetary union will work better if its members were to adhere to the rules of the fiscal pacts they have signed – be it the Maastricht treaty or the latest iteration of the 'fiscal compact'.
Sucking Up to Power
You know, you would think that after the exquisitely ill-timed Bob Woodward screed 'The Maestro', which feted Alan Greenscam as an infallible central planner who had showered us with unending prosperity just as the bubble his policies had created was about to collapse would have taught journalists a lesson.
Hailing the successes of central planners and bureaucrats is a tricky business – as noted above, the timing quite often turns out to be problematic.
There is a good reason for that: these paeans are only written when it is finally deemed 'safe' to do so. This is usually when a prevailing trend in financial asset prices has become so extended, entrenched and seemingly unstoppable, that even aunt Imogen and her blind dog in the sticks know about it.
In other words, these screeds are good markers of the social mood and can usually be brought into context with the stock market's recent performance streak.
Shooting At the Wrong Target
We were quite surprised, to say the least, when a friend pointed us to a recent article at Marketwatch, entitled „Grantham wonders if Marx was right after all“, sub-titled „Capitalism will gladly sell the rope used to hang itself“, which is a reference to one of Lenin's often quoted bon-mots (which went along the more active line of: 'The capitalists will sell us the rope which we will hang them with').
The article also contains a link to the (pdf) in which Grantham is engaging in all the aforementioned wondering. Ominously it is called the 'Longest Letter Ever'.
Al Lewis, the author of the Marketwatch article, leads off by pointing out the differences between the recent letter Warren Buffett sent to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders and Grantham's more pessimistic missive.
Hungary Back At the Bailout Trough As Investors Go On Strike
Today Hungary's government came under renewed pressure, as yields on Hungary's government debt keep soaring and a treasury bill auction failed.
The government sold 35 billion forint ($140 million) of one-year bills, 10 billion forint less than targeted, data from the Debt Management Agency, known as AKK, on Bloomberg show. The average yield rose to 9.96 percent, the highest since April 2009, from 7.91 percent at the last sale of the same-maturity debt on Dec. 22.
The cost of insuring Hungary’s debt through credit-default swaps reached an all-time high and the forint touched a record low versus the euro after aid negotiations stalled because of new laws that threaten to undermine the independence of the central bank. Hungary needs a deal as soon as possible and is ready to discuss the conditions, Tamas Fellegi, the minister assigned to lead the talks, told reporters today.
“Fellegi’s comments are aimed at providing reassurance, but I think the market will adopt a seeing-is-believing approach,” Timothy Ash, a London-based economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, said in an e-mailed comment. “Market trust in this administration is now at rock bottom levels.”
A Historical Mistake
There once was a time when the science of economics – based on sound reasoning - concluded that economic liberalism was the best way to achieve lasting and growing prosperity. Classical economists may have been stumped by the theory of value, a problem satisfactorily solved by Carl Menger in the 1870's, but on the whole, their teachings were conducive to the adoption of free market capitalism. This ushered in an age of unprecedented capital accumulation and prosperity.
Marshall Auerback on the ECB
Hedge fund manager Marshall Auerback has come up with a plan of what the ECB should do in order to resolve the euro area debt crisis. The outline of this plan was posted at Naked Capitalism as 'The ECB vs. Germany'.
Auerback begins by recounting that Germany's central bankers are isolated at the ECB. Their desire to keep monetary policy strictly outside of the realm of fiscal policy has led them to oppose the interventions in government bond markets, and since they were outvoted at the ECB, two of them (Axel Weber and Jürgen Stark) ultimately resigned because they didn't want to be associated with the policy.
Germany's Institutional Memory
We have often argued that Germany was a likely stumbling block for inflationary initiatives by the ECB in order to rescue wobbly sovereign debtors, a view that was confirmed by the serial resignations of Axel Weber (who stepped down as chief of the Bundesbank) and Jürgen Stark (who resigned from the ECB). Both men, it should be recalled, stepped down over disagreements with the ECB's bond buying program, in spite of the fact that this program has been fully sterilized.
Nouriel Roubini, Re-Animator
We're not sure if there actually ever was a plot for Nouriel Roubini to lose. In case you haven't noticed yet, he's a fairly typical Keynesian establishment figure. In spite of having been one of the few mainstream economists who correctly predicted that the housing bubble would end in tears, he is otherwise never straying very far from the officially accepted economic orthodoxy. As an aside, that was not really a particularly difficult prediction to make. However, the vast bulk of mainstream economists didn't make it, so it is a bit like the story about the egg of Columbus – because so few mainstream economists saw the trouble coming that should have been obvious to anyone with eyes, ears and an abacus (ten fingers would have done in a pinch), Dr. Roubini's timely pre-2008 calamity pronouncements of doom have become his rightful claim to fame.
The Growth of Leviathan
We didn't want to overdo it in the title to this piece. The world's regulatory democracies are not totalitarian states by a long shot. The fact that we can post this article with relatively little fear of being molested for it certainly proves that contention. Alas, it would be a grave mistake to confuse life in a modern-day regulatory democracy with 'freedom'. It is anything but and it evidently becomes less so by the day. And yet, we must also acknowledge that globally, there is trend toward more, rather than less freedom if one views developments over a sufficiently large time frame. Certainly there are frequent ups and downs in this trend, and given the limited human life span any particular setback may not be viewed as being much different from a permanent regression. Alas, as we recently told someone: 'don't forget that only 150 years ago, there were still serfs in Russia'.