On Politics

     

 

 

Mnuchin Gets It

United States Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin has a sweet gig.  He writes rubber checks to pay the nation’s bills.  Yet, somehow, the rubber checks don’t bounce.  Instead, like magic, they clear. How this all works, considering the nation’s technically insolvent, we don’t quite understand.  But Mnuchin gets it.  He knows exactly how full faith and credit works – and he knows plenty more.

 

Master of the Mint and economy wizard Steven Mnuchin and his wife at the annual ritual greenback burning festival. [PT]

 

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Opportunities in the Junior Mining Sector

Maurice Jackson of Proven and Probable has recently interviewed Jayant Bandari, the publisher of Capitalism and Morality and a frequent contributor to this site. The topics discussed include currencies, bitcoin, gold and above all junior gold stocks (i.e., small producers and explorers). Jayant shares some of his best ideas in the segment, including arbitrage opportunities currently offered by pending takeovers – which is an area that generally doesn’t receive much attention, but seems to harbor quite a bit of potential.

 

Jayant Bandari at the at the Sprott Natural Resource Symposium in Vancouver in 2017.

 

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Something for Nothing

The world is full of bad ideas.  Just look around.  One can hardly blink without a multitude of bad ideas coming into view.  What’s more, the worse an idea is, the more popular it becomes. Take Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor.  It’s nearly as destructive as prescription pain killers.  Yet people chug it down with reckless abandon.

 

Looking at the expression of this Mickey’s Malt Liquor tester one might initially get the impression that he is disappointed. We assure you that is not the case – this is actually his happy face, he is probably just about to enter Nirvana. Countless taste tests prove it, see this comparison of the “entire bottom shelf” of malt liquors, or these cost-conscious routiniers. Not to forget, it comes either in cans or in shatterproof plastic bottles. [PT]

 

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Trade Deficit with China Widens on Trump’s Watch 

Most things come easier said than done.  Take President Trump’s posture on trade with China. Trump doesn’t want a bigger trade deficit with China.  He wants a smaller trade deficit with China.  In fact, reducing the trade deficit with China is one of Trump’s promises to Make America Great Again.

 

We are often willing to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that his delivery needs a lot of work. Considering his enemies and most vociferous detractors, we reckon he must be doing something right; but we vehemently disagree with his views on trade, some of which are unfortunately becoming policy now. As Murray Rothbard once noted: [P]rotectionist arguments, many plausible at first glance, are really a tissue of egregious fallacies. They betray a complete ignorance of the most basic economic analysis. Indeed, some of the arguments are almost embarrassing replicas of the most ridiculous claims of 17th-century mercantilism: for example, that it is somehow a calamitous problem that the United States has a balance-of-trade deficit, not overall, but merely with one specific country.” At the time Rothbard penned these words, Japan was in the position China finds itself in now; the Japanese stood widely accused of practically bankrupting the US by means of a nefarious scheme that consisted of providing US consumers with cheap high quality consumer goods and investing large amounts of money in the US. The hand-wringing over this was just as ridiculous then as that over China is now. Recently the POTUS imposed punitive tariffs on washing machines and solar panels. The winners: Whirlpool and two bankrupt solar panel manufacturers that aren’t even US-owned companies. The losers: every US consumer and the entire rest of the US solar industry! As noted in this Reuters article: “President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed into law a steep tariff on imported solar panels on Tuesday, a move billed as a way to protect American jobs but which the solar industry said would lead to tens of thousands of layoffs.”  Winning! [PT]

Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

 

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The Vote Buying Mirror

Our readers are probably aware of the influence the US election cycle has on the stock market. After Donald Trump was elected president, a particularly strong rally in stock prices ensued.  Contrary to what many market participants seem to believe, trends in the stock market depend only to a negligible extent on whether a Republican or a Democrat wins the presidency. The market was e.g. just as strong under Democratic president Bill Clinton as it was under Republican president Ronald Reagan.

 

The mid terms specter.

 

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Onward Toward Default

People are hard to please these days.  Clients, customers, and cohorts – the whole lot.  They’re quick to point out your faults and flaws, even if they’re guilty of the same derelictions.

 

The age-old art of assigning blame – in this case complemented by firm knowledge of the proper way to prosperity (see lower right corner). Jack Lew not only sees the future with perfect clarity these days, he also seems to have spent his time as treasury secretary garnering plenty of “not guilty of anything/ had absolutely nothing to do with it/ innocent as the snow is white/ just a job title, doesn’t mean a thing” points. All the bad stuff related to public debt and deficits clearly happened before and/or after him, or in other words, he dindu nuffin’ . Similar to the discoverers of the way to prosperity of yore, he does however not only know these days what ought to be done, but also what is going to happen. His timing on the former issue may be a bit off, but then again, nobody’s perfect. With regard to the latter, he should definitely try his hand at stock market trading given his new-found powers of perfect foresight. [PT]

 

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A New Year of Symbiotic Disharmony

The New Year is nearly here. The slate’s been wiped clean. New hopes, new dreams, and new fantasies, are all within reach. Today is the day to make a double-fisted grab for them. Without question, 2018 will be the year in which everything happens exactly as it should. Some things you will be able to control, others will be well beyond your control.

 

How new years generally work… [PT]

 

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A Brief Outbreak of Sanity

After nearly a year of gaffes, provocations, threats, bombings, destabilizing arms deals, and, most recently, the disastrous decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the sanest member of the Trump Administration, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, appeared to have begun a new and promising diplomatic direction in relations with tiny, beleaguered North Korea.

 

Oil man and uranium man – will there be an exchange of binoculars soon? As regular readers know, after studying numerous official photographs of Kim, we have concluded that what he really wants is a pair or two of really spiffy new binoculars. International diplomacy is not exactly rocket science, one just needs to be a little observant. And giving him new field glasses would be a lot cheaper, less bloody, and less likely to generate unhealthy levels of radiation than waging war.  [PT]

Screenshot via nypost.com

 

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Bogus Jobs Pay Big Bucks

The political differences of today’s two leading parties are not over ultimate questions of principle.  Rather, they are over opposing answers to the question of how a goal can be achieved with the least sacrifice.  For lawmakers, the goal is to promise the populace something for nothing, while pretending to make good on it.

 

The short and sweet definition of democratic elections by eminent American wordsmith and political philosopher H.L. Mencken [PT]

 

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Rude Interruptions

As long as the US Empire can be funded and maintained on the backs of its taxpaying public, the chance of a deescalation of tensions not only on the Korean peninsula, but throughout the world are practically nil.  And as long as the nation’s current interventionist ideology holds sway, it will only be through a financial meltdown that the role of the US as global policeman will come to a much-needed end.

 

Hamhung, North Korea, June 30, 1950; an example of minor collateral damage suffered by North Korea during the behavior-modification police action of the early 1950s. Let us be clear that we have no sympathy for the hereditary Stalinist dynasty/junta oppressing the people of North Korea. Nevertheless, it should be crystal clear by now why military interventionism is problematic: it usually not only fails to achieve anything remotely resembling the desired result, in most cases it actually brings about the exact opposite. It bolsters popular support for even the vilest regimes, as the focus of the population’s anger is redirected at an external enemy; instead of destabilizing  autocrats and tyrants, it often ends up fortifying their position. Anything short of a complete victory will leave an implacable enemy in place, who as we can see in the example of North Korea can end up posing a major problem for decades. Past attempts to persuade the regime to abandon nuclear weapons (usually in exchange for economic concessions) often failed because the NK regime sabotaged them; all indications are that its decisions are driven by intense paranoia. In light of this, past agreements were often ill-conceived, as they inter alia involved the transfer of nuclear technology for supposedly “peaceful” purposes. The regime’s actions are mainly informed by a desire for self-preservation – its threats and posturing have to be seen in the context of this overarching goal. Given the deep scars left by the Korean war and the examples of tinpot dictators elsewhere who surrendered their WMD capabilities only to be hunted down and killed while their fiefdoms were bombed back into the stone age, it should not be too difficult to figure out why the NK regime wants to hang on to its nuclear weapons. [PT]

Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

 

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Eternal Spendathon

The Senate just passed a 500-page tax reform bill. Assuming it lives up to its promise, it will cut taxes on corporations and individuals. Predictably, the Left hates it and the Right loves it. I am writing to argue why the Right should hate it (no, not for the reason the Left does, a desire to get the rich).

 

The Federal debtberg has grown beyond all measure since Nixon’s gold default. So has the money supply and the amount of private debt. No-one expects this debt to be paid back ever. The idea that it is payable (without a massive devaluation of the currency) is a kind of illusion we have collectively decided to live with. Government spending perforce leads to capital consumption – while it disturbs the  production structure intra- rather than inter-temporally, it still results in an allocation of scarce resources that is not in line with actual consumer wants. Government bureaus cannot possibly ascertain the opportunity cost of their spending. They are not expected to make profits, economic calculation is not something they even care about. On the contrary, their incentives are often quite perverse: the more lavishly they spend, the better from their perspective, as that is often the best way to ensure they will receive the largest possible budget allocations every year. [PT] – click to enlarge.

 

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Known for Being Terrible

For the past few decades, Japan has been known for its stagnant economy, falling stock market, and most importantly its terrible demographics.

 

 

A chart of Japan’s much-bewailed demographic horror-show. Most people consider a declining population to be a bad thing due to the implications for assorted state-run pay-as-you-go Ponzi schemes, primarily those related to retirement. It is hard to be sympathetic, since it would have been possible to do something completely different from the outset. Even with respect to existing schemes, we don’t recall that anyone forced politicians to direct funds designated for funding social security claims to alternative uses at the time when these schemes still enjoyed a surfeit of revenues. Of course one has to be sympathetic to the future victims – those who paid in during their working lives and will end up getting stiffed. However, this is a problem that could be easily resolved by simply winding up the State in orderly insolvency proceedings prior to abolishing it. Most nation states have large amounts of assets at their disposal (e.g., they are often the by far largest land owners in the territories they control), which should suffice to cover the claims of creditors and to pay out the NPV of accumulated pension claims in lump sums. There is one way in which a declining population still has to be regarded as a drawback though. The market will so to speak have to function with fewer network nodes as the population shrinks. There will inevitably be a concomitant decline in distributed knowledge. Thus fewer ideas will occur to people and will be pursued; markets will become less efficient, the division of labor in the broadest sense will suffer a setback. Consider in this context that the market is the opposite of central economic planning in every way – the larger the network of people included in it, the better it will work for everyone. [PT] – click to enlarge.

 

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