Friday, 19 June 2009

Riots, Protests and Revolutions

The video above has some interesting comments made by futurist Gerald Celente in the past few years, along with future predictions of what he thinks is to come. I want to expand on some of what he says in this post as there are various topics worthy of discussion.

Inflation Index

The video includes a scathing attack on Americas CPI index and with justification. Statistics are always open to manipulation and to exclude food and energy in peoples living costs is simply not representative of the average persons consumption patterns. The current monetary system we have then uses this index to target what level to set interest rates at, and how expansive monetary policy should be. A centralised monetary planning board, known as central banks, periodically modify this index in an attempt to represent peoples buying habits.

Why do they set targets of 1-2% for these indexes? Why not 5% or 10%? Why not set monetary policy based on population growth? Or on how fast GDP growth is? Why not any random figure. My point is that the current system is no different to Communisms version of centralised quotas, which had no relationship with fundamental market forces, specifically supply and demand.

As I have mentioned in a past post the market should take control of producing money. Karl Marx was right, money was the key, he was just wrong on everything else. Governments monopoly of this product means that people have no choice but to use their national currency. This in turn creates artificial demand, as I can't buy food in Euros or US Dollars here in the UK. Therefore there is no check in the short term on what the government can do, especially if all governments are following the same policies. In a free market of competing currencies they would all compete with one another, based on supply and demand of consumers desires. If people preferred a certain type of money, then the market would increase supply of that currency based on demand. If people chose not to use a currency, then a contraction in the supply would occur in order to match up with consumers needs. If money was oversupplied, as has been the case with the current government monopoly that exists today, then it would cease to exist as there would be no demand.

The above is not experimental either. Before Kings monopolised money (in recent times the government) money was always a spontaneous creation by the free market in order to overcome barter. Money originated from the market, the authorities just mearly copied it's conception. In fact fiat money like the system we use today has only ever existed when it has been enforced on the people by governments.

There are many currencies in danger due to the above supply and demand dynamics. If we take for example the US Dollar the worlds reserve currency, there are currently many overseas holders. The problem over the last couple of decades has been the increasingly amount that has been printed and the existence of deficits. Many major holders have expressed their concern, Brazil, Russia, Japan, China etc. In fact these nations are already moving away from the Dollar for example Brazil and China have discussed conducting trade in RMB, along with Malaysia and various African nations. Indeed China has been shifting its wealth into commodity's, Gold, Oil or companies and nations associated with these assets.

The problem occurs when everyone heads for the exit. This is a situation where all foreigners sell their dollars. Then we come into the supply demand dynamic above, with no buyers but lots of sellers the price of the dollar will obviously decline. With the government in fiscal overstretch it becomes near impossible for them to do anything about it. Over the long term China, Russia or whoever deals with dollars have no interest in the US. They are currently slowly planning their exit strategies exiting first on the trading currencies they use and keeping their reserves for the time being so as not to put too much downward pressure on the dollar.

Latvia is another worthy example of this currency supply and demand dynamic at work. With the recent IMF loan the country has received (fiscal strings attached) the government needs to rapidly cut current spending due to IMF fiscal constraints. With the economy already in a deep depression, this will further hit growth in the short term. This should create strong devaluation conditions as the market has less demand for the currency of an economy that is in a perilous condition compared with other nations (as its prior perceived productivity decreases). The IMF loan is nominated in another currency, and due to the authorities not wishing for the value of the loan to increase if their currency was to devalue along with the further credit rating downgrades which would result from such a devaluation, they have begun trying to defend their currency with their currency reserves by buying up the domestic currency to create artificial demand. Of course the market is placing positions that the authorities attempts will be useless so are putting it under further pressure as the market believes a devaluation has to occur. This is a prime example of how market forces can't be beaten. Latvia will eventually have to devalue and abandon it's peg (they only have so much reserves), it's just the politicians don't want to face the pain. This is what George Soros did when he broke the BoE and made a billion. He was simply getting the government to face reality sooner than they wanted (in the process the UK government wasted billions of taxpayers money for nothing, however it would have been more costly in the long term if the market hadn't forced their hand earlier).

Price Stabilisation

If we come back to the concept of the price index representing a price stabiliser, some economists believe that markets forces can operate better if prices are 'stable', and have chosen a rate between 1-2% as an optimal range to target. We can take two simple items priced in Sterling to illustrate the fallacy behind this 'price stability' concept, houses and DVD players. Ten years ago a DVD would have cost you around £400, now they sell for £20. A house during the boom went up around 200-300% priced in pounds. If you look around there are many other items that either went drastically up in price, or drastically down in the price.

People don't think that if house prices or stock prices rise in price that this is inflation, but it is. It's priced in pounds or whatever the domestic currency is and these new pounds have to be created either from private banks or by the government. Due to the fact that they are usually an asset for many voters this is deemed as good inflation, despite the fact that it is the same as any other type of inflation. You just don't buy these on a daily basis like food and energy, that's the real reason its accepted.

If you look into the data used you have to wonder the reasoning behind what items appear in the CPI/RPI algorithms. If we take the UK index for example, last year they removed Parmesan cheese and put in its place Cheddar cheese (presuming you buy cheese). Why the change? Could it be to do with that we import Parmesan and with the pounds recent devaluation this good has gone up in price? Could it be some Bureaucrat somewhere wishing to look busy so swapped the specific cheese that is used? To take another example they have also substituted DVDs for Blueray discs, "to represent consumers move away to newer technologies". Would this be due to the fact that new technology has greater potential to fall in value, thus creating a lower inflation value for the headline press releases to give the illusion that we have no inflation?

Neither 'price stability' or 'inflation targeting' makes any sense when you start to analyse it and think critically (they have to create inflation in order to combat market forces that increase purchasing power by making goods and services more plentiful). In the years to come I'm sure these statistics will be heavily fudged in order to try and fool members of the public, trying to maintain the illusion of prosperity.

There were a plethora of amusing quotas that Communist Russia used to try and replace the free markets pricing mechanisms, by using measurements of produced materials rather than prices (prices which are determined by supply and demand). An example would be steel production based on measuring tonnage produced per year. The managers aim was to try and produce enough to meet his target (so he didn't get shot or sent to Siberia by under producing) but to not overproduce in case they increased next years quota too much. Due to the fact that it was based on tonnage there was no incentive to produce good quality steel that was of any use to industry.

So then we come onto say the state controlled oil sector, where they would require drilling equipment made from such steel. Due to it's poor quality it would make drilling laborious as the drilling equipment would keep breaking requiring more effort and time to drill into the well (a classic hallmark of state planned economies is where labor intensive techniques are used over productivity improvements). When they eventually got to the oil, there is usually a natural gas cap on the top, as is the case in many oil wells. As they only had a quota for oil production the gas would be burned off, creating huge environmental damage along with the waste of a precious and non-renewable resource.

Can you imagine the above in a capitalist economy? A company burning off millions of pounds worth of natural gas? A company wasting time buying poor quality steel and then continually having to re-drill? Despite the myth that capitalism overuses the planets resources, capitalism actually makes the most effective use of them compared to all other economic systems. Its only that it supplies us with such a luxurious lifestyle that we use more resources. Compare this with a regime such as North Korea where half the population suffer from basic malnutrition, despite the fact that South Korea supplies aid. There we contrast how well free market forces treat us.

Sub Prime

Celentes comments on sub prime are very true, as many people still think this is the cause of the current crisis when it just a symptom of easy monetary policies. There is far more downward pressure than just sub prime to come in housing. The next stage is prime mortgages as people loose their jobs and can't find new incomes. For those in the UK don't feel too smug, we have sub prime too, we are just behind the US curve. In fact UK home delinquencies are now worse than US sub prime. It just takes time for the banks to write these loses off.

In the US there is Alt-A, Option ARM mortgages which will be the next wave of defaults. Mortgages where the person could pay less than the rate of interest on the loan. As more of these deals are worth more than the value of the asset there will be little incentive for these individuals to continue with such arrangements.

What happens when the central banks have to raise interest rates to defend their currencies? Central Banks will be very reluctant to do this which comes to the next issue, the inflation that they will create. When prices of staple goods such as food and energy are rising how will people pay their mortgage. Would you choose to eat or default on your home loan?

Population demographics are another factor, with many looking to retire in the coming decades won't these people be looking to downsize, to supplement their pensions (presuming they have one or that it hasn't closed/collapsed etc).

Still people talk about the next housing boom in the news. The TV and papers are still full of articles. Denial is still all around with many talking about houses as a great long term investment. We will see what these opinions are at the end of this bear market, but we are a long way off.

Tax revolts, Food riots, Crime and Revolution?

California has already experienced a tax revolt as the people chose for state spending to be cut rather than face higher taxes. With inflation down the road, food will always rise in price as money ripples through the economy. It's one of those goods that you can't avoid not to buy. As unemployment rises along with the general disillusionment of people trying to re-enter the workforce, many will resort to crime. Then with the deficits many nations are running up, will there be cuts in crime enforcement? With protests and riots distracting the police will there be enough resources to cope? Ever wonder why the military is returning from Iraq?

We are living in extraordinary times, indeed a revolutionary era. All the conditions are present, government overstretch, money printing, plutocracy as the rich are bailed out, economic instability and so on. Will the traditionally strong liberal democracies such as the US and UK survive? I suspect so, but it will feel like a revolution in the years to come. When the currency and bond bubbles burst, then we will have a real crisis, not the banking crisis last autumn that was just a warm up, as Celente has remarked "The Bailout Bubble". The real crisis is yet to come.

“Every generation needs a new revolution.”
Thomas Jefferson, American 3rd US President

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