Category: Stock Market

None so blind …

…. as those who choose not to see!

Note: This is a long and pretty depressing post yet one that contains a critically vital message. Just wanted to flag that up.

This is not the first time I have used this expression as a header to a blogpost. The first time was back in August 2013 when I introduced the TomDispatch essay: Rebecca Solnit, The Age of Inhuman Scale.

I am using it again to introduce another TomDispatch essay. Like the Solnit essay a further reflection on the incredible madness of these present global times.

But before getting to that essay let me refer to a recent Patrice Ayme post. It is called: New Climate Lie: Magical CO2 Stop Possible.

Patrice included this graph:

To Stay Below 2C, CO2 Emissions Have To Stop Now. We Are On The Red Trajectory: Total Disaster
To Stay Below 2C, CO2 Emissions Have To Stop Now. We Are On The Red Trajectory: Total Disaster


Tempo depended upon the CO2 concentration, pitch upon the Earth global temperature, distortion upon the energy balance on land in watts per square meter. The numbers used were past and anticipated. After 2015, the graphs became two: one was red, the bad case scenario, the other was blue, and represented the good scenario.

As I looked at the blue graphs, the optimistic graphs, I got displeased: the blue CO2 emissions, the blue temperature, and the blue power imbalance, had a very sharp angle, just in 2016. First a sharp angle is mathematically impossible: as it is now, the curves of CO2, and temperature are smooth curves going up (on the appropriate time scale). It would require infinite acceleration, infinite force. Even if one stopped magically any human generated greenhouse gases emissions next week, the CO2 concentration would still be above 400 ppm (it is 404 ppm now). And it would stay this way for centuries. So temperature would still rise.

The composer, who was on stage, had been advised by a senior climate scientist, a respectable gentleman with white hair, surrounded by a court, who got really shocked when I came boldly to him, and told him his blue graph was mathematically impossible.

I told him that one cannot fit a rising, smooth exponential with a sharp angle bending down and a line. Just fitting the curves in the most natural, smooth and optimistic way gives a minimum temperature rise of four degrees Celsius. (There is a standard mathematical way to do this, dating back to Newton.)

Read Patrice’s essay in full here.

However, I find the malaise gripping us in these times to be infinitely more difficult to understand than what is or is not mathematically possible. I just can’t get my mind around the possibility that we are in an era where greed, inequality and the pursuit of power and money will take the whole of humanity over the edge.

Why, for goodness sake, is the U.S., my adopted home country, pursuing gas exports? As I read here: United States On Path to Becoming Major Exporter of Natural Gas Despite Climate Impacts
Here’s a taste of this report from Julie Dermansky of Desmogblog:

A flare at Cheniere Energy Sabine Pass LNG facility. ©2016 Julie Dermansky
A flare at Cheniere Energy Sabine Pass LNG facility. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

But rather than acknowledging the climate risk posed by further expansion of LNG export infrastructure, the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration are moving in the opposite direction.

The natural gas export industry may grow even more rapidly if the first new bipartisan energy legislation drafted since 2007 passes. The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, known as S. 2012, would expedite permitting for LNG export terminals.

The bill’s passage was considered imminent until it derailed with the introduction of an amendment that would provide emergency aid towards solving the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Now the passage of the bill hinges on whether the Senate will come to terms on aid to Flint.

Lobbying for the bill has been heavy. As DeSmog’s Steve Horn reported: “The list of lobbyists for S.2012 is a who’s who of major fossil fuel corporations and their trade associations: BP, ExxonMobil, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, American Petroleum Institute, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Southern Company, Duke Energy and many other prominent LNG export companies.”

I highlighted the name ExxonMobil in that extract because that company is the subject of Tom Engelhardt’s essay from Bill McKibben. Republished here with Tom’s kind permission.


Tomgram: Bill McKibben, It’s Not Just What Exxon Did, It’s What It’s Doing

We live in interesting times!

The impending ‘banquet of consequences’.

The Welcome page of this blog includes this:

Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming,  thence the long journey to modern man.  But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite.  Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

I continue that theme in Part Two of my book (Chapter 7: This Twenty-First Century)

Bad news sells! Bad news also causes stress and worry. In my previous explanation, I explained that the last thing you want is a catalogue of all the things that have that power to cause you stress and worry. However, I do see three fundamental aspects of this new century that have their roots in that loss of principles that I referred to in the previous chapter. They are

1. the global financial system,
2. the potential for social disorder, and
3. the process of government.

Because they are at the heart of how the coming years will pan out.

The first aspect, our global financial system, was selected because it underpins all our lives in so many ways. When I was living in southwest England I was a client of Kauders Portfolio Services[1]. The founder of the company, David Kauders, published[2] a book, The Greatest Crash, in 2011. It was an obvious read for me at that time and I still have the book on my shelves here in Oregon.
David explained that whether we like it or not, our lives are inextricably caught up in the twin dependencies of the global financial system: credit and debt. As he wrote in his opening chapter:

Households can barely afford their existing debts, let alone take on more. Since households now prefer not to borrow, indeed some even choose to pay back debt, it follows that those who have already borrowed, as a group, can no longer contribute to economic expansion.
People can be divided into borrowers and savers. With existing borrowers unable to afford or unwilling to take on extra debt, can new borrowers be found instead? Those who do not need to borrow are unlikely to volunteer. Except for the young wishing to buy houses, facing the reality that house prices are beyond their pockets, where are the new borrowers?
Businesses are also under pressure. There has been an inadequate recovery from recession, business prospects are poor as households cut back their spending. Lack of bank lending is a symptom rather than a cause, for if existing businesses were to be given more credit, they would probably be unlikely to find profitable growth opportunities in a world of austerity.

Later on in the book David describes this as “the financial system limit”. In other words, the period of growth and expansion, especially of financial and economic expansion, has come to an end in a structural sense. This was his perspective from 2011.

Recently, I chose to reread The Greatest Crash. What struck me forcibly, reading the book again some four years later on, was how visible this “system limit” appeared in the world today. Everywhere there are signs that the era of growth has come to an end. Many countries are now indebted to a point that reinforces the proposition of there being a financial system limit. The United States is greatly in debt[3] but the only thing mitigating that situation, for the time being anyway, is that the American dollar is the quasi dominant global currency.
The changing nature of the global population is also reinforcing the fact that this is the end of a long period of growth. Even without embracing the question of how much longer we can increase the number of people living on a finite planet, the demographics spell out a greater-than-even chance of a decline in consumption and economic activity. Simply because in all regions of the planet, except for India where there is still a growing youth element in the country, people are ageing. To state the obvious, ageing persons do not consume as much as middle-aged and younger persons.
Thus, the world’s economy that is just around the corner is certainly going to be very different to what it has been in the past. It is not being widely discussed. Worse than that, there is a widespread assumption adopted by many governments that a return to the “normal” economic growth of previous times is a given. Many do not share that assumption.

The second aspect that isn’t being spoken about is the potential for massive, widespread social disorder. All summed up in just three words: greed, inequality, and poverty. Just three words that metaphorically appear to me like a round, wooden lid hiding a very deep, dark well. That lifting this particular lid, the metaphorical one, exposes an almost endless drop into the depths of where our society appears to have fallen.
Even the slightest raising of awareness of where this modern global world is heading is scary. I have in mind the author Thomas Piketty who warned[4] that, “the inequality gap is toxic, dangerous.” Then there was the news in 2015[5] that, “Billionaires control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, 67 billionaires already own half the world’s assets; by 2100 we’ll have 11 trillionaires, while American worker income has stagnated for a generation.”

The third and final aspect that isn’t being widely discussed is the process of government. Not from the viewpoint of “left” or “right”, Labour or Conservative, Democratic or Republican (insert the labels appropriate to your own country), that is being discussed ad nauseum, but from the viewpoint of good government. It might be a terrible generalisation but it is still a fair criticism to say that many peoples of many countries have lost faith in their governments.
There appears to be a chronic absence of open debate about the need for good government, what that good government would look like, and how do societies bring it about.

If we were a dog pack, then our leader, our female mentor dog, would have moved us all to a new, pristine territory!

[1] My relationship was terminated when I became a resident of the United Staes in 2011.
[2] 2011, Sparkling Books.
[3] offers on the 14th November, 2014 that the Federal Debt of the United States was about $18,006,100,032,000.
[4] In his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap Press, 2014).

Yes, these are indeed very interesting times!

So, dear reader, you can understand why a recent article over on Naked Capitalism spoke to me. It was penned by Satyajit Das, a former banker and the author of a number of books. Both Satyajit and Yves, of Naked Capitalism, were delighted to offer me permission to republish the full post.


Satyajit Das: Age of Stagnation or Something Worse?

Yves here. If you’ve read Das regularly, one of the characteristics of his writing is wry detachment. The shift to a sense of foreboding is a big departure.

By Satyajit Das, a former banker and author whose latest book, The Age of Stagnation, is now available. The following is an edited excerpt from Age of Stagnation (published with the permission of Prometheus Books)

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only . . . wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. C.S. Lewis

The world is entering a period of stagnation, the new mediocre. The end of growth and fragile, volatile economic conditions are now the sometimes silent background to all social and political debates. For individuals, this is about the destruction of human hopes and dreams.

One Offs

For most of human history, as Thomas Hobbes recognised, life has been ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. The fortunate coincidence of factors that drove the unprecedented improvement in living standards following the Industrial Revolution, and especially in the period after World War II, may have been unique, an historical aberration. Now, different influences threaten to halt further increases, and even reverse the gains.

Since the early 1980s, economic activity and growth have been increasingly driven by financialisation – the replacement of industrial activity with financial trading and increased levels of borrowing to finance consumption and investment. By 2007, US$5 of new debt was necessary to create an additional US$1 of American economic activity, a fivefold increase from the 1950s. Debt levels had risen beyond the repayment capacity of borrowers, triggering the 2008 crisis and the Great Recession that followed. But the world shows little sign of shaking off its addiction to borrowing. Ever-increasing amounts of debt now act as a brake on growth.

Growth in international trade and capital flows is slowing. Emerging markets that have benefited from and, in recent times, supported growth are slowing.

Rising inequality and economic exclusion also impacts negatively upon activity.

Financial problems are compounded by lower population growth and ageing populations; slower increases in productivity and innovation; looming shortages of critical resources, such as water, food and energy; and manmade climate change and extreme weather conditions.

The world requires an additional 64 billion cubic metres of water a year, equivalent to the annual water flow through Germany’s Rhine River. Agronomists estimate that production will need to increase by 60–100 percent by 2050 to feed the population of the world. While the world’s supply of energy will not be exhausted any time soon, the human race is on track to exhaust the energy content of hundreds of millions years’ worth of sunlight stored in the form of coal, oil and natural gas in a few hundred years. 10 tons of pre-historic buried plant and organic matter converted by pressure and heat over millennia was needed to create a single gallon (4.5 litres) of gasoline.

Europe is currently struggling to deal with a few million refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East. How will the world deal with hundreds of millions of people at risk of displacement as a resulting of rising sea levels?

Extend and Pretend

The official response to the 2008 crisis was a policy of ‘extend and pretend’, whereby authorities chose to ignore the underlying problem, cover it up, or devise deferral strategies to ‘kick the can down the road’. The assumption was that government spending, lower interest rates, and the supply of liquidity or cash to money markets would create growth. It would also increase inflation to help reduce the level of debt, by decreasing its value.

It was the grifter’s long con, a confidence trick with a potentially large payoff but difficult to pull off. Houses prices and stock markets have risen, but growth, employment, income and investment have barely recovered to pre-crisis levels in most advanced economies. Inflation for the most part remains stubbornly low.

In countries that have ‘recovered’, financial markets are, in many cases, at or above pre-crisis prices. But conditions in the real economy have not returned to normal. Must-have latest electronic gadgets cannot obscure the fact that living standards for most people are stagnant. Job insecurity has risen. Wages are static, where they are not falling. Accepted perquisites of life in developed countries, such as education, houses, health services, aged care, savings and retirement, are increasingly unattainable.

In more severely affected countries, conditions are worse. Despite talk of a return to growth, the Greek economy has shrunk by a quarter. Spending by Greeks has fallen by 40 percent, reflecting reduced wages and pensions. Reported unemployment is 26 percent of the labour force. Youth unemployment is over 50 percent. One commentator observed that the government could save money on education, as it was unnecessary to prepare people for jobs that did not exist.

Future generations may have fewer opportunities and lower living standards than their parents. A 2013 Pew Research Centre survey conducted in thirty-nine countries asked whether people believed that their children would enjoy better living standards: 33 percent of Americans believed so, as did 28 percent of Germans, 17 percent of British and 14 percent of Italians. Just 9 percent of French people thought their children would be better off than previous generations.

The Deadly Cure

Authorities have been increasingly forced to resort to untested policies including QE forever and negative interest rates. It was an attempt to buy time, to let economies achieve a self-sustaining recovery, as they had done before. Unfortunately the policies have not succeeded. The expensively purchased time has been wasted. The necessary changes have not been made.

There are toxic side effects. Global debt has increased, not decreased, in response to low rates and government spending. Banks, considered dangerously large after the events of 2008, have increased in size and market power since then. In the US the six largest banks now control nearly 70 percent of all the assets in the US financial system, having increased their share by around 40 percent.

Individual countries have sought to export their troubles, abandoning international cooperation for beggar-thy-neighbour strategies. Destructive retaliation, in the form of tit-for-tat interest rate cuts, currency wars, and restrictions on trade, limits the ability of any nation to gain a decisive advantage.

The policies have also set the stage for a new financial crisis. Easy money has artificially boosted prices of financial assets beyond their real value. A significant amount of this capital has flowed into and destabilised emerging markets. Addicted to government and central bank support, the world economy may not be able to survive without low rates and excessive liquidity.

Authorities increasingly find themselves trapped, with little room for manoeuvre and unable to discontinue support for the economy. Central bankers know, even if they are unwilling to publicly acknowledge it, that their tools are inadequate or exhausted, now possessing the potency of shamanic rain dances. More than two decades of trying similar measures in Japan highlight their ineffectiveness in avoiding stagnation.

Heart of the Matter

Conscious that the social compact requires growth and prosperity, politicians, irrespective of ideology, are unwilling to openly discuss the real issues. They claim crisis fatigue, arguing that the problems are too far into the future to require immediate action. Fearing electoral oblivion, they have succumbed to populist demands for faux certainty and placebo policies. But in so doing they are merely piling up the problems.

Policymakers interrogate their models and torture data, failing to grasp that ‘many of the things you can count don’t count [while] many of the things you can’t count really count’. The possibility of a historical shift does not inform current thinking.

It is not in the interest of bankers and financial advisers to tell their clients about the real outlook. Bad news is bad for business. The media and commentariat, for the most part, accentuate the positive. Facts, they argue, are too depressing. The priority is to maintain the appearance of normality, to engender confidence.

Ordinary people refuse to acknowledge that maybe you cannot have it all. But there is increasingly a visceral unease about the present and a fear of the future. Everyone senses that the ultimate cost of the inevitable adjustments will be large. It is not simply the threat of economic hardship; it is fear of a loss of dignity and pride. It is a pervasive sense of powerlessness.

For the moment, the world hopes for the best of times but is afraid of the worst. People everywhere resemble Dory, the Royal Blue Tang fish in the animated film Finding Nemo. Suffering from short-term memory loss, she just tells herself to keep on swimming. Her direction is entirely random and without purpose.

Reckoning Postponed

The world has postponed, indefinitely, dealing decisively with the challenges, choosing instead to risk stagnation or collapse. But reality cannot be deferred forever. Kicking the can down the road only shifts the responsibility for dealing with it onto others, especially future generations.

A slow, controlled correction of the financial, economic, resource and environmental excesses now would be serious but manageable. If changes are not made, then the forced correction will be dramatic and violent, with unknown consequences.

During the last half-century each successive economic crisis has increased in severity, requiring progressively larger measures to ameliorate its effects. Over time, the policies have distorted the economy. The effectiveness of instruments has diminished. With public finances weakened and interest rates at historic lows, there is now little room for manoeuvre. Geo-political risks have risen. Trust and faith in institutions and policy makers has weakened.

Economic problems are feeding social and political discontent, opening the way for extremism. In the Great Depression the fear and disaffection of ordinary people who had lost their jobs and savings gave rise to fascism. Writing of the period, historian A.J.P. Taylor noted: ‘[the] middle class, everywhere the pillar of stability and respectability . . . was now utterly destroyed . . . they became resentful . . . violent and irresponsible . . . ready to follow the first demagogic saviour . . .’

The new crisis that is now approaching or may already be with us will be like a virulent infection attacking a body whose immune system is already compromised.

As Robert Louis Stevenson knew, sooner or later we all have to sit down to a banquet of consequences.


henrifredericamiel148210Very interesting times indeed!

This interconnected world.

There is no question that we are living in interesting times!

Back in the old country there was a popular saying: “There are liars, damn liars, and politicians.” I am insufficiently aware of politics in both my new home country, the US of A, and my new home state, Oregon, to know if that saying is equally pertinent to life in America as it was in Great Britain – I suspect that it is.

So what’s getting ‘my knickers in a twist’ today? Namely the state of the world economy.

There seems to be so much spin and counter-spin that getting to the truth of what is going on, economically speaking, is not straightforward.

Which is why a recent article posted by over on The Automatic Earth jumped out at me. To my eyes, it really did cover the truth of what’s going on. And to double-check my analysis I shared it with Dan Gomez, no stranger to global finances, and he found it useful. Indeed, this was Dan’s reply: “That’s pretty much it. This should be the top of the world news every week until governments become accountable. All the other big issues of the day pale compare to the backlash from this sclerotic thinking. Good luck to all of us.”

Raúl has very kindly given me his permission to republish this. It’s not an easy read but that doesn’t detract from the value of the essay.


 Why This Slump Has Legs

 January 18, 2016  Posted by Raúl Ilargi Meijer
Berenice Abbott Columbus Circle, Manhattan 1936
Berenice Abbott Columbus Circle, Manhattan 1936

We’ve only really been in two weeks of trading in the new year, things are looking pretty bad to say the least, so predictably the press are asking -and often answering- questions about when the slump will be over. Rebound, recovery, the usual terminology. When will we get back to growth?

For me personally, but that’s just me, that last question sounds a bit more stupid every single time I hear and read it. Just a bit, but there’s been a lot of those bits, more than I care to remember. Luckily, the answer is easy. The slump will not be over for a very long time, there will be no rebound or recovery, and please stop talking about a return to growth unless you can explain what you want to grow into.

I’m sorry, I know that’s not what you want to hear, but life’s a bitch and so’s the economy. You’ve lived on pink fumes for a long time, most of you for their whole lives, but reality dictates that real ‘growth’ stopped decades ago, and you never figured that out because, and I quote here (see below), you and the world you’re part of became “addicted to borrowing money, spending it, and passing this off as ‘growth’”.

That you believed this was actual growth, however, is on you. You fell for a scam and you’re going to have to pay the price. If there’s one single thing people are good at, it’s lying. It’s as old as human history, and it happens every day, so you’re no exception to any rule. You’re perhaps just not particularly clever.

How do we know a ‘recovery’ is so far off it’s really no use to even talk about it? As I said, it’s easy. Let me lead this in with a graph I saw just today, which deals with a topic the Automatic Earth has covered a lot: marginal debt, or more precisely, the productivity/growth gained from each additional dollar of debt.

Please note, this particular graph deals with private non-financial debt only, we’ll get to other kinds of added debt, but that restriction is actually quite illuminating.

MarginalDebtNow of course, you have to wonder about the parameters the St. Louis Fed uses for its data and graphs, and whether ‘growth’ was all that solid in the run up to 2008. There’s plenty of very valid arguments that would say growth in the 1960’s was a whole lot more solid than that in the naughties, after the Glass-Steagall repeal, and after the blubber.

However, that’s not what I want to take away from this, I use this to show what has happened since 2008, more than before, when it comes to “passing debt off as ‘growth’”.

But it’s another thing that has happened since 2008, or rather not happened, that points out to us why this slump will have legs. That is, in 2008 a behemoth bubble started bursting, and it was by no means just US housing market. That bubble should have been allowed to fully deflate, because that is the only way to allow an economy to do a viable restart.

Instead, all that has been done since 2008, QE, ZIRP, the works, has been aimed at keeping a facade ‘alive’, and aimed at protecting the interests of the bankers and other rich parties. That facade, expressed most of all in rising stock markets, has allowed for societies to be gutted while people were busy watching the S&P rise to 2,100 and the Kardashians bare 2,100 body parts.

It was all paid for, apart from western QE, with $28 trillion and change of newfangled Chinese debt. The problem with this is that if you find yourself in a bubble and you don’t go through the inevitable deleveraging process that follows said bubble in a proper fashion, you’re not only going to kill economies, you’ll destroy entire societies.

And that is not just morally repugnant, it also works as much against the rich as it does against the poor. It’s just that that is a step too far for most people to understand. That even the rich need a functioning society, and that inequality as we see it today is a real threat to everyone.

Recognizing this simple fact, and the consequences that follow from it, is nothing new. It’s why in days of old, there were debt jubilees. It’s also why we still quote the following from Marriner Eccles, chairman of the Federal Reserve under FDR and Truman from 1934-1948, in his testimony to the Senate Committee on the Investigation of Economic Problems in 1933, which prompted FDR to make him chairman in the first place.

It is utterly impossible, as this country has demonstrated again and again, for the rich to save as much as they have been trying to save, and save anything that is worth saving. They can save idle factories and useless railroad coaches; they can save empty office buildings and closed banks; they can save paper evidences of foreign loans; but as a class they cannot save anything that is worth saving, above and beyond the amount that is made profitable by the increase of consumer buying.

It is for the interests of the well to do – to protect them from the results of their own folly – that we should take from them a sufficient amount of their surplus to enable consumers to consume and business to operate at a profit. This is not “soaking the rich”; it is saving the rich. Incidentally, it is the only way to assure them the serenity and security which they do not have at the present moment.

Everything would all be so much simpler if only more people understood this, that you need a – fleeting, ever-changing equilibrium- to prosper.

Instead, we’re falling into that same trap again. Or, more precisely, we already have. We have been fighting debt with more debt and built the facade put up by the Fed, the BoJ and the ECB, central banks that all face the same problems and all take the same approach: save the rich at the cost of the poor. Something Eccles said way back when could not possibly work.

Anyway, so here are the graphs that prove to us why the slump has legs. There’s been no deleveraging, the no. 1 requirement after a bubble bursts. There’s only been more leveraging, more debt has been issued, and while households have perhaps deleveraged a little bit, though that is likely strongly influenced by losses on homes etc. plus the fact that people were simply maxed out.

First, global debt and the opposite of deleveraging:

LeverageGlobalAnd global debt from a longer, 65 year, more historical perspective:

LeverageGlobal2-500It’s a global debt graph, but it’s perhaps striking to note that big ‘growth’ spurts happened in the days when Reagan, Clinton and Obama were the respective US presidents. Not so much in the Bush era.

Next, China. What we’re looking at is what allowed the post 2008 global economic facade to have -fake- credibility, an insane rise in debt, largely spent on non-productive overinvestment, overcapacity highways to nowhere and many millions of empty apartments, in what could have been a cool story had not Beijing gone all-out on performance enhancing financial narcotics.

LeverageChina500Today, the China Ponzi is on its last legs, and so is the global one, because China was the last ‘not-yet-conquered’ market large enough to provide the facade with -fleeting- credibility. Unless Elon Musk gets us to Mars very soon, there are no more such markets.

So US debt will have to come down too, belatedly, with China, and it will have to do that now. because there are no continents to conquer and hide the debt behind. We’re all going to regret engaging in the debt game, and not letting the bubble deflate in an orderly fashion when we still could, but all those thoughts are too late now.

LeverageUS500What the facade has wrought is not just the idea that deleveraging was not needed (though it always is, after every single bubble), but that net US household worth rose by 55% in the 6-7 years since the bottom of the crisis, an artificial bottom fabricated with…more debt, with QE, and ZIRP.

USTaxesHoneyPot2Meanwhile, in today’s world, as stock markets go down at a rapid clip, China, having lost control of a market system it never had the control over that Politburos are ever willing to acknowledge they don’t have, plays a game of Ponzi whack-a-mole, with erratic ‘policies’ such as circuit breakers and CIA-style renditions of fund managers and the like.

And all the west can do is watch them fumble the ball, and another one, and another. And this whole thing is nowhere near the end.

China bad loans have now become a theme, but the theme doesn’t mean a thing without including the shadow banking system, which in China has been given the opportunity to grow like a tumor, on which Beijing’s grip is limited, and which has huge claims on local party officials forced by the Politburo to show overblown growth numbers. If you want to address bad loans, that’s where they are.

Chinese credit/debt graphs paint only a part of the picture if and when they don’t include shadow banks, but keeping their role hidden is one of Xi’s main goals, lest the people find out how bad things really are and start revolting. But they will anyway. That makes China a very unpredictable entity. And unpredictable means volatile, and that means even more money flowing out of, and being lost in, markets.

The ‘least worst’ place to be for what money will be left is US dollars, US treasuries and perhaps metals. But there’ll be a whole lot less left than just about anyone thinks. That’s the price of deleveraging.

The price of not deleveraging, on the other hand, is what we see in the markets today. And there is no cure. It must be done. The price for keeping up the facade rises sharply with each passing day, and the effort will in the end be futile. All bubbles have limited lifespans.

I’ll close this with a few recent words from Tim Morgan, who puts it so well I don’t feel the need to try and do it better.

The Ponzi Economy, Part 1

In order to set the Ponzi economy into some context, let’s put some figures on it. In the United States, total “real economy” debt (which excludes inter-bank borrowing) increased by $19.4 trillion – in real, inflation-adjusted terms – between 2000 and 2014, whilst real GDP expanded by only $3.7 trillion. Britain, meanwhile, added £1.9 trillion of new debt for less than £400bn on “growth” over the same period. I spent part of the holiday period unearthing quite how much debt countries added for each dollar of “growth” over a period starting at the end of 2000 and ending in mid-2015.

Unsurprisingly, the league is topped by Portugal ($5.65 for each $1 of growth), Ireland ($5.42) and Greece ($5.39). Britain’s ratio ($3.46) is somewhat flattering, in that the UK has used asset sales as well as borrowing to sustain its consumption. The average for the Eurozone ($3.54) covers ratios as diverse as Germany (just $1.87) and France ($4.22).

China’s $2.56 looks unexceptional until you note that the more recent (post-2007) number is much worse. Economies which seem to have been growing without too much borrowing (such as Brazil and Russia) are now experiencing dramatic worsening in their ratios, generally in the wake of tumbling commodity prices.

In the proverbial nutshell, then, the world has become addicted to borrowing money, spending it, and passing this off as “growth”. This is a copybook example of a pyramid scheme, which in turn means that the world’s most influential economic mentor is neither Keynes nor Hayek, but Charles Ponzi.

[..] How, in the absence of growth, can inflated capital values be sustained? The answer, of course, is that they can’t. Like all Ponzi schemes, this ends with a bang, not a whimper. This is why I find forecasts of a ‘big fall’ or ‘sharp correction’ in markets hard to swallow. Ponzi schemes don’t end gradually, any more than someone can fall off a cliff gradually, or be “slightly pregnant”.

The Ponzi economy simply continues for as long as irrationality prevails, and then implodes. Capital markets, though, are the symptom, not the cause. The fundamental problem is an inability to escape from an addictive practice of manufacturing supposed “growth” on the basis of borrowed money.

There may be shallow lulls in the asset markets, nothing ever only falls down in a straight line in the real world, but that debt I’ve described here will and must come down and be deleveraged.

The process will in all likelihood lead to warfare, and to refugee movements the likes of which the world has never seen just because of the sheer numbers of people added in the past 50 years.

When your children reach your age, they will not live in a world that you ever thought was possible. But they will still have to live in it, and deal with it. They will no longer have the facade you’ve been staring at for so long now, to lull them into a complacent sleep. And the Kardashians will no longer be looking so attractive either.


If you found your mind wandering somewhat as you tried to stay focussed on the essay, just go back and read the closing two paragraphs.

The process will in all likelihood lead to warfare, and to refugee movements the likes of which the world has never seen just because of the sheer numbers of people added in the past 50 years.

When your children reach your age, they will not live in a world that you ever thought was possible. But they will still have to live in it, and deal with it. They will no longer have the facade you’ve been staring at for so long now, to lull them into a complacent sleep. And the Kardashians will no longer be looking so attractive either.

As I said at the start: we are living in interesting times!

Forgive the introspection, Part One

This is not some intellectual exercise; far from it!

As often happens, a number of seemingly disconnected articles and reports seem to have provided a common theme. A theme that has previously been aired on Learning from Dogs yet a theme that always needs to be in the front of our faces: integrity.

Here are some of those articles.

Firstly, I presented recently in this place an essay from George Monbiot that proposed (my italics):

The revelation that humanity’s dominant characteristic is, er, humanity will come as no surprise to those who have followed recent developments in behavioural and social sciences. People, these findings suggest, are basically and inherently nice.

Patrice Ayme, however, pointed out in a reply:

Saying that “people are good, while tolerating bad things” is an ineffective morality. The crux, indeed, is the moral nature of institutions, controlled by a few, not whether humans are kind or not.

That struck me as central to the theme: it is the terrible lack of integrity that we see in those who hold positions of power that totally overrides the premise that people are fundamentally good.

The next article read was an essay by Professor Michael Perelman published on Naked Capitalism. Perelman is a professor of economics at California State University. He also writes at Unsettling Economics.  Here is a little from that essay:

The architecture of inequality must be carefully constructed. As the founding fathers of the United States clearly understood, democracy must be kept in check. For this purpose, they invented the Electoral College to prevent the president from being elected by popular vote.

To ensure an effective electoral system, an obsequious media must be skilled in drowning the public with a flood of misinformation to maintain a constant level of fear to make them more likely to side with the CS (corporate system).

If there is ever one example of how that lack of integrity manifests itself in our world it is through inequality. Professor Perelman’s essay is clearly written “tongue-in-cheek” but that doesn’t lessen the impact of his essay. Try his closing paragraphs: (CES = a subset of CS; WEM = The Wondrous Efficiency of Markets)

Regulators are not the only ones to see the benefits of working with the CES. Politicians who resign or are defeated are almost inevitably destined to enjoy the benefits of their dedication to the WEM with the returns from taking a rewarding position with a major corporation, lobbying, or even a lucrative contract to write a book that virtually no one would want to read.

When done correctly, this system works magnificently, although it periodically it seems to fall apart until the detested government apparatus rescues it. In the meantime, huge amounts of wealth and income fall into the hands of the top 1%, the people of greatest importance, while the rest of the public can enjoy watching the spectacular performance of the CES, a reward worthy of their place in society especially because envy of the wealthy brethren will obviously make them work harder to succeed, adding to WEM.

All power to WEM!

Does this have anything to do with dogs?


Let me steal a little from Chapter 16: Community from my forthcoming book:

When dogs lived in the wild, their natural pack size was about fifty animals and there were just three dogs that had pack status: the mentor, minder and nanny dogs, as described in Chapter 5. [Pharaoh: the Teaching Dog] As was explained in that chapter, all three dogs of status are born into their respective roles and their duties in their pack are instinctive. There was no such thing as competition for that role as all the other dogs in that natural pack grouping would be equal participants with no ambitions to be anything else.

Anyone who has had the privilege of living with a group of dogs will know beyond doubt that they develop a wonderful community strength. Let’s reflect on the lessons being offered for us in this regard by our dogs.

To reinforce the fact that this is not a new phenomena, at the time I was drafting my book last November, a new report was issued by the Center of Economic Policy Research (CEPR) on the latest (American) Survey of Consumer Finances. It painted a picture very familiar to many: the rich becoming richer while those with less wealth are falling further and further behind.

David Rosnick of the CEPR, and one of the report co-authors, made this important observation:

The decline in the position of typical households is even worse than the Consumer Finances survey indicates. In 1989, many workers had pensions. Far fewer do now. The value of pensions isn’t included in these surveys due to the difficulty of determining what they are worth on a current basis. But they clearly are significant assets that relatively few working age people have now.

Sharmini Peries, of The Real News Network, in an interview with David Rosnick, asked:

PERIES: David, just quickly explain to us what is the Consumer Finance Survey. I know it’s an important survey for economists, but why is it important to ordinary people? Why is it important to us?

ROSNICK: So, every three years, the Federal Reserve interviews a number of households to get an idea of what their finances are like, do they have a lot of wealth, how much are their house’s worth, how much they owe on their mortgages, how much they have in the bank account, how much stocks do wealthy people own. This gives us an idea of their situations, whether they’re going to be prepared for retirement. And we can see things like the effect of the housing and stock bubbles on people’s wealth, whether they’ve been preparing for eventual downfalls, how they’ve reacted to various economic circumstances, how they’re looking to the long term. So it’s a very useful survey in terms of finding out how households are prepared and what the distribution of wealth is like.

PERIES: So your report is an analysis of the report. And what are your key findings?

ROSNICK: So, largely over the last 24 years there’s been a considerable increase in wealth on average, but it’s been very maldistributed. Households in the bottom half of the distribution have actually seen their wealth fall, but the people at the very top have actually done very well. And so that means that a lot of people who are nearing retirement at this point in time are actually not well prepared at all for retirement and are going to be very dependent on Social Security in order to make it through their retirement years.

PERIES: So, David, address the gap. You said there’s a great gap between those that are very wealthy and those that are not. Has this gap widened over this period?

ROSNICK: It absolutely has. As, say, the top 5 percent in wealth, the average wealth for people in the top 5 percent is about 66 percent higher in 2013, the last survey that was completed, compared to 1989. By comparison, for the bottom 20 percent, their wealth has actually fallen 420 percent. They basically had very little to start with, and now they have less than little.

PERIES: So the poorer is getting poorer and the richer is getting extremely richer.

ROSNICK: Very much so.

To my way of thinking, if in the period 1989 through to 2013 “the average wealth for (American) people in the top 5 percent is about 66 percent higher” and “for the bottom 20 percent, their wealth has actually fallen 420 percent” it’s very difficult not to see the hands of greed at work and a consequential devastating increase in inequality.

In other words, the previous few paragraphs seemed to present, and present clearly, the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, comparatively speaking, and that it was now time for society to understand the trends, to reflect on where this is taking us, if left unchallenged, and to push back as hard as we can both politically and socially.

I wrote that shortly before another item appeared in my email ‘in-box’ in the middle of November (2014), a further report about inequality that, frankly, emotionally speaking, just smacked me in the face. It seemed a critical addition to the picture I was endeavouring to present.

Namely, on the 13th October, 2014, the US edition of The Guardian newspaper published a story entitled: US wealth inequality – top 0.1% worth as much as the bottom 90%. The sub-heading enlarged the headline: Not since the Great Depression has wealth inequality in the US been so acute, new in-depth study finds.

The study referred to was a paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA, based on research conducted by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. The paper’s bland title belied the reality of the research findings: Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913.

As the Guardian reported:

Wealth inequality in the US is at near record levels according to a new study by academics. Over the past three decades, the share of household wealth owned by the top 0.1% has increased from 7% to 22%. For the bottom 90% of families, a combination of rising debt, the collapse of the value of their assets during the financial crisis, and stagnant real wages have led to the erosion of wealth. The share of wealth owned by the top 0.1% is almost the same as the bottom 90%.

The picture actually improved in the aftermath of the 1930s Great Depression, with wealth inequality falling through to the late 1970s. It then started to rise again, with the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1% rising to 22% in 2012 from 7% in the late 1970s. The top 0.1% includes 160,000 families with total net assets of more than $20m (£13m) in 2012.

In contrast, the share of total US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of families fell from a peak of 36% in the mid-1980s, to 23% in 2012 – just one percentage point above the top 0.1%.

The report was not exclusively about the USA. As the closing paragraphs in The Guardian’s article illustrated:

Among the nine G20 countries with sufficient data, the richest 1% of people (by income) have increased their income share significantly since 1980, according to Oxfam. In Australia, for example, the top 1% earned 4.8% of the country’s income in 1980. That had risen to more than 9% by 2010.

Oxfam says that in the time that Australia has held the G20 presidency (between 2013 and 2014) the total wealth in the G20 increased by $17tn but the richest 1% of people in the G20 captured $6.2tn of this wealth – 36% of the total increase.

I find it incredibly difficult to have any rational response to those figures. I am just aware that there is a flurry of mixed emotions inside me and, perhaps, that’s how I should leave it. Nonetheless, there’s one thing that I can’t keep to myself and that this isn’t the first time that such inequality has arisen; the period leading up the the Great Depression of the 1930s comes immediately to mind.

What on earth is coming down the road this time!

If only we truly could learn from our dogs!

No way to run a world!

Why we have to learn integrity from our dogs, and soon!

After yesterday’s post about the ice dagger poised to fall on the heads of humanity, I was hoping to offer something more cheerful for today. Indeed, I had a guest post ready for publication but then ran into a small technical hitch that stopped it being scheduled for today.

So I turned to this recent article that appeared on The Conversation blogsite that is, unfortunately, another reminder of these mad times. It is republished within the terms of articles that appear on The Conversation.


How could VW be so dumb? Blame the unethical culture endemic in business.

Author: Edward L Queen, Director of Ethics and Servant Leadership Program, Emory University.

How much can corporate culture explain VW’s deception? Jim Young/Reuters
How much can corporate culture explain VW’s deception? Jim Young/Reuters

That far too much of the world’s corporate leadership is driven by moral midgets who have been educated far beyond their capacities for good judgment should be obvious after observing the events of the past week.

The financial industry-led economic collapse of 2008 should have taught us this lesson, but the specificity and clarity of it was brought home by news of price-gouging in the pharmaceutical industry and, even more blatantly, by the announcement that Volkswagen intentionally programmed thousands of its diesel automobiles to cheat emissions testing.

We should be outraged by such behavior and demand appropriate punishments and sanctions as well as restitution and correction. But we should not be shocked. As an ethicist who has looked at the behavior of individuals in business and corporations, I can point to a number of troubling trends that help explain these transgressions.

Impaired moral imaginations

For the past five to six decades, epigones of Milton Friedman have been emphasizing that the only duty of a corporation is return on investment (regularly ignoring his caveat of doing so within the law and social norms).

This lesson, drilled into generations of business school graduates, now drives tsunamis of corporate malfeasance. Data regularly demonstrate that business school students are more likely to cheat on examinations and assignments than their peers, although – and this is of interest for the Volkswagen case – they are closely followed by engineering students.

Are business school teaching the right values? mleiboff/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Are business school teaching the right values? mleiboff/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Additionally, some evidence suggests that not only are business students more impaired in their moral judgments in a broader sense than are those in other majors and professional schools, but that business schools themselves may be responsible.

More disturbing, observational and anecdotal evidence suggests that business students are not only impaired in their moral judgments but that significant percentages of them have severely impaired moral imaginations. By this I mean not only do they make bad ethical decisions, but they actually are incapable of identifying an ethical situation when they are presented with one.

Numerous interviews with business ethics faculty I have had over the past decade suggest that when business students are presented with an ethics case, that is a case where they have been told that there is an ethical problem, 20% to 30% of the students cannot find or identify the ethical issue. This has been borne out by my personal experience when teaching business students.

Unmistakable malfeasance

With regards to the Volkswagen scandal, let us be clear about the nature of the company’s activities. This was not a mistake, an error, an ethical lapse or poor judgment. This was an intentionally designed and executed violation of the law in both its letter and its spirit. It also was an ethical violation of the highest level.

Volkswagen intentionally deceived those to whom it owed a duty of honesty. It fraudulently misrepresented its automobiles to be other than what they were. Most significantly, it intentionally chose to do so and went out of its way to commit the wrong.

This last fact may make it far more difficult for VW to recover from the reputational hit than it perhaps has been for GM or Toyota. Even though the latter’s product defects cost people their lives, they did not intentionally produce such parts.

The sheer brazenness and conniving that went into Volkswagen’s actions are probably what shocked people the most. This was a highly technical and sophisticated operation that basically taught the emissions system how to distinguish between road travel, typical idling and idling while undergoing an emissions test.

No spin can mitigate that fact. There is and can be no claims of confusion or misunderstanding, no failures to communicate. This will erode people’s trust in Volkswagen as a company to a degree that the failures of other companies may not have experienced. In the Volkswagen scandal, just like the story about price gouging in pharmaceuticals that broke the same week, consumers are confronted with the stark reality of corporate malfeasance.

In both instances, the wrongdoing was exacerbated by the responses of the companies’ CEOs. The now former CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, basically acknowledged his incompetence and failure of leadership by claiming that he was unaware of the actions taken by his employees. Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, in a series of tweets responding to criticisms of its pricing of the drug Daraprim demonstrated a level of knowledge of moral and social norms that can only be described as clueless.

Redefining success

These events – and others – make clear that there is a need to look at the broader cultural realities that drive unethical decisions in business, particularly the perception that the only way of determining value and worth is money.

This situation is not new – as early as 1906 William James wrote in a letter to H G Wells, “The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease.”

When a person’s worth is determined only by money, only by success as it is and can be monetized, when one has no sense of being without the BMW, the Rolex, the Armani suits, the yacht, etc, the moral flabbiness emerges. Indeed, it engulfs entire organizations and perhaps even entire societies.


Those last two sentences of that essay need repeating over and over again. This may just be a blog about learning from our beloved dog companions but as my home page spells out, this is not some silly romantic notion:

As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!

So there!

Seeing the truth in our mirror.

A sombre reflection on the killing abilities of man.

I was in two minds as to whether to post this today for it is certainly a grim reminder of the less desirable aspects of our species.

In the end, I decided to so do because it needs to be shared and if it changes the mindset of just one person it will have been worthwhile. I was originally seen by me on the EarthSky blogsite.


Want to see Earth’s super predator? Look in the mirror.

Our efficient killing technologies have given rise to the human super predator. Our impacts are as extreme as our behavior, says study.

Rope trawl for midwater trawling. Photo credit: NOAA
Rope trawl for midwater trawling. Photo credit: NOAA

Extreme human predatory behavior is responsible for widespread wildlife extinctions, shrinking fish sizes and disruptions to global food chains, according to research published in the August 21 edition of the journal Science these are extreme outcomes that non-human predators seldom impose, according to the article.

Lead researcher Chris Darimont is a professor of geography at the University of Victoria. Darimont said:

Our wickedly efficient killing technology, global economic systems and resource management that prioritize short-term benefits to humanity have given rise to the human super predator. Our impacts are as extreme as our behavior and the planet bears the burden of our predatory dominance.

A coastal wolf is hunting salmon in British Columbia, Canada. Photo credit: Guillaume Mazille
A coastal wolf is hunting salmon in British Columbia, Canada. Photo credit: Guillaume Mazille

The team’s global analysis indicates that humans typically exploit adult fish populations at 14 times the rate than do marine predators. Humans also hunt and kill large land carnivores such as bears, wolves and lions at nine times the rate that these predatory animals kill each other in the wild.

Researchers noted that in some cases, dwindling species of predatory land carnivores are more aggressively hunted for trophies, due to the premium placed on rare prey.

The result of human activity on wildlife populations is far greater than natural predation. Research suggests that socio-political factors can explain why humans repeatedly overexploit. Technology explains how: Humans use advanced killing tools, cheap fossil fuel, and professional harvesters – like high-volume commercial fishing fleets – to overcome the defensive adaptations of prey.

Humanity also departs fundamentally from predation in nature by targeting adult quarry.Co-author Tom Reimchen is a biology professor at University of Victoria. He said:

Whereas predators primarily target the juveniles or ‘reproductive interest’ of populations, humans draw down the ‘reproductive capital’ by exploiting adult prey.

During four decades of fieldwork on Haida Gwaii, an archipelago on the northern coast of British Columbia, Reimchen looked at how human predators differ from other predators in nature. Reimchen’s predator-prey research revealed that predatory fish and diving birds overwhelmingly killed juvenile forms of freshwater fish. Collectively, 22 predator species took no more than five per cent of the adult fish each year. Nearby, Reimchen observed a stark contrast: fisheries exclusively targeted adult salmon, taking 50 per cent or more of the runs.

The authors conclude with an urgent call to reconsider the concept of “sustainable exploitation” in wildlife and fisheries management. A truly sustainable model, they argue, would mean cultivating cultural, economic and institutional change that places limits on human activities to more closely follow the behavior of natural predators. Darimont said:

We should be protecting our wildlife and marine assets as an investor would in a stock portfolio.

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Bottom line: According to research published in the August 21, 2015 edition of Science, extreme human predatory behavior is responsible for widespread wildlife extinctions, shrinking fish sizes and disruptions to global food chains.

Read more from the University of Victoria


Chris Darimont really put his finger on the spot in my opinion when he was quoted,”We should be protecting our wildlife and marine assets as an investor would in a stock portfolio.”

Going to close today’s post by repeating what is presented on the Welcome page of Learning from Dogs, namely:

As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!

My argument rests!

The long heist!

Suddenly, it all makes sense!

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” –Paulo Freire

Dear neighbours, Dordie and Bill, lent us a documentary video to watch on Sunday night.  It was called “HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream?

As the film’s website explains:

HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream? is stunning audiences across the globe as it traces the worldwide economic collapse to a 1971 secret memo entitled Attack on American Free Enterprise System. Written over 40 years ago by the future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, at the behest of the US Chamber of Commerce, the 6-page memo, a free-market utopian treatise, called for a money fueled big business makeover of government through corporate control of the media, academia, the pulpit, arts and sciences and destruction of organized labor and consumer protection groups.

But Powell’s real “end game” was business control of law and politics. HEIST’s step by step detail exposes the systemic implementation of Powell’s memo by BOTH U.S. political parties culminating in the deregulation of industry, outsourcing of jobs and regressive taxation. All of which led us to the global financial crisis of 2008 and the continued dismantling of the American middle class. Today, politics is the playground of the rich and powerful, with no thought given to the hopes and dreams of ordinary Americans. No other film goes as deeply as HEIST in explaining the greatest wealth transfer of our time. Moving beyond the white noise of today’s polarizing media, HEIST provides viewers with a clear, concise and fact- based explanation of how we got into this mess, and what we need to do to restore our representative democracy.

It’s an incredibly interesting film, but more of that later.  For me, what was stunningly enlightening was at last understanding the powerful forces at work since Lewis Powell published ‘the memo’ back on August 23, 1971.  Because for me over in Britain, the era of the ’70s’ and ’80s’ were incredibly fulfilling.  First, as a salesman for IBM UK – Office Products Division, from 1970 through to 1978, and then forming and managing my own company through to 1986 when I succumbed to an attractive purchase offer.  Then, when my company was sold, taking a few years off cruising a sailboat in the Mediterranean; based out of Larnaca, Cyprus.

Thus I was immune to the global money and power plays, albeit enjoying rising house prices!  Only Lady Luck protected me from the collapse of 2008 in that I had sold my Devon home in early 2007 and was renting.  Then Lady Luck arranging for me to meet Jean in Mexico, Christmas 2007 (we were born 23 miles apart in London) and subsequently moving out to Mexico with Pharaoh in September, 2008, to be with Jean and all her dogs.  Lady Luck’s magic continued in that we came to Merlin, Oregon because we were able to take advantage of a bank-owned property; moving there in October, 2012.

Of course, the scale of the downturn was obvious and there were many instances of people that I knew losing jobs or homes, or both, and generally having a very rough time.

So back to the film.  Here’s the official trailer.

Uploaded on Feb 17, 2012

Please watch the newly updated trailer for “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?,” the new, explosive documentary from Frances Causey and Donald Goldmacher exposing the roots of the American economic crisis and the destruction of the American dream. Visit for more information on how to see the feature film and how to Take Action in restoring democracy and economic justice in the United States.

But here’s another thing that now makes sense: The legitimate anger of so many people, especially those who have some insight into what had been taking place.  No, amend that!  What is still taking place!

Just one example of that legitimate anger, that of Patrice Ayme. Just go across and read his blog post of two days ago: American Circus.

My strong recommendation is that you take an evening off and watch the film. Here’s another preview:

Frances Causey, Co-producer & co-director-Heist & Donald Goldmacher, Co-producer & co-director-Heist join Thom Hartmann. Corporate America is the biggest Welfare reciepient in the country – but that wasn’t always the case. The makers of Heist will tell you how organized money has been able to pull off the biggest “Heist” of the American Dream!

The film also concludes by offering many ways in which individuals can take back control of their lives, reinvigorate local communities, actively show that people-power is unstoppable. As it always has been and always will be.

This post started with a quote and I’m going to close with another.

The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” -Mahatma Gandhi

The influence of climate

Changing climate is changing us and the world in significant and fundamental ways.

I wrote this around noon on the 7th September.  That day we awoke to the sky, normally clear blue, covered totally in grey stratus cloud.  Shortly after 9am it started to rain and some three hours later that rain was still steadily falling from the sky.  Don’t get me wrong, the steady rain was vital to the area.

The precipitation statistics for Payson, AZ up to yesterday (6th at the time of writing) are:

Precipitation year to date (ergo to the 6th September) = 8.02 inch (20.37 cms)

Precipitation 30-year average to the end of September = 16.25 inch (41.28 cms)

Year to date as a percentage of 30-year average = 49.4%

The annual 30-year average precipitation for the year for Payson is 21.5 inch. (54.6 cms)

So despite a moderately effective monsoon, there is no way that Payson, Arizona will be even close to the 30-year average for precipitation.

That’s why a recent essay by Chris Martenson, he of Peak Prosperity fame, is so critically worth reading.  I’m very grateful to Adam Taggart, Chris’s business partner, for giving me permission to republish the essay.  (Note that the essay was published before Hurricane Isaac arrived.)

Also note that this is Part One of Chris’s very detailed report and that to read the concluding Part Two you will need to enrol over at Peak Prosperity.  However, Part One is very detailed and covers much. Thus even without Part Two there is much here to ‘exercise the mind’.


The U.S. Drought Is Hitting Harder Than Most Realize

Repercussions are everywhere.  By Chris Martenson, Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 8:02 PM

This is an important update on the U.S. drought of 2012, the combined record-setting July land temperatures, and their impact on food prices, water availability, energy, and even U.S. GDP.

Even though the mainstream media seems to have lost some interest in the drought, we should keep it front and center in our minds, as it has already led to sharply higher grain prices, increased gasoline costs (via the pass-through of higher ethanol costs), impeded oil and gas drilling activity in some areas (due to a lack of water), caused the shutdown of a few operating electricity plants, temporarily reduced red meat prices (but will also make them climb sharply later) as cattle are dumped in response to feed- and pasture-management concerns, and blocked and/or reduced shipping on the Mississippi River. All this and there’s also a strong chance that today’s drought will negatively impact next year’s Winter wheat harvest, unless a lot of rain starts falling soon.

The good news from Hurricane Isaac is that he’s traveling on a perfect path to deliver relief to one of the most heavily drought-impacted areas:

There are steps that everyone can and should take to become more food- and fuel-resilient in case the drought persists – as some experts think is quite possible – into next year and perhaps a few more. We’ll get to those steps shortly.

Further, there will be a definite impact to U.S. GDP, which could add to pressures (excuses?) that the Fed may use to justify additional quantitative easing (QE) measures (otherwise known as ‘printing more money’).

U.S. Drought Intensifies

The drought in the U.S. has intensified in the recent weeks, even though it has somewhat dropped from the front pages of mainstream media, possibly because the story is stale or possibly because it’s just too serious to dwell on for long:

Extreme drought in the U.S. intensifies
Aug 17, 2012

The drought in the United States is continuing to intensify, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The latest Drought Monitor says 61 percent of the contiguous United States faces moderate or worse drought conditions this week.

Nearly 30 percent is experiencing extreme to exceptional drought, exceptional being the most severe category.

Officials say the amount of land that’s currently affected across the U.S. is larger than the entire state of California.

In this next image, it is notable that the areas of the highest drought classification — ‘exceptional’ — have dramatically expanded from the prior week (the August 7, 2012 report).


Much of the drought is centered squarely over the U.S. ‘breadbasket’ region and has really dented this year’s harvests in a big way.

Crop Losses

Certainly the number one story around the U.S. drought centers on its impact on grain production, specifically corn and soybeans. In a minute we’ll discuss the other impacts, but we’ll start with the one that has the greatest potential to cause both suffering and strife over the coming months (and possibly years), especially for those on limited budgets.

In 2011, the U.S. reaped a corn harvest of some 314 million tons. In 2012, the USDA has estimated a harvest of 274 million tons – a shortfall of 40 million tons – despite record acreage being planted.

While the USDA has been steadily reducing their crop estimates, practically with every passing week, it seems likely that the USDA remains behind the curve today, as it has been every step of the way. A different source for information comes from the Pro Farmer Midwest Crops Tour, which is coming in slightly under the current USDA estimates:

Crop Tour Points to Sharper Drought Impact on Soy, Corn
Aug 21, 2012

Initial reports from the closely watched Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour suggested more crop damage than expected from the drought, raising the potential for diminished soybean production this fall and sending futures sharply higher.

The disappointing crop reports from scouts touring fields on the Pro Farmer crop tour in states such as Ohio and South Dakota make it hard to believe soybean yields will reach current U.S. government crop projections, said Don Roose, president of advisory and brokerage firm U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa.

The market is in the “watch and worry” mode on all fronts as shrinking crop forecasts will further tighten supplies already projected to dwindle to precariously tight levels in 2013, Mr. Roose said.

On the annual Pro Farmer tour, analysts and investors walk corn and soybean fields in seven Midwestern states over four days to assess prospects prior to the fall harvest. Pro Farmer is an agricultural advisory firm. The Pro Farmer tour, which wraps up Thursday, reported diminished potential for the soybean crop in both Ohio and South Dakota.

The crop tour doesn’t estimate soybean yields, but it reported an average 584.9 pods per 3-foot-by-3-foot square area in South Dakota, down 47% from a year ago. In Ohio, scouts reported soybean counts at an average of 1,033.72 pods per 3-foot-by-3-foot square area, down from 1,253.2 pods a year ago.

Soybeans entered their critical growing phases in recent weeks, and the crop has benefited in some regions from recent rains across the eastern Farm Belt.

Meanwhile, scouts with the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour on Monday reported an average estimated corn yield in Ohio of 110.5 bushels per acre, down from the tour’s estimate of 156.3 bushels a year ago. In South Dakota, tour scouts reported an average yield estimate of just 74.3 bushels per acre, down from 141.1 bushels a year ago.

While commodities traders and agronomists have braced for weeks for the prospect of a crop decimated by drought, the estimates were lower than many had expected.

The summary here is that the Pro Farmer Tour is reporting crop yields to be 2% – 3% lower than current USDA forecasts, which is a big deal when it comes to food. We’re talking a few tens-of-millions-of-bushels’ difference.

The somewhat sour note in this unfolding drama is the fact that 40% of the nation’s corn crop goes to ethanol producers, which means that food will be burned in the nation’s auto fleet instead of helping to keep prices down for consumers and animal feed. Another 40% goes to animal feed (chicken, cattle, hogs, etc.), and the remaining balance goes to direct human consumption.

However, the ethanol mandate is a congressional requirement for our fuel blenders, so they do not have a choice in the matter. It would literally take an act of Congress to even temporarily suspend the ethanol requirement – and in an election year, that’s just not going to happen, given the powerful constituencies invested in preserving that mandate.

Of course, higher input costs will ripple through the entire chain, so perhaps Bernanke will get the inflation he seeks, although it won’t be the one he wants. The inflation he wants is simple monetary-driven inflation. The inflation he will get is nothing more than a supply/demand mismatch.

Still, the USDA has a handy calculation for estimating the future impacts:

U.S.’s inferior corn crop has supply-chain ramifications
Aug 13. 2012

The USDA has provided considerable information about how the drought’s effects were likely to percolate through the economy. Because of a smaller-than-expected corn crop, the USDA said it can make the general prediction that “we will see impacts within two months for beef, pork, poultry and dairy (especially fluid milk). The full effects of the increase in corn prices for packaged and processed foods (cereal, corn flour, etc.) will likely take 10-12 months to move through to retail food prices.

The USDA has a formula for predicting changes in the rate of inflation caused by gains in prices at the commodity level: if the farm price of corn rises 50%, retail food prices rise by 0.5% to 1% as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

The price of September corn futures from mid-June until early August advanced 55%, meeting the USDA’s criterion for a measurable increase in the CPI Lapp presented a more extreme scenario than the USDA. He predicted that the damage to the 2012 corn crop will translate into a food inflation rate of 4% to 5% in 2013. In his view, the dollar cost of the drought already was $30 billion, which accrued rapidly over the summer.

“This is a cost that somebody has to bear,” Lapp said. “Some price hikes are fairly quick and others take a while.”

He said high feed costs will have to be absorbed by producers, who will likely liquidate part of their cattle and swine herds and poultry populations. At the retail level, the drought’s effects will translate into narrower margins — and expected higher prices — for processed food and soft drink manufacturers among others.

Lapp offered his opinion that legislation that has effectively required 40% of the corn crop be used in making biofuels has made everything worse.

“The situation has been aided and abetted in a negative way by the biofuels mandates,” he said. “Shame on us for having mandated so much to corn ethanol” without creating contingencies for a bad crop year.

Because corn is the base unit for so many things (especially in the form of high-fructose corn sweetener), and because it’s a primary feed component for finishing cattle and raising chickens and hogs, it tends to have a pretty decent impact on food prices.

However, it takes time for those price hikes to work through the system. So it will not be until 2013 sometime that we really begin to feel it in the U.S. And for the rest of the world that lives more directly on grains? They’re not as lucky. The price hikes hit them almost immediately.

It looks like the harvest in Russia will be below expectations as well:

Russia harvest forecasts cut as drought hits crop in east
Aug 20, 2012

(Reuters) – Two leading Russian agricultural analysts cut their forecasts for Russia’s grain harvest on Monday after harvest data from two drought-stricken eastern growing regions reduced the outlook for the overall crop.

SovEcon narrowed their grain forecast to 71-72.5 million metric tonnes (…)

The government’s official grain harvest forecast is 75-80 million tonnes, of which 45 million tonnes could be wheat. The government has put this season’s exportable surplus at 10-12 million tonnes, a level seen by traders as an informal cap on exports.

The government has tried to reassure markets there will be no repeat of August 2010, when Russia’s government shocked markets with a snap decision to ban grain exports when the scale of losses from major drought became clear.

The government has indicated that protective tariffs could be an option, though only after the end of the calendar year.

But traders widely expect limits to be imposed in some form, perhaps as early as November, after heavy exports in the early months of the season showed Russia could hit the 10-12 million tonne mark sooner than January.

Russia is still officially projecting 75-80 million tonnes but may only get 71 tonnes. If the projected exportable surplus is 10-12 million tonnes, but Russia actually harvests 9 million tonnes less than their hoped-for projection, then its exports will have to decrease to plug that gap.

Here’s the kicker: Russia has already exported a good deal of that amount. That is, the prospect of another Russian export ban this year is quite realistic. If we get one, then we can expect a repeat of the turmoil in the grain markets that we saw in 2010.

But there’s another much more fundamental reason why we can expect higher prices going forward.

Need for Even Higher Prices

The good news is that there’s still plenty of supply to carry us through to the next harvest. However, demand is going to have to go down some, and the way we accomplish that is through the price mechanism.

Right now, physical grain traders are saying that prices are too low and that unless they rise, we’re going to run out of grain before the next harvest. Obviously, that’s not truly going to happen – increasing scarcity will cause prices to rise until current demand levels are reduced.

Fall in corn price disguises real picture (Financial Times)
Aug 20, 2012

Corn prices surged this month to an all-time high of $8.4375 a bushel on the back of the worst drought in the US in nearly half a century. But prices have since fallen roughly 5 per cent. The impression is the rally has run out of steam.

This is far from the real picture. Prices need to rise again – probably setting all-time highs – to dampen consumption that is running ahead of supply.

If demand does not slow down, silos will be all but empty before the next harvest arrives in late 2013.

On paper, the balance sheet for corn supply and demand published by the US Department of Agriculture seems good enough. But in practice, the numbers look a bit shaky. The agency, whose figures are closely watched by the market, first estimates supply and, after that, adjusts the demand data to maintain a minimum level of inventories.

This time the USDA is asking for monumental rationing on the demand side. For example, US corn feed and export demand will need to drop to their lowest levels in nearly 20 years.

The USDA is also forecasting lower ethanol production – and thus corn demand. Ethanol output has fallen, but not nearly enough. Worse, the rise in wholesale petrol prices back above $3 a gallon means that ethanol producers are profitable again, even when paying record corn prices.

Corn is now trading just above $8 a bushel – but traders in the physical market say that prices need to rise to $9-$10 to force demand down enough to meet the consumption levels anticipated by the USDA.

The retreat in corn prices over the past couple of weeks has given inflation watchers a false sense of security. The market should not relax, however. More food inflation is just waiting around the corner.

The idea here is that the cash market will have to lead the futures market higher, an odd situation because it is usually the other way around. With so many hedge funds now playing in the commodity space, one explanation is that they are simply playing paper games with each other – those playing the short side will get a lesson in the importance of keeping one eye on reality.

A truly shocking event would be if the U.S. ever gets to the position of limiting exports of corn or even soybeans. That is a very unlikely proposition to consider, but if the silos get drained because we have dysfunctional markets that saw fit to keep prices bizarrely low while our free trade agreements allow the too-low grains to be exported, threatening domestic supplies, then that possibility notches up a little bit.

Dairy, Meat, and Even Higher Gasoline Costs

While it is clear that basic grain prices are heading higher, the knock-on effects into other soft commodities are a little less clear, but are definitely still important to consider.

The most obvious of these are higher grain feed costs that will hit both livestock and dairy producers especially hard:

The withering crops are translating into higher feed costs for livestock producers. “This is different than anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Kent Pruismann, who raises cattle and hogs on a farm in Sioux County, Iowa, and saw his costs for feed jump by 20% in July.

The higher corn, soybean and wheat prices will reach food makers, exporters and eventually consumers. Drivers already have seen fuel costs climb because of higher prices for ethanol, a corn-based fuel that is blended into gas. The drought also has reignited the debate over whether ethanol production is a drain on global food supplies.


Some are already turning to, shall we say, other means to keep their herds fed:

Kentucky cows eat candy instead of corn

Aug 14, 2012

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – When you think of cattle feed, you probably don’t think of candy, but due to the drought that’s exactly what one farmer chose to do.

At Mayfield’s United Livestock in Western Kentucky, owner Joseph Watson feeds his herd second-hand candy.

Watson started feeding his cattle the candy because corn prices were so high.

He mixes the candy with an ethanol by-product and a mineral nutrient. He monitors the daily intake and said the cows have had no real health issues.

Yes, the higher grain costs are going to hit everything from big cattle feedlot operations to my own two-bags-a-month chicken-feed usage.

However, it will be the cost of and even lack of hay that will really create some big problems later this year. The drought not only harmed the range and pasture lands, forcing greater use of stored hay to offset the decline in forage, but it put a huge crimp in this year’s hay production:

Drought Cripples Hay Feed Industry

Aug 19, 2012

Widespread drought has scorched much of the pastureland and hay fields needed to sustain cattle herds in the U.S., forcing many ranchers to find feed alternatives or sell their animals early into what has become a soft beef market.

The shortage has led to higher hay prices, with some farmers saying they have to pay two to three times last year’s rates.

Despite farmers setting aside more land to grow hay this year, they are still producing a lot less because of the drought, according to a recent Department of Agriculture estimate.

The harvest of alfalfa, generally considered to make the best hay because of its high nutrient levels, is forecast to be the worst since 1953, according to the USDA.

Pasture grass and hay are what most cattle are fed for the roughly two years they live before being slaughtered, but the drought is threatening to starve the animals.

Illinois rancher Steve Foglesong said that most years he could graze his cattle from spring through November on verdant fields that are now brown, buying them hay bales only in the winter. This year, he and his animals have their eyes on withered corn plants.

“It may not have any ears on it, but it makes pretty good cow feed,” he said.

John Erwin, who owns 20 acres of land in Shelbyville, Ill., said he is having trouble growing alfalfa hay, but demand is strong for what he can produce.

I’m getting calls from ranchers as far away as Wyoming,” Mr. Erwin said. “They’re desperate.”

He said he has been offered $250 a ton for his hay, nearly double the $130 a ton in a non-drought year. His fields didn’t produce any hay in July.

A doubling of hay prices is obviously going to create quite a bit of economic hardship for many farming operations, which tend to be marginal profit businesses even when everything is going well.

Here’s another view on the hay situation:

I spoke with Caldwell [of Indiana horse rescue] and a number of other horse-rescue organizations around the country by telephone this week. The relentlessly hot dry weather, amplified in many areas by wildfire, has been devastating to farmers, ranchers and other horse owners.

Everybody is using their winter hay now. The pastures are destroyed and they probably won’t recover before winter,” said Caldwell. “The price of hay has doubled, and the availability is down by 75 percent.”

Caldwell is somewhat sanguine about his own lot, but not optimistic about what lies ahead.

Today the problem is not nearly as bad as it’s going to be,” he told me. “It’s terribly bad today, but it is going to get a lot worse.”


The drought has done some very serious harm to the nation’s hay supply that goes beyond the economics of higher hay costs. First there’s the supply of the hay, and then there’s the relatively poor quality of hay that was taken from non-irrigated, drought-stricken fields. All in all, it’s not a good situation.

To add a bit more difficulty into the situation, it turns out that drought-stricken silage and even the corn itself can be harmful to animals:

Drought makes corn dangerous for livestock

Aug 16, 2012

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI, U.S. — Tim Evans, an associate professor of veterinary pathobiology and toxicology section head at the Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, Columbia, Missouri, U.S., warns U.S. farmers and livestock producers that drought-damaged corn plants can pose a risk to animal health.

During severe drought conditions, corn plants, especially those heavily fertilized with nitrogen, can accumulate a chemical called ‘nitrate’,” Evans said.

This chemical can be very harmful to animals, especially cattle, if they eat corn plants or other vegetation containing too much nitrate. Eating plants with too much nitrate can cause damage to red blood cells, resulting in lethargy, miscarriage, and even sudden death.”

Evans says that in normal conditions, corn crops typically absorb nitrate into only the lower 12-18 inches of the stalk, which does not have to be fed to animals. However, during severe drought conditions, high concentrations of nitrate can accumulate in the upper portions of the stalk, which cattle and other livestock often eat.

Evans also says that many naturally growing plants and weeds in grazing pastures can accumulate nitrate during drought conditions, as well. These plants include many types of grasses and some weeds, which animals might be forced to eat because of limited pasture or hay available as forage for livestock.

The key here is that nitrates are safe below 2,000 ppm but toxic above 15,000 ppm, and the levels found in the stalks and how high it travels are a function of whether enough rain fell to allow the plant to take it up. Much of the corn crop was so desiccated that the plants could not even manage to draw up this nutrient, and therefore it is safe as a feed product.

While it’s hard to get a read on at this early stage, there are enough warning signs here pointing to much, much higher grain, food, and meat prices in the future. The worry is whether there will even be enough feed to sustain the animal populations through the Winter and Spring. Given the damage to the harvestable corn, a lot of it is going to be turned into silage

Many ranchers and farmers are faced with a horrible choice here. Saving their herds may be economically unsound or even impossible where hay and safe silage are not available, and so they are selling their herds, one of the most heart-wrenching decisions anyone could have to make.

So many are doing this that recently the price for cattle has dropped, as everyone is selling into an increasingly soft market. My advice is to enjoy these low meat prices while they last, because the next stage of this story involves much higher meat prices.

The problem with understanding just how bad the hay situation might (or might not) be is that there are no national statistics collected that could tell us whether or not there’s even enough hay available to sustain the current commercial and recreational livestock populations.

The Importance of Positioning Yourself

So, with all of these repercussions building during the current drought – to which there’s yet no end in sight – what can you do today to minimize their impact on your budget and lifestyle?

Part II: Positioning for the Drought’s Aftermath looks at the likeliest outcomes in food prices, food availability, energy prices, and macroeconomic consequences (of which there will no doubt be many from this drought). We have a national food distribution system that runs significantly on a just-in-time basis, which leaves it vulnerable to price and inventory shocks when there are supply disruptions. The reduced water levels caused by the drought are handicapping electrical power generation in growing regions in the country; electrical thermal plants are the number one biggest user of water in the U.S.  The global financial markets are similarly tenuous these days, as resources are already taxed in trying to stimulate the moribund U.S. economy and dig Europe out of its massive credit woes.

This is one of those moments where taking simple, prudent steps now can have an outsized effect on preserving your quality of life.

Click here to read Part II of this report (free executive summary; paid enrollment required for full access)


It’s not pleasant reading, is it!  But unless we all fully understand the implications of what we are doing to the planet by continuing to pollute the atmosphere, how can we embrace change!

The Greatest Crash – footnote

The story that could run for an awfully long time!

I rather revealed my newness as a US resident by posting my review of David Kauders’ book The Greatest Crash over 2 days last week,  one of them being Thanksgiving Day.  Despite that 1,895 people viewed my review which was entitled The end of an era.

A week has now passed since that review.  I was curious to see what sorts of headlines had been making the news in the last 7 days.  It’s just a random trawl through those items that have captured my attention.

Let’s start with the Financial Times, November 27th,

The eurozone really has only days to avoid collapse

By Wolfgang Münchau

In virtually all the debates about the eurozone I have been engaged in, someone usually makes the point that it is only when things get bad enough, the politicians finally act – eurobond, debt monetisation, quantitative easing, whatever. I am not so sure. The argument ignores the problem of acute collective action.

Last week, the crisis reached a new qualitative stage. With the spectacular flop of the German bond auction and the alarming rise in short-term rates in Spain and Italy, the government bond market across the eurozone has ceased to function.

Wolfgang concludes his article thus,

Italy’s disastrous bond auction on Friday tells us time is running out. The eurozone has 10 days at most.

Then my print copy of The Economist that arrived on the 26th had this lurid cover page,

Unless Germany and the ECB move quickly, the single currency’s collapse is looming

The leader article contains this paragraph,

Past financial crises show that this downward spiral can be arrested only by bold policies to regain market confidence. But Europe’s policymakers seem unable or unwilling to be bold enough. The much-ballyhooed leveraging of the euro-zone rescue fund agreed on in October is going nowhere. Euro-zone leaders have become adept at talking up grand long-term plans to safeguard their currency—more intrusive fiscal supervision, new treaties to advance political integration. But they offer almost no ideas for containing today’s conflagration.

and a few paragraphs later, this,

This cannot go on for much longer. Without a dramatic change of heart by the ECB and by European leaders, the single currency could break up within weeks. Any number of events, from the failure of a big bank to the collapse of a government to more dud bond auctions, could cause its demise. In the last week of January, Italy must refinance more than €30 billion ($40 billion) of bonds. If the markets balk, and the ECB refuses to blink, the world’s third-biggest sovereign borrower could be pushed into default.

Then on Sunday, 27th, MISH’s Trend Analysis blogsite reveals,

ICAP Plc, the world’s largest inter-dealer broker (one that carries out transactions for financial institutions rather than private individuals), is now Testing Trades In Greek Drachma Against Dollar, Euro

ICAP Plc is preparing its electronic trading platforms for Greece’s potential exit from the euro and a return to the drachma, senior executives at the inter-dealer broker said Sunday.

ICAP is the latest firm to disclose such preparations, joining the growing ranks of banks, governments and other key players in the global financial system whose officials are worried enough about the stability of the common currency to be making contingency plans for a possible break-up.

Then Bloomberg published an article by Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, the latter of Baseline Scenario fame, that opened as follows,

Investors sent Europe’s politicians a painful message last week whenGermany had a seriously disappointing government bond auction. It was unable to sell more than a third of the benchmark 10-year bonds it had sought to auction off on Nov. 23, and interest rates on 30-year German debt rose from 2.61 percent to 2.83 percent. The message? Germany is no longer a safe haven.

and concluded,

Ultimately, an integrated currency area may remain in Europe, albeit with fewer countries and more fiscal centralization. The Germans will force the weaker countries out of the euro area or, more likely, Germany and some others will leave the euro to form their own currency. The euro zone could be expanded again later, but only after much deeper political, economic and fiscal integration.

Tragedy awaits. European politicians are likely to stall until markets force a chaotic end upon them. Let’s hope they are planning quietly to keep disorder from turning into chaos.

Finally, on the 29th the BBC News website carried details of the Autumn Statement made by British Chancellor, George Osborne, to Parliament.

Osborne confirms pay and jobs pain as growth slows

Chancellor George Osborne has said public sector pay rises will be capped at 1% for two years, as he lowered growth forecasts for the UK economy.

The number of public sector jobs set to be lost by 2017 has also been revised up from 400,000 to 710,000.

Borrowing and unemployment are set to be higher than forecast and spending cuts to carry on to 2017, he admitted.

Just look at that figure of public sector job losses – 710,000!

Well that’s more than enough from me but it does surely endorse the opening views that David Kauders expounded in his book, as carried in my review, and reproduced here,

Starting with the first sentence, David sets out the core problem;

This book argues that it is impossible to expand the financial system much further.

expanding this a few paragraphs later,

This is the financial system limit: lack of new borrowing plus excessive weight of debt obligations from past borrowing combine to slow economies down. This is the barrier whichever way policy makers turn. It is like the lid on a boiling kettle. Enough steam can lift it for a while but it always snaps back into place. The financial system limit is a roadblock preventing growth.

A few pages later in this opening chapter ‘The roadblock preventing growth‘ this limit is explained thus,

Policy contradictions also show us that the financial system has reached a roadblock. The glaring conflict between bailout and austerity is at the core. Each bailout or stimulus requires creation of more credit, leading to false financial speculation, and for a short while markets recover their poise. The threat of inflation returns. Later, bad debts rise, the markets tumble again and a new crisis emerges. Austerity, the alternative policy, cuts spending thereby cutting the immediate level of economic activity and bringing economic decline more quickly than the stimulus alternative. Whichever way they turn, the authorities are damned.

You can understand why I called this Post a ‘footnote’ not an endnote.

The end of an era, part two.

A review of David Kauder’s recently published book, The Greatest Crash.

Details of the availability of the book are included at the end of the review.

Extracts from the book included are with grateful thanks to Sparkling Books.

Part One of this review was published yesterday which needs to be read before Part Two.


Chapter 5 continues by examining the over-bearing consequences of excessive public spending, excessive Government regulations, substitute taxation, weakness of Treasury forecasts, and so on. While these are UK issues, there is no doubt that similar restraints of free enterprise exist in many other western nations.

In Chapter 6, ‘Group Think‘, David looks at the strange ways in which we form opinions.  It’s a topic that has been discussed and written about widely but the point behind this chapter is that people have in great part lost the ability to discern truth from fiction, with terrible implications when it comes to understanding how individuals are affected by government and bureaucratic institutions.

The chapter closes;

One of the remarkable points that I have found in writing this book is that many of the detailed errors, incorrect policies et al, have already been amply documented by others. But we never learn. The delegated society, the strength of lobby groups and vulnerability of our political system to pressure, the sheer volume of noise in the media and on the Internet, the immediacy of the demands of daily life, all combine to make our collective memory rather short.

Amen to that!

Chapter 7, ‘Academic differences of opinion‘, was surprisingly short at just 6 1/2 pages. One would have thought the subject worthy of a much longer review especially as David was exploring the fundamental differences between Keynesian and Ricardian economic theories and opportunities for alternative theories. Must say that that I laughed out loud (David’s book is a little short on humour!) at the sentence on p.127 that ran, “One correspondent writing to the Financial Times proposed that economics should be declared a failing discipline, economists as not fit for purpose, and a physicist put in charge of sorting their theories out.

Chapter 8, ‘The dark side of capital markets‘, is the penultimate chapter and quite a technical one at that. But David manages to trip through esoteric aspects, well esoteric to the lay reader, in a manner that keeps one involved.   Here’s an example from early on in the chapter.

Capital markets follow a long cycle beyond the experience of most practitioners, detectable only by understanding history and then applying this understanding to contemporary conditions.

It didn’t mean much to me. Then the next sentence;

The principles are identical for any market where prices depend on the supply of credit: equities, bonds, property and commodities are all markets where the prices must relate to the availability of credit.

That, at least, was understood but still the penny hadn’t dropped. Then came;

Bond prices prosper when credit is lacking while the other three prosper when credit is abundant.

That then made sense to me but still only at some academic level. David then followed those sentences with these two paragraphs;

The whole market cycle consists of bull market followed by bear market, as surely as night follows day. The bull market in assets is driven by an increasing supply of credit and economic expansion, since more credit leads to higher prices. The bear market in assets is driven by less credit and economic contraction; there is no purchasing power to keep asset prices high. Only fixed interest bonds are contra-cyclical, declining in price as credit expands and rising in price as credit sinks.

There are two useful theories for analysing the whole market cycle: conversion flow and Dow theory.

So in half-a-page of text, the book effectively educated me and then showed the relevance of that learning to the world I was living in. Cleverly done!

Chapter 9, ‘The attitude change‘, is, without doubt, a clincher of a close to this fascinating book. The sentiments conveyed in this chapter are so unexpected that, forgive me, it would be wrong to explicitly refer to them.  Buy the book!

Let me just say that the last chapter fully endorsed me calling this review The End of an Era.

Overall conclusions

This is an important book from a writer who has both the academic and professional experience to enable him to form the views that he expresses. Only time will tell if the whole scenario that is envisaged by Mr. Kauders will play out as he expects. My personal view is that it will.

For individuals and business alike, reading The Greatest Crash will inform you in a manner that I would argue is critical when one notes the precarious and potentially unstable period we are living through. The decisions readers make after reading the book are beyond the remit of this review and, of course, David Kauders, but, at least, read the book!

Prof. Myddelton in the book’s introduction wrote, “But one of the things we need now is new thinking on the fundamentals.” Perhaps not new thinking on fundamentals, as the Prof. puts it, but a reinstatement of core fundamental values.

I am not alone from sensing that the world, especially the western world, is transitioning from an era of greed and materialism, seeing a world of unlimited resources, to a different societal relationship with planet Earth, the only planet we have. A transition across all layers of society towards the values of truth, integrity and compassion; values whose day has come.

The Greatest Crash reinforces immensely my notion that this truly is the end of an era.


Want to buy The Greatest Crash?  The ebook was published in October worldwide, the  paperback published in the UK on the 1st November UK, the hardcover being released any day now in the UK.  For North America both the paperback and hardcover versions are being published on 1st February, 2012.

Full details from the Sparkling Books webpage here.

Copyright © 2011 Paul Handover