Friday, June 5, 2015

The Extent That the Central Bankers Distort the World

At the start of May, I did a post on James Rickards and some sage words he had on "That Whole Coming Economic Collapse Thingy". 
He'll be among the first to tell you that financial collapse could happen this week or in a decade.  It's impossible to tell.  In many ways, it's like an avalanche: it's impossible to blame the avalanche on any particular snowflake, but any one of the continuing snowflakes could cause it.  What's it look like?  The only "bank" with any solvency left is the International Monetary Fund.  The IMF has Special Drawing Rights, SDRs, that would allow it to prop up the world when the collapse happens.  His most likely scenario would be that all banks around the world, all banks, would be shuttered.  After some time, perhaps a few days, perhaps a week, everyone would be able to withdraw 250 or $300 a day for food and energy expenses. 
I mentioned his book, "The Death of Money", and have been reading it when I get a few minutes here and there.  I have to say I'm learning interesting things in every chapter.  Enough to get to the rare point of recommending it before I'm done reading it. 
The latest chapter I'm reading goes into some of the ways the Fed has been distorting the economy and markets.  
  • Trying to achieve inflation.  This is the root of virtually all of it.  The prospect of an extended deflation was so terrifying to the FED that they reduced interest rates to almost zero (ZIRP) - negative real interest rates.  But the "natural" tendency for prices over the long term should be deflationary.  Why?  Productivity increases in manufacturing and continual seeking of lower labor prices should be lowering the prices on goods we buy.  The world is deflationary, yet the Fed is pushing inflation. 
  • ZIRP in turn destroys savers.  Anyone saving for college, retirement: anything, earns too little on their savings to really build them.  Rickards figures ZIRP has cost American savers $400 Billion each year: "a normalized interest-rate environment of 2 percent would pay $400 billion to savers who leave money in the bank. Instead, those savers get nothing, and the benefit goes to banks that can relend the free money on a leveraged basis and make significant profits."
  • ZIRP is what has dried up the loans for small businesses.  Small business loans come from bank to bank lending: big businesses either borrow from big banks or get cash easily selling stock.  But that interbank lending is unattractive to the banks because they get more profit from doing other things with their money.  Since small business is really the job creation engine in the economy, ZIRP is a major factor behind keeping the number of jobs down.  
  • The whole idea of creating inflation to raise housing prices and stock prices is the so-called "wealth effect".  The idea is that consumers see the stock indices on the news everyday and know their 401k savings (such that they have) are tied to the market.  In addition they tend to know their house's price, so when those two prices are up, they feel wealthier and spend more.  The problem with this is that actual research has failed to turn up much evidence to support the idea.  Studies are all over the place so you could honestly say they not only don't know how large the Wealth Effect is, they don't even know if it encourages or discourages spending!  At the very least, they can't even calculate if the benefit is worth the cost of the market distortions they're creating.
  • Another idea behind inflation, which combines with ZIRP to create negative interest, is that people who realize their savings are evaporating will spend more.  The reality is more complex.  There's evidence some savers, faced with seeing their savings not growing, double down on the saving, denying themselves even more and trying ever harder to save.  As Jim Rickards put it: "As a result, many citizens are saving even more from retirement checks and paychecks to make up for the lack of a market interest rate. So a Fed manipulation designed to discourage savings actually increases savings, on a precautionary basis, to make up for lost interest. This is a behavioral response not taught in textbooks or included in models used by the Fed."
  • ZIRP has made the derivatives bubble larger as banking and investment houses try to get higher yields.  The total notional value ("face" value) of the world derivatives market is over a quadrillion (thousand trillion) dollars (that was in 2011!)  Some financial writers say the actual value is much less than that, "only" 20 to 30 Trillion.  It helps to remember Federal Spending is around $3 to $4 Trillion and the entire World GDP is only around $65 Trillion.  Quoting Rickards again: "A definitive study conducted by the IMF covering the period 1997– 2011 showed that Federal Reserve low-interest-rate policy is consistently associated with greater risk taking by banks. The IMF study also demonstrated that the longer rates are held low, the greater the amount of risk taking by the banks."  It's commonly stated that at least one form of derivative, the CDO (Collateralised Debt Obligation) was behind the 2008 crash.  A decade of low interest rate policies have only made this worse than 2008. 
A lot of this really is transferring wealth from you and me and the economy at large to the banks.  We hear people complaining about the "banksters" all the time, but I don't see banks doing anything that they're not being strongly encouraged and rewarded to do by the Fed.  The Federal Reserve and the other central banks are the real "banksters".   And they wouldn't be able to do it if not for their government enablers.  

This is just a few paragraphs from a single chapter in James Rickards' book.  It starts with a fascinating look at economic terrorism that's full of things I've never seen before.  If you find this stuff interesting, I recommend it.  


  1. Just ordered it from Amazon.

    All of this is, as you say, encouraged by the government.

    Just a little more of that "fundamental change", I guess!

  2. I would make a more clear distinction between the phrase "central bankers" and the FED. It is of course the FED that is doing this. We could call them "central bankers" instead of the FED I suppose but then the problem is many people conflate this to mean "the bankers". The bankers/banks are NOT doing this they are just as much victim of the FED rules as all of us are. You willhear politicians demand that bankers "pay" for the crash of 2009 and most in fly over country cheer them on in this because they are convinced it was the banks that caused the crash. Let's be clear; it was the politicians and 99% the Democrats who caused the crash with laws that forced the banks to do exactly what they did. I laugh and cringe at the term "predatory banking". My god! Does anyone really believe these bankers mugged us in the parking lot and forced us to buy a home with a mortgage that we wouldn't be able to afford once the bubble burst??? It was Barny Frank and Chris Dodd who were most responsible for the laws passed that created the bubble and then it was the same two miscreants who passed the laws to supposedly "fix" the problem they caused. And what is that "fix"? Exactly the same thing we are now blaming on the "central bankers". Well, in fairness their bill did a lot more bad things as well AND our FED is acting "independently" to do what they are doing.
    And that brings me to the real problem. I hate to take issue with "experts" but it is more complicated and nefarious than the author stated. We have zero interest rates AND QE BECAUSE the economy has collapsed. This is a vain attempt to "fix" the crash of 2009 but it won't fix it. It will merely delay the inevitable while at the same time make the crisis all worse so that when it does all crash down upon us it will be worse then the great depression. The FED is running scared (or should be, but I'm beginning to wonder if they believe their own propaganda) and they cannot stop the infusion of borrowed and printing press money. But the bad news is they are using all the tools that are available to them which "could" turn the economy around and it isn't working. What will be left for them when the facade drops away and the crash is very real?
    We are in a "great depression". The unemployment lines are hidden by creative statistics and ample unemployment pay. The food lines are just as real but instead of standing in lines which would make news and be obvious toall of us, the food lines are replaced with ample food stamps. So ample in fact that most/many food stamp recipients sell their food stamps for money to buy their alcohol or drugs. I would predict that if we ended food stamps tomorrow the underground drug industry in this country would take a HUGE hit. If we at the same time ended welfare illegal drugs would virtually disappear. But i digress. The point is that this is what a depression looks like in a Keynesian world. It is a constant effort to borrow, tax and print more and more money in a vain attempt to prop up the failing economy which in turn pushes the economy deeper into the mire of an inevitable great depression.
    The most optimistic thing I can say about the world and our countries economic future is that once again Americans are going to get the opportunity to rise above a great disaster and become the worlds greatest generation.

  3. Anon - I think we're in complete agreement. I should point out where I screwed my writing: when I said "central bankers", I meant the other countries' central banks: the European Central Bank, Bank of Japan, and all the rest - including the IMF.

    In that early May piece I linked to (first paragraph), there's an interview with Rickards where he says the same thing about us being in a depression now. He says people laugh at him and say "where are the soup lines?" to which he answers "in Whole Foods". We give away EBT cards which have moved the soup line from charitable groups to every grocery store everywhere. From church charities to every single taxpayer's pockets.