Category Archives: Money

The Distortions of Doom Part 2: The Fatal Flaws of Reserve Currencies, by Charles Hugh Smith

Why reserve currencies come and go. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwomind.com:

Part 1

The way forward is to replace the entire system of reserve currencies with a transparent free-for-all of all kinds of currencies.
Over the years, I’ve endeavored to illuminate the arcane dynamics of global currencies by discussing Triffin’s Paradox, which explains the conflicting dual roles of national currencies that also act as global reserve currencies, i.e. currencies that other nations use for global payments, loans and foreign exchange reserves.
The four currencies that are considered global are the US dollar (USD), the euro, the Japanese yen and China’s RMB (yuan). The percentage of use in each of the three categories of demand for the reserve currencies–payments, loans and foreign exchange reserves–are displayed below.
Many observers don’t seem to grasp that demand for reserve currencies extend beyond payments. Many of those heralding the demise of the USD as a reserve currency note the rise of alternative payment platforms as evidence of the USD’s impending collapse.
But it’s not so simple. Currencies are also in demand because loans were denominated in that currency, so interest and principal payments must also be paid in that currency. There is also demand for the currency to be held as foreign exchange reserves–the equivalent of cash to settle trade imbalances and back the domestic currency.
Notice the minor role played by the yen and yuan, despite the size of the economies of Japan and China. There’s a reason for this that’s at the core of Triffin’s Paradox: any nation seeking to issue a reserve currency must export its currency in size by running large, permanent trade deficits (or an equivalent mechanism for exporting currency in size).
The reason why the yen and yuan are minor players is neither nation runs much of a trade deficit, and neither exports its currency in size via loans or other currency emittance mechanisms.
Triffin’s Paradox is the tension between a currency’s domestic role and its global role. The nation’s issuing central bank prioritizes domestic concerns–bolstering employment, tamping down (or generating) inflation, supporting the private banking system, etc.–but the rate of interest, etc. set by the issuing central bank has enormous impacts on nations using the currency for payments, loans and reserves.
No currency can serve two masters at the same time. If the issuing central bank raises interest rates for domestic reasons, the increase in rates may be ruinous to offshore borrowers who must convert weakening home currencies into the strengthening reserve currency to make interest payments.
Higher yields strengthen reserve currencies and weaken emerging market currencies. This increases the costs of servicing loans denominated in reserve currencies.
The question for any wannabe reserve currency is: how do you export enough currency into the global system to support the demand for payments, loans and reserves? If the issuing nation runs a trade surplus or modest deficit, trade doesn’t export enough currency into the global financial system to meet the demands placed on a reserve currency.
The alternative mechanism is debt. If the issuing central bank issues lines of credit to banks, then institutions can make loans denominated in the reserve currency to offshore borrowers.
The EU banks have issued loans in euros, and the fatal consequence of this is now becoming clear. Emerging market borrowers will be forced to default as their currencies weaken against the euro and the USD, driving the costs of servicing their debt denominated in euros and USD higher.
Loans denominated in USD and euros will bring the periphery crisis home to the core’s banking sectors as these loans default. It was all fun and games when the USD was weakening thanks to the Fed’a ZIRP (zero interest rate policy), because it became progressively cheaper to service loans in USD as USD weakened and emerging market currencies strengthened.
Now that dynamic has reversed: every click higher in U.S. yields vis a vis other currencies will only push the USD higher.
The system of reserve currencies is dysfunctional for everyone, creating and incentivizing fatal imbalances in trade, yields and debt. Some look to a basket of currencies (SDRs) as the solution, but all this does is tighten the coherence of a system that’s already dangerously hyper-coherent, i.e. highly susceptible to contagion.
There is no perfect reserve currency. Even gold has its limitations. As a result, the best available solution is a world of multiple currencies, some of which are not borrowed into existence, i.e. gold and bitcoin. Given a transparent range of options, nations, borrowers and lenders could choose whatever mix of currencies best suited them.
Some years ago I proposed using bitcoin as a reserve currency: Could Bitcoin (or equivalent) Become a Global Reserve Currency? (November 7, 2013)
The way forward isn’t to replace the USD with another dysfunctional reserve currency– the way forward is to replace the entire system of reserve currencies with a transparent free-for-all of all kinds of currencies.
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The World Is Quietly Decoupling From the U.S. – And No One Is Paying Attention, by Brandon Smith

The world is finding ways to get around the US’s currency and its payment mechanisms. From Brandon Smith at birchgold.com:

Blind faith in the U.S. dollar is perhaps one of the most crippling disabilities economists have in gauging our economic future. Historically speaking, fiat currencies are essentially animals with very short lives, and world reserve currencies are even more prone to an early death. But, for some reason, the notion that the dollar is vulnerable at all to the same fate is deemed ridiculous by the mainstream.

This delusion has also recently bled into parts of the alternative economic movement, with some analysts hoping that the Trump Administration will somehow reverse several decades of central bank sabotage in only four to eight years. However, this thinking requires a person to completely ignore the prevailing trend.

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The Tyranny of the U.S. Dollar, by Peter Coy

The world sends us goods, we send the world pieces of paper (or computer entries). Sounds like a good deal for the US. It is, but it may be coming to a close. From Peter Coy at bloomberg.com:

The incumbent international currency has been American for decades. Is it time for regime change?

There’s a paradox at the heart of global finance. The U.S. share of the world economy has drifted lower for decades, and now President Trump is retreating from the American chief executive’s traditional role as Leader of the Free World. Yet the U.S. dollar remains, as the saying goes, almighty. “American exceptionalism has never been this stark,” Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets and chief global strategist for Morgan Stanley Investment Management, said at a Council on Foreign Relations symposium on Sept. 24.

By the latest tally of the European Central Bank, America’s currency makes up two-thirds of international debt and a like share of global reserve holdings. Oil and gold are priced in dollars, not euros or yen. When Somali pirates hold up ships at sea, it’s dollars they demand. And threats to be cut off from the dollar-based global payments system strike terror into the likes of Iran, North Korea, and Russia. It’s no exaggeration to say that the dollar’s primacy is at least as valuable to the U.S. as a couple of aircraft carrier strike groups.

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Think You’re Prepared For The Next Crisis? Think Again. By Adam Taggart

No matter how much you’re prepped, there’s something out there you haven’t prepped for. From Adam Taggart at peakprosperity.com:

No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.

~ Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

~ Mike Tyson

Scottish poet Robert Burns aptly penned the famous phrase: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley.” (commonly adapted as “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”)

How right he was.

History has shown time and time again that the only 100% predictable outcome to any given strategy is that, when implemented, things will not go 100% according to plan.

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ACLU’s Opposition to Kavanaugh Sounds Its Death Knell, by Alan M. Dershowitz

The ACLU could plausibly have opposed Brett Kavanaugh on the grounds that he’s weak on civil liberties. Instead, it argued that the presumption of innocence should be thrown out, Ford believed, and Kavanaugh rejected. From Alan M. Dershowitz at gatestoneinstitute.org:

  • So why did the American Civil Liberties Union oppose a Republican nominee to the Supreme Court and argue for a presumption of guilt regarding sexual allegations directed against that judicial nominee? The answer is as clear as it is simple. It is all about pleasing the donors. The ACLU used to be cash poor but principle-rich. Now, ironically, after Trump taking office, the ACLU has never become so cash-rich, yet principle-poor.
  • The problem is that most of the money is not coming from civil libertarians who care about free speech, due process, the rights of the accused and defending the unpopular. It is coming from radical leftists in Hollywood, Silicon Valley and other areas not known for a deep commitment to civil liberties.
  • The old ACLU would never have been silent when Michael Cohen’s office was raided by the FBI and his clients’ files seized; it would have yelled foul when students accused of sexual misconduct were tried by kangaroo courts; and it surely would have argued against a presumption of guilt regarding sexual allegations directed against a judicial nominee.
  • When the ACLU’s national political director and former Democratic Party operative Faiz Shakir was asked why the ACLU got involved in the Kavanaugh confirmation fight, he freely admitted, “People have funded us and I think they expect a return.”
President Trump greeting Brett Kavanaugh and his family. Why did the American Civil Liberties Union oppose a Republican nominee to the Supreme Court and argue for a presumption of guilt regarding sexual allegations directed against him? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Now that Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed, it is appropriate to look at the damage caused by the highly partisan confirmation process. Among the casualties has been an organization I have long admired.

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Best Government Money Can Buy, by Philip Giraldi

Sheldon Adelson exercises a sordid influence on the Republican party. From Philip Giraldi at strategic-culture.org:

Very few Americans know who Sheldon Adelson is and fewer still appreciate that, as America’s leading political donor, when he speaks the Republican Party listens. By virtue of his largesse, he has been able to direct GOP policy in the Middle East in favor of Israel, which might well be regarded as his true home while the United States exists more as a faithful friend that can be produced at intervals whenever Israel finds itself in need of a bit of cash or political cover.

Adelson’s recent successes in translating his political donations into policy favorable to Israel have included shifting the US Embassy to Jerusalem, cutting aid to Palestinians, ending the Iranian nuclear monitoring agreement and closing the Palestine Liberation Organization’s diplomatic office in Washington. All those Trump Administration measures were reportedly worked out privately by Adelson speaking directly with the president.

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Naked Emperors Don’t Get Much Respect, by Robert Gore

What happens when most of your military infrastructure is suddenly obsolete?

The emperor was the last to realize he was naked. This is not unusual, emperors are the last to find out anything. Who has the fortitude to tell them the truth, especially an upsetting truth? And so it is with the US’s empire, the existence of which most of its citizens, media organs, and officials are unaware or won’t acknowledge. The truth is, the American empire, acknowledged or not, is over. It will be years before that’s accepted by the governing class. They’ll never officially inform their subjects, who are stuck with the tab for its immensely wasteful spending.

Empires are built on military strength. The American empire was no exception. Many Americans still think the US military enjoys the dominance it had back in 1946, a notion Vladimir Putin buried March 1. On that date he announced new weaponry which will render our naval surface fleet, ground forces, worldwide bases, and antiballistic systems obsolete (see here, here, and here). The US military leadership has grudgingly acknowledged many of Putin’s claims.

The unmistakable conclusion: most US military spending is the welfare state with epaulets. It pays for weapons, bases, and personnel whose uselessness would be revealed within half an hour after a non-nuclear war with Russia began. We have no conventional defenses against Russia’s new weaponry.

It’s cold comfort that US land installation, submarine, and airborne nuclear deterrents are still relevant. If Russia or anyone else launched a conventional or nuclear attack against us, we can annihilate the aggressor. The destruction we bore would be matched in kind, but the planet might be rendered uninhabitable.

Fortunately, it can be said with 99 percent certainty that Russia has no desire to launch a war, nuclear or conventional, against the US. That nation wants what many nations and US citizens want: for the US government to leave it alone. Although spending only 10 percent of what the US does on its military and intelligence, Russia now has the muscle to back it up. The Chinese are right behind.

The story doesn’t say what happened to the emperor and his courtiers after the lad revealed his nudity, but we can assume the emperor’s smarter toadies started heading for the exits. Why stay on a vessel that can’t navigate the shoals of reality?

Welfare states—giving money to people who haven’t earned it—so inevitably lead to corruption that they might as well be synonyms. For years the US has bought compliance with its dictates within its confederated empire, picking up the lion’s share of the defense tab. Nations hosting US military bases welcome the jobs and spending just like congressional districts back home.

Even before Putin’s March 1 announcement, asking how non-nuclear bases, domestic and abroad, actually made anyone in the US safer occasioned awkward silence. Russia’s military spending and economy are dwarfed by the US’s and its EU protectorate’s; a Russian invasion of Europe, even with its new weapons, would be suicidal. The chances of Russia or any other nation invading the US are even more remote. Russia has been invaded far more often than it has invaded, and other than securing its own neighborhood, exhibits no desire to launch offensive warfare. Putin stressed the new weapons’ role defensive role.

After the announcement, US bases will be targets, the personnel they house hostages. That includes the mobile bases known as the US surface fleet, from aircraft carriers on down. They have no defense against the Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile, aircraft-launched with a range of 2000 kilometers, capable of reaching Mach 10.

Defending on sea or land against the Russians’ new nuclear powered cruise missiles—which have essentially unlimited range—is possible but problematic, especially if they’re launched in a swarm. Location has become irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if the US outpost is in Germany, Texas, or floating in the middle of the Pacific, they’re all vulnerable.

Poland’s recent proposal for the US to establish a military base there, at Poland’s expense, possibly to be named Fort Trump, is a strong contender for the year’s, perhaps the decade’s, most insane idea. Fort Courage, from the zany F Troop TV show, would be a more appropriate name. It’s one thing to hop on the US military spending gravy train, that’s just venal and corrupt. To install a useless military base and pay for it as well is incalculably stupid. The goal of politics is to get someone else to pay for your stupid ideas, but perhaps they do politics differently in Poland.

If you’re running one of the US’s protectorates, why should you accept the empire’s dictates when it can no longer defend your country? The question has added piquancy in Europe. Setting aside Russia’s new weapons, how would a country that’s botched military engagements in second string nations like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria defend Europe short of nuclear war? If the answer is that it can’t, where does US leverage come from? The US demands more useless defense spending and presses Europe to curtail or cease profitable trade relations with Russia and Iran, both of which pose a minimal threat to Europe’s safety. Why should Europe comply?

President Trump has questioned the US subsidization of Europe’s defense. How much effort would the US make to defend Macedonia or Latvia? If the answer is not much, or if it can’t actually protect those or any other European country, then subsidies are the only “glue” for the American Empire, European division. It’s unclear if Trump realizes he can’t have his cake and eat it too. He may be happy to see Europe come unglued. Bankruptcy looms; the US has to start cutting spending somewhere.

It should come as no surprise that some countries aren’t toeing the US line, faithfully parroted by the EU. Turkey, straddling Europe and Asia, is edging toward Russia and China, and the goodies promised by their Belt and Road Initiative.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban and Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, head of the League party that shares power there, are seeking better relations with Russia, notwithstanding the US and Europe’s long running demonization of Vladimir Putin. Those two are also challenging received wisdom on the desirability of open borders and unlimited immigration. They and other nationalist leaders are finding an increasingly receptive audience among Europe’s voters.

The two Koreas are also writing their own script, one that diverges from the one the US has written for them since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Among those who favor the status quo, the line is that impoverished albeit nuclear-armed North Korea poses an offensive threat to South Korea, Japan, and the US. Kim Jong Un is singing a beguiling song of denuclearization, rapprochement, trade, and peace, but he’s not to be trusted. Only if he agrees beforehand to the complete subjugation of his country can negotiations proceed.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has other ideas. The people of both Koreas want reconciliation and an end to the war (there’s an armistice but no official peace). Moon appears willing to entertain the possibility that Kim would rather bring his country into the 21st century than launch nuclear strikes. The impetus for negotiations has come from these two leaders and Trump has jumped on the bandwagon, much to the consternation of a motley collection of swamp denizens who profit from current arrangements. Peace may come in spite of their efforts to prevent it.

As the US government continues to spend money for weapons, bases, and personnel our putative enemy can obliterate, defend countries that are under no threat, and intervene in conflicts that promise only interminable stalemate and lost blood and treasure, the question presents itself: are those running the empire and its satrapies stupid, rapaciously corrupt, evil, or all of the above? We’ll take the obvious: all of the above.

Those who have placed their safety in the hands of the US’s would-be emperors can no longer afford to ignore the emperors’ nudity…and insanity. The empire is fraying at the edges and it won’t be long before fraying becomes unraveling. Nobody respects a naked emperor, certainly not one who doesn’t even realize he’s naked.

You Should Be Laughing At Them!

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