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It’s not too difficult to understand that we are well on our way to a paradigm shift in America; in fact we’re in the midst of it right now. The writing is on the wall and can no longer be ignored.
The US government has run up trillions of dollars in debt, and given the recent debates over the country’s debt ceiling, we can rest assured that neither Congress or the President will act to curtail spending and balance the budget. We will continue adding trillions of dollars to the national debt clock until such time that our creditors no longer lend us money.
From the monetary side, the Federal Reserve’s response to this unprecedented crisis has been to simply “print” more money as is necessary. On top of the trillions in dollars already printed thus far, the Fed continues quantitative easing to the tune of about $80 billion per month. It’s the only arrow left in the Fed’s quiver, because failing to inject these billions into stock markets and banks will lead to an almost instant collapse of the U.S. financial system. Unfortunately, the current strategy is chock full of its own pitfalls, the least of which being the real possibility of a hyperinflationary environment developing over coming months and years.
On Main Street, average Americans have seen their wealth decimated. They’ve lost millions of jobs and homes over the course of the last five years. And if recent reports are any indication, the destruction of the middle class will continue unabated for years to come. The resulting effect is a vicious negative feedback loop that continues to build upon itself. Americans no longer have money (or credit) to spend to prop up the economy, thus more jobs will be lost, leading to more people requiring government assistance for everything from food to shelter.
We are, on every level, facing a collapse of unprecedented scale.
As noted by International Man Jeff Thomas of Casey Research, it’s not that difficult of an exercise to predict what’s coming next:
The number of people whose eyes have been opened seems to be growing, and many of them are asking what the collapse will look like as it unfolds. What will the symptoms be?
Well, the primary events are fairly predictable: they would include major collapses in the bond and stock markets and possible sudden deflation (primarily of assets), followed by dramatic inflation, if not hyperinflation (primarily of commodities), followed by a crash of several major currencies, particularly the euro and the US dollar.
We know a collapse is coming… If you’re paying attention you probably have the distinct feeling that we are in the middle of it right now. And guess what? The government and military know it’s coming too, as evidenced by large-scale simulations of exactly such an event and its fallout.
But the collapse of our financial system, or hyperinflation of our currency, or a meltdown in US Treasuries is only the beginning. We know some or all of these events are all but a foregone conclusion.
What we don’t know is the timing of the trigger event that causes the global panic to ensue and what will happen after these primary events take hold.
According to Jeff Thomas, while we can’t know for sure, the following “secondary events” are the most likely outcomes when the system as we have come to know it destabilizes.
The secondary events will be less certain, but likely: increased unemployment, currency controls, protective tariffs, severe depression, etc.
But, along the way, there will be numerous surprises—actions taken by governments that may be as unprecedented as they would be unlawful. Why? Because, again, such actions are the norm when a government finds itself losing its grip over the people it perceives as its minions. Here are a few:
- Travel Restrictions. This will begin with restrictions on foreign travel, including suspension/removal of passports. (This has begun in a small way in both the EU and US.) Later, travel restrictions will be extended within the boundaries of countries (highway checkpoints, etc.)
- Confiscation of wealth. The EU has instituted the confiscation of bank accounts, which can be expected to become an international form of governmental theft. This does not automatically mean that other assets, such as precious metals and real estate will also be confiscated, but it does mean that the barrier for confiscation has been eliminated. There is therefore no reason to assume that any asset is safe from any government that approves theft through bail-ins.
- Food Shortages. The food industry operates on very small profit margins and survives only as a result of quick payment of invoices. With dramatic inflation, marginal businesses (suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers) will fall by the wayside. The percentage of failing businesses will be dependent upon the duration and severity of the inflationary trend.
- Squatters Rebellions. A dramatic increase in the number of home and business foreclosures will result in homelessness for anyone whose debt exceeds his ability to pay—even those who presently appear to be well-off. As numbers rise significantly, a new homeless class will be created amongst the former middle class. As they become more numerous, large scale ownership of property may give way to large scale “possession” of property.
- Riots. These will likely happen spontaneously due to the above conditions, but if not, governments will create them to justify their desire for greater control of the masses.
- Martial Law. The US has already prepared for this, with the passing of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which many interpret as declaring the US to be a “battlefield.” The NDAA allows the suspension of habeas corpus, indefinite detention, and the assumption that any resident may be considered an enemy combatant. Similar legislation may be expected in other countries that perceive martial law as a solution to civil unrest.
The above list is purposely brief—a sampling of eventualities that, should they occur, will almost definitely come unannounced. As the decline unfolds, they will surely happen with greater frequency.
We could go point by point on this list and provide a plethora of evidence to validate Jeff’s claims, but that would take pages upon pages of references.
The fact is that the US government, for the last decade, has been moving increasingly closer to what can only be described as a police state. With watch lists, militarized police departments, legislative actions, and executive orders the government has already set the stage for these secondary events.
When the system itself is no longer able to support the tens of millions of Americans receiving monthly government assistance, one hiccup could set the whole thing ablaze.
While it can’t be avoided on a national scale, there are advance preparations that individuals and their families can make to, at the very least, insulate themselves from the secondary event triggers. This includes storing essential physical goods and keeping them in your possession. Things like long-term food supplies, barterable goods, monetary goods, self defense armaments and having a well thought outpreparedness plan will, if nothing else, provide you with the means necessary to stay out of the way it all hits the fan.
Perhaps the most amusing and curious aspect of this entertaining summary of the Mississippi Bubble of 1720, the resulting European debt crisis (the first of many), how bubble frenzies are as old as paper money, the man behind both – convicted murderer and millionaire gambler, John Law, what happens when paper money’s linkage to gold is broken, and how everyone loses their wealth and hyperinflation breaks out, is who the source is. The New York Fed. Perhaps the Fed-employed authors fail to grasp just what their institution does, or have a truly demonic sense of humor. In either case, the following “crisis chronicle” highlighting how banking worked then, how it works now, and how it will always “work”, is a must read by all.
Crisis Chronicles: The Mississippi Bubble of 1720 and the European Debt Crisis
Convicted murderer and millionaire gambler John Law spotted an opportunity to leverage paper money and credit to finance trade. He first proposed the concept in Scotland in 1705, where it was rejected. But by 1716, Law had found a new audience for his ideas in France, where he proposed to the Duke of Orleans his plan to establish a state bank, at his own expense, that would issue paper money redeemable at face value in gold and silver. At the time, Law’s Banque Generale was one of only six such banks to have issued paper money, joining Sweden, England, Holland, Venice, and Genoa. Things didn’t turn out exactly as Law had hoped, and in this edition of Crisis Chronicleswe meet the South Sea’s lesser-known cousin, the Mississippi Bubble.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
John Law was an interesting figure with a colorful past. He was convicted of murder in London but, with the help of friends, escaped to the continent, where he became a millionaire through his skill at gambling. Like South Sea Company Director John Blunt in England, Law believed that a trading company could be leveraged to exchange the monopoly rights of trade for the ability to make low-interest-rate loans to the government. And like Blunt, in 1719 Law formed a trading company—the Mississippi Company—to exploit trade in the Louisiana territory. But unlike Blunt or the South Sea Company, the Mississippi Company made an earnest effort to grow trade with the Louisiana territory.
In 1719, the French government allowed Law to issue 50,000 new shares in the Mississippi Company at 500 livres with just 75 livres down and the rest due in nineteen additional monthly payments of 25 livres each. The share price rose to 1,000 livres before the second installment was even due, and ordinary citizens flocked to Paris to participate. Based on this success, Law offered to pay off the national debt of 1.5 billion livres by issuing an additional 300,000 shares at 500 livres paid in ten monthly installments.
Law also purchased the right to collect taxes for 52 million livres and sought to replace various taxes with a single tax. The tax scheme was a boon to efficiency, and the price of some products fell by a third. The stock price increases and the tax efficiency gains spurred foreigners to Paris to buy stock in the Mississippi Company.
By mid-1719, the Mississippi Company had issued more than 600,000 shares and the par value of the company stood at 300 million livres. That summer, the share price skyrocketed from 1,000 to 5,000 livres and it continued to rise through year-end, ultimately reaching dizzying heights of 15,000 livres per share. The word millionaire was first used, and in January 1720 Law was appointed Controller General.
The Trickle Becomes a Flood
Reminiscent of a handful of florists failing to reinvest in tulip bulbs as we described in a previous post on Tulip Mania, in early 1720 some depositors at Banque Generale began to exchange Mississippi Company shares for gold coin. In response, Law passed edicts in early 1720 to limit the use of coin. Around the same time, to help support the Mississippi Company share price, Law agreed to buy back Mississippi Company stock with banknotes at a premium to market price and, to his surprise, more shareholders than anticipated queued up to do so—a surprise we’ll see repeated at the apex of the Panic of 1907. To support the stock redemptions, Law needed to print more money and broke the link to gold, which quickly led to hyperinflation, as we saw in our post on the Kipper und Wipperzeit.
The spillover to the economy was immediate and most notable in food prices. By May 21, Law was forced to deflate the value of banknotes and cut the stock price. As the public rushed to convert banknotes to coin, Law was forced to close Banque Generale for ten days, then limit the transaction size once the bank reopened. But the queues grew longer, the Mississippi Company stock price continued to fall, and food prices soared by as much as 60 percent.
To make matters worse, there was an outbreak of the plague in September 1720, which further restricted economic activity—in particular, trade with the rest of Europe. By the end of 1720, Law was dismissed as Controller General and he ultimately fled France.
Balancing Dispersed Debt Issuance against Central Monetary Policy
One might argue that Law suffered a self-inflicted loss of control over monetary policy once the link between paper money issuance and the underlying value of gold holdings was broken—a lesson that monetary authorities have learned over time. (ZH: they have? where?) But what if you don’t have direct sovereign authority over banknote issuance or, in more modern times, monetary policy? A challenge that’s perhaps most visible in the Eurozone is how best to balance dispersed, country-specific debt issuance against more centralized authority over monetary policy. In an upcoming post on the Continental Currency Crisis, we’ll see why a united fiscal policy was needed along with the united currency and monetary policies. Could the same be true of Europe? And if so, would a united fiscal policy include Eurozone debt as well as centralized fiscal transfers, or perhaps even collection of taxes? Tell us what you think.
Having just missed out of +500% returns in the Caracas stock market last year, the reality of a hyperinflating world continue to cause chaos in the real world of Venezuela. As Bloomberg reports, the bolivar’s 73% decline against the dollar on the black market in 2013 is fueling contraband and worsening shortages of food and consumer goods in a country with the world’s biggest oil reserves, adding pressure on President Nicolas Maduro’s government to devalue. Smuggling to Colombia has exploded as “professional shoppers” traffic in wheat flour, corn flour and milk leaving more than one in five basic goods out of stock at any given time. Regulated foods are just too cheap to stay on the shelves, “you can’t get anything in the shops here… it is taken to Colombia like a locust plague.”
Venezuelan taxi driver Jose Sotomayor drives four hours through army checkpoints every week from the city of Maracaibo to buy rice in Colombia for his family at 10 times the government-set price back home.
“You can’t get anything in the shops here, I don’t even bother going to them for basics anymore,” Sotomayor, 39, said in a phone interview. “All of our food is taken to Colombia, it’s like a locust plague.”
Sotomayor hasn’t seen rice for sale in the shops of Venezuela’s second-largest city since July, as smugglers snap up the staple for a maximum of 7.2 bolivars ($1.14) per kilogram, just $0.11 at the black market exchange rate.
How hyperinflation works…
The bolivar’s 73 percent decline against the dollar on the black market in 2013 is fueling contraband and worsening shortages of food and consumer goods in a country with the world’s biggest oil reserves, adding pressure on President Nicolas Maduro’s government to devalue…
A weaker bolivar reduces Venezuelans’ purchasing power by making imported goods more expensive.
Under a decade-long system of currency controls, the government provides about 95 percent of dollars in the economy to selected companies and individuals at 6.3 bolivars per dollar. The exchange rate on the illegal black market is about 64 per dollar, giving foreigners and Venezuelans with access to dollars about 10 times more bolivars for their currency.
Which means hordes of prefessional shoppers from neighboring (non-hyperinflating) countries are taking advantage…
Price controls introduced by Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez in 2003 to boost nutrition among the poor have fueled demand for staples such as flour, rice and milk as shoppers snap up products whose prices don’t change amid 56 percent annual inflation, the highest in the world.
Dozens of people take shifts to line up outside supermarkets in Maracaibo, a city of 2.1 million people located 800 kilometers (500 miles) west of the capital, waiting for the next delivery of regulated goods. The new stock is bought up as soon as it hits the shelves, leaving shops barren of products such as meat, grains and toilet paper.
The goods are then loaded onto trucks and taken to Colombia. Many of these professional shoppers are native Guajira Indians dressed in bright floral-print dresses who have double nationality and are exempt from border controls.
More than 300 trucks with everything from rice to car tires made the 130-kilometer drive from Maracaibo to the border through eight army and police checkpoints when a Bloomberg reporter did the journey on Nov. 10. Drivers of cars carrying food pay those staffing the checkpoints anywhere from 20 to 300 bolivars for quick passage, according to Sotomayor.
“Regulated goods are just too cheap to stay on the shelves.”
Nationally, the central bank’s scarcity index was 22.4 percent in October. That reading, the highest since January 2008 and up from 16.1 percent a year earlier, means that more than one in five basic goods were out of stock at any given time.
“It’s an endless caravan,” said Sotomayor. “The price difference is so great, no amount of soldiers can stop it.”
Still, things must be going great because the Caracas Stock Index was up 480% last year – think of the confidence-inspiration and wealth effect!!
If being wealthy was the same as pretending to be wealthy then people who care about reality would have a little less to complain about. But pretending is a poor way for a society to negotiate its way through history. It makes for accumulating distortions which eventually undermine the society’s ability to function, especially when the pretending is about money, which is society’s operating system.
The distortion that even simple people care about is that the gap between the rich and the poor is as plain, vast, and grotesque as at any time in our history — except perhaps during slavery times in Dixieland, when many of the poor did not even own their existence. We’ve had plenty of reminders of that in pop culture the last couple of years, including Quentin Tarantino’s fiercely stupid movie Django Unchained and the more recent melodrama 12 Years a Slave. But you have to wonder what young adults weighed down by unpayable college debt think when they go to see them, because without a rebellion that millennial generation will not own their own lives either. They must know it, but they must not know what to do about it.
The pretense and distortions start at the top of American life with a President who broadcasts the message that some kind of “recovery” has occurred in the economic affairs of the country. Either he just wants the public feel better, or he is misled by the people and agencies in his own government, or perhaps he just lies to keep the lid on. To truly recover from the dislocations of 2008, we would have to make a consensual decision to start behaving differently in the process of adapting to the new circumstances that the arc of history is presenting to us. We’d have to decide to leave behind the economy of financialization, suburban sprawl, car dependency, Wal-Mart consumerism, and prepare for a different way of inhabiting North America.
The dislocations of 2008 when the banking system nearly imploded were Nature’s way of telling us that dishonesty has consequences. The immediate dishonesty of that day was the racket in securitizing worthless mortgages — promises to pay large sums of money over long periods of time. The promises were false and the collateral was janky. It got so bad and ran so far and deep that it essentially destroyed the mechanism of credit creation as it had been known until then, and it has not been repaired.
Since then, we have pretended to repair the operations of credit by falsely substituting bank bailouts and Federal Reserve “quantitative easing” (QE) or digital money-printing for plain dealing in borrowed money between honest brokers at the local level. The unfortunate consequence is that in the process we have distorted — and possibly destroyed — the value of our money and the various things denominated in it, especially securities, bonds, stocks and other money-like paper.
The crash of the mortgage racket occurred not just because of swindling and fraud among bankers; in fact, that was only a nasty symptom of something larger: peak oil. I know that many people have come to disbelieve in the idea of peak oil, but that is only another mode of playing pretend. Peak oil, which essentially arrived in 2006, undermined the basic conditions of credit creation in an advanced techno-industrial society dependent on increasing supplies of fossil fuels. Most people, including practically all credentialed economists, fail to understand this. There is a fundamental relationship between ever-increasing energy supplies > economic growth > and credit-based money (or “money,” if you will). When the energy inputs flatten out or decrease, growth stops, wealth is no longer generated, old loans can’t be repaid, and new loans can’t be generated honestly, i.e. with the expectation of repayment. That has been our predicament since 2008 and nothing has changed. We are pretending to compensate by issuing new unpayable debt to pay the interest on our old accumulated debt. This pretense can only go on so long before our economic relations reflect the basic dishonesty of it. Reality is a harsh mistress.
In the meantime, we amuse ourselves with fairy tales about “the shale oil revolution” and “the manufacturing renaissance.” 2014 could be the year that the forces of Nature compel our attention and give us a reason to stop all this pretending. I’ll address this question in next week’s annual yearly forecast.
On September 5, 2008, Citi’s Matt King wrote a report titled “Are the brokers broken?” which in its rhetorical question (the answer was and still is yes), implicitly explained why ten days later the world would experience the largest bankruptcy in the history of western civilization, crushing confidence in the financial system to this day, and forcing the Fed for five consecutive years to be the marginal source of credit money in a “not without training wheels” world in which the longer the central bank is the only backstop of anything and everything, and where failure and risk are prohibited through artificial means, the less faith there is in any and every financial counterparty. So when Matt King sat down to pen his latest warning in which he showed how the world is now “positioning for the wrong sort of recovery”, we naturally listened. Below are the key charts which not only show the lifecycle of the source of every modern Keynesian empire’s boom and best, namely debt, but why 5 years later, “the slate has still not been wiped clean.”…
- Charts from Lacy Hunt’s Presentation at Casey Research October Summit (safehaven.com)
- A debt ceiling solution is coming, here’s when (forexlive.com)
- Peter Schiff On The Debt Ceiling Delusions | Zero Hedge (olduvaiblog.wordpress.com)
- The Credit Bubble Is Not Only Back, It Is 94% Bigger Than In 2007 (zerohedge.com)
- Venezuela: here comes hyperinflation (blogs.ft.com)
- Venezuela Goes for Ban on GM Seeds (davidicke.com)
- UPDATE 2-Venezuela inflation soars to record monthly high 6.1 pct (xe.com)
- U.S. and Venezuela agree to start dialogue to restore respective ambassadors (en.mercopress.com)
- Venezuela And Colombia See Tensions Rise (eurasiareview.com)
- The Move To Global Hyperinflation Is Now Accelerating (financialsurvivalnetwork.com)
- In-game hyperinflation (boingboing.net)
- Retirement Account Cap Will Limit Ability to Hedge Hyperinflation (wallstreetpit.com)
- Will the US dollar hyperinflate? (sgtreport.com)
- Controlling the Beginning Stages of Hyperinflation by Manipulating the Precious Metals (maxkeiser.com)