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Financialization and The Destruction of the Real Economy

Financialization and The Destruction of the Real Economy

Strip an economy of capital, productive incentives, talent and yes, ethics, and what are we left with? An economy spiraling toward an inevitable collapse.

Financialization is destroying the real economy, but few in power seem to notice or care. The reason why is painfully obvious: those in power are reaping vast fortunes from the engines of financialization–for example, former President Obama:Obama Goes From White House to Wall Street in Less Than One Year.

This is not to single out President Obama as a special case; politicos across the spectrum depend on the engines of financialization to fund their campaigns and make them multi-millionaires, and corporate managers and financiers have skimmed billions of dollars in gains not from producing new, better and more affordable goods and services but by playing financialization games such as borrowing billions to buy back stocks, leveraged buyouts, and so on–all of which have reaped the insiders gargantuan fortunes while hollowing out the real economy.

Financialization necessarily hollows out the real economy, as Gordon Long and I detail in this new video program: The Results of Financialization – Part I (34 minutes)

The key dynamic is that financialization creates irresistible incentives to ramp up debt and leverage at the expense of the real economy. Those who fail to exploit financialization will underperform the market and be fired.

As Gordon explains, if a CEO refuses to load a company up with debt, a private-equity financier with access to cheap Federal Reserve credit will scoop up the company in a private buyout, fire the management, extract immense profits by loading the company with debt, then take the hollowed-out shell public again, reaping another windfall of financialized gains.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Is Real Wealth?

What Is Real Wealth?

As for acquiring capital–the most important types of capital don’t require much money.

What is real wealth? Money, right? Currency, gold, quatloos, you name it.Money is real wealth because you can use it to buy whatever you want.

I would argue money in any form is only the means to acquire real wealth, which is the agency, opportunity and time to pursue your life’s work.

The conventional view that wealth is money and leisure has it all wrong. Let’s imagine the owner of a vault of conventional treasure: jewels, gold coins, etc.

If the “wealth” stays in the vault, what’s the point of owning this “wealth”? The secret satisfaction of being “wealthy”?

If “wealth” is only an internal state, then let’s measure friendship and being needed/wanted as the metrics of “wealth.” You see the point; if “wealth” is merely an internal state of satisfaction, then a vault full of “money” is a poor metric.

What money buys that is real wealth is freedom and control of one’s life. This control over one’s life is called agency. Agency is defined as “the capacity of an actor to act in a given environment.” This may not seem like a profound concept, but another way to describe agency is that agency is the opposite of powerlessness.

People with agency define themselves and their identity; they shape the world they inhabit rather than passively await whatever circumstances deliver up.

In the real world, people with agency move on when things no longer work for them in a particular situation. Agency is not just the opposite of feeling powerless; it’s also the opposite of victimhood, i.e. the state of being in which others are held responsible for all of one’s travails and difficulties.

Agency and responsibility are two sides of the same coin: each manifests the other.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dear Jamie Dimon: Predict the Crash that Takes Down Your Produces-Nothing, Parasitic Bank and We’ll Listen to your Bitcoin “Prediction”

Dear Jamie Dimon: Predict the Crash that Takes Down Your Produces-Nothing, Parasitic Bank and We’ll Listen to your Bitcoin “Prediction”

This is the begging-for-the-overthrow-of-a-corrupt-status-quo economy we have thanks to the Federal Reserve giving the J.P. Morgans and Jamie Dimons of the world the means to skim and scam the bottom 95%.

Dear Jamie Dimon: quick quiz: which words/phrases are associated with you and your employer, J.P. Morgan? Looting, pillage, rapacious, exploitive, only saved from collapse by massive intervention by the Federal Reserve, the source of rising wealth inequality, crony capitalism, privatized profits-socialized losses, low interest rates = gift from savers to banks, bloviating overpaid C.E.O., propaganda favoring the financial elite, tool of the top .01%, destroyer of democracy, financial fraud goes unpunished, free money for financiers, debt-serfdom, produces nothing of value to society or the bottom 99.5%.

Jamie, if you answered “all of them,” you’re correct. The only reason you have a soapbox from which you can bloviate is the central bank (Federal Reserve) saved you and your neofeudal looting machine (bank) from well-deserved oblivion in 2008-09, and the unprecedented, co-ordinated campaign by global central banks to buy trillions of dollars of bonds and stocks.

Central Banks Have Purchased $2 Trillion In Assets In 2017

This 8-year long central bank intervention has:

1) transferred billions in what were once interest payments earned by savers and pension funds to banks such as J.P. Morgan

2) boosted your sales by flooding the financial system with low-cost credit

3) lifted your stock far above its value in an unmanipulated market and thus

4) awarded you immense stock-option and bonus-based wealth for doing nothing but letting the central banks enrich J.P. Morgan and its peers.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Housing Bubble Symmetry: Look Out Below

Housing Bubble Symmetry: Look Out Below

Housing markets are one itsy-bitsy recession away from a collapse in domestic and foreign demand by marginal buyers.

There are two attractive delusions that are ever-present in financial markets: One is this time it’s different, because of unique conditions that have never ever manifested before in the history of the world, and the second is there are no cycles, they are illusions created by cherry-picked data; furthermore, markets are now completely controlled by central banks so cycles have vanished.

While it’s easy to see why these delusions are attractive, let’s take a look at a widely used measure of the U.S. housing market, the Case-Shiller Index:

If we look at this chart with fresh eyes, a few things pop out:

1. The U.S. housing market had a this time it’s different experience in the 2000s, as an unprecedented housing bubble inflated, pushing housing far above the trendline of the Case-Shiller National Home Price Index.

2. It turned out this time wasn’t different as this extreme of over-valuation collapsed.

3. For a variety of reasons (massive central bank and state intervention, the socialization of the mortgage market via federally guaranteed mortgages, historically low mortgage rates, massive purchases of mortgage backed securities by the Federal Reserve, etc.), the collapse in prices did not return to the trendline.

4. There is a remarkable time symmetry in each phase of expansion and collapse; each phase took roughly the same period of time to travel from trough to peak and peak to trough.

5. The Index has now exceeded the previous bubble peak, suggesting this time it’s different once again dominates the zeitgeist.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

On Repairing/Rebuilding 100,000+ Damaged Houses

On Repairing/Rebuilding 100,000+ Damaged Houses

Almost lost in all the dollar estimates of property damage is the human loss, suffering and stress.

I am not an expert in repairing flood damage, or in dealing with insurance companies, FEMA or all the other pieces that will go into homeowners getting the funding needed to repair or rebuild their homes.

But I do know a bit about construction after 44 years in the field, and I have been soberly reflecting on the many hurdles that face everyone involved in restoring / repairing tens of thousands of homes, more or less all at the same time.

Preliminary estimates set the number of flood-damaged homes in Houston at around 100,000. More recent estimates put the number at around 40,000.

No one yet knows how many homes in Florida have been damaged by Hurricane Irma, but the number will undoubtedly be a big one.

Here are some semi-random thoughts on the challenges of repairing/rebuilding so many dwellings in as short a period of time as possible:

1. The average cost of homes in Houston is reportedly around $300,000. Many coastal areas in Florida are similarly valued. Just as a guess, many of the affected homeowners probably have mortgages in the $200,000 range.

It’s been reported that only 1 in 6 in the affected areas of Houston have flood insurance, suggesting 85% of those whose homes were rendered unlivable will need to borrow money to fund the repairs.

It seems federal agencies offer homeowners loans for this purpose, or access to what is effectively a second mortgage.

If the repaired home will be worth $300,000–questionable, perhaps, for those houses which have been repeatedly flooded by lesser storms–then how much money will homeowners be willing to borrow to keep the home?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Real Reason Wages Have Stagnated: Our Economy is Optimized for Financialization

The Real Reason Wages Have Stagnated: Our Economy is Optimized for Financialization

Labor’s share of the national income is in freefall as a direct result of the optimization of financialization.

The Achilles Heel of our socio-economic system is the secular stagnation of earned income, i.e. wages and salaries. Stagnating wages undermine every aspect of our economy: consumption, credit, taxation and perhaps most importantly, the unspoken social contract that the benefits of productivity and increasing wealth will be distributed widely, if not fairly.

This chart shows that labor’s declining share of the national income is not a recent problem, but a 45-year trend: despite occasional counter-trend blips, labor (that is, earnings from labor/ employment) has seen its share of the economy plummet regardless of the political or economic environment.

Given the gravity of the consequences of this trend, mainstream economists have been struggling to explain it, as a means of eventually reversing it. The explanations include automation, globalization/ offshoring, the high cost of housing, a decline of corporate competition (i.e. the dominance of cartels and quasi-monopolies), a failure of our educational complex to keep pace, stagnating gains in productivity, and so on.

Each of these dynamics may well exacerbate the trend, but they all dodge the dominant driver of wage stagnation and rise income-wealth inequality: our economy is optimized for financialization, not labor/earned income.

What does our economy is optimized for financialization mean? It means that capital and profits flow to the scarcities created by asymmetric access to information, leverage and cheap credit–the engines of financialization.

Optimization is a complex overlay of dynamically linked systems: the central bank optimizes the flow of cheap credit to the banking/financial sector, the central state tacitly approves the consolidation of cartels and quasi-monopolies, and gives monstrous tax breaks to corporations even as it jacks up taxes and fees on wage earners and small business.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Insanity of Pushing Inflation Higher When Wages Can’t Rise

The Insanity of Pushing Inflation Higher When Wages Can’t Rise

In an economy in which wages for 95% of households are stagnant for structural reasons, pushing inflation higher is destabilizing.
The official policy goal of the Federal Reserve and other central banks is to generate 3% inflation annually. Put another way: the central banks want to lower the purchasing power of their currencies by 33% every decade.
In other words, those with fixed incomes that don’t keep pace with inflation will have lost a third of their income after a decade of central bank-engineered inflation.
There is a core structural problem with engineering 3% annual inflation. Those whose income doesn’t keep pace are gradually impoverished, while those who can notch gains above 3% gradually garner the lion’s share of the national income and wealth.
As I showed in Why We’re Doomed: Stagnant Wages, wages for the bottom 95% have not kept pace with official inflation (never mind real-world inflation rates for those exposed to real price increases in big-ticket items such as college tuition and healthcare insurance).
Most households are losing ground as their inflation-adjusted (i.e. real) incomes stagnate or decline.
As I’ve discussed in numerous posts, the stagnation of wages is structural, the result of multiple mutually reinforcing dynamics. These include (but are not limited to) globalized wage arbitrage (everyone in tradable sectors is competing with workers around the world); an abundance/ oversupply of labor globally; the digital industrial revolution’s tendency to concentrate rewards in the top tier of workers; the soaring costs of labor overhead (healthcare insurance, etc.) that diverts cash that could have gone to wage increases to cartels, and the dominance of credit-capital over labor.
In an economy in which wages for 95% of households are stagnant for structural reasons, pushing inflation higher is destabilizing. The only possible output of pushing inflation higher while wages for the vast majority are stagnating is increasing wealth-income inequality–precisely what’s happened over the past decade of Federal Reserve policy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Trouble with Asset Bubbles: If You Stop Pumping, They Pop

The Trouble with Asset Bubbles: If You Stop Pumping, They Pop

The idea that authorities can massage their pumping to keep asset bubbles inflated at a permanently high plateau is currently being tested.

The trouble with inflating asset bubbles is that you have to keep inflating them or they pop. Unfortunately for the bubble-blowing central banks, asset bubbles are a double-bind: you cannot inflate assets forever. At some unpredictable point, the risk and moral hazard that are part and parcel of all asset bubbles trigger an avalanche of selling that pops the bubble.

This is another facet of The Fed’s Double-Bind: if you stop pumping asset bubbles, they pop as participants realize the music has stopped, and if you keep pumping them, they expand to super-nova criticality and implode.

There are several dynamics at play in this double-bind.

1. The process of inflating a bubble (for example, the current bubbles in stocks and real estate) requires pushing investors and speculators alike into risky asset classes. This puts the market at increasing risk as everyone is pushed to one side of the boat.

2. Those on the other side of the boat (i.e. shorts) are slowly but surely eradicated as the pumping keeps inflating the bubble. When the bubble finally bursts, there are no shorts left to cover, i.e. buy stocks at lower prices to reap their profits.

3. As the bubble continues to expand, the money available to enter the market and keep prices rising declines. The very success of the pumping process strips the markets of new sources of new money, leading to a point where normal selling exceeds new-money buying and the bubble collapses.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why We’re Doomed: Stagnant Wages

Why We’re Doomed: Stagnant Wages

The point is the present system cannot endure.
Despite all the happy talk about “recovery” and higher growth, wages have gone nowhere since 2000–and for the bottom 20% of workers, they’ve gone nowhere since the 1970s.
Gross domestic product (GDP) has risen smartly since 2000, but the share of GDP going to wages and salaries has plummeted: this is simply an extension of a 47-year downtrend.
Last month I posted one reason Why We’re Doomed: Our Economy’s Toxic Inequality (August 16, 2017). The second half of why we’re doomed is stagnant wages. Why do stagnating wages for the bottom 95% doom our status quo? As I noted yesterday in Why Wages Have Lost Ground in the 21st Centuryour system requires ever-higher household incomes to function–not just in the top 5%, but in the top 80%.
Our federal social programs–Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid–are pay-as-you-go: all the expenditures this year are paid by taxes collected this year. As I have detailed many times, the so-called “Trust Funds” are fictions; when Social Security runs a deficit, the difference between receipts and expenses are filled by selling Treasury bonds in the open market–the exact same mechanism ther government uses to fund any other deficit.
The demographics of the nation have changed in the past two generations. The Baby Boom is retiring en masse, expanding the number of beneficiaries of these programs, while the number of full-time workers to retirees is down from 10-to-1 in the good old days to 2-to-1: there are 60 million beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare and about 120 million full-time workers in the U.S.
Meanwhile, medical expenses per person are soaring. Profiteering by healthcare cartels, new and ever-more costly treatments, the rise of chronic lifestyle illnesses–there are many drivers of this trend. There is absolutely no evidence to support the fantasy that this trend will magically reverse.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Wages Have Lost Ground in the 21st Century

Why Wages Have Lost Ground in the 21st Century

The problem with stagnant wages is our socio-economic system requires ever-higher incomes to function.
One of the enduring mysteries for conventional economists is why wages aren’t rising for the bottom 95% even as unemployment is low and hiring remains robust. According to classical economics, the limited supply of available workers combined with strong demand for workers should push wages higher.
Why have wages for the bottom 95% lost ground in an expanding economy?We can start our search for answers by looking at a chart of wages going back 44 years to the early 1970s. Note that the top 5% began pulling away in the 1980s, when financialization and globalization took off, and accelerated in the 1990s tech boom and the early 2000s housing bubble. The bottom 95% benefited from these booms, but at a much more modest level: wages for the bottom 95% almost returned to 0% gain as opposed to actual declines.
But after the wheels fell off the bubble in 2008/09, the “recovery” since then has seen wages for the top 5% soar and the wages for the bottom 95% crater. (This chart is for males; the next chart reflects family income.)
Here’s family income going back to the postwar boom of the late 1940s and 1950s. Note the structural change in the early 1970s and the stagnation in all income levels since 2000:
The forces that gathered steam in the 1970s, 80s and 90s that pressured wages are well-known: financialization, which benefited the top echelons at the expense of the increasingly burdened debt-serfs; globalization, which pitted American workers against an ever-expanding global work force of low-paid employees, and automation/software, which expanded from the factory floor into service sectors.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Systemic Uncertainty, Meet Fragility

Systemic Uncertainty, Meet Fragility

That’s the problem with fragility: everything looks fine on the surface until a crisis applies pressure. Then the whole rickety contraption collapses in a heap..
Life is inherently uncertain, but systems that were once considered certainties have increasingly become uncertain. Social Security is one example; recent polls reflect widespread doubts among Millennials and Gen-Xers that there will be any Social Security benefits left for them by the time they reach retirement age.
This doubt is fact-based; as the number of retirees swells, as Medicare costs soar ever higher and the number of full-time jobs paying into Social Security/ Medicare stagnates, these pay-as-you-go programs break down; Social Security is already paying out billions more than it collects from employers and employees.
Uncertainty is one thing, fragility is another. The socio-economic systems we rely on are also becoming increasingly fragile and prone to failure, for an entirely different set of reasons than those driving uncertainty.
Changing fundamentals drive uncertainty. The nation’s demographics and stagnant wages for the bottom 95% are extremely unfavorable for pay-as-you-go programs like Social Security and Medicare; their future is uncertain because the inputs and outputs are changing.
Fragility is a function of systems being thinned by cronyism, self-serving insiders, fraud, lack of transparency, lack of competition, monopolies, profiteering and a decline of quality. Systems that become too costly due to the above dynamics are hollowed out as everyone seeks some way to reduce the costs. Redundancies are stripped out, staff is slashed to the bone, senior managers with the most experience are pushed out to lower payroll costs, quality control is whacked, and inferior inputs are presented as equal to the higher quality inputs that they replace.
When these weakened systems are under pressure or face a crisis, they crumble. Shoddy materials fail, inexperienced managers make hasty, ill-informed decisions, the barebones staff is overwhelmed, equipment that wasn’t properly maintained to save money breaks down, and so on.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The 5 Steps to World Domination

The 5 Steps to World Domination

You don’t need an army to achieve World Domination; all you need is enough cheap credit to buy up everything that generates the highest value and/or income.
World Domination–it has a nice ring, doesn’t it? Here’s how to achieve it in 5 steps:
1. Turn everything into a commodity that can be traded on the global market:land, leases on land, options to purchase land, houses, buildings, rooms in slums, labor, tools, robots, water, water rights, mineral rights, rights to air routes, ships, aircraft, political power, shares in corporations, government bonds, municipal bonds, corporate bonds, student loans that have been bundled into debt-based instruments, the income from city parking meters, electricity, software, advertising, marketing, media, social media, food, energy, insurance, gold, metals, credit, interest-rate swaps and last but not least, financial instruments that control and/or pyramid all the real-world goods and assets that have been commoditized (i.e. almost everything).
Why is this the essential first step in World Domination? Once something has been commoditized, it can be bought and sold in the global marketplace in fiat currencies–currencies that are not backed by any real-world asset and that can be created out of thin air by central and private banks.
You see the dynamic, right? Create credit-currency out of thin air, and then use this “free money” to buy up the real world. Quite a trick, isn’t it? Get a means of exchange for essentially nothing (i.e. money at near-zero interest rates) and then trade this for assets that produce goods and services everyone else needs or wants.
Now we understand steps 2 and 3:

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Ideology as Addiction

Ideology as Addiction

Solutions abound, but they aren’t one size fits all ideologies.
It isn’t just coincidental that ideology shares so many dynamics with addiction. Though ideology is a faith-belief dynamic rather than a chemical process, both require constant reinforcement/renewal and both demand a painful withdrawal procedure of those who decide to free themselves of the monkey on their back.
The individual addicted to an ideology needs a constant drip of confirmation that the ideological belief is both correct and ethically superior to competing belief systems. The ideology-addict gets a much-needed hit of confirmation by reading, watching or listening to other believers’ justifications and defenses of the ideology.
Ideology fills two basic human needs: certainty and purpose. a constant state of uncertainty places a corrosive burden on the mind, emotions and spirit; the solution is a decision or resolution that resolves the uncertainy.
Humans need purpose to guide their life; aimlessness is debilitating and unnatural.
Addiction provides purpose, as the life of the addict is guided by the need to satisfy the addiction.
Ideology also provides purpose: the believer is called upon to defend and evangelize the ideology as an abstraction, and support its manifestations in the real world.
Addiction is an all-or-nothing state of being. If an individual can abandon the addiction at will and feel no deprivation, it isn’t an addiction; if sporadic half-measures suffice, it isn’t an addiction.
Ideology is also an all-or-nothing state of being. One doesn’t believe in capitalism or socialism, for example, in half-measure or occasionally when the whim strikes; one is convinced of the rightness of one’s ideology as a permanent state of certainty.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Did the Economy Just Stumble Off a Cliff?

Did the Economy Just Stumble Off a Cliff?

The signs are everywhere for those willing to look: something has changed beneath the surface of complacent faith in permanent growth.
This is more intuitive than quantitative, but my gut feeling is that the economy just stumbled off a cliff. Neither the cliff edge nor the fatal misstep are visible yet; both remain in the shadows of the intangible foundation of the economy: trust, animal spirits, faith in authorities’ management, etc.
Since credit expansion is the lifeblood of the global economy, let’s look at credit expansion. Courtesy of Market Daily Briefing, here is a chart of total credit in the U.S. and a chart of the percentage increase of credit.
Notice the difference between credit expansion in 1990 – 2008 and the expansion of 2009 – 2017. Credit expanded by a monumental $40+ trillion in 1990 – 2008 without any monetary easing (QE) or zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP). The expansion of 2009 – 2017 required 8 long years of massive monetary/fiscal stimulus and ZIRP.
This chart of credit change (%) reveal just how lackluster the current expansion of credit has been, despite unprecedented trillions of stimulus pumped into the financial sector.
Here are two other snapshots of debt: margin debt and private credit. Both have hit new highs.
Note the tight correlation of margin debt to the S&P 500 stock index: when punters borrow more on margin to buy more stock, stocks keep rising.
When credit stops expanding, the economy stumbles into recession.
Back in the real world, have you noticed a slowing of animal spirits borrowing and spending? Have you tightened up your household budget recently, or witnessed cutbacks in the spending habits of friends and family? Have you noticed retail parking lots aren’t very full nowadays, and once-full cafes now have empty tables?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Are We Fiddling While Rome Burns?

Are We Fiddling While Rome Burns?

Solutions abound, but they require the retirement of obsolete systems that defend entrenched interests and soul-crushing inequalities.
It turns out Nero wasn’t fiddling as Rome burned–he was 60 km away at the time. Did Nero Really Fiddle While Rome Burned?
The story has become short-hand for making light of a catastrophe, either out of self-interest (one theory had Nero clearing a site he desired for a palace with the fire) or out of a mad detachment from reality.
Are we fiddling while Rome burns? I would say yes–because we’re not solving any of the structural problems that are dooming the status quo. Instead, we’re allowing a corrupt, corporate mainstream media to distract us with fake “Russians hacked our election” hysteria, false “cultural war” mania, and a laughably Orwellian frenzy over fake news which magically avoids mentioning the propaganda narrativespushed 24/7 by the mainstream media–narratives that are the acme of fake news.
The media is only half the problem, of course; the audience doesn’t want to hear about structural problems that can only be fixed by disrupting the status quo. If we don’t accept that the financial system we inhabit is imploding, maybe all the problems will go away.
The system is coughing up blood and we still want to believe it is “recovering” from a cold.
Here’s a short list of structural problems we should be tackling:
1. Soaring inequality and the institutionalization of economic privilege.Systemic economic privilege doesn’t exist in a vacuum–it’s enforced by a centralized hierarchy, a dynamic I describe in my book Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege. Systemic inequality doesn’t just undermine the economy–it also undermines the social and political orders.
2. The central state (government) has one default setting: endless expansion into every nook and cranny of daily life. There are no mechanisms for contraction and no institutional memory of government reducing its control of every aspect of life.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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