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The Company Store

The Company Store

Leaves almost nothing to live on

In the song Sixteen Tons by Merle Travis (and made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford), the idea of the ‘company store’ referred to a system of debt bondage that effectively trapped workers within an unfair system designed to harvest all of their labor at very low cost.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the company store

       Sixteen Tons – Merle Travis

How exactly did the company store system operate?

Under a scrip system, workers were not paid cash; rather they were paid with non-transferable credit vouchers that could be exchanged only for goods sold at the company store. This made it impossible for workers to store up cash savings.

Workers also usually lived in company-owned dormitories or houses, the rent for which was automatically deducted from their pay.

(Source – Wiki)

This model was simple enough to understand.  “Pay” your workers with scrip vouchers, then sell them your marked up goods at the company store, pocketing a nice profit. On top of that, force your employees to live in company housing, too,  also at terms very favorable to the company.

Add it all up and the workers found themselves in perpetual service to their employer. No matter how hard and long they toiled, there was nothing left for their own private benefit after all was said and done.  The company succeeded in skimming off any and all  ‘excess’ for itself.

This vast unfairness eventually led to the formation of unions as well as to regulations providing protection to the workers.

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

IMF’s Lagarde Laments “Highly Mysterious” Low Inflation, Says “Everybody” Would Like It To Be Higher

IMF’s Lagarde Laments “Highly Mysterious” Low Inflation, Says “Everybody” Would Like It To Be Higher

Without skipping a beat, IMF Director Christine Lagarde left President Xi’s Belt and Road initiative conference and traveled to sunny southern California to make an appearance at the Milken Institute Conference, where she sat for an interview with former WSJ editor-in-chief (now editor-at-large) Gerry Baker.

Given that Friday’s surprisingly robust (at least on the surface) GDP print has revived speculation among some economists about ‘divergence’ between the US and the global economy, Baker led with a question about whether Q1 GDP had impacted the view on US growth over at the IMF.

Lagarde

While the surprisingly large number will “certainly lead us to reassess our forecast for growth in the US,” which could in turn boost the global economy, Lagarde cautioned that one strong GDP print doesn’t make a trend, and that the global economy remains mired in what she called a “delicate moment.”

Earlier this month, the IMF again slashed its forecasts for global growth, this time to its weakest level in a decade.

Asked if we’re seeing more divergence now.

“We still think that it’s a delicate moment given the still synchronized slowdown for growth…you have about 70% of the global economy which is slowing – but still growing – and we are not expecting a recession and certainly not in our baseline. Everybody including the highest authorities were certainly surprised by the large number in the United States…that will certainly lead us to reassess our forecast for growth for the United States, and clearly given the size of the US economy it will have an impact overall.”

Looking ahead, the upcoming reading on US productivity will be important.

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

Social Security fund to go into the red in 2020; will be completely bankrupt by 2035… governments will desperately find a way to kill off populations around the world

Social Security fund to go into the red in 2020; will be completely bankrupt by 2035… governments will desperately find a way to kill off populations around the world

Image: Social Security fund to go into the red in 2020; will be completely bankrupt by 2035… governments will desperately find a way to kill off populations around the world

(Natural News) According to the 2019 annual report published by the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees, the Social Security fund will go in the red in 2020 and could potentially go bankrupt by 2035. If nothing is done to boost revenue or re-configure how the money will be distributed, then countless retirees, disabled persons, widows, and surviving children will be left with little to no funds to help them navigate through the most uncertain times in life.

The sad part about this shortage is that Social Security is not welfare; this trust fund is not dependent on tax money. Workers pay into the Social Security system during their working years. The system acts as an insurance once a person retires. The benefits are also paid out to disabled persons, widows, and dependents of deceased parents.

Due to the projected shortages, the U.S. government has a perfect opportunity to begin culling the population over the next three decades, restricting what is paid out through the Social Security safety net. As school textbooks teach children about the problem of “overpopulation,” the government obviously views humanity as a liability.

Social Security may not survive long past its 100th birthday

The Social Security program has been in place for 84 years and has collected approximately $21.9 trillion. In that time, the program has paid out roughly $19 trillion. The program currently has a reserve of about $2.9 trillion, which is divided among two trust funds. In 2020, the amount being paid out will supersede the amount coming in, forcing the program to dig into its reserves. With the trend continuing over the next decade, social security reserves will be dried up by 2035, drastically impacting vulnerable subsets of the population.

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

Italy Becoming Poor — Becoming Poor in Italy. The Effects of the Twilight of the Age of Oil

Italy Becoming Poor — Becoming Poor in Italy. The Effects of the Twilight of the Age of Oil

The living room of the house that my parents built in 1965. An American style suburban home, a true mansion in the hills. I lived there for more than 50 years but now I have to give up: I can’t afford it anymore. 

Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not poor. As a middle class, state employee in Italy, I am probably richer than some 90% of the people living on this planet. But wealth and poverty are mainly relative perceptions and the feeling I have is that I am becoming poorer every year, just like the majority of Italians, nowadays.

I know that the various economic indexes say that we are not becoming poorer and that, worldwide, the GDP keeps growing, even in Italy it sort of restarted growing after a period of decline. But something must be wrong with those indexes because we are becoming poorer. It is unmistakable, GDP or not. To explain that, let me tell you the story of the house that my father and my mother built in the 1960s and how I am now forced to leave it because I can’t just afford it anymore.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Italy was going through what was called the “Economic Miracle” at the time. After the disaster of the war, the age of cheap oil had created a booming economy everywhere in the world. In Italy, people enjoyed a wealth that never ever had been seen or even imagined before. Private cars, health care for everybody, vacations at the seaside, the real possibility for most Italians to own a house, and more.

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

Lacy Hunt Blasts MMT and Speaks of Hyperinflation If Implemented

Lacy Hunt Blasts MMT and Speaks of Hyperinflation If Implemented

In the Hoisington First Quarter Review, Lacy Hunt blasts MMT as “self-perpetuating” inflation.

Please consider the Hoisington Investment Quarterly Outlook for the first quarter of 2019.

MMT Leads to Hyperinflation

Under existing statutes, Fed liabilities, which they can create without limits, are not permitted to be used to pay U.S. government expenditures. As such, the Fed’s liabilities are not legal tender. They can only purchase a limited class of assets, such as U.S. Treasury and federal agency securities, from the banks, who in turn hold the proceeds from this sale in a reserve account at one of the Federal Reserve banks. There is currently, however, a real live proposal to make the Fed’s liabilities legal tender so that the Fed can directly fund the expenditures of the federal government – this is MMT – and it would require a change in law, i.e. a rewrite of the Federal Reserve Act.

This is not a theoretical exercise. Harvard Professor Kenneth Rogoff, writing in ProjectSyndicate.org (March 4, 2019), states “A number of leading U.S. progressives, who may well be in power after the 2020 elections, advocate using the Fed’s balance sheet as a cash cow to fund expansive new social programs, especially in view of current low inflation and interest rates.” How would MMT be implemented and what would be the economic implications? The process would be something like this: The Treasury would issue zero maturity and zero interest rate liabilities to the Fed, who in turn, would increase the Treasury’s balances at the Federal Reserve Banks. The Treasury, in turn, could spend these deposits directly to pay for programs, personnel, etc. Thus, the Fed, which is part of the government, would be funding its parent with a worthless IOU.

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

How Asset Inflation Will End–This Time

HOW ASSET INFLATION WILL END — THIS TIME

Life after death for asset inflation: this is what happens when “speculative fever” remains high even after monetary inflation has paused. This may well have been the situation in global markets during 2019 so far. But history and principle suggest that life after death in this monetary sense is short.

Readers may find it odd to be talking about a pause in monetary inflation at a time when the Fed has cancelled programmed rate rises and the ECB has embarked (March 7) on yet further “radical” policy moves. Moreover, the “core” US inflation rate (as measured by PCE) is still at virtually 2 per cent year-on-year.

Yet we know from past cycles that in the early stages of recession many market participants — and, crucially, central banks — mistakenly view a stall in rate rises or actual rate cuts as stimulatory. Later with the benefit of hindsight these policy moves turn out to be insufficient to prevent a tightening of monetary conditions already in process but unrecognized.

Even had monetary conditions been easing rather than tightening, it is highly dubious whether this difference would have meant the powerful momentum behind the business cycle moving into its recession phase would have lessened substantially.

(As a footnote here: under a gold standard regime there is no claim that monetary conditions will evolve perfectly in line with contracyclical fine-tuning. Both in principle and fact monetary conditions could tighten there at first as recessionary forces gathered. Under sound money, however, contracyclical forces would emerge strongly into the recession as directed by the invisible hand.)

Under a fiat money regime, monetary tightening can occur in the transition of a business cycle into recession, despite the opposite intention of the central bank policy-makers, due to endogenous factors such as an undetected increase in demand for money or a fall in the underlying “money multipliers.”

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

The Fed’s Body Count

The Fed’s Body Count

The problem with the war (Vietnam), as it often is, are the metrics. It is a situation where if you can’t count what’s important, you make what you can count important. So, in this particular case what you could count was dead enemy bodies.” – James Willbanks, Army Advisor, General of the Army George C. Marshall Chair of Military History for the Command and General Staff College

If body count is the measure of success, then there’s a tendency to count every enemy body as a soldier. There’s a tendency to want to pile up dead bodies and perhaps to use less discriminate firepower than you otherwise might in order to achieve the result that you’re charged with trying to obtain.” – Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gard, Army and military assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara

Verbal Jenga

In recent press conferences, speeches, and testimony to Congress, Federal Reserve (Fed) Chairman Jerome Powell emphasized the Fed’s plan to be “patient” regarding further adjustments to interest rates. He also implied it is likely the Fed’s balance sheet reductions (QT) will be halted by the end of the year. 

The support for this sudden shift in policy is obtuse considering his continuing glowing reports about the U.S. economy. For example, the labor market is “strong with the unemployment rate near historic lows and with strong wage gains. Inflation remains near our 2% goal. We continue to expect the American economy will grow at a solid pace in 2019…” The caveats, according to Powell, are that “growth has slowed in some major foreign economies” and “there is elevated uncertainty around several unresolved government policy issues including Brexit, ongoing trade negotiations and the effect from the partial government shutdown.” 

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

What’s Cheap? Gold and Silver – John Rubino

What’s Cheap? Gold and Silver – John Rubino

Unemployment is near 3% and President Trump is calling for rate cuts and quantitative easing. Is the economy doing well or getting ready to tank? Financial writer John Rubino says, “We went from being at all-time highs to down 20% in sort of a flash crash in two months towards the end of last year. That told the Fed and the other central banks that they can never tighten again. This is it for this cycle and for the entire remaining time of today’s financial system for higher interest rates. They abruptly announced to never mind about those four rate hikes that were going to happen in 2019. We (the Fed) are not going to do anything. If we do anything, it will be in the opposite direction and cut interest rates and a new round of QE, etcetera and etcetera. The stock market went right back up to record levels. . . . The end part of this story is how good all this is for gold. . . . The next thing from the Fed will be a rate cut, and it will increase and not decrease its balance sheet. . . . We are going to go preemptively to monetary easing, and that’s really new. This is very, very new. You normally don’t do this. You wait until you see a bear market and a slowdown in the economy that gets people laid off before you start aggressively easing. Apparently, we are going to do that stuff before that stuff starts happening. Who knows what the impact of that will be? If it works the way they want, more people will get hired, wages will pick up and we’ll have inflation in the 4% or 5% range before you know it.”

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

Hyperinflation History May Provide Valuable Lessons for Fed’s “Target”

hyperinflation history lesson for fed

From Birch Gold Group

Hyperinflation History May Provide Valuable Lessons for Fed’s “Target”

In April of 1980 inflation peaked at a staggering 14.76%. That same year, the Fed triggered a rise in interest rates to near 20% around the same time, employing the controversial “Volcker Rule.”

Paul Solman explained in a 2009 PBS Newshour:

If by “interest rates” you mean the rate set by the Fed — the Fed funds rate — it rose to TWENTY PERCENT in 1980. But no, it was not inaction but just the opposite: a deliberate rise in rates triggered by inflation.

And as you can see in the chart below, the 1980s also represented the 3rd highest average inflation percentage in a decade since 1913:

average annual inflation

So inflation rose dramatically, and the Fed employed a dramatic strategy, hiking rates through the roof.

But as you look at the same chart, it’s also clear three other decades had severe inflationary periods as well. Each time that happens in the U.S. the dollar loses buying power quickly as prices for food, energy, and fuel go through the roof.

Serious hyperinflation can happen relatively quickly. Venezuela is a recent example, where it only took about 5 yearsfor the local bolivar to lose 90% of its value. Inflation soared to a ridiculous 1.37 million percent.

We also have historic examples of severe hyperinflation. From 1921-1923 the Weimar Republic of Germany suffered massive inflation. Sovereign Man highlighted, “a single egg at the market would cost millions of marks” during this economic upheaval.

Oddly enough, Germany’s hyperinflation came not too long after a decision to print money became standard policy. (Sound familiar?)

Zimbabwe also had a period of massive war-based hyperinflation in 2008-09 after printing money and devaluing its currency.

These hyperinflation horror stories beg the question, will the Fed’s “target” of 2-3% inflation per year be effective?

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

MMT Is a Recipe for Revolution

MMT Is a Recipe for Revolution

Historian Stephen Mihm recently argued that based on his reading of the monetary system of colonial Massachusetts, modern monetary theory (MMT), which he cheekily referred to as PMT (Puritan monetary theory), “worked — up to a point.”

One can forgive him for misunderstanding America’s colonial monetary system, which was so much more complex than our current arrangements that scholars are still fighting over some basic details.

Clearly, though, America’s colonial monetary experience exposes the fallacy at the heart of MMT (which might be better called postmodern monetary theory): the best monetary policy for the government is not necessarily the best monetary policy for the economy. As Samuel Sewall noted in his diary, “I was at the making of the first Bills of Credit in the year 1690: they were not Made for want of Money, but for want of Money in the Treasury.”

While true that colonial governments controlled the money supply by directly issuing (or lendin)  and then retiring pieces of paper, their macroeconomic track record was abysmal, except when they carefully obeyed the market signals created by sterling exchange rates and the price of gold and silver in terms of paper money.

MMT in the colonial period often led to periods of ruinous inflation and, less well-understood, revolution-inducing deflation.

South Carolina and New England were the poster colonies for inflation, in part because they bore the brunt of colonial wars against their rival Spanish and French empires. Relative peace and following market signals eventually stabilized prices in South Carolina. 

In New England, however, Rhode Island for decades was able to act as a “money pump” that forced inflation on other New England colonies until they abandoned MMT entirely in the early 1750s.

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

ECB Inflationists are Crippling Europe

ECB Inflationists are Crippling Europe

Last week, the ECB announced the reintroduction of targeted long-term refinancing operations for the third time. TLTRO-III is scheduled to start from next September. The idea is to make yet more money available for the banks at attractive rates on condition they increase their lending to non-financial entities.

The policy is justified because the ECB sees growing signs the Eurozone economy is stalling, possibly badly. The weaker Eurozone economies are moving into outright recession, and Germany’s motor exports appear to have dramatically slowed, putting a constraint on her whole economy. 

The ECB’s reintroduction of TLTRO is an offer of yet more monetary and credit inflation, despite the evidence that unprecedented waves of monetary inflation in the last ten years have failed in all the objectives for which they were designed, except two: governments have continued to get the funds to spend without meaningful restraint, and insolvent banks have been preserved.

Only two months after its asset purchase programme officially ended, the inflationists are at it again. But one wonders why the ECB bothers to delay TLTRO-III until September. If it is such a good thing, why not introduce it now?

There is another explanation, and that is the ECB is intellectually adrift with no economic compass. We do not know how many economists and monetary specialists are employed in the Eurosystem, which includes the ECB and the regional central banks, but they are certainly not economists, otherwise they would understand money. They may be technicians, which is not the same thing. If they were economists, or more precisely properly schooled in the human sub-science of catallactics (the theory of exchange ratios and prices) they would more fully appreciate the consequences of monetary inflation.

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

Extrapolating The Recent Past Can Be Hazardous To Your Wealth

Extrapolating The Recent Past Can Be Hazardous To Your Wealth

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” remarked George Santayana over 100 years ago.  These words, as strung together in this sequence, certainly sound good.  But how to render them to actionable advice is less certain.

George Santayana – purveyor of eminently quotable wise words by the wagon-load, but what shall one do with them in practice? [PT]

Aren’t some facets of the past – like the floppy disk – not worth remembering?  And aren’t others – like a first taste of romance – worth repeating… if only it were possible?

Where investing is concerned, remembering the past – and discerning what to make of it – can actually be a handicap.  Where does the past begin?  How does it influence the future?  How does one invest one’s capital accordingly?

These are today’s questions.  What follows, with purpose and intent, is an attempt to scratch out an answer.  Where to begin?

Many investment gurus in the early 1980s were predicting the future while projecting the past.  After a decade of raging price inflation, the popular dogma was to pack one’s portfolio with gold coins, fine art, and antiques.  This was the proven, surefire way to preserve hard earned wealth.

The United States, remember, was just a year or two away from going full Weimar Republic circa 1921-23.  The dollar was going to quickly turn to hyper-inflationary ash, like conifer trees in a California wildfire.  Everyone just knew it.  You could darn near count down the days.

Right On The Money

Conventional wisdom, when it comes to the economy, markets, and investing, eventually leads to trouble.  While everyone is busy watching the status quo unfold with Swiss watch like precision, the conditions that first brought this state of affairs to fruition subtly changes.  Yet almost no one takes notice.

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

Weekly Commentary: No One Knows How Monetary Policy Works

Weekly Commentary: No One Knows How Monetary Policy Works

My interest was piqued by a Friday Bloomberg article (Ben Holland), “The Era of Cheap Money Shows No One Knows How Monetary Policy Works.” “Monetary policy is supposed to work like this: cut interest rates, and you’ll encourage businesses and households to borrow, invest and spend. It’s not really playing out that way. In the cheap-money era, now into its second decade in most of the developed world (and third in Japan), there’s been plenty of borrowing. But it’s been governments doing it.”

I remember when the Fed didn’t even announce changes in rate policy. Our central bank would adjust interest rates by measured bank reserve additions/subtractions that would impact the interbank lending market. Seventies inflation forced Paul Volcker to push short-term interest-rates as high as 20% in early-1980 to squeeze inflation out of the system. 

Federal Reserve policymaking changed profoundly under the authority of Alan Greenspan. Policy rates had already dropped down to 6.75% by the time Greenspan took charge in August 1987. Ending 1979 at 13.3%, y-o-y CPI inflation had dropped below 2% by the end of 1986. Treasury bond yields were as high as 13.8% in May 1984. But by August 1986 – yields were down to 6.9% – having dropped almost 700 bps in 27 months.  

Lower market yields and economic recovery were absolute boon for equities. The S&P500 returned 22.6% in 1983, 5.2% in 1984, 31.5% in 1985, 22% in 1986 – and another 41.5% for 1987 through August 25th. Markets had evolved into a speculative bubble.  

One could pinpointing the start of the great Credit Bubble back with the 70’s inflation. For my purposes, I date its inception at the 1987 stock market crash. At the time, many were drawing parallels between the 1987 and 1929 market crashes – including dire warnings of deflation risk – warnings that have continued off and on for more than three decades.  

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

Ides and Tides

Ides and Tides


Just as presidents are expected to act presidentially, Federal Reserve chairpersons are expected to act oracularly — as semi-supernatural beings who emerge now and again from some cave of mathematical secrets to offer reassuringly cryptic utterances on mysteries of the economy. And so was Jerome Powell wheeled out on CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday night, like a cigar store Indian at an antique fair, so vividly sculpted and colorfully adorned you could almost imagine him saying something.

Maybe it was an hallucination, but I heard him say that “the economy is in a good place,” and that “the outlook is a favorable one.” Point taken. Pull the truck up to the loading dock and fill it with Tesla shares!  I also thought I heard “Inflation is muted.” That must have been the laugh line, since there is almost no single item in the supermarket that goes for under five bucks these days. But really, when was the last time you saw a cigar store Indian at Trader Joes? It took seventeen Federal Reserve math PhD’s to come up with that line, inflation is muted.

What you really had to love was Mr. Powell’s explanation for the record number of car owners in default on their monthly payments: “…not everybody is sharing in this widespread prosperity we have.”  Errrgghh Errrgghh Errrgghh. Sound of klaxon wailing. What he meant to say was, hedge-funders, private equity hustlers, and C-suite personnel are making out just fine as the asset-stripping of flyover America proceeds, and you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse (where, by the way, you are probably stealing half the oven-ready chicken nuggets in inventory).

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

Fake Money’s Face Value Deceit

Fake Money’s Face Value Deceit

Shane Anthony Mele stumbled off the straight and narrow path many years ago.  One bad decision here.  Another there.  And he was neck deep in the smelly stuff.

These missteps compounded over the years and also magnified his natural shortcomings.  Namely, that he’s a thief and – to be polite – a moron.  Recently the confluence of these two failings came together like a sewage spill to a river draining through the center of town.

Mele made a dishonest mistake.  He failed to recognize that he’s not the only dishonest soul operating in a dishonest world.  That is, he failed to comprehend the difference between face value and real value.

So it was, with dishonest intentions, that he burgled a rare coin collection with no clue what it was that he’d taken.  To his soft and greedy mind all he saw was a hoard of coins with a face value of One Dollar.  Thus, he redeemed them for cash.  Zero Hedge offers the details:

“After stealing a rare coin collection from an elderly and disabled retiree, Shane Anthony Mele, dumped what their owner said was at least $33,000 worth of collectible coins down a Coin Star machine at a Florida supermarket and collected their face value, receiving about $30 – enough for a couple of 12 packs.”

A Downright Disgrace

Mele, no doubt, is a thief and a moron.  He’s also a thief and a moron that got caught up in something he doesn’t understand.  He may be dishonest.  But the world he’s operating in is also dishonest.

Stealing someone else’s property and then reducing the spoils valued at $33,000 to a payout of about $30 is a remarkable achievement.  Mele’s Coin Star transaction delivered a loss of over 99.9 percent.  But he’s not alone…

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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