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Chasing the Wind

Chasing the Wind

Futility with Purpose

Plebeians generally ignore the tact of their economic central planners.  They care more that their meatloaf is hot and their suds are cold, than about any plans being hatched in the capital city.  Nonetheless, the central planners know an angry mob, with torches and pitchforks, are only a few empty bellies away.  Hence, they must always stay on point.

Watch for those pitchfork bearers – they can get real nasty and then heads often roll quite literally. [PT]

One of the central aims of central planners is to achieve effective public exhortation.  While they pursue futility, in practice.  They must do so with focus and purpose.

For example, economic reports with impressive tables and charts, including pie graphs, are important to maintaining the requisite public perception.  Central planners know that financial scientism must always be employed as early and often as possible.

Statistics, with per annum projections, particularly those that show increasing exports and decreasing imports, are critical to maintaining the proper narrative.  The USA’s embarrassing deficit in the balance of international payments will certainly diminish if it is sketched accordingly in an “official” report… right?

Yet the planners always disregard the simple observation that an economy is composed of countless, and variable, inputs.  How is a new discovery or technology, and its effect on investment and labor, to be anticipated and forecast?  How are the actions of 7 billion individuals to be modeled and displayed on a tidy diagram?

Good old Friedrich A. Hayek  – depicted above – once coined the term “scientism” to describe the futile attempts of assorted social engineers and their academic advisors to express human action in the form of barren mathematical equations and statistics. Lettuce look at something one of his followers, the late Professor Austin L. Hughes, wrote in an article published in the autumn 2012 issue of “The New Atlantis” journal: 

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

America Goes Full Imbecile

America Goes Full Imbecile

Credit has a wicked way

of magnifying a person’s defects.  Even the most cautious man, with unlimited credit, can make mistakes that in retrospect seem absurd.  But an average man, with unlimited credit, is preeminently disposed to going full imbecile.

 

Let us not forget about this important skill…  [PT]

Several weeks ago we came across a woeful tale of Mike Meru.  Somehow, this special fellow, while of apparent sound mine and worthy intent, racked up over $1 million dollars in student loan debt – all to become an orthodontist.

Surely, with several good text books, and a disciplined self-study program, Meru could have learned everything there was to possibly know about adjusting malpositioned teeth for roughly $200 bucks.  Instead, with the full backing of Uncle Sam’s loan program, he went full imbecile.

Yet Meru isn’t alone.  According to the Department of Education, there are 101 people in the U.S. who are a million dollars or more in federal student loan debt.  What’s more, there are 2.5 million people who owe at least $100,000.  What could they have possibly learned that could be so doggone valuable?

Did they discover how to turn nickels into dimes?  Did they solve the geometry of a four-sided triangle?  Did they learn the secrets of the universe?  Did they get an insider’s peek at something more than what happens under the sun?

Delusions of Grandeur

Only at rare moments are people capable of understanding the full implications of the catastrophes of their making.  These rare moments, often just before dawn, are the precise instants when they gain full clarity to the hopeless fact that they have gone full imbecile.  That every decision they have ever made has led them to this exact place – where they find themselves to be completely and utterly screwed.

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

Full Faith and Credit in Counterfeit Money

Full Faith and Credit in Counterfeit Money

There are nooks and corners in every city where talk is cheap and scandal is honorable.  The Alley, in Downtown Los Angeles, is a magical place where shrewd entrepreneurs, shameless salesmen, and downright hucksters coexist in symbiotic disharmony.  Fakes, fugazis, and knock-offs galore, pack the roll-up storefronts with sparkle and shimmer.

Several weeks ago, the LAPD seized $700,000 worth of counterfeit cosmetics from 21 different Alley businesses.  Apparently, some of the bogus makeup products – which were packaged to look like trendy brands MAC, NARS, Kyle Cosmetics, and more – were found to contain human and animal excrement.

“The best price is not always the best deal!” remarked Police Captain Marc Reina via Twitter.  Did you hear that, General Electric shareholders?

Yet the Alley, for all its dubious bustle, offers a useful public service.  It provides an efficient calibration for the greater world at large; a world that’s less upright and truthful than an honest man could ever self-prepare for.  In 30-seconds or less, the Alley will impart several essential lessons:

The price you’re first quoted is the sucker’s price.  To negotiate effectively, you must appear to care far less about buying than the merchant cares about selling.  Don’t trust someone that says, “trust me.”  And, most importantly, don’t believe what you see and read…or what you hear.

Reality Bites

For everything worthwhile, there exists a counterfeit.  This modest insight extends well beyond the boundaries of flea markets and tent bazaars.  It extends outward to news, money, prescription drugs, wars, public schools, Congress, corn ethanol, medical insurance, public pensions – you name it.  There’s plenty of fraud, phony, and fake going on.

For example, in the year 2018, the most reputable news outlets have been reduced to mere purveyors of propaganda.  The stories they spread are stories of fiction.

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

The Oil Curse Comes to Washington

The Oil Curse Comes to Washington

Prices rise and prices fall.  So, too, they fall and rise.  This is how the supply and demand sweet spot is continually discovered – and rediscovered.

When supply exceeds demand for a good or service, prices fall.  Conversely, when demand exceeds supply, prices rise.  Producers use the information communicated by changing prices to make business decisions.  High demand and rising prices inform them to increase output.  Excess supply and falling prices inform them to taper back production.

This, in basic terms, is how markets work to efficiently bring products and services to market.  Five year plans, command and control pricing systems, and government price edicts cannot hold a candle to open market pricing.  But not all markets are created equal.  The market for gumballs or garbage bags, for instance, is much simpler than the market for solar panels or jet engines.

What we mean is some markets are subject to more government intervention than others; especially, if there’s a large money stream that can be extracted by government coercion.  Sometimes governments nationalize an entire market – for the good of the people, of course.

Strange and peculiar price movements can indicate there’s something else besides natural supply and demand mechanics going on.  On April 6, a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) grade crude oil cost about $62.  Ten months ago, that same barrel of WTI oil cost about $43.  About 24 months ago, it was only about $30 a barrel.

Yesterday, April 26, WTI oil was about $68 a barrel.  What’s going on?

Price Fixing Accidents

Indeed, the oil market is subject to mass government interventions the world over.  The push and pull of these hindrances to regular market determined price discovery can prompt wild price distortions.  We don’t pretend to understand the many variables at play that influence the price of oil.  Still, today, we scratch for clarity and edification, nonetheless.

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

Paradise in LA LA Land

More is revealed with each passing day.  You can count on it.  But what exactly the ‘more is of’ requires careful discrimination.  Is the ‘more’ merely more noise?  Or is it something of actual substance?  Today we endeavor to pass judgment, on your behalf.

Normally, judgment would be passed on a Thursday, but we are making an exception. [PT]

For example, here in the land of fruits and nuts, things are whacky, things are zany. Last month, State Senator, Dick Pan, introduced Senate Bill (SB) 1424, which would require California based websites to utilize fact checkers to verify news stories prior to publishing them.

Who exactly these fact checkers would be – the moral servants that would save the world from the ills of fake news – was conveniently missing from the bill. Ironically, the control freaks in California state government can’t control themselves; they want to muck around with people’s lives unconditionally.

Nonetheless, screwball proposals like this out of Sacramento fall into the mere noise category – for now.  We estimate it will take another Presidential election cycle, or two, before such nonsense is taken seriously by the majority of state lawmakers.

At the local level, there are more demanding problems that require more demanding solutions.  Here in Los Angeles County, according to something called the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there is now a homeless population of precisely 57,794.  For perspective, Chavez Ravine (i.e., the Dodger Stadium), has a capacity of 56,000.

This army of indigents, roaming about the LA LA land paradise, has become a significant embarrassment for local leaders.  Haphazard urban campsites litter the bank tops of the colossal, concrete Los Angeles River Channel between Downtown Los Angeles and Downtown Long Beach.  The massive collection of tents and makeshift shelters has become too much to ignore.

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

Broken Promises

Demanding More Debt

Consumer debt, corporate debt, and government debt are all going up.  But that’s not all.  Margin debt – debt that investors borrow against their portfolio to buy more stocks – has hit a record of $642.8 billion.  What in the world are people thinking?

A blow-off in margin debt mirroring the blow-off in stock prices. Since February of 2016 alone it has soared by ~$170 billion – this is an entirely new level insanity. The current total of 643 billion is more than double the level of margin debt at the tech mania peak and 15.4 times the amount of margin debt just before the crash of 1987. [PT]

Clearly, they’re not thinking.  Because thinking takes work.  Most people don’t like to work.  They like to pretend to work.

Similarly, people may say they care about debt.  But, based on their actions, they really don’t.  When it comes to the national debt, the overarching philosophy is that it doesn’t matter. Government debt certainly doesn’t matter to Congress.  Nor does it matter to the President.  In fact, their actions demonstrate they want more of it.

Big corporations with big government contracts want more government debt too. Their businesses demand it. They’ve staked their success on the expectation that the debt slop will continue flowing down the trough where they consume it like rapacious pigs.

The higher education bubble is also based on a faulty foundation of debt. The business model generally requires signing credulous 18 year-olds up for massive amounts of government backed student loans. From what we gather, federal student loan debt is closing in on $1.4 trillion.

 

Total student loans outstanding (red line – the data are only available from 2007 onward) and total federal government-owned student loans (black line). The former figure was closing in on $1.5 trillion as of Q4 2017. [PT]

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

Haunted by Ghosts of the Old Eastern Bloc

Ridiculous Minutia

Jerome Powell, the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve, just completed his third week on the job.  He’s hardly had enough time to learn how to operate the office coffee maker, let alone the all-in-one printer.  He still doesn’t know what roach coach menu items induce a heinous gut bomb.


The perpetually slightly worried looking new Fed chairman Jerome Powell, here seen warily inspecting the Rose Garden at the White House. Everybody wants to know if he has a “better plan” – but there is no better plan, thus no-one has one. [PT]

Photo credit: A. Brandon / AP

Yet across the planet, folks high and low are already telling him exactly how he should do his job.  What’s more, they’re passing advance judgment on things that may or may not happen. For example, the South China Morning Post recently offered the following opinion:

“President Donald Trump may have done Janet Yellen a favor by not giving her a second term as Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.  Her successor, Jerome Powell, may have inherited a poisoned chalice.  The Fed will have to up the pace of U.S. rate hikes or risk accusations of being behind the curve as markets react to signs of rising inflation.”

When Powell showed up to work on February 5, for his first day on the job, the general consensus was that the Fed would raise the federal funds rate three times this year, at 25 basis points – or 0.25 percent – per increase. But now that consumer prices are rising at an annual rate of 2.1 percent, average hourly earnings are increasing at an annual rate of 2.9 percent, and Congress has passed a massive two year budget deal, twitchy economists are questioning if three rate hikes will be enough to keep inflation in check.

 

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

When Budget Deficits Will Really Go Vertical

Mnuchin Gets It

United States Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin has a sweet gig.  He writes rubber checks to pay the nation’s bills.  Yet, somehow, the rubber checks don’t bounce.  Instead, like magic, they clear. How this all works, considering the nation’s technically insolvent, we don’t quite understand.  But Mnuchin gets it.  He knows exactly how full faith and credit works – and he knows plenty more.

Master of the Mint and economy wizard Steven Mnuchin and his wife at the annual ritual greenback burning festival. [PT]

In fact, Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, says she admires him because “he understands the economy.”  And Mnuchin, no doubt, admires Linton, a Scottish actress 18 years younger, because “she loves SoulCycle Snapchat filters that make people look like puppies and piglets.”  Naturally, Mnuchin gets the importance of puppy and piglet filters and how this bizarre fad fits into the big picture of the economy.

Unlike Mnuchin, we find the economy, and its infinite and dynamic relationships, to be beyond comprehension.  But that doesn’t deter us from attempting to make some sense of it each week.  When it comes to Snapchat filters we know nothing – and we could care less.  Still, who are we to question Snap Inc.’s $24 billion market capitalization?

What we do understand is simple arithmetic.  So, too, we care a great deal about the increasingly precarious predicament the 115th U.S. Congress is putting the American people in.  As far as we can tell, the approaching disaster is much closer than Mnuchin will publicly recognize.

US public debtberg-to-GDP ratio – cruising for a bruising. The growth in public debt in recent years is unprecedented in peace time (arguably, the term “peace time” is not an accurate description of the current era). Lettuce not forget, this is just the debt they actually admit to, so to speak.

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

What Kind of Stock Market Purge Is This?

Actions and Reactions

Down markets, like up markets, are both dazzling and delightful. The shock and awe of near back-to-back 1,000 point Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) free-falls is indeed spectacular. There are many reasons to revel in it.  Today we shall share a few. To begin, losing money in a multi-day stock market dump is no fun at all.  We’d rather get our teeth drilled by a dentist.  Still, a rapid selloff has many positive qualities.

Memorable moments from the annals of dentistry [PT]

For example, the days following a market correction are full of restoration and redemption.  Like the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, Tuesday’s 567 point DJIA bounce brought hope where there was despair, light where there was darkness, and joy where there was sadness.  President Trump even acknowledged that his powers over the stock market are less than omnipotent.

From a practical standpoint, a market correction clarifies that we live in a world that is exacting and just, as opposed to a fabricated fantasy.  A stock market purge demonstrates that the central planners haven’t entirely broken the markets just yet.  Markets still go both up and down. This important detail is always forgotten at the worst possible time.

The stock market purge also clarifies that Fed actions provoke reactions. The Fed’s rate raising and quantitative tightening efforts are having an effect.  After pumping stock and credit markets up for the last decade they are now, by design, deflating them. What a delicate and unnecessary game these central bankers play.

The tree month t-bill yield and total assets held by the Federal Reserve system – moving in opposite directions. Amazingly, many market participants seem to believe that when these data change direction, the stock market will remain unaffected. That is probably wishful thinking. [PT]

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

As the Controlled Inflation Scheme Rolls On

Controlled Inflation

American consumers are not only feeling good.  They are feeling great. They are borrowing money – and spending it – like tomorrow will never come.

After an extended period of indulging in excessive moderation (left), the US consumer makes his innermost wishes known (right). [PT]

On Monday the Federal Reserve released its latest report of consumer credit outstanding.  According to the Fed’s bean counters, U.S. consumers racked up $28 billion in new credit card debt and in new student, auto, and other non-mortgage loans in November. This amounted to an 8.8 percent increase in consumer borrowing.  It also ran total outstanding consumer debt up to $3.83 trillion.

US non-mortgage consumer debt – this exercise in admirable restraint seems to have served as a template for corporations and the government. [PT] – click to enlarge.

Perhaps this consumer spending binge will finally propel price inflation, as measured by the personal consumption expenditure (PCE) deflator, up to the Fed’s elusive 2 percent target.  Academic economists and central planners consider 2 percent price inflation to be the sweet spot for attaining economic heaven on earth.  We have some reservations.

Controlled inflation, or what is sometimes called financial repression, is what the Fed is after.  Because controlled inflation is the grease that keeps the gears of the debt based monetary system turning.  You see, through controlled inflation, and the subsequent slow erosion of debt burdens, borrowers can make good on their debts with dollars of diminished value.

And, of course, the biggest debtor of all is the federal government.  Controlled inflation benefits Washington more than anyone else.  The government can borrow massive amounts of money and inflate its debts away.  Yet this isn’t without consequences…

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

 

Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age

Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age

People are hard to please these days.  Clients, customers, and cohorts – the whole lot.  They’re quick to point out your faults and flaws, even if they’re guilty of the same derelictions.

The recently retired always seem to have the biggest axe to grind.  Take Jack Lew, for instance.  He started off the New Year by sharpening his axe on the grinding wheel of the GOP tax bill.  On Tuesday, he told Bloomberg Radio that the new tax bill will explode the debt and leave people sick and starving.

“It’s a ticking time bomb in terms of the debt.

“The next shoe to drop is going to be an attack on the most vulnerable in our society.  How are we going to pay for the deficit caused by the tax cut?  We are going to see proposals to cut health insurance for poor people, to take basic food support away from poor people, to attack Medicare and Social Security.  One could not have made up a more cynical strategy.”

The tax bill, without question, is an impractical disaster.  However, that doesn’t mean it’s abnormal.  The Trump administration is merely doing what every other administration has done for the last 40 years or more.  They’re running a deficit as we march onward towards default.

We don’t like it.  We don’t agree with it.  But how we’re going to pay for it shouldn’t be a mystery to Lew.  We’re going to pay for it the same way we’ve paid for every other deficit: with more debt.

A Job Well Done

Of all people, Jack Lew should know this.  If you recall, Lew was the United States Secretary of Treasury during former President Obama’s second term in office.  Four consecutive years of deficits – totaling over $2 trillion – were notched on his watch.

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

Several Simple Suppositions and Suspicions for 2018

A New Year of Symbiotic Disharmony

The New Year is nearly here. The slate’s been wiped clean. New hopes, new dreams, and new fantasies, are all within reach. Today is the day to make a double-fisted grab for them. Without question, 2018 will be the year in which everything happens exactly as it should. Some things you will be able to control, others will be well beyond your control.

 

How new years generally work… [PT]

Certainly, your ability to stop your neighbor’s cat from relieving itself in your side yard is limited, barring extreme measures. What we mean is each day shall unfold before you – both good and bad – in symbiotic disharmony. You can count on it.

But what are the specifics and particulars for the year ahead? What about stocks, the 10-Year Treasury note, gold, bitcoin, and everything else? Are we fated for World War III? Will this be the year Hillary Clinton finally croaks?

Today we endeavor to answer these questions – and more – with hesitation and humility. Obviously, predicting the future is more art than science. But so is Fed monetary policy, or a charted wave pattern that extends resistance and support lines out into the future.

Predictive Methodology and Disclaimer

Past performance is no guarantee of future results,” counsels your broker. Thus, we eschew common forecasting techniques for a conjectural approach. We look to connect seemingly unrelated big picture nodes with the illogical grace of an Irish joke.

To be clear, our methodology is as unscientific as your street corner palm reader’s. First, we engage all matters of fact, fiction, fakery, and fraud. Then, through induction, deduction, biased interpolation, and metaphysical reduction, we arrive at precise, unequivocal answers.

But before we get to it, a brief disclaimer’s in order. This proviso from King Solomon should suffice:

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

The Rug Yank Phase of Fed Policy

Bogus Jobs Pay Big Bucks

The political differences of today’s two leading parties are not over ultimate questions of principle.  Rather, they are over opposing answers to the question of how a goal can be achieved with the least sacrifice.  For lawmakers, the goal is to promise the populace something for nothing, while pretending to make good on it.

The short and sweet definition of democratic elections by eminent American wordsmith and political philosopher H.L. Mencken [PT]

Take the latest tax bill, for instance.  The GOP wants to tax less and spend more.  The Democrat party wants to tax more and spend even more.  We don’t recall seeing any proposals to tax less, spend less, and shrink the size of the state.  And why would we?

When the government cuts back…  [PT]

Today’s central planners and social engineers are enlightened and progressive.  They know much more about anything and everything than the rest of us. In particular, they share a general sense that they know how to spend your money better than you.

At best, the central planners call your money to Washington so they can then distribute it back to your friends and neighbors.  In reality, the lawmakers call your money to Washington where they distribute it to their friends and neighbors – not yours.  This is not a matter of opinion.  It’s a matter of fact.

Is it a coincidence that the top three wealthiest counties in the country are in the shadow of the Capitol in the D.C. suburbs?  What exactly the residents of these counties do that is of tangible value is unclear.  However, what is clear is that bogus government jobs in Loudoun County and Fairfax County, Virginia, pay big bucks.  But that’s not all…

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

The Zealous Pursuit of State-Sponsored Collapse

When Bakers Go Fishing

Government intervention into a nation’s economy is as foolish as attempting to control the sun’s rise and fall by law or force.  But that doesn’t mean governments don’t meddle each and every day with the best – and worst – of intentions.  The United States government is no exception.

From the “When the government helps the economy” collection: Breaking a few eggs while baking the bridge to nowhere omelet. [PT]

Over the years, layers and layers of interference by various federal, state, and local agencies have built up like grime on a kitchen window.  The grease shines and smells of something fierce.  The layers of government grime also drip and ooze into every crack and crevice of the economy.

These days, for example, it is impossible to carry out a simple private transaction with your barber or barista without some form of government interference.  Has your barber obtained the required license and paid the obligatory fees to be able to legally taper your neck line?  Has your barista’s espresso bean grinder passed city health inspection?

Is the hot Cup of Joe served in a paper cup of appropriate recycled material composition?  Did the hot beverage exceed the legally accepted temperature standard?  Did state and local governments receive their tax exaction upon payment?

The licensing racket – left panel: the basic definition of the racket; middle panel: how long it takes and what it costs to obtain licenses for assorted jobs in the US; right panel: the inexorable growth of rules and regulations. One shouldn’t be surprised that the pace of real economic growth has steadily declined since peaking in the late 19th century (or if one wants to focus on the modern era, since it peaked not too long after WW2).

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

How Uncle Sam Inflates Away Your Life

How Uncle Sam Inflates Away Your Life

“Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon,” once remarked economist and Nobel Prize recipient Milton Friedman.  He likely meant that inflation is the more rapid increase in the supply of money relative to the output of goods and services which money is traded for.

As more and more money is issued relative to the output of goods and services in an economy, the money’s watered down and loses value.  By this account, price inflation is not in itself rising prices.  Rather, it’s the loss of purchasing power resulting from an inflating money supply.

Indeed, Friedman offered a shrewd insight.  However, he also accompanied it with an opportunist mindset.  Friedman saw promise in the phenomenon of monetary inflation.  Moreover, he saw it as a means to improve human productivity and economic growth.

You see, a stable money supply was not good enough for Friedman.  He advocated for moderate levels of monetary growth, and inflation, to perpetually stimulate the economy.  By hardwiring consumers with the expectation of higher prices, policy makers could compel a relentless consumer demand.

This desire to harness and control the inflation phenomenon has infected practically every government economist’s brain since the early 1970s.  Over the decades they’ve somehow come to a consensus that 2 percent price inflation is the idyllic rate for provoking economic nirvana.  The Fed even tinkers with its federal funds rate for the purpose of targeting this magic 2 percent rate of price inflation.

Shadow Stats

On Wednesday the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published its October Consumer Price Index (CPI) report.  According to the government number crunchers, consumer prices are increasing at an annual rate of 2 percent.  Of course, anyone who lives and works in the real world knows prices are rising much faster.

…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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