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“Project Zimbabwe”

“Project Zimbabwe”

Roughly a month ago on the afternoon of Sunday, March 8th, Fed Chairman Powell had an emergency staff meeting.

Powell: I want the nuttiest money printing plan ever. What action plans do we have that are prepared and ready to initiate?

Admin: Well, we have this one named “GFC 2.0”

Powell: Sounds tame and sedate. Won’t impress anyone.

Admin: What about this one named “Whatever It Takes”

Powell: Lemme look… Meh… I want more shock and awe. This needs at least two more zeros.

Admin: Well, we have this other one named “Project Zimbabwe” but it’s so ridiculous that the Fed would forever lose all credibility…

Powell: hmmm… I like the sound of “Project Zimbabwe.” Just makes you want to turn dollars into toasters and washing machines to preserve wealth. This one will force guys so far out on the risk curve that they’ll think crypto-coins are value investments.

Admin: Yeah, it’s absolutely Wuhan-bat-shit nutty. We’d be criminally insane to unleash this on a population that isn’t prepared for hyperinflation…

Powell: Perfect!! Let’s have a press conference.

A few hours later…

Powell: Mr. President, I finally took rates to zero and launched QE infinity. Can you stop trolling me on twitter already? I can’t take any more of my wife cracking jokes about your tweets.

Trump: Be a man. You got it easy. Wait until you see what I do to Biden. He puts the “Dem in Dementia” haha…

Powell: Please, no more nasty tweets. Even my kids laugh at me.

Trump: Fine, but you’re thinking too small with “Project Zimbabwe.” Figure out how to print more aggressively. Look at what Mnuchin is doing with all his bailout programs. He’s gonna blow $10 trillion by early summer, then try to double that by election time. You better crank up that printing press of yours. I’ll stop tweeting if you keep monetizing the “Mnuchin Money.”

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

Fed’s Quantitative Easing Strategy Holds Long-Term Benefits for Crypto

Fed’s Quantitative Easing Strategy Holds Long-Term Benefits for Crypto

Fed’s Quantitative Easing Strategy Holds Long-Term Benefits for Crypto

These are perilous times, and it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the United States Federal Reserve is doing its part to alleviate the suffering — which began with the coronavirus pandemic and has spread to the global economy. It’s printing more money. 

“There is an infinite amount of cash at the Federal Reserve,” Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, told Scott Pelley of CBS on March 22, adding: “We will do whatever we need to do to make sure there is enough cash in the financial system.”

The U.S. Federal Reserve itself reinforced that message on March 23, announcing that it would “continue to purchase Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning.”

The death of capitalism?

Reactions to these affirmations of quantitative easing, or QE, have been swift from sectors of the crypto community: “With these words, the last vestige of #capitalism died in the US,” wrote Caitlin Long, who established the first crypto-native bank in the United States. “[The] Fed’s monetization U.S. debt is now unlimited.”

Mati Greenspan, the CEO and co-founder of Quantum Economics told Cointelegraph: “The Fed said it is willing to buy the entire market” if necessary to stabilize markets. Meanwhile, on the fiscal side, Congress’s $2 trillion stimulus package includes handouts like “helicopter money” — i.e., a $1,200 payment to every tax-paying adult who has an annual income below $75,000. “Inflation is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point,” he stated elsewhere.

Garrick Hileman, head of research at Blockchain.com, told Cointelegraph: “The response by central banks to COVID-19 is truly unprecedented, with Fed and Bank of England officials using terms like ‘infinite,’ ‘unlimited’ and ‘radical.’” They’ve been using such extraordinary language in the hope they’ll prevent equity and credit markets from seizing up. “Only time will tell if they have gone too far.”

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Weekly Commentary: The Solvency Problem

Weekly Commentary: The Solvency Problem

Being an analyst of Credit and Bubbles over the past few decades has come with its share of challenges. Greater challenges await. I expect to dedicate the rest of my life to defending Capitalism. One of the great tragedies from the failure of this multi-decade monetary experiment will be the loss of faith in free market Capitalism – along with our institutions more generally.  

Somehow, we must convince younger generations that the culprit was unsound finance. And it’s absolutely fixable. Deeply flawed, experimental central banking was fundamental to dysfunctional markets and resulting deep financial and economic structural impairment. The Scourge of Inflationism. If we just start learning from mistakes, we can get this ship headed in the right direction.

Over the years, I’ve argued for “rules-based” central banking that would sharply limit the Federal Reserve’s role both in the markets and real economy. The flaw in “discretionary” central banking was identified generations ago: One mistake leads invariably to only bigger blunders.  

What commenced with Alan Greenspan’s market-supporting assurances of liquidity and asymmetric rate policy this week took a dreadful turn for the worse: Open-end QE, PMCCF, SMCCF, MMLF, CPFF, MSBLP, TALF… They’re going to run short of acronyms. Our central bank has taken the plunge into buying corporate bond ETFs, with equities ETFs surely not far behind. The Fed’s balance sheet expanded $586 billion – in a single week ($1.1 TN in four weeks!) – to a record $5.25 TN. Talk has the Fed’s new “Main Street Business Lending Program” leveraging $400 billion of (this week’s $2.2 TN) fiscal stimulus into a $4.0 TN lending operation. Having years back unwaveringly set forth, the ride down the slippery slope of inflationism has reached warp speed careening blindly toward a brick wall. 

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Food-Security Fears Spark Panic-Hoarding, Could Drive Inflation Sky-High

Food-Security Fears Spark Panic-Hoarding, Could Drive Inflation Sky-High

A senior economist from the United Nation’s (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told Reuters that food inflation could be imminent as people and governments panic hoard food and supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic

“All you need is panic buying from big importers such as millers or governments to create a crisis,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at FAO. 

“It is not a supply issue, but it is a behavioral change over food security,” Abbassian said. “What if bulk buyers think they can’t get wheat or rice shipments in May or June? That is what could lead to a global food supply crisis.”

Consumers from Asia to Europe to the Americas have been panic hoarding food at supermarkets as governments enforce strict social distancing measures to flatten pandemic curves to slowdown infections. 

Grain futures are green on Monday morning, have caught a bid in the last several sessions, led by soybean, oats, and wheat. Investors are starting to pile into grains as the demand for food staples (especially bread, flour, pasta, and crackers) has been elevated. 

France’s grain industry has seen surging demand and struggles to find enough truck operators and staff to keep factories running as panic buying of flour and pasta has led to an increase in wheat exports. 

European countries have enforced strict measures at their boarders amid the virus crisis that is devastating Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the UK. This has led to food supply disruption across several European countries.

Inflationary pressures could be nearing for food prices as the stockpiling continues. Combine this with a crashing global economy and high unemployment, and maybe stagflation is ahead.

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

Spirits in the Material World

SPIRITS IN THE MATERIAL WORLD

Image result for spirits in the material world

There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution 

The Police – Spirits in the Material World

As I was driving home from work last week, an almost forty-year-old song began emanating from my radio. I’ve always appreciated the music of The Police, but was never a huge fan. Spirits in the Material World was a relatively minor hit from their 1981 Ghost in the Machine multi-platinum album. I’ve probably heard it hundreds of times over the last four decades, but the lyrics struck me as particularly apropos at the end of a week where lunatic left-wing politicians staged a battle royale of ineptitude, invective, and idiotic solutions, in front of a perplexed public in a Vegas casino. Sting wrote the lyrics to this song in 1981 at the outset of the Reagan presidency. It is less than 3 minutes in length, but says much about humanity and the world we inhabit.

The interpretation of Sting’s (Gordon Sumner) lyrics depends upon your position in the generational kaleidoscope of history. As a boomer, Sting came of age during the 1960s and 70s. He was thirty years old in 1981 as the Second Turning (Awakening) was winding down and Reagan’s Morning in America was about to launch the Third Turning (Unraveling) in 1984.

His passionate idealism and search for spiritual solutions to the problems of the day had not been extinguished. The raging inflation of the 1970s had led to the worst recession since the Great Depression. The Cold War was at its coldest. Politicians had been discredited as criminal (Nixon) or incompetent (Carter). Sting and many others of his generation had lost faith in the political system. His viewpoint fit perfectly into the Strauss and Howe assessment of our last Awakening period (1964 – 1984).

Image result for awakening strauss and howe

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No One Gets Out Of Here Alive

NO ONE GETS OUT OF HERE ALIVE

“The seasons of time offer no guarantees. For modern societies, no less than for all forms of life, transformative change is discontinuous. For what seems an eternity, history goes nowhere – and then it suddenly flings us forward across some vast chaos that defies any mortal effort to plan our way there. The Fourth Turning will try our souls – and the saecular rhythm tells us that much will depend on how we face up to that trial. The saeculum does not reveal whether the story will have a happy ending, but it does tell us how and when our choices will make a difference.”  – Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning

As we wander through the fog of history in the making, unsure who is lying and who is telling the truth, seemingly blind to what comes next, I look to previous Fourth Turnings for a map of what might materialize during the 2nd half of this current Fourth Turning. After a tumultuous, harrowing inception to this Crisis in 2008/2009, we have been told all is well and are in the midst of an eleven-year economic expansion, with the stock market hitting all-time highs.

History seemed to stop and we’ve been treading water for over a decade. Outwardly, the establishment has convinced the masses, through propaganda and money printing, the world has returned to normal and the future is bright. I haven’t bought into this provable falsehood. Looking back to the Great Depression, we can get some perspective on our current position historically.

The Dow is up 450% since its 2009 low, which is the metric used by the establishment to prove their money printing solutions have succeeded in lifting the country from the depths of despair and depression.

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Median CPI Runs Hot, Fed Averts Eyes

Median CPI Runs Hot, Fed Averts Eyes

Despite the Fed’s proclamations, the dollar lost purchasing power at a good clip.

The inflation measure by the Cleveland Fed – the “Median CPI” – rose at 0.3% in January from December. This translates into an annualized rate of 3.7%. For the 12-month period, the Median CPI rose 2.9%. Since July last year, the index has ranged between 2.9% and 3.0%, the highest in the data series launched during the Financial Crisis.

The Median CPI is based on the data from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) but removes the extremes of price increases and price decreases, that are often temporary, to reveal underlying inflation trends. The chart shows the 12-month Median CPI, and for comparison, the “core CPI,” (CPI without the volatile food prices and the extremely volatile energy prices):

The re-collapse in oil prices pushed down inflation in gasoline and fuel oil, with the price index for motor fuels dropping -1.6% in January from December, which translates into an annual rate of -17.3%. Fuel oil and other fuels dropped at an annual rate of -15.8% in January, and used cars and trucks dropped at an annual rate of -13.5%.

At the other end of the spectrum, the price index for miscellaneous personal goods soared at an annual rate of +41% in January from December, watches and jewelry at a rate of +27.0%, footwear at a rate of +17.0%, car-and-truck rental at +15.0%.

These extremes at both ends of the spectrum, often brought about by temporary factors, skew the CPI and make it very volatile, where it jumps up and down. To obtain a measure of inflation that is not skewed by the often-temporary extremes on either end, and to show the underlying inflation trends, the Cleveland Fed’s Median CPI removes the extremes at both ends.

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What Will It Take to Get the Public to Embrace Sound Money?

What Will It Take to Get the Public to Embrace Sound Money? 

In the last decade, the combination of virulent asset price inflation and low reported consumer price inflation crippled sound money as a political force in the US and globally. In the new decade, a different balance between monetary inflation’s “terrible twins” — asset inflation and goods inflation — will create an opportunity for that force to regain strength. Crucial, however, will be how sound money advocacy evolves in the world of ideas and its success in forming an alliance with other causes that could win elections.

It is very likely that the deflationary nonmonetary influences of globalization and digitalization, which camouflaged the activity of the goods-inflation twin during the past decade, are already dissipating.

The pace of globalization may have already peaked, before the Xi-Trump tariff war. Inflation-fueled monetary malinvestment surely contributed to its prior speed. One channel here was the spread of highly speculative narratives about the wonders of global supply chains.

Digitalization’s potential to camouflage monetary inflation in goods and services markets, on the other hand, has come largely via its impact on the dynamics of wage determination. It has forged star firms with considerable monopoly power in each industrial sector. Obstacles preventing their technological and organizational know-how from seeping out to competitors means that wages are not bid higher across labor markets in similar fashion to earlier industrial revolutions. These obstacles reflect the fact that much investment is now in the form of firm-specific intangibles. Even so, such obstacles tend to lose their effectiveness over time.

As deflation fades, monetary repression taxes (collected for governments through central banks’ manipulation of rates to low levels so as to achieve 2 percent inflation despite disinflation as described) will undergo metamorphosis into open inflation taxes as the rate of consumer price inflation accelerates. Governments cannot forego revenue given their ailing finances. Simultaneously, asset inflation will proceed down a new stretch of highway where many crashes occur.

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Capitalism in America: How a Dismal Decimal is Robbing Americans Blind

Capitalism in America: How a Dismal Decimal is Robbing Americans Blind

31 Facts Showing How the Rich are Getting Richer and Everybody Else Poorer

There is no hiding anymore, the United States has become an oligarch owned banana republic with nukes, and with a monopoly currency which has allowed it to rig the markets for half a century. But now we are only a couple of hours from curtain – Midnight in America.

With the stock market at all-time highs, virtually no unemployment (or so they say), and brisk GDP growth (supposedly) in the last decade, economic analysts would declare that the US economy is in excellent shape. But, it isn’t. The stock market is a central bank inflated asset bubble, and what GDP growth there has been, is an illusion brought about by the very same financial bubble and by pumping the economy up with record federal borrowings to finance the deficits that America cannot afford. Rigged statistics showing artificially low inflation serve to hold together the Trumped-up American economic narrative. (About the rigged inflation statistics, see this report https://www.awaragroup.com/blog/the-inflation-measurement-scam/?fbclid=IwAR0qmpe4i0sp5Uce9UlyEDt0_NkIv-aiDTSgvzHh5EMfZn5WQboZz_mB-XU). And the low unemployment figure is nothing but a chimera based on misleading statistics.

In reality, the US economy is failing – and the country with it. At least two-thirds of the population has seen dramatic declines in living standards and half are back to levels of developing nations – without the development.

The big story covered up by all the happy macroeconomic figures repeated by rote by the US establishment – everybody from the president to cable television pundits and Trump fanboys – is the gradual impoverishment of the American worker. That’s an inconvenient truth increasingly difficult to hide as the American dream has turned into a nightmare for huge swathes of the population.

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Expect low oil prices in 2020; tendency toward recession

Expect low oil prices in 2020; tendency toward recession

Energy Forecast for 2020

Overall, I expect that oil and other commodity prices will remain low in 2020. These low oil prices will adversely affect oil production and several other parts of the economy. As a result, a strong tendency toward recession can be expected. The extent of recessionary influences will vary from country to country. Financial factors, not discussed in these forecasts, are likely also to play a role.

The following are pieces of my energy forecast for 2020:

[1] Oil prices can be expected to remain generally low in 2020. There may be an occasional spike to $80 or $90 per barrel, but average prices in 2020 are likely to be at or below the 2019 level. 

Figure 1. Average annual inflation-adjusted Brent equivalent oil prices in 2018 US$. 2018 and prior are as shown in BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Value for 2019 estimated by author based on EIA Brent daily oil prices and 2% expected inflation.

Figure 2 shows in more detail how peaks in oil prices have been falling since 2008. While it doesn’t include early January 2020 oil prices, even these prices would be below the dotted line.

Figure 2. Inflation adjusted weekly average Brent Oil price, based on EIA oil spot prices and US CPI-urban inflation.

Oil prices can temporarily spike because of inadequate supply or fear of war. However, to keep oil prices up, there needs to be an increase in “demand” for finished goods and services made with commodities. Workers need to be able to afford to purchase more goods such as new homes, cars, and cell phones. Governments need to be able to afford to purchase new goods such as paved roads and school buildings.

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“Inflation Is Inevitably Going To Rise” – Is Alan Greenspan Right?

“Inflation Is Inevitably Going To Rise” – Is Alan Greenspan Right?

Via DataTrekResearch.com,

“Right now, there’s no real inflation at play. But if we go further than we are currently, inflation is inevitably going to rise.” That’s from Alan Greenspan on CNBC this week. The “further” relates to US Federal deficit spending, the idea being that +$1 trillion annual budget shortfalls will eventually trigger price inflation.

It isn’t just Greenspan that is worried about rising US consumer price inflation; as we read through the most bearish market commentaries for 2020 this concern often has pride of place. Easy monetary and fiscal policy combined with a reaccelerating US/global economy late in a cycle is THE playbook for rising prices, so fair enough. The counterarguments are more structural (aging demographics, Internet price discovery, etc.), and while those work over the long term we can’t lean on them too hard in any given year. So do the inflation hawks have a case to make about 2020?

You know our methods for evaluating questions like this – a combination of market-based expectations and historical/real time data – so let’s get right to it:

#1: Expected 10-year inflation expectations imbedded in Treasury Inflation Protected bonds (TIPS spreads):

  • Even during the period of Federal Reserve bond buying, TIPS spreads were reasonable proxies for market expectations about long-run future inflation. The lowest they ever got was 1.2% in early 2016 and they have often been +2.0% over the last decade, the Fed’s notional target (see chart below).
  • TIPS spreads were +2.0% for almost all of 2018, for example, only dropping in November along with US/global growth expectations.
  • Expected 10-year forward inflation as measured by the TIPS market hasn’t touched 2.0% in 2019 and currently sits at 1.73%.

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A History of Inflationary Money: From 1844 to Nixon

A History of Inflationary Money: From 1844 to Nixon

So that we can understand the financial and banking challenges ahead of us, this article provides an historical and technical background. But we must first get an important definition right, and that is the cause of the periodic cycle of boom and bust. The cycle of economic activity is not a trade or business cycle, but a credit cycle. It is caused by fractional reserve banking and by banks loaning money into existence. The effect on business is then observed but is not the underlying cause.

Modern banking has its roots in England’s Bank Charter Act of 1844, which led to the practice of loaning money into existence, commonly described as fractional reserve banking. Fractional reserve banking is defined as making loans and taking in customer deposits in quantities that are multiples of the bank’s own capital. Case law in the wake of the 1844 act, having more regard for the status quo as established precedent than for the fundamentals of property law, ruled that irregular deposits (deposits for safekeeping) were no different from a loan. Judge Lord Cottenham’s ruling in Foley v. Hill (1848) 2 HLC 28 is a judicial decision relating to the fundamental nature of a bank which held in effect that

The money placed in the custody of the banker is to all intents and purposes, the money of the banker, to do with it as he pleases. He is guilty of no breach of trust in employing it. He is not answerable to the principal if he puts it into jeopardy, if he engages in haphazardous speculation.

This was undoubtedly the most important ruling of the last two centuries on money. Today, we know of nothing else other than legally confirmed fractional reserve banking. However, sound or honest banking, with banks acting as custodians, had existed in the centuries before the 1844 act and any corruption of the custody status was regarded as fraudulent.

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Is Inflation Really Under Control

Is Inflation Really Under Control

Recently, analysts have been discussing the pros and cons of using negative interest rates to keep the U.S. economy growing.  Despite this, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said that he does not anticipate the Federal Reserve will implement a policy of negative interest rates as it may be detrimental to the economy.  One argument against negative interest rates is that they would squeeze bank margins and create more financial uncertainty. However, upon examining the actual rate of inflation we are likely already in a ‘de facto’ negative ­­interest rate environment. Multiple inflation data sources show that actual inflation maybe 5%. With the ten year Treasury bond at 1.75%, there is an interest rate gap of – 3.25%. Let’s look at multiple inflation data points to understand why there is such a divergence between the Fed assumptions that inflation is under control versus the much higher rate of price hikes consumers experience.

In October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the core consumer price index (CPI) grew by 2.2% year over year.  The core CPI rate is the change in the price of goods and services minus energy and food.  Energy and food are not included because they are commodities and trade with a high level of volatility.  However, the Median CPI shows a ten year high at 2.96% and upward trend as we would expect, though it starts at a lower level than other inflation indicators. The Median CPI excludes items with small and large price changes. 

Source: Gavekal Data/Macrobond, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 11-29-19

Excluding key items that have small and large price changes is not what a consumer buying experience is like. Consumers buy based on immediate needs. When a consumer drives up to a gas pump, they buy at the price listed on the pump that day. 

Costs Are Spiraling Out of Control

Costs Are Spiraling Out of Control

And how do we pay for these spiraling out of control costs? By borrowing more, of course. 

If we had to choose one “big picture” reason why the vast majority of households are losing ground, it would be: the costs of essentials are spiraling out of control. I’ve often covered the dynamics of stagnating income for the bottom 90%, and real-world inflation, i.e. a decline in purchasing power. 

But neither of these dynamics fully describes the relentless upward spiral of the cost basis of our economy, that is, the cost of big-ticket essentials: housing, education and healthcare.

The costs of education are spiraling out of control, stripping households of income as an entire generation is transformed into debt-serfs by student loan debt. The soaring costs of healthcare are a core driver of higher costs in the education complex (and government in general), and to cover these higher costs, counties raise property taxes, which add additional cost burdens to households and enterprises as rents rise. 

Rising rents push the cost structure of almost every enterprise and agency higher.

Then there’s the asset inflation created by central bank ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) which has inflated a second echo-bubble in housing that has pushed home ownership out of reach of many, adding demand for rental housing that has pushed rents into the stratosphere in Left and Right Coast cities.

The increasing dominance of monopolies and cartels has eliminated competition in sector after sector. Monopolies and cartels skim immense profits even as the value, quality and quantity of their products and services decline: The U.S. Only Pretends to Have Free Markets From plane tickets to cellphone bills, monopoly power costs American consumers billions of dollars a year.

Thanks to their political influence, monopolies and cartels have legalized looting, raising prices and evading anti-trust regulations because they can pay whatever it takes in our pay-to-play political system.

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Inflation Is Coming: All the Trends That Were Deflationary Are Slowly Going in Reverse

Inflation Is Coming: All the Trends That Were Deflationary Are Slowly Going in Reverse

But of all potential economic outcomes, the one least anticipated and least priced in, is an uptick in inflation.

Investing is all about probabilities. If the perceived odds of an event are high, certain securities will be priced based on those expected probabilities. The corollary is that when an event is perceived as almost impossible, securities do not price in any chance of it occurring. If that event does occur, all sorts of securities need to re-price—often quite rapidly. I like to spend my time pondering what potential events the market completely ignores. Of all potential economic outcomes, the one that is least anticipated and least priced in, is an uptick in inflation.

It is said that generals always fight the last war. In terms of macro-portfolio wars, Japan’s experience with deflation colors all views. This seems odd to me because we have over two millennia of history showing inflation and currency debasements to be universal constants, with one outlier in Japan. The question is if Japan is the new normal or a true outlier?

Academics have studied the causes and effects of inflation ever since emperors and kings fixated on halting its effects. Despite a massive body of work, there is little agreement amongst experts on the causes of inflation. Since I tend to ignore “experts,” let me start by giving you the Kuppy definition of inflation. “Inflation is when too much of a certain currency chases a scarce resource and pushes its price higher when defined in terms of that currency.”

Using that definition, we’ve actually had rather dramatic inflation over the past decade—it just hasn’t shown up yet in the core consumer goods that central bankers are often concerned about.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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