Saturday, June 30, 2012

Remembering Frédéric Bastiat on his 211th Birthday

My path to libertarianism began with the great Claude Frédéric Bastiat’s masterpiece: That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen

Thank you Mr. Bastiat. Happy Birthday! (thanks to econolog for the reminder)

Quoting Mr. Bastiat from his classic The State (1848)

The state is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

Does China’s Special Currency Test Zone Signal the End of the Hong Kong- US Dollar Peg?

China’s government plans to open direct lending access between Hong Kong banks and China based companies through a special currency “test” zone

Reports the CNN/Financial Times

China plans to create a special zone to experiment with currency convertibility in Shenzhen, the city where it introduced key economic reforms three decades ago.

The measure will enable Hong Kong banks to lend renminbi directly to companies in Qianhai Bay -- a new economic zone on a peninsula across the water from Hong Kong -- according to Chinese state media.

Bejing will unveil the details on Friday as Hu Jintao, Chinese president, visits Hong Kong for the 15th anniversary of the handover of the city from Britain.

Analysts say the experiment could prove as critical to eventually dismantling capital controls as Deng Xiaoping's reforms were to opening China to the world.

The Qianhai experiment follows a series of steps taken by the Chinese government to move towards making the renminbi a convertible currency that analysts believe could one day vie with the US dollar for pre-eminence in global markets.

Over the past two years, Chinese companies have been allowed to settle most of their international trade in renminbi. This has provided a conduit for the currency to flow abroad for the first time in large volumes.

Foreign institutions have also been given a limited but growing array of investment options for their renminbi holdings, such as Hong Kong's dim sum bond market and a programme for buying Chinese equities.

In addition, the proposed measures includes cross listings of their respective stock exchanges.

Again from the same article,

Separately on Friday, the stock exchanges of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen said they would create a joint venture index company to give investors access to companies listed in all three cities for the first time and boost their capital markets.

Charles Li, chief executive of the Hong Kong Exchange, said it would create its first cross-border indices by the end of the year and launch derivative products and exchange traded funds based on the indices and stocks next year.

The thrust to make the yuan convertible has widely been painted as a challenge to the US dollar standard as evidenced by this assertion “could one day vie with the US dollar for pre-eminence in global markets”.

While this is true, I would say that a more important issue could be about the insurance role played by the yuan against the growing risks of a currency crisis.

My suspicions seems to be highlighted by the latest proposal by Prof Joseph Yam, the former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) and who is one of the architects of Hong Kong-US dollar peg through a monetary board, to alter Hong Kong’s monetary system by shifting from US dollar peg towards China’s yuan or through a basket of other currencies.

Notes the BBC

When asked why he was making such a dramatic public reversal of opinion, Prof Yam told Hong Kong media it was because times had changed.

The US dollar peg had contributed to inflation and asset bubbles in Hong Kong because of the policy of quantitative easing the US Federal Reserve adopted following the global financial crisis, he said.

This direct Hong Kong-China currency “test” zone seems like an icebreaker to the inevitable end the Hong Kong dollar-US dollar peg.

As I observed in August of 2009

In my view, the Hong Kong dollar's pegged days seems numbered. And so as its existence, as the Yuan could displace it sometime in the near future.

Quote of the Day: Connecting the Dots: The System is Crumbling

Simon Black of the Sovereign Man eloquently nails it:

This week may very well go down as ‘connect the dots’ week. Things have been moving so quickly, so let’s step back briefly and review the big picture from the week’s events:

1) After weeks… months… even years of posturing and denial, Spain and Cyprus became the fourth and fifth countries to formally request aid from Europe’s bailout funds on Monday.

In doing so, these governments have officially confessed to their own insolvency and the insolvency of their respective banking systems.

Meanwhile, Slovenia’s prime minister said that his country may soon ask for a bailout. (Humorously, Slovenia’s Finance Minister denied any such plans.)

Spain’s 10-year bond yield jumped to over 7% again in response, and many Spanish banks were downgraded to junk status by Moodys.

2) Over in the US, the city of Stockton, California filed for bankruptcy this week… the largest so far, but certainly a mere drop in the proverbial bucket.

3) JP Morgan, considered to be among the few ‘good’ banks remaining in the US, conceded that the $2 billion loss they announced several weeks ago might actually be more like $9 billion.

4) The Federal Reserve reported yesterday that foreigners are reducing their holdings of US Treasuries.

5) Countries from Ukraine to Kazakstan to Turkey announced that they have purchased gold in recent months to bolster their growing reserves.

6) Chile has joined a growing list of countries that has agreed to bypass the US dollar and settle all of its trade with China in renminbi.

7) China has further announced plans to create a special zone in Shenzhen, one of its wealthiest cities, to allow full exchange and convertibility of the renminbi.

8) World banking regulators from the Bank of International Settlements to the FDIC are proposing that gold bullion be treated as a risk-free cash equivalent by commercial banks.

So… what we can see from this week’s events is:

- European governments are insolvent
- European banks are insolvent
- US governments are heading in that direction
- Even the best US banks are not as strong as believed
- Foreigners are abandoning the US dollar and seeking alternatives
- Gold is money

These events are all connected, and the trend is becoming so clear that even the most casual observers are starting to wake up.

When you connect the dots, the next steps lead to what may soon be regarded as an obvious conclusion: the system, as it exists right now, is crumbling.

No amount of self-delusion can make this go away.

Global financial markets have been ignoring these developments and seems to be desperately interpreting any political actions as having potential long term positive effects. To paraphrase novelist Anatole France if millions of people say and do a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

So far it’s been about hope over reality.

The Anatomy of Rent Seeking: China Edition

Rent seeking is simply the manipulation of the social or political environment in order to obtain wealth through monopoly privileges ( Such actions usually comes in the form of subsidies, various political concessions and or regulations which works to prevent free market competition.

The following controversial article from Bloomberg (which reportedly has been censored in China, according to Zero Hedge) gives an example.

Bloomberg: (bold emphasis mine)

Xi Jinping, the man in line to be China’s next president, warned officials on a 2004 anti-graft conference call: “Rein in your spouses, children, relatives, friends and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain.”

As Xi climbed the Communist Party ranks, his extended family expanded their business interests to include minerals, real estate and mobile-phone equipment, according to public documents compiled by Bloomberg.

Those interests include investments in companies with total assets of $376 million; an 18 percent indirect stake in a rare- earths company with $1.73 billion in assets; and a $20.2 million holding in a publicly traded technology company. The figures don’t account for liabilities and thus don’t reflect the family’s net worth.

No assets were traced to Xi, who turns 59 this month; his wife Peng Liyuan, 49, a famous People’s Liberation Army singer; or their daughter, the documents show. There is no indication Xi intervened to advance his relatives’ business transactions, or of any wrongdoing by Xi or his extended family.

While the investments are obscured from public view by multiple holding companies, government restrictions on access to company documents and in some cases online censorship, they are identified in thousands of pages of regulatory filings.

The trail also leads to a hillside villa overlooking the South China Sea in Hong Kong, with an estimated value of $31.5 million. The doorbell ringer dangles from its wires, and neighbors say the house has been empty for years. The family owns at least six other Hong Kong properties with a combined estimated value of $24.1 million.

Standing Committee

Xi has risen through the party over the past three decades, holding leadership positions in several provinces and joining the ruling Politburo Standing Committee in 2007. Along the way, he built a reputation for clean government.

He led an anti-graft campaign in the rich coastal province of Zhejiang, where he issued the “rein in” warning to officials in 2004, according to a People’s Daily publication. In Shanghai, he was brought in as party chief after a 3.7 billion- yuan ($582 million) scandal.

A 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing cited an acquaintance of Xi’s saying he wasn’t corrupt or driven by money. Xi was “repulsed by the all-encompassing commercialization of Chinese society, with its attendant nouveau riche, official corruption, loss of values, dignity, and self- respect,” the cable disclosed by Wikileaks said, citing the friend. Wikileaks publishes secret government documents online.

A U.S. government spokesman declined to comment on the document.

While inequality is an innate feature of the marketplace, it is even worse when political access and privilege drives these.

Again from the same Bloomberg article:

Increasing resentment over China’s most powerful families carving up the spoils of economic growth poses a challenge for the Communist Party. The income gap in urban China has widened more than in any other country in Asia over the past 20 years, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“The average Chinese person gets angry when he hears about deals where people make hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars, by trading on political influence,” said Barry Naughton, professor of Chinese economy at the University of California, San Diego, who wasn’t referring to the Xi family specifically.

Read the rest here

Realize that when politicians and their followers peddle arguments based on “noble sounding” or “feel good policies” such as self sufficiency, nationalism, anti-foreign, currency manipulations-trade deficits, the need for political spending to generate employment (make work bias) and etc.., they are preaching of mercantilism and protectionism which tacitly promotes their interests and NOT of the consumers or of the “people”.

The ultimate beneficiaries of interventionists policies, like the above, are the powers that be.

Interventionism is the essence of rent-seeking politics or crony capitalism.

The rent seeking political economy is a universal phenomenon. The greater share of the political influences on the economy, the more economic opportunities are driven by rent seeking. This includes the Philippines. All you’ve got to do is to OPEN your eyes, use common sense and stop listening to sycophants and the institutional propaganda machines.

Politicians hardly practices on what they preach, as they are focused mainly on generating votes or approval ratings to preserve or expand their entitlements.

In the rent seeking political economy, there are many ways to skin a cat, something which the public can hardly see.

When media and politicians talk about “inequality”, like magicians, they simply are engaged in verbal manipulative framing of the public’s mindset. They deliberately shift the blame on market forces, what in essence are mainly caused by political inequality.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Wealthy Swiss Hold Cash and Gold on Fears of the Euro’s Doom

From CNBC,

If you want proof that the world’s wealthy are worried, consider this: Swiss banking clients have nearly a third of their portfolio in cash. And one in five believe the Euro will collapse.

The findings are included in a new report from LGT Group, the Austrian banking company, conducted with Austria’s Johannes Kepler University. The study found that wealthy Swiss and Austrian private-banking clients remain highly risk-averse and fearful of inflation, sovereign debt defaults and the unstable financial system.

In Switzerland, 58 percent of private banking clients have lost confidence in the financial system. Forty-four percent worry about inflation.

Fully 22 percent expect the euro zone to collapse. The number was the same for Austrian clients. Only 15 percent of Swiss and 16 percent of Austrians say the lessons have been learned from the euro crisis.

The study also said clients are reducing their diversification strategies and retreating to gold, cash and their home markets. Only a small fraction of clients are out to get better returns than the broader market.

I sympathize with the position of these affluent Swiss banking clients. The financial system has indeed been unstable and has become too dependent on political steroids

And I think that the present concerns goes beyond the Euro crisis as current woes seem multipronged: the BRICs (especially China) and the US too.

Yet geopolitical events, which has been holding the global financial markets hostage, has been very fluid and can move very swiftly and dramatically which would likely incite even more volatility in the financial markets from what we are seeing today.

Uncertainty prevails.

Markets in Risk ON mode on Easing of EU’s Debt Crisis Rules

It seems that global financial markets are in a RISK ON mode anew as EU officials come into an accord to ease debt rules.

From Bloomberg,

Euro-area leaders agreed to ease repayment rules for emergency loans to Spanish banks and relax conditions on possible help for Italy as an outflanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave in on expanded steps to stem the debt crisis.

After 13 1/2 hours of talks ending at 4:30 a.m. in Brussels today, leaders of the 17 euro countries dropped the requirement that governments get preferred creditor status on crisis loans to Spain’s blighted banks and opened the door to recapitalizing banks directly with bailout funds once Europe sets up a single banking supervisor.

The leaders struggled for consensus on reducing market pressure on Italy and Spain, where surging borrowing costs stoked concern among investors and global policy makers that the currency union threatened to splinter and risk damaging the global economy. They would be allowed access to rescue loans without relinquishing control of their economies.

“We agreed on short-term measures that should apply to Spain and Italy,” said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the group of euro finance ministers. “We will keep all options open to do the interventions that need to be done to calm the situation. There is a whole array of possible interventions and measures.”


The gathering marked at least the fourth time in the past year that the guardians of the euro faced a make-or-break summit to restore confidence in their 17-nation bloc. They have struggled so far in vain to contain the financial crisis that began in Greece in 2009. The turmoil claimed its fifth victim this week when Cyprus sought a bailout.

Rules are made to be broken in order to accommodate the interests of the political elites, so what else is new?

We have seen this story play out again and again.

1. Realization that the crisis hasn’t been resolved sends the market into a RISK OFF mode.

2. EU officials meet and make announcements (pledges to inflate, new accord, new rules, new lending and etc…) and the markets switches to a RISK ON mode.

3. Go back to stage 1.

The problem is that the positive impact from such political actions seems to be diminishing.

The article says that EU “have struggled so far in vain to contain the financial crisis that began in Greece in 2009”.

Well that’s because EU officials have been using politics (such as the above) as the main tool to solve economic problems in order to preserve the status quo, mostly through financial repression measures.

Instead, EU officials should adjust politics to conform with economic realities through economic liberalization reforms.

Denials and measures that bank on hope or short term patches won’t have any lasting impact. This only worsens the uncertainty and sets the conditions for magnified volatility.

Understanding Political Terminologies 2: Social Justice, Greece, Austerity and Insurance

Political language have been deliberately mangled to suit and promote the interests of political agents and their followers. I have given a few examples earlier.

More examples:


Once again here is the brilliant Thomas Sowell on “Social Justice”

If there were a Hall of Fame for political rhetoric, the phrase "social justice" would deserve a prominent place there. It has the prime virtue of political catchwords: It means many different things to many different people.

In other words, if you are a politician, you can get lots of people, with different concrete ideas, to agree with you when you come out boldly for the vague generality of "social justice."

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that a good catchword can stop thought for 50 years. The phrase "social justice" has stopped many people from thinking, for at least a century -- and counting.

If someone told you that Country A had more "social justice" than Country B, and you had all the statistics in the world available to you, how would you go about determining whether Country A or Country B had more "social justice"? In short, what does the phrase mean in practice -- if it has any concrete meaning?

In political and ideological discussions, the issue is usually whether there is some social injustice. Even if we can agree that there is some injustice, what makes it social?

Surely most of us are repelled by the thought that some people are born into dire poverty, while others are born into extravagant luxury -- each through no fault of their own and no virtue of their own. If this is an injustice, does that make it social?

The baby born into dire poverty might belong to a family in Bangladesh, and the one born to extravagant luxury might belong to a family in America. Whose fault is this disparity or injustice? Is there some specific society that caused this? Or is it just one of those things in the world that we wish was very different?

If it is an injustice, it is unjust from some cosmic perspective, an unjust fate, rather than necessarily an unjust policy, institution or society.

Investing guru Doug Casey also shares more verbal twisting (Greece and Austerity)…


it's not "Greece" we're talking about, but the Greek government. It's the Greek government that's made the laws that got people used to pensions for retirement at age 55. It's the Greek government that's built up a giant and highly paid bureaucracy that just sits around when it's not actively gumming up the economy. It's the Greek government that's saddled the country with onerous taxes and regulations that make most business more trouble than it's worth. It's the Greek government that borrowed billions that the citizens are arguably responsible for. It's the Greek government that's set the legal and moral tone for the pickle the place is in.


the term "austerity" is used very loosely by the talking heads on TV. It sounds bad, even though it just means living within one's means… or, for Europeans, not too insanely above them. But who knows what's actually included or excluded from what the EU leaders think of as austerity? Take the Greek pension funds, for example: exactly how are they funded? I'd expect that private companies make payments to a state fund, as Americans do via the Social Security program. I suspect there's no money in the coffers; it's all been frittered on high living and socialist boondoggles. Tough luck for pensioners. Maybe they can convince the Chinese to give them money to keep living high off the hog…

4. I would add INSURANCE as camouflage for the Welfare State

From Murray N. Rothbard,

The answer is the very existence of health-care insurance, which was established or subsidized or promoted by the government to help ease the previous burden of medical care. Medicare, Blue Cross, etc., are also very peculiar forms of "insurance."

If your house burns down and you have fire insurance, you receive (if you can pry the money loose from your friendly insurance company) a compensating fixed money benefit. For this privilege, you pay in advance a fixed annual premium. Only in our system of medical insurance, does the government or Blue Cross pay, not a fixed sum, but whatever the doctor or hospital chooses to charge.

In economic terms, this means that the demand curve for physicians and hospitals can rise without limit. In short, in a form grotesquely different from Say's Law, the suppliers can literally create their own demand through unlimited third-party payments to pick up the tab. If demand curves rise virtually without limit, so too do the prices of the service.

In order to stanch the flow of taxes or subsidies, in recent years the government and other third party insurers have felt obliged to restrict somewhat the flow of goodies: by increasing deductibles, or by putting caps on Medicare payments. All this has been met by howls of anguish from medical customers who have come to think of unlimited third-party payments as some sort of divine right, and from physicians and hospitals who charge the government with "socialistic price controls" — for trying to stem its own largesse to the health-care industry!

In addition to artificial raising of the demand curve, there is another deep flaw in the medical insurance concept. Theft is theft, and fire is fire, so that fire or theft insurance is fairly clear-cut the only problem being the "moral hazard" of insurees succumbing to the temptation of burning down their own unprofitable store or apartment house, or staging a fake theft, in order to collect the insurance.

In the world of politics,lies, distortions and equivocations are the norm.

Don't fall for them

Video: The Difference between Obamacare and Medicare; What to Expect Next

Law professor Elizabeth Price Foley explains the difference...

(thanks to Learn Liberty's Tim Hedberg for the video)

Meanwhile Cato's Chris Edwards has an amusing satire of what to expect next after the Supreme court's decision on Obamacare
Federal Broccoli Act of 2013: Eat your broccoli, else pay the IRS $1,000.

Federal Recycling Act of 2014: Fill your blue box and put on the curb, else pay the IRS $2,000.

Federal Green Car Act of 2015: Make your next car battery powered, else pay the IRS $3,000.

Federal Domestic Jobs Act of 2016: Don’t exceed 25 percent foreign content on family consumer purchases, else pay the IRS $4,000.

Federal Obesity Act of 2017: Achieve listed BMI on your mandated annual physical, else pay the IRS $5,000.

Federal National Service Act of 2018: Serve two years in the military or the local soup kitchen, else pay the IRS $6,000.

Federal Housing Efficiency Act of 2019: Don’t exceed 1,000 square feet of living space per person in your household, else pay the IRS $7,000.

Federal Population Growth Act of 2020: Don’t exceed two children per couple, else pay the IRS $8,000.

Quote of the Day: Obamacare is Against a Free Society

Today we should remember that virtually everything government does is a 'mandate.' The issue is not whether Congress can compel commerce by forcing you to buy insurance, or simply compel you to pay a tax if you don’t. The issue is that this compulsion implies the use of government force against those who refuse. The fundamental hallmark of a free society should be the rejection of force. In a free society, therefore, individuals could opt out of “Obamacare” without paying a government tribute.

Those of us in Congress who believe in individual liberty must work tirelessly to repeal this national health care law and reduce federal involvement in healthcare generally. Obamacare can only increase third party interference in the doctor-patient relationship, increase costs, and reduce the quality of care. Only free market medicine can restore the critical independence of doctors, reduce costs through real competition and price sensitivity, and eliminate enormous paperwork burdens. Americans will opt out of Obamacare with or without Congress, but we can seize the opportunity today by crafting the legal framework to allow them to do so.

That’s from Ron Paul commenting on today’s Supreme Court ruling

US Federal Home Loan Banks Exposed to Europe’s Debt Crisis

From the Bloomberg/Businessweek

The U.S. Federal Home Loan Banks’ unsecured lending to foreign institutions skyrocketed last year as the European sovereign debt crisis intensified, raising concerns about their risk management, an auditor’s report said today.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the 12 regional Home Loan Banks, should tighten limits on such lending and improve monitoring of whether that lending exceeds the limits, the FHFA Office of Inspector General said in the report.

“FHFA’s current regulation continues to permit FHLBanks to build large unsecured credit portfolios that may produce unreasonable risk,” wrote Richard Parker, director of the auditor’s Office of Policy, Oversight and Review. “FHFA should, therefore, reassess the counterparty risk limits associated with its existing regulation.”

Several Home Loan Banks last year made short-term loans totaling about $3 billion to two European banks that had received government bailouts and were on a credit watch, according to the report.

Federal Home Loan Banks’ unsecured lending to foreign banks peaked in April of 2011 at $101 billion before falling to $41 billion at the end of the year, the audit found.

The US banking system has likely more exposure to the Eurozone than disclosed. This could be just one example.

BSP's loan to the IMF: Costs are Not Benefits

The simmering debate over the proposed loan to the IMF by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) can be summarized as:

For the anti-camp, the issue is largely one of purse control or where to spend the government (or in particular the BSP’s money) seen from the moral dimensions.

For the pro-camp or the apologists for the BSP and the government, the argument has been made mostly over the opportunity cost of capital or ( or the expected rate of return forgone by bypassing of other potential investment activities, e.g. best “riskless” way to earn money, appeal to tradition, e.g. Philippines has been lending money to the IMF for decades, and with some quirk “foreign exchange assets …are not like money held by the treasury” which is meant to dissociate the argument of purse control with central bank policies.

I will be dealing with latter

This assertion “foreign exchange assets …are not like money held by the treasury” is technically true or valid in terms of FORM, but false in terms of SUBSTANCE.

Foreign exchange assets are in reality products of Central Banking monetary or foreign exchange policies of buying and selling of official international reserves (

This means that foreign exchange assets and reserves are acquired and sold by the BSP with local currency units, or the Philippine Peso, prices of which are set by the marketplace

It is important to address the fact that the local currency the Peso has been mandated as legal tender by The New Central Bank Act or REPUBLIC ACT No. 7653 which says

Section 52. Legal Tender Power. -

All notes and coins issued by the Bangko Sentral shall be fully guaranteed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and shall be legal tender in the Philippines for all debts, both public and private

This means that ALL transactions made by the BSP based on the Peso are guaranteed by the Philippine government. This also further implies that foreign exchange assets held by the BSP, which were bought with the Peso, are underwritten by the local taxpayers. Therefore claims that taxpayer money as not being exposed to the proposed BSP $1 billion loan to the IMF are unfounded, if not downright silly. We don’t need to drill down on the content of the balance sheet and the definition of International Reserves for the BSP to further prove this point.

The more important point here: whether foreign exchange or treasury or private sector assets, we are dealing with money.

And money, as the great Austrian professor Ludwig von Mises pointed out, must necessarily be an economic good, the notion of a money that would not be scarce is absurd.

As a scarce good, money held by the National government or by the BSP is NOT money held by the private sector.

Therefore the government or the BSP’s “earnings” translates to lost “earnings” for the private sector.

Costs are not benefits. To paraphrase Professor Don Boudreaux, that the benefit the BSP gets from investing in the asset markets might make sacrificing some unseen private sector industries worthwhile does not mean such sacrifices are a benefit in and of itself.

The public sees what has only been made to be seen by politics. Yet the public does not see the opportunities lost from such actions. Therefore, the cost-benefit tradeoff cannot be fully established.

Besides, any idea that loans to the IMF is risk free is a myth. There is no such thing as risk free. The laws of economics cannot be made to disappear, or cannot become subservient, to mere government edicts as today’s crisis has shown. Remember the IMF depends on contributions from taxpayers of member nations. And for many reasons where taxpayers of these nations might resist to contribute further, and or where the loan exposures by the IMF does not get paid, then the IMF will be in a deep hole.

As I pointed previous out the risk to IMF’s loan to crisis nation are real. There hardly has been anything to enforce loan covenants or deals made with EU's crisis restricted nations.

Also, it is naïve to believe that just because the Philippines has had a track record of lending to the IMF, that such actions makes it automatically financially viable or moral. This heuristics (mental short cut) wishes away the nitty gritty realities of the distinctive risks-return tradeoffs, as well as the moral issues, attendant to every transaction. Here the Wall Street saw applies: Past performance does not guarantee future outcomes.

It is further misguided to believe that the government (in particular the BSP) behaves like any other private enterprises.

As a side note, I find it funny how apologists use logical verbal sleight of hand in attempting to distinguish central bank operations from treasury operations but ironically and spuriously attempts to synthesize the functionality of government and private enterprises.

Two reasons:

1. Central banks are political institutions with political goals.

As the great dean of Austrian School of economics, Murray N. Rothbard pointed out,

The Central Bank has always had two major roles: (1) to help finance the government's deficit; and (2) to cartelize the private commercial banks in the country, so as to help remove the two great market limits on their expansion of credit, on their propensity to counterfeit: a possible loss of confidence leading to bank runs; and the loss of reserves should any one bank expand its own credit. For cartels on the market, even if they are to each firm's advantage, are very difficult to sustain unless government enforces the cartel. In the area of fractional-reserve banking, the Central Bank can assist cartelization by removing or alleviating these two basic free-market limits on banks' inflationary expansion credit.

2. The guiding incentives and structure of operations for government agencies (not limited to the BSP) is totally different from profit-loss driven private enterprises.

Again Professor Rothbard,

Proponents of government enterprise may retort that the government could simply tell its bureau to act as if it were a profit-making enterprise and to establish itself in the same way as a private business. There are two flaws in this theory. First, it is impossible to play enterprise. Enterprise means risking one's own money in investment. Bureaucratic managers and politicians have no real incentive to develop entrepreneurial skill, to really adjust to consumer demands. They do not risk loss of their money in the enterprise. Secondly, aside from the question of incentives, even the most eager managers could not function as a business. Regardless of the treatment accorded the operation after it is established, the initial launching of the firm is made with government money, and therefore by coercive levy. An arbitrary element has been "built into" the very vitals of the enterprise. Further, any future expenditures may be made out of tax funds, and therefore the decisions of the managers will be subject to the same flaw. The ease of obtaining money will inherently distort the operations of the government enterprise. Moreover, suppose the government "invests" in an enterprise, E. Either the free market, left alone, would also have invested the same amount in the selfsame enterprise, or it would not. If it would have, then the economy suffers at least from the "take" going to the intermediary bureaucracy. If not, and this is almost certain, then it follows immediately that the expenditure on E is a distortion of private utility on the market — that some other expenditure would have greater monetary returns. It follows once again that a government enterprise cannot duplicate the conditions of private business.

In addition, the establishment of government enterprise creates an inherent competitive advantage over private firms, for at least part of its capital was gained by coercion rather than service. It is clear that government, with its subsidization, if it wishes can drive private business out of the field. Private investment in the same industry will be greatly restricted, since future investors will anticipate losses at the hands of the privileged governmental competitors. Moreover, since all services compete for the consumer's dollar, all private firms and all private investment will to some degree be affected and hampered. And when a government enterprise opens, it generates fears in other industries that they will be next, and that they will be either confiscated or forced to compete with government-subsidized enterprises. This fear tends to repress productive investment further and thus lower the general standard of living still more.

From here we derive the third view that distinguishes from the two mainstream camps:

Government is NOT supposed to “earn” money. Government should leave the private sector to earn from productive undertakings. Whatever “surpluses” or “earnings” should be given back to the taxpayers. How? By reducing taxes, by cutting down government spending and or by paying down public debt.

The “returns” from these actions will surely outweigh gains made from political speculations. Unfortunately this has been unseen.

As the great Frederic Bastiat once remarked

Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference - the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come, - at the risk of a small present evil.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quote of the Day: Euro Crisis is the Tip of the Iceberg

Those governments are all bankrupt. But much more serious than financial bankruptcy is their total moral and intellectual bankruptcy. At this point the Europeans are so craven and degraded they deserve to be indentured servants of the Chinese, which they will be. The debt they are using to finance their bulging bureaucracies, bloated welfare rolls, giant pensions, and so forth is largely coming from the banks. But the banks are all bankrupt too, partly because they've lent so much capital to bankrupt governments. So you've got two sets of bankrupt institutions trading debt back and forth between themselves. It doesn't help to say that it's the PIIGS that are in the worst shape, because it's the banks in the supposedly wealthier countries that own the PIIGS's debt. They are all tied together.

It's much worse, on a global scale, because Europe is China's largest trading partner. When the EU really goes into reverse and suffers a major economic collapse, the Chinese are going to lose their main customers – and end up owning a lot of chateaux. That also means the Chinese will stop buying the raw materials – commodities – they use to make what they sell to the Europeans. That will hammer the Australian, Brazilian, Canadian, and other resource-driven economies.

And the problems with Japan are even worse, though somewhat different, than the ones in Europe. Chronically corrupt and now depopulating Russia is headed for a fall; its economy produces nothing but raw materials and weapons. The problem is truly global. The headlines keep pointing at Europe right now, but the EU is just the tip of the iceberg the global economy is aimed at.

This is from investing guru and philosopher Doug Casey on the coming Eurocrash.

Graphic of the Day: Knowledge Problem

From my favorite graphic artist, the highly creative Jessica Hagy


War on Gold: Indian Government Mulls Ban on Bank Gold Sales


The sale of gold coins in India by banks could be curbed with the Reserve Bank of India considering banning such sales. Partly, an attempt by the Reserve Bank to help curb rising gold imports, the Bank says it also believes such sales are not relevant to core banking operations.

The move, if implemented, could deal a major blow to banks that are estimated to make a clear profit of $26 million (Rs 1.5 billion) given the 3% margin from the sales of gold coins. Some 36 banks have been nominated by the apex bank to import gold into the country.

Gold is a regulated sector in India and the government allows state-run and private banks to trade in bullion at the wholesale and retail level. To profit from Indians love of gold, banks in India started vending gold coins four years ago, earning a small commission with each sale.

Though the practise did not catch the fancy of Indian customers in its early days, major discounts and monthly instalment programmes offered by banks during festivals and other auspicious days, including gold-buying days, have resulted in huge sales.

For Indian investors, gold coins in smaller denominations are considered apt for corporate gifting and rewards for contests or for commemorative giveaways. Banks have also been incentivising their staff to sell gold coins as they earn a margin of $2.62 (Rs 150) per gram of gold. Special edition gold coins with images of deities or monuments have also helped to drive the overall coin sales in the country.

The Indian government has been desperately looking for a scapegoat. This attempt to ban bank sales of gold coin is a follow-up to the earlier tariffs imposed on gold imports

Unfortunately the problem isn’t gold (or the Indian people), the problem is the government as I pointed out before.

Will the ECB Impose Negative Deposit Rates?

This Bloomberg report thinks so.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi is contemplating taking interest rates into a twilight zone shunned by the Federal Reserve.

While cutting ECB rates may boost confidence, stimulate lending and foster growth, it could also involve reducing the bank’s deposit rate to zero or even lower. Once an obstacle for policy makers because it risks hurting the money markets they’re trying to revive, cutting the deposit rate from 0.25 percent is no longer a taboo, two euro-area central bank officials said on June 15.

“The European recession is worsening, the ECB has to do more,” said Julian Callow, chief European economist at Barclays Capital in London, who forecasts rates will be cut at the ECB’s next policy meeting on July 5. “A negative deposit rate is something they need to consider but taking it to zero as a first step is more likely.”

Should Draghi elect to cut the deposit rate to zero or lower, he’ll be entering territory few policy makers have dared to venture. Sweden’s Riksbank in July 2009 became the world’s first central bank to charge financial institutions for the money they deposited with it overnight. The Fed rejected cutting its deposit rate from 0.25 percent last year. With Europe’s debt crisis damping inflation pressures and curbing growth, the ECB may feel the benefits outweigh the negatives.

‘Psychological Effect’

“A rate cut could have an important psychological effect in the current environment,” said Christoph Kind, head of asset allocation at Frankfurt Trust, which manages about $20 billion. “Negative interest rates aren’t an irrational concept. I’m not sure, though, whether in the case of the ECB it will have the desired effect.”

The ECB uses three interest rates to steer borrowing costs in financial markets. The main refinancing rate determines how much banks pay for ECB loans, while the deposit and marginal rates provide a floor and ceiling for the interest banks charge each other overnight.

If the deposit rate was cut to zero or lower, it would discourage banks from parking excess liquidity with the ECB overnight, potentially prompting them to lend the cash instead. Almost 800 billion euros ($1 trillion) is being deposited with the ECB each day.

On the other hand, a deposit rate cut could hurt banks’ profitability by lowering money-market rates, potentially hampering credit supply to companies and households and reducing banks’ incentive to lend to other financial institutions.

Central banks have only one thing in mind: That is to expand to credit (inflationism) to supposedly boost aggregate demand which is reality serves as an academic cover for the true purpose—finance extravagant governments.

Unfortunately the world isn’t that simple. People refuse to take on more credit for several reasons: They have been drowning in debt, they have been tarnished by bad or blemished credit scores, they could be suffering from lower income or unemployment is high due to the recession, business environment has been hampered by politics banking institutions have been clogged and for many other reasons which reduces their incentives to do so.

What negative deposit rates will likely do is to destabilize allocation of resources and spawn more malinvestments and fuel frenetic speculation that leads to boom-bust cycles and worsen the situation

As the great Ludwig von Mises once warned,

But today credit expansion is exclusively a government practice. As far as private banks and bankers are instrumental in issuing fiduciary media, their role is merely ancillary and concerns only technicalities. The governments alone direct the course of affairs. They have attained full supremacy in all matters concerning the size of circulation credit. While the size of the credit expansion that private banks and bankers are able to engineer on an unhampered market is strictly limited, the governments aim at the greatest possible amount of credit expansion. Credit expansion is the governments' foremost tool in their struggle against the market economy. In their hands it is the magic wand designed to conjure away the scarcity of capital goods, to lower the rate of interest or to abolish it altogether, to finance lavish government spending, to expropriate the capitalists, to contrive everlasting booms, and to make everybody prosperous.

The ECB seems to be grasping at straws.

Myanmar’s Property Bubble

The impact from global negative real interest rates and monetary measures such as QEs seems to have percolated to Myanmar.

From Global Post,

Hoping to set up shop in Yangon? Bring duffel bags full of cash.

You might assume that property in Myanmar, one of Asia’s most impoverished and dysfunctional nations, would rent for a pittance.

But as the long-shuttered pariah zooms towards political and economic reform, it is swarmed by foreign investors speculating that Myanmar’s big boom is nigh. There are now too few hotels and office buildings in the crumbling commercial capital, Yangon, to cope with the influx of moneyed outsiders.

It doesn’t take an economics whiz to guess what happens to property markets with a glut of interest and a paucity of supply.

Yangon hotels that once charged $60 a night are charging $250 or more. The average rental price for office space has surged to $60 per square meter, according to Antony Picon, an associate director of research with the Colliers International real estate services firm.

“I’ve seen a swamp in the middle of nowhere and they’re asking the same thing they’d ask in the center of town,” Picon said. Houses that recently rented for a few hundred bucks a month are going for thousands.

While economic reforms through liberalization has been a good development, unfortunately this has been accommodating the international monetary policies fueled ballooning property bubble in Myanmar.

Biggest Cyber Banking Heist Hits Over 60 Banks Worldwide

Speaking of hacking, over 60 banks suffered from a recent grand scale cyber banking heist.

According to Sky News

Sixty million euro has been stolen from bank accounts in a massive cyber bank raid after fraudsters raided dozens of financial institutions around the world.

According to a joint report by software security firm McAfee and Guardian Analytics, more than 60 firms have suffered from what it has called an "insider level of understanding".

"The fraudsters' objective in these attacks is to siphon large amounts from high balance accounts, hence the name chosen for this research - Operation High Roller," the report said.

"If all of the attempted fraud campaigns were as successful as the Netherlands example we describe in this report, the total attempted fraud could be as high as 2bn euro (£1.6bn)."

The automated malicious software programme was discovered to use servers to process thousands of attempted thefts from both commercial firms and private individuals.

The stolen money was then sent to so-called mule accounts in caches of a few hundreds and 100,000 euro (£80,000) at a time.

Credit unions, large multinational banks and regional banks have all been attacked.

As the the world becomes more interconnected, the cyber space has become ground zero for all sorts of attacks. This includes governments (like Flame and Stuxnet) and all sorts of hackers with different missions, e.g. Wikileaks, Anonymous, Drone hackers, cyber robbers and etc…. Interesting.

Students Hack US Drone


From, (hat tip Bastiat Institute) [Italics original]

There are a lot of cool things you can do with $1,000, but scientists at an Austin, Texas college have come across one that is often overlooked: for less than a grand, how’d you like to hijack a US government drone?

A group of researchers led by Professor Todd Humphreys from the University of Texas at Austin Radionavigation Laboratory recently succeeded in raising the eyebrows of the US government. With just around $1,000 in parts, Humphreys’ team took control of an unmanned aerial vehicle operated by the US Department of Homeland Security.

After being challenged by his lab, the DHS dared Humphreys’ crew to hack into their drone and take command. Much to their chagrin, they did exactly that.

Humphrey tells Fox News that for a few hundreds dollar his team was able to “spoof” the GPS system on board the DHS drone, a technique that involves mimicking the actual signals sent to the global positioning device and then eventually tricking the target into following a new set of commands. And, for just $1,000, Humphreys says the spoofer his team assembled was the most advanced one ever built.

“Spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is just another way of hijacking a plane,” Humphreys tells Fox. The real danger here, however, is that the government is currently considering plans that will allow local law enforcement agencies and other organizations from coast-to-coast to control drones of their own in America’s airspace.

“In five or ten years you have 30,000 drones in the airspace,” he tells Fox News. “Each one of these could be a potential missile used against us.”

I guess that with “30,000 drones in the airspace” encroaching on people’s privacy, drone hackers will be in big demand.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Out of Cash, Local Chinese Governments Sell Cars


With their fortunes going out the window, Chinese local governments have been compelled to auction official luxury cars, according to the Financial Times. This move, though unorthodox, is geared towards improving revenues that have since hit rock bottom amid the unending slowdown.

Auctions have begun taking place far and wide spanning areas like Datong in the north and Kunming in the south. It is a nationwide affair as pressure from citizens has reached an all-time high. Some disgruntled citizens have blatantly displayed their disappointment in the government by going to lengths of uploading high-end official cars (Porches and even a Maserati) on the internet.

This adds to the string of negative signs for China and for the world.


China’s Shanghai index completed a technical breakdown during the past two days.

Today she closed modestly higher today, but this would be more of dead cats bounce.

Be careful out there.

Understanding Political Terminologies

The following are excerpts from the splendid article of the distinguished economist Thomas Sowell. Here are the meaning of some popular political terms:


One of the most versatile terms in the political vocabulary is “fairness.” It has been used over a vast range of issues, from “fair trade” laws to the Fair Labor Standards Act. And recently we have heard that the rich don’t pay their “fair share” of taxes.

Some of us may want to see a definition of what is “fair.” But a concrete definition would destroy the versatility of the word, which is what makes it so useful politically.

If you said, for example, that 46.7 percent of their income — or any other number — is the “fair share” of their income that the rich should have to pay in taxes, then once they paid that amount, there would be no basis for politicians to come back to them for more — and “more” is what “fair share” means in practice.

Life in general has never been even close to fair, so the pretense that the government can make it fair is a valuable and inexhaustible asset to politicians who want to expand government.


A more positive term that is likely to be heard a lot, during election years especially, is “compassion.” But what does it mean concretely? More often than not, in practice it means a willingness to spend the taxpayers’ money in ways that will increase the spender’s chances of getting reelected.

In the political language of today, people who want to keep what they have earned are said to be “greedy,” while those who wish to take their earnings from them and give it to others (who will vote for them in return) show “compassion.”

A political term that had me baffled for a long time was “the hungry.” Since we all get hungry, it was not obvious to me how you single out some particular segment of the population to refer to as “the hungry.”

Eventually, over the years, it finally dawned on me what the distinction was. People who make no provision to feed themselves, but expect others to provide food for them, are those whom politicians and the media refer to as “the hungry.”

Those who meet this definition may have money for alcohol, drugs or even various electronic devices. And many of them are overweight. But, if they look to voluntary donations, or money taken from the taxpayers, to provide them with something to eat, then they are “the hungry”.

Beware of the Orwellian doublespeak

Italy’s Regulation Choked Labor Markets

Here is another example of the normative way of how politicians deal with problems: They treat the symptoms rather than the disease.

From the Wall Street Journal,

Prime Minister Mario Monti has issued a new "growth decree" to revive Italy's moribund economy. Among other initiatives, the 185-page plan proposes discount loans for corporate R&D, tax credits for businesses that hire employees with advanced degrees, and reduced headcount at select government ministries.

Will any of this solve Italy's economic problems? Only in the sense that one could theoretically drain Lake Como with a ladle and straw. Allow us, then, to illustrate why Italy's economy stagnates.

Imagine you're an ambitious Italian entrepreneur, trying to make a go of a new business. You know you will have to pay at least two-thirds of your employees' social security costs. You also know you're going to run into problems once you hire your 16th employee, since that will trigger provisions making it either impossible or very expensive to dismiss a staffer.

But there's so much more. Once you hire employee 11, you must submit an annual self-assessment to the national authorities outlining every possible health and safety hazard to which your employees might be subject. These include stress that is work-related or caused by age, gender and racial differences. You must also note all precautionary and individual measures to prevent risks, procedures to carry them out, the names of employees in charge of safety, as well as the physician whose presence is required for the assessment.

Now say you decide to scale up. Beware again: Once you hire your 16th employee, national unions can set up shop. As your company grows, so does the number of required employee representatives, each of whom is entitled to eight hours of paid leave monthly to fulfill union or works-council duties. Management must consult these worker reps on everything from gender equality to the introduction of new technology.

Hire No. 16 also means that your next recruit must qualify as disabled. By the time your firm hires its 51st worker, 7% of the payroll must be handicapped in some way, or else your company owes fees in-kind. During hard times, your company may apply for exemptions from these quotas—though as with everything in Italy, it's a toss-up whether it's worth it after the necessary paperwork.

Once you hire your 101st employee, you must submit a report every two years on the gender dynamics within the company. This must include a tabulation of the men and women employed in each production unit, their functions and level within the company, details of compensation and benefits, and dates and reasons for recruitments, promotions and transfers, as well as the estimated revenue impact.

I earlier posted the labor markets of France and Germany compared to Spain.

Such astounding maze of regulations has been one of the major dynamics for today’s crisis. This has produced a huge bureaucracy that has been draining productive resources from entrepreneurs. This has also increased the costs of doing business. Reduced the incentives of entrepreneurs to expand. Shifted many activities to the informal or shadow economy.


Italy has one of the largest informal economies relative to the OECD nations


As well as encouraged corruption. Italy ranks as one of the most corrupt in Eurozone. Overall, such regulations has reduced Italy’s competitiveness.

So reduced competitiveness leads to diminshed output (income) – ballooning government (expense)= crisis (deficits)

And how does the Italian government intend to fix the problem?

Among other initiatives, the 185-page plan proposes discount loans for corporate R&D, tax credits for businesses that hire employees with advanced degrees, and reduced headcount at select government ministries

Gosh, 185 pages of more regulations and more bureaucracy.

Note: reduced headcount at “select” government ministries looks more symbolical and seems like a loophole.

Yet the mainstream advice of solving this problem by inflation will only worsen the situation, as this does not address the root: asphyxiation from big government.

Doing it over and over again and expecting different results only reinforces the worsening of this crisis.

Quote of the Day: Your Identity Properly Belongs to you

Everyone has areas of utter privacy to protect. Some people wear lockets containing photos of deceased relatives; others daydream about a forbidden love; still other people lock the door while luxuriating in a hot bubble bath; or, perhaps, they write a love letter that is meant for one other set of eyes only. These acts are a line drawn between the private and public sphere; they constitute a boundary over which no other human being can rightfully cross without invitation.

If a neighbor reads takes it upon himself to read letters in your mailbox or copies down the details of deposits in a bankbook he has ‘encountered’ in your desk drawer, you would feel violated and enraged by the invasion. What is wrong for your neighbor to do is also wrong for a government agent to do because there is only one standard of morality. Theft is theft, invasion is invasion. You have the right to slam the door on the face of anyone who says differently. A peaceful human being owes no debt to any other person.

Hold the state up to the same standard as your neighbors…because there are no double standards of right and wrong. Privacy is a right, not an admission of guilt. Your identity properly belongs to you…not to the state.

This is from author Wendy McElroy at the Laissez Faire Books

China-Chile Plans to Double Trade in 3 years and Use the Yuan as Medium

China continues to promote her currency, the yuan, as an international currency reserve through a package of trade and investment bilateral deals.

China and Chile plans to double trade within 3 years through free trade. Wow.

From Xinhua,

China and Chile agreed Tuesday to upgrade their bilateral ties to a strategic partnership, and double trade in three years.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced Tuesday the establishment of China-Chile strategic partnership and the completion of negotiations on investment-related supplementary deals to a bilateral free trade agreement.

During their talks, Wen urged speedy signing and ratification of these supplementary deals and called for the finalization of the China-Chile free trade area…

Meanwhile, Wen suggested that the two sides launch currency swaps and expand settlement in China's renminbi.

Aside from Chile, as Zero Hedge points out, the list of China’s trading partners who now use the yuan as medium (including setting up of currency swaps) includes Japan, Russia, Iran, India and Brazil.

The world is in a gradualist path of bypassing the US dollar, which I believe, aside from the yuan as global forex reserve, could be partly motivated as insurance against a currency crisis

And as I have been saying, China’s supposed gunboat diplomacy and promotion of the yuan (or the seeming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relationship with Philippines) just doesn’t add up.

Austrian Business Cycle and September Market Crashes

September has been the slowest month for the stock markets.

In fact, the September October window has had the most number of incidences of Stock market crashes.

Chart above from

Austrian economist Bob Wenzel sees the link between stock market crashes and the Austrian Business Cycle,

Austrian business cycle theory holds that the boom-bust business cycle is the result of central bankers printing money and distorting the consumption-savings ratio in favor of savings and the bust occurs when the printing stops and the economy adjusts itself back in favor of a more consumer leaning consumption-savings ratio, which sees more money head into the consumption sector.

When a central bank stops printing money, September may act as something of a catalyst to push the consumer-savings ratio in favor of consumption more rapidly, since September is likely a very heavy consumption spending month. Consumers spend money in September for new school clothes for kids. The colder months begin to approach, so winter clothes are bought. More televisions are likely bought because of the colder weather, as more people spend time inside. Thus, there is more consumption and liquidation of savings (including stock ownership and withdrawals from banks) in September to fund the increased consumer spending.

October actually seems to be the month when stock market crashes occur most often (Think October 1929 and October 1987), as opposed to September. This may be a continuation of the problems started in September. Stocks go down and consumers have spent money that previously would have propped up the stock market. Further, October stock market liquidations also occur late in the month as people start thinking about Christmas shopping and less money is added to the stock market.