Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland Independence May Disrupt the Banking System

On September 18, there will be a vote in Scotland on independence from the United Kingdom.  As suspected, most politicians and other defenders of the establishment are completely against this idea, using fear tactics and bribes in order to get the Scottish people to remain in the U.K.

It is no surprise that most of the establishment is against independence for Scotland.  They always prefer centralization.  And they don’t know the ramifications of this, particularly as it pertains to the European Union.  This could potentially cause an eventual breakup of the European Union.

Now Scotland’s two biggest banks are joining the opposition to Scottish independence.  Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland Group both indicated that they would likely move their headquarters to London, or somewhere else in England, if there is a majority “yes” vote for independence.  Both banks are partially state-owned.

Part of this uncertainty is because it is unclear if the British pound would remain the currency in an independent Scotland.  And since the banks and government are so tightly connected, it just adds to the problems.

The banks rely on the support of the government, along with the central bank.  It is a similar scenario in most major advanced countries of the world.  Even the so-called private banks are under government regulation and given a backstop by the central bank as the lender of last resort.

What if a State Seceded in the U.S.?

Imagine a scenario in the United States where one particular state decided to secede.  What would happen to the banks, little or big, in that state?  My guess is that the same thing would happen.  They would probably move their headquarters.

In the U.S., banks have the FDIC.  While the FDIC is sold as a protection for consumers, it is really important for the banks in our world of fractional reserve lending.

If the FDIC didn’t exist, then the great degree of fractional reserve lending would not exist.  If there is a fear from customers that banks are lending out too much money, then this can trigger a bank run.  The FDIC has prevented most bank runs (for better or for worse) except for the really insolvent ones.

While the FDIC doesn’t really have much money, it is has the backing of the U.S. Treasury, which has the backing of the Federal Reserve.  The Fed can create money out of thin air at any time to save the banks, as we saw in 2008.

If Texas were to secede from the union, and be allowed to do so, what would happen to all of the banks headquartered in Texas?  You can use this same example for any other state.

Would the FDIC no longer apply to a bank headquartered in Texas?  If not, then the banks there would find themselves insolvent very quickly.  All it would take is for a few depositors to get scared and demand a withdrawal of their money.

In this hypothetical example, Texas could form its own version of the FDIC.  But this won’t really work unless it also forms a central bank that can fund it.  You see the problem here.  What is the point of secession if you bring back all of the bad institutions that you are trying to leave behind?

Don’t take this as an argument against secession.  I believe decentralization is usually beneficial for liberty in the long run.  But this does show the problems we face today because of fiat currencies, central banking, government guarantees, and government alliances with businesses.

These banks in Scotland will leave an independent Scotland because they want to stay solvent.  They need the government guarantees and government backing.  Otherwise, they won’t be able to compete with all of the banks that do have the government guarantees.

For those who favor independence and secession movements, I would also encourage you to support getting rid of central banking and government guarantees.  There is more of a link than many realize and it may become more evident in the coming weeks and months ahead, if Scotland becomes an independent country.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Argentina Gets in on the Anti-Dollar Action

It is being reported that there will be a currency swap between the central banks of China and Argentina.  The swap is reported to be for a total of $11 billion, with the first payment going to Argentina in the range of just under $1 billion by the end of the year.  It will be in the form of yuan, the Chinese currency.

Argentina just recently defaulted on its debt obligations a couple of months ago.  This announced swap will help Argentina to shore up its reserves.  The yuan could also be used to buy Chinese imports.

Of course, $11 billion, while quite significant for Argentina, is a drop in the bucket for the U.S. government.  I mention this because the U.S. government, along with the Federal Reserve, is not involved in this transaction.  It is a drop in the bucket, but little drops do add up over time.

You could also say that each snowflake accumulates to eventually make an avalanche.  It takes millions of snowflakes, but they start to add up after a while.  I say all of this in reference to the U.S. dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

I don’t think there is going to be an avalanche in the U.S. dollar losing its reserve status.  It will likely happen more subtly, one transaction at a time.

It is interesting that China is finding more and more countries that will deal in yuan.  Despite China’s problems, it is finding that the U.S. dollar does not command the same respect as it once did.

Chinese Reserves

This currency swap is really something of a loan to Argentina.  Argentina is plagued with debt and inflation problems.  Reserves have been draining away and it is difficult for the central bank there to get dollars because of the unreliability of its currency.

So while every international transaction that doesn’t involve the U.S. dollar is a small step away from the dollar as the reserve currency, this deal with Argentina makes Chinese officials look a bit foolish.

China holds well in excess of one trillion dollars in U.S. government debt.  Long-term, this may prove to be really foolish, as the dollar loses purchasing power due to the Fed’s massive monetary inflation.

If the answer of Chinese officials is to start loaning money to Argentina, then this is even more foolish.  The U.S. government is in a great financial condition compared to that of Argentina.  The U.S. dollar is a safe and stable currency compared to Argentina’s.

Chinese officials have been making significant changes in at least starting to get away from the U.S. dollar for transactions that don’t involve the U.S.  The most significant is Chinese and Russian officials making deals in rubles or yuan.

But Chinese central bankers keep buying up U.S. debt.  Apparently they are adding a little Argentina debt into the mix.  If they want to pile up reserves, why don’t they start buying more gold?  While they have been adding gold to their reserves, it is almost nothing compared to the holdings of U.S. Treasuries.

We should keep watching for these international deals that are being done without the use of U.S. dollars.  Hopefully, for China’s sake, they will find some better countries to do business with than Argentina.

But Chinese officials still believe in central planning and Keynesian economics.  They are mercantilists who believe that they have to subsidize their export sector by keeping a weak currency.  And until they stop buying U.S. Treasuries, I can’t take them too seriously.

If China starts trading dollars for gold in order to back their currency, then I will start to really take them seriously.  In the long run, this would actually benefit Americans because it would help put a stop to their reckless government and central bank.  And obviously it would help the Chinese people tremendously.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Free Trade or Corporate Welfare?

We live in a global world today, where there is a high division of labor and a lot of trading constantly going on across the planet.  While some people see this is a bad thing, it makes us more prosperous.

Free trade is beneficial for all parties.  It allows even poor people in other countries, with little capital, to share in at least a little prosperity.  People can specialize in one particular thing, whether it is working in a factory, or growing a certain kind of food, or anything else.

Free trade across countries is beneficial, just as it is beneficial between states, cities, and individuals in a neighborhood.  If trade is beneficial within a country, then it applies the same to trade between people in different countries.

Unfortunately, politicians exploit the mantra of free trade in order to get handouts for their buddies.  Free trade agreements are used as a cover for corporate welfare and other power plays.

These so-called free trade agreements, such as NAFTA and GATT, are not free trade agreements at all.  You don’t have to have some complex agreement to ensure free trade.

If two countries really believe in free trade, they can just make an agreement not to levy any tariffs and to not interfere with any peaceful trade.  It is really that simple.  Unfortunately, this isn’t what is happening with these agreements.

Guatemala to Subsidize U.S. Corporate Giants

There was a trade agreement signed back in 2005 call CAFTA-DR.  It is an agreement between Central American countries and the U.S.  It contains a provision that would essentially give a monopoly on certain plants or seeds to the companies that supposedly discovered them.  It is sold as a protection of intellectual property rights, as if anyone should have the right to own the rights to a particular type of seed or plant.

In order to abide by the agreement, the government in Guatemala passed the “Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties”.  Critics of the new law have appropriately called it the “Monsanto Law”, named after the giant U.S. corporation.  I would be surprised if Monsanto lobbyists didn’t help write the agreement and the law.

The law in Guatemala would make it illegal to own certain types of seeds or possess any plants derived from them.  This would be punishable by fines, and even possible prison time.

Fortunately, because of the uproar of farmers and other groups in Guatemala, the highest court there has suspended the law.  If the country doesn’t abide by the provision in the original “free trade” agreement, then it is possible Guatemala will get dropped from the agreement.  Of course, it is always dangerous for foreign politicians to defy the U.S. government.

It is amazing that corporate lobbyists in the U.S. not only affect U.S. residents, but also those in poor foreign countries.  As if some rural farmer in Guatemala were not poor enough, let’s grant a monopoly to Monsanto and other giant U.S. companies so that the poor guy can’t grow a particular plant on his land.  And if the poor farmer doesn’t obey, then just throw him in jail.

This is what our politicians call free trade.  I’m guessing this isn’t quite what Adam Smith had in mind when he wrote The Wealth of Nations.

We must not be fooled by labels.  These so-called free trade agreements may have some good aspects, but they generally do more harm than good.  They are written by lawmakers and corporate lobbyists.

The Occupy Wall Street crowd is correct in complaining about the top 1%.  But it isn’t the top 1% of wealthy people they should be complaining about.  It is the top 1% who get their money and power from political connections and government favors.  At least the people in Guatemala seem to understand what U.S. politicians are doing.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ecuador to Issue New Digital Currency

With the big takeoff of Bitcoin, there is more and more talk of digital currencies.  The latest talk comes from Ecuador, where the government plans to have the central bank issue a new digital currency.

Ecuador currently uses the U.S. dollar as its main form of money.  Like most South American countries, Ecuador has had currency problems, or perhaps more accurately, inflation problems.  It had to turn to the U.S. dollar in 2000 for some stability.

It is still unclear if the new digital currency will have a floating exchange rate with the dollar, or if there will be some kind of a fixed rate.

While it might sound good that Ecuador will have a currency to compete against the U.S. dollar, I fear that the government there has other ideas up its sleeve.

First, we must realize that this new currency will not be like Bitcoin.  While I have my doubts about the long-term viability of Bitcoin, at least it is a “private” currency, in the sense that it was not created by a government and it is not run by a government.  Nobody is forced to use it.

In addition, Bitcoin was purposely designed so that its supply would be limited.  You can “mine” for bitcoins, but it gets harder and harder, and the new supply gets more and more limited.  There is a finite limit to the number of bitcoins.

While we don’t really know yet how this new digital currency will work in Ecuador, we can take a pretty solid guess that it won’t be limited in its supply.  When has this ever existed with any government-issued currency that was not backed by a precious metal?

Still a Fiat Currency

Just because this will be a digital currency, it will still be issued by a central bank.  It will still be a fiat currency.  It will just be in digits.

In many ways, the U.S. dollar is almost a digital currency.  You can get actual dollar bills and coins, but actual paper money and coins makes up a small percentage of the actual money in circulation.  Most of the money exists in the form of digits in bank accounts and brokerage accounts.

When referring to the Federal Reserve’s monetary inflation, we often say that they are printing money.  But in most cases, this isn’t really true.  They are really just creating digits on a computer.  It has essentially the same effect, so I call it digital money printing.

Another concern about this new digital currency in Ecuador is that it may be used as a further step to prohibit privacy.  While a lot of Bitcoin advocates like to cite privacy as one of its advantages, I believe it can really be the opposite.  When you buy or sell something and use electronics to make or receive payment, then there is an electronic trail.  And we all know what the NSA is up to these days.  If it can track emails, then electronic payments are probably not out of reach.

The best form of privacy is using cash.  There is a reason drug dealers don’t write checks or use credit cards.  So we really have to ask ourselves if we want the government knowing all of our personal transactions.  When your kid mows the neighbor’s lawn for twenty bucks and receives his payment in digital currency, then he better be sure to pay his income taxes on that.

If any country is really serious about competing against the U.S. dollar, then it can do a couple of things.  First, it can stop inflating its own money supply.  Second, it can back up its currency with gold or silver.

Actually, there is a third option that is almost never considered.  The government can step out of the way and let the free market decide what to use for money.  Gold, silver, Bitcoin, and anything else can compete.  People can freely choose what to use.  It is likely that the top one or two choices will be widely used and accepted.

Until then, don’t trust these new government schemes.  Politicians in Ecuador want to spend money, just like everywhere else.  They are looking for a new source of funding and we can bet that they will use this new digital currency to inflate, just like we see with every other government-backed fiat currency.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Former Mob Boss Doesn't Trust Stocks

A former mob boss of the Colombo crime family in New York reported to CNBC that he doesn’t trust Wall Street, and the stock market that goes with it.  Michael Fanzese, who was in prison for 10 years, is now discussing the issue of trust.

Franzese said, “I did a lot of things at times with people on Wall Street…a lot of guys are shady and they did shady things with me and I don’t trust them.  And I don’t like other people that I don’t know really well taking care of my money.”

Perhaps we should not be surprised that a former mob boss is highly skeptical of other people.  But it also doesn’t mean that he’s wrong.

Franzese believes there is a stock market bubble that is ready to burst and recommends that investors diversify.  He even recommends investing in physical gold.  In regards to gold bullion, he said, “No matter what, it’s always going to have a value and there will always be something there.”

I never thought I would tell this to others, but they would probably be better off taking financial advice from this former mob boss than most of the pundits in the mainstream media.

Wall Street Bulls

I don’t trust the people on Wall Street, but it doesn’t mean I think they are inherently evil.  Just as you shouldn’t ask a barber if you need a haircut, or a divorce lawyer if you should get a divorce, I don’t think you should necessarily ask an investment advisor on Wall Street if you should buy stocks.

This is how Wall Street brokers make their money.  They need other investors to buy and sell.  Most people working on Wall Street are generally going to be bullish on stocks.  This isn’t always the case, but it is a general trend.

It is especially refreshing that I have actually heard some people on CNBC (besides Franzese) and others in the financial media outside of the internet who have warned about stocks.  Some just warn that there could be a pullback, but there are a few people out there who are warning there might be a big bust.

I have heard that this current run in the stock market can’t be a bubble because there are too many people warning that it is a bubble.  But there are still a lot of bulls out there, on CNBC and elsewhere.  And you can still have a bubble that is about to burst, even if some people are warning about it.

There were people warning about a tech crash in 1999 and there were people warning about a housing crash in 2005.  It was a small number of people, but they did exist.

It is not surprising that more people today are cautious about what is going on.  We are not very far removed from the last stock market bubble that burst, less than 6 years ago.

I also find that more people are becoming aware of the actions of the Federal Reserve.  They understand that the Fed has had a very loose monetary policy over the past 6 years and the record-high stock prices are a result of this.  With the Fed now “tapering” its monetary inflation, what will support stocks?  The Fed gave us the big stock market rally and now the Fed will take it away.

The one thing about a bubble is that they can often last far longer than seemingly possible.  So while I concur with the tips of Franzese, his mistake may end up being that he is too early.

There were people calling for a tech bubble to burst in 1997.  There were people calling for a housing bubble collapse in 2004.

But even if he is too early, it is better to be too early than too late.  I would take the advice of this former mob boss over the perma-bulls on CNBC any day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Religion in Government Schools

A high school student in Tennessee is claiming that she was suspended because she said “bless you” when one of her classmates sneezed.  After Kendra Turner uttered those words, her teacher confronted her, saying she had broken class rules.

Turner fought back saying, “It’s all right to defend God and it’s our constitutional right, because we have a freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”  Turner ended up in the administrator’s office where she finished out the rest of the class with an in-school suspension.

Many students claim that the teacher was demeaning towards the religious views of others, even including the term “bless you” as one of her banned phrases in class.

The first thing that came to my mind when reading about this was that it happened in Tennessee, where religion is still common.  I was expecting something like this to happen in California.

It is good that the student stood up for herself and her beliefs, although I do believe she got it wrong in citing freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  She is far from alone in making this mistake.

Property Rights and Government

The 1st Amendment is cited a bit too often.  It does not grant you any rights.  It says that “Congress shall make no law…”  Ironically, for someone who is deeply religious, she shouldn’t be citing the Constitution for her rights.  She should be saying that her rights come from God.

But this isn’t really a matter of freedom of speech or freedom of religion.  It is a property rights issue.  And the problem here is the lack of property rights.  More specifically, the problem is government schools.

If this young lady really wants to cite the Constitution, she should really cite the 9th and 10th Amendments.  They basically say that the Constitution is a document of enumerated powers.  Any powers not listed in the Constitution should be left to the states or the people.

The federal government continually violates the Constitution, including with its funding of education.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that Congress has the power to fund education or get itself involved in any way.

But even if the government schools were just funded by the state and local governments, it would not change the fact that this is a property rights issue.  Because of the existence of government schools, these things become political.  They become political battles.

Can anyone imagine this happening in a private school?  First, most schools are quite forthright in what they will promote and tolerate.  Most parents know if religion will be taught.  But it is hard to picture a private school coming down on a student for saying “bless you”.  If it did happen, then the parents and child could make a choice on whether to keep paying for that school or to find somewhere else.

The battles occur because of the use of taxpayer funds.  Those who have strong religious beliefs do not want their tax money going towards an institution that is hostile to their beliefs.  Meanwhile, there are some people who are not only not religious, but they are against others who are.  They do not want their tax money going somewhere that will preach any religion, or even allow it spoken.

These are political battles.  They are battles over the power of who gets to determine how tax money is spent.  We usually don’t hear of a third side, which is that maybe tax money shouldn’t be spent in the first place.  The religious parents can choose a religious school.  Others can choose a school that doesn’t teach religion, or even tolerate any mention of it.

When you take the tax money out of the scenario and put in property rights, then there are no longer any political battles.  Customers (the parents and children) can do business with whomever they want.  They can choose any company (the school owners).  There is no need for fighting.  We don’t have to fight over whether the grocery stores should sell Coke or Pepsi.  You can choose to buy either, or both, or none of the above.

In conclusion, as long as government schools exist, then there will be ridiculous situations occurring such as this one in Tennessee.  There will continue to be political battles and there will continue to be ridiculous teachers who can’t stand to hear anything related to religion that might offend them.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Voting as a Lottery

An advisory board in Los Angeles is urging the city council to consider a lottery prize for those showing up at the polls during elections.  Voter turnout has been low, so the Los Angeles Ethics Commission has come up with this idea to encourage higher voter turnout.

Some recent elections in Los Angeles have seen turnout as low as 8%.  In the 2013 mayoral election, only 23% of registered voters showed up at the polls to vote.

The plan would give a chance to win a good sum of money for anyone showing up to vote at election time.  The president of the advisory board suggested it could be $25,000 or $50,000.  I guess this would give a whole new meaning to the term “buying votes”.

Usually politicians try to give enough incentive for voters to show up through their plunder.  The politicians will announce something free or something subsidized.  Sometimes they suggest that if they vote for the other guy, then their currently free goodies will be taken away from them.  And then there are some who show up at the polls in an attempt to defend their property from being taken.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote about governments “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”, I suppose he didn’t realize that the consent could be gained by offering a remote chance to win a lottery.


On the subject of voting, I tend to go along with that old quote attributed to Emma Goldman: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

But even though voting doesn’t usually change much, it is interesting that this advisory board in Los Angeles is so interested in getting voters to show up at the polls.  It is interesting that we will often see campaigns for “getting out the vote” and we hear slogans that it is your patriotic duty to vote.  Better yet, I hear that “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain”.

In reality, not voting in itself can be a vote.  It is a vote of no confidence.  It is a vote for none of the above.  It is a vote of not consenting to the government’s dictates.

While Republicans and Democrats fight it out for votes, there is one thing that both major parties can’t stand.  They can’t stand to see low voter turnout.  It makes them fearful.

The reason is because all government power rests on the consent of the governed.  It doesn’t mean that people have to explicitly sign a contract or say out loud that they consent.  But an acceptance of the system is enough for consent.

Republicans will challenge Democrats and Democrats will challenge Republicans, but you will almost never hear either side challenge the system as a whole.

When registered voters don’t show up at the polls, it means that they don’t care, or they don’t like any of the candidates, or they don’t endorse the system.  This bothers politicians more than anything.  The establishment doesn’t care that much who actually wins, as long as the people think they are making a choice.

For some reason, there is a false notion that having the right to vote is synonymous with being free.  If people can vote, then they think they are free.  Or at least that is what the people in power want them to believe.

But freedom and liberty are based on property rights and natural law.  Voting oftentimes opposes these things.  Voting serves to make things seem legitimate that otherwise wouldn’t be.  You can’t go to your neighbor and steal his money, but you can vote for a politician to do it for you.  If it is done through a vote, then it is somehow seen as being legitimate.

In conclusion, I am happy to see this proposal in Los Angeles.  I hope it happens elsewhere.  It means that the establishment is scared that they are losing legitimacy.