It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Given how poorly states like California and Illinois have funded the pension funds for their own employees, one would think that this would stop dead in its tracks any plan to have the government assist in managing private sector funds too. The spate of recent activity, however, suggests otherwise.
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
“When they come for my gun, they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands,” is a common refrain I often hear from the Neo-Cons when there is a threat, credible or otherwise, that the U.S. government is going to take their firearms.And, when I hear this crazy talk, I agree with […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Amidst all the revelations about how the American people, many of whom are absolutely convinced they live in a free society, have their telephone calls, emails, website visits, and who knows what else under surveillance by their own government, let’s not forget the massive infringements on financial privacy that have gone on for decades.Consider, for […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
So you’ve maneuvered the Obamacare website, plugged in your top-secret information and found out how much you are forced to pay to avoid a fine.And for some of you, it turns out you qualify for a government subsidy — making the premium sound like a bargain. But signing on that line to accept the government’s […]
The Largest Company in History:“The United States Corporation of Government (USCOG)”I follow global social and commercial networks, looking for entrepreneurial opportunities.Innovation surges when industry and government models change. Buggy whips. Landline phones. Railroads. The Soviet Union. Apartheid South Africa. All marked social and commercial innovation, both bad and good.We are witnessing a new form of […]
We’d like to give the banks in Australia some credit. They’ve finally gone and done it. They have caught up with 1960s technology. They’ve figured out how to use PIN numbers.How to only use PIN numbers, that is. They’re considering scrapping signatures on credit cards to cut down on fraud. Apparently, having to verify your […]
We put in a good-citizen call to the SEC the other day.“There’s a massive scheme to manipulate stock prices,” we told the friendly agent.“I have to tell you that your call is being monitored so that we can better serve the public,” he replied.“Oh, don’t worry about that. The NSA is tapping our call anyway.”“Are […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
Politicians — elected officials — are street smart rather than book smart.If you care about influencing government policy it helps to know how they think.Forbes contributor Nathan Lewis argues that:“Too much is done today on the oral tradition. That is, literally, what it is. In this post-Gutenberg age, we have some better alternatives.“Thus, we need […]
Bitcoin has been making headlines for months now. Extreme price fluctuations have sparked a vigorous debate: Is it a currency or a scam? Is Bitcoin viable in the long-term, or are we witnessing a bubble waiting to burst?The answers to these questions are simple: Yes, Bitcoin is a currency, but we cannot know if it […]
The Silk Road was an undercover website where you could buy or sell illegal goods — drugs mainly. I believe passports were changing hands for about $6,000, and I understand weapons were also sold, but that was ceased in response to the spate of shootings in the U.S. over the summer. The essence of the […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Now, this is sheer entertainment. The Chicago branch of the Federal Reserve has addressed the great monetary question of our day. A researcher has taken a detailed look at the prospects for market-based crypto-currency, with a special focus on Bitcoin. It concludes that Bitcoin is not a viable replacement for the dollar. The report includes […]
The standard version of how money came to be goes like this: First, there was barter. (A handful of nails for a pint of ale!) Then, along came various forms of money. An evolutionary derby eventually crowned gold and silver as the supreme money. And finally, credit (or debt) was born. This is the apex […]
2013 represents another turning point in the demise of the American Empire. If you view it in economic (rather than ethical or moral) terms, the high water mark of Empire was probably in the late 1990s.But the Internet bubble and bust marked an important turning point. It coincided with the birth of the euro, a […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
My community in the Deep South prides itself on friendship, community feeling, and an overall happy spirit. So it was a bit strange for all of this to be utterly smashed and obliterated in the course of a few calamitous weeks in which friend turned against friend, colleagues became antagonists and enemies, and families were […]
A new assessment of state pension obligations suggests the problem is even worse than it already appears.How much worse?EMPTY COOKIE JAR: Pension liabilities are worse than many states’ official figures indicate.Using a more conservative method of accounting for financial gains in the marketplace, there is a $4.1 trillion gap between assets and liabilities — known […]
I dreamed I saw Bernard von NotHaus, alive as you or me.Said I, “But Bernard, you’ve been jailed two years.”“I never was,” said he.Bernard has been the called the Rosa Parks of the alternative money movement. More than 10 years ago, he had this idea that he would make his own money — not the […]
The euro elites don’t call it theft or robbery or even a tax, much less an outright default by the banks of Cyprus. They are calling it a “stability levy,” a plan that could lead not to stability, but a domino-style collapse of the banking system in Europe.
True to the nature of government propaganda, the Cypriot head of state, Nicos Anastasiades, says this “stability levy” is necessary to forestall “a complete collapse of the banking sector.” It’s the same kind of language we heard in the fall of 2008 — an intimidation tactic used to shove through TARP and unending bailouts.
More likely, the plan to tax all Cyprian bank deposits 6.75-10% will trigger one. Or maybe just the talk of it already has. We can’t know for sure, because the government of Cyprus has declared a banking “holiday,” a term that means that the robbers take a vacation from being held accountable for their actions.
What this plan signals is pretty clear: Your money is not in the bank. If you get there fast and withdraw what you can, you might survive. If you delay, all bets are off. That means an old-fashioned bank run — the ultimate check on the soundness of banking.
Another way to look at it: It’s a game of musical chairs, and the music has stopped. The purpose of the “holiday” is to tase people so they can’t find their chair.
The tax is part of a $10 billion bailout arranged by eurozone countries together with the IMF. So far during the long, slow, relentless, meltdown of the world’s banking systems over the last few decades, the idea of outright confiscation has been something that governments have generally tried to avoid.
It turns out that people don’t like to be robbed. They normally like to think that the money they put in the bank is accessible to them. So when Anastasiades demanded this, he got massive pushback from legislators and depositors.
Meanwhile, people were scrambling to get money from ATMs and trying to wire money out to safer havens. That’s when the rude surprise came: Their accounts were locked and transfers have been stopped. ATMs are marked “out of order.”
As I write, legislators have backed off the proposal to loot absolutely everyone equally, but instead will focus the most intense effects of the heist on only the very rich. This might make it more palatable for lawmakers, but no more so for the population at large. Politicians can promise that this is a “one-off levy” all they want, but anyone who believes that is an utter fool. Citizens can be pretty dopey in believing political promises in general, but when it comes to their own money in their banks, their gullibility certainly has its limits.
Americans can be forgiven for having spent most of their weekend ignoring news out of Cyprus, a country they last heard about when studying ancient civilizations in high school. A friend of mine from Cyprus who lives in the U.S. gave up trying to explain where he is from long ago and is now satisfied to tell people he is from Greece.
Actually, Cyprus is one of the world’s most prosperous countries, owing mainly to its status as a world financial hub. As Doug French put it to me, “This is a bank with a country attached.”
Its population is mostly tourists and fluctuates based on season. But its prosperity for the last 20 years is due mostly to the deposits it receives from all over the region, especially from Russia. This is why Vladimir Putin has become involved in the current controversy, denouncing it as unfair and unwise.
The trouble is that Cyprus has to raise the money. It has to come from somewhere. The core problem is that this proposal, especially the idea of taxing deposits that fall below the deposit insurance ceiling, undermines that elusive but absolutely essential thing called confidence.
If people no longer believe in the system and run on the banks, the whole thing can unravel very quickly. In most countries today, there is depository insurance that provides the illusion that people’s deposits are safe. The remarkable thing about the “security levy” is that it amounts to an open announcement that there is no assurance that the money must come from somewhere, so they might as well get from in the most obvious place.
There was a time when banks operated like normal businesses, performing a service in exchange for payment, while clearly delineating what part of people’s deposits were at risk (and, therefore, paid a premium) and what part were security (and, therefore, a service to be paid for). But central banking and fiat paper money have confused the issue to the advantage of the financial system, but to the disadvantage of depositors, especially when faced with a crisis moment such as this.
Still, it is an unprecedented move, one that harkens back to the days of the early New Deal, when FDR closed the banks, suspended the gold standard, and outright changed the definition of the dollar in order to bail out the banking system. This kind of thing is not supposed to happen these days. The bankers are supposed to be wiser and more sophisticated, using fancy tools of monetary policy to continually shore up confidence in the system.
The suggestion that the banking system just outright steal people’s money — even if it doesn’t end up getting through the legislature — has dramatically changed the psychology of banking throughout the eurozone. Over the coming weeks, Spaniards, Italians, Russians, and many others throughout the region are going to be quietly (or maybe not so quietly) testing the same, pulling deposits and finding other ways to secure their funds.
The word central bankers everywhere dread: contagion. It means the spreading of truth and actions based on that truth. Might Cyprus be the new bubble that breaks the world? It’s a good time to revisit our friend Garet Garrett’s 1932 classic that retains all of its explanatory power: A Bubble That Broke the World.
For banking regulators and politicians, this really amounts to an epic fail, even from their own point of view. They never want the veneer of stability and soundness stripped away. They want a population of depositors blissfully unaware of the vulnerability of the monetary and financial systems.
You might ask, “If you are so smart, what do you suggest?” That’s easy: default and bankruptcy.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Lehman Bros. case is not a model to avoid, but one to follow. Let the Cypriot banks that are under threat die a quick death, even if that means not paying those who believe they are owed. Under the conditions, there is accountability and there are permanent lessons learned.
This approach — yes, it is far-flung and stands zero chance of actually happening — might actually restore sound banking practices. Just imagine a world in which banks operate like honest, solvent, self-reliant businesses, not lying, not teetering on the brink, not depending on government and politicians and central authorities. Seems like a dream, but we can get there through a simple step: Allow the failure to happen.
But might that approach trigger a Euro-wide meltdown? Maybe. That seems to be something that is going to happen with or without this “one-time stability levy.”
Meanwhile, the banks are closed. No one in the eurozone is sleeping well at night. And it’s going to be a wild week.
The Euro crisis alone might account for why Bitcoin has moved from $15 to $48 in three months. Is it possible that Russia’s largest depositors saw this coming and have been slowly moving money out to the digital safe haven? We’ll never know, because the transactions are anonymous (thank goodness). But ask yourself this question: Where would you rather have your money? In Bitcoin or insured deposits in Cyprus?