Sunday, October 22, 2017

Why Governments Will Not Ban Bitcoin

Those who see governments banning ownership of bitcoin are ignoring the political power and influence of those who are snapping up most of the bitcoin.
To really understand an asset, we have to examine not just the asset itself but who owns it, and who can afford to own it. These attributes will illuminate the political and financial power wielded by the owners of the asset class.
And once we know what sort of political/financial power is in the hands of those owning the asset class, we can predict the limits of political restrictions that can be imposed on that ownership.
As an example, consider home ownership, i.e. ownership of a principal residence. Home ownership topped out in 2004, when over 69% of all households "owned" a residence. (Owned is in quotes because many of these households had no actual equity in the house once the housing bubble popped.)
The rate of home ownership has declined to 63%, which is still roughly two-thirds of all households. Clearly, homeowners constitute a powerful political force. Any politico seeking to impose restrictions or additional taxes on homeowners has to be careful not to rouse this super-majority into political action.
But raw numbers of owners of an asset class are only one measure of political power. Since ours is a pay-to-play form of representational democracy in which wealth buys political influence via campaign contributions, philanthro-capitalism, revolving doors between political office and lucrative corporate positions, etc., wealth casts the votes that count.
I am always amused when essayists claim "the government" will do whatever benefits the government most. While this is broadly true, this ignores the reality that wealthy individuals and corporations own the processes of governance.
More accurately, we can say that government will do whatever benefits those who control the levers of power most, which is quite different than claiming that the government acts solely to further its own interests. More specifically, it furthers what those at the top of the wealth-power pyramid have set as the government's interests.
Which brings us to the interesting question, will governments ban bitcoin as a threat to their power? A great many observers claim  that yes, governments will ban bitcoin because it represents a threat to their control of the fiat currencies they issue.
But since government will do whatever most benefits those who control the levers of power, the question becomes, does bitcoin benefit those holding the levers of power? If the answer is yes, then we can predict government will not ban bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) because those with the final say will nix any proposal to ban bitcoin.
We can also predict that any restrictions that are imposed will likely be aimed at collecting capital gains taxes on gains made in cryptocurrencies rather than banning ownership.
Since the wealthy already pay the lion's share of federal income taxes (payroll taxes are of course paid by employees and employers), their over-riding interests are wealth preservation and capital appreciation, with lowering their tax burdens playing third fiddle in the grand scheme of maintaining their wealth and power.
Indeed, paying taxes inoculates them to some degree from social disorder and political revolt.
I was struck by this quote from the recent Zero Hedge article A Look Inside The Secret Swiss Bunker Where The Ultra Rich Hide Their Bitcoins:
Xapo was founded by Argentinian entrepreneur and current CEO Wences Casares, whom Quartz describes as "patient zero" of bitcoin among Silicon Valley’s elite. Cesares reportedly gave Bill Gates and Reed Hoffman their first bitcoins.
Their first bitcoins. That suggests the billionaires have added to their initial gifts of BTC.
The appeal to the wealthy is obvious: any investment denominated in fiat currencies can be devalued overnight by devaluations of the currency via diktat or currency crisis. Bitcoin has the advantage of being decentralized and independent of centrally-issued currencies.
I submit that not only are the wealthy the likeliest buyers of bitcoin for this reason, they are the only group that can afford to buy a bunch of bitcoin as a hedge or speculative investment. Lance Roberts of Real Investment Advice recently produced some charts based on the Federal Reserve's 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) report-- Fed Admits The Failure Of Prosperity For The Bottom 90%.
Put another way: how many families can afford to buy a bunch of bitcoin?
Here is a chart of median value of family financial assets: note that this is far below the 2000 peak and the housing bubble of 2006-07:
Here is mean family financial assets broken out by income category: note that virtually all the gains have accrued to the top 10%, whose net worth soared from $1.5 million in 2009 to over $2.2 million in 2016, a gain of $700,000.
The Fed's 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances is a treasure trove of insights into wealth and income inequality in the U.S. Here are the highlights: Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2013 to 2016.
As you'd expect, the report starts off on a rosy note: GDP rose by 2.2% a year, unemployment declined to 5%, and the median family income rose 10% between 2013 and 2016.
Blah blah blah. Meanwhile, on page 10, it's revealed that the top 1% receives 24% of all income, and the families between 90% and 99% receive 26.5%, for a total of 50.5% of all income flowing to the top 10%.
The top 1% owns 38.6% of all wealth, and the families between 90% and 99% own 38.5%, so the top 10% owns 77% of total wealth.
On page 13, we find that the total median net worth of all families between 40% and 60% went from $57,000 to $88,000, a gain of $21,000, while the median net worth of families in the 60% to 80% bracket rose from $166,000 to $170,000, a grand total of $4,000.
Meanwhile, back in La-La Land, the median net worth of the top 10% soared by $468,000, from $1.16 million to $1.62 million.
Which family has the wherewithal to buy a bunch of bitcoin at $5,900 each as a hedge or investment, the one that gained $4,000 in net worth, the one that gained $21,000 in net worth or the one that gained $468,000?
You see the point: the likely buyers of enough bitcoin to count are the politically powerful financial elite. If any politico was foolish enough to propose banning bitcoin, a few friendly phone calls from major financial backers would be made to impress upon the politico the importance of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies to the U.S. economy.
Heck, the financial backer might just suggest that all future campaign contributions to the politico will be made in bitcoin to drive the point home.
My vision of cryptocurrency, laid out in my book A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology & Creating Jobs for All, is of a truly decentralized currency that directly funds work that addresses scarcities in localized community economies. The reality of existing cryptocurrencies is that they are probably being snapped up for buy-and-hold storage by the wealthy.
Those who see governments banning ownership of bitcoin are ignoring the political power and influence of those who are buying enough bitcoin to matter.


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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Which Rotten Fruit Falls First?

I predict the current investigations will widen and take a variety of twists and turns that surprise all those anticipating a tidy, narrowly focused denouement.
The theme this week is The Rot Within.
To those of us who understand the entire status quo is rotten and corrupt to its core, the confidence of each ideological camp that their side will emerge unscathed by investigation is a source of amusement. The fake-progressives (fake because these so-called "progressives" support Imperial over-reach and a status quo whose only possible output is soaring wealth and income inequality) are confident that a "smoking gun" of corruption will deliver their most fervent dream, the impeachment of President Trump, while Trump supporters are equally confident there is no "smoking gun."
One camp is confident that the wily Clintons and their army of enablers, from former FBI Director Comey on down, will finally be brought to long-evaded justice for their various perfections of corruption and collusion: pay to play, and so on.
Clinton supporters are equally confident that there is no "smoking gun" that will bring down the House of Clinton, and by proxy, the organs of the Democratic Party.
The implicit historical model each camp is anticipating is of course Watergate, which unfolded with a dramatic inevitability that in retrospect almost seems scripted: a minor burglary led to the hubris of cover-up which led to the destruction of the Nixon presidency.
Often overlooked in this history is the key roles played by insider informants (such as Deep Throat) and the wider political demands for greater transparency the scandal triggered. The Church Committee ended up investigating the illegal campaigns of the FBI and CIA against the anti-war and civil rights movements (COINTELPRO etc.), and a small dent was made in the federal government's decades-long reliance on official secrecy to cover up official corruption, collusion, malfeasance, lies, etc.-- the ugly underbelly of agencies protecting the Empire from any inconvenient leaks of truth.
I submit that Watergate will not be the template for the multiple investigations being pursued in the present. It seems highly likely to me that who and what gets taken down by the investigations is much less predictable than in the Watergate template, which distilled down to an escalating campaign of cover-ups and stonewalling which simply compounded the crimes previously committed.
I submit that the investigations launched with an implicit intent of bringing down selected targets may well end up destroying people and institutions that weren't in the crosshairs. The reason why this seems so likely is that the entire status quo is corrupt: the fraud, pay-to-play, lies and collusion are institutionalized and system-wide, and once some investigation drills a hole in the dam of secrecy and collusion, the hole may quickly widen as the fetid gush of hidden truths pours out.
In other words, when the entire status quo is corrupt and hiding its collusion, gathering evidence to nail one target inevitably tugs loose other threads, threads that the original investigators reckoned could be safely left untouched.
It doesn't work that way, folks. Insiders end up releasing more than investigators bargained for, and all it takes is one insider and one journalist who isn't beholden to a colluding-insider corporate boss to widen the hole in the dam into a veritable flood.
Longtime readers know I have long made the case that the Deep State has fractured into competing camps. For example:
Public investigations are one field where this conflict plays out, but unfortunately for the players, it's a game that's easier to start than to control.
For this reason, I predict the current investigations will widen and take a variety of twists and turns that surprise all those anticipating a tidy, narrowly focused denouement. Which of the many rotten fruits will fall first? How many will fall by the time the investigations have burned through a corrupt status quo that's exquisitely vulnerable to a single lightning strike? Only one lightning strike is needed to ignite the combustible corruption and trigger a conflagration tha quickly escapes the handlers' control.
If you want a recent example of this dynamic, consider Harvey Weinstein, a mere brush fire that may well spread further and faster than the handlers expect.
For more on the systemic nature of corruption in our status quo, please check out my books:
Correspondent Rudy C. kindly noted that the GDP chart I displayed yesterday was misleading as it did not adjust for population growth. This chart is of GDP per capita, which shows GDP per person rather than as an aggregate total. Thank you, Rudy, for the correction.



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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

GDP Is Bogus: Here's Why

Here's a chart of our fabulous always-higher GDP, adjusted for another bogus metric, official inflation.
The theme this week is The Rot Within.
The rot eating away at our society and economy is typically papered over with bogus statistics that "prove" everything's getting better every day in every way. The prime "proof" of rising prosperity is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which never fails to loft higher, with the rare excepts being Spots of Bother (recessions) that never last more than a quarter or two.
Longtime correspondent Dave P. of Market Daily Briefing recently summarized the key flaw in GDP: GDP doesn't reflect changes in the balance sheet, i.e. debt.
So if we borrow money to pay people to dig holes and then fill them with the excavated dirt, GDP rises to general applause. The debt we took on to fund the make-work isn't accounted for at all.
Here's Dave's explanation:
Once I learned about accounting, I figured out why the GDP metric wasn't sufficient. What is missing?
The balance sheet.
Hurricanes are a direct hit to your nation's balance sheet. The national income statement goes up because of increased spending to replace lost assets, but the "equity" part of the national balance sheet ends up taking a hit in direct proportion to the damage that occurred. Even if you rebuild everything just the way it was, your assets remain the same, while your liabilities have increased.
We know this because we use the balance sheet equation: equity = assets - liabilities. Equity is another word for wealth.
Before hurricane:
wealth = (house + car) - (home debt + car debt)
After hurricane, you rebuild your house, and buy a new car, using borrowed money:
wealth = (house + car) - (2 x home debt + 2 x car debt)
Wealth (equity) has declined by the sum (home debt + car debt)
So when you see pictures of a hurricane strike, you can now look through all that devastation and see the impact on the balance sheet. National equity (wealth) just dropped by the amount of damage inflicted by the hurricane. Whether it is ever rebuilt doesn't actually matter; that equity is just gone. Destruction is always a downside for equity - even if there is a temporary positive impact on the income statement.
Isn't it interesting that the mainstream economists, who don't use banks, debt, or money in their models, largely ignore balance sheets and instead just looks at the income statement alone? Its almost as if the entire education system was organized so that people paid no attention to banks, debt, and money. Who do you think might benefit from our flock of PhD economists ignoring the extremely profitable debt-elephant in the room, and its purveyors, the banks?
Thank you, Dave, for an explanation we never see in the mainstream. And here's a chart of our fabulous always-higher GDP, adjusted for another bogus metric, official inflation:




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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fraud, Exploitation and Collusion: America's Pharmaceutical Industry

The rot within manifested by the pharmaceutical industry almost defies description.
The theme this week is The Rot Within.
America's Pharmaceutical industry takes pride of place in this week's theme of The Rot Within, as the industry has raised fraud, exploitation and collusion to systemic perfection.
What other industry can routinely kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and suffer no blowback? Only recently has the toll of needless deaths from the opioid pandemic finally roused a comatose corporate media and bought-and-paid-for, see-no-evil Congress to wonder if maybe there should be some limits placed on Big Pharma and its drug distributors.
What other industry can raise prices any time it wants because, well, it can?Longtime correspondent/physician J.F. recently submitted a chart of medication price increases (below)--nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual because we can price increases.
What other industry has such complete control over the federal government?Dr. J.F. reminded me that the law enacting Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage specifically prohibits the U.S. government from negotiating lower prices on the immense volume of medications it purchases through Medicare (not to mention the Medicaid and Veterans Administration programs).
J.F. also submitted this investigative report from CNN, The little red pill being pushed on the elderly.
Here's the money-shot:
"The combination of two generic drugs that makes up Nuedexta -- a cough suppressant and heart medication -- was once available from specialty pharmacists willing to combine the ingredients for less than $1 a pill, according to a US Senate report on rising prescription drug prices. Now the FDA-approved medication costs as much as $12.60 a pill."
If this isn't fraud, exploitation and collusion, then what is it? Please don't say "good old free-market capitalism," because competition is nowhere in sight.
The pharmaceutical industry is a crony-capitalist cartel that buys whatever political influence it requires to maintain its power and profits. Isn't it obvious? Or have we become so distracted and drugged that we no longer care?
Ho-hum, just another 20 times the rate of inflation increase in medication prices by Big Pharma: nothing to see here, folks, just move along and take your meds....
We're number one! -- in drug-induced deaths per million residents: isn't it amazing that this raises no eyebrows at all in our "leadership" or the citizenry?
Can we be honest for a change, and just admit that profits are way more important in our status quo than a couple hundred thousand deaths in America's permanent underclass?
The rot within manifested by the pharmaceutical industry almost defies description. That we tolerate this as business as usual (BAU) shows that ours is a society and economy afflicted with the sickness unto death.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

The United States of Weinstein: Complicity, Greed and Corruption Is the Status Quo

If integrity means more than any of these baubles, then prepare to fail.
The theme this week is The Rot Within.
The sordid story of Harvey Weinstein is being presented as an aberration. It is not an aberration; it is merely a high-profile example of how the status quo functions in the USA, a.k.a. The United States of Weinstein, in which complicity, greed and corruption reign supreme in every sector and in every nook and cranny of power.
The dirty secret of America's status quo is that power and wealth are both extremely concentrated, which means there are gatekeepers who must be bribed, sated or serviced if you want to claw your way up the wealth-power pyramid. Mr. Weinstein's alleged conduct and payoffs of those he exploited is par for the course in the corridors of power in the USA.
As a gatekeeper in Hollywood, Mr. W. could make or break careers with absurd ease.
Gatekeepers are the key functionaries in a rentier economy in which the few at the top skim the wealth of the many. Want to play in the big leagues of Hollywood, Washington D.C., the Pentagon, or the various HQs of Global Corporate America? You have to pay the Gatekeepers what they demand.
It might be the casting couch or a slice of the profits, or a vote in committee, but the price of admission will always include complicity--silence about the crimes committed and the endemic corruption, and a sacrifice of moral standards. This is the minimal price of "success" in the elite circles of wealth and power in America.
If you doubt this, dig deep into any concentration of power in America and see what you find. Outsiders won't find anyone willing to talk, of course; that's how complicity works.
The overheated engine of complicity is greed. Hollywood kept quiet about Mr. Weinstein because insiders and wannabes alike hoped to score a plum role in Mr. W.'s next hitmaking production, or secure a couple of points of the gross. (1 point = 1%.)
This is the evil fruit of a system that ruthlessly concentrates power and wealth, not just in Hollywood and Washington D.C. but in the judiciary, in higher education, in Big Pharma, the National Security State, Corporate America and yes, the Deep State, which is comprised not of the bureaucratic functionaries (sorry to pop your balloon) of the state but those one level above the gatekeepers.
Every American has a simple but profound choice. Either place your integrity above all else, and refuse to climb the putrid pyramid of wealth and power, or succumb to greed and become complicit in an empire of greed, complicity and corruption.
If "success" means a fat salary, points of gross, invitations to A-list parties, access to the inner circle, being the right-hand boy/girl of someone powerful, a seat on the private jet, etc., then you will be required to service the gatekeepers and sacrifice whatever integrity you once possessed.
If integrity means more than any of these baubles, then prepare to fail. You won't clamber up the putrid pyramid, you won't get past the gatekeepers, and you won't be invited to join the elite skimming the nation's wealth for its own gratification and greed.
But you will still have yourself, your pride, and your integrity.
It's not an easy choice. Choose wisely. As Orwell observed about a totalitarian oligarchy, some are more equal than others. But the sacrifices required to become more equal than than the bottom 99.5% are irrevocable--you will have to sacrifice everything but your greed, your appetite for corruption and your willingness to hide the truth from the outside world.
True success lies outside the empire of greed, complicity and corruption.



If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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