Friday, June 11, 2021

The Fed Is Wrong: Inflation Is Sticky

The Fed's god-like powers will be revealed for what they really are: artifice and illusion.

The Fed will be proven catastrophically wrong about inflation for the simple reason that inflation isn't transitory, it's sticky: when prices rise due to real-world scarcities and higher costs, they stay high and then move higher as expectations catch up with reality.

Consider the dynamic of Fed-inflated bubbles raising rents. The house that once sold for $200,000 is sold to a pool of investors for $800,000, and the property taxes, insurance and debt service rise accordingly: even though the house didn't change, thanks to the Fed's bubble, the entire cost structure is higher.

So what happens next? The investors jack the rent up to cover the higher costs. As for refinancing to lower the monthly mortgage payment--that trend has reached the end of the line. As inflation gathers steam, mortgage rates can only go up, not down.

As for getting the county assessment office to lower the valuation on the house--good luck with that. The Ratchet Effect is in full force: assessed values rise easily and decline with great resistance.

So rents stay high even as real estate values decline. Landlords can't drop rents without triggering panic in their lenders, and so they leave units empty and try gimmicks such as "free month rent when you sign a lease," gimmicks which leave the skyhigh rent skyhigh so lenders look at the numbers and are assured that rents are high enough to cover their mortgage payments and other expenses.

Consider the orchard left to die during the drought. The farmer won't be replanting that orchard--it's simply too risky to assume there will be sufficient water in the future and prices will stay high enough to compensate for the heightened risk. So supply drops as marginal producers drop out and survivors avoid risk by not expanding production. Prices stay high.

Consider deglobalization. Having outsourced essential components, U.S. corporations are at the mercy of factors beyond their control: currency arbitrage, suppliers taking advantage of scarcity, other nations tightening the screws on exports of essentials, and so on.

Consider the pool of local restaurants. many have closed, some new ones are opening, but the reality is all those who can't raise prices enough to cover expenses and make a profit will burn through their cash and close. The survivors will raise prices because they have no choice: there is no alternative (TINA) to raising prices except closing down.

85% of local government expenditures are for labor, and labor costs never go down, they only go up: the ratchet Effect. Public unions are under pressure to secure higher wages and benefits, and the inexorable rise in healthcare costs is squeezing local government budgets. What to do? Raise taxes and fees--there is no alternative (TINA). Jack up parking fees and tickets, double or triple fines, slap on new junk fees, raise sales taxes, property taxes, taxes on mobile phone service--raise them all because TINA.

People are awakening to the Federal Reserve's Big Lie, which the Fed assumes will become "truth" if they repeat it often enough: inflation is transitory, blah, blah, blah: wrong, wrong, wrong. People are awakening to the embedded dynamics of inflation and their expectations have already started changing. Those who can't raise prices will close down, those who can will raise prices.

The Fed's trick of substituting debt for income has also reached the end of the line. As the chart below depicts, America has built an illusory castle of "prosperity" by borrowing trillions of dollars as a substitute for earnings from being productive. The costs of all these layers of debt can only rise now that interest rates are near-zero while inflation is at 5% officially and 10% or more by any real-world measure.

There's only so much disposable income left after servicing debt, and the more debt you pile on, the less income there is to spend on goods and services.

This is a longstanding cycle of civilization. As productivity rises, the human population expands up to the carrying capacity of the biosphere. Labor's earnings rise as producers expand production to meet rising demand. Human population and appetites for goodies keep expanding, overshooting sustainable supply while labor expands to the point that it is in oversupply. Wages decline and labor thus loses purchasing power just as prices of essentials soar. Discontent and disorder increase and states and economies fall.

The Fed's god-like powers will be revealed for what they really are: artifice and illusion. The Fed is wrong: inflation isn't transitory, it's sticky, and there's nothing the Fed can do about it. They might as well stand on the shore and order the tide to reverse.






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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, William C. ($50), for your marvelously generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

 

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Tuesday, June 08, 2021

The Sources of Rip-Your-Face-Off Inflation Few Dare Discuss

We're getting a real-world economics lesson in rip-your-face-off increases in prices, and the tuition is about to go up--way up.

Inflation will be transitory, blah-blah-blah--I beg to differ, for these reasons. There are numerous structural sources of inflation, which I define as prices rise while the quality and quantity of goods and services remain the same or diminish. Since the word inflation is so loaded, let's use the more neutral (and more accurate) term decline in purchasing power: an hour of your labor buys fewer goods and services of lesser quality than it did a decade ago or a generation ago.

While the conventional discussion focuses on monetary inflation, i.e. expansion of money supply, the real rip-your-face-off sources have nothing to do with money supply. The rip-your-face-off sources are scarcities that cannot be filled by substitution or globalization.

Consider skilled hands-on labor as an example. Let's say some essential parts in essential infrastructure require welding. There is no substitute for skilled welders. But wait, doesn't economic dogma hold that whenever costs rise, a cheaper substitute will magically manifest out of a swirl of dust? That dogma is false in cases such as skilled labor.

The only substitute for a skilled welder is another skilled welder, and while theory holds that there will be cheaper welders who can be brought in from elsewhere, this is also not true: due to deficiencies in education and a cultural bias against manual labor, there is a shortage of skilled welders virtually everywhere.

But wait, can't we just offshore the project? Globalization always lowers costs, right? So by all means, load your busted boat trailer on a container ship to China, find a welder in Shanghai to do the work, and then ship the boat trailer back. Weeks later, you discover the plan and the specs weren't followed, so all the time and money was wasted. It would have been so much cheaper and faster if you'd just paid the welder in town a few extra bucks and had it done right in a few hours.

But wait--we'll just automate welding and have a robot do it all for next to nothing. OK, fine, pal--you manufacture the robot and program it to trundle out to the busted boat trailer, examine the breaks and do the welding so it actually works again. Go ahead and do that (at gargantuan expense), and then let's see the robot do it right in dozens of different jobs in all sorts of situations, and then add up the cost of all that compared to the relatively low cost of an experienced welder.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, people with high levels of craft skills and experience are scarce, and the fantasy of robots replacing them are untethered from reality.

As I've noted before, central banks can conjure trillions of dollars out of thin air but they can't conjure up experienced, motivated workers willing to work for lousy pay. As I noted last week, the minimum wage would have to double to even get close to the purchasing power of the minimum wage I earned two generations ago. If an economy can't pay its workers enough to live, it doesn't deserve to exist and should be shoveled into the dustbin of history.

Will Skilled Hands-On Labor Finally Become More Valuable? (8/20/20)

Fans of automation are rarely if ever the people tasked with designing, manufacturing and programming robots. Fans of automation don't recognize any limits on the cost and efficacy of automation because their faith in technology is quasi-religious, but in the real world, there are many tasks that don't lend themselves to automation.

If automation was as cheap and easy as many seem to think, then why does Amazon need 1.3 million human employees? In terms of automation, what could be easier than vast warehouses, vehicles and delivery? Amazon certainly has the money and talent to automate everything that can be automated, so why is Amazon hiring hundreds of thousands of humans and boosting wages for 500,000 humans? Amazon to raise pay for 500,000 workers (April 2021, NYT.com)

Although it's heresy to true believers in automation, humans are cheaper and create more value than robots in many settings. Simply put, there are limits on the cost effectiveness and value creation of robotics and automation.

A strong case can be made that automation has drastically reduced the quality of services and created the illusion of effectiveness. For example, you go online, check the inventory in your local outlet, drive down there and discover a bare shelf even though the online app indicates dozens in stock. Where is the value in this travesty of a mockery of a sham?

Those at the top of the wealth-power pyramid avoid the systems they profit from like the plague. Abysmal customer service, poor quality goods, apps that don't work--that's all the debt-serfs will ever experience. Those who own the systems know how awful it all is and they never touch any of the goods and services they pour into the slop buckets of the commoners.

Few seem to have noticed that we're already on the downside of Peak Globalization: labor costs are rising in China, too, for the same reason labor costs are rising here and elsewhere: the number of people willing to do dirty, boring, difficult work for low pay and no benefits is diminishing. Some of this scarcity is due to demographics, as the workforce shrinks, some of it is increasing opportunities for flexible gig work that pays as well or better, and some is a rejection of the status quo. Post-Pandemic Metamorphosis: Never Going Back (6/7/21).

Young Chinese take a stand against pressures of modern life -- by lying down (Washington Post)

Apologists for the wunnerfulness of globalization also fail to take into account the nationalization of critical resources or resources being cut off for geopolitical reasons. Nice copper mine you got there, but now it's ours, and we're raising prices. Go find a substitute for copper, cobalt, rare earths-- gosh, there are no substitutes? Wait a minute, economists promised us scarcity was impossible because there's always a substitute.

In the real world, essentials for which there are no substitutes are scarce, and the world is awakening to the power of those who control these essentials. Globalization was always based on the notion that there was always another place to stripmine, but now the entire planet has been stripmined, put under the plow or clearcut.

The primary source of cost-cutting and profit-boosting--lowering quality and reducing quantities-- have reached limits: if the package gets any smaller, we'll need a microscope to see it. Cutting corners has been going on so long that there are no corners left to be trimmed. Shrinkflation has reduced cereal boxes such that the boxes are not wide enough to stand up on the shelf.

Producers have to raise prices to maintain profits, period. And anyone who lets profit margins slip is cashiered, to be replaced by someone even more pathological and ruthless.

So let's review the sources of inflation:

-- Scarcities of labor across the board. (see job openings chart below).

-- Deglobalization / Peak Globalization.

-- Cost and value-creation limits on automation.

-- All the corners have been cut, now prices have to rise or companies will bankrupt themselves.

-- The 'Take This Job and Shove It' Recession (5/12/21) -- Never Going Back -- people are abandoning the status quo hamster wheel.

Few are willing to acknowledge these sources because they run counter the the fantasy world narrative that's spinning the frenzied hamster wheel. Purchasing power is prosperity, and since purchasing power is in free-fall, so is prosperity--at least for the bottom 90%. Trillions in free money have masked the decline temporarily, but what's transitory isn't inflation-- it's the illusion of prosperity that's transitory. And that's why nobody in a position of power wants to discuss prices being driven by scarcities caused by actual physical limits.

Those who think prices can't double or triple haven't experienced scarcities caused by actual physical limits. There are no substitutes for essentials or skilled labor, globalization has already stripmined the planet and central banks can't print experienced workers willing to work for rapidly devaluing wages in dead-end jobs while billionaires pay pennies in taxes.

We're getting a real-world economics lesson in rip-your-face-off increases in prices, and the tuition is about to go up--way up.




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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

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Sunday, June 06, 2021

Post-Pandemic Metamorphosis: Never Going Back

People caught on that the returns on the frenzied hamster wheel of "normal" have been diminishing for decades, but everyone was too busy to notice.

The superficial "return to normal" narrative focuses solely on first order effects: now that people can dispense with masks and social distancing, they are resuming their pre-pandemic spending orgy with a vengeance, which augurs great profits for Corporate America and higher tax revenues. Yea for "return to normal."

This superficial narrative ignores second-order effects of the pandemic. Recall that first order effects: every action has a consequence. Second order effects: every consequence has its own consequence. We can also think of these as direct (first order) and indirect (second order) effects.

The pandemic's first order effect was to shut down the frenzied hamster wheel of American life. The consequence of the pandemic--shutdown--had its own consequence: people had the opportunity to experience life outside the frenzied hamster wheel, and ask themselves why they tolerated the dead-end purposelessness, demeaning rigidity and life-draining stress of the whole spinning contraption.

For a great many people and dynamics, the pandemic was a transformative catalyst, and there is no going back to pre-pandemic "normal." Many people experienced a liberty and expansiveness they'd either never experienced or forgot that such things even existed. This experience triggered a Metamorphosis, and they're never going back to pre-pandemic "normal" because "normal" was a nightmarish landscape of exploitation, drudgery, pathology and meaningless servitude.

Consider the re-chaining of the digital workforce to the Cubicle Plantation, where "free" (heh) snacks are supposed to compensate for the dreary Underworld of catatonic-inducing meetings and the rest of the plantation's soul-crushing routines.

Many wage-slaves feel they have no choice but many others have decided they're never going back.



A great many of the working poor have also decided they're never going back, and the time away from their low-paid wage slavery opened up new possibilities, from better-paying jobs to flexible gigs to getting by on informal earnings and part-time work.

Though none of the spending orgy cheerleaders seems to have noticed, global tourism caught a potentially fatal disease in the pandemic's shutdown, as residents discovered their cities, beaches and neighborhoods were actually beautiful and liveable again once the tourists all went away.

While all the corporations and investor-"hosts" profiteering from overcrowded, ruined cities and islands cheer the return of the millions, the residents are vowing to never go back. In Venice, the residents don't want the giant cruise ships returning ever again. In Hawaii, only 14% of the residents approve of a return to the pre-pandemic crush that was ruining the state.

Freed of the burdens of tourism, people are now asking cui bono, to whose benefit? The apologists and PR hacks answer is always the $10/hour dead-end jobs, but the residents no longer buy the bogus PR, as they realize all the "benefits" flow to distant investors, not residents.

The overwhelming majority of Hawaii residents want far fewer tourists, and want those tourists to pay a lot more for the privilege of visiting. They also want limits on how many visitors are allowed daily into beach and other parks, and they want the visitors to pay admission and parking fees so locals can go for free. (Hawaii's annual visitor count topped 1 million in 1969, when I was in high school, and the state was already crowded with tourists. In 2019, the annual visitor count topped 10.4 million.)

Residents from Barcelona to Maui want investor-owned BnBs in residential neighborhoods banned, as the global investor class has bought up real estate in "must-see" locales to profiteer off tourism, over-burdening infrastructure, destroying local neighborhoods and pricing locals out of homes.

The spending orgy cheerleaders are promoting a fantasy version of a time machine in which we reset the calendar to September 2019 and everything "goes back to normal." Sorry, cheerleaders: second-order effects can't be reversed and the cultural revolution is well under way.

People caught on that the returns on the frenzied hamster wheel of "normal" have been diminishing for decades, but everyone was too busy to notice. They all attributed their burnout, exhaustion and emptiness to specifics within their own lives, but now they've awakened to the reality that burnout, exhaustion and emptiness have always been systemic, i.e. the consequence of the system as the returns for participants diminish with every passing day.






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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

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Friday, June 04, 2021

A Couple Things About Inflation

The higher they push phantom "assets" based on exponential increases in leverage, the greater the air gap between essential tangibles and fantasy.

Inflation is in the news, but there are a couple of things about inflation that don't get much coverage. Let's start with the trope that inflation is always a monetary phenomenon. Actually, no.

When nutrient-rich soil and fresh water reserves are depleted, crop yields decline and as human population and appetites for animal protein soar, food becomes scarce. When food becomes scarce, prices rise accordingly. It doesn't matter what you do with money supply, prices will rise in relation to everything used as "money:" gold, shells, paper with colorful pictures printed on it, giant stone disks, quatloos, cryptocurrencies, etc.

You could eliminate "money" entirely and the relative cost of food would rise even in a barter-only system.

What few seem to grasp is that there is a hierarchy of needs that ruthlessly separates "needs" from "wants," and the value of "wants" quickly drops to zero in real scarcities. When you're hungry, I mean really hungry, the value of your yacht, collectible muscle car, NFT, etc. falls to zero if those with food have zero interest in your "valuables." An ounce of gold for an egg? It all depends on what's actually a need.

In a similar fashion, real scarcity separates phantom intangible assets from real assets. If you glance at the chart of tangible and intangible assets below, you'll note that phantom intangible assets are now the overwhelming majority of what's laughably called "assets."

You want to trade your shares in XYZ Corporation for a 50-pound bag of rice? How do I know the "value" of shares in XYZ Corporation won't be zero tomorrow? No, thank you. Come back when you have something tangible and tangibly useful (i.e. it will hold its value tomorrow) to trade for the rice.

We inhabit a fantasy world in which scarcity has been banished by the gods of globalized markets and phantom assets built on sandcastles of leverage are the most valuable assets on the planet. Global stocks are now worth $115 trillion, woo-hoo.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the vast majority of humanity trades their labor for food and other essentials. The funny thing about human labor is that thanks to population growth, globalization and financialization, the relative value of labor has been in decline for decades. (see chart below) This means that as prices of essentials rise due to scarcities, the quantities of tangibles that labor can buy decline, meaning those trading their labor for essentials can afford fewer essentials.

In other words, their prosperity is in a free-fall as scarcities push up prices of essentials.

This free-fall of labor's value and thus of prosperity is visible in the RAND chart of income 1975-2018 and in the Federal Reserve database chart of the wealth held by the bottom 50% of American households. The RAND chart of income by the top 1%, top 9% and bottom 90% shows that 25% of the bottom 90%'s income--virtually all from labor--has been transferred to the top 1% (the share of taxable income going to the top 1% rose 2.5-fold) and to a lesser degree, to the top 9%. (Recall that the top 9% mostly rely on earnings from labor, hence their modest increase compared to the top 1%.)

The pathetically thin slice of wealth held by the bottom 50% of American households has fallen to near-zero. It's fallen by 2/3 since the recent peak in the mid-1990s, the last "boom" that trickled down to the bottom 90%.

The bottom 50% have no reserves to draw upon as prices of tangible essentials rise. They have no wealth to sell, and the value of their labor as measured in purchasing power of essentials is in an accelerating decline.

This is a longstanding reality of civilization. As productivity rises, the human population expands up to the carrying capacity of the biosphere. Labor's earnings rise as producers expand production to meet rising demand. Human population and appetites for goodies keep expanding, overshooting sustainable supply while labor expands to the point that it is in oversupply. Wages decline and labor thus loses purchasing power just as prices of essentials soar. Discontent and disorder increase and states and civilizations fall.

I've long recommended these books on the fundamental cycle of civilization:

The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History

Ages of Discord

This leads us to the last chart of diminishing returns on the phantom fixes of monetary manipulation and bread and circuses free money. The Federal Reserve can create currency out of thin air but it can't conjure up productive land, fresh water, copper ore, oil, or food.

The Fed can conjure up phantom "wealth" based on leverage but this relies on a heavily hyped faith in a fantasy world in which all tangible scarcities are magically turned to abundance by central bank money creation and low interest rates, and a splash of technocrat pixie dust: carbon taxes, windmills and drones flitting about.

The returns on fantasies and phantom "assets" are also in a free-fall. Monetary and fiscal stimulus is skyrocketing to keep the travesty of a mockery of a sham "prosperity" from collapsing into a putrid sinkhole of failed financial farce.

The higher they push phantom "assets" based on exponential increases in leverage, the greater the air gap between essential tangibles and fantasy.












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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2021

(Not) Living Large on Social Security

For about 1 in 4, Social Security provides at least 90 percent of their income.

How many retired workers are getting less than $1,000 per month in Social Security benefits? The question came up and I was curious enough to find the answer, and download the data into an Excel spreadsheet which I saved as a PDF that you can review here. Note that this data is for the 46.5 million retired workers only, and does not include benefits paid to survivors, spouses, disabled, etc.

This led to a deep dive into the basic numbers of Social Security beneficiaries and expenses, which are summarized in the chart below. Here are the basics:

Population of the US: 331 million
Social Security beneficiaries: 69.8 million (21% of the population)
Retired workers: 46.5 million (14% of the population)
Survivors and spouses: 8.7 million
Disabled workers and families: 9.4 million
SSI disability: 5.2 million
Projected annual cost 2021: $1.1 trillion

It turns out that 23.4% of all retired workers receive less than $1,000 a month in Social Security (SSA) benefits. Note that $148.50 is deducted monthly from the SSA benefit for Medicare Part B for retirees age 65 and older, so the net cash received is $148.50 less than the full benefit for everyone in Medicare (age 65 and older).

Roughly half of all retired workers receive $1,500 or less per month.

76% of all retired workers receive less than $2,000 a month.

91% of all retired workers receive less than $2,500 a month.

98% of all retired workers receive less than $3,000 a month.

4,201 beneficiaries receive $4,000 or more per month.

For roughly half of the elderly, Social Security provides 50 percent of their income, and for about 1 in 4, it provides at least 90 percent of their income. The top 10% of senior households enjoy average incomes of about $230,000. Social Security Benefits Are Modest (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

In summary, few are living large on Social Security benefits.

The chart below depicts the accelerating costs of SSA retirement and disability benefits. As a guideline, I extended the SSA expenditures in 1980, 1990 and 2000 if the expenditures had tracked inflation, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Clearly, the programs' costs are rising faster than inflation as the number of retirees and disabled expands.

You can find further data on these Social Security Administration pages:

Retired worker beneficiaries in current payment status at the end of December 2020

Social Security Administration Monthly Statistical Snapshot, April 2021




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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



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Sunday, May 30, 2021

Why the Minimum Wage Should Be $18/Hour

What does it say about our "prosperity" if we can't even afford to equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage paid 50 years ago? It says the 1% got the mine and the bottom 90% got the shaft.

Given the rising prosperity we keep hearing about, shouldn't we be able to provide minimum wage workers the same purchasing power they enjoyed 50 years ago in 1970? This is a very simple proposition: either can provide minimum wage workers the same purchasing power they enjoyed 50 years ago or we can't, and if we can't, then all the claims about "rising prosperity" are revealed as false.

Since I was a minimum wage earner in 1970 at age 16, I have first-hand experience of the purchasing power of minimum wages in the 1970-1974 era. Let's keep it simple: how many hours of minimum wage labor did it take to buy a new economy car, a new house and rent a studio apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.?

To keep it simple, let's set aside taxes and just use the basic minimum wage, not the net wage.

Never mind all the fancy statistical footwork of hedonics, substitution and weighting that are deployed to arbitrarily lower the rate of consumer price inflation. In the real world, wage earners bought whatever cars and houses were available at the time, and rented whatever apartments were available at the time.

The only accurate way to measure the purchasing power of labor is to ask: how many hours of labor did it require to pay the rent, buy a new car or buy a new house? Any other measure is just sleight of hand intended to obscure the collapse of wages' purchasing power.

In 1970, I earned $1.65 an hour. A new economy car (Ford Maverick or VW beetle) was $2,000, so it took about 1,200 hours of work to buy a new economy car.

A new house cost on average about $26,000 in 1970, so it took 15,750 hours of minimum wage labor to buy a new house.

At today's federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, it takes 3,000 hours to buy a basic 2021 Honda Civic or equivalent which costs $22,000. To buy a new economy car today with 1,200 hours of minimum wage labor, the minimum wage would need to be $18.30 /hour: 1,200 time $18.30 = $21,960.

At today's federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, it takes 56,000 hours to buy the average priced house which now costs $408,000. Let's say there are houses available for $300,000, so it takes 41,380 hours of minimum wage labor to buy a house.

To buy a new house for $408,000 with 15,750 hours of labor, the wage would need to be $25.90/hour. To buy a $300,000 home with 15,750 hours of labor, the wage would need to be $19/hour.

Moving forward a few years to 1974, the minimum wage increased to $2/hour, and I rented a small studio apartment in Honolulu, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. for $120/month. Thus it took 60 hours of minimum wage labor to pay the rent.

Studio apartments in Honolulu are now around $1,100/month rent, so to pay the rent with 60 hours of minimum wage labor, the minimum wage would need to be $18.30/hour.

In 1974, I paid $89.25 in tuition and $27 student fees per semester to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa. (These numbers stick in your head when you're paying for them in cash earned at low-paying jobs while you're carrying a full five courses a semester.) That's $233 per year. At a wage of $2/hour, it took 116 hours of labor to pay the annual tuition and fees.

The current cost of tuition and fees at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is $12,186 per year. To pay the tuition and fees with 116 hours of work, the hourly wage would need to be $105/hour. If America gets any more "prosperous," I won't know whether to puke or go blind.

To equal the purchasing power of minimum wages in 1970-1074, the minimum wage would have to be at least $18/hour. Anything less does not equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage paid 50 years ago, and no amount of statistical trickery can erase this reality.

What does it say about our "prosperity" if we can't even afford to equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage paid 50 years ago? It says the 1% got the mine and the bottom 90% got the shaft.







sources:

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/minimum-wage/history/chart
https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm
http://www.1970sflashback.com/1970/economy.asp
http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/70scars.html
https://www.statista.com/statistics/240991/average-sales-prices-of-new-homes-sold-in-the-us/
https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED086037.pdf


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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Increasingly Chaotic Volatility Ahead--The New Normal Few Think Possible

That the era of stability has ended and a new era of increasingly chaotic volatility has begun is not on anyone's radar as a possibility.

The standard debate about the future of the economy is: which will we get, high inflation or a deflationary collapse of defaults and asset bubbles popping?

The debate goes round and round in widening circles of complexity as analysts delve into every nuance of the debate.

A recent conversation with my friend A.T. raised a third possibility few seem to consider: increasingly chaotic volatility will be the new normal, as wild swings between inflation and deflation will increase in amplitude and ferocity as the system destabilizes.

Increasingly chaotic volatility is a classic sign of a system that has lost equilibrium and is attempting to regain its dynamic stability by going into overdrive.

The amplitude and violence of these fluctuations increase as each attempt to restore stability fails.

This loss of stability is not what people expect. The experience of the past 60 years has been that any hiccup in financial stability--a recession or market crash--is temporary, as the system responds with monetary and fiscal stimulus which quickly restores the system's stability.

That the era of stability has ended and a new era of increasingly chaotic volatility has begun is not on anyone's radar as a possibility.

Human physiology offers a useful analogy: blood glucose homeostasis, which is the system of insulin production and sensitivity that maintains the dynamic stability of glucose in our bloodstream for use as energy.

Insulin is produced as needed after a meal to regulate the level of glucose within the ideal bandwidth of homeostasis, i.e. the range of dynamic stability that optimizes insulin production and glucose levels. (3.5 to 5.5 mmol/L or 70 to 130 mg/dL)

In metabolic disorders, the body's sensitivity to insulin declines, and in response the body increases the production of insulin to compensate for the decline in sensitivity.

As the disease progresses, sensitivity drops further, forcing the production of insulin into overdrive. Eventually this overdrive degrades the body's ability to produce insulin and the regulatory system managing glucose levels crashes.

In the economic analogy, the system is responding to the decline of surpluses and efficiencies by pumping ever larger sums of new money into the system as quantitative easing (financial stimulus) and fiscal stimulus (more federal spending funded by borrowing).

Lower interest rates are intended to stimulate more private borrowing, another form of stimulus.

The initial massive dose of financial insulin has created enormous asset bubbles and a frenzied rush to restock inventories depleted during the pandemic.

The conventional media is echoing the Federal Reserve and other authorities who claim the resulting spike of inflation is temporary and will soon fade. Other analysts fear the scarcities are not transitory, as they reflect depletion of real-world resources that cannot be overcome by injecting more insulin (money) into the system.

Meanwhile, other analysts are looking at the skyrocketing leverage in the system, where million-dollar speculative bets are leveraged into billion-dollar bets that cascade into crashes and defaults when the bets go bad.

Leverage is difficult to assess as much of it is in the shadow / off-balance-sheet banking system, where exotic financial instruments are buried deep in footnotes and even experts have trouble unraveling the complex bets embedded in CDOs and various multi-party swaps.

So we have all the necessary ingredient for both inflation and asset-debt deflation, and this is the backdrop for the binary debate of inflation or deflation.

But perhaps the future is not one or the other, but a rapidly destabilizing system that will become increasingly prone to semi-chaotic swings of ever greater amplitude as regulatory agencies (central banks and Treasuries) attempt to flood the system with enough insulin to restabilize debt / leverage / asset prices that are increasingly desensitized to conventional stimulus.

As each new flood of stimulus pushes debt, leverage and assets higher, it further desensitizes the system, setting the stage for yet another collapse of speculative leverage, which then prompts an even larger flood of monetary insulin, which then triggers an even more dramatic crash when then causes an even large dose of monetary insulin, and so on until the system crashes.

Eventually the monetary insulin has none of the desired effects, and the mechanisms for producing more insulin (money) break down as well.

In other words, both critical mechanisms break down: the economy no longer responds to new injections of stimulus and the issuance of money no longer functions as desired.

As the financial system loses stability, injecting more monetary insulin only pushes the system further into chaotic volatility.

For three generations, the Warren Buffett investment strategy worked wonderfully: just buy Coca-Cola etc. and never sell. We see this same mindset in the never sell crypto, diamond hands of the current speculative mania.

If the financial system loses stability, this buy-and-hold strategy will fail. The winners in increasingly chaotic volatility will be those who no longer see any value in the inflation-deflation debate and no longer expect one or the other--or a return to stability. It won't be that simple or that easy.



This essay was first published as a weekly Musings Report sent exclusively to subscribers and patrons at the $5/month ($54/year) and higher level. Thank you, patrons and subscribers, for supporting my work.


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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



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Friday, May 28, 2021

Do We Really Want to Return to "Normal" If "Normal" Is Destroying the Planet?

Change the incentives, and the outcomes change.

Ecologist Howard Odum provided a profound insight into human expansion, stagnation and collapse. He argued that humans are wired to maximize power output (i.e., consumption) rather than maximize efficiency.

In other words, humans are wired to strip the tree of every ripe fruit and throw a party, have more children and use the surplus food to feed an army of conquest. Efficient use of resources is simply not part of what I term Wetware 1.0, the set of tools that was selected and optimized over the past 200,000 years for small hunter-gatherer tribes roaming an apparently near-infinite world.

We've squandered the surpluses enabled by hydrocarbons to maximize energy output (consumption) rather than achieve efficiency. That is finally coming around to haunt the entire "infinite growth on a finite planet" status quo.

Here's the happy story being promoted by the status quo: we can keep overconsuming / wasting resources on a vast scale by electrifying everything that is currently powered by hydrocarbons: The Electrification of Everything: What You Need to Know.

There are a great many problems with this fantasy. One is that per Odum, humanity doesn't replace hydrocarbons with wind-solar, it consumes all the alt-energy being added, too. Adding energy just increases consumption.

Another is that the quantity of scarce minerals and resources needed to replace hydrocarbons with so-called renewable energy is so vast that it's unrealistic.

As I've noted many times, per analyst/educator Nate Hagens, "renewables" are actually 'replaceables', as solar panels and wind turbines wear out and need to be replaced every 20-25 years, if not sooner.

The scale of energy consumption is so vast and the percentage supplied by solar and wind is so insignificant. Most charts lump solar and wind with hydropower and biofuels (wood), but wind and solar provide at best 3% of global energy, after all the tens of billions of dollars that have been invested.

To provide the majority of global energy consumption, we'd need to increase solar-wind 20-fold, from 3% to 60%. The problem, as Tim Watkins explains, is the Earth doesn't have enough scarce minerals to build this monstrous global system, and then replace it every 20-25 years: Are you still buying this?

"Net-zero carbon dioxide by 2050 would require the deployment of ~1500 wind turbines (2.5 MW) over ~300 square miles, every day starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050."

"Challenges of using 'green energy' to power electric cars: If wind farms are chosen to generate the power for the projected two billion cars at UK average usage, this requires the equivalent of a further years' worth of total global copper supply and 10 years' worth of global neodymium and dysprosium production to build the windfarms."

"To replace all UK-based vehicles today with electric vehicles, assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation NMC 811 batteries, would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate (LCE), at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, in addition to 2,362,500 tonnes copper. This represents, just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world's lithium production and at least half of the world's copper production during 2018."


Every kilogram of these scarce minerals must be mined, transported and processed with hydrocarbons.

The problem with wind and solar is intermittency: modern industrial economies require steady electrical power 24/7 or they fail. Wind and solar generate power intermittently, meaning they can't generate a steady supply 24/7 nor can they generate electricity when consumers want to use it.

So the intermittency problem becomes a storage problem: how can we store surplus electricity in quantities large enough to power our vast consumption when the wind dies and the sun goes down?

There are no cheap, easy answers to storage, and ideas such as converting it all to hydrogen are not realistic due to cost and safety issues. There isn't enough lithium and other scarce minerals to build batteries for 2 billion vehicles and storage for every electrical grid on Earth. (And note that lithium batteries have very limited lifespans and need to be replaced every decade, if not sooner. Very few batteries are recycled, so recycling billions of batteries is also a fantasy.)

As Gail Tverberg observes in her recent post, How the World's Energy Problem Has Been Hidden:

"So-called renewable fuels tend to be very damaging to the environment in ways other than CO2 emissions. This point is made very well in the new book Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert. It makes the point that renewable fuels are not an attempt to save the environment. Instead, they are trying to save our current industrial civilization using approaches that tend to destroy the environment. Cutting down forests, even if new trees are planted in their place, is especially detrimental. Alice Friedemann, in her new book, Life after Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Fuels, points out the high cost of these alternatives and their dependence on fossil fuel energy."

Many people I respect see thorium nuclear reactors as the answer, but like all the other proposals to replace the staggeringly large consumption fueled by hydrocarbons with some other source, it's not as easy in the real world as it is conceptually.

India has reserves of thorium and has an ambitious plan to build thorium reactors. But the thorium nuclear fuel cycle is extremely non-trivial, and despite billions of rupees invested, India has yet to complete a single large-scale thorium reactor--and neither has any other nation. There are seven research reactors scattered around the world, but no actual power plants. India's Ambitious Nuclear Power Plan--And What's Getting in Its Way:

"With the commercialization and enhanced use of renewable energy technologies, the per unit cost of electricity produced from renewables has gone down significantly. The cost of solar power in India right now is Rs 2.62 per unit, almost half of the per unit cost of electricity being produced by the recently operational Kudankulam nuclear power plant (Rs 4.10 per unit)."

The problem is we've based our entire global economy on maximizing consumption, not efficiency, so that waste = growth = maximizing profits.

Consider this chart of energy consumption, and the chart of energy efficiency, which reflects the appalling inefficiency of our consumption.





Given that we incentivize profits earned from increasing waste (i.e. "growth"), this shouldn't surprise us.

As Tim Morgan has explained, our entire financial system presumes that money-finance is the master system that controls everything in the real world, when in fact the financial system is an overlay on the energy system. In essence, the entire financial system is nothing but abstract claims on energy that unlike energy can be endlessly multiplied.

Claims (currency and debt) can be created out of thin air, but energy systems cannot be created out of thin air.

The answer isn't to attempt to replace a disastrously inefficient and wasteful system with replaceable energy sources--a delusional fantasy. The answer is to set aside our Wetware 1.0 programming to maximize energy output and consumption in favor of maximizing energy efficiency and conservation.

There are a number of ways this transition could be made. For example, rather than tax human labor, we could tax the consumption of non-renewable resources.

UnTax--Taxing Away Climate Change:

"Yet the reason for this inertia is simple: the price we pay for fossil fuels, and most other non-renewable resources, is far too low, because we don’t pay for their creation which took hundreds of millions of years, but only for their extraction. To make matters worse, more than 90% of all taxes are paid on labor in most countries, which discourages employment and forces automation into every part of the economy.

This mix-up, a by-product of the industrial revolution, leads to pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, waste production and the unnecessary use of automation, which damages our ecosystems and at the same time deprives future generations of their right to access those scarce resources."


Do we really want to return to the "normal" of waste = growth = maximizing profit if this "normal" is destroying the planet?

Cutting consumption is anathema in the current mindset of waste = growth = maximizing profit, but the Pareto Distribution suggests we could cut consumption by 80% and still retain 80% of the essentials for a good life such as clean water, healthy food, basic shelter, etc.

As I posted in Musings #9, consider this short film of Market Street in downtown San Francisco shot a few days before the catastrophic earthquake and fire of 1906. A trip down Market Street before the fire (Library of Congress).

Life was pretty good in 1906 San Francisco and many other cities. Now look at the energy consumption around 1900: it was around 15 TWh compared to today's 160 TWh, roughly 10% of current consumption. And the engines and machines of 1906 were by today's standards extremely inefficient. Adjust for increases in population and efficiency and it's clear lower-consumption life is not necessarily a return to living in caves.





Do we really want to return to "normal" if "normal" is destroying the planet?

Waste is everywhere in our way of life because waste is profitable in the current arrangement. What would happen if waste was taxed at very high rates and efficiency was the sole means of maximizing profits?

Charlie Munger (head of Berkshire Hathaway) famously said: "Show me the incentive and I will show you the outcome." That's how humans operate: we respond to the incentives presented, even if they destroy the planet.

Change the incentives, and the outcomes change. What if efficiencies and conservation earned the biggest rewards and human labor was freed from taxation? The outcomes would improve very dramatically--and that's just the start.

This essay was first published as a weekly Musings Report sent exclusively to subscribers and patrons at the $5/month ($54/year) and higher level. Thank you, patrons and subscribers, for supporting my work and free website.


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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Systemic Risks Abound

If you wanted to design a system guaranteed to collapse in a putrid heap, you'd make moral hazard ubiquitous and you'd make the system 100% dependent on a hubris-soaked faux savior.

For the past 22 years, every time the stock market whimpered, wheezed or whined, the Federal Reserve rushed to soothe the spoiled crybaby. There are two consequential results of the Fed as savior:

1. The Fed has perfected moral hazard: everyone from the money manager betting billions to the punters gambling their stimmy money is absolutely confident I can't lose because the Fed will always push the market higher.

What happens when participants are confident they can't possibly lose? They make ever-riskier and ever-larger bets. The entire nation is in the grip of a moral hazard mania, all based on the confidence that the Fed will always push every market higher--always, without fail.

2. Organic (i.e. non-manipulated) market forces have been extinguished. There is now only one consequential force, the Fed. All markets are now 100% dependent on the Fed responding to every bleat from every punter who's recklessly risky bet is about to go bad.

The Fed is now the perfect union of quasi-religious savior and Helicopter Parent: oh dear, our little darling got high and crashed the Porsche? Quick, let's save our precious market from any consequences!

Every day, Fed speakers take to the pulpit to spew another sermon about the Fed's god-like power and wisdom. The true believers soak up every word: golly-gee, the Fed is better than any god--it's guaranteeing I can get rich if I just leverage up any bet in any market!

The financial media obediently bows and scrapes to their savior, the Fed. With a savior like the Fed, you don't need a real economy or a real market--all you need is the assurance that the Fed will save every market from every consequence.

All this hubris is jolly while it lasts, but since risk cannot be dissipated, it can only be transferred, the Fed has transferred decades of fast-rising risk to the entire system. The entire system now rests on the Fed, a dependency that raises its own risks. By imposing moral hazard and crushing consequences, the Fed has stripped the entire financial system of self-correcting mechanisms. This is a surefire recipe for systemic failure and collapse.

There is no way to wean the system off its dependence on the Fed, and no way to restore organic market functions. The slightest reduction in the Fed's spew of trillions will crash the market, because there is literally nothing holding it aloft but Fed spew--monetary and verbal.

The problem with becoming 100% dependent on the Fed is any wobble will crash the system-- and diminishing returns guarantee a wobble. Consider this analogy: as the human body loses sensitivity to insulin, this triggers increasing overproduction of insulin, a feedback loop which eventually breaks down.

The system's sensitivity to the Fed's spew of trillions of dollars and claptrap preaching is diminishing, which is why the Fed has moved from spewing hundreds of billions to trillions, and why Fed speakers who we once heard from once a month are now out in force every single day.

Remarkably, few anticipate any consequence from the Fed's perfection of moral hazard and the system's 100% dependence on the Fed's spew even as diminishing returns gnaw away at the efficacy of the Fed's ever more grandiose policies and pronouncements.

If you wanted to design a system guaranteed to collapse in a putrid heap, you'd make moral hazard ubiquitous and you'd make the system 100% dependent on a hubris-soaked faux savior. Hey, that describes America's economy and financial system perfectly.






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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, Roger H. ($54), for your superbly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

 

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