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GOLD: SAVINGS AND PENSIONS

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

“Save for a rainy day.” The old adage, but does anyone do so nowadays?

“Saving” is much more likely to mean pensions nowadays, the likelihood of ever having one, and the certainty, if one has been saving towards one, that the recent and continuing bouts of Quantitative Easing (QE) have eroded it. “As much as £30,000 could be wiped off a £100,000 pension pot.” (This is Money, November, 2012)

But QE is only inflation speeded up; paper money is inflationary in and of itself over the long term, and with high tax regimes thrown in, no savings are safe. Those who remember the late 1970s will recall the prudent people who realised that money sitting in the bank was money evaporating, so they reasoned: why not spend it? Slap up meals, theatre tickets, luxury holidays – use it now before it is gone. During the Weimar inflation, industrial wages were eventually paid on the hour, with workers rushing out to spend them before they lost such value as they had by the second.

Converting your savings into gold sounds good, but – those ingots?? Is gold for the ordinary person?

Connect to LinGold.com (either click here, or on the box below this article) and find out. Signing up as a Member of the LinGold Savings Plan at a minimum purchase of 1gm of gold per month gives you a foot on the gold savings ladder: the cost of 1gm of gold compares favourably with the cost of, say, travel passes on London transport. Figures for 2012 on average household expenditure give the highest weekly cost as transport at £65.70, with half of that going on running a car; weekly expenditure on groceries averaged £44.20, with 80% being spent at supermarkets – doubtless because of the loyalty schemes and loss leaders that help keep prices down, as well as all the other prices wars that the supermarkets are more or less permanently engaged in.

Gold therefore, if saved for nothing other than the rainy day of retirement, compares very well with other necessary expenditures. After saving money on the weekly shop at the supermarket, it would be well to consider putting the balance into gold – and thanks to the unique LinGold.com Savings Plan, you too can do it! The democratization of gold is here to stay.

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

GOLD STANDARDS III

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

I have discussed in Gold is Money, and the previous Gold Standards I and II the advantages of understanding that gold is not a commodity, that it is money that serves the usual purposes of money, as a store of value and a means of exchange, but with the vital difference that it also serves as a standard unit of measurement. The latter function is owed to its intrinsic qualities.

However, in Paper Money Collapse, Detlev Schlichter expounds Carl Menger’s view that gold, like all other things that people have found a use-value for, can indeed be considered a commodity, at least in historical terms. (I have looked at this book twice before in Gold Money A Currency of the Past and What Are Banks For?)

How does this argument work? Menger, says Schlichter, that “money could only have come into existence as a commodity”. It was not the creation of the State, there were no issuing authorities; money arose from mutual trading activities in which all commodities had a use-value. Without that use-value, no commodity was worth anything. Schlichter explains:

“For something to be used, for the very first time, as a medium of exchange, a point of reference is needed as to what its value in exchange for other goods and services is at that moment. It must have already acquired some value before it is used as money for the first time. That value can only be its use-value as a commodity, as a useful good in its own right. But once a commodity has become an established medium of exchange, its value will no longer be determined by its use-value as a commodity alone but also, and ultimately predominantly, by the demand for its services as money. But only something that has already established a market value as a commodity can make the transition to being a medium of exchange.”

Gold the Supreme Embodiment of Value

This anthropological-historical understanding of the emergence of money puts the market, trading, at the heart of the valuation process. Which, in turn, reminds us that the ultimate source of value, what something is worth, is its value to the parties, few or numerous, who engage in the transaction. So what in turn is required of a monetary medium, a currency, is a value that as far as possible stands outside that arbitrary subjectivity. Money itself, whatever its currency embodiment, is an attempt to render value objective in that the currency can be used in any exchanges, unlike bartering.

So in turn, the more objective the currency can become, the more it can become a standard (and this is where it is easy to see why it therefore becomes a unit of measurement), the more reliable, the more valuable that currency unit becomes.

And again, in turn, it is easy to see why gold quickly established itself as the supreme embodiment of exchange value: “it is no surprise that throughout the ages and through all cultures, whenever people were left to their own devices and free to choose which good should be used as money, they most always came to use precious metals.”

Gold is Money

Historically then we can enlarge Turk’s and Rubino’s contention that gold is not a commodity, not at least a commodity like oil or eggs, by allowing that the currency standard will have had a life as an object with use-value until other properties lead people to realise that it may have a value above its use-value. People have become familiar with these properties until it is singled out in use as being dominated by these properties and becomes money.

And the dominant characteristic of gold is its stability: soon all other characteristics were subordinated to this one, thereby changing not its nature but its purpose.

Of course, gold can be re-commodified as jewellery or ornament, as Jocelyn Burton, gold- and silversmith, demonstrates in her extraordinary work. People will always have these uses for gold, which are not intrinsically opposed to its properties as money: jewellery after all carries a premium and can, somewhat philistinely perhaps, be regarded as a form of storage, but then this form of storage shares with gold coins the property of portability.

And money can be re-subjectivised, in the past by mutilating it, clipping and shaving gold and silver coinage; and in the present of course the rolling of the printing presses with paper money has made money supremely subjective, its value becoming volatile and it storage properties destroyed.

It may be objected that we have little ancient anthropological evidence for this process, but we do not need to rely upon this as merely an explanation of what “must have happened”, we need only look at how those living in a territory with a devalued currency deal with the depredations of their government: in the twentieth century they have singled out dollars. When I asked an acquaintance from Zimbabwe how Zimbabweans coped with all those noughts, he laughed and said: “We just use dollars.”

The idea that money, and gold as money, emerged from the free trades of people going about their ordinary business also helps explain the deep disdain for gold in today’s political establishment: the idea that people are incapable of looking after themselves has become rooted in modern political thinking.

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

GOLD STANDARDS II

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

By Mark Rogers

In Gold is Money and Gold Standards I looked at the consequences of accepting that gold is not a commodity but rather money. I suggested in the former article that the confusion between a commodity with a price, and money with an exchange value, was part and parcel of the confusions that arise out of the corruption of money, its worth and functions that result from a command economy and its fiat currency.

Here’s a splendid example of this linguistic confusion, straight from the horse’s mouth; in remarks to the National Economists Club, Washington, D.C. on November 21, 2002, Bernard Bernanke said:

“[T]he U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost. By increasing the number of U.S. dollars in circulation, or even by credibly threatening to do so, the U.S. government can also reduce the value of a dollar in terms of goods and services, which is equivalent to raising the prices in dollars of those goods and services. We conclude that, under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation.” [My emphasis; and I shall be making a longer scrutiny of this talk in a later article.]

Talk of “positive inflation” is irresponsible, but it’s what you get when the printing press or its electronic equivalent is set rolling.

Language and Loans

In “Gold is Money” I went on to examine other possible misuses of language in discussing money and value. I raised the issue of whether it was proper to consider the interest one pays on a loan as being in effect the price of the loan, and whether or not the money constituting the loan is in fact sold to one: if it is, then “price” would seem to be the better way to describe the transaction.

Except that this in turn produces confusion, largely because service professions, such as banks, have come to be described in industrial or retail terms: banks have “products” which they “sell” to “customers”.

But this is nonsense: banks don’t manufacture anything, and do not buy in their “goods” at “wholesale” prices which they then try to “sell” at competitive rates.

Take mortgages: if you have one it is on condition that the bank or building society offers to remove a portion of your income every month over a period of years, and if you fail to fund this activity, your house is taken away from you. This is not a “product”. Why do you think you have got one, though? Because you have been beguiled by a metaphor.

Interest and Prices

I suggested: “In considering how we speak about value and prices and fiat money and borrowing and cheap and dear money, it might concentrate the mind if we did indeed speak of the “cost” of a loan, the “price” the bank charges us for lending, or perhaps selling, to us.”

This thought experiment was intended to throw into relief just how we think about what constitutes monetary transactions: there is an important moral sense in which it would concentrate the mind to think about “costs” if credit is extended for non-productive reasons.

When money is “dear” it is likely that the chief criterion for extending credit will be the purpose to which the loan is to be put. If it is for business expansion, say new plant, or into a new market, then the likelihood that the venture will produce a substantial return on the loan means two things: the loan is more likely to be repaid, and that after the loan is repaid the firm will have made a profit on that loan.

The problem comes with credit extended for consumption (and under consumption we most definitely must include homes that are not affordable outright): this is wholly an academic affair. Keynesian economists have persuaded governments that consumption equals an expanding economy (and note again the point in Bernanke’s talk that I emphasized: “a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation”). But the question needs to be asked: why do economists think that expense means expanse?

Credit lines extended purely for consumption end up damaging economies. In buying things now that one could not afford without the credit does not add to economic activity, it simply stokes up the personal indebtedness of the debtor and increases the book entries on the bank’s accounts. Because the money has to be paid back out of earnings, not production, it increases the likelihood of the debt being unaffordable and ultimately written off.

There is another problem here: credit lines for consumption imply that there is no real criterion: one’s present income hardly counts because it might not be there when the debt has to be repaid. No, the real irresponsibility is that the loan’s the thing, in and of itself, not whether it will be turned to productive purposes – that is used to make something that wasn’t there before. Failing to see that this distinction needs to be made is what makes Bernanke’s remarks so irresponsible.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the fact that governments themselves do not produce anything: there are some seven million people who work for the British government, on average higher salaries than those in the private sector and with gold plated pensions (insofar as an unfunded liability can be said to be “gold plated” – the latter phrase really means that the government won’t break its promises to look after its own). These people produce nothing.

So while consumers intending to consume above earnings are anxious to find low interest loans to fund extra, unproductive consumption, it might indeed concentrate their minds to talk about prices, because that might put the nature of what they are doing into perspective.

In the serious world of productive business, however, interest is the proper term to use: the bank takes depositors’ funds and lends them at interest to enterprises that have been considered on balance likely to succeed for the purposes of the loan. In 100% reserve banking this process would perhaps be a great deal more transparent. And using gold as the ever-present unit of measurement will tell us what our money is really worth.

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

THE GOLD SPOT: RICARDO ON GOLD AS VALUE

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

The Gold Spot is a regular feature in which Mark Rogers excerpts a passage from his reading as the Text for the Day and then comments on it.

Extracts from ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION by David Ricardo, from the collected Works and Correspondence edited by Piero Sraffa with the collaboration of M.H. Dobb, published for The Economic Society by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1951

Adam Smith, after most ably showing the insufficiency of a variable medium, such as gold and silver, for the purpose of determining the varying value of other things, has himself, by fixing on corn or labour, chosen a medium no less variable.

Gold and silver are no doubt subject to fluctuations, from the discovery of new and more abundant mines; but such discoveries are rare, and their effects, though powerful, are limited to periods of comparatively short duration. They are subject also to fluctuation, from improvements in the skill and machinery with which the mines may be worked; as in consequence of such improvements, a greater quantity may be obtained with the same labour. They are further subject to fluctuation from the decreasing produce of the mines, after they have yielded a supply to the world, for a succession of ages. But from which of these sources of fluctuation is corn exempted? [Chapter I On Value, Section I]

It has therefore been justly observed, that however honestly the coin of a country may conform to its standard, money made of gold and silver is still liable to fluctuations in value, not only accidental and temporary, but to permanent and natural variations, the same manner as other commodities.

By the discovery of America and the rich mines in which it abounds, a very great effect was produced on the natural price of the precious metals. This effect is by many supposed not yet to have terminated. It is probable, however, that all the effects on the value of the metals, resulting from the discovery of America, have long ceased; and if any fall has of late years taken place in their value, it is to be attributed to improvements in the mode of working the mines.

From whatever cause it may have proceeded, the effect has been so slow and gradual, that little practical inconvenience has been felt from gold and silver being the general medium in which the value of all other things is estimated. Though undoubtedly a variable measure of value, there is probably no commodity subject to fewer variations. This and the other advantages which these metals possess, such as their hardness, their malleability, their divisibility, and many more, have justly secured the preference every where given to them, as a standard for the money of civilized countries.

If equal quantities of labour, with equal quantities of fixed capital, could at all times obtain, from that mine which paid no rent, equal quantities of gold, gold would be as nearly an invariable measure of value, as we could in the nature of things possess. The quantity indeed would enlarge with the demand, but it value would be invariable, and it would be eminently well calculated to measure the varying value of all other things. I have already in a former part of this work considered gold as endowed with this uniformity […] In speaking therefore of varying price, the variation will be always considered as being in the commodity, and never in the medium in which it is estimated. [Chapter III On the Rent of Mines]

Comment: Apart from the importance Ricardo attached to machines cropping up in this discussion (his famous Chapter XXXI On Machinery), the interesting thing to note in these passages is that the argument with Adam Smith about sources of value devolves on gold as having the least variability when compared to other possible sources. Smith laid so much stress on corn, partly because it is a staple foodstuff and people must eat, and partly because the labour used to plant and harvest it was an easily quantifiable volume of work; Smith’s theory of value ultimately depended on labour, because the fact, the necessity of labour is an everyday constant.

Ricardo took exception to both corn and labour as measures of value, because the fact that both are necessary does not therefore bar them from continual accident and misfortune: exceptionally bad weather before a harvest destroys not only the crop but the need for labour at all, and has almost the same complete effect should bad weather occur during the harvest. The resulting famine may cause seed prices for next year’s crop to go up. That people must work for a living may be a constant, but their ability to work at any given time is contingent. Similarly, improvements in machinery may have a longer term effect on labour even as these improvements increase the harvest in a good year.

Therefore, these cannot be units of measurement of value: they fluctuate, or are capable of fluctuating too wildly.

The subject was to crop up again in Ricardo’s “Notes on Malthus”, where he takes issue with the gloomy Mr Malthus’s misreading of the points Ricardo makes above, in particular Malthus’s overlooking the qualifications about gold being “nearly an invariable measure of value” and his consequent assumption that Ricardo meant that as things stood, here and now, gold was such a measure. Indeed, Ricardo gets so hot under the collar in pointing out to Malthus that he had not been so simple as to claim this that he practically reverses himself as expressed above, almost implying that gold has no such intrinsic virtue! But indeed, he was quite cross with Mr Malthus all round; he did, in correspondence, express himself as being even less pleased with Malthus’s book on his second reading than he had been on first reading it, his further disgruntlement with Malthus leading to the “Notes”.

What is important about Ricardo’s quarrel with Adam Smith is that it is a very early rebuttal of the notion of labour as the source of value, and an equally important claim for precious metals as that source, as being the closest thing we are ever likely to possess for the purpose. That this claim is hedged with qualifications demonstrates two things: a prudent mind, and, secondly, that the major and long term experiments with paper money lay, of course, well in the future, i.e. the Twentieth Century. What Ricardo was doing was to estimate which of all possible sources of value, supposing such a measure to be desirable (and he concludes that it is), would best serve. There are obvious attractions in Adam Smith’s approach: it is practical, deals in vital constants of human action, and is empirical. But in the end it is insufficient. There is a discussion of paper currency in Ricardo’s book but it is fairly narrowly focused, as the experience of it in his day was narrowly focused, primarily on its promissory nature in terms of specie. Nothing like what we have experienced in the Twentieth Century was available to the political economists of the Eighteenth Century.

Nowadays, while accommodating the arguments to prudence as is always desirable, a stronger case for gold as “nearly an invariable measure of value” can and must be made because the realities foisted upon us by the advocates and practitioners of paper have been so dire.

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

GOLD STANDARDS

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

The proposition was examined in the last posting, Gold is Money, that gold is not a commodity or at least not in the sense that other commodities are (a distinction that will be looked at in a later posting). This proposition leads to an important observation, that gold is a unit of measurement, but an even more momentous observation arises from this: that whether there exists a gold standard of the classic kind (England from the end of the Seventeenth Century up to 1914, for the world at large 1870 to 1914) or the more controversial gold exchange standard of the interwar years, or the patched up standard of Bretton Woods, as a unit of measurement gold always provides a standard.

As long as gold remains largely in private hands and circulates, its exchange value determined by the markets, with banks holding a modicum of gold reserves, then gold will act as the benchmark against which currencies are measured, its prime function in a world of debased paper currencies to tell us what those currencies are actually worth, a bellwether that provides the information we need about how we manage our assets and how we exchange them for the safe haven.

There is another aspect of this, therefore, that throws up an interesting answer to the question that Turk and Rubino ask in their book discussed in “Gold is Money”. They point out that all paper currencies have collapsed and the reaction of governments has been, perhaps to confiscate wealth, perhaps to tighten currency controls, to generally adopt measures limiting the freedom of action of their subjects.

But this time round, it may not be governments who will take the initiative. The likelihood that the US government will confiscate gold as it did in 1933 must be set against the far less trusting, more cynical attitude of the general public towards government.

Gold has been remonetized in Utah, the Swiss People’s Party recently won the right to a referendum on the Swiss National Bank’s ability to sell off gold reserves, and the same party is arguing for a Swiss gold franc as circulating currency.

More and more people are realising how gold may be managed in such a way that investors are, in effect, re-inventing a free gold standard for the conduct of their monetary and financial affairs. Another example of a spontaneous order emerging? Let us hope so.

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

GOLD TO RETURN AS A PURE GOLD STANDARD IN SWITZERLAND?

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

By Mark Rogers

Some interesting news from Switzerland: the Swiss People’s Party’s campaign to compel the holding of a referendum on the sale of the nation’s gold by the Swiss National Bank has successfully gathered the required 100,000 signatures; last Thursday, May 16, 2013, the Federal Chancellery announced that the referendum would be held. The Financial Times, however, points out that “it is not uncommon for the period between an initiative being accepted for referendum and a vote being held to extend to several years.” No doubt the Swiss National Bank welcomes such a delay.

At present the SNB holdings of gold form 10% of its reserves, and not all of it is in the bank’s own vaults; the bulk at 70% is in Switzerland; 20% is at the Bank of England, with the rest stored at the Bank of Canada..

The Swiss People’s Party wants that externally held 30% to be returned to Switzerland, and wants the bank to increase its holdings to 20%. Until the constitution was revised in 2000, the SNB had been obliged to keep 40% of its reserves in gold.

But the interesting thing about this initiative is that it is part of a much larger campaign by the Swiss People’s Party to return to a pure gold standard by reintroducing the Swiss gold franc as money. Confidence in the Swiss franc and monetary policy has been shaken by the attempts of the SNB to devalue the franc which have resulted in big losses; this combined with the sell-offs at low prices (shades of Gordon Brown’s tampering with the U.K.’s gold) 2001-2006 have accumulated losses of billions of Swiss francs.

Given that Switzerland was the last country to stop backing its currency with gold, only coming off its domestic gold standard in 2000 under the revised constitution, it is noteworthy that the dumping of gold and the devaluing of the franc followed promptly in 2001.

The latest initiatives, for a referendum and for a gold franc, have not unnaturally caused consternation at the SNB; it is concerned at “the monetary policy implications of the demands in the initiative.”

Well, indeed.

For further stories on this issue, see “Swiss Parliament to discuss gold franc”; “Swiss Intiative reveals push for gold-backed currency”; and “Swiss To Vote On Gold Repatriation – “Gold Is The Only Valuable Asset On The SNB’s Balance Sheet

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

GOLD: WHY NO PRICE RISE COMMENSURATE WITH CENTRAL BANKS’ BUYING?

Monday, May 20th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

At the Money Week annual conference (held at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London, Friday, 17 May, 2013), two of the speakers, Mr Dominic Frisby and Mr Simon Popple were asked the same question: was the drop in the gold price in April manipulated, and if so by whom and why? Both speakers disdained conspiracy theories as the likely answer: nothing but fruitless speculation. Mr Frisby asserted that we deal with the cards as they are on the table. Another question was however a good and intriguing one. Why is the price still down given that central banks have been buying “hand over fist”?

ETFs

As I noted in “Gold in Flux”, the main cause of the drop in price was the sudden dumping of huge quantities of paper gold. If this was because those who held these paper stocks had suddenly come to realise that they were worthless, then this was a rational thing to do, in spite of the fact that it would drive the price of gold down. Indeed, at the conference Mr Frisby pointed out that as long as the next crisis is held at bay, or indeed that the present crisis is bottoming out (he was ruefully cautious as to whether this is indeed what is happening!), then it would be reasonable to say that the current price of gold is a fair one. After all it is still high, in comparative historical terms: in 2009 it was $950 an ounce.

This does not, however, address the possibility that the price of gold has over the last year been too low. I first discussed the possibility in “The Price of Gold”. Why might it be considered that the price has been low? Those wretched ETFs. The swelling mass of ETFs had become so much papier-mâché (literal meaning: chewed paper), clogging the market. This might have had the effect of keeping the price lower than it otherwise would have been. Equally, of course, it could have kept the price artificially high.

As previously mentioned in “The Price of Gold”, the probability that the central banks’ buying of gold has been spurred by Basel III is a reasonable inference, whatever else may have caused it, though of course it does not answer the question about why the price continues low (subject to Mr Frisby’s caveat.) In passing, it is interesting to note that unlike European central banks, China did indeed start compliance with Basel III rules on January 1, 2013, when they ostensibly came into force.

DRAG ON THE PRICE

Now it is entirely plausible that the ETFs continue their drag on the price of gold: ETFs have not been abolished or abandoned, merely that a large quantity have been dumped. And the price of gold therefore inevitably mixes (perhaps confuses is the better word) physical gold and paper gold.

Clif Droke quotes Bill O’Neill, principal with LOGIC Advisors: “The biggest negative continues to be the ETFs. We’ve had steady and constant ETF liquidation,” adding that many suspect the exodus is not over, and continuing: “Further, once major hedge funds rotate away from such an asset, they typically don’t jump right back in anytime soon. The big players are going to be slow coming back into the market.”

Mr Droke comments: “The unspoken reality for gold investors is that the increasing institutional demand for equities is taking the wind out of the sails of the gold market,” and goes on to quote Kitco News on Tuesday, 14 May, 2013: “Continued exchange-traded-fund outflows, strong equities and US dollar gains are limiting the upside for gold, while recently strong physical demand and continued central-bank accommodation are providing support.”

Mr Droke elaborates: “While there has been strong demand for physical bullion since the April lows, especially in Asia, the fact that stocks are garnering an ever-growing share of ‘hot money’ flows while gold is largely ignored by institutional and hedge fund investors isn’t helping the yellow metal’s cause.

“Moreover, as the value of S&P 500 Index increases while gold goes nowhere, it’s causing the relative strength for gold to actually decline. This gives the hedge fund and other sophisticated investors who look at technical indicators one less reason to invest in gold in the near term.

“Kitco reports, ‘A number of observers have cited the rotation into equities as one of the factors prompting an exodus out of gold exchange-traded funds so far this year….’”

This seems to be a very acute analysis of what is happening.

Another complicating factor is that while central banks are indeed buying up gold, some of the most important are continuing with, or continuing to threaten, more quantitative easing. This is another paradox waiting to be resolved, for as described in the Deutsche Bank, London Head Office analysis “Gold: Adjusting to Zero” (discussed in “Gold and the Keynesian Groupies”) QE pushes the price up, or is there some Mephistophelean spell that negates the gold price when it is central banks which buy it? (See “The Gold Standard: Further Encouragement from Wise Eminences”)

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

THE GOLD SPOT: GOLD THE REFERENCE POINT

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

The Gold Spot is a regular feature in which Mark Rogers excerpts a passage from his reading as the Text for the Day and then comments on it.

Extract from CURRENCY WARS: THE MAKING OF THE NEXT GLOBAL CRISIS by James Rickards, Portfolio/Penguin, New York, 2011

The continuation of the trend toward a diminished role for the dollar in international trade and the reserve balances begs the question of what happens when the dollar is no longer dominant but is just another reserve currency among several others? What is the tipping point for the dollar? […]

Barry Eichengreen is the preeminent scholar on this topic and a leading proponent of the view that a world of multiple reserve currencies awaits […] the plausible and benign conclusion that a world of multiple reserve currencies with no single dominant currency […] this time with the dollar and the euro sharing the spotlight instead of the dollar and sterling. This view also opens the door to further changes over time, with the Chinese yuan eventually joining the dollar and the euro in a coleading role.

What is missing in Eichengreen’s optimistic interpretation is the role of a systemic anchor, such as the dollar or gold. As the dollar and sterling were trading places in the 1920s and 1930s, there was never a time when at least one was not anchored to gold. In effect, the dollar and sterling were substitutable because of their simultaneous equivalence to gold. Devaluations did occur, but after each devaluation the anchor was reset. After Bretton Woods, the anchor consisted of the dollar and gold, and since 1971 the anchor has consisted of the dollar as the leading reserve currency. Yet in the post-war world there has always been a reference point. Never before have multiple paper reserve currencies been used with no single anchor. Consequently, the world […] is a world of reserve currencies adrift. Instead of a single central bank like the Fed abusing its privileges, it will be open season with several central banks invited to do the same at once. In that scenario, there would be no safe harbour reserve currency and markets would be more volatile and unstable.

Comment: It is hard to fathom such an unrealistic expectation of lead currencies, swilling about supporting each other and every other currency, as being somehow optimistic and benign; Rickards is not saying that he thinks they would be by using these terms, he is pointing up the authors of these expectations as hailing them as benign: what could go wrong, we’re all good chaps…aren’t we?

Rickards’s view is of a piece with Gustav Cassel’s point (quoted in Gold on the Outbreak of the Great War), that “the responsibility for the value of the currency, in cases where the gold standard has been abandoned, must exclusively lie with those in whose hands rests this provision of the means of payment.” The point being that this is an astonishing level of trust to put into the institutions of government, not just moral trust, but a trust that the necessary calculations, observations and measurements can be made consistently and continuously to keep things afloat and stable. The euro is a very good object lesson that both these sorts of trust are misplaced, which is putting it mildly…

From an Austrian School point of view, the goodness of the humans in charge is irrelevant: it is the utterly impossible nature of the task that is the stumbling block. But it is just there, of course, that the immoral temptation to swing things to the state’s advantage comes to the fore – again as shown up by the euro.

Where there is no reference point, no anchor, no solution is feasible… which is why we keep getting  more of the failed nostrums. Which leads on to a very interesting observation: why taxes must go up in an economic world divorced from the gold standard.

Politicians are incapable of managing monetary affairs (see the article linked to below on The Mess We’re In: Why Politicians Can’t Fix Financial Crises). The gold standard prevented them by and large from acting on economic hubris. Unconstrained by gold, bewildered by their failures, corrupted by their power, they turn to the one nostrum that lies unfailingly to their hand: taxation. That is why it is found important at times of high and progressive taxation to denounce “avoiders” as selfish cheats who won’t do their bit for their fellow citizens (see my The Moral Dilemma at the Heart of Taxation). So the gold standard not only prevented printing money, it also held down taxation. Another reason to vote for gold!

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

THE GOLD SPOT: GOLD ON THE OUTBREAK OF THE GREAT WAR

Monday, May 13th, 2013

The Gold Spot is a regular feature in which Mark Rogers excerpts a passage from his reading as the Text for the Day and then comments on it.

Extract from MONEY AND FOREIGN EXCHANGE AFTER 1914 By Gustav Cassel, Constable & Co. Ltd, London 1927 (originally published Constable 1922)

ABOLITION OF THE GOLD STANDARD

The first thing that happened in the financial sphere upon the outbreak of the World War was that the existing gold standard was abandoned – not only in the belligerent countries, but also in the majority of neutral states. Upon the entrance of the United States into the War, corresponding steps were taken in that country. A realisation of this fact is of fundamental importance for a proper understanding of all the occurred later. From the moment of the outbreak of war, the various currencies had in the main to be regarded as free paper currencies, and consequently as currencies which were not limited to any metal, and therefore were not in any relation to one another. Only an economic theory which from the very outset takes cognisance of a system of free currencies can be in a position to offer a true and intuitive picture of the essential points in the development of which followed. Wherefore, it is of primary importance to realise that the value of the monetary unit in a pure paper currency can manifestly only be based upon the scarcity in the provision made by the country for means of payment, and that, therefore, the responsibility for the value of the currency, in cases where the gold standard has been abandoned, must exclusively lie with those in whose hands rests this provision of the means of payment.

When I say that the gold standard was abandoned, I refer to an actual fact. Its form one has everywhere sought as far as possible to avoid, and it may, therefore, be possible to assert, with a certain amount of plausibility, that the gold standard has not been abandoned – nay, even that it still obtains. But from an economic point of view that has no meaning. Economics have only to reckon with facts. When the essential conditions for a gold standard are removed, then the gold standard, as viewed from an economic standpoint, is abolished.

Comment: These are the first two paragraphs of Cassel’s book, and what follows is a dense and, at times, difficult to follow analysis of the convolutions that followed when the Great War was over: the institution of the gold exchange standard, free floating currencies and floating exchange rates. One of the reasons that the analysis is hard is that Cassel shows that throughout the period he deals with – 1914 to 1922 – there were great misunderstandings, misapprehensions, misassumptions and false assumptions of which few had a practical, factual grasp. The form of the abandonment allowed merchants, financiers, bankers and politicians to avoid realising its consequences, and to pretend that not only had the gold standard been maintained in its pre-War form, and but to also pretend that it was remotely possible to return to pre-War prices and values. The classical gold standard was not re-introduced, and it was, in the circumstances, impossible to return to pre-War values, indeed the attempt to do in the light of the wartime inflation, or indeed, the pretence that this had been done, was in no small measure responsible for the economic chaos that dogged Europe in the aftermath of the War and in a way continues to confuse and confound the economic managers of the global economies ever since. If one allows that the pegging of the dollar to gold at Bretton Woods was not a true gold standard, not even a gold exchange standard, but a continuation of those post Great War pretences, then it has been almost a century since the world abandoned gold and abolished the gold standard.

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

GOLD MONEY: A CURRENCY OF THE PAST… AND THE FUTURE?

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

When buying numismatic rare gold coins, it is well to remember that many of them were minted for use, as currency. For example, one of the perennially popular collector’s coins, the South African Krugerrand is minted in two kinds. The South African Mint strikes proof Krugers, while bullion Krugers are struck at the Rand Refinery. Proof coins are issued in smaller quantities for the collectors’ market. They are important to collectors who are interested in “a perfect uncirculated” coin; when the Krugerrand was first struck the bullion coins were intended to circulate as currency.

While currency wars and devaluations are very much a thing of today, it is worthwhile taking a look at the origins of one of the first real currencies… and who knows, one that may take its place once more as a trusted, true exchange of value.

Money, a concept born out of necessity

Before money existed, goods were traded in the form of exchange and bartering. There were obvious difficulties because in the long term it is perhaps impossible to equate the value of items in terms of each other, oxen for example in proportion to wheat or potatoes.

A popular and plausible hypothesis by H. Hauser (Gold, Vuibert & Nony, Paris, p.307) is that as gold was also being traded against various goods, its weight was ultimately agreed upon as the unit of exchange. It cannot have been longer before people realised that gold was easily divisible into a variety of weights which equated to multiples of its value and therefore the value of other commodities. This led to the concept that of weights of gold were indeed useful “units of value” and quickly prices for oxen, sacks of wheat etc became equivalent to a certain weight of gold.

Gold is ideal for this purpose because it is easily divisible and impossible to fake and is a store of real value being a precious and rare metal.

The birth of gold coins

In Egypt, gold was exchanged against goods in the form of rings which had fixed weights and therefore different multiples of value could be used for pricing goods. Elsewhere however, gold stayed in the form of ingots for a long time but their weights were often variable, that is, there was no standard size of bar, so bars would naturally be of different weights depending on how much gold was in them. Trading was difficult and tedious because of these discrepancies. Weight variations meant that trades were seldom a direct equivalent to the goods being traded and so much haggling ensued.

In search of something more convenient, reliable and safe, small gold discs of a fixed weight were made and each one had a value struck on it. They were easier to carry around and allowed trade to be more flexible, retail as well as wholesale. Thus the first gold coins were born and indeed the first recognisable currency. This took place around 700 BC according to Erik Chanel.

Whilst gold was not the only metal used for coins – silver has been widely used as well- gold, however, was the ideal metal because of its unique combination of properties such as: it is stainless, rustproof, divisible, malleable, ductile and of course rare, which made it from the outset a symbol of riches.

Is Money as good as Gold?

The Gold Specie Standard was a system that associated units of money to gold coins in circulation or when lesser metal coins drew their reference of monetary value from a circulating gold coin.

The Gold Exchange Standard was when circulating coins made of various metals such as silver and copper drew their reference monetary value from a fixed value of gold independent of their own metal value.

The Gold Bullion Standard did not involve circulating coins. This was when governments had agreed to sell gold bullion at a fixed price in exchange for a quantity of circulating currency. In other words, each unit of currency effectively had a value related to gold. This allowed the mass introduction of paper currency, which was easily transportable and practical for payments.

So far so good; but more and more governments after 1914 disassociated themselves from gold standards of any kind, seeing how easy it was, from their point of view, to inflate their “wealth” by simply printing more and more pieces of paper, which led to the credit creation system, fractional reserve banking, loans and mortgages.

Without Gold, Money is Debt

The Gold Bullion Standard ended in 1971 when Nixon decided to deal with the economic strain of expenditure on the Vietnam War and so untied the value of the dollar from gold. This therefore effectively untied all the other currencies which had been part of the Bretton Woods Agreement to form the IMF (International Monetary Fund) in 1944.

Thereafter currencies were and are not covered by a relationship to gold or any other fixed unit of reference so they can become extremely volatile, easily devalued and printed at infinitum. The problem is that today’s money is based on pieces of paper that are printed with a nominal value. What this means is that currency value is nowadays derived from economic confidence. When there is none the currency becomes worthless and it is not because the central bank has printed a number on a piece of paper that it becomes meaningful. While it is true that Human Action is the ultimate source of value, human confidence is a much more precarious matter, easily swayed, easily duped.

As Detlev Schlichter argues in his immensely important book (Paper Money Collapse, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey, 2011):

“Large sections of the public today embrace a strong and interventionist state. They consider the government a magic cure-all and the answer to everything. Given […] the consistently devastating historical record of state paper money, it is remarkable that those who advocate commodity money today are either marginalized as slightly eccentric or made to extensively explain their strange and atavistic-sounding proposals while the public readily accepts a system of book entry money in which the state can create money without limit. […] The result has been and will continue to be yet more money printing, more debt, more privileged treatment of banks and more government intervention in the economy. Given the interests of the political establishment, the views of the mainstream media, the vested interests of the financial industry, and the state zeitgeist, a timely return to hard money can almost be ruled out.”

Note that Schlichter says “timely”. Earlier in his book, he had noted that the “Achilles heel of this system may then be seen, more accurately, not in a fickle public but instead a banking sector that issues uncovered claims against itself.” Such a system was bound to cause panics from time to time, or what politicians and bankers saw as panics, but which were rather “attempted shifts by the public out of uncovered fiduciary media issued by the banks and previously accepted by the public, into money proper.”

That is, people looking for ways to protect their wealth outside of paper money.

Gold as a future currency?

Gold as a currency of the future may seem far-fetched but given the state of paper money and the increasing interest in gold who knows, it is already being planned as an alternative stable money in certain places. Even if gold coins do not re-enter circulation they are being used as a more certain tangible investment, thus protecting and covering other forms of wealth.

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

GOLD: THE BOOK OF THE MOMENT

Monday, April 29th, 2013

livre3DReview by Mark Rogers

Gold, A Different Point of View by Paul McGowan

With a Preface by Bill Bonner

Published by Ferrington in association with LinGold.com

Following the drop in the price of gold a few weeks ago, record sales of gold coins were reported (see here, and here for a rise in its price). The publication of this little book is therefore timely and pertinent.

There may be many people who would like to hold some gold but are dissuaded by the thought of large and expensive ingots. But bullion is not the only way in which to invest in or purchase gold. Yet as the author states: “Gold is not just ingots. The common response to gold is that it is only for the wealthy: those heavy bars, alluring though they may be, are simply unaffordable.”

This book argues that this view of gold is misguided and misinformed: there are affordable routes to investment in gold.

Although short the book contains a wealth of information. There is an introductory chapter giving a brief history of gold’s 6,000 history, which includes its denigration by politicians and academics in the twentieth century; Keynes for example thought it a “barbarian relic”. Proudhon, Marx, Lenin, Hitler all denigrated it, and to this day it troubles the likes of Ben Bernanke and George Soros.

Gold’s function as a stabiliser of value and its use over time as actual currency coin in circulation suggest that gold is today an alternative currency, and this first chapter ends with a comparison of gold with modern economies, noting that the latter are not working, while attempts to remonetize gold are afoot in, for example, Utah.

There is also discussion of the vexed problem of clean extraction with some useful information about the certificating process that reassures investors that their gold has been mined under the highest standards.

Chapter Two, “Gold, the last bastion of individual freedom”, examines the role that gold may play in hedging one’s investment portfolio, as well as its potential as a regulating device, controlling the whims of politicians and central bankers. This chapter contains a concise guide to the problems of paper currency unsecured against tangible value, with the inevitable consequence that savings are eroded and destroyed and more and more paper is required to purchase fewer and fewer goods. In other words, paper currencies are a direct attack on people’s individual control of their lives, rendering it harder and harder for them to provide for themselves, their families and their futures. We have been here so many times in history, with the latest example being the eurocrisis, that it is nothing short of scandalous that the political and academic classes cannot see the lessons to be so plainly learned.

Gold on the other hand “observes a constancy. With one ounce of gold you can almost buy today the same quantity of basic goods as at the time of the Roman Empire or Egyptian civilization. Inder the Pharaoh Tutmosis III, one needed the equivalent of 2 ounces of gold to buy an ox. Today, 2.5 ounces would be needed. Inflation has been rather weak in 4,000 years!”

This is a salutary reminder of gold’s stabilising power, which is just the very thing that the modern politician resents about it.

A strong bullish potential

The importance of gold in the contemporary world is underlined by an examination of those countries which invest heavily in it, both at the national as well as the individual level. Russia, China and India are at the forefront of this investment, with others, such as Vietnam, making significant moves in this direction. There is a useful digest of information about these countries, the role gold has traditionally played in them and how they are managing their portfolios at present. This analysis clearly establishes trends which are not going to vanish: China indeed buys enormous quantities of it, even though she also produces it.

These markets ought to assure the potential gold investor that while prices do indeed fluctuate, bullish potential is always there in gold, and has been for most of human history. Any falls in the market have identifiable causes – for example, the wedding season in India sees a rise in prices. Indeed, this analysis is testimony to the fact that we have had 6,000 years to observe people’s behaviour with gold and make it one of the easiest assets to manage.

An Investment Portfolio

Nevertheless, the author does not argue that gold should be the sole asset in one’s portfolio, far from it. Instead it should be looked on as the preserver of a portfolio’s value, that depending on the scale of one’s other investments a relevant proportion should always be kept in gold to support the rest of the portfolio.

There is a very useful chapter on investments other than gold, such as arable land and forestry, fine art and fine wines. These all have valuable potential (after all, we all need to eat), but each has significant drawbacks which are clearly and carefully spelled out. Gold’s position as being free of such drawbacks means that it is essential to invest in it, as a hedge against the dormant disasters in the rest of one’s investments.

And gold enjoys an enormous potential over any other investment, including in things such as diamonds that might seem to share some of gold’s economic potential. Gold is superbly versatile. Cut a diamond, and much of it is waste; melt an ingot of gold, and you still have the same amount of gold.

Gold Coins

The heart of the book is in its last chapter which really gets down to brass tacks – or gold coins! Coins represent gold at its most versatile, allowing even those who do not have huge fortunes to start saving in gold. While one ingot is beyond the reach of most, a single coin, perhaps purchased at the rate of no more than one a year, is a realistic and feasible option.

The book contains a wealth of information on tax regimes; storage; what to do and what not to do in actually physically handling coins and how to transport them; what to look out for as enhancing a rare numismatic coin’s value and what depletes it – all fascinating information in itself, and eminently practical.

“If we had to state only three reasons to buy: gold is a recognized and accepted safe haven throughout the world, demand from the emerging countries is strong and the total demand over the mid to long term is reliably forecast as being higher than the supply.”

The book is available on Amazon in a Kindle version (price: £5.14). Those readers who would like the printed version, should send a cheque for £12.50 (includes p+p) made out to: Ferrington, and send it to: Ferrington, Bookseller & Publisher, 24 Shipton Street, London E2 7RU. The book is also available as Buy It Now on eBay.

GOLD THE ANCHOR

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

By Mark Rogers

I looked here at the recent drop in the price of gold, and suggested that the problem lay not so much in the price itself as in the perception of the value of gold. This is always a problem with prices; as James Rickards has accurately noted, market transactions (in context, he is discussing financial markets, but the observation applies to all types of market) consist of price discovery between bid and offer. (I first reviewed his exceptionally informative book, Currency Wars, Portfolio/Penguin, New York, 2011 here.) There is an important sense, therefore, in which prices as such are never stable except on the transfer of the asset at the eventually agreed price. This is one of  the senses in which Hayek refers to prices as information.

Rickards goes on to point out, in the context of gold, that the massive gains in stocks and gold in both 1933 and 2010 (85% in the latter year) were just “the flip side of trashing the dollar. The assets weren’t worth more intrinsically – it just took more dollars to buy them because the dollar had been devalued.” That is, consider the price of gold not as a price but as information indicating the present worth of the currency; not what gold is worth but what gold is telling us about the price of the dollar.

His book is an examination of the ways in which governments wage currency wars in order, they think, to increase domestic prosperity, by deliberately devaluing their own currencies. Short-term gains, if any, are rapidly exhausted, and the ill effects for the long term soon emerge. And yet, politicians and central bankers remain oblivious to these effects – and the recent quantitative easing is, once again, the result of that purblindness.

The German Inflation

At the time of the German depression, when the Reichsbank engaged in the biggest currency devaluation in history to date by attacking the value of the Reichsmark, the German people saw prices going up but did not equate that with the realisation that the currency was collapsing; similarly, we see prices increasing without realising that the paper money we hold in our hands is depreciating in value all the time: we moan about “capitalist exploitation”, “wicked bankers” and “supermarket greed”, or we talk knowingly about “inflation” as if the latter was like the weather. Seldom or never do we stop to consider that what is actually happening is that our governments are of set purpose devaluing the currency: the mutilation of our money is hidden from us (see here, here and here).

The Gold Price

One result of currency depreciation is capital flight, and the recent drop in the price of gold could be looked at in this light. Just as paper money is suddenly recognised as worthless, causing the flight of capital, so the sudden flight from ETFs in gold, another form of ultimately worthless paper, is in the same order of events. In fact, the gold price can be seen as operating both ways: the purchases of gold which pushed the price up over the last two years were a capital flight caused by quantitative easing as that devalued the pound and the dollar. And now, the plunge in the price of gold is also a capital flight because, whatever else may be going on, it is a flight from the ETF paper gold (the source in more ways than one of the market manipulation that may have been the immediate cause of the price drop) into physical gold, in this instance into gold coins.

Thus, one way of looking at the price of gold in a volatile paper money system is as an indicator of the current levels of volatility and a measure of what at any given moment should be done about.

As noted at the beginning of this article, prices are never stable and in terms of market transactions and international trade are in need of an anchor to make it easier for bidders and offerers to discover the prices at which they are willing to settle. The classical gold standard was just such an anchor. In the absence of a return to that standard, gold nevertheless still performs as a bellwether.

NOTE: “volatile paper money” is of course a tautology!

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

DEVELOPMENT: IS IT THE RIGHT WORD?

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

Developing economies. Less developed countries. Third world countries. And then of course, developed economies.

But is there not a question being begged by these terms?

Let us look again at what I characterised as Keynes’s self-indictment:

“We take as given the existing skill and quantity of available labour, the existing quality and quantity of available equipment, the existing technique, the degree of competition, the tastes and habits of the consumer, and disutility of different intensities of labour and of the activities of supervision and organization, as well as the social structure.”

I call this a self-indictment because it displays an extraordinary degree of complacency and ignorance about how economies work (see the previous article in which I examine Lord Bauer’s response to the Keynesian approach).

What is fundamentally wrong about the Keynesian starting point is that not only is it not a starting point, it isn’t even an endpoint: this paragraph posits a certain stasis as the foundation of an economy. It is true historically that economies can stagnate and thus civilizations disappear, but any functioning economy, such as those Lord Bauer discovered when he left the academy and looked at what was actually happening in West Africa and Malaya, is dynamic, in short developing.

Looked at from the other end, the idea of “development” as a comparative term also suggests that there is an end result, i.e. something called a “developed economy”. But as we have seen in The Knowledge Economy, the western economies are headed on a path to what we could call “de-development”. With heavy government regulation and intervention, with QE, with the loss of paper trails in, for example, the subprime mortgage crisis, the legal underpinning of a free economy seems to be in freefall. I suppose that is one form of dynamism, but it is not a desirable one.

Readers curious as to why articles of this nature should be appearing on a gold investment website should read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

And for background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

And for a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

BANKING FAILURES

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

 Banks are businesses like any other (in principle) but the regulatory frameworks constructed to “oversee” them in fact legislated banks out the consequences of operating in the private sector. The question inevitably arises therefore: what were the kickbacks?

They were obviously not such as obtained in the media, where for decades newspapers have espoused political causes and backed parties and politicians. Yes there were some ultimately certain relations that proved fairly poisonous for democracy – one thinks of Murdoch and Blair for example. The Browne/Balls-Banker axis was more fundamental, more insidious and more toxic than the media-politician axis, if only because the latter was transparent, in the sense that we could see some at least of what was going on and newspapers made no bones about their political stance.

Banks had traditionally been independent of the state (remember: the Bank of England was only nationalized in the late 1940s). The media-state “interface” had always been the more obvious and troublesome one: censorship versus boosterism – no surprise there. Journalists and politicians after all have a lot in common.

In other words, what the LIBOR arrangements, if guessed correctly by The Spectator, amounted to were not merely a conscription of the banks by the state, but the willingness of the former to be so co-opted. So where does that leave Barclay’s decision not the take the Queen’s shilling? And the subsequent vilification of Bob Diamond?

Are bankers inherently dishonest or do politicians persuade, even force, the at least more craven of the bankers to become so?

After all you don’t have much choice after you’ve been nationalized – and the legislation that exempted bankers from the commercial consequences of failure was effectively a form of nationalization.

Nazi-style socialism

It needs to be strongly emphasised that when Mr Anthony Blair persuaded the Labour Party to abandon Clause Four, the nationalization of the means of production, in favour of “market forces”, he actually was trading in the Communist version of Socialism for the Nazi version of Socialism which was to leave industrial and commercial productive forces in private hands but surround them with state interference and legislation. This is not market forces.

For a brilliant analysis of the banking problem as caused by the regulatory framework – not, it must be insisted upon, bad or lax regulation but the fact of the regulatory regime existing at all – please read the last of the three links below, and then go out and buy the book!

Readers curious as to why articles of this nature should be appearing on a gold investment website should read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

And for background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

And for a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

MORTGAGES REPRISED

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

A recent story in the London Evening Standard announced that first time buyers are expected to stump up a £100,000 deposit. Thus, evermore young, first time buyers are being denied their place on the bottom rung of the housing ladder – or that is what at least it is usually called: edge of a bottomless abyss might be more accurate, and something from which they should be glad they have been saved!

A question that might at first blush seem curious: if there is a housing shortage, why are there so many estate agents? There are parts of London where they even cluster together. However, this is easily explained. Many of the properties on offer will not be unlived in – they will be the homes of people wanting to move for the sake of employment or retirement, and perhaps many more will have been put up for sale to realize their value, given that they were bought not merely to be lived in but primarily as an asset. The real explanation of the number of estate agents is that there are few buyers because most people, especially that class of “first time buyers” or rather would-be first time buyers, cannot afford the prices.

Estate agents earn their bread and butter from management fees for lettings: the houses for sale are the window dressing. Which is one among several factors that explain the high cost of housing: fees on sales are adjusted to take account of the length of time the house is on the estate agents’ books.

Another thing that the number of estate agents indicates in economic terms is the relative lack of information in the market: houses are expensive partly because there is no proper market in them, and therefore the information about what houses are worth – their prices – is limited. (See here, here and here for further discussion of the problem of the modern mortgage.)

Nevertheless, the modern fashion is to own – or at least to aspire to own. This is historically unprecedented. Most of the time, most people rented. Families who acquired houses, or who bought plots of land to build their own, usually did so towards the end of the pater familias’s career in upper middle class families who had acquired serious money. The house was then left to the children, so over time the number of people who owned their own homes increased, but slowly.

Why Rent?

Many families rented for their entire lives. And this in turn meant that there was a real market in housing, because renting meant that the market was flexible, price-sensitive and therefore price informative, and, crucially, not sodden with debt, i.e. a mortgage on your future which your income may never catch up with because of inflation.

Properties rented were owned in terms of the Common Law: what you were buying with your weekly or monthly rent was a lease with an almost full entitlement to property rights in respect of the inviolability of your privacy and the contents of the property that you brought into the house: landlords could not, for example, demand unilateral access while the current rent was paid in full, or demand that certain objects not to their taste were excluded. Landlords of course owned the property in the fullest sense of the term given that they had the right to sell it – but even this ultimate test of ownership was circumscribed by the rights of the resident tenants. So for the ultimate owner, the property represented two things: a current income, and a future saving.

The great advantage of renting was that the tenant’s obligations were contracted serially under the terms of the lease, which meant that, provided proper notice was given and dilapidations were duly paid for, the owner of the lease, i.e. the tenant, could leave the property at whim or out of the necessity of looking for work.

Leases were therefore one of the engines of a free and flexible economy. And they also have the advantage that they are a regular provider of price information.

One must wonder then if one of the reasons politicians are keen on promoting home ownership is that the modern mortgage is in fact a means of control over the home-owning population without the state actually having to nationalize their property…

In this context it should also be remembered that Victorian prosperity did, as mentioned above, mean a gradual increase in home ownership and homes therefore being left to descendants. However, the invention of inheritance tax in the late nineteenth century combined with modern inflation – which brackets houses into inheritance tax even though the residents’ incomes do not reflect that nominal, inflated value – have, all the while the politicians sing the virtues of home ownership, denied homes to an increasing number of inheritors.

And another problem arises with the so-called “homeless”. There are a lot of vendors of the Big Issue but they are not homeless: their hostel rooms or their flats are provided by the local authority and their rents are paid out as benefits by (and of course to) that same authority. The real homeless, the people who sleep on the streets, are either mentally disabled or young people who have fled home, in many cases state institutions. So once again in an economy dominated by the welfare state, it is all a matter of juggling with words, rather than material fact.

These considerations once again prompt reflections on what it is we really value and how that value is measured: as pointed out here, our money is not really money, and our mortgages are not real mortgages.

And once again, the question arises: when will this house of cards collapse? The eurocrisis is allowed to drift, quantitative easing underpins access to cash while piling up crisis for the next generation, politicians urge the banks to lend, and banks remain free of the consequences of moral hazard…

Readers curious as to why articles of this nature should be appearing on a gold investment website should read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

And for background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

And for a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES