The Only Form of Permanence

Perhaps the first great lesson of economics, as emphasized by Henry Hazlitt, is that there is no free lunch. The second, courtesy of Frederic Bastiat, is that if it sometimes appears that there is one, it means that we simply have not looked deeply enough into the consequences of our attempt to enjoy it. The third, the joint insight of several generations of Austrians, is that the attempt to buy one for ourselves by resort to monetary manipulation is eventually doomed to fail. A cynic might say that the fourth and final lesson is that no-one ever wishes to abide by the strictures inherent in the first three rules. Continue reading

Moths to the Flame

That’ll teach’em!

Enticed by the seemingly risk-free profits being offered by the Chinese stock market stabilization drive, burned fingers spent the week from the lows creeping back to the flames, adding another $1 billion-a-day to the official margin total as they did. Continue reading

Laying the Foundations

As the Yellen Fed inches painfully towards taking its first ‘data-dependent’ steps to raise rates (albeit with the promise that such a process will follow the disastrous, well signposted creep upward which enabled so much damage to be wrought after the Tech Bust), the evidence mounts as to just how belated any such action will be. Take housing, for instance. Continue reading

Athens(es) of the North

In order to give some context to the disparities which so bedevil relations between countries in the Eurozone, one thing we can consider is the tally of net private indebtedness to banks (i.e., the sum of household and private, non-financial corporation loan balances less their deposits). To make these truly comparable, we take into account both the size of the population (ranging from Germany’s 80-odd million to Ireland’s 4 1/2) and also Eurostat’s estimate of median household income. We also take the opportunity to widen out the snapshot so as to include the Eurozone’s Scandinavian fellow-travellers in Sweden and Denmark.

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We Will All Go Down Together

When we last wrote, some brave analyst at a Chinese brokerage was making headlines by talking of there being at least another CNY2–2.5 trillion in ‘shadow’ margin debt to add to the peak CNY2.3 trillion registered on the exchange ( that latter now already shrunken by over a third). Since then, the ante has been upped by one of our hero’s competitors, who added another CNY1-1.2 trillion to that already gargantuan guess. The man from Huatai Securities also suggested that half of the total was effectively being financed by the nation’s banks, whether they are strictly authorised to do so or not. Continue reading

Timeo Danaos (et Romanos)

It is now largely overlooked, but the 19th century had its own precursor to EMU in the shape of the Latin Monetary Union, set up principally to try to solve the hoary problems of silver:gold bimetallism. But, if much of the Union’s history was dogged by the narrow technical issues of how, firstly, to structure its members’ own monetary system and, thereafter, to align it more closely with those of the non-members, there were other features, too, which are still very much germane today.

Unrealistic expectations, short-term politics, and – as ever – too much debt plagued both Greece and Italy in those days, too, with repercussions for the other LMU members as well as for their trading partners in the wider world.

[The following appears as Chapter II in my book ‘Santayana’s Curse’ available on Kindle]

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