Tag Archives: credit crunch

the short end of the stick

hazelwood tally stick It was one of the greatest heists in history. The scene? London, 1660. The perpetrator? England’s King Charles the II. The loot? All the gold he could con out of the country’s goldsmiths, bankers and businessmen. The tool?
 
A tally stick.

Tally sticks were a brilliant invention, but they were also insidious as they formed the foundation for the fiat currency systems we still have today. One where the root of a currency’s value is in a promise from a faceless institution, and not in the actual value of an object.

Put into use about a thousand years ago, they were a common sense solution for a young gold-and-goods economy where gold was scarce. By the time of the heist they were used in everyday transactions.

Here is how it worked. When a loan was made, the debt was carved in a standard fashion on the surface of a small (preferably hazelwood) stick, and then the stick was split in half through the center of the carving. The longer end of the IOU was given to the purchaser, and its handle was called the “stock” — the root of the word’s use in today’s markets.

Even a mostly illiterate public could read the amount scratched into the wood, and the stick would only fit perfectly with its original other half. That way, when the debtor returned with the money (or goods) owed, the sticks would be matched and the debt would be “tallied.”

In that fundamental use, they worked perfectly. But of course, as is governments’ way, the King was tempted to stretch those bounds.

Charles II ruled at a time when royal power was still based on a divine mandate. His government and institutions — and indeed he himself — saw the king as the Chosen One, which was a real shame for him because it bound him to the laws of Christendom. And Christianity at the time still forbade lending or borrowing with usury (interest). When financing several failing wars against neighboring countries depleted royal coffers, Charles II needed some quick cash to continue living in kingly fashion.

King Charles II turned to the trusted tally and the keen idea of selling his (government) tallies (debt) at a discount. That way he could allow his lenders to profit without charging interest — the basis for government debt being sold at a discount today.

And the King could issue advance tallies for emergency spending, an idea that proved all too tempting. He sold the tallies collected by his Exchequer (tax collector), essentially trading future tax receipts to the country’s goldsmiths (bankers) for quick cash.

The tallies were receipts for taxes to be paid later in the year. This is a crucial part of the story: they weren’t trading on the value of the objects being traded, but on the cost of waiting for a return and the government’s ability to collect taxes and stay honest. If the government is not honest, this is an outright Ponzi scheme, one where new debt issue could theoretically pay for passing bills. For a while.

The King realized that he’d stumbled onto something big. He could wage all the war he wanted and pay his bills with the gold he got for hazelwood. The King spent and spent, and the goldsmiths’ vaults filled up with more and more sticks.

Goldsmiths were handing out certificates for fractional gold reserves and inflating the young economy in a con all their own. And since the King played along with their early building of a banking system, they played along with the sticks-for-gold investment strategy.

Over time, the market got wise to the game. Buyers started attaching larger and larger discounts to the King’s debt to offset the perceived risk in loaning money to the King. The discounts prompted the King to issue even more tallies, promising out more future tax revenues just to meet his short-term spending desires. But remember only the discount was changing here. So the mountain of taxes to be redeemed in order to pay off his debts grew in comparison, soon overwhelming the King’s income.

By the time the whole Ponzi scheme came to an end, the King’s sticks were trading at a 10% discount (to put that into perspective, short-term T-Bills are currently trading with discounts of one-tenth of one percent or less). The payments on his newer issues trading at that discount soon outmatched all the Kingdom’s tax revenues, effectively bankrupting his Exchequer and threatening to put the monarchy in the poorhouse.

So with the stroke of a pen, the King simply declared those debts illegal and ceased payment.

With that single stroke he stole most of England’s gold — having already spent it — and forced the young economy to fall flat on its face. The King’s various creditors ended up on “the short end of the stick” and all credit in the country evaporated very nearly overnight.

Pretty scary, huh? I’m glad such a thing could never happen today.

The shipping news

container shipThe whining and hang-wringing about the “credit crunch” is getting on my nerves. It was this supposed crisis that led to the $700 billion bailout and we’re told every day that it must be solved quickly, no matter the cost, or we’re toast. But why? How many of us are actively seeking credit right now? Surely the developers and retailers want us to have lots and lots of it so we can keep hyper-consuming their goods; the bankers want us to have it so they can collect their interest and fees but, seriously, is free-flowing credit what the American public needs right now? Living beyond our means is what caused the credit meltdown in the first place!

Here’s a meaty statistic: the Baltic Dry Index, which measures the demand for global shipping capacity, dropped from 11,793 last May to, get this, an inconceivable zero. The complexity of the BDI is beyond the scope of this post but, suffice it to say, there are lots of cargo ships sitting at anchor today. The collapse of the BDI augurs a rapidly evaporating demand for foreign goods. Combine this with the massive deterioration in domestic consumption during the fourth quarter of 2008, and wager a guess as to the meaning of it all. We’re not buying anything and the world is following suit! So tell me, Wall Street wizards, why the continued hyperbole about a credit crunch?

How could our purchasing habits change so dramatically overnight? Currently, Americans own an estimated 250 million personal computers and 175 million iPods. There are 9 million mobile homes within our borders, approximately 102-130 million single-family homes, and countless million apartments. One could safely assert that there’s a home, an mp3 player and a personal computer for every man, woman and child in the United States. I’ll go on. Everyone has a television, a cell phone. Nearly everyone owns a car. Most have closets full of clothes they never wear, and we all have too many shoes. So when Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke or anyone else talks about freeing up the flow of credit, we should ask ourselves why.

Recently, through the dense economic fog came a thin ray of revelation: I may actually have enough stuff. Perhaps, just maybe, I can stop buying new stuff for awhile. I can keep my slightly dented iPod for yet another year. My Toyota with 90,000 miles is probably good for another road trip or two. I won’t move to a bigger house just yet, or buy the 52″ flatscreen Santa forgot to leave under the tree. I may have to forego the spring sales and make do with last summer’s tank tops, wrong color though they may be.

I don’t mean to minimize the hardship of doing without, but we are a nation of excess inventory. Somewhere in our stuffed dressers and overfull garages, there is room to accommodate a changed perspective.

Wall Street is telling us that all will soon be well. If we just give them hundreds of billions, they’ll take their cut and loan the rest to us so we can get back to “business as usual”. But what if we don’t cooperate with their economic “recovery” plan? What if we collectively turn our backs on Wall Street and Madison Avenue and live simply, buying what we need and paying as we go, stopping to share with others along the way?

Remember, our banks and investment companies built themselves toward inevitable failure during the economic boom. Don’t expect them to act nobly in the coming recession because they won’t. You can bank on that. So stop worrying about their silly market indices and their credit machinations. Let the Federal government give them another trillion pieces of worthless paper. Help them plaster their walls with negotiable instruments. Make them eat derivatives for breakfast, sell them short against the box and leverage them to outerspace. Leave them with their excess shipping capacity and their phantom dollar bills.

It’s time for the rest of us to disembark this sinking stinking ship for good.

How a ‘credit crunch’ can help kick an economic depression into place

jenny_and_marx.jpg In a system…where the entire continuity of the…process rests upon credit, a crisis must obviously occur — a tremendous rush for means of payment — when credit suddenly ceases and only cash payments have validity. At first glance, therefore, the whole crisis seems to be merely a credit and money crisis. And in fact it is only a question of the convertibility of bills of exchange into money.

But the majority of these bills represent actual sales and purchases, whose extension far beyond the needs of society is, after all, the basis of the whole crisis. At the same time, an enormous quantity of these bills of exchange represents plain swindle, which now reaches the light of day and collapses; furthermore, unsuccessful speculation with the capital of other people; finally, commodity-capital which has depreciated or is completely unsaleable, or returns that can never more be realized again.

The entire artificial system of forced expansion of the [ecomony] cannot, of course, be remedied by having some bank, like the [Federal Reserve], give to all the swindlers the deficient capital by means of its paper and having it buy up all the depreciated commodities at their old nominal values.

Incidentally, everything here appears distorted, since in this paper world, the real price and its real basis appear nowhere, but only bullion, metal coin, notes, bills of exchange, securities. Particularly in centers where the entire money business of the country is concentrated, like London [or New York]…the entire process becomes incomprehensible.

Credit crunch is a symptom of US economic malaise, not the cause of it

Texas A and MTaxpayers gifting the rich with $7,000,000,000 will not stop the coming capitalist depression at all, because it simply does not address the root causes of anything. We have been told that this crisis is merely the fault of toxic debts piling up from an American ‘housing bubble’, which happened due the crookedness of a few bad apples. Yes, its true, they add a few more details to this sob story but that is essentially all there is to the story line, with none of the American corporate ‘leadership’ class taking any personal or political responsibility at all. That is not too surprising about these moralizing immoralists at all. It is par for their course.

But the root cause of the capitalist downturn is about much more than a credit crunch cause or a real estate mortgages beginning the collapse. It is actually about the deficit military spending that corporate America has led us into with their stupid and asinine wars against shadows of their own making. Despite the destruction caused on that fateful day termed ‘9/11’, it could have been nothing more than a temporary and unfortunate side show for our country, but instead it was seized on by the military, policing, and corporate communities to justify skyrocketing their budgets, incomes, and profits. They went on a borrowing spree using foreign credit!

They did not buy anything of real value or substance though, and they progressively bankrupted the bulk of Americans by doing their borrowing, all the time while waving Old Glory and talking of American pride and national security, which they were busy undermining. ‘USA, USA, USA’ became the cry of the dunces they had marching behind them. They tortured not only Pentagon held POWs, but the American soul itself. The big guys total control over political life is what got us down into the pit.

Now, the only economic ‘security’ left for Americans is in the seeming ability to drag others down economically with us. Since we were such fat consumers here in the land of milk and honey, many depended on supplying us. However that market is about to collapse. Add to that that the whole world is left holding much of the valueless paper that our ruling class force fed to them at guns length. And, of course, we still have the biggest arsenal around. That almost makes our Federal Government just like any insane neighbor with an insanely huge gun collection, but barely living while dependent on food stamps to eat some fast food Chinese once and a while. Sarah and Dick to go hunting with perhaps?

Look around? The American auto industry just asked and got close to $30 billion in ‘bailout’ loot, too. It’s about to sink. And the biggest economic sink of them all is about to sink in the days ahead, also. Quite simply, our military is not sustainable. That is the cause of our economic malaise, not the housing market getting squeezed. All industry and finance got dragged down together in mass, and not just car sales and real estate.

The idiots of our country continue to want to wave the flag. They continue wanting to pump borrowed money into fighting unnecessary foreign wars like it is all some sort of crazed football game being played on the pro level! They like that corporate logo of Old Glory just as they do not mind all the corporate advertising hanging all over the place at the stadiums they hang out at weekends. They like the political and corporate cheerleaders, same as they like the young coed types with bonbons. at their games. This is their None Entiendo game done ever so Grande. Beep, beep, beep beep… Fireworks display!

The root cause of the economic downturn is deficit spending and deficit thinking by our neighbors, especially so in our White Conservative Christian neighborhoods, church on every other block. To sum it up, throwing $700,000,000,000 of tax money at the failed businesses solves nothing. It’s like throwing more weight on that old football bonfire.

Remember that collapse of the Texas A&M bonfire pileup several years ago? That’s the type of thinking America has on board at present. The economic bonfire stack is merely being set for collapse with this stupid bailout that they will eventually put through, because our nation is too dumb to have stopped it when we could. That picture of the Aggie bonfire before it collapsed is just like the Federal deficit debt pileup that is due to come crashing down on all of us. They constructed it out of vainglory.