Banking and Lending/Investment. How Monetary Policy Becomes Decisive? Some Branching Rumination.

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Among the most notoriously pernicious effects of asset price inflation is that it offers speculators the prospect of gain in excess of the costs of borrowing the money to buy the asset whose price is being inflated. This is how many unstable Ponzi financing structures begin. There are usually strict regulations to prevent or limit banks’ direct investment in financial instruments without any assured residual liquidity, such as equity or common stocks. However, it is less easy to prevent banks from lending to speculative investors, who then use the proceeds of their loans to buy securities or to limit lending secured on financial assets. As long as asset markets are being inflated, such credit expansions also conceal from banks, their shareholders and their regulators the disintermediation that occurs when the banks’ best borrowers, governments and large companies, use bills and company paper instead of bank loans for their short-term financing. As long as the boom proceeds, banks can enjoy the delusion that they can replace the business of governments and large companies with good lending secured on stocks.

In addition to undermining the solvency of the banking system, and distracting commerce and industry with the possibilities of lucrative corporate restructuring, capital market inflation also tends to make monetary policy ineffective. Monetary policy is principally the fixing of reserve requirements, buying and selling short-term paper or bills in the money or inter-bank markets, buying and selling government bonds and fixing short-term interest rates. As noted in the previous section, with capital market inflation there has been a proliferation of short-term financial assets traded in the money markets, as large companies and banks find it cheaper to issue their own paper than to borrow for banks. This disintermediation has extended the range of short-term liquid assets which banks may hold. As a result of this it is no longer possible for central banks, in countries experiencing capital market inflation, to control the overall amount of credit available in the economy: attempts to squeeze the liquidity of banks in order to limit their credit advances by, say, open market operations (selling government bonds) are frustrated by the ease with which banks may restore their liquidity by selling bonds or their holdings of short-term paper or bills. In this situation central banks have been forced to reduce the scope of their monetary policy to the setting of short-term interest rates.

Economists have long believed that monetary policy is effective in controlling price inflation in the economy at large, as opposed to inflation of securities prices. Various rationalizations have been advanced for this efficacy of monetary policy. For the most part they suppose some automatic causal connection between changes in the quantity of money in circulation and changes in prices, although the Austrian School of Economists (here, here, here, and here) tended on occasion to see the connection as being between changes in the rate of interest and changes in prices.

Whatever effect changes in the rate of interest may have on the aggregate of money circulating in the economy, the effect of such changes on prices has to be through the way in which an increase or decrease in the rate of interest causes alterations in expenditure in the economy. Businesses and households are usually hard-headed enough to decide their expenditure and financial commitments in the light of their nominal revenues and cash outflows, which may form their expectations, rather than in accordance with their expectations or optimizing calculations. If the same amount of money continues to be spent in the economy, then there is no effective reason for the business-people setting prices to vary prices. Only if expenditure in markets is rising or falling would retailers and industrialists consider increasing or decreasing prices. Because price expectations are observable directly with difficulty, they may explain everything in general and therefore lack precision in explaining anything in particular. Notwithstanding their effects on all sorts of expectations, interest rate changes affect inflation directly through their effects on expenditure.

The principal expenditure effects of changes in interest rates occur among net debtors in the economy, i.e., economic units whose financial liabilities exceed their financial assets. This is in contrast to net creditors, whose financial assets exceed their liabilities, and who are usually wealthy enough not to have their spending influenced by changes in interest rates. If they do not have sufficient liquid savings out of which to pay the increase in their debt service payments, then net debtors have their expenditure squeezed by having to devote more of their income to debt service payments. The principal net debtors are governments, households with mortgages and companies with large bank loans.

With or without capital market inflation, higher interest rates have never constrained government spending because of the ease with which governments may issue debt. In the case of indebted companies, the degree to which their expenditure is constrained by higher interest rates depends on their degree of indebtedness, the available facilities for additional financing and the liquidity of their assets. As a consequence of capital market inflation, larger companies reduce their borrowing from banks because it becomes cheaper and more convenient to raise even short- term finance in the booming securities markets. This then makes the expenditure of even indebted companies less immediately affected by changes in bank interest rates, because general changes in interest rates cannot affect the rate of discount or interest paid on securities already issued. Increases in short-term interest rates to reduce general price inflation can then be easily evaded by companies financing themselves by issuing longer-term securities, whose interest rates tend to be more stable. Furthermore, with capital market inflation, companies are more likely to be over-capitalized and have excessive financial liabilities, against which companies tend to hold a larger stock of more liquid assets. As inflated financial markets have become more unstable, this has further increased the liquidity preference of large companies. This excess liquidity enables the companies enjoying it to gain higher interest income to offset the higher cost of their borrowing and to maintain their planned spending. Larger companies, with access to capital markets, can afford to issue securities to replenish their liquid reserves.

If capital market inflation reduces the effectiveness of monetary policy against product price inflation, because of the reduced borrowing of companies and the ability of booming asset markets to absorb large quantities of bank credit, interest rate increases have appeared effective in puncturing asset market bubbles in general and capital market inflations in particular. Whether interest rate rises actually can effect an end to capital market inflation depends on how such rises actually affect the capital market. In asset markets, as with anti-inflationary policy in the rest of the economy, such increases are effective when they squeeze the liquidity of indebted economic units by increasing the outflow of cash needed to service debt payments and by discouraging further speculative borrowing. However, they can only be effective in this way if the credit being used to inflate the capital market is short term or is at variable rates of interest determined by the short-term rate.

Keynes’s speculative demand for money is the liquidity preference or demand for short-term securities of rentiers in relation to the yield on long-term securities. Keynes’s speculative motive is ‘a continuous response to gradual changes in the rate of interest’ in which, as interest rates along the whole maturity spectrum decline, there is a shift in rentiers’ portfolio preference toward more liquid assets. Keynes clearly equated a rise in equity (common stock) prices with just such a fall in interest rates. With falling interest rates, the increasing preference of rentiers for short-term financial assets could keep the capital market from excessive inflation.

But the relationship between rates of interest, capital market inflation and liquidity preference is somewhat more complicated. In reality, investors hold liquid assets not only for liquidity, which gives them the option to buy higher-yielding longer-term stocks when their prices fall, but also for yield. This marginalizes Keynes’s speculative motive for liquidity. The motive was based on Keynes’s distinction between what he called ‘speculation’ (investment for capital gain) and ‘enterprise’ (investment long term for income). In our times, the modern rentier is the fund manager investing long term on behalf of pension and insurance funds and competing for returns against other funds managers. An inflow into the capital markets in excess of the financing requirements of firms and governments results in rising prices and turnover of stock. This higher turnover means greater liquidity so that, as long as the capital market is being inflated, the speculative motive for liquidity is more easily satisfied in the market for long-term securities.

Furthermore, capital market inflation adds a premium of expected inflation, or prospective capital gain, to the yield on long-term financial instruments. Hence when the yield decreases, due to an increase in the securities’ market or actual price, the prospective capital gain will not fall in the face of this capital appreciation, but may even increase if it is large or abrupt. Rising short-term interest rates will therefore fail to induce a shift in the liquidity preference of rentiers towards short-term instruments until the central bank pushes these rates of interest above the sum of the prospective capital gain and the market yield on long-term stocks. Only at this point will there be a shift in investors’ preferences, causing capital market inflation to cease, or bursting an asset bubble.

This suggests a new financial instability hypothesis, albeit one that is more modest and more limited in scope and consequence than Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis. During an economic boom, capital market inflation adds a premium of expected capital gain to the market yield on long-term stocks. As long as this yield plus the expected capital gain exceed the rate of interest on short-term securities set by the central bank’s monetary policy, rising short-term interest rates will have no effect on the inflow of funds into the capital market and, if this inflow is greater than the financing requirements of firms and governments, the resulting capital market inflation. Only when the short-term rate of interest exceeds the threshold set by the sum of the prospective capital gain and the yield on long-term stocks will there be a shift in rentiers’ preferences. The increase in liquidity preference will reduce the inflow of funds into the capital market. As the rise in stock prices moderates, the prospective capital gain gets smaller, and may even become negative. The rentiers’ liquidity preference increases further and eventually the stock market crashes, or ceases to be active in stocks of longer maturities.

At this point, the minimal or negative prospective capital gain makes equity or common stocks unattractive to rentiers at any positive yield, until the rate of interest on short-term securities falls below the sum of the prospective capital gain and the market yield on those stocks. When the short-term rate of interest does fall below this threshold, the resulting reduction in rentiers’ liquidity preference revives the capital market. Thus, in between the bursting of speculative bubbles and the resurrection of a dormant capital market, monetary policy has little effect on capital market inflation. Hence it is a poor regulator for ‘squeezing out inflationary expectations’ in the capital market.

Production of the Schizoid, End of Capitalism and Laruelle’s Radical Immanence. Note Quote Didactics.

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These are eclectics of the production, eclectics of the repetition, eclectics of the difference, where the fecundity of the novelty would either spring forth, or be weeded out. There is ‘schizoproduction’ prevalent in the world. This axiomatic schizoproduction is not a speech act, but discursive, in the sense that it constrains how meaning is distilled from relations, without the need for signifying, linguistic acts. Schizoproduction performs the relation. The bare minimum of schizoproduction is the gesture of transcending thought: namely, what François Laruelle calls a ‘decision’. Decision is differential, but it does not have to signify. It is the capacity to produce distinction and separation, in the most minimal, axiomatic form. Schizoproduction is capitalism turned into immanent capitalism, through a gesture of thought – sufficient thought. It is where capitalism has become a philosophy of life, in that it has a firm belief within a sufficient thought, whatever it comes in contact with. It is an expression of the real, the radical immanence as a transcending arrangement. It is a collective articulation bound up with intricate relations and management of carnal, affective, and discursive matter. The present form of capitalism is based on relationships, collaborations, and processuality, and in this is altogether different from the industrial period of modernism in the sense of subjectivity, production, governance, biopolitics and so on. In both cases, the life of a subject is valuable, since it is a substratum of potentiality and capacity, creativity and innovation; and in both cases, a subject is produced with physical, mental, cognitive and affective capacities compatible with each arrangement. Artistic practice is aligned with a shift from modern liberalism to the neoliberal dynamic position of the free agent.

Such attributes have thus become so obvious that the concepts of ‘competence’, ‘trust’ or ‘interest’ are taken as given facts, instead of perceiving them as functions within an arrangement. It is not that neoliberal management has leveraged the world from its joints, but that it is rather capitalism as philosophy, which has produced this world, where neoliberalism is just a part of the philosophy. Therefore, the thought of the end of capitalism will always be speculative, since we may regard the world without capitalism in the same way as we may regard the world-not-for-humans, which may be a speculative one, also. From its inception, capitalism paved a one-way path to annihilation, predicated as it was on unmitigated growth, the extraction of finite resources, the exaltation of individualism over communal ties, and the maximization of profit at the expense of the environment and society. The capitalist world was, as Thurston Clarke described so bleakly, ”dominated by the concerns of trade and Realpolitik rather than by human rights and spreading democracy”; it was a ”civilization influenced by the impersonal, bottom-line values of the corporations.” Capitalist industrial civilization was built on burning the organic remains of ancient organisms, but at the cost of destroying the stable climatic conditions which supported its very construction. The thirst for fossil fuels by our globalized, high-energy economy spurred increased technological development to extract the more difficult-to-reach reserves, but this frantic grasp for what was left only served to hasten the malignant transformation of Earth into an alien world. The ruling class tried to hold things together for as long as they could by printing money, propping up markets, militarizing domestic law enforcement, and orchestrating thinly veiled resource wars in the name of fighting terrorism, but the crisis of capitalism was intertwined with the ecological crisis and could never be solved by those whose jobs and social standing depended on protecting the status quo. All the corporate PR, greenwashing, political promises, cultural myths, and anthropocentrism could not hide the harsh Malthusian reality of ecological overshoot. As crime sky-rocketed and social unrest boiled over into rioting and looting, the elite retreated behind walled fortresses secured by armed guards, but the great unwinding of industrial civilization was already well underway. This evil genie was never going back in the bottle. And thats speculative too, or not really is a nuance to be fought hard on.

The immanence of capitalism is a transcending immanence: a system, which produces a world as an arrangement, through a capitalist form of thought—the philosophy of capitalism—which is a philosophy of sufficient reason in which economy is the determination in the last instance, and not the real. We need to specifically regard that this world is not real. The world is a process, a “geopolitical fiction”. Aside from this reason, there is an unthinkable world that is not for humans. It is not the world in itself, noumena, nor is it nature, bios, but rather it is the world indifferent to and foreclosed from human thought, a foreclosed and radical immanence – the real – which is not open nor will ever be opening itself for human thought. It will forever remain void and unilaterally indifferent. The radical immanence of the real is not an exception – analogous to the miracle in theology – but rather, it is an advent of the unprecedented unknown, where the lonely hour of last instance never comes. This radical immanence does not confer with ‘the new’ or with ‘the same’ and does not transcend through thought. It is matter in absolute movement, into which philosophy or oikonomia incorporates conditions, concepts, and operations. Now, a shift in thought is possible where the determination in the last instance would no longer be economy but rather a radical immanence of the real, as philosopher François Laruelle has argued. What is given, what is radically immanent in and as philosophy, is the mode of transcendental knowledge in which it operates. To know this mode of knowledge, to know it without entering into its circle, is to practice a science of the transcendental, the “transcendental science” of non-philosophy. This science is of the transcendental, but according to Laruelle, it must also itself be transcendental – it must be a global theory of the given-ness of the real. A non- philosophical transcendental is required if philosophy as a whole, including its transcendental structure, is to be received and known as it is. François Laruelle radicalises the Marxist term of determined-in-the-last-instance reworked by Louis Althusser, for whom the last instance as a dominating force was the economy. For Laruelle, the determination-in-the-last-instance is the Real and that “everything philosophy claims to master is in-the-last-instance thinkable from the One-Real”. For Althusser, referring to Engels, the economy is the ‘determination in the last instance’ in the long run, but only concerning the other determinations by the superstructures such as traditions. Following this, the “lonely hour of the ‘last instance’ never comes”.

Rants of the Undead God: Instrumentalism. Thought of the Day 68.1

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Hilbert’s program has often been interpreted as an instrumentalist account of mathematics. This reading relies on the distinction Hilbert makes between the finitary part of mathematics and the non-finitary rest which is in need of grounding (via finitary meta-mathematics). The finitary part Hilbert calls “contentual,” i.e., its propositions and proofs have content. The infinitary part, on the other hand, is “not meaningful from a finitary point of view.” This distinction corresponds to a distinction between formulas of the axiomatic systems of mathematics for which consistency proofs are being sought. Some of the formulas correspond to contentual, finitary propositions: they are the “real” formulas. The rest are called “ideal.” They are added to the real part of our mathematical theories in order to preserve classical inferences such as the principle of the excluded middle for infinite totalities, i.e., the principle that either all numbers have a given property or there is a number which does not have it.

It is the extension of the real part of the theory by the ideal, infinitary part that is in need of justification by a consistency proof – for there is a condition, a single but absolutely necessary one, to which the use of the method of ideal elements is subject, and that is the proof of consistency; for, extension by the addition of ideals is legitimate only if no contradiction is thereby brought about in the old, narrower domain, that is, if the relations that result for the old objects whenever the ideal objects are eliminated are valid in the old domain. Weyl described Hilbert’s project as replacing meaningful mathematics by a meaningless game of formulas. He noted that Hilbert wanted to “secure not truth, but the consistency of analysis” and suggested a criticism that echoes an earlier one by Frege – why should we take consistency of a formal system of mathematics as a reason to believe in the truth of the pre-formal mathematics it codifies? Is Hilbert’s meaningless inventory of formulas not just “the bloodless ghost of analysis? Weyl suggested that if mathematics is to remain a serious cultural concern, then some sense must be attached to Hilbert’s game of formulae. In theoretical physics we have before us the great example of a [kind of] knowledge of completely different character than the common or phenomenal knowledge that expresses purely what is given in intuition. While in this case every judgment has its own sense that is completely realizable within intuition, this is by no means the case for the statements of theoretical physics. Hilbert suggested that consistency is not the only virtue ideal mathematics has –  transfinite inference simplifies and abbreviates proofs, brevity and economy of thought are the raison d’être of existence proofs.

Hilbert’s treatment of philosophical questions is not meant as a kind of instrumentalist agnosticism about existence and truth and so forth. On the contrary, it is meant to provide a non-skeptical and positive solution to such problems, a solution couched in cognitively accessible terms. And, it appears, the same solution holds for both mathematical and physical theories. Once new concepts or “ideal elements” or new theoretical terms have been accepted, then they exist in the sense in which any theoretical entities exist. When Weyl eventually turned away from intuitionism, he emphasized the purpose of Hilbert’s proof theory, not to turn mathematics into a meaningless game of symbols, but to turn it into a theoretical science which codifies scientific (mathematical) practice. The reading of Hilbert as an instrumentalist goes hand in hand with a reading of the proof-theoretic program as a reductionist project. The instrumentalist reading interprets ideal mathematics as a meaningless formalism, which simplifies and “rounds out” mathematical reasoning. But a consistency proof of ideal mathematics by itself does not explain what ideal mathematics is an instrument for.

On this picture, classical mathematics is to be formalized in a system which includes formalizations of all the directly verifiable (by calculation) propositions of contentual finite number theory. The consistency proof should show that all real propositions which can be proved by ideal methods are true, i.e., can be directly verified by finite calculation. Actual proofs such as the ε-substitution procedure are of such a kind: they provide finitary procedures which eliminate transfinite elements from proofs of real statements. In particular, they turn putative ideal derivations of 0 = 1 into derivations in the real part of the theory; the impossibility of such a derivation establishes consistency of the theory. Indeed, Hilbert saw that something stronger is true: not only does a consistency proof establish truth of real formulas provable by ideal methods, but it yields finitary proofs of finitary general propositions if the corresponding free-variable formula is derivable by ideal methods.

Crisis. Thought of the Day 66.0

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Why do we have a crisis? The system, by being liberal, allowed for the condensation of wealth. This went well as long as there was exponential growth and humans also saw their share of the wealth growing. Now, with the saturation, no longer growth of wealth for humans was possible, and actually decline of wealth occurs since the growth of capital has to continue (by definition). Austerity will accelerate this reduction of wealth, and is thus the most-stupid thing one could do. If debt is paid back, money disappears and economy shrinks. The end point will be zero economy, zero money, and a remaining debt. It is not possible to pay back the money borrowed. The money simply does not exist and cannot be printed by the borrowers in a multi-region single-currency economy.

What will be the outcome? If countries are allowed to go bankrupt, there might be a way that economy recovers. If countries are continuing to be bailed-out, the crisis will continue. It will end in the situation that all countries will have to be bailed-out by each-other, even the strong ones. It is not possible that all countries pay back all the debt, even if it were advisable, without printing money by the borrowing countries. If countries are not allowed to go bankrupt, the ‘heritage’, the capital of the citizens of countries, now belonging to the people, will be confiscated and will belong to the capital, with its seat in fiscal paradises. The people will then pay for using this heritage which belonged to them not so long time ago, and will actually pay for it with money that will be borrowed. This is a modern form of slavery, where people posses nothing, effectively not even their own labor power, which is pawned for generations to come. We will be back to a feudal system.

On the long term, if we insist on pure liberalism without boundaries, it is possible that human production and consumption disappear from this planet, to be substituted by something that is fitter in a Darwinistic way. What we need is something that defends the rights and interests of humans and not of the capital, there where all the measures – all politicians and political lobbies – defend the rights of the capital. It is obvious that the political structures have no remorse in putting humans under more fiscal stress, since the people are inflexible and cannot flee the tax burden. The capital, on the other hand, is completely flexible and any attempt to increase the fiscal pressure makes that it flees the country. Again, the Prisoner’s Dilemma makes that all countries increase tax on people and labor, while reducing the tax on capital and money. We could summarize this as saying that the capital has joined forces – has globalized – while the labor and the people are still not united in the eternal class struggle. This imbalance makes that the people every time draw the short straw. And every time the straw gets shorter.

Conjuncted: Banking – The Collu(i)sion of Housing and Stock Markets

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There are two main aspects we are to look at here as regards banking. The first aspect is the link between banking and houses. In most countries, lending of money is done on basis of property, especially houses. As collateral for the mortgage, often houses are used. If the value of the house increases, more money can be borrowed from the banks and more money can be injected into society. More investments are generally good for a country. It is therefore of prime importance for a country to keep the house prices high.

The way this is done, is by facilitating borrowing of money, for instance by fiscal stimulation. Most countries have a tax break on mortgages. This, while the effect for the house buyers of these tax breaks is absolutely zero. That is because the price of a house is determined on the market by supply and demand. If neither the supply nor the demand is changing, the price will be fixed by ‘what people can afford’. Imagine there are 100 houses for sale and 100 buyers. Imagine the price on the market will wind up being 100000 Rupees, with a mortgage payment (3% interest rate) being 3 thousand Rupees per year, exactly what people can afford. Now imagine that government makes a tax break for buyers stipulating that they get 50% of the mortgage payment back from the state in a way of fiscal refund. Suddenly, the buyers can afford 6 thousand Rupees per year and the price on the market of the house will rise to 200 thousand Rupees. The net effect for the buyer is zero. Yet, the price of the house has doubled, and this is a very good incentive for the economy. This is the reason why nearly all governments have tax breaks for home owners.

Yet, another way of driving the price of houses up is by reducing the supply. Socialist countries made it a strong point on their agenda that having a home is a human right. They try to build houses for everybody. And this causes the destruction of the economy. Since the supply of houses is so high that the value drops too much, the possibility of investment based on borrowing money with the house as collateral is severely reduced and a collapse of economy is unavoidable. Technically speaking, it is of extreme simplicity to build a house to everybody. Even a villa or a palace. Yet, implementing this idea will imply a recession in economy, since modern economies are based on house prices. It is better to cut off the supply (destroy houses) to help the economy.

The next item of banking is the stock holders. It is often said that the stock market is the axis-of-evil of a capitalist society. Indeed, the stock owners will get the profit of the capital, and the piling up of money will eventually be at the stock owners. However, it is not so that the stock owners are the evil people that care only about money. It is principally the managers that are the culprits. Mostly bank managers.

To give you an example. Imagine I have 2% of each of the three banks, State Bank, Best Bank and Credit Bank. Now imagine that the other 98% of the stock of each bank is placed at the other two banks. State Bank is thus 49% owner of Best Bank, and 49% owner of Credit Bank. In turn, State Bank is owned for 49% by Best Bank and for 49% by Credit Bank. The thing is that I am the full 100% owner of all three banks. As an example, I own directly 2% of State Bank. But I also own 2% of two banks that each own 49% of this bank. And I own 2% of banks that own 49% of banks that own 49% of State Bank. This series adds to 100%. I am the full 100% owner of State Bank. And the same applies to Best Bank and Credit Bank. This is easy to see, since there do not exist other stock owners of the three banks. These banks are fully mine. However, if I go to a stockholders meeting, I will be outvoted on all subjects. Especially on the subject of financial reward for the manager. If today the 10-million-Rupees salary of Arundhati Bhatti of State Bank is discussed, it will get 98% of the votes, namely those of Gautum Ambani representing Best Bank and Mukesh Adani of Credit Bank. They vote in favor, because next week is the stockholders meeting of their banks. This game only ends when Mukesh Adani will be angry with Arundhati Bhatti.

This structure, placing stock at each other’s company is a form of bypassing the stock holders

– the owners – and allow for plundering of a company.

There is a side effect which is as beneficial as the one above. Often, the general manager’s salary is based on a bonus-system; the better a bank performs, the higher the salary of the manager. This high performance can easily be bogus. Imagine the above three banks. The profit it distributed over the shareholders in the form of dividend. Imagine now that each bank makes 2 million profit on normal business operations. Each bank can easily emit 100 million profit in dividend without loss! For example, State Bank distributes 100 million: 2 million to me, 49 million to Best Bank and 49 million to Credit Bank. From these two banks it also gets 49 million Rupees each. Thus, the total flux of money is only 2 million Rupees.

Shareholders often use as a rule-of thumb a target share price of 20 times the dividend. This because that implies a 5% ROI and slightly better than putting the money at a bank (which anyway invests it in that company, gets 5%, and gives you 3%). However, the dividend can be highly misleading. 2 million profit is made, 100 million dividend is paid. Each bank uses this trick. The general managers can present beautiful data and get a fat bonus.

The only thing stopping this game is taxing. What if government decides to put 25% tax on dividend? Suddenly a bank has to pay 25 million where it made only 2 million real profit. The three banks claimed to have made 300 million profit in total, while they factually only made 6 million; the rest came from passing money around to each other. They have to pay 75 million dividend tax. How will they manage?! That is why government gives banks normally a tax break on dividend (except for small stockholders like me). Governments that like to see high profits, since it also fabricates high GDP and thus guarantees low interest rates on their state loans.

Actually, even without taxing, how will they manage to continue presenting nice data in a year where no profit is made on banking activity?

Prisoner’s Dilemma. Thought of the Day 64.0

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A system suffering from Prisoner’s Dilemma cannot find the optimal solution because the individual driving forces go against the overall driving force. This is called Prisoner’s Dilemma based on the imaginary situation of two prisoners:

Imagine two criminals, named alphabetically A and B, being caught and put in separate prison cells. The police is trying to get confessions out of them. They know that if none will talk, they will both walk out of there for lack of evidence. So the police makes a proposal to each one: “We’ll make it worth your while. If you confess, and your colleague not, we give you 10 thousand euro and your colleague will get 50 years in prison. If you both confess you will each get 20 years in prison”. The decision table for these prisoners is like this:

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As you can see for yourself, the individual option for A, independent of what B decides to do, is confessing; moving from right column to left column, it is either reducing his sentence from 50 to 20 years, or instead of walking out of there even getting a fat bonus on top. The same applies to B, moving from bottom row to top row of the table. So, they wind up both confessing and getting 20 years in prison. That while it is obvious that the optimal situation is both not talking and walking out of prison scot-free (with the loot!). Because A and B cannot come to an agreement, but both optimize their own personal yield instead, they both get severely punished!

The Prisoner’s Dilemma applies to economy. If people in society cannot come to an agreement, but instead let everybody take decisions to optimize the situation for themselves (as in liberalism), they wind up with a non-optimal situation in which all the wealth is condensed on a single entity. This does not even have to be a person, but the capital itself. Nobody will get anything, beyond the alms granted by the system. In fact, the system will tend to reduce these alms – the minimum wages, or unemployment benefit – and will have all kinds of dogmatic justifications for them, but basically is a strategy of divide-and-conquer, inhibiting people to come to agreements, for instance by breaking the trade unions.

An example of a dogmatic reason is “lowering wages will make that more people get hired for work”. Lowering wages will make the distortion more severe. Nothing more. Moreover, as we have seen, work can be done without human labor. So if it is about competition, men will be cut out of the deal sooner or later. It is not about production. It is about who gets the rights to the consumption of the goods produced. That is also why it is important that people should unite, to come to an agreement where everybody benefits. Up to and including the richest of them all! It is better to have 1% of 1 million than 100% of 1 thousand. Imagine this final situation: All property in the world belongs to the final pan-global bank, with their headquarters in an offshore or fiscal paradise. They do not pay tax. The salaries (even of the bank managers) are minimal. So small that it is indeed not even worth it to call them salary.

Malthusian Catastrophe.

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As long as wealth is growing exponentially, it does not matter that some of the surplus labor is skimmed. If the production of the laborers is growing x% and their wealth grows y% – even if y% < x%, and the wealth of the capital grows faster, z%, with z% > x% – everybody is happy. The workers minimally increased their wealth, even if their productivity has increased tremendously. Nearly all increased labor production has been confiscated by the capital, exorbitant bonuses of bank managers are an example. (Managers, by the way, by definition, do not ’produce’ anything, but only help skim the production of others; it is ‘work’, but not ‘production’. As long as the skimming [money in] is larger than the cost of their work [money out], they will be hired by the capital. For instance, if they can move the workers into producing more for equal pay. If not, out they go).

If the economy is growing at a steady pace (x%), resulting in an exponential growth (1+x/100)n, effectively today’s life can be paid with (promises of) tomorrow’s earnings, ‘borrowing from the future’. (At a shrinking economy, the opposite occurs, paying tomorrow’s life with today’s earnings; having nothing to live on today).

Let’s put that in an equation. The economy of today Ei is defined in terms of growth of economy itself, the difference between today’s economy and tomorrow’s economy, Ei+1 − Ei,

Ei = α(Ei+1 − Ei) —– (1)

with α related to the growth rate, GR ≡ (Ei+1 − Ei)/Ei = 1/α. In a time-differential equation:

E(t) = αdE(t)/dt —– (2)

which has as solution

E(t) = E0e1/α —– (3)

exponential growth.

The problem is that eternal growth of x% is not possible. Our entire society depends on a

continuous growth; it is the fiber of our system. When it stops, everything collapses, if the derivative dE(t)/dt becomes negative, economy itself becomes negative and we start destroying things (E < 0) instead of producing things. If the growth gets relatively smaller, E itself gets smaller, assuming steady borrowing-from-tomorrow factor α (second equation above). But that is a contradiction; if E gets smaller, the derivative must be negative. The only consistent observation is that if E shrinks, E becomes immediately negative! This is what is called a Malthusian Catastrophe.

Now we seem to saturate with our production, we no longer have x% growth, but it is closer to 0. The capital, however, has inertia (viz. The continuing culture in the financial world of huge bonuses, often justified as “well, that is the market. What can we do?!”). The capital continues to increase their skimming of the surplus labor with the same z%. The laborers, therefore, now have a decrease of wealth close to z%. (Note that the capital cannot have a decline, a negative z%, because it would refuse to do something if that something does not make profit).

Many things that we took for granted before, free health care for all, early pension, free education, cheap or free transport (no road tolls, etc.) are more and more under discussion, with an argument that they are “becoming unaffordable”. This label is utter nonsense, when you think of it, since

1) Before, apparently, they were affordable.

2) We have increased productivity of our workers.

1 + 2 = 3) Things are becoming more and more affordable. Unless, they are becoming unaffordable for some (the workers) and not for others (the capitalists).

It might well be that soon we discover that living is unaffordable. The new money M’ in Marx’s equation is used as a starting point in new cycle M → M’. The eternal cycle causes condensation of wealth to the capital, away from the labor power. M keeps growing and growing. Anything that does not accumulate capital, M’ – M < 0, goes bankrupt. Anything that does not grow fast enough, M’ – M ≈ 0, is bought by something that does, reconfigured to have M’ – M large again. Note that these reconfigurations – optimizations of skimming (the laborers never profit form the reconfigurations, they are rather being sacked as a result of them) – are presented by the media as something good, where words as ‘increased synergy’ are used to defend mergers, etc. It alludes to the sponsors of the messages coming to us. Next time you read the word ‘synergy’ in these communications, just replace it with ‘fleecing’.

The capital actually ‘refuses’ to do something if it does not make profit. If M’ is not bigger than M in a step, the step would simply not be done, implying also no Labour Power used and no payment for Labour Power. Ignoring for the moment philanthropists, in capitalistic Utopia capital cannot but grow. If economy is not growing it is therefore always at the cost of labor! Humans, namely, do not have this option of not doing things, because “better to get 99 paise while living costs 1 rupee, i.e., ‘loss’, than get no paisa at all [while living still costs one rupee (haha, excuse me the folly of quixotic living!]”. Death by slow starvation is chosen before rapid death.

In an exponential growing system, everything is OK; Capital grows and reward on labor as well. When the economy stagnates only the labor power (humans) pays the price. It reaches a point of revolution, when the skimming of Labour Power is so big, that this Labour Power (humans) cannot keep itself alive. Famous is the situation of Marie-Antoinette (representing the capital), wife of King Louis XVI of France, who responded to the outcry of the public (Labour Power) who demanded bread (sic!) by saying “They do not have bread? Let them eat cake!” A revolution of the labor power is unavoidable in a capitalist system when it reaches saturation, because the unavoidable increment of the capital is paid by the reduction of wealth of the labor power. That is a mathematical certainty.

Sustainability of Debt

death scythe

For economies with fractional reserve-generated fiat money, balancing the budget is characterized by an exponential growth D(t) ≈ D0(1 + r)t of any initial debt D0 subjected to interest r as a function of time t due to the compound interest; a fact known since antiquity. At the same time, besides default, this increasing debt can only be reduced by the following five mostly linear, measures:

(i) more income or revenue I (in the case of sovereign debt: higher taxation or higher tax base);

(ii) less spending S;

(iii) increase of borrowing L;

(iv) acquisition of external resources, and

(v) inflation; that is, devaluation of money.

Whereas (i), (ii) and (iv) without inflation are essentially measures contributing linearly (or polynomially) to the acquisition or compensation of debt, inflation also grows exponentially with time t at some (supposedly constant) rate f ≥ 1; that is, the value of an initial debt D0, without interest (r = 0), in terms of the initial values, gets reduced to F(t) = D0/ft. Conversely, the capacity of an economy to compensate debt will increase with compound inflation: for instance, the initial income or revenue I will, through adaptions, usually increase exponentially with time in an inflationary regime by Ift.

Because these are the only possibilities, we can consider such economies as closed systems (with respect to money flows), characterized by the (continuity) equation

Ift + S + L ≈ D0(1+r)t, or

L ≈ D0(1 + r)t − Ift − S.

Let us concentrate on sovereign debt and briefly discuss the fiscal, social and political options. With regards to the five ways to compensate debt the following assumptions will be made: First, in non-despotic forms of governments (e.g., representative democracies and constitutional monarchies), increases of taxation, related to (i), as well as spending cuts, related to (ii), are very unpopular, and can thus be enforced only in very limited, that is polynomial, forms.

Second, the acquisition of external resources, related to (iv), are often blocked for various obvious reasons; including military strategy limitations, and lack of opportunities. We shall therefore disregard the acquisition of external resources entirely and set A = 0.

As a consequence, without inflation (i.e., for f = 1), the increase of debt

L ≈ D0(1 + r)t − I − S

grows exponentially. This is only “felt” after trespassing a quasi-linear region for which, due to a Taylor expansion around t = 0, D(t) = D0(1 + r)t ≈ D0 + D0rt.

So, under the political and social assumptions made, compound debt without inflation is unsustainable. Furthermore, inflation, with all its inconvenient consequences and re-appropriation, seems inevitable for the continuous existence of economies based on fractional reserve generated fiat money; at least in the long run.

Helicopter Money Drop, or QE for the People or some other Unconventional Macroeconomic Tool…? Hoping the Government of India isn’t Looking to Buy into and Sell this Rhetoric in Defense of Demonetisation.

Let us suppose now that one day a helicopter flies over this community and drops an additional $1,000 in bills from the sky, which is, of course, hastily collected by members of the community. Let us suppose further that everyone is convinced that this is a unique event which will never be repeated.

This famous quote from Milton Friedman’s “The Optimum Quantity of Money” is the underlying principle behind what is termed Helicopter Money, where the basic tenet is if the Central Bank wants to raise inflation and output in the economy, that is below par, potential, the most effective tool would be simply to give everyone direct money transfers. In theory, people would see this as a permanent one-off expansion of the amount of money in circulation and would then start to spend more freely, increasing broader economic activity and pushing inflation back up to the central bank’s target. The notion was taken to a different level thanks to Ben Bernanke, former Chairman of FED, when he said,

A broad-based tax cut, for example, accommodated by a programme of open-market purchases to alleviate any tendency for interest rates to increase, would almost certainly be an effective stimulant to consumption and hence to prices. Even if households decided not to increase consumption but instead rebalanced their portfolios by using their extra cash to acquire real and financial assets, the resulting increase in asset values would lower the cost of capital and improve the balance sheet positions of potential borrowers. A money-financed tax cut is essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman’s famous ‘helicopter drop’ of money.

The last sentence of the quote obviously draws out the resemblances between the positions held by MF and BB, or helicopter money and quantitative easing, respectively. But, there is a difference that majorly lies in asset swaps for the latter, where the government bond gets exchanged for bank reserves. But, what about QE for the People, a dish dished out by two major ingredients in the form of financial excesses and communist manifesto!!! Thats a nice ring to it, and as Bloomberg talked of it almost a couple of years back, if the central bank were to start sending cheques to each and every household (read citizen), then most of this money would be spent, boosting demand and thus echoing MF. But, the downside would be central banks creating liabilities without corresponding assets thus depleting equity. Well, thats for QE for the People, the mix of financial excesses and communist manifesto. This differentiates with QE, as in the process of QE, no doubt liabilities are created but central banks get assets in the form of securities it buys in return. While this alleviates reserve constraints in the banking sector (one possible reason for them to cut back lending) and lowers government borrowing costs, its transmission to the real economy could at best be indirect and underwhelming. As such, it does not provide much bang for your buck. Direct transfers into people’s accounts, or monetary-financed tax breaks or government spending, would offer one way to increase the effectiveness of the policy by directly influencing aggregate demand rather than hoping for a trickle-down effect from financial markets.

geoq416_special-focus_fig1

Assuming Helicopter Money is getting materialized in India. What this in effect brings to the core is a mix of confusion fusion between who enacts the fiscal and who the monetary policies. If the Government of India sends Rs. 15 lac to households, it is termed fiscal policy and of the RBI does the same, then it is termed monetary policy and the macroeconomic mix confusions galore from here on. But, is this QE for the People or Helicopter drop really part of the fiscal policy? It can’t be, unless it starts to be taken notice of the fact that RBI starts carrying out reverse repurchase operations (reverse repo), and plans to expand its multiple fold when it raises its interest rate target in order to put a floor on how far the funds rate could fall. And thats precisely what the RBI undertook in the wake, or rather during the peak of demonetisation. So, here the difference between such drops/QE for the People and QE becomes all the more stark, for if the RBI were to undertake such drops or QE for the People, then it would end up selling securities thus self-driving the rates down, or even reach where it has yet to, ZIRP. Thus, what would happen if the Government does the drops? It’d appear they spend money and sell securities, too. But in that case, people would say the security sales are financing the spending. And in their minds this is the fiscal policy, while the RBI’s helicopter money is monetary policy. If the confusions are still murky, the result is probably due to the fact that it is hybrid in nature, or taxonomically deviant.

It seems much clearer to simply say that (a) the act of creating a deficit—raising the net financial wealth of the non-government sector is fiscal policy, and (b) the act of announcing and then supporting an interest rate target with security sales (or purchases, or interest on reserves), which has no effect on the net financial wealth of the non-government sector is monetary policy. In the case of (a), whether the RBI cuts the cheques, it’s fiscal policy, and with (b), whether the RBI sells securities, it’s monetary policy. In other words, fiscal policy is about managing the net financial assets of the non-government sector relative to the state of the economy, and monetary policy is about managing interest rates (and through it, to the best of its abilities, bank lending and deposit creation) relative to the state of the economy.

So, how does this helicopter drop pan with India’s DBT, Direct Benefit Transfers or getting back the back money to be put into accounts of every Indian? What rhetoric to begin and end with? Let us go back to the words of Raghuram Rajan, when he was the Governor of the RBI. “It is not absolutely clear that throwing the money out of the window, or targeted cheques to beneficiaries… will be politically feasible in many countries, or produce economically the desired effect,” he said because the fiscal spending hasn’t achieved much elevated growth. So, bury the hatchet here, or the government might get this, import this rhetoric to defend its botched-up move on demonetisation. Gear up, figure out.