The Economic Singularity

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Posted by John Mauldin - Investor Insight

on Monday, 22 October 2012 16:21

Singularity was originally a mathematical term for a point at which an equation has no solution. In physics, it was proven that a large enough collapsing star would eventually become a black hole so dense that its own gravity would cause a singularity in the fabric of spacetime, a point where many standard physics equations suddenly have no solution.

BH LMCBeyond the “event horizon” of the black hole, the models no longer work. In general relativity, an event horizon is the boundary in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In a black hole it is “the point of no return,” i.e., the point at which the gravitational pull becomes so great that nothing can escape.

This theme is an old friend to readers of science fiction. Everyone knows that you can’t get too close to a black hole or you will get sucked in; but if you can get just close enough, you can use the powerful and deadly gravity to slingshot you across the vast reaches of spacetime.

One way that a black hole can (theoretically) be created is for a star to collapse in upon itself. The larger the mass of the star, the greater the gravity of the black hole and the more surrounding space-stuff that will get sucked down its gravity well. The center of our galaxy is thought to be a black hole with the mass of 4.3 million suns.

I think we can draw a rough parallel between a black hole and our current global economic situation. (For physicists this will be a very rough parallel indeed, but work with me, please.) An economic bubble of any type, but especially a debt bubble, can be thought of as an incipient black hole. When the bubble collapses in upon itself, it creates its own black hole with an event horizon beyond which all traditional economic modeling breaks down. Any economic theory that does not attempt to transcend the event horizon associated with excessive debt will be incapable of offering a viable solution to an economic crisis. Even worse, it is likely that any proposed solution will make the crisis more severe.

The Minsky Moment

Debt (leverage) can be a very good thing when used properly. For instance, if debt is used to purchase an income-producing asset, whether a new machine tool for a factory or a bridge to increase commerce, then debt can be net-productive.

Hyman Minsky, one of the greatest economists of the last century, saw debt in three forms: hedge, speculative, and Ponzi. Roughly speaking, to Minsky, hedge financing occurred when the profits from purchased assets were used to pay back the loan, speculative finance occurred when profits from the asset simply maintained the debt service and the loan had to be rolled over, and Ponzi finance required the selling of the asset at an ever higher price in order to make a profit.

Minsky maintained that if hedge financing dominated, then the economy might well be an equilibrium-seeking, well-contained system. On the other hand, the greater the weight of speculative and Ponzi finance, the greater the likelihood that the economy would be what he called a deviation-amplifying system. Thus, Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis suggests that over periods of prolonged prosperity, capitalist economies tend to move from a financial structure dominated by (stable) hedge finance to a structure that increasingly emphasizes (unstable) speculative and Ponzi finance.

Minsky proposed theories linking financial market fragility, in the normal life cycle of an economy, with speculative investment bubbles endogenous to financial markets. He claimed that in prosperous times, when corporate cash flow rises beyond what is needed to pay off debt, a speculative euphoria develops; and soon thereafter debts exceed what borrowers can pay off from their incoming revenues, which in turn produces a financial crisis. As the climax of such a speculative borrowing bubble nears, banks and other lenders tighten credit availability, even to companies that can afford loans, and the economy then contracts.

“A fundamental characteristic of our economy,” Minsky wrote in 1974, “is that the financial system swings between robustness and fragility and these swings are an integral part of the process that generates business cycles.” (Wikipedia)

But a business-cycle recession is a fundamentally different thing than the end of a Debt Supercycle, such as much of Europe is tangling with, Japan will soon face, and the US can only avoid with concerted action in the first part of the next year.

A business-cycle recession can respond to monetary and fiscal policy in a more or less normal fashion; but if you are at the event horizon of a collapsing debt black hole, monetary and fiscal policy will no longer work the way they have in the past or in a manner that the models would predict.

There are two contradictory forces battling in a debt black hole: expanding debt and collapsing growth. Without treading again on ground covered in many past letters, let’s take it as a given that if you either cut government spending or raise taxes you are going to reduce GDP over the short run (academic studies suggest the short run is 4-5 quarters). To argue that raising taxes or cutting spending has no immediate effect on the economy flies in the face of mathematical reality. Note that I’m not arguing for one approach or the other, just simply stating that there will be consequences, either way. The country might be better off with higher taxes and/or more spending, or the opposite. But those choices are going to have consequences in both the short and long term.

Second, there is a limit to how much money a government can borrow. That limit clearly varies from country to country, but to suggest there is no limit puts you clearly in the camp of the delusional.


John Mauldin
for Investors Insight

Editor’s Note: 

Go HERE for more from John Mauldin. Specifically 

The Event Horizon 
The Glide Path 
Speaking on Alternatives 
I Was So Much Older Then, I'm Younger Than That Now

John Mauldin is the creative force behind the Millennium Wave investment theory. He is a New York Times bestselling author with a unique ability to present complex financial topics and make them understandable to the lay reader. One great example of this ability can be found in John’s “Yield Shark” investment service, which shows you how to protect and even boost your investment income...in any market. Click here to find out how.



If history rhymes, run for cover...& gold agnostics

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Posted by Jack Crooks - Black Swan Capital

on Friday, 19 October 2012 10:22

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.” Today’s rhyme may be sublime.

The dismally uncooperative IMF meeting was followed up nicely by a US Presidential debate turned China-bashing session. Global cooperation is a shambles. We have seen this before at a seemingly similar moment in the global economy. We know how that ended. 

Screen Shot 2012-10-19 at 10.10.11 AM



This can’t be a positive indicator

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Posted by Jack Crooks - Black Swan Capital

on Wednesday, 17 October 2012 01:28

Screen Shot 2012-10-17 at 1.23.33 AM

Maybe it is too much to say the global financial system is coming apart at the center, but I don’t think it’s too much to say global cooperation is close to complete breakdown based on the recent dismal IMF meeting.



Fiat Currency & the Emerging Police State

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Posted by John Rubino - DollarCollapse.com

on Monday, 15 October 2012 07:48

"The US" transition from more-or-less free country to police state is accelerating. The NSA’s Utah data mining facility, ever-tighter restrictions on offshore accounts, the Internet “kill switch”, the Patriot Act’s many assaults on the Bill of Rights, the militarization of local police, the spread of drones for domestic surveillance; each has a role in the high-tech updating of a very old idea: that the state is paramount and the individual a slave to public order and national power.

But why is this happening now, rather than in 1950 or 2050? The answer is that we’re reaping the whirlwind that always accompanies fiat currency. We created a central bank in 1913 and freed it from the constraint of gold in 1971. Give the government or the big banks the power to create money out of thin air and you eventually get a dictatorship. “Eventually” just happens to be now.

Laissez Faire Books’ Wendy McElroy covers some of the theory behind this idea in a recent review:

Paper Money = Despotism
“Fiat” is money with no intrinsic value beyond whatever an issuing government is able to enforce. When it enjoys a monopoly as it is devastating. The personal freedoms that we know as “civil liberties” rest upon sound money.

In his classic book The Theory of Money and Credit (1912), the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises argues, “It is impossible to grasp the meaning of the idea of sound money if one does not realize that it was devised as an instrument for the protection of civil liberties against despotic inroads on the part of governments. Ideologically, it belongs in the same class with political constitutions and bills of rights.”

A key reason Mises viewed sound money as a necessary protection of civil liberties is that it reins in the growth of government. When a government prints money without the restraint of competing currencies — even if the restraining “competition” is a gold standard — runaway bureaucracy results. Wars are financed; indeed, it is difficult to imagine the extended horrors of World War II without governments’ monopoly on currency. A white-hot printing press can finance the soaring numbers of prisons and law enforcement officers required to impose a police state.

Floods of currency can prop up unpopular policies like Obamacare or the War on Drugs. That is why government holds onto its monopoly with a death grip. In The Theory of Money and Credit, Mises observes, “The gold standard did not collapse. Governments abolished it in order to pave the way for inflation. The whole grim apparatus of oppression and coercion, policemen, customs guards, penal courts, prisons, in some countries even executioners, had to be put into action in order to destroy the gold standard.”

Another way a currency monopoly threatens civil liberties is by permitting government to monitor virtually all transactions through the financial institutions with whom it maintains an intimate partnership. Total surveillance is a prerequisite to total control, which is what the government wants to establish as quickly as possible. For example, prior to establishing the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) in 1996 — a form that financial institutions submit to the U.S. Treasury — banks were required to automatically report any transaction over $10,000. Now any activity deemed “suspicious” is vulnerable.

The monopoly facilitates a vicious attack on privacy and has become a main building block of the American surveillance state. As libertarian Mark Hubbard stated, “Civilization is a movement toward privacy, a police state the opposite, and tax legislation has become the legislation of our new Big Brother states.”

Much of the tracking is a pure money grab, but it is also an attempt to ferret out and punish “unacceptable” behavior, like dealing in drugs or politically dissenting. Indeed, it is criminally naive to believe the government will not use these massive and valuable data to target its critics. Thus, people can be discouraged from speaking out. Controlling the information, however, means controlling the currency. Otherwise, anyone could mint gold coins in the middle of the night and release them covertly into the wild.

Some thoughts
I was going to start this article with a sentence like “Every time you turn on the news there’s another story about the growing intrusiveness of the US surveillance state.” But that’s not actually true. When you “turn on” the news, which is to say watch it on TV, you see little or nothing about this. It seems that all those “corporate media” complaints are accurate. America’s evolving police state infrastructure is one of the biggest stories of this lifetime, yet the mainstream news organizations seem to be ignoring it.

Now that we’ve created the infrastructure, all that remains is for some desperate/corrupt future leader to flip the switch. From that moment on, every communication in and out of the US will be captured, logged and mined, and each citizen will have a growing file that details their social, professional and financial activities. The state will set about silencing all emerging threats through intimidation, financial pressure (our hyper-complex tax code will be weaponized and turned on anyone who speaks out), and, when all else fails, the designation of dissenters as terrorists and their imprisonment without trial. All the tools are there, just waiting to be used.

In this scenario, social media will  be useless as a counterweight to Big Brother. When every communication is monitored, an attempt to organize a protest via Facebook will just create a list of people to be rounded up.

Can dystopia be avoided? Short of electing Ron Paul on a platform of tearing it out by the roots, it’s hard to see how. But McElroy does have one suggestion that’s aimed at the heart of the fiat currency dictatorship: end the state money monopoly and let other currencies circulate:

Yet the best solution to the harms caused by fiat is often dismissed even by staunch free market advocates; namely, allow the private issuance of money that freely competes with fiat as currency. This would involve removing all prohibitions, other than fraud, abandoning monetary controls such as legal tender laws and all reporting requirements. In turn, this might well eliminate the Federal Reserve, although people would be free to accept whatever money they wished.

The currency monopoly is vital to both the rise of a police state and the targeting of individual civil liberties. In arguing for a free market in currencies, it is important to claim the moral high ground by stating and restating what should be obvious: Civil liberties require sound money. And nothing ensures the quality of a commodity as surely as competition.



DollarCollapse.com is managed by John Rubino, co-author, with GoldMoney’s James Turk, of The Collapse of the Dollar and How to Profit From It (Doubleday, 2007), and author of Clean Money: Picking Winners in the Green-Tech Boom (Wiley, 2008), How to Profit from the Coming Real Estate Bust (Rodale, 2003) and Main Street, Not Wall Street (Morrow, 1998). After earning a Finance MBA from New York University, he spent the 1980s on Wall Street, as a Eurodollar trader, equity analyst and junk bond analyst. During the 1990s he was a featured columnist with TheStreet.com and a frequent contributor to Individual Investor, Online Investor, and Consumers Digest, among many other publications. He currently writes for CFA Magazine.





Collectivism, Currencies, & Craziness

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Posted by Jack Crooks - Black Swan Capital

on Saturday, 13 October 2012 06:59

Looking for an interesting currency idea among the developing nations (exotics as they are sometimes referred to)? Strategically, these two nations seem to be on completely different glide paths. The nation on the upward glide path is Turkey; the one on the downward glide (potential crash landing) path is South Africa. (A good general summary on South Africa you can find in The Wall Street Journal this morning.) 

Playing the lira against the rand is not a cross-rate available in the spot market for retail investors, but you can create this by creating your own cross. Buy USD/ZAR (South African Rand) and sell USD/TRY (Turkish Lira); with the magic of math, the USD cancels out and you have created a synthetic cross. 

Take a look at the chart below showing the Turkish lira-South African rand cross daily: Looks like the bottom is in, and may be tracing out an impulse pattern higher…

Screen Shot 2012-10-13 at 6.56.44 AM


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