Free Markets, Free People

bankruptcy


GM To Be “Chryslered”

I hesitate to call it bankruptcy when it is really a sham of a bankruptcy. In fact, it is the same sham that Chrysler has undergone:

The government previously indicated that it planned to take at least 50 percent of the restructured company, and likely would take the right to name members to its board of directors, as it has at Chrysler, where the government will control four of nine seats.

The United Auto Workers retiree health fund is set to own as much as 39 percent of the restructured GM, in exchange for giving up its claim to at least $10 billion that the company owes it. Yesterday, the union announced that it reached an agreement with GM that will reduce the company’s labor costs.

Still unknown is what part the Canadian government might play in the ongoing GM restructuring.

GM operates several plants north of the border. The Canadians agreed to invest about $3.5 billion in the Chrysler restructuring and control one of the nine board seats.

Sound familiar? So government will now have 5 of 9 board seats, the union has a huge share of the company and bondholders?

The chief obstacle to an out-of-court settlement for GM remains: There has been no agreement between the company and the investors who hold $27 billion worth of GM bonds.

Under orders from the Obama administration, GM has offered to give the bondholders a 10 percent equity stake in the restructured company in exchange for giving up their bonds.

That’s the offer made and, as you might imagine, bondholders are resisting this. That, of course, gives the administration the same excuse it used to take Chrysler to bankruptcy under its apparently newly written rules which gave government the lion’s share of ownership.

As you might imagine, not everyone is happy. And since this “bankruptcy” is now being politically managed, more politicians are getting into the act.

For instance, on the subject of cutting Chrysler dealerships:

There are also challenges outside court. Chrysler has moved to close 789 dealerships on June 9. But Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) has introduced legislation that would withhold federal funding if the automaker does not give dealers an extra 60 days to close down operations and sell remaining inventory. Her amendment has won the backing of a number of other senators.

Should such legislation pass, you can expect something similar with GM.

And some Democrats aren’t particularly happy either:

Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said he hopes to meet with White House officials today to discuss changing Chrysler’s bankruptcy plan and GM’s future. Conyers did not outline what he wanted, but a nine-person panel he assembled for a hearing yesterday offered a hint. Liberal consumer advocate Ralph Nader, a conservative Heritage Foundation analyst and minority auto dealers all criticized the automakers’ restructuring.

Conyers and other committee members attacked the administration for abusing bankruptcy laws, unfairly eliminating dealerships and jeopardizing consumer safety.

Yup, looks like the political bureaucracy is kicking into high-gear and you can just imagine how well this is going to work out, can’t you? That and the fact that contracts will never be viewed in the same light again have to make you fear for our economic future.


Comment Of The Day

It’s rare that I quit reading through a comment section because I happen upon what’s surely the best comment. However, this comment to Capt. Ed’s post about the Obama administration’s thuggish tactics in the Chrysler negotiations sums everything up perfectly:
obama-scold-finger1

“I did not have knowledgeable relations with it, that Constitution.”

Heh.


Newspeak Update

Remember: billions in earmarks are insignificant but, millions in bonuses are outrageous; “bi-partisan” actually means “one-party rule”; and now “bankruptcy” means “strong.” From Jake Tapper’s Twitter feed:

POTUS says bankruptcy “not a sign of weakness”…

Can’t you just see the White House Press Corps (excepting Tapper, of course) looking like the bunch of lapdogs that they are in response to that statement?

Ruh?

Ruh?

What's he talking about?  And where's Bo?  Less econo-stuff, more water dog hotness!

What's he talking about? And where's Bo? Less econo-stuff, more water dog hotness!

Bankrupt = strength? R'okay!

Bankrupt = strength? R'okay!

MORE: Tom Maguire is less than impressed with the President’s reasoning about shared sacrifice with respect to the Chrysler bankruptcy:

Uh, hello, how about the US taxpayer? Any props, exhortations, or acknowledgment of their role here? Sorry, MY role?

The Congress – yeah, they have to sacrifice an endless stream of donations from the UAW.


GM Probably (Finally) Heading To Bankruptcy

After skillfully managing the bailout of GM and throwing billions of dollars in taxpayer money at it, our man Timmy (Geithner) has told GM to prepare for bankruptcy:

General Motors Corp. is believed to be preparing to file for bankruptcy by June 1 after being directed to plan for a filing by the U.S. Treasury Department, according to a report Sunday in the New York Times.

The Times, quoting unidentified sources, said the Treasury Department has directed officials at General Motors to lay the groundwork for a “surgical” bankruptcy filing that could last as short as a few weeks for portions of the company. Those portions would be the “good” parts of the company, and the “less desirable” parts of the company would remain in court for much longer and possibly be liquidated, according to the Times.

One has to wonder who gets to determine what the “good” parts are, but that said, if the following is true, it won’t be GM’s present “health care obligations”.

The parts of GM that may get bogged down in a lengthy court restructuring or liquidation include the “unwanted brands, factories and health care obligations,” sources said in the report.

That should fire up the UAW. The union won’t be the only one who isn’t going to be happy with an attempt to rush through a GM bankruptcy.

A report in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday said that any attempt at a “quick” bankruptcy for GM could face legal challenges from bondholders of the company.

As they have every right to do — but it certainly isn’t going to make the bankruptcy either surgical or short. My guess is the bondholders are realizing that pirates aren’t only to be found off the coast of Somalia.

~McQ


GM – It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like …

Bankruptcy.  Something many of us advised before the government threw 20+ billion of our dollars down the proverbial rat hole:

A week into his new job as chief executive of General Motors, Fritz Henderson said on Sunday he was confident in the future of the company but a structured bankruptcy remains a possibility.

Mr. Henderson has just 55 days remaining to meet President Obama’s timetable to come up with a new plan to save the struggling car giant. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said that the company was working to avoid bankruptcy, but that if it failed to meet its goals for cutting costs and shrinking the company, it “may very well be the best alternative.”

“If it can’t be done outside of a bankruptcy process, it will be done within it,” he said.

Ah, how nice. And what, we had to fire the CEO, put a new board together and essenitally give control to the government to come to this conclusion?

Even Timothy Geithner, the tax-cheat of a Treasury Secretary, is now saying the “B” word is a possibility:

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner stressed Sunday that G.M. “is going to be a part of this country’s future,” but said that a managed bankruptcy was among the options for the company.

“These guys have made some progress in putting together a restructuring plan, but they’re not there yet,” Mr. Geithner said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We wanted to give them the time to try to get it right. But, again, our objective is to allow — is to help these companies emerge stronger in the future so they can survive without government assistance.”

Of course had they left this all alone, we’d be 20 billion to the plus side and they’d already be in the middle of the bankruptcy process and well on their way to emerging as a stronger auto company.

Irony of ironies, I just picked up my new company car – a Chevy Malibu. It is a very nice car and has a lot of standard bells and whistles that I wouldn’t expect for a car of its price range. Frankly it’s not the engineering or the quality, as I see it – its legacy costs. And bankruptcy is the only way those are going to be actually approached and dealt with properly.

And you can’t lay this all off on the Obama admistration either – the Bush bunch was the first to throw money at the problem. However you can blame the Obama administration for continuing to do the same thing.

Time to back off, let the legal process that has worked for literally thousands of companies do its thing and see what comes out the other end. My guess is a stronger and more competitive GM.

~McQ


I’d Like To Hear The Left’s Comments About The Expansion Of “Executive Power” Now …

I‘m still in rather stunned disbelief about the White House ousting GM’s CEO.  

It’s not about how good a CEO he was or whether I agreed with his plan, his leadership style or his results.  It’s about the White House going so far as to ask him to step aside.  And, according to Obama’s own statement today, his “team” will “working closely with GM to produce a better business plan”.

Why, that sounds like something we’ve seen pass this way before and firmly rejected:

Italian Fascism often involved corporatism, a political system in which economy is collectively managed by employers, workers and state officials by formal mechanisms at national level.

Now I’m sure there are those out there who will argue that this is hardly a “formal mechanism”. But of course that’s simply not true. It is formal enough that a CEO is gone. Someone believes it is a mechanism of some formality for that to happen. And, if you think about it, it is just one more mechanism among many that have been put forward lately. Timothy Geithner’s plan to have the government take over financial institutions and hedge funds if the government deems them a threat to the economy’s well-being, for instance.

After all the caterwauling by the left about “unprecedented executive branch power expansion” during the Bush years, they’re rather quiet about these. The market, however, has cast it’s vote. Down about 300 at 4pm.

And this is all based in a false premise – something I’ve noticed that Obama uses quite effectively:

“We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish,” President Obama said at the White House.

Anyone – who would expect the domestic auto industry to ‘simply vanish’ if the companies were left to go the traditional route of bankruptcy?

Since when does bankruptcy equal “vanish”? Delta airlines seems to have survived it quite well, thank you very much. Their bankruptcy or the bankruptcy of other domestic airlines hasn’t seen the domestic airline industry “vanish”. Why would anyone believe it would happen if GM or Chrysler went bankrupt?

And that said, what did he suggest in his speech today?

The administration says a “surgical” structured bankruptcy may be the only way forward for GM and Chrysler, and President Obama held out that prospect Monday.

“I know that when people even hear the word ‘bankruptcy,’ it can be a bit unsettling, so let me explain what I mean,” he said. “What I am talking about is using our existing legal structure as a tool that, with the backing of the U.S. government, can make it easier for General Motors and Chrysler to quickly clear away old debts that are weighing them down so they can get back on their feet and onto a path to success; a tool that we can use, even as workers are staying on the job building cars that are being sold.”

Seems like that is precisely what all of us were telling them to do before they started throwing bucketfuls of imaginary dollars at the two companies, wasn’t it? And you can call it “surgical”, “structured” or whatever you want in an attempt to spin this as something other than fairly ordinary bankruptcy procedures, but that’s what they’re talking about.

One of the primary reasons they’ve attempted to keep these companies out of bankruptcy court can be described in three letters: UAW.

Their problem isn’t just “old debts” which need to be cleared away. Instead it is what is euphemistically called “legacy costs” which would go as well. And those “legacy costs” include the gold plated benefits the UAW now enjoys and doesn’t want to give up.

Administration officials on Sunday made it clear that an expedited and heavily supervised bankruptcy reorganization was still very much a possibility for both companies. One official, speaking of GM, compared such a proceeding with a “quick rinse” that could rid the company of much of its debt and contractual obligations.

The thing to watch out for is whether or not this “quick rinse” in a “heavily supervised bankruptcy reorganization” included “contractual obligations” to unions. If not, it will be a “quick rinse” of taxpayer’s wallets.

Among challenges the administration faced leading up to this weekend’s decision, foremost were the efforts to draw steep concessions from the United Auto Workers union and from the bondholders.

Attempts to solidify deals with the UAW and bondholders were slowed by disagreements by both parties over how exactly the other party needed to budge. The UAW, for instance, insists it already made health-care concessions in 2005 and 2007, and argues that the bondholders have never been asked to concede anything.

“I don’t see how the UAW will do anything until they see what the bondholders will give up,” one person involved in the negotiations on behalf of the UAW said Sunday.

Progress? Apparently both GM and Chrysler have been negotiating with both the bondholders and the UAW. But there’s not much to report there:

Both GM and Chrysler are negotiating with the UAW to accept a range of cost-cutting measures, including greatly reduced work forces, lower wages and a revamped health-care fund for retirees.

[...]

GM and representatives for its bondholders remained in talks over the weekend about a deal that would force these investors to turn in at least two-thirds of the value of the debt they hold in exchange for equity and new debt.

This arrangement would force GM to issue significantly more stock than what is currently being traded in the market. In addition, the government is being asked to guarantee the new debt with federal default insurance in order to entice bondholders who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in participating in the swap.

If GM can’t eventually forge a deal with the ad hoc committee representing the bondholders, the company may be forced to issue a debt-for-equity swap without the blessing of some of its biggest and most influential unsecured investors. This would heighten the possibility of the company eventually needing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Or said another way, they’ll end up doing what we said they should have done in December, less umpteen billions of taxpayer money poured down a rathole. Of course, had they reorganized under Chapter 11 as we all said they should, the Obama administration wouldn’t have been able to make this unprecedented power grab, would it?

~McQ


King Eddie’s Funeral (Updated)

Let me clarify something in the previous post.  Some commenters are saying that they don’t understand how government will allow private money to be created, and relinquish the death hold they want to keep on the economy.  The short answer is, I don’t think they’ll have a choice.  We’ll concentrate  on the US here, but keep in mind that the rest of the developed nations are in even worse shape than we are.

What allows the government–any government, but democratic ones in particular–to operate as they do is the consent of the people.  Even totalitarian governments have to worry about that, ultimately, although they can keep the lid on for a time, even for a couple of generations. But even totalitarian regimes often run into explosions which topple them, eventually.

But the loss of faith in a liberal, democratic government is the kiss of death for that government.  It doesn’t take a full scale revolution.  it just takes people to stop cooperating.  India was liberated through non-violent action.  So was South Africa.  nce the people say, “You’re done.” the government is done.

Right now our economic system is built on nothing more than the “full faith and credit” of the US Government.  And that will last only as long as we, the people, have faith in it.

Now this particular recession may not be the one that kills that faith.  It may be just one of the warning signs of a coming collapse.  But a crash is coming, and, I think sooner, rather than later.  We cannot continue indefinitely to fund the spending of the richest country on earth with the savings of one of the poorest.

Consider:

The total debt and future obligation of the US government now exceeds, by a substantial percentage, the total with of the country’s assets.  We have a mountain of debt and payment obligations that exceeds our ability to  meet, even if we were able to liquidate the entire country.

If we wish to retire those obligations we have essentially two alternatives:  We can repudiate them, or we can pay them off through hyperinflation, which, as a practical matter, amounts to the same thing.

For instance, let’s take social security and medicare.  We simply don’t have enough money to pay those obligations.  We can slash benefits, or eliminate cost of living increases, which is nothing more than  repudiating the debt.  We can raise the payroll tax to 30% or more, but that will slow economic growth so much that the increase in revenue will be more than offset by the increased unemployment  and slower GDP growth that would result, which would make it even more difficult to pay off other obligations, such as Treasury Bonds.  Or we can simply print the money, and pay off the paper obligation with money that has signifigantly less purchasing power than the face value of the obligation.

However we go about it, it amounts to a repudiation of all or part of our obliations, and reveals that the government is both faithless and, as investors take note of the repudiation and decide not to buy government paper any more, creditless as well.  What paper they have, they will attempt to unload on any idiot stupid enough to take them.

The dollar will collapse to the point that imported goods, even cheap, shoddily made Chinese ones, might as well be made of unobtainium.

The life savings of million upon millions of Americans will evaporate overnight.

There will be serious hardship, and massive unemployment.

That’s the kind of hardship I’m talking about.

So, how much trust will there be in a government who, after all that, comes back and says, “We’ve learned our lesson.  Trust us now.  It’ll all be different this time.” among a people who’ve watched the government repudiate all of the promises made over the last 70 years?

And how much more will this be true if there is a feasible, private alternative, consisting of hundreds, perhaps thousands of independent sources of money, and credit?  One whose reliability can be publicly judged every minute of every day, and which has no coercive power?

It wouldn’t take a revolution to force the government out of the money and economics business.  Or the retirement or health care business.  All it will take is a lack of trust. Who will want to do business with an entity that has utterly failed to deserve any trust?

The collapse itself will be the revolution.

UPDATE:  By the way, the government’s repudiation of its obligations has already begun, in regards to Social Security.  If you are in my age cohort or younger, you are not allowed to retire at age 65.  Your retirement age is now 72.  The government changed the deal.  For us, we have to wait an additional 7 years to begin collecting our benefits.  Those of us who do not die before age 72, that is.

That wasn’t the deal we had when we started our working lives.  The government unilaterally changed the terms of our Social Security compact.  They didn’t call it “repudiation” but, that’s certainly what it was.


Dead Ed, the Collapse, and eBay Saves Us All

My first reaction to Pres. Obama’s speech last night was depression.  Here were the Democrats giving the president standing O’s for completely converting the Republic into a social democracy.  I mentioned that on Facebook, and one of my readers said it reminded him of Amidala’s line from Star Wars Episode III:  “So this is how liberty ends…with thunderous applause.”

But on more careful review, I find that I am not, in fact, depressed over the long-term.  Indeed, last night’s speech seems to me not to herald the beginning of a new era for big government and socialism, but rather the last gasp of a dying ideology.

We are, I think, at the cusp of a new era, but it isn’t the one that Pres. Obama and his acolytes in the Congress are thinking it is.  Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, it is clear, have any idea about what is happening.  Very few people do.  I am going to try and explain something very complicated, and do so very simply, and as briefly as I can.  So, with the realization that all simplifications are inevitably wrong in some particular, let me explain.

“Ed’s dead, baby.  Ed’s dead.”*

We stand now, I think, in a very historically similar position to the one described by Barbara Tuchman, in the beginning chapter of her monumental work on the outbreak of Word War I, The Guns of August:

20 May 1910:  The past passes in review

20 May 1910: The past passes in review

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when 9 kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, 3 by 3 the sovereigns rode though the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came 5 heirs apparent, 40 more imperial or royal highnesses, 7 queens, and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented 70 nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled 9 by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.

Four years later, the world order of 1815-1914 was drowned in fire and blood.  The Age of Royalty was over, and the Age of Democracy had begun.  I believe that Pres. Obama’s speech of last night may very well be the historical equivalent to Edward VII’s funeral.

Ever since it began in late 2007, a blog called Fabius Maximus has been arguing that we are watching the decline and fall–indeed, collapse–of our current economic and financial system.  A précis of the argument can be found here, and a more comprehensive archive can be found here.  Just as the black-clad crowds lining the streets of the capitol of the British Empire on the morning of May 20, 1910 might have found it inconceivable that their generation would witness the collapse of both the European geopolitical regime, and, ultimately, the British Empire itself, so it may be inconceivable to us that we are witnessing the collapse of the Post-WWII economic and political regime.  But I believe it is nevertheless true.

“MONEY! Doesn’t it make you feel good just to say that, Jerry?”

Let me start by explaining what money is.  Money is a medium of exchange, that is, it is an object of some kind that I can exchange for goods and service, rather than trying to barter with people to obtain what I need.  It may consist of elaborately carved cowry shells, tiny beads painstakingly stitched to strips of leather, round pieces of metal with the image of guys named Julius or Claudius hammered into them, or little pieces of high-quality paper that say “Federal Reserve Note” on them.

But whatever it is, money has certain minimal characteristics.  It must be convertible, i.e., if I do a job for you, I have to be willing to accept it as payment, and whoever I buy bread or clothes from has to be willing to accept it in exchange, too.  It also has to be difficult to replicate, so that when I accept it, I am reasonably assured that it is the genuine article.

Get 'em while they last.

Get 'em while they last.

For nearly all of recorded history “money” has been synonymous with gold or silver.  And right up till the late 18th century, it was more or les the perfect money.  It was intrinsically valuable, in that raw silver or gold was as easily convertible as hammered or minted coins.  It was also practically impossible to counterfeit, the best efforts of alchemist to convert dross into gold notwithstanding.  It was also relatively rare, and it difficult to obtain new supplies of it without intensive–and extremely expensive–mining operations.

Additionally, there simply wasn’t much to buy.  Most people grew their own food, produced their own clothes from flax or wool, and built their own houses by hand.  Money was essentially a luxury, and it bought mainly luxury goods for fat cats.  Kings could raise and equip armies with it.  Merchants could buy nice clothes. But for the most part, money was a tool for use by the rich, and by the relatively few urban dwellers.  And, as such, gold or silver was perfect for that level of economic activity.

By the 19th century, though, there were lots more things to buy, and lots more city dwellers, and that trend was increasing rapidly.  Hard money became…problematic.  The thing about having a hard currency based in gold or silver is that, at the end of the day, whether you run a fully convertible gold standard, or some sort of fractional reserve system, the size of the money supply is always constrained by the amount of gold or silver on hand.

If the economy takes off on a tear, it’s extremely difficult to expand the money supply to meet the demand.  When the supply dries up, the economy just shudders to a quick stop, because nobody has enough spare money to fund more expansion.  So the economy collapses until it reaches equilibrium with the available money supply, and the cycle starts again.  Look at a chart of US economic activity in the 19th century and you see it’s a system of booms and busts, which were far steeper than any we’ve seen since the depression.  So the fundamental problem with a gold standard is that it’s relatively inflexible when used by a vibrant, diverse economy.  When everybody needs gold, and the demand is unpredictable, gold is very difficult to use unless you’re willing to live with severe booms and busts.

The Great Depression was the death knell for the gold-based world economic system.  Those nations that jettisoned gold the fastest, recovered the most.  Of course, WWII intervened in the depression, so it took a decade or so to get back to the business of commerce–as opposed to the business of building things to kill Nazis.   But, by 1944, everyone–on the Allied side, at least–had recovered enough breathing room to meet at Bretton Woods, NH, and hammer out a new economic system.

What they came up with was a system of fiat currencies, all freely convertible in the FOREX market.

Now, governments could adjust their money supplies appropriately by printing more money or less of it, and taxing their populations more leniently or more severely, as needed.  This is the system most of us have grown up with…and it’s dying.

It’s dying because of something innate in human nature that the gold standard was better equipped to deal with:  the urge to loot the system.

It’s an urge that has always been there.  Sometimes it has been the result of intentional government action to cheapen the currency.  If you were, say, the king of Persia, you didn’t need to consult the priests of Ahura Mazda to know that if you changed from using 10 grams of gold per coin, to using only 9 grams per coin, you could stretch your gold supply by 10%.  You could then take the extra gold, and buy yourself a nice hat.  Or use the extra gold to make one.  Whatever.

Of course, people would notice this pretty quickly, and items that used to cost 9 gold pieces would cost 10 pieces–inflation!–but because gold had an intrinsic value, the same weight of gold could be exchanged.  It was still pernicious, of course, but because gold had an intrinsic value–and because the supply of gold was relatively inflexible–it wasn’t usually seriously pernicious.

Sometimes, the urge to loot the system has been done by private individuals, who figured out that if they shaved a bit off the edges of their gold pieces, they could accrue enough gold shavings to buy themselves a nice hat, too.  This, by the way, is why when we began minting coins instead of hammering them out. They were minted with milled edges, making shaving attempts immediately obvious.

By the 19th century, the looting attempts became widespread, populist movements, like the “Free Silver” movement.  At the time, gold was real money.  If you took a bunch of gold to a Minting facility, the mint would return you an equal weight in gold coins–minus a nominal minting fee.  After huge silver deposits were discovered at places like the Comstock Lode, populist agitation began for minting silver in the same way, at a ratio of 20 ounces of silver for 1 ounce of gold.  The massive amount of silver floating around would, of course, have made this an extremely inflationary policy, and the farming and borrowing interests would have benefited by paying off bills for less than they had borrowed…enabling themselves to use the extra saving to buy a nice hat.

But during the First Age of Money, the looting was always constrained by the fact that gold had an intrinsic value, and that the supply of gold was inelastic.  There were, therefore built-in constraints to the looting impulse.

When the Bretton Woods Agreement launched the Second Age of Money, it solved the problem of the inelasticity of the money supply, and enabled monetary authorities to fine-tune the money supply in response to economic activity.  That was a good thing in the sense that it flattened–although did not eliminate–the business cycle fluctuations.

But the bad thing was that it completely removed any physical restraint on the money supply.  It depended on governments and monetary authorities to exercise self-restraint, rather than impersonal, externally imposed constraints.  The result has been 65 years of continually expanding credit, more or less constant inflation to a greater or lesser degree, and unrestrained spending and borrowing.

Governments–and their democratic (small “d”) constituencies quickly learned that they could loot the system.  Social insurance, medical care, military expansion…whatever the Big Idea of the minute was, we could have it.  And if we didn’t want to pay the taxes to the government to pay for it–and, mostly, we didn’t–we could simply borrow it.  We could obtain a whole bunch of little green pieces of paper now in exchange for a promise we’d pay back more little green pieces of paper sometime in the future.  In the meantime, we could buy all the hats we wanted!

But now, we are obligated to pay back various people about fifty trillion pieces of green paper.  Unfortunately, the entire household worth of everyone in the country is worth about forty trillion pieces of green paper.

How can the current economic and financial system possibly be considered solvent at this point?  How will re-expanding the cycle of debt re-invigorate it?

No, we’ve had our fun.  We got to loot the system for 65 years.  Now, the hat bill is coming due.

I suspect we’ll pay the hat bill the same way that Germany repaid their war reparations debt after WWI.  “Hey, you remember that reparations bill for 3 billion marks that we’re supposed to pay next week?  Yeah.  I just wanted to let you know that we’ve sent that order off to the printers, this week, and we should have that printed up for you by Tuesday.”

The result was massive hyperinflation, the collapse of credit, and 5 years of compete economic stagnation, serious economic pain, severe unemployment…and the ability to start over in the mid-20s with a clean balance sheet.  Clean enough, in fact, that by 1936 Germany had more or less completely emerged from the Great Depression, while the employment rate in the United States hovered at around 18%.

What Pres. Obama is proposing may result in nothing more than additional spending that helps bring about the collapse of the Post-WWII economic regime, while at the same time providing–temporarily–a social safety net that will provide some help as we pass through a difficult transitional period.

“I was there at the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind…”

OK.  Maybe it’s not that grandiose, but I think we are seeing the dawn of the Third Age of Money.

No one in the government realizes how the economic world is changing.  So their proposed solutions are likely to be exposed over time as ineffective and, perhaps even counter-productive.  The credibility of governments around the world is now invested in staving off an economic collapse.   When their failures become evident, and their “solutions” are exposed as fantasies, that credibility will collapse.  Who will want to buy government bonds, or use worthless government money?  Who will trust the governments who lead us into the economic abyss?

Unfortunately, rather that realizing that we are entering a transition, and trying to discover how to shepherd us through that transition, they are invested in preserving the dying system of government-regulated money supply and credit.  And even if they realized that we were in a transitional period, they would still do nothing about it because it would require voluntarily releasing their power over the economy.

Governments have always been in charge of money; determining what money is, how it will be exchanged, how new money will be created, etc.  In part, this is traditional, in that only government had the resources and ability to fund and oversee mining and exploration activities, regulate what legal tender consisted of, and all of the other monetary functions.  There simply were no other large organizations in existence to perform those tasks.

It wasn’t until the 17th century that organizations began to emerge that could begin performing those tasks, and not until the 18th century that it became practical.  Private money of various types began to sprout up everywhere.  18th-century America was, for a time, replete every decent-sized bank issuing its own currency based on deposits.

Eventually, the Federal government cracked down on that private money, not so much from jealousy of the government’s role as the issuer of currency, but because private banks suffered from the same tendency to loot the system, issuing more and more inflated currency until it was worthless, and they ended up wiping out their depositors in the collapse as their obligations came due.  There were some solid money banks of course, but the spectacular failures of so many private currency attempts led the government to tax them so heavily that private currency issuance became uneconomic. Governments may not have been perfect, but the constraints of the gold system meant that they didn’t fail as completely and spectacularly as private banks did.

What was missing in private currency of the time, and what has been missing in the current post-WWII financial system is feedback.  Yes, there is some, but it takes a long time to filter into the monetary authority, and is derived indirectly from statistics on economic activity, rather than by any sort of direct observation.  The Fed raises interest rates today, for instance, and it takes around eight months to observe the indirect effects of the monetary policy change.   This is why the role of the Fed, has often been described as steering a car by looking through the rear-view mirror.  Based on seeing where you’ve been, you make decisions about where you must go.  That may be a form a feedback, but it is so separated in time from the inputs that it’s an inherently unstable system.

By the same token, what killed depositors in banks that issued private money was a lack of feedback.  It wasn’t possible to see that bankers were looting the system in time to withdraw your money.

We call this lack of feedback asymmetrical information.  We’ve never been able to even approach the ability to have full information about what a bank or government is doing that may affect the money supply, or economic activity as a whole.  We’ve never been able to see all sides of the story, as it were.  So, we’ve had to more or less leave it in the hands of government, simply because governments have been the only organizations with the size and scope to reduce, even partially, the problem of feedback.

So, it seems pretty hopeless, doesn’t it?  The financial world we’ve grown up with is collapsing under the sheer weight of looting.  If governments can’t do it, and a return to the gold standard can’t do it, then where are we?  At the edge of another dark age?

Not quite.

I foresee the rise of private money once again, and returning in such force as to negate the government’s role in the economy.  In fact, the pieces for creating the Third Age of Money are already there.

Your new ATM

Your new ATM

The Internet will be the platform for the new money.  But it’s just the platform; the communications media.  The actual objects that make up the Third Age of Money will almost be located in cyberspace.

First, there is encryption.  In the not-too-distant future, you will go online with a persona, i.e., an online identity with a unique, highly encrypted digital signature.  No more logging in with different user names and passwords at 100 different web sites.  Your persona will be uniquely identified as you through the use of 4096-bit or 8192-bit public key encryption.  Your persona will be impossible to forge or duplicate.  It will be unique.  Your “bank” and your “money” will be similarly encrypted.

Second, is your ATM/debit card.  It won’t be exactly the same, of course.  It will be far more secure, probably through the use of biological identification systems to verify authorization, such as retinal scans.  It will be linked directly to your persona’s bank account.

Third, is the ability of all the major banks and credit card companies to do online transactions, and to convert one system of private money to another at a publicly known exchange rate.  So, you can pay directly to your account–or withdraw from it–in Discover Dollars, or MasterBucks, or Credit Suisse Francs.  Or perhaps there might even be a universally acknowledged unit of currency–the “Credit”–that all the private companies agree to use.

But, the most important element of creating a reliable private money system that is resistant to looting the system is feedback. The reduction of asymmetrical information.  And that exists, too.  eBay has been using it for years.  Indeed, in no small way, the system implemented by eBay may be a key element of our future.

Imagine a system where, every time I do business with your persona, I rate your reliability, and it doesn’t matter of the persona is an individual or a bank…or a government.  Every day, millions of people who do transactions in MasterCard can rate the reliability and value of the MasterBucks system.  Private companies like Standard and Poors or Moody’s would not only rate MasterBucks, but consumers would rate the reliability of S&P or Moody’s judgments.

And not only are the bank’s persona’s being rated, but your persona is as well, by every one who does business with it.

Put them all together and you have a secure form of private money that’s convertible, impossible to forge, and is subject to constant feedback about its value and performance.  Does MasterBucks have too high a debt ratio or too much exposure to non-performing loans at MasterCard?  No problem.  It’s instantly convertible to Credit Suisse Franks.  And the conversion rate lowers MasterBucks reliability ratings even more, signaling the company to correct its course, or lose its depositors.

Think of the implications this has for taxation, especially income taxation.  Keep all your money in Credit Suisse Francs, say, and the US government will never even be able to see a record of your deposits or withdrawals.  How will they track your income?  And who will want to pay governments that failed to prevent the collapse for…well…anything?  Who will accede to the demand for money by governments that repudiated their debts, and destroyed the life savings of millions?

I can foresee huge implications for the future that are very pro-liberty.  In the long term.  In the short term, though, if I’m right, and the current financial system is collapsing we will be in for a very rough decade or so.  Very rough indeed.

_________________

*Apologies to Quentin Tarantino.


Automakers – Gathering At The Trough Again

To be blunt about it, this just pisses me off:

GM said it might need as much as $100 billion in financing from the government if it were to go through the traditional bankruptcy process. Rick Wagoner, GM’s chairman and chief executive, said the bankruptcy scenarios are “risky” and “costly” and would only be pursued as a last resort.

Really? Well guess what – it’s even more “risky” and “costly” for the taxpayer to give GM another 100 billion bucks (and further on in the article it is acknowledged that a pre-packaged bankruptcy would cost about 30 billion).

GM claims its going to pare down its working force and model line. But what isn’t clear is how it plans on eliminating the legacy costs which still make it uncompetitive. Anyone know what would require them to confront that issue? That’s right – bankruptcy.

As for Chrysler:

Chrysler’s plan said the company would likely have to file for Chapter 11 protection if it doesn’t get additional loans from the government and concessions from unions, creditors and dealers. It said it would need $24 billion in financing if the company were to file for bankruptcy. But company officials said in a conference call that they believe a Chapter 11 filing is “not necessary” for Chrysler’s survival.

Uh no. Want more money? See Cereberus, the company you belong too and which is sitting on about 150 billion in assests. Let them pick up the tab. If not, see you in bankruptcy court.

This is ridiculous.

In particular, new opposition to further aid for Chrysler seemed to be building on Capitol Hill. In an interview Tuesday, Sen. Judd Gregg (R., N.H.) said no more taxpayer money should be given to Chrysler until its majority owner, private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, agrees to inject more funds into it.

Good. It’s about time this demand was made. What in the world is government doing throwing money at Chrysler when it has an owner with plenty of money? And Cerberus’ answer?

Cerberus said in a statement that it can’t put additional investments into Chrysler because agreements with its investors limit how much it can commit to any single investment. It added Cerberus has agreed to forgo any Chrysler profits before the government loans are repaid.

Tough beans. In that case, Cerberus had better find a way to sell off some of its investments to raise the necessary cash or be prepared to watch Chrysler hit bankruptcy court. Whichever choice it makes, it is not the job of the taxpayer to keep a marginal company afloat. And that’s even more true when that company has private assets upon which it can draw.

But when politicians are in the pain avoidance business, the Constitution is just a piece of paper and whatever they think they need to do to protect their positions of power will be done, regardless of law, principle or morality.

Just watch.

~McQ


Guess Who Is Back, Hat In Hand?

I suppose this too will somehow come as a surprise the left:

General Motors Corp., nearing a federally imposed deadline to present a restructuring plan, will offer the government two costly alternatives: commit billions more in bailout money to fund the company’s operations, or provide financial backing as part of a bankruptcy filing, said people familiar with GM’s thinking.

The competing choices, which highlight GM’s rapidly deteriorating operations, present a dilemma for Congress and the Obama administration. If they refuse to provide additional aid to GM on top of the $13.4 billion already committed they risk seeing an industrial icon fall into bankruptcy.

Tired of throwing money at a company which has a failing business model? Not interested in throwing good money after bad?

Well, then let them seek protection under the bankruptcy laws, reorganize (which means getting out from the labor contract the UAW refuses to renegotiate) and let them stand a company back up that’s able to compete. Heck, this is as good a time as any – they’re not selling any cars anyway.

Oh, and as an afterthought, if bank execs have to have salary caps, how about auto execs and labor leaders? No I’m not for any of that, but it does provide a vivid example of how arbitrary the rules Congress imposes are, doesn’t it?

~McQ

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