The hidden agenda in the so-called tax reform bill is to act as stop-gap quantitative easing to plug the “liquidity” hole that is opening up as the Federal Reserve (America’s central bank) makes a few gestures to winding down its balance sheet and “normalizing” interest rates. Thus, the aim of the tax bill is to prop up capital markets, and the apprehension of this lately is what keeps stocks making daily record highs. Okay, sorry, a lot to unpack there.
Primer: quantitative easing (QE) is a the Federal Reserve’s weasel phrase for its practice of just creating “money” out of thin air, which it uses to buy US Treasury bonds (and other stuff). The Fed buys this stuff through intermediary Too Big To Fail banks which allows them to cream off a cut and, theoretically, pump the “money” into the economy. This “money” is the “liquidity.” As it happens, most of that money ends up in the capital markets. Stocks go up and up and bond yields stay ultra low with bond prices ultra high. What remains on the balance sheets are a shit-load of IOUs.
The third round of QE was officially halted in 2014 in the USA. However, the world’s other main central banks acted in rotation — passing the baton of QE, like in a relay race — so that when the US slacked off, Japan, Britain, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of China, took over money-printing duties. And because money flies easily around the world via digital banking, a lot of that foreign money ended up in “sure-thing” US capital markets (as well as their own ). Mega-tons of “money” were created out of thin air around the world since the near-collapse of the system in 2008.
And magically, with no negative consequences! Yet. Now, Europe and Japan are making noises about dropping their batons. China’s banking system is so opaque and perverse — because it is unaccountable except to the ruling party with its own agenda — that it’s quite impossible to tell what they are really doing, though the signs of mal-investment are obvious and startling. And the UK’s finances are tied up in its messy divorce proceedings with the EU (with the British standard of living dropping markedly meanwhile). In short, the torrent of global “liquidity” looks to be slowing to a trickle.
The expectation is that this would make stock markets go down and bond interest rates to go up (fewer buyers), perhaps a lot. The dirty open secret here is that these central bank interventions are the only means for keeping the capital markets up, and that the markets are just a Potemkin false front for Western economies that are drying up and blowing away. That is certainly the experience here in the USA, where banking hocus-pocus now accounts for about 30 percent of GDP, and most of that activity is either out-and-out fraud or swindling, or collecting rents and dividends on past frauds and swindles.
Dem/Prog America in its Silicon Valley gourmet employee bistros and Hamptons lawn parties thinks that the flyover Trumpist Red State world of meth, joblessness, and anomie is some kind of a Netflix hallucination. But no, it’s for real. The center of the ole US of A is hollowed out. The bad news is that it probably has enough juice left in its disaffected youth, and certainly enough weaponry, to start a very serious insurrection if it continues to get dissed.
Enter the joker in the deck: Bitcoin. Though it pulled back a couple of thou overnight, this strange investment vehicle blasted through $18,000-per-Bitcoin in the past 24 hours, roughly tripling from $6000 in one month. It even endured the hacking of one of its exchanges, NiceHash, where $70 million was looted without so much as a stutter in the upward thrust of the chart. Whatever else Bitcoin is — and I would suggest a “Ponzie,” a “mania,” a “con” — this thing is a message. The message is that financial circulatory system of the global economy is in some kind of distress. Another take-away is that the rush into Bitcoin represents a loss of faith in matrix of rackets that world banking has become, and a flight to perceived safety in a putative financial instrument beyond the clutches and the lying propaganda of nervous, self-interested governments.
For the moment, Bitcoin is doing the job that gold used to do: indexing the loss of value in paper currencies and the things that affect to represent them. Except that Bitcoin has no material reality. It is a figment of mathematics. The vaunted blockchain “technology” is just a formula for packaging information and assigning it to live in various places. It appears to have some worth as a ledger system, for keeping track of accumulated value in an allegedly transparent and honest mode. But the thing it is toting up and sending chits around the world for — Bitcoin — has no value in and of itself.
If “money” can be said to represent a future claim on work, or energy, or things that they produce, then Bitcoin is not money at all because it only represents energy burned in the computer exertions necessary to “mine” the Bitcoins. In other words, it costs a lot of energy to create Bitcoins, and there’s no claim on future energy, or work — it’s already gone. That energy use is catching the world’s attention and is beginning to look pretty profligate. Like, if Bitcoin happened to shoot up over $100,000-per-unit, it would hog an unseemly portion of the worlds electric power.
Anyway, that’s only one interpretation of the Bitcoin rush. In the end, I believe it’s simply telling us that the global financial system is headed for some serious trouble. It is vectoring right smack into the same lane as the gathering political crisis in the US government, as a fight to death between Donald Trump and his adversaries comes darkly into view.
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