mfioretti: gold standard*

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  1. After World War I the U.S. Government deviated from what had been traditional European policy – forgiving military support costs among the victors. U.S. officials demanded payment for the arms shipped to its Allies in the years before America entered the Great War in 1917. The Allies turned to Germany for reparations to pay these debts. Headed by John Maynard Keynes, British diplomats sought to clean their hands of responsibility for the consequences by promising that all the money they received from Germany would simply be forwarded to the U.S. Treasury.

    The sums were so unpayably high that Germany was driven into austerity and collapse. The nation suffered hyperinflation as the Reichsbank printed marks to throw onto the foreign exchange market. The currency declined, import prices soared, raising domestic prices as well. The debt deflation was much like that of Third World debtors a generation ago, and today’s southern European PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

    In a pretense that the reparations and Inter-Ally debt tangle could be made solvent, a triangular flow of payments was facilitated by a convoluted U.S. easy-money policy. American investors sought high returns by buying German local bonds; German municipalities turned over the dollars they received to the Reichsbank for domestic currency; and the Reichsbank used this foreign exchange to pay reparations to Britain and other Allies, enabling these countries to pay the United States what it demanded.

    But solutions based on attempts to keep debts of such magnitude in place by lending debtors the money to pay can only be temporary. The U.S. Federal Reserve sustained this triangular flow by holding down U.S. interest rates. This made it attractive for American investors to buy German municipal bonds and other high-yielding debts. It also deterred Wall Street from drawing funds away from Britain, which would have driven its economy deeper into austerity after the General Strike of 1926. But domestically, low U.S. interest rates and easy credit spurred a real estate bubble, followed by a stock market bubble that burst in 1929. The triangular flow of payments broke down in 1931, leaving a legacy of debt deflation burdening the U.S. and European economies. The Great Depression lasted until outbreak of World War II in 1939.

    Planning for the postwar period took shape as the war neared its end. U.S. diplomats had learned an important lesson. This time there would be no arms debts or reparations. The global financial system would be stabilized – on the basis of gold, and on creditor-oriented rules. By the end of the 1940s the Untied States held some 75 percent of the world’s monetary gold stock. That established the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency, freely convertible into gold at the 1933 parity of $35 an ounce.
    It also implied that once again, as in the 1920s, European balance-of-payments deficits would have to be financed mainly by the United States. Recycling of official government credit was to be filtered via the IMF and World Bank, in which U.S. diplomats alone had veto power to reject policies they found not to be in their national interest. International financial “stability” thus became a global control mechanism – to maintain creditor-oriented rules centered in the United States.

    To obtain gold or dollars as backing for their own domestic monetary systems, other countries had to follow the trade and investment rules laid down by the United States. These rules called for relinquishing control over capital movements or restrictions on foreign takeovers of natural resources and the public domain as well as local industry and banking systems.

    By 1950 the dollar-based global economic system had become increasingly untenable. Gold continued flowing to the United States, strengthening the dollar – until the Korean War reversed matters. From 1951 through 1971 the United States ran a deepening balance-of-payments deficit, which stemmed entirely from overseas military spending. (Private-sector trade and investment was steadily in balance.)
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  2.  For a small but committed group of economists, academics, and activists who adhere to a doctrine called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), though, #mintthecoin was the tip of the economic iceberg. The possibility of a $1 trillion coin represented more than mere monetary sophistry: It drove home their foundational point that fiat currency is a social construct, and that there are therefore no fiscal limits on how much a sovereign currency-issuing nation can spend.

     To a layperson, MMT can seem dizzyingly complex, but at its core is the belief that most of us have the economy backward. Conventional wisdom holds that the government taxes individuals and companies in order to fund its own spending. But the government—which is ultimately the source of all dollars, taxed or untaxed—pays or spends first and taxes later. When it funds programs, it literally spends money into existence, injecting cash into the economy. Taxes exist in order to control inflation by reducing the money supply, and to ensure that dollars, as the only currency accepted for tax payments, remain in demand.

    It follows that currency-issuing governments could (and, depending on how you lean politically, should) spend as much as they need to in order to guarantee full employment and other social goods. MMT’s adherents like to point out that the federal government never “runs out” of money to fund the military, but routinely invokes budget constraints to justify defunding social programs. Money, in other words, isn’t a scarce commodity like silver or gold. “To people who’ve worked in financial markets, who work at the Fed, this isn’t controversial at all,” says Galbraith, who, while not an adherent, can certainly be described as “MMT-friendly.”

    According to this small but increasingly vocal cohort of economists, including Bernie Sanders’s former chief economic adviser, once we change the way we think about money, we can provide for everyone: We don’t have to “find” the money to “pay” for universal health care by “cutting” the budget elsewhere. In fact, our government already works that way: Spending must precede taxation, or there would be no dollars in the economy to tax. It’s the political will to spend on certain things, not the money to afford it, that’s lacking.
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  3. But while distortions in the savings rate are at the root of the European crisis, many if not most analysts have failed to understand why. Until now, an awful lot of Europeans have understood the crisis primarily in terms of differences in national character, economic virtue, and as a moral struggle between prudence and irresponsibility. This interpretation is intuitively appealing but it is almost wholly incorrect, and because the cost of saving Europe is debt forgiveness, and Europe must decide if this is a cost worth paying (I think it is), to the extent that the European crisis is seen as a struggle between the prudent countries and the irresponsible countries, it is extremely unlikely that Europeans will be willing to pay the cost. As my regular readers know, I generally refer to the two different groups of creditor and debtor countries as “Germany” and “Spain”, the former for obvious reasons and the latter because I was born and grew up there, and it is the country I know best. I will continue to do so in this blog entry.

    A few weeks ago I was discussing with a group of my Peking University students Charles Kindleberger’s idea of a “displacement”, and I proposed, as does Kindleberger, that the 1871-73 French indemnity is an especially useful example of a displacement from which we can learn a great deal about how financial crises can be generated.(4) It then occurred to me that the French reparations and their impact on Europe could also tell us a great deal about the euro crisis and, more specifically, why by distorting the savings rate wage policies in Germany in the first half of the last decade would have led almost inexorably to the balance of payments distortions that may eventually wreck the euro.

    It is a nice accident that the French indemnity accelerated Germany’s adoption of the gold standard, because massive transfer payments from Germany to peripheral Europe were probably necessary for many of these countries to adopt the euro, in some ways their own version of the gold standard. Before jumping into why I think the French indemnity is relevant to the Greek crisis, I want to make three quick points:
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  4. Nel frattempo il gigante asiatico è diventato il primo produttore di oro a livello globale con una quota di oltre il 14% del totale, vale a dire circa 400 tonnellate sulle 3mila estratte ogni anno. Gli addetti ai lavori segnalano però come neppure un’oncia di questo oro lasci il Paese. Anzi, attraverso la porta di Hong Kong continuano ad affluire grossi quantitativi di metallo giallo. La produzione nazionale e l’import non finiscono solo in riserve, ma è molto probabile che la reale entità delle disponibilità cinesi si sia comunque molto accresciuta rispetto al dato del 2009.

    La voracità di oro cinese è paragonabile solo a quella della Russia. La banca francese Société Générale ha segnalato come nelle ultime settimane Mosca sia stata costretta a vendere parte dei suoi lingotti sul mercato per far fronte al drammatico deterioramento delle condizioni finanziarie del Paese e al crollo del rublo. Ma negli ultimi anni i forzieri della banca centrale russa non hanno fatto altro che riempirsi. Nel 2010 lo Stato presieduto da Vladimir Putin ha razziato sul mercato qualcosa come 140 tonnellate, l’anno seguente altre 94.

    Maurizio Mazziero, economista e fondatore del centro studi Mazziero resarch, ritiene che questi acquisti avvengano con uno scopo preciso. “La mia idea”, spiega, “è che prima o poi Cina e Russia possano far valere questa situazione sui mercati internazionali. Magari proponendo che gli scambi commerciali avvengano utilizzando un paniere di valute in una certa misura collateralizzato con l’oro”. “Non è infatti da escludere”, continua Mazziero, “che in un futuro non troppo lontano si arrivi a un momento in cui non ci sarà più fiducia nelle monete completamente smaterializzate e affidate unicamente alla gestione delle banche centrali”.

    Al momento Berlino può contare, si stima, su riserve per quasi 3.400 tonnellate. Di questi lingotti soltanto il 31% si trova però attualmente all’interno dei confini nazionali e l’intenzione tedesca e di portare questa quota al 50% entro i prossimi cinque anni. Nella stessa direzione si sta muovendo la Banca centrale olandese, che ha annunciato l’intenzione di rimpatriare oro di sua proprietà depositato negli Stati Uniti.

    E l’Italia? Per ora tutto tace. La Penisola dispone di riserve significative, stabili da circa un decennio: 2.451 tonnellate per un controvalore di circa 95 miliardi di dollari. Stando ai dati ufficiali si tratta della terza riserva dopo Usa e Germania, di poco superiore a quella francese. Anche in questo caso però solo una parte delle riserve si trovano sul suolo italiano.
    Tags: , , , , , , by M. Fioretti (2014-12-31)
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  5. Nonetheless, Bitcoin raises some interesting questions. One is whether it might undermine the modern state -- which, for many of its libertarian-anarchist advocates, is the whole idea.

    Technology enabled governments to grow more powerful and more centralized in the 19th and 20th centuries, as Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, has argued. The intriguing possibility is that technologies of the 21st century -- such as Bitcoin -- might push the other way.

    Physical cash is used in a rapidly shrinking share of transactions: 27 percent in 2011, 23 percent by 2017, and so on, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, a financial-services research firm. The central banks of Sweden and Nigeria have both declared goals of a cashless economy. In Europe, the volume of non-cash transactions is forecasted to rise by 7 percent per year, despite economic stagnation.

    What's going on? First, a global shift to mobile payments and credit and debit cards. Second, a rise in online retail -- one that could put 15 to 20 percent of all retail sales online in the U.S., U.K., China, and Europe, according to Bain & Company.

    Electronic payments aren't new. Bitcoin's only innovations are its status as an independent currency and its decentralized network design. But those differences might make Bitcoin -- or rather, crypto-currency in general -- an existential threat to the modern liberal state. If widely adopted, crypto-currencies would cripple government in three central functions: taxation, police and macroeconomic stabilization. That is exactly what Bitcoin's biggest fans are hoping.
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  6. -,8599,1852254,00.html
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  8. I assure you that this story is very much about Peak Oil, but please bear with me, as I’ll need to start by reviewing what the IMS is and how it came about in the first place. Then I’ll explain the role energy has already played in shaping the present-day IMS, and finally, I’ll tie this back to Peak Oil by explaining why rising energy prices could very well be the catalyst that will cause the present system to fail.

    if you choose a currency because it’s a strong credit, and then give the issuing nation a financial incentive to borrow and print money recklessly without penalty, eventually that currency won’t be the strongest credit any more! This paradox came to be known as Triffin’s Dilemma.

    Specifically, Triffin predicted that as issuer of the international reserve currency, the USA would be prone to over consumption, over-indebtedness, and tend toward military adventurism. Unfortunately, the U.S. Government would prove Triffin right on all three counts.
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