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February 16, 2015

DOOM: Hating on the poors since before hating on the poors was cool


Step right up, my groovy friends, and take a gander at the show that never ends. We've got DOOM here in the big tent, and it's a standing-room-only crowd.

I find the calumny that Republicans don't care about the poor pernicious and unfair. When I make urchins dance for nickels, it's not (just) for my own amusement. Besides the generous emolument, it gives the urchins a nice cardio workout. You should see them run when I set my dogs on them!

I remain unconvinced that we are in a truly deflationary epoch, but there are some troubling signs that lack of demand and not overcapacity is causing the fall in prices. I'm not a Keynesian, so I don't live by AS/AD curves, but this news -- combined with the fact that the Baltic Dry Index just hit a 29 year low -- seems to indicate a definite softening in consumer demand. If consumers are indeed starting to retrench after a borrowing binge, it could put the brakes on this half-assed "recovery" we've got going.

Teh Krugman proclaims: nobody understands debt. Teh Krugman then goes on to demonstrate his own lamentable understanding of debt. I'm not sure if this column meets the dictionary definition of ironic, but it surely is mind-bogglingly silly. In Krugman's view, if I borrow ten grand from my neighbor who happens to be debt-free, then all is well because the net debt of my little corner of the neighborhood is zero, and remains so even if I fail to pay back my neighbor what I owe. His loss is my gain, it all nets out to zero, and that's just fine, right? My neighborhood owes the money to itself!

Yeah, that's stupid. Not only is it an unsound idea in terms of economics, it's morally reprehensible. But then, for Krugman as for so many of his ilk, economics boils down to I WANT and the only moral imperative is to keep the plates spinning no matter what.

The relation between creditor and debtor is necessarily an asymmetrical one. The creditor will always hold power over the debtor; it cannot be otherwise. That's the essential problem with too much debt -- grant too much control to your debtors, and you lose control of your own destiny. And this happens not because of the perfidy of the lender, but through the debtor's own inability or unwillingness to live within his means. This truth applies to nation-states as much as it does to individuals and corporations.

Speaking of debt and the asymmetrical grant of power it forces on debtors, consider the plight of Greece. Accepting money on loan from a lender means granting power to that lender. In the case of Greece, it means giving up a substantial part of their national sovereignty and control over their own economic future. Of course, Greece can choose to leave the Eurozone and go back to the drachma, but even the Greeks don't really want that; they know full well the disaster that would ensue. But they also don't want to do what's necessary to pay back the money they borrowed. This is the eternal dilemma of the debtor.

Creditors often face dilemmas as well. Germany is in the position of being the main creditor to Greece, and it remains to be seen if they'll demand fealty to the original terms of the Greek bailout or will again pay the "extend and pretend" game. It's pretty clear that Greece is never going to be able to pay back the money they owe, so Germany and the other northern Euro countries have to decide how much they can realistically squeeze out of Greece without driving the smaller country out of the Eurozone altogether.

Buy-and-hold investing is dead. Yield is getting harder and harder to find without taking on boatloads of risk, and this has implications if you're a pension-fund manager (or are trying to balance your 401(k) allocations).

One important thing to remember about fees and fines for petty crimes in cities: they act as a highly-regressive tax on poor people. Municipalities are well aware of this but keep doing it because it happens to be a major source of funding for many cities. A lot of this kind of "law enforcement" amounts to using the justice system as a stealth tax-collection agency.

Vladimir Putin gets pimp-slapped by the Invisible Hand. Putin is no dummy, but like most tyrants and dictators throughout history, he thinks he can force the economy to do his bidding and not have to pay the cost.

Still no love for us goldbugs out there in econo-land. That's okay. I've become comfortable with being the crazy uncle at the family gathering. As long as it keeps the price of the barbaric yellow metal down to affordable levels, I'll indulge the foolish love of my peers for their fiat paper. (Every time I buy something with cash, I feel an atavistic little thrill of passing off what amounts to Monopoly money for real stuff. I feel like I'm getting away with something. But then I remember that my daily wage is also being paid in those federal IOUs, and my thrill fades.)


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posted by Monty at 08:45 AM

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