Sunday, May 24, 2009

We are out of money

At last some straight talk from the President. Obama stated the obvious in a television interview. "We are out of money". This should be alarming. It wasn't. Ho hum. Yawn. No one cares. The stock market is up. But for the world's most powerful nation to be essentially bankrupt, out of money, and needing excessive amounts of new credit just to keep operating is something that all investors should be extremely nervous about. The US, and other indebted nations, won't be able to spend their way out of debt. That's crazy talk. The debts need to be paid off or be defaulted. Personally people have no choice but to spend less, save, or sell assets in order to pay down their debts. Governments have more flexibility because they can issue bonds with the full backing of the tax base. Government bonds are seen as safe havens, enabling deficit spending which politicians can't resist. They need the discipline of the gold standard. However, an interesting development is unfolding. Just as the high risk individual gets squeezed with higher interest rates on the credit card, so are governments.

Foreign investors hold a sizable portion of the US debt. That debt will not likely be paid back in full, or if it is, it will be with worthless dollars. They know this as they continue to watch the US rack up huge deficits and they aren't impressed. That was the risk they took when they bought the bonds. Don't feel sorry for them. But what can they do and what are the next moves? The first most obvious move for them is to stop giving the US any more credit by purchasing US Treasury bonds, or at least buy less of them. This is already happening. That's why the Fed has been forced into a quantitative easing mode. When the principle buyers pull out of the market, interest rates need to rise in order to attract them back. Except rising interest rates will overwhelm a very fragile debt saturated economy. The Fed doesn't want to see an economic meltdown. When no one else is willing to buy the bonds needed to finance government operations, it moves into the bond market to buy them with money that doesn't already exist. The bonds are bought with new money. New debt for the taxpayer to bear. All those bailouts and stimulus that are meant to cure the economy is being paid for by diluting the value of the existing currency.

The second obvious move foreign creditors would do is to start selling their US holdings. The problem with this is that if they do this en masse, it will flood the bond market with an oversupply which will further depreciate the value of the foreign reserves and may possibly trigger an avalanche of selling as everyone will run to the exits at the same time. No one wants to see that happen. Instead, foreign creditors will first want to gradually sell off the more risky longer term bonds in small chunks without any fanfare. Buyers of longer term bonds are in short supply at the moment because few people have faith in the US to make those bonds good upon maturity, so they are asking for higher rates to compensate for the added risk of default and inflation. A rising interest rate scenario will kill any chance of a recovery because this makes servicing the debt more difficult. The cost of loans of all types will rise, most importantly though, mortgages. There is a consensus that the real estate market has to stabilize before any recovery is sustainable. How high will they go before buyers step in? That is the big question. Moderately higher rates are healthy for recovering banks. They make more money. A dramatic spike in rates will kill them.

The Federal Reserve, the well spring of new money, has stated it will be the buyer of last resort. It will fight this upward bias of interest rates with quantitative easing in an effort to keep mortgage rates low and inject liquidity into the economy. Bernanke believes he can control interest rates by soaking up the demand. However the unintended consequence of this intervention is that it undermines the confidence of bond holders even further as inflation fears rise with the money creation. Sometimes less is more. The market will pressure Bernanke to buy the bonds that they are just itching to sell. It's a battle the Fed will lose because the sell side can overwhelm the buy side. Even though the Fed can print as much money as required to buy anything at any price, it is loathe to do this because it will crash the dollar in the process. Yet that is the course they have embarked on. They can potentially wind up owning most of the Treasuries if it continues to pursue this policy. A cycle will be established where the bond market will continually push interest rates higher, forcing the Fed to intervene time and again. This will drive out foreign equity as they sell into the Fed's buying, and the government will not have it's funding source anymore. It will have to tax and spend less. Read less money for personal consumption, social programs, health care, education, pensions, etc..

The public and media are focused on the stock market but the story of real importance is the bond market. The 10 year Treasury is of particular interest right now. The Fed first felt it necessary to intervene in March back when it was at 3%. They drove the rate down temporarily to 2.5%, but it has since climbed back up and has spiked up to 3.65 this week. The bond market is forcing Bernanke's hand. Will the Fed intervene again? Does Bernanke have faith in his printing press to get them out of this mess? He has staked his reputation on it. Or will he recognize the perilous downward spiral of quantitative easing, once it stops becoming a theoretical play thing? If he backs off the easing, long term interest rates will naturally rise, and trigger yet another debt crisis which will be devastating as the defaulting loans cascade and the faith of the people is demoralized. There is no easy way out of this one. The world is not as rich as we think. There is more debt than wealth and the world economy is moving toward a monetary bottleneck. All indebted nations are competing for the same capital and bond auctions will fail to attract enough buyers to meet the growing deficits. Many governments will simply run out of money. At the end of the line there is no one to bail us out. Governments will be forced to cut back on spending, increase tax rates, devalue the currency, or perhaps they will acquire the money by more creative means, such as engineering a stock market collapse to drive money out of stocks and back into the perceived safe haven of bond markets. Politicians will always take the path of least resistance. Expect volatility going forward.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Stressed Out

It's hard to keep up with the news flow these days. Stories that would have normally been headline and analyzed to death by the popular media are being glossed over as though they they have little importance. Financial observers whose job it is sort this stuff out are stunned. The natural reaction when immersed in a chaotic environment is to focus on what we can handle, what we know. People are attempting to latch onto some sort of explanation. Humans crave order and predictability. Irrational, random events need to be explained and put into a framework. The mind will do incredible leaps to rationalize the absurd. Contradictory data is ignored. This environment is prime for charlatans, dressed up in suits of respectability, to spread soothing thoughts to the masses in hopes of personal gain. At the fringe are conspiracy theorists who speak of a covert master plan designed to establish a new world order. Stock market crashes, planes exploding into buildings, wars, currency destruction, all figure into the equation. On the other end of the spectrum are the main stream press owned and controlled by corporate interests. The news is reactionary, superficial, and border on propaganda. The news flow has had a pronounced shift of sentiment lately. The recent converts to doom and gloom have had their fill and now green shoots of optimism are the rage. The worst financial crisis in memory apparently has been solved in less than a year. Let the good times roll.

The long awaited stress tests of the largest US banks are out at last. Some need to raise a few more billion of new capital as a buffer to meet the worst case scenario but overall the banks are healthy. They are making money again. The real estate market is bottoming. Consumer sentiment is on the rise. Stock markets have had a robust 30 percent gain. Unemployment rates are abating. The stimulus is in the pipeline stoking economic growth going forward. Time to invest! This is the drum beat heard in the press. For many people whose lives haven't been dramatically changed due to a job loss, looming bankruptcy, and foreclosure, the crisis probably doesn't seem real. People still wake up in the morning and have their cup of coffee and go about their business. The nest egg that is meant to finance retirement is smaller but that is a long term investment so no problem. Investments always go up over the long term. Everyone says so. The system is working. Order is established.

Or perhaps the positive spin of the stress tests was just the latest example of market manipulation that a Cartel of private international banks are orchestrating to further their grip on the global financial system. The very design of the fractional reserve system ensures that the money supply must inflate to pay off the interest on the existing debt. The Federal Reserve, a privately owned cartel acting under the auspices of a government agency, earns interest on every dollar it creates from nothing. It is in it's best interest to inflate the money supply. Debt begats more debt, causing the value of the dollar to shrink, until the interest on the debt eventually outstrips the ability of the economy to service it. The financial system strains under the pressure until it must eventually buckle. We are close to that point. The Fed-led cartel knowingly created the conditions to ignite such a crisis to further their end game, which is global domination. How else to explain why the actions taken by the central banks and paid off politicians seem so counter intuitive? They must surely know that quantitative easing never works. It is a road to hell. They are openly and covertly manipulating the markets and the economic data to obfuscate the true nature of the dire situation that is unfolding. The intent is to prolong the illusion of growing wealth and prosperity, while sucking the last drop of wealth from the masses, until the day of reckoning is put into play. The result will be the inevitable destruction of the dollar and from the ashes a new global currency will be created and controlled by the Cartel. Order is established.

The stress tests that caused so much stir and anxiety are a sham. The tests were supposed to put the banks through a rigorous set of assumptions of a worst case scenario so the regulators can shore up any weak spots to prevent another meltdown. This on it's own is disturbing. This should be ongoing both internally and through the regulatory agencies as part of normal operations. Clearly it was not. Executives hoarded millions while making some of the worst decisions possible, after all taking down the global financial system isn't an easy task. That takes a lot of talent. These are smart individuals. They had to know the risk models were faulty. It is more plausible that they were designed to rationalize their bloated incomes while the regulators turned the other way. They will get their piece down the road. Greed ran amok and fortunes were made.

History repeats in the short sighted news cycle of the day. The same people have developed new risk models. The assumptions used for the stress tests were not rigorous. Insiders with the banks refer to them as a feather test. They were designed to promote false confidence in the public to prop up equity values of the financial sector. The political climate is no longer ripe to blatantly fund more bailouts to insolvent banks since credit still isn't flowing to Main Street, which was the point of the whole exercise. The public overwhelmingly didn't want the first TARP. A second isn't politically palatable at the moment. The CEOs of the major banks had a big pow wow with Obama at the White House and they all emerged with smiles and calm reassurances that everything is just fine. Announcements of bank profits followed, triggering the latest rally. The campaign to restore confidence has been evident. The news flow has dramatically changed as even obvious bad news is spun in a positive light. Last December there was a consensus that bankruptcy for the automakers was not an option. They were bailed out which bought time. Now they are going into bankruptcy and the same people who passionately argued it would be devastating are rather sanguine about it.

Trillions of bail out money and government guarantees have been handed out to the banks, and yet to this day we are still questioning their solvency. The true extent of their losses has been cloaked by accounting gimmicks. The toxic waste that was clogging the system, it's still there. Accounting rules simply changed overnight that allows the banks to value foreclosed homes at whatever price they feel is right, as opposed to what they are actually worth if sold on the market. No more problems. Stocks of the banks, that were poised to become worthless, have bounced off the bottom. Bearish investors got the short squeeze, forcing them to cover, pushing prices even higher. Then fund managers who have had their portfolios hammered and have been desperate to hold onto remaining investors, and their job, see the market push higher so they pile in so as not to miss the rally. The headlines in the business news speak of recovery and green shoots. The bottom is in. It all becomes self propelling once this dynamic establishes itself. Now the banks can go to the market and raise new capital, with the blessing of the positive stress tests. The system is working.

What I struggle with when trying to find an explanation to the seemingly irrational markets is figuring out what the top economists with the levers of the monetary system in their hands actually believe. Do they believe in what is being sold to the public? Are they so egotistical and sure of themselves that they don't harbour any doubts about the course they have chosen? Or do they privately know the financial framework is rotten and doomed to failure and the best they are hoping for is to mitigate the fall, so it does not unravel in a catastrophic way. So they buy time, float trial balloons, leak stories, test theories in an ad hoc fashion, let Lehman Brothers and Chrysler fail, watch the outcome, learn, adapt, prepare for the big battles. The fundamentals are awful. Smaller banks are regularly going bankrupt. The FDIC, the agency that guarantees deposits in the banks, just recently requested more funds. If a big bank goes down they will insure as much as AIG did. There isn't enough money in the pot because the models don't allow for systematic failure. We are already at the worst case scenario thresholds that the stress tests allowed for. If it gets worse, the irrational exuberance of the new bull market will rapidly deteriorate into chaos again. Our minds don't want to go there. Order has been established. Rally on.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bankers and Parasites

A parasite has two strategies. It can feed off the host until it's presence overwhelms the host's defenses leading to illness or death. This strategy will work as long as it can easily find new hosts. If the balance between parasite and host favours the parasite, the parasite will rapidly infect the population until it reaches such a low density that the parasite is unable to find new hosts and the parasite's demise is at hand as well. Or a parasite can ensure it's survival by feeding off the host but do no harm. The parasite stays with the host while it's eggs or young are expelled and they are required to find a new host. The banks have parasitic qualities. It feeds off the interest paid by the host community, the borrowers. There's nothing bad about parasite-host relationships. The balance between the two is of importance. The bankers have taken just enough in the past to ensure their success without threatening the health of the economy. The discharge of new debt has been able to locate new hosts leading to an expansion of the credit industry. However, we have reached a point in the relationship where the banks have saturated the economy with debt. There is very little room for growth, as there is a dearth of willing and able borrowers. The food for the banks is withdrawing, threatening their survival. The relationship between the banks and economy at this stage is what is about to play out. We are in an unstable position where the dynamics of host and parasite are in flux.

The world economy is slowing down. It has to. A consumptive economy eventually depletes it's savings and reaches a point where it has to produce again or face the inevitable collapse. The US economy is consumptive. It has fed off it's store of wealth since it outsourced it's manufacturing to cheaper, more efficient nations. The typical Asian works harder, longer, and for less. China is the largest foreign holder of US debt, not because they have full faith in the potential growth of the US, but because they know the money they lend will be recycled back to them when the American consumer buys it's exports. What started out as China feeding off of the US, has reversed, and now the host has become the parasite feeding off the wealth of China. This dynamic is changing. The US consumer is spent. They are cutting back on spending because their debt burden has become too honorous and their perceived wealth has eroded. The demand for China's exports is diminishing. It follows that China is receiving less money and they have less profits to cycle back into the US. The US is losing a major creditor which has allowed them to maintain a high standard of living, while China's largest market which has fuelled their growth is shrinking. This relationship is due for a rebalancing.

The US has gone from being a creditor nation to a near bankrupt one. A growth industry of the US that has developed has been it's innovative debt products. Large institutional investors purchased loads of US debt wrapped up in complicated bundles. There was a belief that the US consumer could continue to spend borrowed money with no limit. This notion crashed a year ago when a critical number of home buyers foreclosed on the mortgages and these debt bundles became toxic as no one wanted to buy debt that may not be repaid. There was too much risk involved so the market for these debt instruments froze. The holders of this debt refused to sell them at market values because they would take a beating on their investment. The so called credit crisis began in earnest. Banks saw their assets vanish as real estate prices plunged. Debt is only as good as the promise to repay and many promises have been broken. The lucrative business of selling debt has hit bottom and for an economy based on selling and spending credit, this is bad news. Reality is slowly settling in that people can't spend what they don't have. The demand for credit has withdrawn even with interest rates approaching zero. Few banking institutions want to lend and fewer people want to borrow. The product of the banking industry is failing to find new hosts.

The central banks and the politicians they control sense their potential demise. Thus they have decided to become the lender and spender of last resort in an effort to stimulate the economy while average people are reckoning with their personal debt. The banks are squeezing them. A parasite will do only what it knows. It feeds off it's host. The Federal Reserve of the US is owned by private banks. It is the bank for bankers so naturally it will do what is in the best interests of the banks first and not neccesarily the people at large despite what they claim. They believe that what is good for banks is good for the economy. They believe that credit creates business and wealth. The parasite believes it's survival is critically important for the survival of the host. Actually, the economy is struggling because the parasite has infected the population with it's toxic debt and it will not let the system cleanse itself by letting the bad loans default. The bankers and politicians will not accept responsibility for their greed and flawed policies. They have manipulated the monetary system to their benefit, acquiring wealth and power over the years. Governments and all the businesses that depend on it's seemingly unlimited spending have expanded, consuming a larger and larger portion of the wealth generated from the productive part of the economy. The burden placed on people who produce the neccessities of life and are at the base of all economies is taxing, and ultimately the balance will have to be restored to a more equitable level.

The question that remains to be answered is how the parasite-host relationship plays out. Will the attempt to save the banks at all cost take the productive economy down by sucking all the working capital out of the system, until it is in such a dismal state that the bankers and the debt they produced wither away, leaving the essential vestige of a bloated industry? Or will the debt that was pumped out of the banks be subjected to the harsh reality of the marketplace, and force those who took on the risk, take the loss, wiping out a few banks and businesses but leaving behind a leaner, deflated economy intact? Neither choice is pleasant. There will be hardship and ruin as the economy struggles to keep the peace and feed the people. My guess is that the present strategy of throwing money and resources at the banking industry will persist until there comes a turning point when it will become all too obvious that the money creation is having little positive effect while the imbalances become more pronounced. Increasing debt cannot cure a debt crisis. It exacerbates it. We are living in a strange time when what was once considered bad is now good. Intuitively, piling on more debt doesn't lead to prosperity. I choose to trust my common sense that reducing debt is a better strategy in the long run. Extend that belief outward to the economy and the result will be a deflationary environment that will see the banking industry become less profitable, but the economy as a whole will be more stable once the balance is restored.

The rebalancing must occur. It won't be easy but the years of living comfortably on the backs of cheap Chinese labour and credit are over. China will have to accept that the credit they extended to the US will not likely be paid back. It will default one way or the other. The US dollar will likely collapse in value. The US needs to start manufacturing again. The banks depend on the demand for debt for it's growth. Without borrowers they have no business. In an ideal world there would be no debt and the people of the world would live their lives doing what they need to do to live as comfortably as they can, living within their means. This is disastrous for bankers. The reality is that the economy will not collapse. Food will still be grown, oil will still be pumped out of the earth, cars will still be manufactured, clothes will still need to be sewn, doctors will still heal the sick, and there will still be a need for banks. Life will not come to a stand still because of a monetary crisis. The resources of the world that the population lives off of will still be available. The economy will reorganize. The labour of the people is what keeps the economy running, not debt creation. The host does not depend on the parasite for survival.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Don't Be Fooled

Most of us are raised to trust in the environment we are born into. Our reality is what we are taught and experience. Occasionally, there are times when our perception of things do not reflect reality. We see little signs that seem odd but our trusting nature dismisses them and we continue on our merry way. Reality being what it is has a way of asserting itself. Our false perception is eventually destroyed and we are forced to see things as they truly are, not as what we would like them to be, and expect them to be if the world operated in an honest transparent way. The real world is not entirely composed of trustworthy individuals. It can be dog eat dog. Take care of number one and the rest be damned. The investment industry is a representation of this. A large proportion of individuals mean well and act in a way that they believe is proper and sound. They are trusting and well meaning. But the industry as a whole is geared to serve self interest first and the investing public second. The perception that putting our hard earned money into investments which will reap rewards over the long term is ingrained into us. Currently that perception is being challenged. Investments are turning sour, even in the long term. Yet the majority of people see this as an oddity, a temporary blip that will quickly correct itself. This is not a time to be a passive trusting believer. The oddities of the markets right now are not to be dismissed. Reality is asserting itself.

There is a little reported story about the CEO of the Bank of America, Ken Lewis, who testified that in the cauldron of the financial meltdown last fall, he was threatened to buy Merrill Lynch before it’s imminent collapse. The alleged men behind the strong armed request was the tag team of Paulson and Bernanke. This intervention of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve into the business decisions of a private corporation speaks to the level of desperation and collusion that took place behind the scenes. Lewis caved in, betrayed his responsibility to the shareholders, purchased Merrill Lynch in haste, which has since proved to be a terrible investment that has destroyed shareholder value. This was potentially criminal, and most certainly inappropriate. The District Attorney of New York is investigating. Bernanke has denied the allegation. Someone is lying. Strangely, Lewis is still supported by the shareholders even after this story became public. Perhaps they are afraid to put an honest guy in control and have him uncover the corruption within. Self preservation is a powerful motivator. Criminal behaviour was blatant throughout the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, yet all the parties involved looked the other way. Money was being made. Now there are numerous criminal investigations underway that involve the misuse of the bailout funds. The continued greed and abuse of power is astonishing. Revelations such as these reveal how politicians and CEOs are perpetuating fraud. The public’s anger is simmering. There is a sense that no one can be trusted. This is an age of information management and spin. The lies, deceit, and the dirty under belly of big business and government should not be viewed not as an oddity.

Chrysler has filed for bankruptcy. This should be devastating news as the effect on the economy will be felt, especially if it foreshadows the same fate of General Motors. The stock market didn’t even blink. In the face of the Treasury fumbling around with the results of their stress tests of the largest US banks, which must surely be bad, the stock market rallies. The headlines read the banks are profitable again. This is crazy. How can that be? Less than a year ago they were on the verge of collapse. Yet the market rallies. When stocks continue to rally on bad news, one has to question the logic of this. It can be argued the smart money is looking forward to an anticipated recovery and they view this time as a great buying opportunity. This is the Warren Buffet school of thought that is always trotted out to calm the fears of the investing public. The stock market is forward looking we are told. Rubbish. Last summer it was at an all time high. That cheery outlook was obviously misguided. But perhaps there is some validity to this tired old slogan. It suggests that there is some irrationality in the markets that has depressed it to these extreme lows and it is bound to go higher once this fear has abated. I would suggest that watching the banks of the world literally hanging in the balance, receiving billions of life support money just to keep the doors open; anticipating General Motors and Chrysler going into bankruptcy and all the ripples that will flow from that event; watching AIG, one of the largest insurance companies resemble a black hole of taxpayer money; and watching as China and Russia reveal their desire to dethrone the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency all to be very troubling. Escalating unemployment, mortgage defaults, lost savings, and drooping consumer spending all portend a bleak future. It’s a very rational decision not to own stocks, or bonds for that matter. There is little positive data to support the latest rally. Indeed, the current optimism is nothing more than wishful thinking as the fundamentals remain extremely weak. So who are these smart buyers who are so prescient to see what others cannot see? In the past month, one fifth of all stock trades on the NYSE was done by Goldman Sachs for their own account. There is a whiff of market manipulation here. This sounds conspiratorial, but the fact is that central banks and governments are already operating openly in other asset classes to prop up the market. Rumours of a covert Plunge Protection Team are rampant in the investment world. The financial system is built upon rosy assumptions of continued gains in the stock market. The motivation to make the equity market appear as though the worst is behind us is clear. If the economy is believed to be truly on a precipice, then it’s reasonable to suggest that a manufactured market rally is in the works. The rules of the free market no longer apply. The bailouts bought time. Time is running out again. The latest rally is an oddity that should not be ignored.

The reality is that the bad debts that are crippling the world economies need to be either paid off or defaulted. There are no other solutions. Right now everyone is trying their mightiest to delay the inevitable. Private corporate debts are being pushed out to the national level. Wealth isn’t being created. It’s getting redistributed. The well connected are getting their bad loans paid off thanks to this grand effort to save the system. Those who risk their capital need to face the consequences of their bad bets, otherwise the market is uneven. The constant tampering of the markets, in an attempt to instill confidence, actually undermines confidence because the rules keep changing. The game is rigged. The ‘too big to fail’ players will win. The well connected will win. The political heavy weights will win. Rational active investors are pulling out of the markets and sitting on the sidelines because the markets have become irrational. The remaining players are playing the market.

This game is too large for any one player to manipulate and control in the long run. The market has a momentum all of it’s own. The central banks can control the size of the money supply but they can’t control how individuals use it. They are losing control. The tail is trying to wag the dog. This fight will ultimately be fought between the big players and it won’t be pretty. Watching how the Chrysler bankruptcy unfolds will be a prelude to the larger battles that will ensue in the future. Obama and his team tried to extort the holdout creditors. Hedge funds are the scapegoat of the day. Diplomacy and fair play should be the playbook. It doesn’t appear that it is. Politicians will exert their powers. China will not politely take the default on their investments and they will do whatever is necessary to receive payment before that happens. The unions will not lay down their arms or promised pensions and benefits without a fight. Selfish corporate interests will grab what they can anyway possible. And the angry populist mob will be heard. Crime, threats, and unseemly undercover deal making will be ongoing as everyone will grab what little they can before there is nothing left behind but scraps. The small investors with money in retirement plans are irrelevant in the eyes of these players. A rational decision when confronted with a pack of desperate hungry dogs snarling at each other over a carcass is to back away because you are dog meat in their eyes.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Zero Sum Game

I think of the world as a zero sum game. Every gain has an equivalent loss, somewhere. We live in a world of finite resources. The allocation of these resources is constantly being rebalanced and life continues to evolve because these resources are being recycled and redeployed. The earth’s surface is covered by water or land. Life that is sustained in these macro environments is further divided up, and as we move into finer focus, we can view ourselves as competitors for space and it’s resources with other species and amongst ourselves. Battles are continually waged on every scale, from the global to the personal. The competition for resources and ultimately life, is essentially our global economy. One nation prospers, consumes land and resources at another’s expense. It may be hostile or symbiotic, but in the end, finite resources are being consumed or hoarded. The US is a military and economic powerhouse. They wield a big club and they have acquired a greater proportion of the planet’s resources. Canada and other exporting nations sell our resources and seemingly do well, but our oil cannot be put back into the ground, the minerals back in the rock, or the nutrients in the trees regenerated. Once sold, they are consumed and gone. This trade cannot last forever. Businesses compete for market share. Some prosper, others wither. They are all in competition for a finite pool of money and resources. Money spent on one thing is money not spent on another. This is the balancing of resources and wealth is an accumulation of resources.

In nature, how do animals store wealth? Predators can’t store wealth because meat rots and if they spend all their time dedicated to protecting any excess meat from scavengers, they can’t acquire more of it. As such predators compete day to day and rely on the continuing health of the prey population and their ability to hunt to sustain them. It isn’t in their best interest to consume more than their immediate needs. Animals that live off less perishable food can store wealth. Squirrels compete for a store nuts to provide nourishment during the long winter. Even then, it is a seasonal event. Eventually a new supply of nuts will be favoured over old ones. We humans have developed an ingenious way of accumulating wealth. We have a system of IOUs. In Native cultures, if a hunter kills more moose than he can eat, the excess is handed out to others in exchange for favours. He has effectively stored wealth by gaining favours from the others in the community. This store of wealth is only as good as the promise to repay. If the person who received the meat doesn't repay the favour, the perceived store of wealth is lost. In more complex societies, money has replaced the unwritten favour exchange. Favours are represented by monetary tokens. The store of wealth is physical and quantified. The resources that the money represents is divided up among the people and it is constantly being rebalanced as money exchanges hands in the economy. In a zero sum game there are winners and losers. Those who successfully acquire excess money live more comfortably than those who do not. As long as there are enough resources to keep everyone fed, peace will persist. When the survival of a large group of people is at risk, a dramatic rebalancing will occur.

I am speaking in very broad terms because in order to understand the present economic situation, we need to have a very broad perspective. We are dealing with a macro financial event that is generational in scope. We are experiencing the beginning of the end of an experimental approach to wealth that has been decades in development. Historically the store of wealth has been represented by physical tokens such as gold . There are strong compelling reasons for this. It is scarce, and cannot be easily counterfeited. It is durable and thus will not lose value over time. It is easily divisible making it a convenient medium of exchange. All these properties lend itself to being a reliable store of wealth as long as everyone views it as such. On it’s own it has little value. Pieces of paper or digits on a computer have little value on their own. Money is valued based on mutual trust. Gold was always held in the banks as a store of wealth and paper currency was created to represent the value of the gold in the vaults. Note that as long as the currency of a nation is backed by physical gold, money cannot be created nor destroyed. Gold is effectively a constant supply. The only way it can be increased is the result of the considerable labour involved in extracting it from the earth. Therefore the cost of things is always balanced and relatively stable. As the demand for one item rises, so does the price, but as a result the price of another item must fall. In the end, it is a zero sum game.

When the currency of a nation is taken off the gold standard, the money supply ceases to be constant. The value of money becomes unstable and is no longer a reliable store of wealth. It can be created out of nothing. It is no longer finite. That's why we speak in terms of trillions now instead of millions. It may be quadrillion if the money supply continues to expand at it's current rate. The end result is a greater pool of money, which may appear like more wealth, but in practical terms, all it has done is increase the money supply that represents the same finite resources. Now more of that money is required to represent the same thing. Thus inflation is born. We may have more dollars but unless we make money at the same rate of inflation, our wealth has decreased. Wealth isn’t created by the key strokes of a computer. It is earned through labour. At it’s core, money represents favours between people.

The financial crisis of today is a process of wealth destruction. Those who have stores of wealth linked to money are watching their excess wealth erode. Wealth is only as durable as the underlying promise to pay. If the debtor doesn’t have the resources to repay the loan, then those who have accumulated the most credit have the most to lose. As such they are the most desperate to see the debts honoured and not have them defaulted. The governments of the world are desperately trying to shuffle the money around and create more of it to maintain the illusion of wealth, however, creating money from nothing and giving it to the banks and other insolvent businesses only serves to redistribute the value of the existing money away from the people who earned it, to those who have lost it. The natural rebalancing of money and wealth is being perverted. The argument is made that if the banks go bankrupt the economy will collapse. I disagree. The economy is the consumption and distribution of resources required for life, not the exchange of symbolic tokens of wealth. There is complex process underway where the wealthy are scrambling to preserve existing debts. In nature there is no such thing. The store of meat is rotting.