Firm Hand

What happens in a Democratic-Republic when the most powerful person has an agenda which seems at odds with the legislative body?

We found out today when Janet Yellen, who is not at all orange, testified before the Senate Banking Committee for the first time since … well, really since all Hell broke loose. Financial issues have largely taken a back seat since the circus came to town and the opportunity to return to such a basic issue had the wonderful air or normality to it.

That didn’t stop anyone from trying to bring in the clowns, of course. But real leaders, like Yellen, know better than to take the bait. It was delightfully boring, as all banking should be. But it still had its moments.

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About this EU Thing …

I’m sitting here watching the BBC site as the results of the Brexit referendum pour in. It’s not looking good for the EU right now, and that has to give us all pause. The EU is absolutely essential, in some form, but the bureaucratic mess that has resulted isn’t necessarily helping anyone. The UK never went all in, keeping the Pound, so their view has always been a bit askance.

For far too many, it comes down to an interesting revelation. Did Germany actually “win” after all? Signs point to yes, they did. But how? What does this mean to other industrialized nations? Is there something we should all learn? Is Britain right for possibly wanting to go it alone?

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Today’s Pirates – the Panama Papers

Have you ever wanted to be a pirate? If being free on the high seas has an allure you may want to think again. Today’s pirates don’t have ships or parrots, nor do they take over other ships at sea. They’ve gone bigtime, making a lot more money off of the very lucrative practice of making money disappear even more surely than burying it in the ground.

That’s what has been shown in the “Panama Papers”, a huge stash of 11 million documents taking up about 2.5 terabytes of data. The leak of papers from Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca is about ten times the size of Edward Snowden’s leak – and none of the secrets revealed are about security.

This is about money. Lots of it.

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Careful What You Wish For

Is the Federal Reserve nothing but a tool for big banks? According to an op-ed by Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), it sure looks that way. The presidential candidate and hero to millions of progressives made the case for an audit, tighter controls, and other measures to rein in the nation’s central banking system.

There are clearly problems with the Fed and it’s very mixed charters to tame inflation, encourage full employment, maintain the value of the US Dollar, and regulate banks. The more presence and power the Fed gains the more this is an important issue. But today’s “progressives” aren’t in a mood for just reform – many are in a mood to “End the Fed!”

While that position is understandable it’s horribly misguided. But it’s a great highlight for the tension inherent in not-that-subtle difference between a “liberal” and a “progressive”.  And it’s ultimately a rather irresponsible position that Sanders is taking.

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Starts With an Idea

When Martin Shkreli was arrested the internet erupted with a dark sense of joy. Finally, the most hated pharmaceutical and finance guy in America was going to get justice – if not for raising the price of drugs 5,000% but for an unrelated ponzi scam.

This came up during People’s Economics, the discussion groups which represented a kind of “Barataria Live”. Our section on High Finance asserted that the complex and overlarge finance system inherently encourages this kind of bad behavior, which is to say that any regulation or law you might write is irrelevant compared to the kind of damage guys like Shkreli can do before they are caught.

Two interesting thoughts came out of this and subsequent discussions which provide logical ways for us to get past this problem and move to a better future. And there may be more.

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Q&A on Greece

On Sunday, 5 July, voters in Greece will head to the polls on an utterly unique referendum on a proposed bailout. The process is non binding, the question itself is strange, and the consequences of it are completely unknown.

What does any of it mean? The short answer is that Greece, and all of Europe, are in completely uncharted territory at this point. The five year crisis has gone from slow simmer to a full boil in the hot summer sun. Greece is calling Europe’s bluff, and Europe is not backing down.  The only thing we can be sure of is that there will be a resolution shortly, one way or the other. What exactly that means is itself completely up in the air as well.

Here are a few questions and answers on the Greek Crisis based on a variety of news sources.  Follow the links for more information in each question.

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Shadow Banking

In the old days, if you needed money you went to a bank. They might loan you money for your home, your car, or your business based on an interest rate slightly higher than the net paid out for deposits. They made their money on the “spread” between the two, matching up assets they had with liabilities (like you) outstanding. It was a quiet, conservative life. It was boring.

Today, most loans wind up not being held by banks in anything like the traditional sense. Nearly all liabilities are packaged up and sold to a “shadow banking” system where people buy these “asset backed securities” and make money based on the float. It’s a more flexible system that allows nearly all risk to be offloaded onto investors – who bear it as a system. It’s good for the borrower, it’s good for the bank – but the risk is held by the investment world as a whole.

That “brittleness” is the bane of the modern financial world – and the future. How we learn to manage it is the future of finance and the difference between a world that is stable and reliable or capricious and impossible to understand.

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