The Fragility of Modernity

submitted by jwithrow.modernity

Journal of a Wayward Philosopher
The Fragility of Modernity

June 10, 2015
Hot Springs, VA

The S&P closed out Tuesday at $2,080. Gold closed at $1,177 per ounce. Oil checked out at $60 per barrel. The 10-year Treasury rate closed at 2.42%, and bitcoin is trading around $230 per BTC.

Dear Journal,

In my last entry I brought up the concept of ‘Modernity’ and I suggested that it attempts to put life in a box by emphasizing a fear and control mindset. I felt this concept was worthy of a little more discussion this week because our society has been shaped by this fear and control paradigm.

Here’s how Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragile, views Modernity:

We are moving into a phase of modernity marked by the lobbyist, the very, very limited liability corporation, the MBA, sucker problems, secularization (or rather reinvention of new sacred values like flags to replace altars), the tax man, fear of the boss, spending the weekend in interesting places and the workweek in a putatively less interesting one, the separation of “work” and “leisure” (though the two would look identical to someone from a wiser era), the retirement plan, argumentative intellectuals who would disagree with this definition of modernity, literal thinking, inductive inference, philosophy of science, the invention of social science, smooth surfaces, and egocentric architects. Violence is transferred from individuals to states. So is financial indiscipline. At the center of all this is the denial of antifragility… Modernity starts with the state monopoly on violence, and ends with the state’s monopoly on fiscal irresponsibility.

Continue reading “The Fragility of Modernity”

Wave of Share Buybacks to Hit Europe: What That Means for Precious Metals

by the Hard Assets Alliance Team:

Quantitative easing is coming to Europe. Will Draghi’s massive bond-buying program be enough to get the European economy on track? The Hard Assets Alliance team doubts it, but we are expecting European equities to rally just as US and Japanese stocks did after their central banks unleashed similar asset-purchasing schemes.

One way quantitative easing supports stock market rallies is by suppressing rates. Companies then use this cheap credit to build new factories and purchase new equipment, right? Not quite.

In the United States and Japan, firms have been reluctant to make capital investments due to lingering uncertainty. Instead, they have taken advantage of rock-bottom rates to buy back shares. Just look at what happened in Japan once rates started heading south:

Japanese Share Buybacks

There is nothing inherently wrong with stock buybacks. They are shareholder friendly, low risk, and effective at boosting stock prices. Share repurchases are also more flexible than dividends—the market punishes companies that suspend or reduce dividend payments.

However, by not building factories or purchasing new equipment, companies are tacitly expressing concern about the future. It’s important to understand this because share buybacks shrink share count and thereby juice the earnings per share (EPS) figure, making a company look more profitable.

QE is slated to have the same impact on European stocks, and that means a near-term investment opportunity. However, it’s also a reminder that market intervention is the only game in town these days. Sooner or later, the efficacy of these policies will wear off. When that occurs, you will surely want to own precious metals.

Article originally posted in the February issue of Smart Metals Investor at HardAssetsAlliance.com.

Fed-speak

submitted by jwithrow.fed-speak

The following is a brief retrospective of the Fed’s promises about how long the fed funds rate would stay near zero, otherwise known as fed-speak.

Starting six years ago, the Fed promised rates would remain “exceptionally low”…

• … first “for some time” (December 2008)
• … then “for an extended period” (March 2009)
• … which morphed into a target date of “at least through mid-2013” (August 2011)
• … stretching to “at least through mid-2015” (September 2012).

Only three months after that last revision, the Fed threw out the chronological playbook and opted for numerical targets…

• … “as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5%” (December 2012)
• … “well past the time that the unemployment rate declines below 6.5%” (December 2013).

When Janet Yellen took over from Ben Bernanke, the targets became based on the anticipated wind-down of quantitative easing (QE)…

• … “for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends” (March 2014)
• … “for a considerable time following the end of its asset purchase program this month” (October 2014).

What’s going on here?

Investors Are Coming to Grips with Reality

by Justin Spittler – Hard Assets Alliance:gold investors

Today’s financial markets have acquired a knack for ingesting bad news without so much as a hiccup. Lately, that same resiliency—or more appropriately, complacency—has come under pressure.

After lying dormant for months, volatility has come storming back with a vengeance. Investors are finally coming to their senses—much to the delight of the precious metals community.

Patience Wearing Thin

The problems facing the global economy didn’t come out of nowhere. It just took a jolt of volatility to put them in the spotlight—and you can thank the soaring US dollar and the collapse of energy prices for putting investors on high alert.

Of course, there are perks to a strong dollar and cheap energy. A strong dollar makes imported goods more affordable for American consumers, while it’s estimated that weak oil prices will put roughly $500 into the wallet of the average American driver. While neither is positive for precious metals, the euphoria won’t last long.

An appreciating US dollar makes American exports less competitive. Depressed oil prices could cripple the domestic energy revolution, which has been the backbone of the US recovery. The breakout of the dollar also threatens to derail commodity-centric emerging markets, particularly nations that have relied on cheap credit for growth.

Monetary Tools Becoming Dull

The precarious state of the global economy doesn’t just have investors on edge. Policymakers in countries across the globe face a dilemma: risk an economic crash by stepping away from their maligned economies, or provide their debt-addicted with another dose of stimulus. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Yet it’s a no-brainer for central bankers, whose greatest fear is deflation.

The situation is no different in the United States even though the Federal Reserve ended its quantitative easing program in October. Remember, the Fed has said it will be “patient” in raising rates; and you can bet Yellen will fire up the printing press the second that the US economy shows symptoms of flatlining.

Unfortunately, the next round of stimulus won’t be as effective as previous installments, and investors seem to be waking up to that harsh reality.

Perceptions Change; the Case for Gold Stays the Same

As an analyst, I spend most of my days sifting through data, crunching numbers, and gathering different perspectives in an attempt to gain clues about the future. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that economic forecasting is a silly process. Nonetheless, my feeling is that gold has hit a bottom.

That’s probably something you’re sick of hearing. Some in the precious metals community have been calling an end to the gold market rut for months… others for much longer.

Why do I think that this time is different? It has little to do with fundamentals. The case for owning gold has changed little recently, although we’re receiving more and more reminders. What’s changing is the perception of Western investors.

After witnessing unconventional monetary policies push financial markets to new heights, investors seem to be losing faith in this grand experiment. This uneasy feeling is starting to bring them back to gold—the most crisis-proof asset of all.

Luckily, there’s still an opportunity for investors to pick up gold while incurring little downside risk. There are few sellers at today’s prices, and those holding gold are what I like to call “strong hands.”

Even if gold hits a few speed bumps throughout the year, investors will sleep easier knowing that some of their wealth is held in the most time-tested of all assets.

Article originally posted in the January issue of Smart Metals Investor at HardAssetsAlliance.com.

The Majesty of Childbirth

submitted by jwithrow.Madison Crib

Journal of a Wayward Philosopher
The Majesty of Childbirth

October 27, 2014
Hot Springs, VA

The S&P is checking in at $1,964, gold is at $1,228, oil has dipped down to $79, bitcoin is trading hands around $355, and the 10-year Treasury rate is at 2.25% today.

October has been the most volatile month of 2014 for U.S. stocks. The Fed is supposed to end QE3 (quantitative easing) this month which has investors nervous. Does the market tank when QE3 ends as it did with the end of QE1 and QE2? Or is the economy all better and ready to resume some semblance of normalcy?

My guess: get ready for QE4.

Mr. Market tried to clean out the gutters back in 2008 by liquidating unsustainable debt but the Fed intervened. With their quantitative easing chicanery, the Feds not only prevented Mr. Market from liquidating bad debt, they also piled even more rotting debt on-top. Without QE, Mr. Market would be free to begin the healing process which requires clearing out bad debt and insolvent entities. But most of the bad debt lives on the balance sheets of the federal government and now the Federal Reserve (transferred from Wall Street) and liquidating this debt would reveal the fundamental insolvency of these entities.

How best to hide insolvency? Print money to pay the debts! Hence: QE4 coming soon – probably early 2016.

Shifting gears: Madison made her entrance last week!

She was born on October 20 at 9:59 pm right here in Hot Springs, VA.

In our dining room.

Oh don’t worry, we put the dining room table out in the garage and replaced it with an Aqua Doula pool and a queen-size mattress.

The result: a healthy 7 lbs 11 oz baby girl born completely naturally with no invasive interventions or pharmaceutical drugs necessary. Just like childbirth has been done for thousands of years!

Wife Rachel said the homebirth experience has far exceeded her expectations in every aspect.

Instead of laboring on her back underneath fluorescent lights hooked up to an I.V., monitors, pain-killers, and labor-enhancing drugs, Rachel paced back and forth from our Great Room to our kitchen while verbally telling Madison she couldn’t wait to meet her. No one was around to bother her save her husband who valiantly tried to be a breathing exercise leader while also laboring himself to fill up the 170 gallon Aqua Doula pool. Needless to say, Madison did not wait around to test her sea legs and she was born very peacefully on dry land… into her father’s waiting hands.

Upon her birth, there was no one waiting to rush her off to be weighed, measured, poked, prodded, or checked so Madison had to settle for laying in her loving mother’s arms instead. While mother and baby bonded in those first few minutes of life, our midwife and doula worked gently to make sure both parties were in good health as the birthing process neared completion. Once confident in the health of mother and baby, our health care team worked diligently to clean and sanitize the area, provide food and water, do laundry, provide advice, tips, and reassurance, and countless other things that a star-struck father couldn’t possibly pick up on in the most defining moment of his life.

Our midwife and doula monitored the situation and provided sound counsel for roughly four hours post-birth as well. “This is what real health care looks like”, I thought. Our midwife came back out to our house for a 36 hour appointment and then again for a five-day appointment. She also answered several phone calls and text messages at weird hours during the stretch in-between appointments as well.

The result of such wonderful health care service is that both mother and baby are in terrific health despite not having left the comfort of their own home. It will be more than two weeks from birth before mother and baby will need to leave their home for another appointment.

The entire experience has confirmed what we knew all along – that natural childbirth at home is a much healthier and happier alternative to hospital birth for both mother and baby.

Of course few others understood this. Some just shrugged at the eccentricity of such an endeavor. Some turned their nose up in disgust. Some thought us to be ignorant, selfish, and cheap.

What they didn’t see were the countless hours dedicated to learning, study, and research over the course of nine months. They didn’t see the pages turning in the books that were read. They didn’t see the computer screen scrolling as medical studies and articles were mentally consumed. They didn’t drive an hour and a half to natural childbirth classes every Thursday evening for six weeks after a full work-day to increase their knowledge and understanding before driving an hour and a half back home to get ready for the following work-day. They didn’t watch the videos and the documentaries or practice the comfort techniques or study the possible complications and their signs. They didn’t sit up at night discussing emergency plans and precautions. They didn’t give up coffee, tea, and soda (caffeine) or dramatically reduce their intake of processed foods for nine full months. They didn’t eliminate glucose from their diet for a full week in the final week of their pregnancy.

But someone did do all of these things.

Someone put the time, effort, and work in to make sure they were making the best decisions possible and to make sure they were fully prepared for what was to come. Someone decided that she would be responsible for educating herself first rather than being wholly dependent upon the status-quo.

Someone decided she would be Super-Mom.

To her I pledge my eternal love, respect, and service.

More to come,
Signature

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Withrow
Wayward Philosopher

For more of Joe’s thoughts on the “Great Reset” and regaining individual sovereignty please read “The Individual is Rising” which is available at http://www.theindividualisrising.com/. The book is also available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

What We Forgot About Free Market Capitalism Part Two

submitted by jwithrow.Mises Capitalism

Failure is just as much a facet of free market capitalism as success is.

In a free market economy, well managed businesses with desired products and services will succeed and poorly managed business with undesired products and services will fail.

Consumers, when well informed, will make decisions based on their individual preferences; they will either buy the highest quality product at the lowest price for which that product is available or they will buy a lower quality product for a price lower than the higher quality product. Consumers are typically not very interested in paying high quality prices for low quality products.

So, in the free market, businesses must constantly strive to either offer the best product at the lowest price or a suitable product at a very low price. This requires businesses to focus on improving efficiency and decreasing costs without sacrificing product quality. If a business cannot offer competitive products at competitive prices then it will not be in business for very long.

This model aligns the interests of both businesses and consumers and creates a self-regulating incentive structure.

In the free market system, businesses have an incentive to offer quality products to customers at the best price and they have a disincentive to offer poor products at poor prices. While this is a simple representation, the incentive structure is one of the core principals underlying the free market system.

But what happens if businesses are not allowed to fail due to government intervention?

We have seen numerous cases of this scenario in recent years. The “too big to fail” banks were propped up by the federal government when they came to the point of failure. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken under receivership by the federal government when they came to the point of failure. General Motors was temporarily taken over and propped up by the federal government when it came to the point of failure.

This is moral hazard.

Oh, and we should probably mention that the federal government cannot actually bail anything out with its own capital. To fund the bail-outs, the government has to appropriate capital from the private sector in the form of tax dollars and it has to borrow money from the Federal Reserve that was created out of thin air.

So the business losses were socialized but the profits remained privatized – this is fascism in action.

By creating moral hazard in this way, the disincentive piece has been removed from the system and the incentive model has shifted away from a consumer focus and to a focus on generating high profits with no regard for risk. Such a model is a win-win for the favored businesses and the government cronies that they support. The losers are everyone else as the economy turns to mush.

Coming full circle, failure is a welcome facet of free market capitalism. Maybe not for the companies’ doing the failing, but failure is a force for creative destruction that serves to weed out the businesses that cannot offer quality products at reasonable prices.

This is why it is ridiculous to claim that any company is “too big to fail” as justification for bail-outs. Sure there would be temporary hardship were the major banks to fail, but this would eventually free up capital and clear the way for sustainable banking practices to be implemented.

Feel free to read more on the matter here and here.

What We Forgot About Free Market Capitalism Part 1

submitted by jwithrow.Rothbard Capitalism

One of the most important elements of free market capitalism is the price system. The capitalist price system provides information on supply and demand in the marketplace and individuals make business and investment decisions based on this information.

The economic system that America now employs is not free market capitalism and there are legions of regulations in place that distort the market pricing system every step of the way.

The most insidious price distortion is the suppression of interest rates.

Interest rates are simply the price of money. Like everything else in the market economy, interest rates are self-regulated by the forces of supply and demand. If there is a high quantity of capital in the system available for lending then interest rates will naturally be low. Low interest rates will entice borrowers to engage in long term financing – purchasing homes, expanding businesses, etc. Interest rates will then naturally rise as the capital available for lending diminishes. High interest rates are not attractive to borrowers so individuals and businesses will focus more on short term projects. This will lead to increased capital formation within the system which will gradually trigger falling interest rates.

But what happens when a central bank suppresses interest rates and keeps them near zero for an extended period of time? Well, this destroys the entire pricing system and distorts the entire market system.

Artificially suppressed interest rates send a false signal – which is exactly why they were suppressed in the first place. Artificially suppressed rates still entice borrowers to take engage in long term financing but this is a Keynesian trap. The problem is that there is not sufficient capital formation in the economy to warrant the low interest rates and thus there is not a true demand for all of the long term projects undertaken.

This is called mal-investment.

“If you build it, they will come” is a great catch phrase in the movies but it’s just not how the real world works.

Despite what the economics textbook says, there is no such thing as a ‘mixed economic system’. There is simply no room for the suppression of interest rates or the distortion of prices in a capitalist system.

There are only two choices:

  1. Free markets
  2. Central planning

Free market capitalism presumes an honest and functional price system that is not manipulated by a central bank.

Oh, we should probably mention how interest rates are suppressed.

The Federal Reserve creates currency units out of thin air and uses them to buy long term Treasury bonds at low rates. What could possibly go wrong?

By the way, you can read more on this topic here, here, and here.

MyRA-QE Taper Connection

submitted by jwithrow.Government Help

We have a question for you:

Is it a coincidence that the government has introduced the “myRA” plans just as the Federal Reserve has begun to taper its quantitative easing programs?

Let’s think this thing through for a minute.

We know:

  • China is now a net-seller of U.S. Treasuries so the Federal Reserve has had to step in and purchase U.S. Treasury Bonds in increasing quantities to support government spending.
  • The average American saves for retirement in a qualified retirement plan focusing primarily on mutual funds, exchange traded funds, and stocks with bonds comprising a small portion of the allocation.
  • The proposed myRA plans are designed to focus on U.S. Treasury Bonds.
  • The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing programs have pumped massive amounts of liquidity into the system which has resulted in a broad increase of stock prices across the board.
  • Tapering QE will withdraw liquidity from the system which will almost certainly result in a broad decrease of stock prices across the board and quite possibly a severe stock market crash.
  • A falling stock market would likely cause many Americans to seek investment options that they deem “safer”.
  • The government is already hard-selling their myRA plans stating that there is “no risk to lose what you put in”.

Hmm.

Maybe our benevolent bureaucrats really do think that myRA plans will help the common man.

But we hold dearly to a personal mantra:

Maximize Capital,
Minimize Crap,
Never Trust the Government.

With that mantra echoing in our mind, we can’t help but be a little suspicious – something funny seems to be afoot.

What do you think?

Money is an Illusion

submitted by jwithrow.Money Illusion

Currently we use fiat currency as money, but this money is just an illusion. If you doubt this then ask yourself the question: what is money?

Yes, you know what money does – it buys things. But what is it? Is it a green piece of paper with numbers and words and some symbols printed on it? Is it a card with your name, a string of numbers, and a bank logo on it?

Or is that just a piece of paper and a piece of plastic?

Fiat money is not wealth. That runs contrary to everything that our consumerist society has told us, but it is the truth. Fiat money is simply a medium of exchange which can then be used to acquire wealth, but the money itself is nothing more than a tool.

Historically we have used gold and silver and notes backed by gold and silver as money. Our fiat currencies today serve the same purpose as historical gold and silver money but there is one major difference – fiat currencies can be created arbitrarily from nothing. And the central banks of the world are now creating these fiat currencies out of thin air in increasingly massive quantities.

This is the biggest secret of the 1% – fiat money is an illusion that is available in abundance.

While fiat money can be created out of thin air, the value of existing money necessarily diminishes as new money enters the economy due simply to the concept of supply and demand; the market adjusts to account for the new money in circulation. We see this loss of value primarily when we go to use our money – the loss of monetary value is experienced as an increase of prices for goods and services.

While market forces are a factor in the price adjustments of goods and services in differing locations and industries, inflation results in price increases across the board. So the grocery store is not arbitrarily charging you more for food – your dollar just does not buy as much as it once did.

The Federal Reserve creates money every month with its quantitative easing programs and its purchases of Treasury Bonds. The new money then flows to the Wall Street banks that “sell” their toxic mortgage backed securities to the Fed and it flows to the federal government that “sells” their bonds to the Fed. This new money then flows into the economy when the banks lend it out to customers and when the Feds make their purchases from government contractors.

This is inflation.

Now this is not to say that bank lending is a problem – it is a key element in a capitalist economy. The problem occurs when the money being lent is not capital that has resulted from production and savings but rather funny money that has been conjured into existence.

Money is an illusion and it is only valuable as long as it is perceived to be valuable.

Fiat money is now little more than an idea and a few digits on a computer screen. To illustrate this: think about what would happen if everyone went to their bank tomorrow to cash out their deposits.

So if you think of money as an idea and not as a tangible asset, you will come to the realization that it takes nothing but an idea to obtain money but that money must then be exchanged for tangible assets in order for it to be converted into wealth.

**Want more information on how to implement the lesson from Monopoly and build a sustainable asset allocation model? Are you ready to turbo-charge your retirement portfolio? Do you yearn to exit the rat-race? Is financial freedom calling to your spirit?

To better understand the digital nature of the modern monetary system, as well as corresponding financial strategies, please see the online course Finance for Freedom: Master Your Finances in 30 Days.

Do not take a backseat when it comes to your own finances. Learn everything you need to know to master your finances in 30 days by enrolling in Finance for Freedom today!