Citizens of the old Roman Empire distrusted paper currency and refused to accept anything but gold or silver coin as money. So the rulers found themselves barred from inflating the money supply by the unobtrusive method of printing additional currency.
But the Roman emperors soon discovered an ingenious device. They proceeded to call in the coins of the realm, ostensibly for repairs. Then, by various means, such as filing off small parts of the coins, or introducing cheaper alloys, they reduced the silver content of the money without changing its original face value. This devalution enabled them to add many more silver coins to the Roman money supply. The practice was started by Nero, and accelerated by his successors. By Diocletian’s time, the denarius (standard silver coin) had been reduced to one-tenth of its former value.
The result was a steep rise in prices throughout the vast Roman empire. As has happened throughout history, the public indignantly accused merchants and speculators of causing the rise in prices. It was generally agreed that the only remedy was stringent maximum price controls by the government.
Accordingly, Emperor Diocletian, a “friend of the people,” issued his famous Edict in 301 A.D. setting ceiling prices on all types of commodities, and maximum wages for all occupations. A few typical examples: Beans, crushed, 100 denarii; beans, uncrushed, 60 den.; beans, dried kidney, 100 den. Veterinary, for clipping hoofs, 6 den. per animal. Veterinary, for bleeding heads, 20 den. per animal. Writer, for best writing, 25 den. per 100 lines. Writer, for writing of the second quality, 20 den. per 100 lines.
Diocletian’s proclamation introducing the Edict bears marked resemblance to modern exhortations:
We must check the limitless and furious avarice which with no thought for mankind hastens to its own gain. This avarice, with no thought of the common need, is ravaging the wealth of those in extremes of need. We — the protectors of the human race — have agreed that justice should intervene as arbiter, so that the solution which mankind itself could not supply might, by the remedies of our foresight, be applied to the general betterment of all.
In the markets, immoderate prices are so widespread that the uncurbed passion for gain is not lessened by abundant supplies. Men whose aim it always is to profit, to restrain general prosperity, men who individually abounding in great riches which could completely satisfy whole nations, try to capture smaller fortunes and strive after ruinous percentages. Concern for humanity in general persuades us to set a limit to the avarice of such men. Profiteers, covertly attacking the public welfare, are extorting prices from merchandise such that in a single purchase a soldier is deprived of his bonus and salary.
Therefore, we have decreed that there be established a maximum so that when the violence of high prices appears anywhere, avarice might be checked by the limits of our statute. To ensure adequate enforcement, anyone who shall violate this statute shall be subject to a capital penalty. The same penalty shall apply to one who in the desire to buy shall have conspired against the statute with the greed of the seller. Also subject to the death penalty is he who believes he must withdraw his goods from the general market because of this regulation.
We urge upon the loyalty of all that a law constituted for the public good may be observed with obedience and care.
If anyone could force people to trade at the ceiling prices, Diocletian was the man. Yet the absolute emperor of the civilized world, a veteran general with myriads of secret police at his command, was soon forced to surrender. After a short interval almost nothing was offered for sale, and there was a great scarcity of all goods.
Diocletian was obliged to repeal the price-fixing Edict. Prices were finally stabilized in 307 A.D. when the government stopped diluting the money supply.
Imagine that you earn $40,000 a year and your boss doubles you at $80,000 a year. Business was good to you both in 2013, and you received a 25 percent raise for your efforts. Not bad, and your boss gets to share in this good fortune too with an extra $25,000 (about 30 percent). You’re going to make $50,000 in 2014 and your boss will pull in $105,000.
Are you happy with this deal? Probably. But wait, income inequality just increased! Your boss originally outpaced you by 100 percent, but now his salary is 110 percent higher than yours.
In today’s progressive narrative, this situation is cause for alarm. Income inequality has increased and despite the fact that everyone is doing better than they once were, one group is doing relatively better.
What about if we reverse the example, starting from the original salaries? Instead of having a great year, imagine things were very bad and salary cuts are going around. You get a 25 percent pay cut so that you will now be earning $30,000 a year, and because he has more responsibility about the direction of the business and its lack of success, your boss gets a larger pay cut of $25,000. (This situation is the mirror image of the first example.)
You are making much less than you did last year. Are you upset about this? Probably. But wait, apparently there is a silver lining. Your boss now “only” makes about 80 percent more money than you, versus the 100 percent salary differential that existed last year. Income inequality decreased!
Apparently you can take solace in knowing that the playing field has been leveled, even if your kids are going to have a tough Christmas morning one year from now.
This is admittedly a very simple example. What I am trying to show is that the income inequality debate is not as straight forward as it is commonly framed. It is not just a question of one group getting a larger piece of the pie, but of increasing the size of the pie so that everyone can benefit.
John Cassidy recently entered the melee with a very digestible look at American income inequality over time. In his “six charts” there is some of the same (the top 1 percent of earners have seen their share of the pie rise rapidly over the past decades) and also some surprises.
Relying on data from Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, Cassidy shares the following graph showing changes in real income growth over the past century.
First let’s look at the top 1 percent. There seem to be about three distinct periods their incomes have gone through. The first from 1913 to roughly 1973 is more or less flat. Real incomes for the top 1 percent were no higher in 1973 than they were around 1930. After 1973 however there is a sharp and mostly uninterrupted spike upwards which seems to stop around the year 2000. After 2000 their real incomes have ebbed and flowed, primarily in response to capital gains and losses on their stock portfolios. Even though the volatility of their income has increased, it still remains quite high relative to any time over the past 100 years.
Compare this with the bottom 99 percent. There seem to be about four distinct periods of real income growth. From 1913 until the end of the Great Depression, real income remained more or less constant. The 1940s, 50s and 60s saw a rapid increase in real income growth, far more rapid than what the 1 percent experienced. This came to a sudden end around 1973 and a stagnation until the early 1990s. Then from 1993 onwards we see the same final stage as the 1 percent. Increasing real incomes (though much slower than the 1 percent) but more volatility as well.
There are many things which are the same in these two trends, but the one year that probably pops out for people who think income inequality is a bad thing is 1973.This year marked the end of the steady advance for the 99 percent’s real income gains and set in motion the rapid advance of the 1 percent. In other words, the marked income inequality we see today is a product of the post-1973 world.
So what happened in 1973? Many things as it turns out. Decreased unionization was getting underway in the US economy around this time, as was the spike in the price of oil.
Russ Roberts at Café Hayek has a different explanation. He thinks it has to do with changes to the family unit. Large increases in the divorce rate and a steady increase in the number of households headed by women could be to blame for the sudden jump in income inequality.
Maybe, but although this could be a reason why, I doubt it is the primary reason.
Let’s try an informal test. What was the biggest event to occur in 1973?
Americans probably will answer Roe v. Wade, the completion of the World Trade Center as the world’s tallest building or the beginnings of the Watergate hearings. Maybe the start of withdrawal of troops from Vietnam or Britain joining the European Economic Community. Or for sports fans it could be Secretariat winning the Triple Crown and getting immortalized on the cover of Time.
Actually the most important thing to happen in 1973 actually happened in 1971, August 15th to be exact.
On that date Richard Nixon closed the gold window. The US dollar was convertible by foreign governments into gold under the then-existing Bretton Woods system at the great price of $35 per ounce. Continued redemption demands by some belligerent countries (primarily France) drained the US of its gold reserves until the breaking point when it became questionable how much longer this could continue for. In what could have been the most important day of the twentieth century, Richard Nixon decided to renege on the US’s promises to foreign governments and essentially default on its currency. No longer was the US dollar tied to gold and the US no longer had to worry about spending beyond its means.
Well, almost no longer. While there was no convertibility into gold after 1971 there was still that old bugaboo of fixity in the exchange rate. The US dollar still functioned on a fixed exchange rate standard relative to gold until 1973, even if there was no convertibility. This meant that the US was still not free to expand its money supply or incur ever increasing budget deficits at will. It had to target a dollar price of gold, which was reset a little higher in 1971 to $38/oz. Even though there was no redeemability, the US was legally obliged to target this gold price, something which tied its hands concerning the extent to which deficits could be run and expansionary of the money supply policies could be pursued.
The effect on the deficit is easy to understand in light of this.
Since the late 1880s (and before) the US government ran a somewhat balanced budget. Minor blips appeared during the two World Wars, but by-and-large the deficit hovered very close to the zero line. In the late 1960s we can witness the a growing deficit, partly in response to the cost of the Vietnam War but even that is relatively mild to what would come later. Likewise, 1971 also witnessed a growing deficit but the year which defines the point of no return is clearly 1973. At that point the US deficit went into free fall and besides a few surplus years in the late 1990s it has never recovered.
The effect was also pronounced on prices.
Prices were indeed climbing throughout the 1960s, but 1973 was also the year that set off the most inflationary episode in America´s history. Being unhinged from that relic of gold, the Federal Reserve could increase the money supply and monetize the Federal government’s budget as it wanted. This culminated with 15 percent annual inflation in 1980 something which took a very strong-minded Federal Reserve chairman by the name of Paul Volker to tame by putting the breaks on money supply growth.
Inflation looks tame today, though the experience following the 1973 decoupling showed what happens when you let the government spend at will without any restraint. Gold provided restraint, just as political gridlock should today. But in the period of the mid to late 1970s there was no such luck.
All this takes us back to the original question: why did income inequality increase so much after 1973? We can look to two factors both related to the loss of the gold exchange standard in 1971 and the arrival of flexible exchange rates two years later.
First, as the US government no longer had to worry about redeeming US debt held overseas in gold, it was able to spend without restraint. Of course, this created a large budget deficit quickly, something which needed a solution. This brings us to the second point. By monetizing the US budget deficits, the Federal Reserve set off a period of high price inflation.
The reason why there is growing income inequality since 1973 is a direct result of this monetary mayhem. All this new money needs an entry point into the economy. Someone has to get it first and spend it. When they spend this newly created money they do so at the existing set of prices, but in the course of making these expenditures prices will rise. Those who get the money first “win” in the sense that they get a free lunch – they have a greater income and can spend it before prices rise. Those who get the money last are the “losers” – they get access to this money eventually as it is spent (trickles down?) but by the time that occurs, prices have already risen. They are no better off.
The 99 percent that have become relatively poorer over the past 40 years are those who get access to this new money last. (Remember however that these people are still, thankfully, wealthier than they were 40 years ago.)
Who are the remaining 1 percent, then? Well, who gets the money first?
Government officials and contractors, to the extent that they gets the proceeds of all the newly created money are the first and primary beneficiaries. Big banks and financial institutions also win as they are the enablers who help this newly created money enter the economy. Incidentally, 99 times out of 100, when we think of someone in the 1 percent who is getting ahead of the rest of us, they probably either work for the higher echelons of the government or are involved in the financial industry.
Coincidence? I doubt it, and you just have to go back in time to 1973 to understand why.
After reading “The Bitcoin Standard” by Saifedean Ammous, I am convinced that Bitcoin is here to stay. Dr. Ammous, in this book, does a brief history of the origins of money, and he also touches on the societal impact of when sound money is used, as compared to fiat currency.
In addition to the historical primer on money, he provides a critique of the current economic model used by most economists: The Keynsian economic model. His critique rips apart the model to the point of total submission by anyone who stands by this model. (yes, there is some hyperbole used here, but its okay…)
Dr. Ammous furthers his argument by presenting how money is used across time. A fancy word for this is: “inter-temporal utility”. The “harder” the money is–if the money unit is more difficult to expand–it creates an environment that economic actors in the economy save their money for future consumption. Per Dr. Ammous, societies that have used this “harder” currency have flourished in all aspects of its civilization.
In my opinion, its best feature is its ability to store value inter-temporally…similar to Gold and Silver. As the world’s central banks print more currency, and Governments engage in deficit spending, sound investors will implement a strategy that will include Gold, Silver and Bitcoin.
Featured below are several videos featuring Dr. Ammous discussing the benefits of Bitcoin. Feel free to check them out, and take copious notes if you are serious about learning more about the benefits of Bitcoin.
It finally happened, that glorious moment, when, after teetering on the verge for weeks – for reasons we’ll get into shortly – the incredibly spiking US gross national debt, after kissing the line a couple of times for a moment, finally, and suddenly by a big leap, jumped over the $28-trillion mark, with a $143-billion leap in one day on Wednesday, March 31, following some big Treasury sales. It gave some of that up on Thursday as some bonds matured. And it now amounts to $28.08 trillion, as per US Treasury Department on Friday.
The US gross national debt has now spiked by $4.7 trillion in 13 months since the end of February 2020, in the days before this show started.
The flat spots in the chart are the visual depictions of a charade unique to American politics, the periods when the debt bounced into the Debt Ceiling. Those were the days when everyone in Congress was still trying to hijack the Debt Ceiling law to get their favorite spending priorities!
If it looks like the trillions have been whizzing by a little less fast in recent months, that the growth of the debt has somehow slowed, that is correct.
The chart below magnifies the daily debt levels since December. On March 3, the debt level touched $28 trillion but only barely and just for one day, before backing off, and then kissed it again on March 17, only to back off again and remain tantalizingly close, but no cigar, until Wednesday, when it did the deed with one huge $148-billion leap:
The reason for this slowdown in borrowing is that the government sold a gigantic amount of debt last spring, adding $3 trillion to its debt in a few months, and then didn’t spend all of it, but kept the unspent amounts in its checking account – the General Treasury Account or GTA — which ballooned to $1.8 trillion by July, from the pre-crisis range between $100 billion and $400 billion.
During the final months of the Mnuchin Treasury, it was decided to start spending down the balance in the checking account by borrowing a little less, and by early January, the GTA had dropped to $1.6 trillion.
Early on in the Yellen Treasury, the drawdown was formalized. In early February, a schedule was announced: the balance would be brought down by $1.1 trillion to $500 billion by June. And they’re now well into it.
The drawdown has the effect that the government spends money it doesn’t have to borrow at the moment because it already borrowed it last spring when the Fed was still monetizing essentially all of the borrowing. This has some implications for the markets.
The government’s TGA is at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and is reported weekly on the Fed’s balance sheet as a liability (banks report deposit accounts as liabilities) because this is money the Fed owes the government.
In the two months since early February, the balance has plunged by $480 billion to $1.12 trillion. Over the next three months, it will plunge by another $620 billion:
During the six months through June, the government will spend $1.1 trillion that it doesn’t have to borrow because it already borrowed it a year ago and that the Fed monetized at the time. But this ends in June.
What does this mean?
Not having to borrow this $1.1 trillion of spending during the first half of 2021 is taking pressure off the Treasury market. And yet, despite that relief, the 10-year Treasury yield has surged to 1.72%.
By June, this pressure valve will close, and the government will borrow more, and the market will have to digest it, and there is a huge amount of new borrowing being lined up to fund the added spending. This will put further upward pressure on long-term yields.
The fact that the government is now spending the proceeds from debt sales a year ago that the Fed monetized a year ago has been adding liquidity to the economy and the markets – liquidity that had been stuck in the TGA – possibly adding to the craziness of the markets in recent months. But that will end in June.
Robert Kioysaki discusses the different types of money, gold, silver and Bitcoin. He also mentions why individual savers are losing money by saving fiat currency in their bank account.
Many economists in the past have written about the ills of fiat currency. Robert’s points are supported by well respected economists such as, Murray Rothbard, Phd, Ludwig Von Mises, and many more. Both Rothbard and Mises(Mises was Rothbard’s mentor) wrote extensively regarding the social ills of the use of fiat currency.
This video covers some of the reasons why individuals should use Gold, Silver, and Bitcoin to save money for the future.
Someone had to buy every dollar of this monstrous debt. Here’s Who. The Fed isn’t the only one. But China continues to unwind its holdings.
by Wolf Richter of Wolf Street
So we’ll piece together who bought those trillions of dollars in Treasury Securities that have whooshed by over the past 12 months.
Tuesday afternoon, the Treasury Department released the Treasury International Capital data through December 31 which shows the foreign holders of the US debt. From the Fed’s balance sheet, we can see what the Fed bought. From the Federal Reserve Board of Governors bank balance-sheet data, we can see what the banks bought. And from the Treasury Department’s data on Treasury securities, we can see what US government entities bought.
Share of foreign holders falls to 25% for first time since 2007:
In the fourth quarter, foreign central banks, foreign government entities, and foreign private-sector entities such as companies, banks, bond funds, and individuals, reduced their holdings by $35 billion from the third quarter, to $7.04 trillion. This was still up from a year ago by $192 billion (blue line, right scale in the chart below). But their share of the Incredibly Spiking US National Debt fell to 25.4%, the lowest since 2007 (red line, right scale):
Japan (blue line), the largest foreign creditor of the US, reduced its holdings in Q4 by $20 billion, to $1.26 trillion. But compared to a year earlier, its holdings were still up by $102 billion.
China (red line) continued on trend, gradually reducing its holdings. In Q4, its holdings ticked down just a tad, and over the 12-month period fell by $8 billion, to $1.06 trillion:
Japan’s and China’s relative importance in the Incredibly Spiking US National Debt continues to decline, with their combined total ($2.32 trillion) now down to a share of 8.4%, the lowest in years:
As DOW, S&P 500 Sink into Red YTD, GameStop, AMC, 4 Other “Most Shorted Stocks” Jump 135% to 538%. Utter Mania. But Bloodletting in Late Trading
By Wolf Street.
“It’s really something to see Wall Streeters with a long history of treating our economy as a casino complain about a message board of posters also treating the market as a casino”: AOC
What a hilarious show this zoo that has gone nuts has turned into. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki came out today and said the White House “economic team including Secretary Yellen” were “monitoring the situation.” The situation being total utter mania in the most shorted stocks, such as GameStop and AMC.
The SEC came out and said today it too is “actively monitoring” the options and equities markets. “Consistent with our mission to protect investors and maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets…” which was when humongous laughter drowned out the rest. Did the SEC really say “efficient markets????” Hahahahaha.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell, during the post-meeting press conference today, was asked right off the bat about the mania around GameStop and similar mania stocks, and he refused to comment.
This came after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in her inimitable style: “Gotta admit it’s really something to see Wall Streeters with a long history of treating our economy as a casino complain about a message board of posters also treating the market as a casino.”
The mania revolves around the most shorted stocks, shorted by hedge funds that hoped to make a killing when those stocks collapse. Short sellers have to borrow the shares and sell them, hoping that their prices will collapse, and that they can buy them back for a song and close out their position with a huge profit.
And a bunch of hedge funds jumped into this shorting of the-most-shorted-stocks business, and at one point the short interest of GameStop shares [GME] was over 140% of the float, which is ridiculous, and a sign that hedge funds were taking enormous risks. They will all have to buy those shares to close out their positions. But who is going to sell them those shares?
Well, folks figured this out, and they were ganging up on these hedge funds, organizing their Wall Street revolt on the social media, particularly on the WallStreetBets subreddit. Most of these stocks have a relatively small float – that’s why the hedge funds shorted them in the first place because stocks with a small float are a lot easier to manipulate, and Wall Street has long gotten fat off manipulating stocks.
And those traders on Reddit also figured out that stocks with a small float are the easiest to manipulate if enough people got together. And they figured out that stocks that were massively shorted and didn’t have many sellers left could be driven up to the point where those that were short those stocks would panic-buy those stocks to cover their short positions and curtail their losses, and that panic buying, with no eager sellers on the other side, would trigger a huge surge in prices, which could wipe out those hated hedge funds.
And it’s not just a bunch of small investors playing this game. Hedge funds too jumped into it with both feet, with hedge funds now lined up on both sides of the trade, and this started a cycle where buying by the longs on one side and forced buying by the shorts on the other side made those stocks explode.
And they exploded, even as the rest of the market swooned, with the major three indices down between 2% (DOW) and 2.6% (Nasdaq), the worst day since October, putting the Dow and the S&P 500 into the red for 2021.
In afterhours trading today, all heck broke loose in the other direction – more on that in a moment. But during regular trading hours, these stocks were among those that skyrocketed. And not all of this crazy stock mania was in the most shorted stocks.
It included a tiny no-nothing Chinese insurance broker, Tian Ruixiang Holdings [TIRX] whose American Depositary Receipt (ADR) went public on the NYSE on Tuesday at $4 a share in an IPO that raised $11 million, and started trading today, and amid various trading halts soared by over 1,000% intraday and closed up 538%. That’s how nuts the whole mania was.
Here are the 22 stocks that by the end of regular trading hours today had jumped between 31% and 538%. The names with an “ADR” tag are American Depositary Receipts of foreign companies whose actual shares are traded overseas.
After the close of regular trading hours on Wednesday, Reddit briefly made WallStreetBets private, locking out the hordes of onlookers that weren’t subscribed and even locking out many subscribed users, according to the Verge. And when WallStreetBets came back online, the bloodletting started and produced these afterhours results:
This mania, even as the overall markets are swooning, is a sign that something is seriously broken – that highly leveraged hedge funds took on way too much leverage and risks, that too many of them were shorting the most obvious shorts, thereby digging their own grave, and that people and other hedge funds have figured out how to gang up on them and run them over the cliff.
There now remains a problemita for the Reddit traders that have run the hedge funds over the cliff: They have to sell their shares to get out of their positions, and if short sellers are no longer panic-buying those shares, the Reddit traders, by pumping those shares, will have to induce others to buy them at those insane valuations. And the group will spit in two: those that got out successfully with their loot intact, and those that didn’t (the bag holders). Pump and dump on all sides, in classic Wall Street manner.
House prices jumped 7.0% across the US, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index released today. Other indices have indicated similar price surges. House prices are going nuts despite a terrible economy. They’re being fired up by low interest rates, $3 trillion in liquidity that the Fed threw at the markets, fear of inflation that drives people into hard assets, work-from-home that causes people to look for a larger place, the urge to-buy-now before putting the current home on the market, and a shift from rental apartments and condos in high-rise buildings to single-family houses. And condos, as we’ll see in a moment, are not universally hot.
Los Angeles House Prices: House prices in the Los Angeles metro in September jumped by 1.3% from August and by 7.7% from September last year. They’re now 12.9% above the peak of the totally crazy Housing Bubble 1, have nearly doubled (+93%) since early 2012, and having more than tripled since January 2000 (+209%):
The Case-Shiller index was set at 100 for January 2000 across all 20 cities it covers. Today’s index value for Los Angeles of 309 means that house prices have surged 209% since January 2000. This makes Los Angeles the most splendid housing bubble on this list.
For Los Angeles, the Case-Shiller Index provides sub-indices for condos, and for high-, mid-, and low-tier segments of houses. In the low-tier segment (black line) – where people can least afford price increases – prices shot up 10.2% from September last year, having nearly quadrupled since January 2000 (+280%). During Housing Bubble 1, the low-tier surged the most, and during the Housing Bust, it plunged the most, -56% from peak to trough. High-tier prices (green line) have risen 7.6% year-over-year and are up 186% from January 2000:
The Case-Shiller Home Price Index avoids some of the distortions inherent in median-price and average-price indices because it is based on “sales pairs,” comparing the sales price of a house that sold in the current month to the price of the same house when it sold previously, and it does so going back decades. Today’s release for “September” is a rolling three-month average of closings that were entered into public records in July, August, and September. So that’s the timeframe we’re looking at.
San Diego House Prices: The Case-Shiller Index for the San Diego metro jumped 1.8% in September from August and was up 9.5% from a year ago:
This is “House-Price Inflation”: Loss of purchasing power of the dollar. Because the Case-Shiller Index compares the sales price of a house in the current month to the price of the same house when it sold previously, it tracks how many dollars it takes over time to buy the same house. In other words, it measures the purchasing power of the dollar with regards to houses. This makes the Case-Shiller Index a measure of “house-price inflation.” And that’s all this really is – the loss of purchasing power of the dollar with regards to houses.
San Francisco Bay Area: House prices in the five-county San Francisco Bay Area – the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo (northern part of Silicon Valley), Alameda and Contra Costa (East Bay), and Marin (North Bay) – rose 1% in September from August and 6.0% from a year ago. The index has more than doubled since 2012 and nearly tripled since 2000:
But condo prices in the five-county Bay Area fell for the fourth month in a row and are down 2.3% from a year ago, and are back where they’d first been in March 2018. Condo prices in San Francisco itself have fallen much further amid a historic all-time record condo glut, with the median price down 12.8% year-over-year. But the Case-Shiller Index covers a vast area around the Bay, including those where San Francisco refugees are moving to, and some of them are seeing rising condo prices: