Bitcoin and the other “cryptocurrencies”, namely Ethereum and Litcoin- although there are 33 additional currencies arriving on the Internet – are a brand new phenomenon on the currency market.
Currently we are all in the so-called “fiat money” regime, namely any money declared by a government to be legal tender, which is a currency not backed by gold reserves – a currency which is always and anyway accepted by everyone.
Hence it is also fiat money, like the first “lire” of the Kingdom of Italy.
This means it is a State-issued currency that is not convertible by law to any equivalent value in gold or other hard currencies.
Fiat money is stable as it is controlled, almost on a daily basis, with the money demand from the economic system.
When there is an excess of money supply, we talk about inflation.
This is, indeed, the true meaning of the alltoowell-known concept of “inflation”, not the mere “price increase” which, at most, can be an indicator of excessive growth in money supply, not one of its causes.
Accepting the Dollar, the French or Swiss Franc, the Euro, the Ruble or any other currency (albeit, in fact, the situation would be somehow different for the Russian currency) is always mandatory by law.
Hence also seigniorage is mandatory, namely the act of legal magic with which each issuing bank decides that a small piece of paper is worth 100 nominal euro – although costing only 3 cents to the issuing bank for producing it.
The difference between the face value of money and the cost to produce it (plus fixed costs such as equipment, staff salaries and taxes) is, in fact, seigniorage.
The latter, however, should not be demonized, as done by some theorists who – by using a silly contemporary language dogma – are called “radicals”.
Reasonably, the possible alternative is the intrinsic value money, like the medieval coins – molten gold marked as shown on the coin front or back. Nevertheless the King often “reduced the value” of coins or melted gold and silver with non-monetary metals, such as copper (although the United States was to use it in the future) or even bronze.
Today we would say it was a form of “seigniorage” “with criminal relevance and implications”.
The primal scene – just to quote a concept by Sigmund Freud -stemmed from the 1971 “Smithsonian Agreement”.
It was the American agreement Nixon had wanted as from August 15, 1971, signed in the Smithsonian Museum of Washington. It was signed by what we would currently call the G7 and reestablished an international system of fixed exchange rates without the backing of gold. It certified the end of FED’s obligation to pay for gold up to the fixed rate of 35 US dollars per ounce.
It was the end of the gold-backed currency – the “fiat money” no longer pegged to intrinsic money – occurring after the Allies verifying that the American currency was severely overvalued.
The costs borne for the Vietnam War, the end of the Johnsonian cycle of Great Society and the crisis of US products on European markets, were all factors which led De Gaulle, at first, to ask – without further ado – the payment of the US debt in gold or in hard currencies. Later many other allies who were reluctant to put in place non-tariff barriers against US products followed suit.
To put it more brutally, Nixon shifted the burden of the US super-inflation onto his allies of the Bretton Woods Agreement, which Europeans were forced to pay since they had to buy highly overvalued dollars for their international trade.
As the US Treasury Secretary, John Connally, said at the time to his European colleagues: “The dollar is our currency but your problem”.
In other words, cryptocurrencies are the result of this long historical process.
The currency based on Nothing, the postmodern point of arrival point of the disembodied monetary instrument.
A currency that is believed to be good because everyone thinks so – a financial transposition of Andersen’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
As you may remember, it is the tale about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their position, hopelessly stupid or incompetent – while in reality, they make no clothes at all, making everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new “clothes”, no one, including his Ministers, dares to say they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as stupid. Finally, a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor “is not wearing anything at all” and the cry is taken up by others.
The same will happen to the contemporary monetary equilibrium, but it will certainly not be a child who will get bankers and the public at large to open their eyes.
Hence today banks create money, which is mandatory to consider valid, with a fiat -namely ex nihilo – from the Void of Value. Or from their debt or even from the State debt.
Just issue securities having another name.
Hence, what is currently money? It is what the Auctoritas decides to be so.
Or, to be precise, the money supply currently issued by the central banks or other banking institutions, which is not based on savers’ deposits or on debt repayment forecasts, but it is only the sign of a debt, the “promise of a settlement”which, however, is spent immediately.
And hence it is confirmed in its Value. The Value lies in theshift from a currency to another or from a currency to real goods or assets.
Obviously banks still earn interest on the money supply, regardless of its source.
Bitcoin, however, is not a currency like any other, guaranteed by internal law and interbank agreements.
The cryptocurrency is based on a mechanism like the one of online sales, namely the peer-to-peer one, which is gradually accepted by all those who now operate with Bitcoins.
Hence, while the final Bitcoin supply is defined – as always happens – our Internet currency is completely volatile.
Therefore it cannot certainly be a unit of account.
Hence Bitcoin varies- programmatically – as demand changes. In fact, last year its value increased by 47 times.
The reason is simple: it is a monetary supply that adapts to demand, but is also able to stop so as to create sufficiently long Bitcoin income and returns to attract average investors.
In January 2018,the cryptocurrency is worth approximately 900 dollars – a value that will probably increase when, in all likelihood, the Internet currency will be accepted by large commercial and distribution chains.
If it is a currency that influences markets by adapting to buyers’ requests (or artificially reducing supply in an instant), the only ones that can reap benefits are the Great States, the International Crime Organizations or the new networks of global Banks.
Never let them tell you that the small investor of Grand Rapids or Varese can determine the first “peer-to-peer” that, by repetition, triggers the chain off.
It is another fairy tale like the one of the movie Mary Poppins pointing to the magical growth of the penny deposited in a London bank, growing out of all proportion and turning into huge amounts of money.
The fairy tale is the expected automatic growth of funds denominated in Bitcoins, from 10 euro up to millions of millions, like the stars.
In fact, nothing is closer to the world of Andersen or the Brothers Grimm than some bad finance.
We can wonder whether the cryptocurrency is nothing more than a “Ponzi e-Scheme”.
You may recall the Ponzi Scheme or pyramid scheme, in which the high interest rates granted to capital providers -attracted precisely by the rates that are promised – are paid with new investors’ fresh capital.
In fact, what is striking is that the production of Bitcoins is sometimes artificially low because there are many people who want to buy them.
An issuing bank à la carte.
In fact, the many people who are waiting for buying Bitcoins hope that their value will increase, but only after they have managed to buy them.
A self-fulfilling prophecy.
A mechanism which is exactly the same as the Ponzi Scheme.
As the best US financial advisers say, do not follow the crowd.
Hence the Bitcoin is a “bubble”. A bubble probably bound to last, but still a bubble.
A bubble born in 2016. The primary year, while everybody makes reference to 2009, when the production of notes was no longer enough and the debt to be repaid was huge, while the West was entering its darkest crisis since the 1929one.
The trigger,i.e. the banking panic and the unaware laissez-faire approach of the US Presidency, were the same in both cases.
Two crises – the old and the new -broken out precisely in the United States, the burden of which was later shifted onto the rest of the West.
With a view to overcoming the first crisis, the huge costs borne for the Second World War were needed.The Rooseveltian stimulus had been to little avail.
The second crisis, much closer to us, which was triggered by the subprime crisis, has needed liquidity injections even greater than those needed during the 1929Great Depression – injections which have not ceased yet.
In the latter case, the exit from the crisis is ensured by the creation from nothing of the largest mass of money in human history, also through the Internet.
In fact, the Internet currencies have allowed to create exchange value, purely financial values that have strongly contributed to multiplying global liquidity in collaboration with standard currencies, which have been distributed indiscriminately to just any market – with helicopter money – by the US Governors and then by the ECB Governor, although certainly in much smaller proportions than his US counterparts.
On the other hand, when there is a liquidity crisis- a crisis caused by an excess of debt – every issuing bank prints money or rather creates money from debt securities. There is no other solution.
Contemporary Value arises from the mastery of a Name and from the artificial dissociation between this Name and a New Name.
Furthermore,in any case, the presence of cryptocurrencies only on the Internet and with a system along the lines of the peer-to-peer mechanism of normal online sales has allowed hackers’ systematic theft of 14% of all cryptocurrencies existing on the worldmarket.
A theft worth 1.2 billion US dollars, with revenues equal to at least 200 million US dollars.
In less than ten years, however, the technology generatingBitcoins will be vulnerable to cyber-attacks launched by quantum computers, which will become more widespread than they are today.
The attacks on virtual currencies have already cost governments and private companies owning them asmany as 113 billion dollars of turnover.
Nevertheless, who is currently inflating the Bitcoin value, which has more than doubled compared to January 2017 – a value that is now around 125%?
The main reason for this is China. Beijing is now the first market for the exchange of cryptocurrencies in the world.
As early as 2015 China alone traded 80% of Bitcoins.
Today, the top 4 among the 32 major exchange platforms of these new currencies mainly trade yuan.
One of these platforms has opened a mining station for “creating” Bitcoins – an operation which is highly energy-intensive and consuming – on the slopes of Tibet, where there is abundant low-cost energy.
Every time the yuan depreciates, the Bitcoin appreciates, because there are so many Chinese who pocket their capital to avoid government’s control and hence buy Bitcoins.
The yuan is depreciating and the capital flight from China is ongoing. The tool is often the conversion of the yuan masses into Bitcoins.
We may wonder whether the e-currency is used as a tool of “indirect war” against China.
Moreover, the current growth on the US and on some other European Stock Exchanges has occurred with credit money, borrowed at zero interest rate, which has been provided to major investors by central banks.
Another possible reason justifying the Bitcoin growth.
Virtual money may havealso been created to avoid the investors’ traditional rush to gold – the “tribal residue”, as Keynes called it – and hence not to increase the dollar value, currently maneuvered downward?
On January 15, one of the most active US-listed banks on the Bitcoin market ceased to convert cryptocurrencies into “traditional” currencies, but especially into dollars.
The beginning of the fall in the Bitcoin value, but the preservation of market liquidity, so as to prevent it from converging towards gold, in particular, or European hard currencies or, even worse, towards the Chinese or Russian financial markets.
Hence the Bitcoin is a pseudo-currency that serves to control the volatility and trends of global financial markets, as well as to keep it artificially high and avoid some currencies becoming “full” or sovereign like the Swiss Franc.
In fact, in 2018 a referendum will be held throughout the Helvetic Confederation on the so-called “full” or sovereign currency, i.e. on a Swiss Franc created by the national central bank and not by international banks.
“True Francs on our accounts”. Only the Swiss National Bank can create e-money, where necessary.
These are the goals of those who have proposed the referendum.
Let us hope for the best. Those who almost invented modern finance – the Swiss merchants of the Middle Ages, the link between Italian ports and large Central European markets -now realize the dangers of creating value from nothing, the Faustian (and darkly malicious) mechanism currently governing the magical and alchemical transformation of banks’ and States’ debt into credit for individuals.
Let us hope that the financial world will come to its senses, just in time.
Portugal’s crisis management: “Economic patriotism” should not be tied to ideological beliefs
The economic policy of the Hungarian government has provoked fierce criticism in the last decade, as it deviated from the neoliberal mainstream and followed a patriotic path, putting Hungarian interests in the foreground. While many link this style of political economy to the conservative position of the Orbán-government, in Portugal, a left-wing administration followed a similarly patriotic line to overcome the symptoms of the Eurozone crisis, showcasing that economic patriotism is not tied to ideologies, but is merely responsible thinking.
The catastrophic path of austerity
According to the theory of austerity, the government by implying austerity measures, “puts its finances in order”, hence the state does not become indebted and consequently investors’ confidence in the economy returns. However, if we think about what we really mean by austerity (tax increases, wage cuts, budget constraints, etc.), even the theory itself sounds counterproductive. Not surprisingly, this theoretical counter productivity has been demonstrated in practice in several cases.
One of the best examples is the case of Portugal, which along with Greece and other Southern-European nations was probably hit the hardest by the financial crunch. While all of the “GIPS” (Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain) entered a steer recession, Portugal somehow managed to overcome it more successfully than its regional peers, but before that, it felt the bitter taste of neoliberal structural reforms.
Although the case of Portugal was not as traumatic as the ones of its Southern-European counterparts, in order to keep its debt under control, stabilize its banks and introduce “growth-friendly” reforms, Lisbon negotiated a € 78 billion bailout package in 2011, in exchange for a rigid austerity program aimed at the 2011-2014 period, orchestrated by the European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB), the infamous “Troika”.
The neoliberal recipe did not differ much from that of Greece, and the then ruling Passos Coelho conservative government faithfully followed the structural reforms demanded by the “group of three”: working hours increased, number of bank holidays fell, holiday bonuses were abolished, wages and pensions have also been cut by 20 per cent, while public spending on health and education was drastically cut, and due to escalating privatizations, public assets have also been sold off quickly.
Despite the fact that by 2014 the country’s budget deficit as a share of the GDP had fallen to 4.5 per cent from the staggering11.2 per cent recorded in 2011 and the current account showed a surplus – as domestic demand fell apart, forcing companies to export –Portugal was still on the brink of social and economic collapse.
Public debt soared to more than 130 per cent of the GDP, tens of thousands of businesses went bankrupt, unemployment rose to 17 per cent and skyrocketed to 40 per cent amongst the youth. As a result, many talented Portuguese fled abroad, with an estimated 150,000 nationals emigrating in a single year.
The post-2015 turnaround
Things only began to change in 2015, when the Portuguese elected Anotnio Costa as Prime Minister, who was the mayor of Lisbon under the years of the crunch. Shortly after his election, Merkel encouraged the center-left politician to follow the neoliberal prescription proposed by the “Troika”, while her Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, underlined that Portugal would make a “serious mistake” if it decided not to follow the neoliberal doctrine and would eventually be forced to negotiate another rescue package.
Not being intimidated by such “threats”, Costa ditched austerity without hesitation, restored working hours, cut taxes and raised the minimum wage by 20 percent in the course of just two years. Obviously, his unpopular position made him crush with Brussels, as his government allowed the budget deficit to reach 4.4 per cent, compared to the agreed 2.7 per cent target. However, in May 2016, the Commission granted Costa another year to comply, and since then Portugal has consistently exceeded its deficit targets.
Tourism also largely assisted the post-15 recovery, to which the government placed great emphasis, so that in 2017 the number of visitors rose to a record high, reaching 12.7 million. Concurrently, Portugal has significantly improved the international reputation of its businesses and products, which contributed to increasing the country’s export revenues and attracting foreign investment.
Furthermore, Costa has raised social spending and at the same time planned to invest state revenues in transport, environmental infrastructure and energy, initiatives that could be extremely beneficial, as they would not only significantly improve the country’s sustainability, but also boost job creation, something that yet again indicates how important public investment is to an economy.
Additionally, Portugal has become an undervalued tech-hub, with plenty of start-ups offering good employment opportunities in addition to fostering innovation. The government with several initiatives, seeks to create a business-friendly ecosystem for them, under which they can thrive and boost the economy to the largest extent. It is thus not surprising, that Portugal has been the fastest growing country in Europe when it comes to the number of programmers.
Finally, one of the Costa’s top priorities, has been to lure back emigrated Portuguese who moved abroad during the crisis. To this end, tax cuts are offered to Portuguese citizens who choose to return home.
In a sum, since Costa stepped into office, Portugal has undergone a rapid recovery: economic growth has returned, unemployment has fallen radically, the public debt was also set on a downgrading path, while the budget remained well-balanced despite the increased spending, with Costa himself explaining that “sound public accounts are compatible with social cohesion”. Even Schäuble acknowledged Portugal’scrisis management, by actually calling Mário Centeno – the finance minister of the Costa government – the “Cristiano Ronaldo” of finance ministers.
Of course, not everything is bright and wonderful, as the country has emerged from a large crisis, the effects of which cannot be eliminated in just a few years. Public debt is still amongst the highest in the EU and several other challenges lie ahead for the South-European nation, especially by taking into consideration that the world economy just entered yet another crisis.
Furthermore, according to many, it was not Costa who led the recovery, but Portugal passively benefited from a strong recovery in Europe, falling oil prices, an explosion in tourism and a sharp drop in debt repayment costs. Indeed, it has to be taken into account that Portugal entered the recession in a relatively better position than many of its spatial counterparts and the relatively high quality of its domestic institutional infrastructure and policy-adaptation capacity aided the previous government to efficiently complete the memorandum of understanding (MoU) as early as 2015. Nevertheless, this is not a sufficient reason to discredit the post-2015 government’s efforts and justify the harsh austerity measures implied by the Troika. Taking into account that austerity never really provided decent results, it becomes evident that Costa’s policies were quite effective.
Economic patriotism should not be connected to ideologies
While in the case of Hungary and Poland “economic patriotism” has been fiercely criticized despite its prosperous results, this spite tendency has been an outcome of strong politicization in economic policy analysis. Even though the political context is verily important, it is also crucial to interpret economic policy independently, in order to take away valuable lessons and identify mistakes. Political bias is not a fortunate thing, as it is absolute and nullifies debate and hence development.
The case of Portugal is a perfect example, as it provides sound evidence, that a patriotic economic policy can be exercised by governments from all across the political spectrum and that the notion should not be connected to political and ideological beliefs. The left-wing Costa-government with its policy-making demonstrated that a solution always exists and that requires a brave, strong and decisive government, that pursues its own plan in the interests of the ‘patrie’, regardless of its positioning.
The Question Of Prosperity
Galloping economic woes, prejudice, injustice, poverty, low literacy rate, gender disparity and women rights, deteriorating health system, corruption, nepotism, terrorism, political instability, insecure property rights, looming energy crisis and various other similar hindrances constrain any state or country to be retrograded. Here questions arise that how do these obstacles take place? How do they affect the prosperity of any country? No history, geography, or culture spawns them. Simply the answer is institutions that a country possesses.
Institutions ramify into two types: inclusive and extractive. Inclusive political institutions make power broadly distributed in country or state and constrain its arbitrary exercise. Such political institutions also make it harder for others to usurp rights and undermine the cornerstone of inclusive institutions, which create inclusive economic institutions that feature secure property rights, an unbiased system of law, and a provision of public services that provide a level playing field in which people can exchange and contract; it also permits the entry of new businesses and allow people to choose their career. On the contrary, extractive political institutions accord clout in hands of few narrow elite and they have few constrains to exert their clout and engineer extractive economic institutions that can specifically benefit few people of the ruling elite or few people in the country.
Inclusive institutions are proportional to the prosperity and social and economic development. Multifarious countries in the world are great examples of this. Taking North and South Korea; both countries garnered their sovereignty in same year 1945, but they adopted different ways to govern the countries. North Korea under the stewardship of Kim Il-sung established dictatorship by 1947, and rolled out a rigid form of centrally planned economy as part of the so-called Juche system; private property was outlawed, markets were banned, and freedoms were curtailed not only in marketplace but also in every sphere of North Korea’s lives- besides those who used to be part of the very small ruling elite around Kim Il-sung and later his son and his successor Kim Jong-Il. Contrariwise, South Korea was led and its preliminary politico-economic institutions were orchestrated by the Harvard and Princeton-educated. Staunchly anticommunist Rhee and his successor General Park Chung-Hee secured their places in history as authoritarian presidents, but both governed a market economy where private property was recognised. After 1961, Park effectively taken measures that caused the state behind rapid economic growth; he established inclusive institutions which encouraged investment and trade. South Korean politicians prioritised to invest in most crucial segment of advancement that is education. South Korean companies were quick to take advantage of educated population; the policies encouraged investment and industrialisation, exports and the transfer of technology. South Korea quickly became a “Miracle Economy” and one of the most rapidly growing nations of the world. Just in fifty years there was conspicuous distinction between both countries not because of their culture, geography, or history but only due to institutions both countries had adopted.
Moreover, another model to gauge role of institutions in prosperity is comparison of Nogales of US and Mexico. US Nogales earn handsome annual income; they are highly educated; they possess up to the mark health system with high life expectancy by global standards; they are facilitated with better infrastructure, low crime rate, privilege to vote and safety of life. By contrast, the Mexican Nogales earn one-third of annual income of US Nogales; they have low literacy rate, high rate of infant mortality; they have roads in bad condition, law and order in worse condition, high crime rate and corruption. Here also the institutions formed by the Nogales of both countries are main reason for the differences in economic prosperity on the two sides of the border.
Similarly, Pakistan tackles with issues of institutions. Mostly, pro-colonial countries are predominantly inheritors of unco extractive politico-economic institutions, and colonialism is perhaps germane to Pakistan’s tailoring of institutions. Regretfully, Pakistan is inherited with colossally extractive institutions at birth. The new elite, comprising civilian-military complex and handful aristocrats, has managed to prolong colonial-era institutional legacy, which has led Pakistan to political instability, consequently, political instability begot inadequacy of incentives which are proportional to retro gradation of the country.
Additionally, a recent research of Economic Freedom of the World (WEF) by Fraser Institute depicts that the countries with inclusive institutions and most economic freedom are more developed and prosperous than the least economic free countries; countries were divided into four groups. Comparing most free quartile and least free quartile of the countries, the research portrayed that most free quartile earns even nine times more than least free quartile; most free quartile has two times more political and civil rights than least free quartile; most free quartile owes three times less gender disparity than least free quartile; life expectancy tops at 79. 40 years in most free quartile, whereas number stands at 65.20 in least free quartile. To conclude this, the economic freedom is sine quo non for any country to be prosperous, and economic freedom comes from inclusive institutions. Unfortunately, Pakistan has managed to get place in least free quartile.
In a nutshell, the institutions play pivotal role in prosperity and advancement, and are game changer for any country. Thereby, our current government should focus on institutions rather than other issues, so that Pakistan can shine among the world’s better economies. For accomplishing this highly necessary task government should take conducive measures right now.
Taxing The Super-Rich To Help The Poor
What was traditional became law in 1941 when Thanksgiving was designated as the fourth Thursday in November. Large turkeys, plenty of trimmings and family gatherings became the norm. . . that is until this year of the self-isolated holiday. Small turkeys disappeared fast leaving masses of 20 lb birds and presumably more leftovers and more waste. Yes, w e belong to the lucky 13.5 percent in this world through an accident of birth.
Half of the world’s population lives on less than $5.50 per day. Of these, three quarters of a billion are in extreme poverty, classified as less than $1.90 per day. Covid 19 has swelled these numbers by 114 million and the situation is dire. Worst affected by poverty are the day laborers i.e. informal workers without a regular job. Moreover, the ILO (International Labor Organization) estimates 200 million job losses from Covid. It also notes that the average income of informal workers in places like Ethiopia, Haiti, and Malawi has already fallen by 82 percent.
The US is not immune. Adjusting for purchasing power the US Census Bureau classifies 11.1 percent of the population as poor with Covid exacerbating the situation. Forty seven million have to rely on food banks including 16 million children. Hardly surprising then that the US has the highest child mortality rate among the 20 OECD countries (major economies) as reported by the U.S. Health Affairs journal. And life expectancy has shrunk by three years, affirms the U.S. Census Bureau.
Even in Europe with its social net and social conscience, Covid 19 is estimated to increase poverty by about half if the pandemic lasts until the summer of 2021. Italy alone, forecasts Caritas Italiana, will have a million more children living in poverty.
In April of this year UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) warned that at least $2.5 billion was needed to lessen the impact of the impending crisis within the narrow purview of their remit.
So where is the money to come from? If taxing the rich is unlikely to pass in most legislatures for the most obvious of reasons — they paid for them to be there — how about taxing only the super-rich, the storied 1 percent?
The wealth of the billionaire class has surged. While 45.5 million filed for unemployment in just three months, the U.S. added 29 more billionaires and the wealth of the billionaire class surged nearly 20 percent or $584 billion, from $2.948 to $3.531 trillion, during the same period. Just the top five billionaires, namely, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet and Larry Ellison increased their wealth by a whopping $101.7 billion between March 18 and June 17 of this year. Bezos and Zuckerberg alone made $76 billion or almost three-quarters. To be fair one has to point out that the stock market took a sudden dip in March from which it recovered to new highs.
It’s shocking that just 10 percent of their $584 billion gain would have bailed out their compatriots classified as poor over the same period. Is it time for a tax on the super rich? Warren Buffett has often said that he needs to be taxed more. The fact is a small extra tax would not make an iota of difference in their lives but would help out millions of the poor and also the economy because the latter are much more likely than the rich to spend the money.
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