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.
Rebalancing Act: China’s 2022 Outlook
Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze and Li Yusha
After a strong rebound last year, the world economy is entering a challenging 2022. The advanced economies have recovered rapidly thanks to big stimulus packages and rapid progress with vaccination, but many developing countries continue to struggle.
The spread of new variants amid large inequalities in vaccination rates, elevated food and commodity prices, volatile asset markets, the prospect of policy tightening in the United States and other advanced economies, and continued geopolitical tensions provide a challenging backdrop for developing countries, as the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report published today highlights.
The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by dampening export performance, a key growth driver last year. Following a strong 8 percent cyclical rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects growth in China to slow to 5.1 percent in 2022, closer to its potential — the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.
Indeed, growth in the second half of 2021 was below this level, and so our forecast assumes a modest amount of policy loosening. Although we expect momentum to pick up, our outlook is subject to domestic in addition to global downside risks. Renewed domestic COVID-19 outbreaks, including the new Omicron variant and other highly transmittable variants, could require more broad-based and longer-lasting restrictions, leading to larger disruptions in economic activity. A severe and prolonged downturn in the real estate sector could have significant economy-wide reverberations.
In the face of these headwinds, China’s policymakers should nonetheless keep a steady hand. Our latest China Economic Update argues that the old playbook of boosting domestic demand through investment-led stimulus will merely exacerbate risks in the real estate sector and reap increasingly lower returns as China’s stock of public infrastructure approaches its saturation point.
Instead, to achieve sustained growth, China needs to stick to the challenging path of rebalancing its economy along three dimensions: first, the shift from external demand to domestic demand and from investment and industry-led growth to greater reliance on consumption and services; second, a greater role for markets and the private sector in driving innovation and the allocation of capital and talent; and third, the transition from a high to a low-carbon economy.
None of these rebalancing acts are easy. However, as the China Economic Update points out, structural reforms could help reduce the trade-offs involved in transitioning to a new path of high-quality growth.
First, fiscal reforms could aim to create a more progressive tax system while boosting social safety nets and spending on health and education. This would help lower precautionary household savings and thereby support the rebalancing toward domestic consumption, while also reducing income inequality among households.
Second, following tightening anti-monopoly provisions aimed at digital platforms, and a range of restrictions imposed on online consumer services, the authorities could consider shifting their attention to remaining barriers to market competition more broadly to spur innovation and productivity growth.
A further opening-up of the protected services sector, for example, could improve access to high-quality services and support the rebalancing toward high-value service jobs (a special focus of the World Bank report). Eliminating remaining restrictions on labor mobility by abolishing the hukou, China’s system of household registration, for all urban areas would equally support the growth of vibrant service economies in China’s largest cities.
Third, the wider use of carbon pricing, for example, through an expansion of the scope and tightening of the emissions trading system rules, as well power sector reforms to encourage the penetration and nationwide trade and dispatch of renewables, would not only generate environmental benefits but also contribute to China’s economic transformation to a more sustainable and innovation-based growth model.
In addition, a more robust corporate and bank resolution framework would contribute to mitigating moral hazards, thereby reducing the trade-offs between monetary policy easing and financial risk management. Addressing distortions in the access to credit — reflected in persistent spreads between private and State borrowers — could support the shift to more innovation-driven, private sector-led growth.
Productivity growth in China during the past four decades of reform and opening-up has been private-sector led. The scope for future productivity gains through the diffusion of modern technologies and practices among smaller private companies remains large. Realizing these gains will require a level playing field with State-owned enterprises.
While the latter have played an instrumental role during the pandemic to stabilize employment, deliver key services and, in some cases, close local government budget gaps, their ability to drive the next phase of growth is questionable given lower profits and productivity growth rates in the past.
In 2022, the authorities will face a significantly more challenging policy environment. They will need to remain vigilant and ready to recalibrate financial and monetary policies to ensure the difficulties in the real estate sector don’t spill over into broader economic distress. Recent policy loosening suggests the policymakers are well aware of these risks.
However, in aiming to keep growth on a steady path close to potential, they will need to be similarly alert to the risk of accumulating ever greater levels of corporate and local government debt. The transition to high-quality growth will require economic rebalancing toward consumption, services, and green investments. If the past is any guide to the future, the reliance on markets and private sector initiative is China’s best bet to achieve the required structural change swiftly and at minimum cost.
First published on China Daily, via World Bank
The US Economic Uncertainty: Bitcoin Faces a Test of Resilience?
Is inflation harmful? Is inflation here to stay? And are people really at a loss? These and countless other questions along the same lines dominated the first half of 2021. Many looked for alternative investments in the national bourse, while others adopted unorthodox streams. Yes, I’m talking about bitcoin. The crypto giant hit records after records since the pandemic made us question the fundamentals of our conventional economic policies. And while inflation was never far behind in registering its own mark in history, the volatility in the crypto stream was hard to deny: swiping billions of dollars in mere days in April 2021. The surge came again, however. And it will keep on coming; I have no doubt. But whether it is the end of the pandemic or the early hues of a new shade, the tumultuous relationship between traditional economic metrics and the championed cryptocurrency is about to get more interesting.
The job market is at the most confusing crossroads in recent times. The hiring rate in the US has slowed down in the past two months, with employers adding only 199,000 jobs in December. The numbers reveal that this is the second month of depressing job additions compared to an average of more than 500,000 jobs added each month throughout 2021. More concerning is that economists had predicted an estimated 400,000 jobs additions last month. Nonetheless, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the unemployment rate has ticked down to 3.9% – the first time since the pre-pandemic level of 3.5% reported in February 2020. Analytically speaking, US employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, yet businesses are still looking for more employees. The leverage, therefore, lies with the labor: reportedly (on average) every two employees have three positions available.
The ‘Great Resignation,’ a coinage for the new phenomenon, underscores this unique leverage of job selection. Sectors with low-wage positions like retail and hospitality face a labor shortage as people are better-positioned to bargain for higher wages. Thus, while wages are rising, quitting rates are record high simultaneously. According to recent job reports, an estimated 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November alone. Given that this data got collected before the surge of the Omicron variant, the picture is about to worsen.
While wages are rising, employment is no longer in the dumps. People are quitting but not to invest stimulus cheques. Instead, they are resigning to negotiate better-paying jobs: forcing the businesses to hike prices and fueling inflation. Thus, despite high earnings, the budget for consumption [represented by the Consumer Price Index (CPI)] is rising at a rate of 6.8% (reported in November 2021). Naturally, bitcoin investment is not likely to bloom at levels rivaling the last two years. However, a downfall is imminent if inflation persists.
The US Federal Reserve sweats caution about searing gains in prices and soaring wage figures. And it appears that the fed is weighing its options to wind up its asset purchase program and hike interest rates. In March 2020, the fed started buying $40 billion worth of Mortgage-backed securities and $80 billion worth of government bonds (T-bills). However, a 19% increase in average house prices and a four-decade-high level of inflation is more than they bargained. Thus, the fed officials have been rooting for an expedited normalization of the monetary policy: further bolstered by the job reports indicating falling unemployment and rising wages. In recent months, the fed purview has dramatically shifted from its dovish sentiments: expecting no rate hike till 2023 to taper talks alongside three rate hikes in 2022.
Bitcoin now faces a volatile passage in the forthcoming months. While the disappointing job data and Omicron concerns could nudge the ball in its favor, the chances are that a depressive phase is yet to ensue. According to crypto-analysts, the bitcoin is technically oversold i.e. mostly devoid of impulsive investors and dominated by long-term holders. Since November, the bitcoin has dropped from the record high of $69,000 by almost 40%: moving in the $40,000-$41,000 range. Analysts believe that since bitcoin acts as a proxy for liquidity, any liquidity shortage could push the market into a mass sellout. Mr. Alex Krüger, the founder of Aike Capital, a New York-based asset management firm, stated: “Crypto assets are at the furthest end of the risk curve.” He further added: “[Therefore] since they had benefited from the Fed’s “extraordinarily lax monetary policy,” it should suffice to say that they would [also] suffer as an “unexpectedly tighter” policy shifts money into safer asset classes.” In simpler terms, a loose monetary policy and a deluge of stimulus payments cushioned the meteoric rise in bitcoin valuation as a hedge against inflation. That mechanism would also plummet the market with a sudden hawkish shift.
The situation is dire for most industries. Job participation levels are still low as workers are on the sidelines either because of the Omicron concern or lack of child support. In case of a rate hike, businesses would be forced to push against the wages to accommodate affordability in consumer prices. For bitcoin, the investment would stay dormant. However, any inflationary surprises could bring about an early tightening of the policy: spelling doom for the crypto market. The market now expects the job data to worsen while inflation to rise at 7.1% through December in the US inflation data (to be reported on Wednesday). Any higher than the forecasted figure alongside uncertainty imbued by the new variant could spark a downward spiral in bitcoin – probably pushing the asset below the $25000 mark.
Platform Modernisation: What the US Treasury Sanctions Review Is All About
The US Treasury has released an overview of its sanctions policy. It outlines key principles for making the restrictive US measures more effective. The revision of the sanctions policy was announced at the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidential term. The new review can be considered one of the results of this work. At the same time, it is difficult to find signs of qualitative changes in the US administration’s approach to sanctions in the document. Rather, it is about upgrading an existing platform.
Sanctions are understood as economic and financial restrictions that make it possible to harm the enemies of the United States, prevent or hinder their actions, and send them a clear political signal. The text reproduces the usual “behavioural” understanding of sanctions. They are viewed as a means of influencing the behaviour of foreign players whose actions threaten the security or contradict the national interests of the United States. The review also defines the institutional structure of the sanctions policy. According to the document, it includes the Treasury, the State Department, and the National Security Council. The Treasury plays the role of the leading executor of the sanctions policy, and the State Department and the NSS determine the political direction of their application, despite the fact that the State Department itself is also responsible for the implementation of a number of sanctions programmes. This line also includes the Department of Justice, which uses coercive measures against violators of the US sanctions regime.
Interestingly, the Department of Commerce is not mentioned among the institutions. The review focuses only on a specific segment of the sanctions policy that is implemented by the Treasury. However, it is the Treasury that is currently at the forefront of the application of restrictive measures. A significant part of the executive orders of the President of the United States and sanctions laws imply blocking financial sanctions in the form of an asset freeze and a ban on transactions with individuals and organisations. Decrees and laws assign the application of such measures to the Treasury in cooperation with the Department of State and the Attorney General. Therefore, the institutional link mentioned in the review reflects the spirit and letter of a significant array of US regulations concerning sanctions. The Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Industry and Security are responsible for a different segment of the sanctions policy, which does not diminish its importance. Export controls can cause a lot of trouble for individual countries and companies.
Another notable part of the review concerns possible obstacles to the effective implementation of US sanctions. These include, among other things, the efforts of the opponents of the United States to change the global financial architecture, reducing the share of the dollar in the national settlements of both opponents and some allies of the United States.
Indeed, such major powers as Russia and China have seriously considered the risks of being involved in a global American-centric financial system.
The course towards the sovereignty of national financial systems and settlements with foreign countries is largely justified by the risk of sanctions.
Russia, for example, is vigorously pursuing the development of a National Payment System, as well as a Financial Messaging System. There has been a cautious but consistent policy of reducing the share of the dollar in external settlements. China, which has much greater economic potential, is building systems of “internal and external circulation”. Even the European Union has embarked on an increase in the role of the euro, taking into account the risk of secondary sanctions from “third countries”, which are often understood between the lines as the United States.
Digital currencies and new payment technologies also pose a threat to the effectiveness of sanctions. Moreover, here the players can be both large powers and many other states and non-state structures. It is interesting that digital currencies at a certain stage may present a common challenge to the United States, Russia, China, the EU and a number of other countries. After all, they can be used not only to circumvent sanctions, but also, for example, to finance terrorism or in money laundering. However, the review does not mention such common interests.
The text does propose measures to modernise the sanctions policy. The first one is to build sanctions into the broader context of US foreign policy. Sanctions are not important in and of themselves, but as part of a broader palette of policy instruments. The second measure is to strengthen interdepartmental coordination in the application of sanctions in parallel with increased coordination of US sanctions with the actions of American allies. The third measure is a more accurate calibration of sanctions in order to avoid humanitarian damage, as well as damage to American business. The fourth measure is to improve the enforceability and clarity of the sanctions policy. Here we can talk about both the legal uncertainty of some decrees and laws, and about an adequate understanding of the sanctions programmes on the part of business. Finally, fifth is the improvement and development of the Treasury-based sanctions apparatus, including investments in technology, staff training and infrastructure.
All these measures can hardly be called new. Experts have long recommended the use of sanctions in combination with other instruments, as well as improved inter-agency coordination. The coordination of sanctions with allies has escalated due to a number of unilateral steps taken by the Trump Administration, including withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal or sanctions against Nord Stream 2. However, the very importance of such coordination has not been questioned in the past and has even been reflected in American legislation (Iran). The need for a clearer understanding of sanctions policy has also been long overdue. Its relevance is illustrated, among other things, by the large number of unintentional violations of the US sanctions regime by American and foreign businesses. The problem of overcompliance is also relevant, when companies refuse transactions even when they are allowed. The reason is the fear of possible coercive measures by the US authorities. Finally, improving the sanctioning apparatus is also a long-standing topic. In particular, expanding the resources of the Administration in the application of sanctions was recommended by the US Audit Office in a 2019 report.
The US Treasury review suggests that no signs of an easing are foreseen for the key targets of US sanctions. At the same time, American business and its many foreign counterparties can benefit from the modernisation of the US sanctions policy. Legal certainty can reduce excess compliance as well as help avoid associated losses.
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