Argentines prefer having U.S. Dollars Under the Mattress over having Argentine Pesos in the Bank

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 16th, 2012

Week in Review

No one likes austerity.  The Greeks hate it so much they may vote to leave the Euro.  So they can keep printing money.  To pay for a bloated public sector and generous state benefits.  For it is the easy way out.  It’ll put people back to work on the government payroll.  And solve all of their problems.  Well, not all of their problems (see Argentina loses a third of its dollar deposits by Jorge Otaola posted 6/8/2012 on Reuters Africa).

Argentine banks have seen a third of their U.S. dollar deposits withdrawn since November as savers chase greenbacks in response to stiffening foreign exchange restrictions, local banking sources said on Friday.

Depositors withdrew a total of about $100 million per day over the last month in a safe-haven bid fueled by uncertainty over policies that might be adopted as pressure grows to keep U.S. currency in the country.

The chase for dollars is motivated by fear that the government may further toughen its clamp down on access to the U.S. currency as high inflation and lack of faith in government policy erode the local peso…

Feisty populist leader Fernandez was re-elected in October vowing to “deepen the model” of the interventionist policies associated with her predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who is also her late husband.

Since then she has limited imports, imposed capital controls and seized a majority stake in top energy company YPF…

Many are taking what dollars they can get their hands on and stashing them under the mattress or in safety deposit boxes, fearing moves by the government to forcibly “de-dollarize” the economy. Officials have strongly denied any such plan…

She wants Argentines to end their love affair with the greenback and start saving in pesos despite inflation clocked by private economists at about 25 percent per year…

But savers in crisis-prone Argentina are notoriously jittery. Memories of tight limits on bank withdrawals and a sharp currency devaluation remain fresh a decade after the country’s massive sovereign debt default.

To put this another way, if you have an inflation rate of 25% you’d have to have an interest rate on your bank savings account of at least 25% just to break even.  But you’re probably not going to get 25%.  Let’s say you only get 5%.  With this information you now have to make a choice.  You can buy a $1,000 wide-screen television now even though you don’t have the room for it.  Or you can wait 4 years to buy it when you will have the room for it.  Well, your savings will only earn about $200 interest in those 4 years.  Bringing your account balance to about $1,200.  But at a 25% annual inflation rate that television will cost about $2,500 after 4 years (increase the price of the television 25% each year).  So the smart choice is to buy the set now because your savings will lose so much of their purchasing power in 4 years that you won’t be able to buy it then.

This is the cost of Keynesian economics and fiat money.  When governments can print money they do.  Some more than others.  But the more they print the more inflation they create.  And the more faith people lose in their currency.  Which is a very bad thing to happen with fiat money.  Because the only value fiat money has is the faith people put into it.  And when they lose that faith they put U.S. dollars under their mattresses.  Because they know those dollars will hold more of their purchasing power than Argentine Pesos.

Populist leaders are popular for a reason.  They appeal to the angry mob.  Blame their problems on others.  And enact popular policies that will lead a nation to their ruin.  The Argentines have seen it a few times.  One of their leaders even invaded the Falkland Islands once to distract the people from their horrible economy.  One wonders if their current leader may do the same.  Especially as they’re now looking for oil down there.

All the Keynesian economists belittle anyone who talks about austerity and spending cuts.  They say the answer is to spend more not less.  Despite the fact that every country in a financial crisis got into that crisis by spending more not less.  But Keynesians like inflation.  Because it’s a hidden tax.  And a great way to transfer more private wealth to the government.  They especially love that part about your savings losing their purchasing power.  Because they owe a lot of money.  And it’s easier to repay old loans in those highly depreciated dollars.  Especially when you can print them.

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Debt Crises in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and now Spain may Prove too much for the Euro to Survive

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 3rd, 2012

Week in Review

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  Lines from a poem by Robert Frost.  For some reason this came to me as I read about the never-ending crisis that is the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.  And the Eurozone.  For the Euro is lost in those dark and lovely woods.  Woods that are so deep that it will never find its way out.  And the only kind of sleep the Euro is going to get is the kind you don’t wake up from (see Britons face £5bn bill to help out Spanish as fears grow that Madrid will have to ask IMF for €300billion bailout by Hugo Duncan And James Salmon posted 6/1/2012 on the Daily Mail).

British taxpayers could be forced to stump up another £5billion to rescue Spain as the crisis in the eurozone spirals out of control.

Fears are mounting that Madrid will have to ask for an emergency bailout of up to £300billion as it struggles to prop up its basket-case banks.

A third of that money could come from the International Monetary Fund – including around £5billion from the UK, even though Britain is not in the eurozone.

UK taxpayers have already coughed up £12.5billion to rescue debt-ridden Greece, Ireland and Portugal…

But growing doubts over how the Spanish government will finance the £15billion needed to rescue Bankia, one of its biggest lenders, have raised fears that it will follow Ireland, Greece and Portugal in requiring a bailout from Europe and the IMF.

This week US investment bank JP Morgan warned a joint rescue of Spain could cost around £300billion.

The Spanish banking system has been crippled by nearly £150billion in toxic property loans.

At the heart of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe is debt.  They have way too much of it.  So much that the odds are not good that they will ever be able to repay it.  Which makes people very reluctant to loan them any more money.  It’s like loaning a friend money who already owes you a lot of money.  Do you loan him more money?  It just may help him turn his life around.  Start anew with a new job.  Earning enough money to support himself and pay you back.  That’s one possibility.  Then there’s the possibility he may just blow the money on booze, drugs and women.  You know he’s just going to spend whatever else you loan him.  And not pay any of it back.  So it would be rather foolish to loan him more money.

This is the decision facing the people who could attempt to bail out those in the Eurozone.  They’ve already loaned them a lot of money.  So these in-trouble countries can sustain the government spending their current tax revenue can’t support.  But the deal was to cut back that spending so they can live on what their tax revenue CAN support.  But there’s only one problem.  The people of these countries reject calls for them to live within their means.  And have had enough of austerity.  And that’s a big problem.  Because if they don’t live within their means they will perpetuate the sovereign debt crisis.  As they will always need to borrow more money to pay for the things that their tax revenue can’t afford.  Until the day this house of cards collapses.  And the longer it goes on the more money people will lose in bad loans to these in-trouble countries.

The central problem in this crisis are bad loans.  Caused by the easy credit policies of central banks to loan money to anyone so they can buy a house.  All this easy credit caused housing booms in countries all around the world.  And housing bubbles.  Then the bubbles burst.  Leaving countries with debt crises as toxic mortgages weakened banking systems everywhere.  And still Keynesian economists are urging central banks to repeat this reckless lending behavior again to stimulate economies.  And to bail out the Eurozone.  The problem is that the central banks have so destroyed their economies no one is borrowing money.  Or spending money.  Because no one thinks the worst has passed.  And businesses and private citizens have learned the lesson from the great debt crisis we’re going through everywhere.  Too much debt is a bad thing.  And are refusing to take on new debt.  And using what income they have to pay down existing debt.  Contrary to all Keynesian doctrine.  For they want reckless and irresponsible spending.  Because they believe only spending is good.

Politicians and central bankers said the situation in the eurozone was unsustainable and drastic action was needed to prevent the ‘disintegration’ of the single currency.

They spoke out as European leaders scrambled to stop the financial crisis in Spain spiralling out of control and infecting other countries such as Italy…

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, said the eurozone was unsustainable in its current form.

In his sharpest criticism yet of eurozone leaders’ handling of the crisis, he said the European Central Bank could not ‘fill the vacuum’ left by governments in terms of economic growth or structural reforms.

So, no, more easy credit isn’t the solution.  Countries must live within their means.  Which means adopting austerity measures.  And find ways to achieve real economic growth.  Not the kind that leads to bubbles.  Or sovereign debt crises.  And the best way to generate real economic growth is with tax cuts.  Cutting spending as needed so they spend only what their tax revenue can afford.  They must stop running deficits.  And stop borrowing money.  (Good advice for the United States as well).  As the private sector economy picks up because of a more business-friendly tax structure they will create jobs.  So all of those government workers who lost their jobs in the public sector can get new jobs in the private sector.  Whose salaries and benefits will not have to be paid for by more government borrowing.  If they adopt pro-growth policies like this the international community may still be able to help them.  And save the Euro.  But will they?  With all of that public opinion against any more austerity?  Don’t know.  Probably not. 

It’s unlikely that the Euro will ever find its way out of the woods.  For these woods are scary, dark and deep. 

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The US and UK are pressuring Germany to print Euros and guarantee Greek Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2012

Week in Review

Greece is in a world of hurt.  Their government spends too much money.  And their people answer calls for austerity with riots.  They simply refuse to address the problem that got them where they are.  Too much spending.  If they continue to reject austerity measures to bring their spending in line with their ability to pay for it they’re going to be cut off from future loans.  And broomed out of the Eurozone.  That won’t be pretty.  Because if others don’t prop them up they simply won’t be able to service their debt.  They will default on their sovereign debt obligations.  And the banks who have loaned large sums of Euros to them will struggle to recover from these losses.  Many of them simply won’t be able to.  Once the banks start failing the contagion will spread throughout Europe.  And the world.  Bringing on a worldwide recession.  That could easily slide into a depression.  And all of this because of excessive government spending.  There’s a lesson to learn here.  STOP SPENDING SO MUCH.  But no one ever learns this lesson.  Especially when Keynesians are running the government.

They’re talking about your typical Keynesian solutions.  More of the same that got Greece into the trouble they’re in.  Quantitative easing.  Printing money.  To stimulate these troubled economies with…wait for it…more government spending.  As if they can fix their debt troubles with higher consumer prices.  Which is what you get when you print more money.  Especially when the supply of money grows at a rate greater than its economy grows.  So prices will rise while the value of the Euro will fall.  It’ll make their exports cheaper.  But it’ll also make the value of all those outstanding sovereign Euro bonds worth less.  Those bonds all those banks are holding.  Giving them a negative return on their investment.  Pushing these banks closer to insolvency.

And it doesn’t end there.  The strongest economy in the Eurozone is Germany.  They know a thing or two about inflation thanks to the hyperinflation in Weimar Germany that gave the world Adolf Hitler.  So the Germans have governed responsibly.  By living within their means.  And their people have been paying a lot of taxes to pay for all of those Eurozone bailouts.  A nation that has truly gone above and beyond.  Their reward for responsible governing and selfless sacrifice?  They’re asking the German taxpayer to assume the Greek debt (see David Cameron and Barack Obama lead charge to save the eurozone by James Kirkup posted 5/19/2012 on The Telegraph).

Angela Merkel of Germany came under intense pressure to do more to support the struggling currency by putting German economic credibility behind the debts of weaker economies like Greece…

There is growing agreement among G8 leaders that the answer to the eurozone crisis is for members of the single currency to “mutualise” their debts, meaning strong members like Germany partly guarantee the debts of weaker ones like Greece.

Mrs Merkel has resisted any such plans, reluctant to ask German taxpayers – who already resent the bill for helping other eurozone countries – to underwrite the budgets of indebted southern Europeans…

That’s fair.  Except to the Germans, of course.  The problem is if the Greeks don’t reduce their government spending the underlying problem will remain.  Excessive spending.  Which means they will need bailout after bailout.  One or two or three just won’t do it.  And it will delay the inevitable.  And take more people with them when this Keynesian house of cards implodes.

Giving people benefits is easy.  People love you for your generosity.  Taking benefits away is very, very difficult.  People will hate you.  The longer you wait to start the more difficult it will be to cut these benefits.  And the more the people will hate you.  Which is why it is so difficult to govern responsibly.  Because politicians find it is easier to buy votes with generous benefits than it is win votes with good ideology.  This is why governments everywhere embrace the failed policies of Keynesian economics.  Because it gives legitimacy for the easy way of winning elections.  Buying votes with excessive government spending.

And this is the ultimate problem in the Eurozone.  Keynesian economics.  For if governments did not deficit spend or ‘stimulate’ their economies with monetary policy there would be no Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  Being debt free makes everything easier.  Because you don’t have to borrow.  Service your debt.  Or roll it over.  You have none of those headaches when you live within your means.  Just look at the Germans.

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The End of the Euro is Fast Approaching

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 12th, 2012

Week in Review

This is the end.  Beautiful friend.  This is the end.  My only friend, the end.  Of our elaborate plans, the end.  Of everything that stands, the end.  No safety or surprise, the end.  I’ll never look into your eyes…again. 

Of course, Jim Morrison wasn’t writing about the Euro when he wrote The End.  And the Doors didn’t sing much about public finance.  But whenever a love affair ends it is painful.  Whether it be with your significant other.  Or a common currency that was going to change the economic order of the world.  Especially when foolishly rushing in mistaking desire for love.  The warning signs were there.  The lying.  And the cheating.  Fudging their numbers to meet the requirements of the Maastricht Treaty.  But what love can ever last when based on a lie (see Fitch Warns Euro Zone of Downgrades If Greeks Exit by Reuters posted 5/11/2012 on CNBC)?

Credit rating agency Fitch put the whole of the euro zone on notice on Friday that were Greece to leave the currency bloc as a result of its current crisis, the remaining countries could find their sovereign ratings at risk…

It said those countries were France, Italy, Spain, Cyprus Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia and Belgium…

The leaders of Greece’s once-dominant political parties were making a last push on Friday to avert a new election, which a poll showed would give victory to a radical leftist and doom an EU bailout — its second — agreed in March.

The majority of Greeks want to stay in the euro zone but voted last Sunday for parties that reject the severe terms of a bailout negotiated with foreign lenders.

European leaders say Greece will be ejected from the common currency [EUR=X  1.2914  —  UNCH  (0)   ] if it turns its back on the package of tax hikes and wage cuts.

Well, then, goodbye Euro.

You can’t stay in the Euro if you need a Euro bailout but reject the terms of that bailout.  For if you’re in need of a bailout you really can’t dictate the terms of that bailout.  That usually falls to the party who has the financial wherewithal to bail you out.  And that’s not Greece.  So sad considering so much of Western Civilization came from Athens.

So what will it take to learn that an ever expanding welfare state does not work?  How many more nations must fall?  All of Europe?  Will that be enough for the United States to learn the folly of their current economic policies?  Probably not.  They will follow Europe.  Who will follow Greece.  Buying votes with welfare spending.  Until they cross the point of no return.  Where the people will reject austerity.  And responsible governing.  Because their government taught them to.  Always assuming that the day of reckoning will come in some other generation.  Not in the current one.  But the day of reckoning has arrived.  Greece cannot borrow enough money to meet their spending requirements.  For when a government spends more than they can borrow it’s time to cut your spending.  They fudged their debt and deficit numbers to join the Euro.  And their numbers have only grown worse ever since.  And no amount of Keynesian math or class warfare can change that. 

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The US and UK following Keynesian Policies and Suffering Jobless Recoveries

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 28th, 2012

Week in Review

The US is not the only country suffering through a ‘jobless’ recovery.  Which is just another way of saying continued recession.  Or double-dip recession.  The UK is having the same problems we’re having.  And using inept government policies to try and fix them.  Just like in the US (see A recession made in Downing Street – but not caused by cuts by ALLISTER HEATH posted 4/26/2012 on City A.M.).

The first problem has been the composition of the austerity package. Much of the tightening has been via tax hikes rather than spending cuts – capital gains, national insurance, stamp duty, value added tax, and now pasties and the rest. That was the wrong choice: lower taxes are good for growth, higher taxes are bad. The trick is to deliver austerity by cutting spending, not by hiking taxes.

The next issue is that the government’s supply-side agenda has failed miserably. By now, developers should have been set free to build new airports and even cities; the labour market should have been liberalised; job-reducing red tape eliminated; the top rate of tax abolished; mad EU rules abolished, and so on and so forth. Britain needed a revolution; it was granted a few over-hyped reforms…

…excessive inflation has slashed real incomes and real wealth; this, rather than cuts, is what has depressed spending the most…

Last but not least, banking rules. It was right to ensure banks held more capital and that credit became priced rationally – but the reforms have spiralled out of control…

What is most depressing is that the double-dip (if that is indeed what it is) will wrongly discredit austerity, even though the state remains incredibly profligate…

President Obama has broken deficit and debt records.  While he chastises the Right for irresponsibly spending beyond their means.  Demanding that they raise taxes to pay for this irresponsible spending.  That somehow higher taxes will fix all of America’s ills.  Or, at the least, address the social injustice of prosperity.  And happiness.

Both the UK and the US are steadfastly following the failed policies of John Maynard Keynes.  Demand-side Keynesian economics.  Tax and spend.  Because they’ve ‘worked so well’ in the past.  Of course they haven’t.  They never have.  And they never will.  What works are supply-side economics.  Those policies embraced by Margaret Thatcher.  And Ronald Reagan.  Who enjoyed real economic recoveries.  The kind that created jobs.

Politics never change.  Politicians dumb down public education so the people never learn the lessons of history.  That all of their policies are tried and failed.  So they make the same arguments every election cycle.  And the young believe in the goodness of these policies.  The fairness of these policies.  Never knowing the lives they have destroyed through the years.  Which is why politicians work so hard to get the youth vote.  Before they learn the truth.  And become conservative.

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France may be next to go in Crisis as the Weight of the Crushing Costs of her Social Democracy threatens the Euro

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2012

Week in Review

France is in big trouble.  Or is about to be.  For they have put the ‘social’ in social democracy.  And the French people are about to learn how all that government largess can kill an economy.  And take with it all the social benefits they’ve come to enjoy (see A country in denial posed 3/31/2012 on The Economist).

France has not balanced its books since 1974. Public debt stands at 90% of GDP and rising. Public spending, at 56% of GDP, gobbles up a bigger chunk of output than in any other euro-zone country—more even than in Sweden. The banks are undercapitalised. Unemployment is higher than at any time since the late 1990s and has not fallen below 7% in nearly 30 years, creating chronic joblessness in the crime-ridden banlieues that ring France’s big cities. Exports are stagnating while they roar ahead in Germany. France now has the euro zone’s largest current-account deficit in nominal terms. Perhaps France could live on credit before the financial crisis, when borrowing was easy. Not any more. Indeed, a sluggish and unreformed France might even find itself at the centre of the next euro crisis.

It is not unusual for politicians to avoid some ugly truths during elections; but it is unusual, in recent times in Europe, to ignore them as completely as French politicians are doing. In Britain, Ireland, Portugal and Spain voters have plumped for parties that promised painful realism. Part of the problem is that French voters are notorious for their belief in the state’s benevolence and the market’s heartless cruelty. Almost uniquely among developed countries, French voters tend to see globalisation as a blind threat rather than a source of prosperity.  With the far left and the far right preaching protectionism, any candidate will feel he must shore up his base.

In America they say no president can win a reelection with unemployment at 8%.  The French have been 1% below that rate for 30 years.  Their banking system is not that far away from cascading bank runs.  Their big cities are surrounded by tinderboxes of unemployed youth just waiting for something to set them off.  And a large current account deficit means they are uncompetitive in international trade.  Which means that their economy is not about to create a lot of new jobs to employ the unemployed.  And with the government already spending over half of their GDP they’re not going to be able to throw much at the unemployed youth to keep them from expressing their discontent at being unemployed.  And with France’s history of generous state benefits the unemployed will not take kindly to any austerity programs.  Nor will those who have jobs.

Could France be the country to break the Euro’s back?  Perhaps.  For they are definitely too big for Germany to save.  And if France goes the grand experiment of the common currency will come to an end.  For a common currency without a political unity is doomed to fail.  For there is no way to stop a member state from not meeting the requirements of the Maastricht Treaty (which created the Euro).  So their financial problems are everyone’s financial problems.  Because of the common currency.  And if you think the French are going to take austerity orders from Germany you don’t know the French.  Or Franco-German history.  For they will cooperate.  But one will never subordinate themselves to the other.

So don’t be surprised if the next round of austerity fills the streets of French cities and towns with discontent.  For it looks like it will soon be their turn in this unfolding saga of the decline and fall of the Euro.  Pity to see this befall such a great people.  For much of the Enlightenment came from French thinkers.  And to see her collapse under the weight of her social democracy is painful to watch indeed.

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Faced with Unpleasant Austerity Spain follows Greece’s Lead and Riots in the Streets

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2012

Week in Review

The Eurozone is suffering the consequences of their social democracies.  Their cradle-to-the-grave welfare state.  And huge governments full of government jobs.  Paying nice salaries and benefits.  Greece is on the brink of bankruptcy because of their out of control spending.  And when they try to rein in that spending the people take to the streets in violent protest.  Making it very hard for the government to take back some of the free stuff they’ve been giving out to buy their votes.  And making it ever harder to avoid bankruptcy.  Now it’s Spain’s turn (see Spain Unions On Strike Over Austerity Plans by Robert Nisbet posted 3/30/2012 on Sky News).

Scores of Spanish workers have been arrested after protesting on a day of anger over a swingeing austerity drive and changes to labour laws…

In scenes reminiscent of anti-austerity demonstrations in Greece, tens of thousands held protest marches in Madrid and other cities…

There is widespread anger at moves by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government – which is not yet 100 days old – to slash Spain’s debt and boost the economy.

Spain’s biggest unions called the 24-hour strike over labour reforms which make it cheaper and easier for companies to lay people off and cut wages without consultation.

The government claims they are needed to tackle the 22.85% jobless rate, which is predicted to rise to almost 24.3% this year…

The government is under pressure to reduce its budget deficit, which last year ballooned to 8.51% of all the goods and services produced by Spain.

The European Union says this must be reduced to 5.3% this year and 3% in 2013 but economists warn that growth in Spain is so sluggish and debt so high, it will be a tough deadline to meet.

There is good reason for nervousness in the Eurozone. Unlike Greece and Portugal, Spain is deemed too big to bail and British banks are also heavily exposed to Spanish debt.

With unemployment running at 50% among young Spaniards and, as a member of the Eurozone, no monetary levers to pull, the government in Madrid says it has little choice but to wield the axe once again.

Peak unemployment in the U.S. during the Great Depression was about 25%.  So Spain is enduring Great Depression unemployment.  That’s bad.  What’s worse is that those who can be the most violent in their discontent, the young, suffer from 50% unemployment.  Filling them with discontent.  And a lot of free time on their hands.  Never a good combination.

If Spain has a high budget deficit it can only mean one of two things.  Either their government is spending too much.  Or their economy cannot generate sufficient tax revenue from their tax structure.  Either taxes aren’t high enough.  Or taxes are too high and they dampen economic activity thus reducing tax revenue.  With those high unemployment numbers, though, the smart money is on ‘they’re spending too much’.  Both the government.  And the employers.  Where the unions are holding the cost of labor (wages and benefits) so high that it’s too costly to hire more employees.  Whereas if the market set wages and benefits these costs would come down to reflect that large surplus of labor out there.  And the people who want jobs could get jobs.

The problem with these social democracies is that they are anti-business.  They favor the public sector over the private sector.  But you can’t keep beating up on the private sector.  Because they pay the taxes that fund the public sector.  A lot of that unemployment no doubt are government workers they let go to meet their Eurozone requirements.  And there are probably a lot more to follow.  If they reduce the cost of labor in the private sector the private sector will be able to absorb these people.  And as the private sector grows and becomes more productive more people will be paying taxes.  And they will be able to bring down those massive budget deficits. 

But if they don’t bring down labor costs or cut government spending, hello Greece.  Which they are currently experiencing in the streets of Spain.  Which, incidentally, is the path the U.S. is currently on.

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Ireland needs an EU Bailout but doesn’t like the Austerity attached to it and may reject the New Spending Rules

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 3rd, 2012

Week in Review

Just when you thought the Euro was safe again (see Future of the euro again thrown into doubt after Irish announce referendum on new EU cash rules by Jason Groves posted 2/29/2012 on the Daily Mail).

Efforts to prop up the euro were again thrown into doubt last night after Ireland announced plans for a referendum on whether to accept new European spending rules…

Public anger over austerity measures is running high in Ireland and many observers were last night predicting a ‘No’ vote. That would not prevent the strict budget controls coming into force, but would leave Ireland  unable to access future EU bailouts…

Ireland has twice rejected plans for EU reform in referendums, only for the votes to be overturned under intense pressure from Brussels.

Eurosceptics in Ireland are expected to use the latest referendum to highlight Ireland’s dire economic problems, which have required a £70 billion bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund.

Ireland giving away control over its own destiny to others due to intense pressure from an outside power?  My, how times have changed.  Once it took an occupying army to wrest their sovereignty away.  Now all you have to do is to get a nation to spend itself into debt and they will eventually hand you the keys to the kingdom.  Will they do it again?  Time will tell.

Again, the problem with the Eurozone is the lack of a political union.  But getting a political union of countries having such long and rich histories is not easy.  For if it were they’d already have done it.  But they haven’t.  And probably never will.  Unless countries step forward and agree to surrender their culture and identity.  And give control over their destiny to a distant central power.  Something that just doesn’t happen.  At least, not so far in the history of this world.  Where the trend seems to be definitely in the other direction.  Where autonomous regions of countries yearn for their independence from the countries suffocating their culture and identity.

This is the risk of excessive government spending.  You spend too much and you either ask for help.  Or wreak havoc on your nation by destroying its financial institutions with bankruptcy.  Neither is good.  But one is less desirable than the other.  Better still would be never putting yourself in between these two choices in the first place.  And the path there is that dreaded ‘A’ word.  Austerity.  For this we know for certain.  If Ireland had no debt Brussels wouldn’t be dictating terms to them.

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Some say the Germans should Remember that Austerity gave them Hitler and should therefore Forgive some Greek Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2012

Week in Review

There are more Nazi comparisons in the continuing saga of the Greek debt crisis as people keep picking on Germany.  The strongest Eurozone state.  And the only one who can bail out the weaker ones (see Germany has forgotten the lessons of war reparations by Jeremy Warner posted 2/17/2012 on The Telegraph).

While on the subject of historical parallels, there’s another which has not yet been given sufficient an airing. This was the vexing question of German war reparations after the slaughter of the First World War, brilliantly identified by John Maynard Keynes at the time in his polemic, “Economic Consequences of the Peace”, as fundamentally unfair on the Germans. Keynes branded the Treaty of Versailles a “Carthaginian Peace”.

True.  The Treaty of Versailles did treat the Germans unfairly.  A word commonly bandied about at the time in Germany was humiliated.  And betrayed.  Even stabbed in the back.  Because the Germans didn’t start that war.  Everyone was eager to go to war.  And nearly everyone did thanks to those entangling alliances that George Washington warned us about.  And another thing.  The Germans didn’t lose the war.  No one did.  And no one won the war.  It ended in an armistice.  Much like the Korean War.  And yet during the treaty process they identified Germany as the sole culprit that caused the war.  And the allies all tried to recoup their losses and rebuild their empires by bleeding Germany dry.

Part of Germany’s purpose during interminable attempts to renegotiate these debts on less oppressive terms was to demonstrate that the German economy was in no position to pay – ergo, the creditor was at some stage going to have to take an almighty hit. Indeed, it is sometimes argued that the Weimar hyperinflation was deliberately engineered in order to demonstrate this fact beyond doubt. There can be no other explanation for the bizarrely ruinous policies of deficit financing pursued by the Bundesbank at that time. No sane central banker could possibly have sanctioned such a strategy…

Given its history, it is quite strange that Germany has such difficulty in grasping this reality. It is sometimes said that German attitudes to the economy and the current crisis are instructed by experience of Weimar inflation and its catastrophic consequences. Yet it wasn’t hyperinflation that brought Hitler to power, but rather the depression of the early 1930s, which in Germany’s case was greatly exaggerated by the pro-cyclical austerity the government of the time insisted on applying to the problem. Those who who [sic] don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

The Weimar hyperinflation played a part.  But what really motivated Hitler was the Versailles Treaty.  Hitler was a veteran of WWI.  He served bravely.  Was promoted to corporal.  Suffered temporary blindness from a gas attack.  And he knew the Germans weren’t beaten.  Exhausted?  Yes.  War weary?  Yes.  But militarily defeated?  No.  It was the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty that drove Hitler.  So much so that when his panzer armies conquered France he met the French in a special rail car to sign the instrument of surrender.  The same rail car the Germans signed the humiliating Versailles Treaty.

Many Germans rallied around Hitler because they felt the same way.  Germany had grown to be the dominating European power.  And that treaty did what Germany’s enemies couldn’t do.   Change the balance of power in Europe.  To reverse the German successes of the last century or so.  This is what brought Hitler to power.  Vengeance.  To right the wrongs done to Germany.  Had they not been so wronged it is unlikely that a gifted orator would have risen to inflame the masses.  For there may have been no hyperinflation without those punishing reparations in the first place.  And without that economic crisis the world wouldn’t even know the name Adolf Hitler.  (Probably.  Unless a prosperous Weimar Germany liked and bought his art.  Then instead of remembering him as a crazed mass murderer we would remember him as an artist.)

In contrast nobody wronged Greece.  They got into this mess on their own.  By irresponsible government spending.  And the cure for irresponsible spending is responsible spending.  Not forgiving debt so they can keep spending irresponsibly.  German hyperinflation resulted from unjust war reparations that destroyed the German economy.  The Greek crisis resulted from irresponsible spending that destroyed the Greek economy.  Spending is the problem.  It needs to be cut.  So they stop running deficits.  And stop growing their debt.  But cutting government spending is easier said than done.  For once the government makes the people dependent on government benefits the people tend to not want to give them up.  But they must.  It’s the only way to fix the underlying problem.  Irresponsible spending.  And forgiving debt not only misses this central point.  It encourages more of the same.

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If Sarkozy gets his way it will Speed Up the Demise of the Eurozone

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 11th, 2011

Week in Review

You knew it couldn’t last.  The peace between archenemies France and Great Britain.  It’s just too hard to forget a century or so of history I guess (see EU Treaty: Nicolas Sarkozy’s push for power poses ‘biggest threat to EU unity’ by Bruno Waterfield posted 12/9/2011 on The Telegraph).

France has long pushed for an “intergovernmental” organisation that could reshape Europe around the kind of protectionist model that has traditionally been opposed by Britain and a coalition of free-trade nations.

“The fear is not the possibility of an intergovernmental treaty between 26 EU countries. We have to remember and beware Sarkozy and his speeches calling for a smaller union,” said Mr Verhofstadt. “Everyone knows that is the big risk now.”

In speech in Marseilles yesterday, Mr Sarkozy called for a “real European industrial policy”, a revision of the EU’s single market competition policy and the imposition of trade barriers on Asian countries, such as China, with lower social standards. “I would like to see Europe stop allowing products to enter its territory that respect none of the rules we impose on our producers, our farmers and our stockbreeders,” he said.

First France wanted the European Central Bank to start printing money to solve the Eurozone’s debt woes.  Germany not being too keen on inflation was not too keen on that idea.  They’d rather see countries enact austerity.  And live within their means.  Like the Germans are doing better than most in the Eurozone.  Of course that’s the last thing these countries want to do.  Cut back on their welfare states.  For it’s what makes them European.  Well, that and very high taxes.

Not only does France NOT want to enact any austerity measures, they want to let the good times keep rolling.  By finding other sources of revenue to pay for them.  Such as import tariffs on goods coming into the European Union.  Especially those goods from Asia that their domestic industries can’t compete against because of those high taxes to support those generous welfare states.

But this isn’t a solution.  Which is why Great Britain is against it.  As well as that coalition of free-trade nations.  Import tariffs are just taxes paid by the consumers.  They increase domestic prices.  Pulling more money out of consumers’ pockets.  Which reduces economic activity.  It also invites retaliatory tariffs.  Which increases the price of exports.  Which means people in those export markets buy less.  Because they have less money in their pockets.  Which also reduces economic activity.

Import tariffs won’t be the panacea Sarkozy thinks they’ll be.  Because economic activity is dynamic.  It isn’t static.  Yes, at first tariffs will increase tax revenue.  But they also will be a drag on the economy.  And less economic activity means less tax revenue.  Just like every nation that tried to tax away their debt problems learned.  One tax rate increase was never enough.  For every time they raised the tax rate there was a corresponding reduction in economic activity.  Which only made the original problem worse.

If Sarkozy gets his way it will speed up the demise of the Eurozone.  Which is inevitable.  For they have shown unity in currency will not work without political unity.  And there will never be political unity.  At least you’re not going to get political unity when you’re talking about the benefits of a smaller union.  Because you can’t reach a political consensus in the full union.

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