Britain calls it a depression

Phillip Street Sydney 1930s depression
Phillip Street Sydney 1930s depression

THE DEPRESSION

It’s starting to get interesting. Britain has just announced its sixth quarter of negative economic growth and is calling it a depression.  Not poor ol’ Gordie Brown, former world greatest treasurer, though!

As in the US, where Barack Obama has only bailed out the banks and Wall Street – not the people – there will be no recovery. The economy is people, and people need a dollar in their hands for the economy to work. If people have no more capacity to borrow, why do we bail out banks?

Australia’s land price bubble will burst shortly, so we have the advantage of extra time in which to let our press and media know there should be no bank bailouts, nor propping-up of collapsing businesses. That’s arse backwards. The people need support – through tax cuts and a national land rent system. It’s the only way out of a depression.

When our land bubble is allowed to burst, as it must, the banks must quickly write down mortgage values to market and do their sums based on that. If it means they go under, they will be picked up at their true value by other companies, as the capitalist system demands.

But socialism for banks who over-lent without concern for risk management isn’t on! ‘Retaining confidence in the system’ by bank and stock market bailouts is the greatest load of BS. It is simply a con to keep putting dollars into the hands of the wealthy and delaying events until THEY put THEIR affairs into order – and the devil take the hindmost!

If rational people can’t get this message out, you can bet your bottom dollar that Kevin Rudd’s also going to try to ‘convince’ Australians that we need to assist the wealthy, too!

That’s why Michael Hudson’s current Australian tour has been so timely. He’s slaying them talking about this depression! He’s one professor of economics prepared to call BS when he sees it.

Lifting the Lid on the GFC

Last Wednesday night’s symposium “Lifting the Lid on the GFC” at the Melbourne Town Hall – with Michael Hudson, Steve Keen and me – was an enjoyable and well-attended event.

The meeting  was chaired by the Henry George Foundation of Australia’s John Poulter, who provided nicely-researched comments, and provided Steve Keen with some jogging shoes for his upcoming ‘bet’ trek to Mount Koscuisko.

It was great to speak to people afterwards. Despite assertions of politicians and the media, people are  increasingly sceptical about the ‘relatively healthy’ state of the Australian economy in comparison with those countries whose real estate prices have tanked . Many believe it’s a matter of timing and that it looks like we’re  going to be one of the last cabs off the rank.

Click through my GFC presentation here.

Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne Town Hall

POPULATION

Population control?
Population control?

WHAT POPULATION IS SUSTAINABLE?

The greatest problem confronting the world must surely be population growth? After all, look what we’re doing to the planet; look at the Global Financial Crisis; look at our overcrowded cities; look at the water shortages; look at global warming ….?

Although this is an intuitively appealing argument, in what way does limiting populating growth begin to answer the corruptions into which Western civilisation has degenerated, where finance, insurance and real estate have been mounted on an altar to which the poor and dispossessed and, increasingly, the middle class are required to genuflect before consideration is given to the needs of the citizenry and sustainable wealth creation?  Do not the 1.5 billion cattle that occupy 100 times more land than the 7 billion people on the planet pose a greater environmental threat?

Is the drift of population to the world’s great cities healthy? Is not the drift associated with the promotion of rent-seeking by errant tax regimes? Would the drift (in search of jobs?) be arrested if, instead of taxing people for working, we were to capture publicly-generated land rent, the annual value of locations? Would not the higher revenues drawn from cities act to reverse this drift and the rape of city hinterlands as Megapolis feeds upon itself at a terrible coast to rural and regional areas?

Although the Reverend Thomas Malthus was proven wrong and shown to have the cart before his horse, insofar as population growth has been found to decline with economic security, this hasn’t stopped the emergence a neo-Malthusianism which holds that populations must adapt to pathological environments before the health of the planet may be restored. This must be our starting point is their claim. But they are wrong.

I don’t know what constitutes a sustainable population but – like Bill of Rights advocates who fail to have peoples’ right to share equally in the rent that flows like oil from land and natural resources as priority one – zero population growth advocates are misguided. They’re akin to so-called  ‘Productivity Commissioners’ who refuse to see that taxation does indeed destroy, and that land-based revenues conserve.

Having dashed out these thoughts earlier today, I’ve subsequently found this from George Monbiot which expresses much the same sentiment about population.

(1) New US/Australia dollar ‘carry trade’ (2) DEPRESSION CONTINGENCY PLAN?

(1)  ALAN KOHLER DISCUSSES NEW US/AUSTRALIA DOLLAR ‘CARRY TRADE’

Move over Japanese yen! Alan Kohler describes the newly-developing USD/AUD borrowing-lending relationship in today’s “Business Spectator”. Of course, the thinking underpinning the USD/AUD ‘carry trade’ in the article relies on the premise that Australia has somehow or other managed to outsmart other nations by averting the property crash resulting from its bubble.  Apparently, the Australian government believes it has forestalled the real estate collapse by means of the ‘First Home Buyers’ Boost’, a handout never designed to assist first home buyers but to pump up the real estate market. It hasn’t obviated the crash. It has only delayed it and made it much worse. Given that its real estate bubble was actually 1.7 times America’s, might I suggest the new US/Australia dollar carry trade will be relatively short-lived as Australia’s chickens come home to roost?  Hmmm… on the other hand, as the downside prospects for the US dollar are also extremely threatening, maybe some sort of ignoble nexus may linger between the two doomed currencies?  🙂

There’s a remarkable ability for the human psyche to draw the line behind bad news and to conclude “Well, if this is as bad as it gets, it should be easy running from here”.  However, this will often ignore fairly obvious things called FACTS. We’ve become expert, for example, at overlooking the sheer extent of the debt leveraged off this worlwide land price bubble.  But I guess if newpapers don’t offer a new ray of hope each day amid the gloom, folks might get a little depressed?

Helicopter Ben
Helicopter Ben

But how long can governments continue to ‘stimulate’ the economy to keep things moving, while unemployment continues to rise and people cut their real spending.  Forever?  Not likely!  Can governments really be ‘stimulating’ the economy with one hand while they tax (read fine) labour and capital for working with the other, anyway? They’ve got to get out of the way; they’re meant to be helping us!

Now, let’s get down to basics.  What’s the bottom line in the US, for example?  What if their real estate prices haven’t finished declining?  What if the share market recovery IS a ‘dead cat bounce’?  What if they ARE moving into a depression?

(2)  DEPRESSION CONTINGENCY PLAN?

Does President Obama, or Congress, have a contingency plan of ‘last resort’ for this situation? I think not.  Why not? So let me offer one. How about we keep this shot in our locker …. just in case stimulus gets to the point it isn’t working any longer, unemployment is still skyrocketing and depression has set in:-

[THEN]

  • 1)  Eliminate EVERY tax on productive effort – in order to encourage employment and production.  (We may even discover that we’re not ‘post-industrial’ after all!, and that finance, insurance and real estate [the ‘FIRE’ sector] is relegated from its ‘leading’ role within the economy to where it more properly belongs – as part of the ‘service sector’.)
  • 3)  The combination of these two measures, AS A DISASTER CONTINGENCY will, at least while the contingency is being exercised, eliminate tax write offs and other advantages given to real estate, so that land is stimulated into USE for labour and capital (rather than held out of the market, dog-in-the-manger-like, for capital gain by monopolists and speculators).
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles

On any analysis, it can be seen that this contingency measure works.  No quibbles.  Just do it.  After all, isn’t it preferable to another lengthy economic depression which ends in war?

But it mightn’t get that bad?  Hey! It’s a CONTINGENCY remember!  THE ONE WE FAILED TO EXERCISE LAST TIME!

Has this ever been done before?  Yes.  Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Stamford Raffles  brought about the  Dutch East Indies (“The Spice Islands”, now Indonesia) emergence from a depression, by introducing a land rent system and eliminating a multiplicity of Dutch-imposed taxes.  Raffles then went on to found Singapore, now one of the world’s greatest ports, on the same basis.

Not a bad ‘contingency’!

Michael Hudson touring Australia in October

Michael Hudson
Michael Hudson
Steve Keen
Steve Keen

How great to have been invited to speak on the same platform as renowned US professor of economics Michael Hudson and Australia’s own Steve Keen at the Melbourne Town Hall on 14 October!

I’m sure our approaches to “Lifting the Lid on the GFC” will differ, but I’m just as certain we’ll be united in asserting the need for a new economics for the remainder of the 21st century. The monstrously repetitive bubble-burst perversion that has become neo-classical economics has to be replaced by a saner economics.

If you take a peep at these Michael Hudson YouTubes here and here (after setting them to HD!) you’ll get a taste of this economic historian’s background – including his time as a former Wall Street balance of payments expert – and of the common sense approach that has seen him invited to advise several European nations how to extricate themselves from the GFC, intact and in fact.

Michael Hudson has seen all this nonsense before, from the inside, and Keen has challenged the weaknesses in the economic system since the 1970s. For that matter, none of us are exactly ‘fly-by-nights’, and each of us called this financial meltdown quite independently.

Learning the lessons of history?

KohlerLOOK TO HISTORY TO SEE OUR FUTURE
 
ALAN Kohler’s Theatre of the Absurd in today’s Business Spectator is worth the read. While politicians around the world are congratulating themselves on their stimulus packages, they’ve not put anything in place that’s going to stop financial collapses from happening in future! That’s been a problem for a long time now. Maybe they’re too scared to offend powerful landed interests who ‘cruel the pitch’ for the rest of us?
 
Maybe we need to sack weak-kneed neo-classical economists and put scientists on the case? They’d soon understand the implications of  P – R = W + I. They wouldn’t bury it, or turn absurdly ad hominem against Henry George.
 
People understood the principle centuries before Henry George came on the scene. They’d seen the collapse of Ancients Rome and Greece due to taxation and land speculation and, under the inspiration of William the Conqueror, tried something else.
 
Professor Thorold Rogers says they eventually got it working pretty well, too:-
 
“I have stated more than once that the fifteenth century and the first quarter of the sixteenth were the golden age of the English labourer, if we are to interpret the wages which he earned by the cost of the necessaries of life. At no time were wages, relatively speaking, so high, and at no time was food so cheap. Attempts were constantly made to reduce these wages by Act of Parliament, the legislature  insisting that the Statute of Labourers should be kept.
 
But these efforts were futile; the rate keep steadily high, and finally becomes customary, and was recognized by Parliament.
 
It is possible, that as the distribution of land became more general, and the tenancy of land for terms of years became habitual, the phenomenon which has often been noted as characteristic of peasant proprietorship, a high rate of wages paid to free labour, may have been exhibited in the period on which I am commenting. …..
 
[Rogers goes on to provide the daily wage of artisans, agricultural labourers, skilled craftsmen, carpenters, plumbers and joiners.]  ….
 
Nor, as I have already observed, were the hours long. It is plain the day was one of eight hours.”
 
Six Centuries of Work and Wages – The History of English Labour, James E. Thorold Rogers, T. Fisher Unwin, 12th edition, London, 1912, pp. 326-327.
 
Bliss chart
 
It’s too sweeping and glib to ascribe the peak in the above chart by the Reverend WPD Bliss (constructed from Thorold Rogers’ painstaking examination of Manor Rolls over six centuries) to the labour shortage resulting from the Black Death. This would sell Rogers short as an economic historian. The Black Death peaked in 1350 and this accounts for the large uptick appearing in the latter half of the fourteenth century.
 
So, when land rent was collected and there were few taxes, workers were actually more prosperous than they are today!  And they were debt free!
 
Maybe this key aspect of feudalism still carries an important lesson for our current brigade of smug and self-congratulatory ‘ploticians’ and ‘conomists’? The chart below demonstrates that under their policy-making, we continue to have the sort of retrogressions shown in Bliss’ graph.
 
Wage decline

STOCK MARKETS AINT MY BAG!

 Phil Anderson
Phil Anderson

I admit to not understanding the niceties of stock markets. At times this has been a source of frustration to my friend, Phil Anderson, whose knowledge of its workings are unparalleled.

I’ve struggled to ingest the detail as Phil has patiently explained some technical aspect or other of the ASX to me. His subscribers obviously derive great value from Phil’s incredible share market skills.

Still, my more real estate-oriented mind does occasionally seize upon certain of his insights; such as that the share market has already factored real estate market happenings into its prices well before the real estate market itself will. And I’m sure that’s usually correct, because that was the sequence of events when the US ‘subprime crisis’ hit. Although share market prices dived, residential real estate was first characterised by a drop in turnover before, after a short delay, prices reacted.

At least in the low to middle ranges of the Australian real estate market, we are currently in a somewhat longer hiatus between a fall in turnover and the price drop. The more limited, prestigious end of market has already experienced price declines at several top addresses, and margin calls against highly-leveraged property will account for more than a handful of these.

Similarly, my investigations into real estate sales in the early to mid 1920s in Australia and the US led me to conclude that it was not the 1929 United States stock market collapse that brought about the Great Depression, but rather the real estate boom that had preceded it. This isn’t widely understood, because it was October 1929 that grabbed all the headlines.

Phil Anderson’s excellent new book “The Secret Life of Real Estate” confirms this thesis. His foray into real estate cycles in the US over the last two centuries had me sitting up and paying attention, so I can recommend a read of “Secret Life” for anyone wishing to lay bare the workings of the real estate market and to understand how it impacts both upon the share market and the economy. Phil’s research into US real estate market cycles is painstaking, illuminating and enjoyable. I wonder whether you would differ from my layman’s approach to the following, Phil?

Last week I came across this “Chart of the Day” measuring the US stock market in terms of the S&P 500 price to earnings ratio. The recent spike leapt off the screen at me. It suggests that the P/E got as high as 144 in what I have assumed to be the recent ‘dead cat bounce’. The text accompanying the chart says that it still stood at 129 at the end of the June quarter. The poor profits reporting season obviously played a large part in these incredibly high ratios. By comparison Australian P/Es are far more modest as they struggle to break the 20 barrier.

If the “Chart of the Day” is accurate, it has similarity to the sub-3% yields experienced in the Australian residential market over recent years. Most people know that for the sake of commercial reality these anomalies must ‘correct’ back towards the long term mean – and if it happened to be 8 years after S11, or 80 years after the 1920s crash, I guess there’d be some sort of symmetry.

Stirring times!

MASON GAFFNEY

 Mason Gaffney

MASON GAFFNEY

Like a beacon, Mason Gaffney has stood for decades above the ruck of world economists, because he dared to express a great truth that offends views held by his profession.

As the world slips into a new economic depression, here are three distinct, but interlinked, examples of Gaffney’s work:-

The bonus that comes with reading Gaffney’s insightful papers is a brilliant turn of phrase, honed presumably during his time as a journalist with TIME magazine:-

*”There were two leading charlatans: Arthur Laffer Jr and Robert Barro. Laffer drew his famous curve on Dick Cheney’s cocktail napkin in 1974 and changed the course of history ………  Our ‘new’ President Obama has not radically changed the tenor of his economic advisors. Dick Cheney the person has been relegated to Darth Vader emeritus, but the malady lingers on.”

[Don’t miss Mason Gaffney’s new book, “After the Crash”!]

WE’RE LAUNCHED! (Yes, today – but see earlier posts)

Melbourne fireworks

THE DEPRESSION blogsite is up and running today – 26 August 2009!

I’ve included earlier posts sent by e-mail to all of Australia’s federal politicians on the dates shown.  Some of these have been amended.

I thank Karl Williams (K1) and Karl Fitzgerald (K2), recently-retired editor of “PROGRESS” and Prosper Australia’s webmaster, respectively, for having published some of these thoughts.

Additional to the blog are separate pages relating to a forecast I made in 2001, a 2007 report showing the influence of the tax system on Australian real estate bubbles, and five published newspaper articles.

So, it’s all ‘go’!