Week 27 of the Quarantine
SAN MARTIN, ARGENTINA – “It’s madness. Weep for the nation.”
Our neighbor stopped by yesterday. He was talking about his nation – Argentina.
But Dear Readers might want to save a tear for their own.
The Argentines are running out of money. Real money. For them, real money is U.S. dollars. Compared to their pesos, the dollar is, well, golden.
According to Bloomberg, they only have $6 billion left in storage. Not a lot when you have $323 billion in foreign debt.
Of course, the gauchos have been down this road so many times, they can drive it with their eyes closed. In 2001, they set a record, defaulting on $95 billion in loans.
This past May, they defaulted on $65 billion. They are now lifting the seat cushions, looking for loose change.
And on Tuesday, the government here announced new measures to stop people from dumping the peso and stocking scarce U.S. dollars.
But we’ll come back to that in a minute.
Out of Style
This week, we’re rummaging around in the junkyard of economic history… We looked at the jobs that have been lost… like old carburetors… and the people left behind like burnt-out mufflers.
We saw “old economy” companies, too – GM, J&J, GE, P&G – like stick-shifts “on the column” that nobody knows how to use anymore.
And we looked at politics, leaving behind its ideas and principles – like obsolescent distributor caps. Free Enterprise is as out-of-style as giant tail fins and heavy chrome bumpers.
This morning, for example, Business Insider reports that the President thinks that neither the investors nor the managers, nor even the customers, should decide who owns a tech company. He thinks it’s up to him:
Trump said during a press conference Wednesday that he was “not prepared to sign off” on the proposed deal [between TikTok and Oracle] as he hadn’t yet been briefed, but that he wouldn’t support it if ByteDance retains a majority share.
And then, later in the day, the Big Man tossed the very last hubcap of the old jalopy over the junkyard wall. He wants to give away more fake money than the Democrats! Here’s his tweet yesterday:
Democrats are “heartless”. They don’t want to give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money […]. Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!).
Yes, the government meddling in the economy… the Fed meddling in the markets… giveaways… money-printing – it will all blow back on the USA… but not the way the President imagines.
And in the meantime, we will all get with the new program.
Out with the old and in with the new! Let’s turn away from the junkyard and look at the shiny new cars across the road.
While the U.S. federal government – conservatives and liberals alike – replaces the old free economy with a new model (based loosely on Soviet designs), the Federal Reserve unveils its new post-free-market financial system. The New York Times brings the latest news:
Fed Pledges Low Rates for Years, and Until Inflation Picks Up
Federal Reserve officials expect to leave interest rates near zero for years – through at least 2023 – as they try to coax the economy back to full strength after the pandemic-induced recession, based on their September policy statement and economic projections released Wednesday.
And here, we will depart from our usual judgment-free observations to say that this is really stupid.
Times change. Tastes evolve. People may well decide that they are tired of freedom… even as a goal. They don’t want to have to earn their own money… or pay for their own medical care… or choose where and how they live.
They want leaders – Big Leaders – who make decisions for them; even telling them when they can go outside!
But does anyone really think 12 old jackasses on the Federal Open Market Committee can fix the most important price in finance, the price of credit, better than the free market? If so, where is the evidence?
And when the Fed puts the rate near zero, doesn’t that mean that credit – money lending – has no value? Who believes that?
We don’t know… but whoever it is, the person is a moron.
Alas, in the modern world – with its public education, Facebook, and time wasters – morons are as common as voters. So the latest Fed proclamation was greeted neither with roaring laughter nor undisguised contempt.
Instead, the analysts and dreamers took it in the spirit in which it was intended – as fantasy, but a fantasy in which they were all complicit.
The New York Times offers its opinion:
Nudging price gains slightly higher would buy Fed officials more room to stimulate the economy when needed, since rates incorporate inflation. A little inflation is also thought to grease the wheels of the economy, giving employers room to pass along price increases and raise wages.
Let’s see, businesses can raise prices… and then pay their employees more, too. Is there any sentient being who cannot see what disgraceful poppycock this is?
And yet, there is Fed chair Jerome Powell, out in public, and New York Times financial reporters treating him as if he weren’t retarded.
Trouble is, when you build on fantasies, you end up with monstrosities.
Which brings us back down to Argentina, which has been in fantasyland, off and on, ever since the Big Man himself – Juan Perón – promised to build 100,000 houses for the poor in 1945.
In a matter of months, the old “conservatives” were gone. Free markets, property rights, free enterprise, and sanctity of contracts… financial independence and responsibility – all of them were suddenly out of style.
Instead, the government would take care of everyone… taxing the rich, spending, controlling prices, borrowing… and finally, printing money.
And now, 75 years later, the fantasies still dominate politics… while financial policies are little more than duct tape and lies. Here’s Bloomberg:
Going forward, Argentines seeking to purchase dollars for savings will need to pay a new 35% tax on top of the previous 30% so-called solidarity tax, and they’ll still be limited to buying no more than $200 a month. The extra levy will also affect credit-card purchases in dollars.
But Argentines can spot thieves, even with their masks on.
Within seconds of Tuesday’s announcement, there were lines in front of the black-market currency dealers, eager to trade wads of pesos for a few U.S. dollars (effectively undermining the government’s efforts to keep the dollar down).
The exchange rate soared from 130 pesos to the dollar on Tuesday morning to 150 yesterday.
At least Argentina’s default is out in the open. In a few years, it will be all but forgotten.
America’s default will take more time. It will be more underhanded… and much more costly.
P.S.: Tomorrow, we will look at how the U.S. dollar will be left behind. But if you would like a broader view of what is going on in the financial world, take a look at colleague Tom Dyson’s urgent message. He sees a catastrophe coming, too. But unlike your editor, he has some ideas about what you should do to protect yourself. Click here for more.
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