TEMPLECOMBE, ENGLAND – We took the train from Paris to London… and then from London to the village of Templecombe in Somerset.
We came to visit a friend.
“This was the home of Lord Uxbridge,” our host pointed to an estate as we drove by.
The cavalry commander was with Wellington at Waterloo and now is regarded as a model of English sangfroid.
After leading several charges against French infantry, Lord Uxbridge’s leg was shattered by cannon shot.
He reportedly turned to Wellington, who was nearby, and said, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg.”
“By God, sir, yes you have,” replied the Iron Duke.
The severed leg was a tourist attraction in Belgium, where it was buried.
“I tell my neighbors that I like President Trump,” continued our host.
“You’d think it was the Battle of Waterloo all over. They go ballistic. They can’t believe it.
“I just say that to shake them up. I don’t really know if I like Trump or not. He’s very American. Hard for us to understand.
“But I’m so fed up with the government here. They’re all socialists, even the Conservatives. All they want is my money. They act as if it were theirs. And they don’t even say thank you.”
Our friend has a large farm. But in order to leave it to his children intact, he needs cash to pay the taxes.
And cash can be hard for farmers to come by. He may have to sell part of the estate to pay the death duties.
Taxes have been our subject for the last few days. There is a proposal on the table from Team Trump (most likely, already dead) to cut taxes in the U.S.
It is a strange initiative, pitched as a “miracle for the middle class.” But it will do little for average taxpayers; many would see their taxes go up as a result of the plan.
We recall the Reagan boom, such as it was. It began with a tax cut, largely financed with more debt.
During his two terms, President Reagan increased government spending and ballooned the national debt.
The deficit was 1.6% of GDP in 1979. When Reagan finished his last term, in 1989, it had risen to almost 5% of GDP.
How was it possible, we asked yesterday, that this spending boom did not cause inflation to go up?
It was a “conundrum” to former Fed chief Alan Greenspan. It is a “mystery” to his successor Janet Yellen.
Greenspan’s conundrum dates from 2005, when he noticed that long-term Treasury bond yields fell as the Fed raised rates. (Normally, you’d expect bond yields to track interest rates higher.)
Ms. Yellen’s mystery is of more recent vintage.
Last month, she wondered why inflation didn’t rise, even though the economy had hit employment… and continued making credit available at rates lower than the rate of consumer price inflation.
Free money used to cause inflation; why not now?
Both puzzles are essentially the same question: How come the economy doesn’t respond to easy money the way it used to?
We have a hypothesis…
Money has no intrinsic value. It is useful only as information.
In the simplest terms, money is a score-keeping system. It tells us how much of a claim we have on the world’s goods and services.
More important, it measures inputs and outputs: Time. Resources. Skill. Innovation. Productivity.
We count on honest money to tell us what things are worth – whether we’re losing money or making it… when we should buy more… or invest more… or give up and go home.
Without honest money, we are lost.
That was an important reason why the Soviet Union’s economy fell apart. The apparatchiks set prices for everything. Without a free-market system, they couldn’t depend on price discovery to tell them what things were worth.
After a while, they had no idea whether they were going or coming.
By the time they gave up, the economy was taking raw materials, adding labor, time, skill, capital, and all the other ingredients it takes to make a finished product.
But the resulting output was worth less than the inputs that went into them. The Soviets had created a value-subtracting economy. The harder people worked, the poorer they got.
The U.S. has not reached that level. But it’s headed in that direction.
The economy is running at about one-half to one-third of the rate of growth during the 1960s and 1970s.
And if consumer price inflation was calculated the way it was during the Reagan years, it would show that “real” (inflation-adjusted) GDP growth has been about zero for the overall economy.
And by our estimation, more than half the country has been in a depression for the entire 21st century.
The reason is essentially the same as in the Soviet Union: Price information has become dishonest and unreliable.
The new money system – introduced in 1971 – is fundamentally fraudulent. The new dollar is not connected to gold or any other natural thing.
It is not connected to real wealth. Or real output. Or time. Or anything else that is anchored by the real world.
Out of Whack
In the first 17 years of the 21st century, global central banks fed $20 trillion of new money into the system; government deficits were running wild all over the planet.
And yet… where were the higher rates? Where were the higher prices?
Where were the price signals – for credit or consumer items – to tell us that something was out of whack?
Before the 1970s – when the dollar was still anchored to gold – savings were limited. You could only save money if you first earned it. Savings reflected the wealth savers had saved.
When the government borrowed, it had to draw from this same pool of savings as everyone else.
If it borrowed too much, it “crowded out” private borrowers. This drove up interest rates and could send the economy into a recession.
This, in turn, reduced federal tax receipts and increased the cost of federal debt, as the old loans needed to be rolled over at higher rates.
The limit on available savings naturally prevented federal borrowing from getting out of control.
Come the Reagan team, and it was a new world. Deficits didn’t matter because the new dollar was, essentially, unlimited.
The feds could borrow as much as they wanted without driving up interest rates. No higher rates, no recession. No recession, no need to tighten up or pull back.
But there was no inflation either.
Ms. Yellen says it is a “mystery.” Tomorrow… the mystery solved.
Market Insight: Bitcoin Confounds Critics
BY CHRIS LOWE, EDITOR AT LARGE, Bonner & partners
Last month, China banned cryptocurrency exchanges (websites that allow you to exchange fiat money for bitcoin and other cryptos).
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of America’s biggest bank, JPMorgan Chase, called bitcoin a “fraud.”
And Ray Dalio, the founder of the world’s biggest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, said bitcoin was in a “bubble.”
On this trifecta of bad news, bitcoin fell from its all-time high of $4,912 to $3,319.
But it’s since recovered 27% of those losses.
Today, one bitcoin sells for $4,225 for a year-to-date gain of 323%.
– Chris Lowe
Why Stock Pickers Are Celebrating
Even with the rise of ETFs and quant funds, traditional stock pickers still have reason to celebrate. New data shows that active managers are headed for their most successful year since the financial crisis.
Small-Caps Are Running Hot
The Russell 2000 is an index that tracks U.S. small-cap stocks. It’s been on fire recently, shooting up nearly 8% in three weeks. But now there are signs that small-caps could be running hot, and headed for a correction…
Bill Bonner’s Secret to Lasting Wealth
Recently, Bill disclosed to readers that he is technically part of the “One Percent.” In this essay, Bill shares one wealth-building strategy that has worked wonders for him over the years.
In today’s mailbag, readers congratulate Bill for being part of the “One Percent.”
You asked us to write in to tell you how happy we are at your good fortune, to be a member of the one percent. I’m overjoyed for you! Now, a significant portion of the rest of your elite club does not invoke any feelings of gratitude in my heart for their success.
A lot of those folks not only do not deserve their financial blessings, but probably instead will deserve their end when the poor eat the rich. May you avoid that fate, and may you grow ever richer!
– Tim S.
From the tone of Mr. Bonner’s last musing, he must love abuse! Taunting his readers by telling them he is in the 1% and licking his chops for the next tax cut the rich can enjoy. Well, he gets no tongue lashings from me. Although I am certainly not in the 1% (more like the bottom 1%!), if truth be told, I begrudge the rich nothing.
As my dearly departed mother was fond of saying, my reward will be in heaven. I do so enjoy Mr. Bonner’s missives that I hope he stays rich and sassy for a long, long time. I also give thanks that I am not a U.S. citizen to be burdened with a leader like Trump. So keep up the good work, Bill, and tell it like it is.
– William U.
The annual income requirement to be in the 1% being about $344,000 this year is interesting, but more interesting would be how much WEALTH someone needs to be in the top 1%. There are probably a number of people, especially retirees who don’t have that much annual income, but do have substantial assets that grew due to the low interest or no interest policies of the Fed…
– Richard K.
Love your daily musings! Was tempted to call them “rants,” but they’re too humorous to qualify. Keep up the good work!
– Charlie G.
Meanwhile, discussion on Trump’s tax plan continues…
There is an old saying: “Do not count your chickens before they hatch.” Even after they hatch some will not become adult birds. The same can be said of most any political bill, especially in this time of limited cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.
About the tax ideas: The ideas were on nine pages; with few details. The Trump administration has been in Washington for about nine months – October, 2017. Thus one page per month. Not very effective. What will eventually develop in a tax plan most likely will be very different, even extremely different.
Washington is saying that the middle class will benefit. But most articles suggest that the current tax ideas provide little relief for most middle class or even a tax increase for the middle. It is suggested, Bill, that you DO NOT spend your tax refund until it is received.
– Gary H.
As you point out, because of the elimination of deductions and exemptions, taxes, as a percentage, could actually rise for the middle class more than for the wealthy. Unemployment could also rise in the middle class. Eliminating deductions for mortgage interest could kill the recent boom in home building, for example, along with tens of thousands of skilled jobs in that industry, one of the few not hard hit by automation (though that is coming). And how do you like being in the one percent? Do you really feel superior? I doubt it. You are still at the mercy of the politicians.
– Chuck B.
One of your readers in the mailbag, Joe J., has it right. Corporations don’t pay taxes. They just pass along the cost to the customer. If corporate taxation was ended, there would be concomitant capital repatriation or investment, new jobs, and lower costs that could be passed on as lower prices. Good luck convincing the swamp to go along.
– Michael C.