Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Inflation - A fine and fitting thing? 2

In my previous post, I pointed to what I feel is the real cause of the ongoing/oncoming inflation


I’d like to now look a the angle of government/markets, and assuming my theory is accurate why they haven’t picked up on this or if they have what the consequences have been/would be. This is from a UK perspective, but you can probably mirror most of it to similar economies.


Taking this back to when the issue arose, Labour were in Government. Labour are historically a left-leaning party who aim to redistribute wealth among their citizens by taking money from those who’ve got some and giving it to those who haven’t. I wouldn’t say that Labour were a socialist party, as it’s difficult to follow a socialist agenda in a capitalist Britain which is where we were in the 90s and where we are today, but they effected their ideologies during their tenure by increasing welfare payments and increasing the numbers of people working for the state.

This kept the majority of public support, who were working class or below, on their side. During this time, we experienced decent growth and by delegating responsibility for interest rates to the Bank of England, the inflation numbers were deemed to be good. Housing inflation was ignored of course, despite it increasing the money supply at consolidated level.

Essentially, during this period where housing inflation was increasing, but inflation was low, people were magically seeing their standards of living increase at a faster rate than we’ve tended to see historically. People put this down to good government, but as I pointed out in the first blog post, effectively they weren’t ‘carrying the one’ forward in the sums. This worked for them though, as it also increased indirectly the numbers they were dealing with in budgets and gave them the opportunity to redistribute on indexed taxation levels (using GDP as a base). Meanwhile the right-leaning in society saw their net wealth increase due to their abodes tripling in price. Everyone was a winner. This is odd of course, because the money supply was only increasing by true growth and true inflation or so we’re told. Interest rates were greater than inflation (not an exact science here – indicative only), so how were we all able to get rich at such a quick rate otherwise.

Labour must have known that housing inflation was the missing link – they had some smart people in there in Brown, Darling and Balls. At the BoE we had Ed George and Mervyn King during that time, both were Economists by trade. I think they all knew, but chose to ignore it because of the benefits, rather than lack of understanding of the bubble. To assume that none of these individuals were ‘Monetarists’ and never put forward this concern I find a little difficult to believe.

Of course, come 2007 when bluff was called on this money, Labour’s reputation was in tatters and at the next election Conservatives were put in power (with Lib Dems). Labour have never admitted to knowing this, and instead like to blame the bankers. For me, bankers will arbitrage differences. Whether that’s lending at a higher rate than then borrow, or whether that’s though repackaging mortgages and selling them on at a rate they can lend above – it’s all the same. The fractional reserve system will lead to exponential levels of exposure if you allow it and don’t regulate, but if you pretend account for more money than their actually is, that lie will come back to bite you. I don’t blame the bankers in any of this, the market was the market, so all are to blame for the price of ABN Amro, the belief that Lehmans were good for their debts, and the belief that Northern Rock had enough money in the vaults to pay back the deposits. We all shared the joys and the risk of this indexed position. Some ended up losing, some ended up winning – but it was a distorted baseline.

Market Reaction

Then came the ‘crisis’. Gordon Brown was quick to point out that this was a ‘Global problem, requiring a Global solution’. He had to say that. If he had come clean about the true cause and effect, the markets would have lost confidence in the money system. Essentially, the pound had become a concept like Time, where it has been defined but only so that others can benchmark against it. The reality is money had been created over and above what was disclosed. The economy had been inflated through the backdoor. Gordon Brown had no alternative, but to tell the world this concept was still valid and it wasn’t a UK issue but a global one. In many respects he was right, the same had happened across most of the Western World. Many economies had bluffed the world by creating more money and not telling anyone about it, and thus were in the same position. This is why I believe Gordon Brown knew what was happening all along, and when bluff was called he played this political Ace. This was backed by governments across the world who also pointed to it being a Global issue (some pointed the finger directly at America, but their fingers were stubbed by the door being closed on that opinion).

Gordon Brown then looked at Keynesian policies to try and spend his way out of the recession – it was never going to work, the money supply was depleting back to its true base and given his 40% spending had to be maintained in real terms, he would have ended up with a true socialist government spending closer to 60% or 70% of a rebased GDP. He did give it a go for a while, but Keynes himself often said the problem with people is that they always look to solve previous economic issues by using the previous solution, when every situation is different (I haven’t quoted him directly, as he said this repeatedly phrasing it differently each time).

Gordon soon realised with the help of the BoE, that the only way out of it was to print the money to cover the gap. In return the markets diluted the pound down to a reasonable level to reflect this, but no-one ever had to admit that the concept of the UK economy and the money supply wasn’t what they thought it was. In many ways, you have to admire Gordon Brown for this, he got the press blaming the bankers to further drag us away from the truth (an easy sell to the core Labour support who don’t like capitalism). Bad Bankers. They caused it through arbitrage of constants. Hmm, OK Gordon.

What if house price inflation was accounted for back then

There’s a lot of variables in that scenario, but let’s assume the BoE included house price inflation in their core inflation numbers. What would have happened is that interest rates would have been set a lot higher initially. This would have had the knock on effect of reducing the demand for borrowing, which would have kept housing price inflation in line with general inflation and growth (if they managed to get it right). Subsequently, unsecured debt would have been lower also as interest rates would have been higher too. Impact of this, is that we would have bought less, and this would have led to lower increases in GDP over the time period, but we wouldn’t have seen a recession as a result of it, even if it was marginally wrong.

Other options such as taxing gains on property wouldn’t have achieved the desired results, demand would have outstripped supply further and caused prices to rise to account for the tax in order to reach an equilibrium. Of course, selling a 200k flat at 180k to move into another 200k flat wouldn’t be desirable. I just don’t think this was the best measure at keeping costs down. Targeting the price of money seems the only direct-ish way.

What if we had come clean about the increase in the money supply during the crisis

Given it was a crisis and people were looking for any reason to sell, I think it’s fairly inevitable that market players would have sold everything British, from the pound to shares in our companies. People wouldn’t have wanted to hold anything denominated in Sterling and this would have caused a run on the pound. Selling the pound would have meant that people get more pounds to their currency and thus our exports would be cheaper, but it would cost us more to import. Given that we are a net importing nation, this would have caused inflation which would lead to further devaluation of the pound.

There would be a floor in this however, as exports would be desirable to other countries, but internal consumption would drop. It might end up leading to an equalisation of our balance of payments, but our standards of living would definitely drop. Government Bonds, you would think, wouldn’t be desirable if everyone was selling the pound, but given a return of say 8%, people would take that bet and hedge out with a currency swap/forward. I’m not so certain corporate would have survived given the uncertainty in the underlying economy. Any printing of money would have been analysed and frowned upon by the markets, given they were in the know at this point.

I think the knock on effect of announcing this overall ‘truth’ to the market is that they would take a greater look at other western economies and the dollar and euro would collapse also. Net effect, if Gordon Brown had told the truth – a shift in wealth from west to east?

Best keep schtum for Queen and Country.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Don't blame the game, blame the players

In 1998 the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) implemented the Human Rights Act (officially assented in the UK in 2000) which outlaws any action by a group or individuals which would breach the basic rights of a human being.

HRA has come under fire in the UK in recent times, with the current Conservative-led coalition Government threatening to replace the act in the UK with a British Bill of Rights during the previous election campaign. The reality is however, as we are part of the European Union, we have to abide by their laws over and above our own, which makes this pledge impossible to implement without renegotiating the terms of the Union.

When I was a kid, in the early nineties, my mother's friend's boyfriend was murdered. His ex and her new boyfriend, went to his house one night with an axe, chopped down the door and cut him to pieces. Apparently, if she couldn't have him, no-one could - a little mental, but that part of it at least rationalises her actions so that the average Joe could understand.

They were both convicted under Scots criminal law, serving a few years each under the charge of 'Culpable Homicide'. Culpable Homicide is essentially, "Yes I did it, but I didn't mean it" in Scots law and is essentially the lowest possible conviction for actively taking the life of another. Lower than manslaughter, so a kind of third-degree murder.

Friends and family were appalled at the sentencing. It's only as I have grown older, did I realise why they were treated so leniently (this was before HRA, just in case you're following). They claimed they were off their heads, they didn't intend to kill and they wouldn't normally do such a thing. From a defence perspective, these are easy things to prove. They can prove they were drugged up, and they can prove (through lack of criminal activity) that this was out of character. Whether they went their intentionally to kill is where the skill of the defence team comes in. From the prosecution's perspective, they can't prove that if they had been of sound mind, they would have done this, and so so bargaining takes place and they settle for what can definitely be proven and the prosecution then accept to go for this charge. Thus the outcome was culpable homicide. They did it after all, so not-guilty was going to be nigh on impossible for the defence to prove.

You see, in the UK we have such a powerful and advanced legal structure. We don't deal with emotions and maybees. We deal with fact. We also have one of the best education systems in the world, where the most intelligent people can easily afford to be educated to the highest level in law, and subsequently learn from the best. We're not the only country in the world where this is the case, but then these laws aren't just for our benefit.

The HRA set about, giving a certain duty of care to subjects within the Union. That in itself was commendable, and we saw across the Union working conditions and the general treatment of others improve greatly during the last 13 years.

Unfortunately, the advanced legal system and HRA mixed together has led to situations where people who have criminally broken into a property and hurt themselves, successfully sue the robbed party. Recently, there was a case where a man was allowed to father a child from behind bars, as fathering a child was deemed a basic human right. Is it the HRA's fault that this was allowed to occur in Britain? I don't think it is necessarily. The HRA has done many good things, and as a principle is something we should be proud of. Unfortunately, the legal system is so good in this system it's easy, in the case of the father-prisoner to point to some basic right which is normally afforded to people, and suggest that HRA protects this right.

But remember, these rights are now afforded to countries like Serbia and Romania. Countries, that without this legal protection, might just find their citizens taken advantage of by working 80 hours a day or being discriminated against in some fashion. For that, the HRA is an admirable piece of law, but it is also inconsistent with an advanced legal system like the UK. When rules are written, our lawyers will interpret both sides of those rules and what they mean, and then argue their case that HRA reflects what they want. Ripping it up and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights won't get round that, but it would give us the ability to fine tune these laws to our requirements. Do you trust our government not to take away our rights when writing these up? Well, that's a different topic entirely, but it's probably the lesser of two evils.

Leaving the EU would, as the opposition say, be the only way to achieve this. I don't reckon so - If there were rumblings of this, countries with similar advanced legal systems like France or Germany might just fancy a change too, but it would take a strong UK Government to call the bluff of Europe on this matter first.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Share The Joy

Got sent this, and thought it was quite funny

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Coincidence? 2

Boy sells kidney for iPad


Steve Jobs returns to work


Thursday, 2 June 2011

Inflation - A fine and fitting thing?

Many will point to various factors contributing to the high level of inflation in the UK. Some blame the banks (blame them for everything) some blame quantitative easing (printing money) and some blame immigration/imports (anything outside coming in, basically).

One factor, which I believe to be core to the issue seem not to get much airtime (not in this sense):

The BoE ignoring house inflation

It’s probably worth pointing out, that I believe that if the money supply is constant, inflation plus growth = 0. Where the sum doesn’t equal zero, there is inflation or deflation. This forms the basis of my opinions – it has to be one or the other.

Let’s take housing inflation. This was, as we are led to believe caused by interest rates being too low. It’s something I agree with. So why, when these assets start to deflate, does this result in inflation. Is it the banks fixing things, is it QE, is it outside influences?

This is where I have another theory. Going back to my belief that the money supply will only increase through inflation or growth, you have to take a look at what drives the interest rate the BoE set, in order to keep inflation reasonable (inflation is never good anyway, so you have to wonder whether targeting 2% is a good thing overall, but that’s a story for another day).

The BoE targets the increase in prices of consumer goods via the CPI (Consumer Price Index). This is a weighted index of prices of the most popular goods and services in the UK. Sounds like a reasonable benchmark, doesn’t it.

Growth is ignored from the calculation, but then again growth means everyone gets more value for their money in constant terms, so that’s what should happen. If the economy grows by 5%, against everyone else, then you’d expect the exchange rate to follow suit. It’s reasonable therefore that the government targets inflation and allows growth to do what it does.

So, house prices, if they’re not inflation, they must be growth right? Well, not in the truest sense of the word...well, not in any sense of the word. So, why didn’t the government do anything to target this ‘house inflation’. This is the question, and where my thought process leads to.

If you’re publishing inflation and growth numbers, markets react and the consequences will meet expectations at a macro level. The government however ignored this increase.

For me, housing inflation is part growth, part inflation. Why so? Well, it’s essentially geared investing, just like fractional reserve banking. Consumers can gain, through gearing. Some of this is cashed in (growth), some is never recognised (inflation). Causing everyone to pay a higher price

Let’s say for arguments sake, 20% of that ‘increase’ over the ten years from 1997-2007 was inflation. This is inflation that has never been accounted for. Things go crash bang, and the government has to fill the whole with QE. You can set the story how you like, “The banks failed, the market needed liquidity”. The reality for me however is that the inflation was sitting in the background, being ignored and unfortunately when the packs of cards fell down the government had to print to cover the inflation, which we will now see for some time. The over inflation we see in the coming years will be equal and opposite to the inflation that was ignored under labour.

The Great Recession didn’t cause this, poorly targeted Government policy caused it. The Great Recession just made them face the truth. Why admit it though, when you can blame it on someone else and keep spitting out The Old Lie.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Fire in scrapyard, wrecks cars? So they were in perfect condition beforehand then...



Eighteen birds have been beheaded.

The vandals broke into the aviary in Wythenshawe Park, Manchester between 1630 BST on Saturday and 1000 BST on Sunday.


Berbatov omitted from Man Utd squad for game against Barcelona, went missing and now 'feels ashamed'


Was this a practice run