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CAN CENTRAL BANKERS ORCHESTRATE "SOFT LANDINGS" FOR THEIR ECONOMIES

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     Fed chairman Jerome Powell assures the world and nervous Americans that after flooding the US economy with $8 trillion of freshly minted money (causing the highest price inflation in forty years) the Federal Reserve Bank is fully capable of remedying the crisis without triggering further inflation, a stock market crash, recession or high unemployment. Believing that requires one to disregard its sorry history of trying to micro-manage the world's biggest, globally interconnected, infinitely complex economy. It also requires one to ignore the fact that it has never managed to avoid precipitating a recession once price inflation exceeds 5%. Today's government-calculated inflation rate is 8.5% (it exceeds 16% if calculated as historically done). 

JEROME POWELL FINALLY GETS SERIOUS, CHRISTINE LAGARDE AND ANDREW BAILEY DITHER

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President Biden, Jay Powell, Christine Lagarde (head of the European Central Bank), Boris Johnson and Andrew Bailey (head of the Bank of England) all vow to fight surging inflation. None will succeed over the long term. If investors understand why this is the case they will be far better positioned for what comes next. As is often the case, the best indicator of the future is the past. When we fail to take note of history we continue to be surprised by recurring events. History tells us what we need to know about government finance and its impact on prices and markets. Every financial crisis differs in some respects from others, but most have a common denominator. That is excessive individual, corporate and governmental debt resulting from maniacal central bank money printing.

WAR, SHORTAGES, RAMPANT INFLATION, POLITICAL AND MONETARY DYSFUNCTION

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We humans have always faced an endless series of disasters. Many are manmade: wars, inflation and social deterioration. Some are served up by nature: viruses, extreme weather, and large meteor impacts. Not infrequently, humans and nature conspire to create catastrophes: forest fires, bursting dams and earthquakes beneath poorly designed nuclear power plants. Today’s major problems include the war in Ukraine, supply line disruptions, inflation and political dysfunction. Each of these is brought to us by the world’s “elites.” We do not use that term in a flattering sense suggesting great leadership and wisdom. To the contrary, the “elites” include sociopaths (Vlad Putin), arrogant grandees (Emmanuel Macron), rules-for-thee but not-for-me (Boris Johnson) and teleprompter-reading talking heads (Joe Biden).

THE SUFFOCATION OF THE MIDDLE CLASS

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We have written frequently about the harmful effects of government policies on the middle and lower classes throughout the Western world. Wage gains never keep pace with rising inflation. Ever more authoritarian controls over the public constrain their freedoms and limit their opportunities. No one in politics takes responsibility for these outcomes. Rather, those in power appear to be doubling down in their efforts to further enrich the elite at the expense of the workers who produce the goods and provide the services. A LendingClub report found that nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population now lives paycheck to paycheck, up from 61% at the end of the last year. Bankrate.com reports that three-quarters of respondents say that price hikes have hurt them financially. It is not their imagination. The US government admits to soaring inflation through their consumer price index (CPI) reports but the real numbers are far worse.

Global Disorder

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Investors are facing multiple crises that span the globe. The one captivating the most attention is Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the second largest country in Europe after Russia. With 43 million people it is the eighth most populous country in Europe. As we all are now aware, it borders Russia to the west. Ukraine has an ancient history. It has been continuously inhabited since 32,000 BCE. Its population now includes 78% Ukrainians and 17% Russians - the latter of which are gathered mostly in the eastern regions and Crimea. It has a long history of being dominated by foreign powers including the Mongols in the 13th century. For six centuries it was fought over and ruled by Poland, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, the Tsardom of Russia and most recently the USSR.

Misleading Data, Censorship and Tyrants

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Whether you own a small neighborhood retail store or are the CEO of General Motors, you need to know whether the economy is shrinking or growing. If it is the former, you may decide to cut staff, reduce inventories and defer updating your technology in order to conserve cash. If it is the latter you may choose to preemptively hire staff and buy machinery and equipment to grow your output capacity in expectation of future sales growth. The typical way one gleans this important trend is to study gross domestic product (GDP) statistics.

HISTORY’S BIGGEST SWINDLE

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Over the years there have been many dramatic thefts and cons pulled off by daring criminals. In 1963 thieves stole bags from a Royal Mail train in the UK containing over $3.5 million. The Antwerp Diamond Heist in February 2003 saw thieves make off with over $100 million worth of diamonds, gold, silver and jewelry from a heavily guarded vault in the diamond district. General Sani Abacha, governor of Nigeria in the late 1990’s, is believed to have stolen $3-5 billion from his government. Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos pocketed between $5-10 billion in bribes and money stolen from the government. “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti stole up to 5% of his nation’s GDP. Bernie Madoff conned investors out of billions of dollars in his huge Ponzi scheme. But these miscreants are minor league players in the world of financial embezzlements.