FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

You Can’t Taper a Ponzi Scheme

by

One thing to be said for the women now heading the Federal Reserve and the IMF: compared to some of their predecessors, they are refreshingly honest. The Wall Street Journal reported on July 2nd:

Two of the world’s most powerful women of finance sat down for a lengthy discussion Wednesday on the future of monetary policy in a post-crisis world: U.S. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde. Before a veritable who’s-who in international economics packing the IMF’s largest conference hall, the two covered all the hottest topics in debate among the world’s central bankers, financiers and economists.

Among those hot topics was the runaway shadow banking system, defined by Investopedia as “The financial intermediaries involved in facilitating the creation of credit across the global financial system, but whose members are not subject to regulatory oversight. The shadow banking system also refers to unregulated activities by regulated institutions.” Examples given include hedge funds, derivatives and credit default swaps.

Conventional banks also engage in “shadow banking.” One way is by using their cash cushion as collateral in the repo market, where they can borrow to invest in the stock market and other speculative ventures. As explained by Bill Frezza in a January 2013 Huffington Post article titled “Too-Big-To-Fail Banks Gamble With Bernanke Bucks”:

If you think [the cash cushion from excess deposits] makes the banks less vulnerable to shock, think again. Much of this balance sheet cash has been hypothecated in the repo market, laundered through the off-the-books shadow banking system. This allows the proprietary trading desks at these “banks” to use that cash as collateral to take out loans to gamble with. In a process called hyper-hypothecation this pledged collateral gets pyramided, creating a ticking time bomb ready to go kablooey when the next panic comes around.

Addressing the ticking time bomb of the shadow banking system, here is what two of the world’s most powerful women had to say:

MS. LAGARDE: . . . You’ve beautifully demonstrated the efforts that have been undertaken . . . in terms of the universe that you have under your jurisdiction. But this universe . . . has generated the creation of parallel universes. And . . . with the toolbox with all the attributes that you have — what can you do about the shadow banking at large? . . .

MS. YELLEN: So I think you’re pointing to something that is an enormous challenge. And we simply have to expect that when we draw regulatory boundaries and supervise intensely within them, that there is the prospect that activities will move outside those boundaries and we won’t be able to detect them. And if we can, we won’t be — we won’t have adequate regulatory tools. And that is going to be a huge challenge to which I don’t have a great answer.

Limited to her tools, there probably is no great answer. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not rein in the growth of the shadow banking system, despite the 828-page Dodd-Frank Act. Instead, the derivatives pyramid has continued to explode under its watch, to a notional value now estimated to be as high as $2 quadrillion.

At one time, manipulating interest rates was the Fed’s stock in trade for managing the money supply; but that tool too has lost its cutting edge. Rates are now at zero, as low as they can go – unless they go negative, meaning the bank charges the depositor interest rather than the reverse. That desperate idea is actually being discussed. Meanwhile, rates are unlikely to be raised any time soon. On July 23rd, Bloomberg reported that the Fed could keep rates at zero through 2015.

One reason rates are unlikely to be raised is that they would make the interest tab on the burgeoning federal debt something taxpayers could not support. Higher rates could also implode the monster derivatives scheme. Michael Snyder observes that the biggest banks have written over $400 trillion in interest rate derivatives contracts, betting that interest rates will not shoot up. If they do, it will be the equivalent of an insurance company writing trillions of dollars in life insurance contracts and having all the insureds die at once. The banks would quickly become insolvent. Worse, our deposits would get confiscated to recapitalize them, under the new “bail in” scheme approved by Janet Yellen as one of the Fed’s more promising tools (called “resolution planning” in Fed-speak).

As Max Keiser observes, “You can’t taper a Ponzi scheme.” You can only turn off the tap and let it collapse, or watch the parasite consume its food source and perish of its own accord.

Collapse or Metamorphosis?

The question being hotly debated in the blogosphere is, “What then?”  Will economies collapse globally? Will life as we know it be a thing of the past?

Not likely, argues John Michael Greer in a March 2014 article called “American Delusionalism, or Why History Matters.” If history is any indication, governments will simply, once again, change the rules.

In fact, the rules of money and banking have changed every 20 or 30 years for the past three centuries, in an ongoing trial-and-error experiment in evolving a financial system, and an ongoing battle over whose interests it will serve. To present that timeline in full will take another article, but in a nutshell we have gone from precious metal coins, to government-issued paper scrip, to privately-issued banknotes, to checkbook money, to gold-backed Federal Reserve Notes, to unbacked Federal Reserve Notes, to the “near money” created by the shadow banking system. Money has evolved from being “stored” in the form of a physical commodity, to paper representations of value, to computer bits storing information about credits and debits.

The rules have been changed before and can be changed again. Depressions, credit crises and financial collapse are not acts of God but are induced by mechanical flaws or corruption in the financial system. Credit may stop flowing, but the workers, materials and markets are still there. The system just needs a reboot.

Hopefully the next program that gets run will last more than 20 or 30 years. Ideally, we might mimic the ancient Mesopotamians, the oldest and most long-lasting civilization in history, and devise an economic system that lasts for millennia. How they did it, along with some other promising models, will be the subject of another article. For more on this, see The Public Bank Solution.

About Those Derivatives

How to kill the derivatives cancer without killing the patient? Without presuming to have more insight into that question than the head of the Fed or the IMF, I will just list some promising suggestions from a variety of experts in the field (explored in more depth in my earlier article here):

Eliminate the superpriority granted to derivatives in the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act, the highly favorable protective legislation that has allowed the derivatives bubble to mushroom.

* Restore the Glass-Steagall Act separating depository banking from investment banking.

* Break up the giant derivatives banks.

* Alternatively, nationalize the too-big-to-fail banks.

* Make derivatives illegal and unwind them by netting them out, declaring them null and void.

* Impose a financial transactions tax on Wall Street trading.

* To protect the deposits of citizens and local governments, establish postal savings banks and state-owned banks on the model of the Bank of North Dakota, the only state to completely escape the 2008 banking crisis.

These alternatives are all viable possibilities. Our financial leaders, in conjunction with our political leaders, have continually re-created the web of money and credit that knits our economy together. But they have often taken only their own interests and those of the wealthiest citizens into account, not those of the general public. It is up to us to educate ourselves about money and banking, and to demand a system that is accountable to the people and serves our long-term interests.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books, including the best-selling Web of Debt. In The Public Bank Solution, her latest book, she explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 200+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 300+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and Henry the First: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail