The Bear’s Lair: Public charge principle could usefully operate globally

The Trump administration last week announced a substantial tightening of the “public charge” rules by which immigrants drawing welfare would be ineligible for permanent resident “green card” status. As Milton Friedman said: “It is just obvious you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state,” so this is good policy. However, it made me wonder: should, we apply the same principle on a global basis, and if so, how? Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Global Gosplans should be shut down

Kristalina Georgieva’s nomination as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund is entirely appropriate. She is a Bulgarian communist by background, for 14 years until 1993 a Professor at the Karl Marx Higher Institute of Economics under that country’s communist government. The IMF itself and its sister institution the World Bank have since their foundation been anti-market forces of central planning. It is high time the Trump Administration and other believers in the free market acted to close down these clogs to the global economy. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: The global tax regime becomes ancien

Modern “big data” systems are allowing tax authorities to gain full knowledge of sales transactions in their jurisdiction, thus pushing VAT tax collection rates close to 100% on small businessmen and the middle class in general. Meanwhile, Western income tax systems collect steadily less tax from large corporations and the very rich, who use loopholes and tax havens to minimize their tax liability. We have seen this type of tax system before – in the French ancien regime, where the nobility benefited from tax exemptions and the poor paid through the nose. That didn’t end well, and nor will this. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: The impoverished 22nd Century

With the 21st Century almost a fifth over, the outlook for the 22nd is beginning to become clearer. The range of uncertainty is still very high, but based on current political, technological and demographic realities, we can start to make some predictions. Whereas at the turn of the 21st Century those predictions would have been generally optimistic, as was everybody at that time, they are now pretty gloomy. Indeed, the one factor that in the next century does not appear likely to make our lives significantly more miserable is global warming. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: What Liverpool could teach today’s Fed

Robert Banks Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool, said it best, in a House of Lords speech of May 26, 1818: “The tendency of an inconvertible paper money is to create fictitious wealth, bubbles, which by their bursting, produce inconvenience.” His phrase “fictitious wealth”, or better “fictitious capital” has a similar (but not, as I shall explain, identical) meaning to the Austrian economists’ “malinvestment” a century later, yet it is in eloquent English, not the made-up word of droning German-speaking professors. We should recognize Liverpool’s priority, and follow his economic thinking. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Behemoths should give up merchant banking

“The mood’s always depressed in Deutsche” said one of that bank’s Singapore traders (not being laid off that day) to the FT. That reflects my experience at Citigroup and is contrast to my experience at the genuine merchant bank Hill Samuel where we were pretty cheerful. Surely now, a quarter century after the demise of the London merchant banks, it has become utterly clear: the behemoths like Deutsche, Barclays and Citi simply can’t do merchant banking competently, and should abandon it to smaller, nimbler houses. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Corn Laws beat farm subsidies

British farmers are concerned about a “no-deal” Brexit, under which they would lose access to bounteous EU farm subsidies. U.S. farmers have had their subsidies increased by President Trump as a result of the China trade dispute. Agriculture subsidies burden national budgets and almost exclusively benefit large corporations and the very rich. There is a better model for supporting agriculture: the 1815-46 Corn Laws, reviled by Whig historians, but much cheaper and infinitely less corrupt. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Corporate debts are today’s worst assets

The silly-money policies of the last decade have left almost all assets overvalued. Real estate, public and private equity, especially in the tech sector, collectibles, debt in general and emerging markets are all well above sustainable levels. But if we are looking for a catalyst for the next market disaster, there is one outstanding candidate – corporate debt of large companies. It had a relatively gentle let-down last time around, and its market is exceptionally opaque even by the standards of today’s murky financial markets. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Stinking city on a garbage dump

Harvard University last week rescinded its acceptance of Parkland-shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv on the grounds of offensive tweets made when he was 16. This resulted in considerable media criticism that, in imposing political correctness codes and denying free speech, Harvard was betraying its beliefs. But that is nonsense. Harvard was founded in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of 1636. Bigoted small-minded intolerance and persecution of dissidents are central to its founding traditions. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Cryptocurrencies and the South Sea Company

Cryptocurrencies have not taken over as the new Gold Standard, but nor have they disappeared, and they have been showing something of a revival in the last few months. We are thus in a similar position to the investors of 1720, inspecting the new phenomenon of a publicly traded company whose shares take off. Like those investors, we have no track record to guide us, but now both the hype and despair are past, we can perhaps draw some conclusions on what role cryptos will play in our future. Continue reading