There is a common misconception that the cryptocurrency Bitcoin is safe and secure and will protect those who trade in it from fraud. However, NEP’s Bill Black explains, Bitcoin is just as susceptible to fraud as any other type of transaction and complacency makes the likelihood of fraud only greater. You can view with transcript here.
The House Speaker is the answer to the trick question: “Who is the second most powerful elected official in the United States.” The importance of the Speaker is obvious to anyone with even a modestly sophisticated understanding of U.S. politics and government.
One of the reasons for this astonishing level of sycophancy of Republican House candidates that run for office by presenting themselves as moderate conservatives is the ‘Hastert rule.’ They run as moderates, but they vote consistently in favor of legislation that creates the most radically right policies in modern American history. If you have never heard of the Hastert rule or do not know what it is, blame the Democrats (and the media). The fact that the Hastert rule is not infamous with the public proves (again) the ineptness of Democrats as politicians (and the failure of most of the media as journalists). The rule bears the name of then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who decreed and implemented the rule. If you do not know that Hastert is infamous, and why he is infamous, blame the Democrats (and the media).
One of the prime myths that white-collar criminologists have to refute repeatedly is that blockchain makes fraud impossible. Blockchain, in some settings, is a costly means of making some frauds much more difficult. Blockchain is useless against the most important frauds. The primitive worship of blockchain as a supposed garlic capable of warding off evil breeds complacency, and complacency produces increased fraud and greatly extends the life of fraud.
The difference between making fraud impossible and (in a few specialized settings) ‘much more difficult’ brings to mind the critical difference explained in The Princess Bride between ‘dead’ and ‘mostly dead.’ Blockchain is useless in stopping, for example, any or the three epidemics of ‘control fraud’ that drove the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession. Lenders’ executives extorted appraisers to inflate appraised values of homes, creating a Gresham’s dynamic in which bad ethics tends to drive good ethics out of the markets and professions. The second fraud epidemic in loan origination was ‘liar’s’ loans, which were designed to aid lenders and their agents to inflate the incomes of borrowers. Note that both of these primary fraudulent loan origination schemes involve lenders deliberately seeking to provide false (inflated) data designed to inflate the market value of homes. The third fraud epidemic that drove the U.S. financial crisis was the fraudulent sale of these mortgages to the secondary market through false “reps and warranties” about loan underwriting – principally the fraudulently inflated appraisal values and borrowers’ incomes.
Like everything else, money has evolved. It began in a primitive form and morphed into something more sophisticated, more successful. Then, probing and testing for an even better form, it morphed again. A simplified history of money’s evolution can be outlined in five stages:
STAGE 1: Money is a tangible thing of value—e.g. a gold coin.
At some point in the pre-history of humankind, the “invention” of money solved a time-gap problem in cooperative trade: I’ll give you my baby goat in exchange for your flint-knife—but you have not yet made the knife, so the exchange is stymied. To solve the impasse, you give me a token of gold to temporarily stand in place of the flint-knife, so you can take my baby goat. The gold token is a promise that the knife will be delivered, and that promise is secured by the fact that the gold itself is deemed equally valuable as the knife. In the meantime, I may find someone else with a flint-knife already made who will exchange it for the gold, thus completing the trade. The invention of this place-holder transformed the cooperative trade interactions of human society.
Citing national security issues to get around WTO rules, Trump ordered tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports from Canada and EU countries. NEP’s William Black and Gerald Epstein discusses the implications of these tariffs on the different economies. You can view transcript here.
Ben Bernanke recently gave a speech predicting that President Trump’s deficits will cause the economy to “go off a cliff in 2020.” Many Democratic Party politicians, of course, will rush to embrace the criticism and prove that they are the true party of fiscal responsibility. They can then get back to pushing for increased taxation and cuts to the safety net “to save it” from collapse – and feeling virtuous. These Democrats will glory in their supposed virtue and gravitas as they oppose ‘excessive’ stimulus, cut the safety net to ‘save it,’ oh-so-judiciously cut funding for social programs, and push for higher taxes. They know this is bad politics, but that adds to their faith that the more bitter the medicine the greater the curative properties. Faith-based federal deficit phobia, however, is terrible economics and terrible politics.
We now stand where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one less traveled by—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.
Rachael Carson, Silent Spring
What’s important to keep in mind in this quote from Rachael Carson’s 56-year-old warning shot over the bow of corporate civilization is that there are two roads being traveled now. We are no longer at a fork. The fork is half-a-century behind us. The goal is not to get the superhighway to somehow re-route itself and follow the path less traveled. It can’t. The superhighway will, and must, continue accelerating in its inevitable direction, simply because the greed and power of the people driving that highway will not allow them to alter course. But if there is any truth to Rachael Carson’s warning (and there seems to be growing evidence of it) the other path—the Road Less Traveled—will become the surviving branch of our evolutionary diagram. The present goal, therefore, should be to create as many exits from the superhighway as possible—and to encourage and enable as many people as possible to take those exits to explore and follow the other path.
(Third in a series of articles on Italy, Austerity, and the euro)
The New York Times’ editorial board published a May 29, 2018 editorial about Italy’s ongoing political and financial issues that praised austerity in Italy. The board cheered the anti-democratic appointment of “Carlo Cottarelli, a solidly pro-Europe and pro-austerity economist and former official of the International Monetary Fund, to form a nonelected government.” In particular, the board expressed its horror that Italy (which continues to have unemployment levels one expects to find in a severe recession) would have adopted “grandiose spending plans” (fiscal stimulus) if the Italian establishment had not sought to block the results of the recent Italian election.
The European Union’s (EU) leadership continues to prove our family rule that it is impossible to compete with unintentional self-parody. “EU leadership” is an oxymoron, largely composed of regular morons. Consider only two examples — European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commissioner and Budget and Human Resources Minister (one of the EC’s most powerful leadership positions) Günther Oettinger.
Juncker heads the EC because he led the most infamous EU tax giveaway to wealthy corporations as Luxembourg’s finance minister and then prime minister. Whistleblowers and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) eventually exposed the fact that for over a decade the wealthiest companies in the world created front companies in Luxembourg and met secretly with the finance minister to negotiate secret sweetheart deals allowing the companies to pretend to earn their income in Luxembourg – and to pay obscenely low tax rates. The secret deals “allowed some of them to pay effective tax rates of less than 1 percent on profits shuffled into Luxembourg.” Luxembourg is so tiny that even at these ridiculously low tax rates the covert deals made the country wealthy (at the direct expense of the public sectors of other EU nations and the United States). Juncker’s eagerness to aid plutocrats made him the EU’s longest-serving leader as Luxembourg’s PM until a different scandal brought him down. These sweetheart tax scandals led, not prevented, Juncker’s elevation to run the EC. In response to the exposure of the scandal, Luxembourg: greatly increased the number of sweetheart deals, prosecuted the whistleblowers and the investigative journalists, and took no action against Luxembourg’s “let’s make a deal” leaders or the plutocrats (which included Koch Industries).