Friday, November 13, 2009

Can the Whole World be Export-Driven?

News is all about the falling dollar causing panic across the world, as higher currencies undermine exporting efforts. Said the leader of Brazil's state development bank (source here): “We have to be careful that our exchange rate doesn’t appreciate too much as to deindustrialize the country. The capital goods industry has suffered tremendously.” Brazil's Finance Ministry says Brazil’s currency needs to weaken as much as 19 percent for sustainable economic growth. As another example, France’s Finance Minister also stated that her government favors a strong dollar as an appreciating euro threatens to hurt European exports.

Everyone wants to expor their way to prosperity, which begs the obvious question of how that could even be possible. Implicit is the obvious truth (obvious to everyone but brainwashed free-marketeers) that exports increase a country's wealth. Yet obviously, not everyone can be a net exporter!

The chief beneficiaries are, of course, Americans, for at least as long as the export-at-all-costs party lasts. Americans get access to the cheapest stuff on the planet, because everyone undercuts their own currency to keep their exports to America up.

Unfortunately, it also means that aforementioned and wisely despised deindustrialization occurs in America at the same time! woops

What are the foreigners even getting out of it? Rapidly depreciating dollars. The world is currently being flooded with dollars, pumping up developing economies. "An unprecedented net $47 billion flowed into equities in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand in the last three quarters." and this: "Chile’s peso has strengthened 26 percent this year versus the dollar, the second-biggest gain among Latin American currencies after the 33 percent rise in the Brazilian real."

As long as US rates stay low, money will flow out of the US into other countries, in what is called the carry trade. Cheap imports flow in, dollars flow out.

And we stare years of chronic high-unemployment in the face! It's no wonder, is it??? The whole process is just wacky.

The only sustainable solution is balanced trade based on policies of local development.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tokens as Alternative Money and Problems with Metallic Coins

What exactly is the difference between tokens and money? In many ways, none at all. Tokens are money. However, they are privately issued money. What we normally think of as money is just publicly-issued and government-controlled tokens.

For those wishing to start their own alternative currencies, keep in mind, there is nothing illegal about issuing your own private money supply, as long as your money does not look like government money (which would leave you open to charges of counterfeiting).

Tokens can also be seen as a subset of metalic money. When used for general trade, tokens were characterized by their composition from common metals like copper, rather than the standard precious metals used for official money like gold or silver.

The problem with using gold or silver for coins is that the metal itself has a value, and that value can change over time. Thus, if the value of the metal goes up, people will hoard the coin for its metal, rather than use the coin as money.

When people hoard coins for their valuable metal, the trade economy is affected by a shortage of money. As strange as it sounds, money shortages have plagued humankind since the dawn of history up into the modern era. Sometimes, when shortages of gold or silver money occur, people have often resorted to tokens (such as the fascinating case described here of privately-issued token usage in early modern England).

The use of multiple types of metal coins, such as in the system of bimetalism (using gold and silver) brings up the further problem of convertability. That is, in a multi-metal system, the coins have to be fixed in relation to each other (one gold piece equaling 17 silver pieces, for example). When one metal rises in price against the other, coins made of that metal will be hoarded, since their market ratio no longer equals their official exchange ratio.

Now, the advantage of tokens lies in their production from cheap and abundant metal. Tokens are also often stamped with money-denomination values below their metal value. That is, 100 dollars worth of copper might be used to create 200 dollars worth of tokens. This mass-production of cheap tokens helps meet the needs of daily commerce, alleviating the problems of money shortage.

A critical thinking question for the reader arises: what problem is created when coins are stamped with a greater value than their metal is worth?

The answer is: counterfeiting! If you can turn 100 dollars of metal into 200 dollars worth of coin, you can make a great profit by creating money. The production of paper money represents the ultimate spread between the cost of materials versus the value of the money produced, and so counterfeiting of paper money is a perpetual problem when it is used. Given our modern printing technology, the ability today to counterfeit paper money is much more widespread than the ability to counterfeit metal money.

The critical balance point which thwarts counterfeiting is when the cost of materials is exactly equal to the value of the money. Why counterfeit money, if the cost of the materials is equal to the value of money you'd produce? In that case, you wouldn't be making any money by counterfeiting, so why bother.

For anyone today considering the issue of an alternative currency, this balance point is key, since there is essentially no way to stop or punish counterfeiters when a private money supply is issued. The value of any currency issued should be carefully tied to the value of its underlying metal, thereby avoiding the twin problems of counterfeiting and hoarding.

Local artists can make tokens, like the Phoenix bux (pictured here). Or tokens can also be ordered from a number of private mints today, such as this one, which promises tokens of the same quality as government issued coins. The list of advantages of using tokens are parallel in many cases to the arguments made for using local alternative currencies, including promotion/advertisement/publicity, price discounting, seignorage (i.e. souvenir value), and captured/circulated/repeated business encouragment.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gold a Rising Force as Money

Gold is making a strong comeback as the international unit of account, as the world moves away from fiat paper dollars. It is actually quite amazing to watch monetary theory unfold before one's very eyes.

The fact is, fiat currencies are just fine for national/enclosed economies. It is only when trading between economies that a stable unit of account is a necessity. Gold, because of its relatively stable and constant supply, is the perfect solution to the need for this international unit of account.

Gold is undergoing a rapid international monetization to fullfill this role now, as the international community has decided to abandon the US dollar as reserve currency. As usual, the general public is generally clueless, because an Authority as not made an Official Announcement. But the game is on, albeit a secret game, played under the table, so as not to spook the markets in dollars and gold. Even played without Offical Announcement, the game is becoming obvious to the casual observer, with more open ackowledgements of central banks buying up gold and the price climbing a steep hill upward.

Obviously, central banks would prefer to purchase on dips, but there are no dips. The price is jump step climbing upward, relentlessly responding to demand, the demand which is trying to maintain itself as secretly and quietly as possible. There is an almost literal mad rush internationally right now to take physical possession of all gold reserves.

The abandonment of the dollar as the reserve currency is already starting to cause inflation in the US. That, along with continued record deficit spending, is going to ramp up inflation depite continued economic collapse and high unemployment. In other words, the worst of both worlds.


Paul Mercier, a senior central banker [from the European Central Bank (ECB)] said official holders overall will no longer be net sellers of gold," said UBS analyst John Reade today, summing up the London Bullion Market Association's 2009 conference here in Edinburgh. "Given the Indian announcement overnight, that forecast's already true for this year. Central banks are now net buyers."

ECB markets manager, Mercier yesterday told the LBMA conference that although diminished from its early 20th-century role in the world's monetary system, gold continues to be an important asset in global reserves.

In private investor and institutional portfolios, "We've seen a move away from unallocated gold to allocated gold," said Neil Clift of J.P.Morgan Chase at a debate held at the LBMA's conference this morning. Commenting on the shift from unsecured credit accounts to physical positions held in secure custody, "[It means] the client owns their gold, there's no first lien over it, and they can come and take it away when they want."

"There will be a threat to the London market from overseas storage if we see the ETFs continue to grow, as we expect they will," Clift said, noting that Asian and Middle Eastern investors increasingly want exchange-traded products that vault in or near their home state – and are also priced in their domestic currency, rather than US Dollars.

Commenting on the much-discussed issue of bringing the different bodies representing London's bullion market together into some more formal organization – and which is likely to see "cleared forwards" for London gold offered by a formal exchange very shortly – "I think it's fantastic for the bullion market that the [Chicago Mercantile Exchange] is now accepting gold as collateral on other positions," said Key."We can expect to see other exchanges accepting gold as collateral over the next year, alongside dollars, currency, T-bonds."