It’s People Control, Not Gun Control

In the wake of the mass murder that took place at a high school on February 14, there are loud calls by many for stricter gun controls by the federal government.  There are always a few who will say guns should be completely banned, but most are wise enough to know they will not achieve this in one step.

Of course, those who call for an outright ban are just calling for a ban for those without a government ID.  They are not proposing to ban guns for the police or military.

The biggest contradiction has to be coming from those who loudly supported Black Lives Matter and the kneeling of NFL players.  On the one hand, they are outraged at the abuse by the police.  On the other hand, they want only the police to own guns.  Can somebody please explain this to me?

There is little chance that there will be any significant changes legislatively.  Ironically, the chances are greater now with Trump in office than with Obama in office.  Whenever there was a shooting that received national attention when Obama was in office, the calls for more gun control would start.  But the opposition would quickly respond in large numbers.  Republicans did not trust Obama and would immediately say that Obama wants to ban guns.  Obama was the best salesman for guns and bullets in history.

Now that Trump is in office, there is a greater threat that something could be done (and not on the positive side).  Trump has little in the way of principles, so he would have no trouble signing additional gun control legislation under political pressure.  The big question is if the Republicans (and a few Democrats) in Congress will get enough pressure to resist.

It is amazing how hysterical people can get when such an event occurs, although I have no doubt that the narrative is pushed by the establishment media.

First, let’s put it into perspective.  Every day, about five times as many people die in the U.S. in a car accident as died in that one shooting incident that received national attention.  It is tragic for those involved, but it is a minuscule percentage of the population of a country that has over 325 million people.

The president could go on television and tell everyone to make sure they take extra Vitamin D3 pills in the winter and to cut down on processed foods.  If just 1% of the population were to follow his advice, it could save thousands of lives.

The politicians always like to solve the previous problem.  Therefore, in this case, they want to raise the minimum age to 21 when you can buy a gun.  What happens the next time there is a shooting with a 22 year old?  Will they have to raise the age again?

Of course, the murderer ignored all of the laws anyway, and that is mainly the point.  He didn’t obey the laws against murder.  He did not obey the government gun free zone at the government school.

I don’t understand the family members and students who survived the shooting who took trips to Tallahassee and Washington DC to make political statements (on many sides).  Maybe they are just angry and want something done, but you would think they would be too busy grieving to start a political crusade.  It’s hard to judge not being in that situation, but it just surprised me how quickly it all happened.

I have heard many gun control arguments through the years.  The most common now is to point to other countries that have strict gun control (or even almost total gun bans) that have less violence than the U.S.

It is easy to find articles or posts about any number of countries.  For example, I hear that guns are essentially non-existent in Japan, and the Japanese have a very low murder rate.

I would just like to point out that first-generation Japanese people living in America do not kill people either.  It’s not as if a Japanese guy gets to the U.S. and finds he has easy access to guns so he buys one and decides to kill people.

There are countries with strict gun control with low violence. There are countries with strict gun control with high violence.  There are countries with relatively easy access to guns with low violence.  There are countries with relatively easy access to guns with high violence.

The same can be said with different states and cities within the United States.

In other words, gun laws don’t matter that much at all. If anything, I think stricter gun control in an already relatively violent place just makes things worse because it disarms the good people.

But the main feature of violence has nothing to do with access to guns.  The main feature is culture and ethics.

The school shooter came from a broken family.  The school shooter was probably on psychiatric drugs.  The school shooter had been in JROTC and surrounded by our culture that promotes militarism and violence.

Most people from a broken family do not become killers.  Most people on drugs don’t become killers.  Most people in the military don’t become killers unless they are doing it overseas.

But let’s face the fact that this has nothing to do with a gun problem.  It is a culture problem.  We live in a society that promotes violence.

Japan has its own set of issues, but the use of violence (outside of the state) is not one of them.  Kids are brought up in a stable but strict household.  They are taught to respect authority (which isn’t always good either).

Meanwhile, the government failed in every way with this mass shooting.  The government’s laws didn’t work.  The government school didn’t keep the students safe.  The on-duty school officer did nothing as shots rang out.  And the FBI completely failed.

The FBI is busy investigating (making up) a story about Russia influencing U.S. elections.  The FBI is busy investigating college basketball programs for paying players.  Meanwhile, the FBI gets reports that this guy is going to be a school shooter, and they do nothing about it.  If that’s the case, what is the point of mass surveillance?  They can’t even make use of information that is out in the open.  (I know the purpose of mass surveillance is people control and not safety.)

Yet, for some reason, many people want to turn to the government to solve the problem of shootings.  This in itself is part of the problem because government is the entity with a legal monopoly on the use of violence.  Yet, people want more government, and that too is part of the culture of violence.

Let’s face it; gun control is really people control.  It is no coincidence that all of the worst tyrants in history favored some form of gun (or weapon) control.  Stalin and Hitler believed in gun control.  The Jews in 1930s Germany were largely disarmed.

The gun control people will say, “That can never happen here.”  And you know what?  They are probably right because a large segment of the American population will never disarm themselves.

The Next Recession Won’t Be the Same as the Last

With jitters on Wall Street having picked up in the last month, now is a good time to consider what the next recession/ economic downturn will look like.

There are certainly a lot of theories out there from the bears, and we should consider the possibility of each of them, at least if they are reasonable.  When Harry Browne was advocating his permanent portfolio approach, he would make a point that one should not consider whether a scenario will happen, but whether one is properly prepared if such a scenario were to happen.

We can mostly discount the theories that have almost no chance of taking place.  And there are some theories that, if they did come true, there would be no point in preparing for anyway.  If someone is predicting all-out nuclear war that will blow up the world, what is the point of worrying about it?

There are a few out there who predict that hyperinflation of the U.S. dollar is right around the corner.  I won’t say this is impossible, but it is highly unlikely in the near future.  And in the unlikely event that it did come true, I’m not sure that I could prepare for a complete breakdown in the division of labor as we see in Venezuela.  The people who predict hyperinflation are probably not taking their own predictions seriously.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be blogging about it.  They would be moving out of the country or finding a rural retreat stocked with canned foods that is out of sight.

There are predictions that I see that I don’t agree with in the sense that I don’t think they are likely.  But at the same time, I don’t think they are highly improbable either.

For example, there are many libertarians who are predicting a spike in interest rates in the near future.  I do not see this as likely.  Or if it does occur, I think it will be short-lived.  Unless price inflation fears dramatically pick up, then I believe that investors will run to U.S. government debt for safety in an economic downturn, locking in longer-term rates, thus driving yields down.  While interest rates have gone up a bit recently, they are still relatively low.  I believe they will stay relatively low until we see a significant threat of substantial price inflation.

However, I could end up being wrong.  Therefore, I look at my own financial situation and see if such a scenario would be damaging to a great degree.  Since I have a fixed-rate mortgage, and my investments would stand up relatively well in a higher interest rate environment, I don’t have to worry excessively if such a scenario unfolds.

With all of that said, I would like to emphasize that the next recession won’t look like the last one, which was the financial crisis circa 2008.  There will likely be similarities, but history almost never repeats exactly.

If I had to guess, I don’t think the banks and financial institutions will be in as much trouble this time.  The banks were bailed out in 2008, and they continue to be bailed out to this day.  They are collecting 1.5% on their reserves, which is the Fed’s way of maintaining its federal funds rate target.  It is also the Fed’s way of secretly bailing out the banks.  The good news is that they should not need as much bailing out next time.

We also won’t have a housing bust to the same degree as a decade ago.  Housing will certainly take a hit in a recession.  It will obviously get hit harder in the real bubble areas, such as San Francisco.  But in most areas, housing prices are not where they were in 2006/ 2007, and that is with a significantly higher monetary base now.  Therefore, I don’t think the fall in real estate prices will be as bad, which means fewer defaults next time for the banks.  Of course, the defaults from car loans could end up being worse.

As far as stocks go, they could fall even further than what was seen in 2008/ 2009.  Stocks are likely a giant bubble, and we don’t even know if they have already peaked.  We could still see another run higher before the final collapse.

And as I’ve already said, I think interest rates will fall in the recession.  This means that U.S. government bonds are still not a completely ridiculous investment.

Gold is much harder to predict, but my best guess is that it will be similar to 2008/ 2009 where it takes a dive as the U.S. dollar strengthens.  But if QE4 comes, then all bets are off and gold will likely zoom higher.

We could end up seeing $2 trillion annual deficits.  This would have been unheard of 10 years ago.  But Congress may run a $1 trillion deficit next year, even if we don’t go into a recession.  I don’t know when or how this will all end, but it will end eventually.  That is what happens to things that can’t go on forever.

These are just my thoughts, but of course we can’t know how millions of people will act in the future, let alone a few hundred politicians and central bankers.  We can only guess what is likely in the big picture.

Instead of trying to predict exactly how things will play out, the most important thing you can do is to ask yourself whether you are prepared for any somewhat likely scenario.  If you are particularly worried about a particular scenario because you are vulnerable, then work to fix that vulnerability.  You can only control what you control.

The Rich Put Their Pants On One Leg at a Time

When someone says, “I put my pants on one leg at a time”, it can mean different things to different people.  But someone who says that is usually someone out of the ordinary trying to show some humility and that they are ordinary in many ways.  It would be common for a celebrity or rich person to make such a statement.

It is obviously true that most people do put their pants on one leg at a time, unless they like to sit down and shove both legs in at the same time.  Perhaps a better quote is, “Almost everyone puts their pants on by themselves.”  This may not apply for little kids or really old people.  It might not apply to a few people who have a disability or have a temporary injury.  But for the most part, adults put on their own pants without any help, including those with servants.

My guess is that Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos put on their own pants.  They probably do a lot of other things on their own.

I think it is important to acknowledge that no matter how rich someone is, or how glamorous their life seems to be, they still have to do many things that almost everyone else does.  They also have days where they don’t feel well.  They may have some days where they are just in a bad mood.  Despite what you might read from your friends’ posts on Facebook, everyone has their struggles in some way.  It’s just that some are worse than others.

I think this is important when looking at money and wealth.  There are a lot of people who think their problems would go away if they won the lottery or somehow made a lot of money.  Some of their problems and stresses probably would go away, but hopefully they wouldn’t be replaced by a whole new set of stresses.  Sometimes people need something of a routine and something that provides some fulfillment or sense of purpose in life.  If someone strikes it rich, they risk losing that fulfillment unless they are wise.

When thinking about money, realize that there is not that much difference between a multi-millionaire and a billionaire.  Most people can’t spend a billion dollars, even in a lifetime, unless they are buying a sports team or something similar.  And if you really want your own yacht and private airplane, the multi-millionaire can probably just rent or lease one for the time period that he wants it.

There have been studies that a higher income does not provide that much more happiness when you reach a certain level.  Some say it is rather low, say, around $75,000 per year.  But in America today, that kind of income does not get you that far, especially for a family.  If you know how to handle money well, then I would think a family earning twice that amount of money would find a lot less stress, at least in terms of paying the bills.  It wouldn’t change a lot of things though.  You aren’t hiring a chauffeur to drive your kids to their local activities.

You will always have certain stresses in life.  In terms of money, I think the key is to get to a point of being comfortable, while still saving money.  I know some rich people and entrepreneurs will say that being comfortable is bad because it makes you complacent.  There is some truth to this, but complacency isn’t that bad if you don’t have money stresses and you are living a content life.

Of course, I think it should always be a goal, even if longer term, to find financial freedom.  This does not necessarily mean being a millionaire if your living expenses are low enough.  It means being able to quit your job if you become miserable, without being really stressed out about money.  It doesn’t have to mean that you can quit and never work again, but it does mean that you should be able to quit for at least a few years without working.

Let’s take three families for example.  Let’s say there are two children in each example.  Family A earns $50,000 per year and barely scrapes by.  Family B earns $125,000 per year and is able to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle while saving 10% each year and taking one nice vacation each year.  Family C earns $1 million per year and lives in a really nice house in a country club and can take lavish vacations.

I would say there is probably a bigger difference between Family A and Family B than there is between Family B and Family C.  Family A is barely grinding through life and is constantly stressed out about paying the bills.  Their biggest treat in life is being able to eat out once a week at the local all-you-can-eat buffet.

There is obviously a far greater disparity in numbers between Family B and Family C, but they aren’t that much different.  Family C probably drives luxury cars, and everything in life is just a little more luxurious.  They fly first class when they go on a trip.  But the day-to-day activities are not that different.  And while Family B has to be a little cautious about where the money goes, they are still comfortable as long as the income keeps coming in.

The point is, most middle class people shouldn’t look at the super rich.  They can strive for that if they want to, but they should first seek just to make their lives easier.  This means not having to worry about money to the point that it causes anxiety.

Also, it isn’t all about income.  It is about spending and savings too.  Family A may find that they can still live on $50,000 per year and not be miserable if they only had a year’s worth of salary in the bank.  Then the little emergencies and repairs in life are not that big of a deal.

You can strive to be Family B with some money in the bank.  This will not eliminate all of the stresses in life, but it should eliminate most of the money stresses.  Of course, there are other factors to weigh, such as actually liking your job.  There is also the consideration of whether one parent should stay home with the kids and not work a salaried job.

Family C may not be that much happier than Family B, if at all.  There is one thing for sure though.  The people in Family C are still putting on their pants by themselves, whether if it is one leg at a time or not.

CPI Accelerates in January, Fed in a Bind

The consumer price inflation numbers were released, and January came in hot at 0.5%.  It isn’t 1970s hot, but it is definitely an acceleration.  This is just one month of course, but if it came in like that every month, then we would be looking at 6% annual price inflation (according to the government’s statistics).

The more stable measure of the median CPI even came in a little higher than usual at 0.3%.  The year-over-year median CPI is at 2.4%.

Perhaps some of the monetary inflation from 2008 to 2014 is leaking out a little faster now.  The Fed will say that they want to see higher inflation (meaning prices), but do they really?

We are in this awkward period where the Fed is actually tightening, while consumer prices seem to be rising at an accelerating pace.  And when I say the Fed is tightening, I don’t just mean raising its target on the federal funds rate or keeping its balance sheet stable.  Currently, the Fed is actually allowing $20 billion per month to roll off of its balance sheet.

Meanwhile, the Fed – under new chair Jerome Powell – is expected to hike its target rate again next month in the FOMC’s March meeting.  This all coincides with the recent explosion of volatility in stocks where the Dow has experienced two days of over 1,000 point drops.

Personally, I celebrate the higher consumer price inflation numbers.  It isn’t that I want to pay higher prices for things I buy, but it is the only thing that will limit the Fed in its monetary policy, and it may be the only thing (along with interest rates) that will eventually limit spending coming out of Congress.

The federal government will likely run a deficit of over $1 trillion in the next fiscal year.  And that is during a supposed recovery.  Imagine if the economy takes a plunge and tax collections fall.  Are we prepared to see our first $2 trillion annual deficit?

If consumer prices continue to show signs of increasing at an accelerating pace, then it will be difficult for the Fed not to follow through with its plan to reduce its balance sheet.  And if the economy takes a major downturn, it will make it harder for the Fed to ramp up monetary inflation.

We need a tight monetary policy for a prolonged period of time.  We need higher interest rates in order to encourage saving (assuming that the market rates would be much higher if not for the implicit backing of the Fed).  We need higher interest rates to stop the distortions and misallocations.  We need higher interest rates in order to put pressure on Congress to reduce its out-of-control spending.

From an investment perspective, it is interesting that stock investors did not react negatively to the news of higher than expected price inflation.  Perhaps they see it as a one-time event that will not impact the coming rate hikes.  Markets have already mostly priced in a rate hike in March, although the 10-year yield did go higher to some extent.

It is also interesting that gold spiked up on the news, especially since most economic news seems to be counterintuitive.  Yes, gold is supposed to be a hedge against inflation.  However, with this news, it makes it more likely the Fed will hike its target rate and keep tightening its monetary policy.  This would be bearish for gold.  Perhaps some investors don’t believe that the Fed will fully follow through.  Maybe some see this as a build up to something resembling the 1970s where there were high interest rates, high price inflation, and periods of recession.  The 1970s was one of the greatest times for gold in U.S. history, at least in comparison to the U.S. dollar.

I recommend something resembling the permanent portfolio.  This shows that it is especially important now to have that 25% in gold, or in investments that reflect the price of gold.  Most financial advisors will not recommend such a high allocation to gold or any other precious metals.  You are lucky if you can find an advisor that recommends 10%.  But they do not understand the threats of a depreciating currency to the extent that they should.  Their clients who take their recommendations and who do not diversify into gold will suffer greatly if we hit anything near a scenario resembling the 1970s.

Does a Bear Market in Stocks Mean a Recession?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average just experienced its two biggest one-day drops in terms of points in one week.  The Dow fell 1,175 points on February 5, 2008, and it fell again 3 days later on February 8, 2018 by 1,033 points.

Of course, this was starting out at a level above 25,000.  In percentage terms, it comes nowhere close to matching the October 27, 1987 crash (Black Monday) when the Dow fell by over 22% in one day.  It was a fall of 508 points.

Stocks had recently been on an upward trend for quite a while without any kind of significant pullback.  From that perspective, it shouldn’t have come as that big of a surprise.  The lack of volatility changed quickly.

The first question is whether this is the start of a new bear market (usually defined as a 20% or more drop), or simply a small blip before things turn up again.  I don’t claim to have the answers here, and you shouldn’t trust anyone who is 100% sure that he does have the answers.  That is because it is all based on human action.  We cannot accurately predict how millions of people will act each day.  We can make good guesses based on the conditions, but timing predictions are virtually impossible.

What I do know is that the Fed had an extremely loose monetary policy from 2008 to 2014.  Since then, it has kept a relatively stable money supply in terms of the monetary base.  According to the FOMC implementation notes, the Fed is slowly draining its balance sheet now.  This points to an eventual recession, as the previous misallocated resources become exposed.  It becomes evident that there is not adequate savings and demand to sustain certain longer-term projects that previously looked like a good idea when there was a loose monetary policy and lower interest rates.

There is little question that part of the gains in stocks is related to the previous loose monetary policy.  Sure, stocks were likely oversold in 2009, but they have run to almost ridiculous levels today.

Another major question is whether a bear market in stocks automatically implicates the economy going into recession.  This was definitely the case in 2008.  While the official recession was backdated to late 2007, it did not become evident until September 2008.  This corresponded with a massive fall in stocks.  Did the falling economy tell investors to sell stocks, or did stock sellers tell everyone else that we were in a recession?  The answer to this isn’t even clear.

Still, I do think it is possible that stocks could fall dramatically without necessarily plunging the entire economy into recession.  Look at what happened to oil in 2014 when it fell from over $100 per barrel to eventually under $30 in 2016.  Yet, everything else did not come crashing down.  There was one asset bubble that popped without everything else popping.  You can blame this on shale oil and increased production, but you can also blame an over-inflated stock market on exuberant investors in search of yield.  It doesn’t necessarily mean everything else has to go down with it.

If stocks keep going down, I certainly think the chances of a recession become greater.  It is a sign of weakness.  However, another consideration is the yield curve, which is still far from inverted.  An inverted yield curve is the biggest recession indicator, but long-term rates have been going up slowly with short-term rates.  We would really have to see at least a somewhat flattening of the yield curve before we are likely to see a major recession.  I suppose there is a first time for everything (a major recession without an inverted yield curve), but why start now?

Either way, it should not change your strategy in how to deal with either situation.  I recommend you have a majority of your financial assets in a permanent portfolio setup to weather any kind of storm.

If we hit a recession, the most important thing you can do is to protect your main source of income.  For most people, this is their job where they earn a salary.  You should avoid being on a short list for being fired, but this is good advice in any economic scenario.  It is also best to avoid being with a company that can easily go bankrupt, but it may be a little late to fix that now.

The average American actually needs a good hard recession to clear out some of the previous malinvestment.  It will make life more affordable in the longer run.  The problem is that part of the reallocation will mean an increase in unemployment and likely lower nominal wages.  This is necessary as part of the correction process, but certainly painful.

Our biggest fear should be the response of the Fed in the next recession.  If the Fed starts another round of massive monetary inflation, then hard assets like gold will become one of the best financial investments.  Until then, cash is still king.

Are Interest Rates Causing the Downturn in Stocks?

On Monday, February 5, 2018, the Dow went down by 1,175 points.  It wiped out all of the gains from the previous month.  It shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise, as U.S. stocks were going the closest to parabolic as we have seen since the Nasdaq bubble of the late 1990s.

Still, the financial media needs an explanation for everything, other than just saying that there were more willing buyers and sellers at lower prices that day.

For the record, it is inaccurate to say that there were more sellers than buyers because every transaction needs at least one of each.  It is just that there may be more willing sellers, or fewer buyers at the previous high prices.

On Tuesday, stocks finished much higher, but that was after some major volatility.  We can probably count on a lot more volatility for a while now, which if often a precursor to a prolonged downturn.

The financial media is saying that the downturn in stocks is due to investor fear over rising interest rates.  In other words, rising rates, or the threat of rising rates, is causing stocks to fall.

And while this could be a small piece of the puzzle, it doesn’t really fit in with what actually happened on Monday, and is likely to happen again in massive down days for stocks.  I was watching the 10-year yield on Monday, and it was falling.  Or stated differently, bonds were going up.

I suppose one could argue that the cure for higher rates is lower stock prices, but this certainly doesn’t fit in neatly with history.  And why would rates be falling in almost direct correlation with stocks on the worst day in a long while?

I don’t think that higher interest rates, or the threat of higher rates, is causing the downturn and increased volatility in stocks.  If it is, it is a minor player.

If we want an explanation, other than just saying that there were more willing buyers and sellers at lower prices, I think it mainly lies in the business cycle.  Specifically, if this downturn continues, it is just the bust phase as described in the Austrian Business Cycle Theory.

The Federal Reserve engaged in massive monetary inflation from 2008 to 2014.  While the so-called recovery has been weak for middle class America in a lot of ways, it did result in something of an asset boom, particularly in stocks.  Now that the Fed is tightening, albeit slowly, the air may be finally coming out of the bubble.

Now, it is possible that the bull run in stocks may resume and we may see new all-time highs again before this is all over.  But with the last few days, the inevitable seems to be closer at hand than what it seemed a week before.

It is very easy to confuse cause and effect when dealing with the economy and financial markets.  Most people think we need some kind of event to initiate a precipitous fall in stocks or a recession.  In 2008, the fall of Lehman Brothers is seen as the triggering event.  But we have to be careful in how we analyze these things.  It wasn’t Lehman Brothers that caused the financial crisis in 2008.  It was just one of the symptoms.

Therefore, we don’t necessarily have to see any big financial news to get a drop in stocks or the beginning of an economic downturn.  The drop in stocks can be the triggering news in itself.  Sometimes things have just run as far as they can run.

As for interest rates, we should expect them to fall in a major crash of stocks and an economic recession.  Even if you don’t care too much for the federal government, U.S. Treasury bills and bonds are still seen as the safest investment there is.  The only exception to that rule is when there is a significant threat of price inflation.  So until we see a big pickup in the price inflation numbers, expect interest rates to stay relatively low.  And in a stock crash, investors will flee to safety, which will drive down rates further.

Incidentally, the new Fed chair, Jerome Powell, was sworn in the day after his 65th birthday on Monday, February 5.  He was sworn in on the same day that stocks took a dive.  Timing is everything, and now he gets to deal with the problems ahead.  If things get bad enough, expect the Fed to stop its slow draining of its balance sheet.  And if things get really bad, then we can start talking about QE4, or whatever the next round of monetary inflation will be called.

The last few days are a good example of why I advocate a permanent portfolio.  It has been tough not seeing the big gains that all-in stock investors have seen over the last several years.  But when things go the other way, you will be in a lot less misery with a good portion of your assets in a permanent portfolio.

The FISA Memo – A Libertarian Take

The infamous FISA memo was released.  While I didn’t expect a really smoking gun, I was probably hoping for a little more than what was there.  Now don’t get me wrong; there is no question it has implications and is significant.  It’s just that it was built up a lot.  That is the problem with hype.  You then have to live up to the hype.

The memo implicates a lot of names, along with a couple of agencies – mainly the FBI and DOJ.  It turns out that the investigators are the ones who should be the investigatees.  Most of the names in the memo of people in the FBI and DOJ should probably be in jail, at least if they were held to the same standard as they hold us.

If Martha Stewart can be thrown in jail for five months for supposedly obstructing justice over a non-crime, then surely the actions described by the memo should be obstruction of justice, plus some.  (Remember with Martha Stewart, even though I don’t think insider trading should be a crime, she was never actually found guilty of insider trading.)

You can easily read the FISA memo in just a few minutes.  It is less than four full pages long.  I am thankful that I could just read it instead of reading a summary of it.  I have figured out that this has been a weakness for WikiLeaks.  There were many damaging things in releases last year against the federal government, the Democratic National Committee, the establishment media, and the Clinton campaign.  The problem is that it was information overload.  It was hard to get through it all, and you had to rely on other people to find the gems.

I think WikiLeaks should release, on average, about five pages in one day.  Let that be the news.  Then, two days later, they can release another five pages and let people digest it.  Many people are just unaware of the favoritism shown towards the Clinton campaign.  For example, she was fed questions before a debate against Bernie Sanders.

As far as the FISA memo goes, it really wasn’t any big news for people who have been paying attention in an honest way.  Now if you are strongly paying attention in the form of watching CBS news or CNN, or just reading what your friends say on Facebook, then you probably aren’t aware that the whole Russiagate is a fraud and that the real criminals are the ones doing the investigation.

I am not pro Trump because I disagree with a lot of his stances.  He is a protectionist and Keynesian when it comes to the economy.  In foreign policy, he said some good things on the campaign trail, but he has continued the wars and belligerence around the globe.

However, I do consider myself to be anti-anti-Trump.  The people who have Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) criticize the man for all of the wrong things.  And half the things they say are just based on made-up stories about him.  And by the way, there really is such a thing as Trump Derangement Syndrome.  People who have it just can’t think straight at all whenever the subject of Trump enters the conversation.  It is quite a spectacle to behold.

The bottom line with this memo is that the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign (basically the same thing) paid (indirectly, of course) Christophe Steele to compile this dossier, which was then used as a basis for investigating the Trump campaign.  Again, this was already pretty well-known for anyone who was following the story and was not just listening to the establishment media.

The memo was put together by the majority of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (i.e., Republicans), but it still adds credibility to what was already known by some.  Of course, this credibility will only go so far, as the strong anti-Trump forces would never believe anything that puts Trump in a favorable light.

During Trump’s campaign in 2016, he was talking about how loyal his supporters are.  He said something to the effect that he could stand in the middle of the street and shoot someone, and his supporters would still support him.  He, of course, took a lot of criticism for this remark.  But if anything, this could more be said of Hillary Clinton, or better yet, the anti-Trumpers in general.  You could have the establishment media saying that Trump tried to punch somebody in the face.  Then when video is released showing the exact opposite, the anti-Trumpers would find a way to spin it against Trump, or to say that Trump really did throw the first punch.  Again, I can’t fully explain the Trump Derangement Syndrome.

And to be sure, this syndrome falls into some Republicans too.  You can see it in the Bush family, John McCain (who criticized the release of the memo), Mitt Romney (before Trump was the nominee), and many of the other war hawks in the establishment.

One other point is that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, is completely useless.  Trump should fire this guy now.  While he figures out how to get the government into more asset seizures and more drug busts, he completely ignores the crimes of these agencies.

In response to the FISA memo, Sessions said that he has “great confidence in the men and women of this Department, but no department is perfect.”  Yeah, I guess you could say criminal is not perfect.  Let’s hope Trump realizes that Sessions is a major part of the swamp.

And that brings us to the only solution possible here.  I have warned in the past about the spy agencies, particularly the NSA.  The only solution to these corrupt agencies is severe budget cuts, or better yet, to close them down completely.  When you have many billions of dollars at your disposal, you can always point to some good things that have been done.  But the people at the top of these agencies are some of the worst characters on the planet.  And while seeing some of the criminals actually go to jail would be nice, it is not a long-term solution.  The only solution is massive budget cuts, or outright eliminations of agencies.

These spy agencies and intelligence agencies have teamed up against Trump and have been trying to take him down since before he took office.  Yet, for some reason, he will still continue to fund them.

FOMC Meeting, State of the Union, and Goodbye Janet Yellen

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) just finished up its meeting on monetary policy and released its latest statement.  There were no unexpected policy changes in terms of the federal funds target rate and the Fed’s slow draining of its balance sheet.

CNBC showed a nice comparison of the changes from the previous FOMC statement.

Probably the most significant change is the committee’s view of inflation.  The previous statement said, “Inflation on a 12-month basis is expected to remain somewhat below 2 percent in the near term but to stabilize around the Committee’s 2 percent objective over the medium term.”

The latest statement said, “Inflation on a 12-month basis is expected to move up this year and to stabilize around the Committee’s 2 percent objective over the medium term.”

In other words, the slight wording change in the statement indicates that the Fed sees inflation (based on its definition) as picking up slightly, or at least perceives slightly higher inflation in the near future.

Of course, in terms of monetary policy, we actually have slight deflation right now.  In terms of the Fed’s balance sheet, the money supply is going slightly down with the Fed’s policy of allowing a small amount (relative to the total size) to mature and not be rolled over.  In fact, as of February 1, 2018, the Fed will be rolling off $20 billion per month, which is up from $10 billion per month previously

The FOMC decision – or perhaps non-decision – came the day after Trump’s State of the Union speech.  From a libertarian standpoint, there was nothing unexpected.  There was the usual political theater.  And of course, the Democrats hated almost everything that Trump said.

While Trump is still a disaster on foreign policy, he is not as hawkish as he could be.  He is not as hawkish as other presidents have been in the past or as much as most of the other potential candidates from 2015/ 2016 could have been.

On economic grounds, he is right to say that we need less regulation.  He was right in calling for a cut in corporate tax rates.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t get much right after that.  He wants a massive infrastructure program that will centralize what should be done at a local level (or privately) if it should be done at all.  This will just be more boondoggles with another trillion dollars or so added to the already over-bloated debt.

As I have previously said, Trump is going to regret that he claimed so much credit for the booming (for some) economy and the booming stock market.  The Federal Reserve is still tightening its monetary policy.  The stock market has boomed with three rounds of QE, but we have to wonder how long the stock market can go without more Fed injections, let alone a slightly deflationary stance.

This was Janet Yellen’s last meeting as Fed chair.  Jerome Powell is set to take over on February 3, 2018.  He is not a good appointment by Trump, but perhaps Trump is depending on a Keynesian type who will juice the economy when it is needed.  We shouldn’t expect any radical shift when Powell takes over, but you can bet that the Fed will quickly reverse course if the economy takes a hit.  The Fed will not only stop rolling off securities, but it will probably start a new round of purchases (QE4?).

The markets, in the midst of its rather historic run, took a break on Tuesday.  Supposedly the thought of higher interest rates spooked the markets for one day.  Stocks, bonds, and gold all went down that day.  Or maybe investors just needed a short break before resuming the buying spree, particularly in stocks.

It is interesting that Yellen will escape without having to deal with any major crises on her watch.  Previous Fed chairs were not so fortunate.

For Jerome Powell, he may end up wishing he never got the position of Fed chair.  He could end up playing the role of Ben Bernanke, but the public may not be quite as patient with massive bailouts of the financial industry this time around.

Despite what Trump may have said in his speech, the state of the union can change quickly.  A boom can turn to bust quickly.

Trump Owns the Economy

I think the president is overrated.  I don’t mean this president in particular, but the presidency in general.  The president certainly has a great deal of power, but I think he is often credited too much (or discredited too much) for the overall economy.

There is no question that the president matters.  The president approves legislation, which includes budgets, and only a two-thirds majority in Congress can override a presidential veto.  A president can also set the tone and the agenda.  Even with Trump, who is perhaps the most hated president ever by the establishment media, has a bully pulpit.  He not only has Twitter, but he could call a primetime speech at any time, and the networks would feel compelled to cover it.

If Ron Paul had been elected president and allowed to take office, he would have withdrawn troops from all over the world, or at least we can guess this is what would have happened.  If he had taken office and not followed through on this promise, then a democratic and peaceful revolution really would have been hopeless at that point.

But let’s say Ron Paul had taken office (it doesn’t matter if it had been 2009 or 2013 or 2017).  Just by ending the wars and bringing home the troops, hundreds of billions of dollars could have been saved right there on an annual basis.  Those resources could have been used to satisfy consumer demands.  In addition, a President Paul could have vetoed every single budget bill, or at least vetoed every bill that ran any kind of deficit.  Maybe Congress would have overridden him, but you can be pretty sure that some domestic spending cuts would be made.  Just the fact that Ron Paul was elected (in our example), the politicians would have felt somewhat compelled to go along with the electorate.

In this sense, a radical politician who advocates free market policies could dramatically improve the economy for the better in the long run.  But if there were massive spending cuts and a liberalizing of markets, it might expose some of the malinvestments from previous times.  You could still get what feels like an economic downturn while resources realign according to consumer demand.

In our reality, the economic policies from administration to administration do not change much.  There wasn’t that much difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  Bush actually ramped up spending faster than Obama did.  Bush gave us Medicare coverage of prescription drugs.  Obama gave us Obamacare.  There were small differences in tax rates.  Bush gave us Bernanke, and Obama gave us Yellen at the Fed.

Trump has perhaps been slightly better in terms of regulations.  There were some elements of the tax reform package that were positive, especially the cut in corporate tax rates.  Still, spending is continuing to increase.  The debt is continuing to increase at a rapid pace.  Trump is a mercantilist who believes in protectionist tariffs.  And his appointments to the Federal Reserve consist of more Keynesians.

So unless a president is going to radically break from the status quo, the president does not impact the economy that much.  It is more a matter of timing and a matter of Federal Reserve policy.

Trump Takes Ownership

Unfortunately for Trump’s sake, he is taking full ownership of the supposed boom that is happening now.  He is touting GDP and other government statistics.  Worst of all, he is touting the stock market.

In a recent interview on CNBC, Trump said, “The stock market is up almost 50% since my election.  Had the Democrat won [Hillary Clinton], I believe you would have been down 50%.”

I think he is going to really regret those words.

He can’t avoid taking ownership now.  If he is using the booming stock market to brag, then what is he going to say when it goes bust? He can’t turn around at that point and talk about his warnings of a bubble during his campaign.

If Trump is still president in November 2020 when the next presidential election occurs, it is a safe bet that we will have had some kind of bust at that point.  My bet is that the stock market will be lower at that time than it is now.  And if it is higher at that point, then it will be because the Fed has started another round of massive monetary inflation.

Trump’s job in dealing with the media and intelligence agencies is hard enough.  But when stocks crash, he will have nobody to blame but himself.  He would have had a case to be made if he weren’t bragging about the stock boom.  But now, if a recession hits, most people are going to blame him, and he isn’t going to have any good response.  His approval ratings will drop below where they are now.

The only thing we can do is to refute Trump now, before the crash hits.  The boom in stocks does not have a lot to do with Trump’s presidency.  Part of the portion that is attributable to Trump’s policies is artificial and unsustainable.

When things get bad economically, let’s hope enough Americans understand that it wasn’t the free market that brought us to this point.  It is government regulation, massive government spending, and Federal Reserve manipulation of the economy that make our living standards lower than they otherwise would be.

I Just Created My Own Cryptocurrency

For legal reasons, I should probably say that I haven’t really created my own cryptocurrency, as the title suggests.  But I could create my own cryptocurrency.

I could call it Libertarian Coin.  Or maybe Anti-Fed Coin works better.  At this point, it is all marketing.

I like cryptocurrencies for a few reasons:

  1. The technology behind them, while still in need of significant improvement, is innovative.  The technology will be useful for other purposes in the future even if I don’t fully understand it.
  2. I like competition for the central banks.
  3. The cryptocurrencies draw attention and discussion towards the Fed and central banking in general.

Unfortunately, on the last point, some of the attention it is starting to draw isn’t so much as cryptocurrencies as an alternative to fiat money, but the parallels between cryptocurrencies and the government-issued fiat currencies.

As a libertarian, I try to be somewhat sympathetic to cryptocurrencies and those who advocate them.  After all, it isn’t easy to find vocal opponents of government-issued currencies.

With that said, I feel the duty to warn those who will listen that this is a giant bubble just waiting to implode.  This isn’t to say that more money will not be made in cryptocurrencies.  When I say money, I mean U.S. dollars or other government money.  The bubble may last a while longer, and maybe a few will be smart enough to cash out, even though we have no idea when the right time will be.

Cryptocurrencies are very similar to government-issued currencies except in the fact that we are not essentially compelled to use them. With legal tender laws and tax implications, it is virtually impossible to live in the United States and not use U.S. dollars.

When you buy a stock, you are buying a share of the company.  It is usually a very tiny share, but it is a share in the company nonetheless.  If you own stock in Apple, you own a tiny fraction of its operations.  You own a tiny fraction of its buildings and equipment.  You own a tiny share in the profits in the form of dividends.  When you buy Apple stock, you are buying something.

When you buy gold, or even a certificate representing gold, you are buying something.  You can actually touch the gold, and you can use it for jewelry, or industrial purposes, or as an alternative form of money.  Gold has a history of being used as money for thousands of years up through part of the 20th century.  It is still held by central banks today.

If you buy a cryptocurrency – let’s say Bitcoin, since it is the most popular – then what are you buying?  Bitcoin isn’t a company like Apple.  You can’t redeem your Bitcoin shares for anything tangible like gold.

Bitcoin does not sell products like Apple.  It doesn’t make a profit as a corporation would.  The only profit is coming from the next sucker who will buy it at a higher price than what you paid for it.

Someone might say that you are buying the technology behind Bitcoin.  But this means nothing.  That technology isn’t earning a profit.  It isn’t patented, as can be seen with well over a thousand cryptocurrencies today.  There is no Bitcoin company selling technological services to consumers.  And there is no building owned by a Bitcoin company.

In other words, when you have shares of Bitcoin – as opposed to shares of Apple or another company – you don’t really own anything. You don’t own anything tangible, and you don’t own anything that can be sold to consumers other than the speculation itself.

There will be a major crash in Bitcoin and all of the other cryptocurrencies, unless there is something out there that is actually backed by something.  The only thing I am unsure of is whether the crash in cryptocurrencies will happen before a stock market crash and recession, or after.  Or maybe they will occur simultaneously.

But as much as stocks are in a bubble, they aren’t going to zero.  That is because you still own the company and its underlying assets.  Some stocks might go to zero where the company’s debt is greater than its assets and it is no longer able to make a profit.  But as a whole, stocks aren’t going to zero.  I can’t be sure of cryptocurrencies, but they really could go to essentially zero.

Ok, so I didn’t really create my own cryptocurrency, but here are a couple of guys who did.  Maybe you could get in early.

(Warning: You may not want to watch at work or around the kids.)

Combining Free Market Economics with Investing