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ELLEN BROWN VICE EDITOR

Another Bank Bailout Under Cover of a Virus

By Ellen Brown Juris Doctor Global News Aruba

Insolvent Wall Street banks have been quietly bailed out again. Banks made risk-free by the government should be public utilities.  

When the Dodd Frank Act was passed in 2010, President Obama triumphantly declared, “No more bailouts!” But what the Act actually said was that the next time the banks failed, they would be subject to “bail ins” – the funds of their creditors, including their large depositors, would be tapped to cover their bad loans.


Then bail-ins were tried in Europe. The results were disastrous.


Many economists in the US and Europe argued that the next time the banks failed, they should be nationalized – taken over by the government as public utilities. But that opportunity was lost when, in September 2019 and again in March 2020, Wall Street banks were quietly bailed out from a liquidity crisis in the repo market that could otherwise have bankrupted them. There was no bail-in of private funds, no heated congressional debate, and no public vote. It was all done unilaterally by unelected bureaucrats at the Federal Reserve.


“The justification of private profit,” said President Franklin Roosevelt in a 1938 address, “is private risk.” Banking has now been made virtually risk-free, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States and its people. The American people are therefore entitled to share in the benefits and the profits. Banking needs to be made a public utility.


The Risky Business of Borrowing Short to Lend Long

Individual banks can go bankrupt from too many bad loans, but the crises that can trigger system-wide collapse are “liquidity crises.” Banks “borrow short to lend long.” They borrow from their depositors to make long-term loans or investments while promising the depositors that they can come for their money “on demand.” To pull off this sleight of hand, when the depositors and the borrowers want the money at the same time, the banks have to borrow from somewhere else. If they can’t find lenders on short notice, or if the price of borrowing suddenly becomes prohibitive, the result is a “liquidity crisis.”


Before 1933, when the government stepped in with FDIC deposit insurance, bank panics and bank runs were common. When people suspected a bank was in trouble, they would all rush to withdraw their funds at once, exposing the fact that the banks did not have the money they purported to have. During the Great Depression, more than one-third of all private US banks were closed due to bank runs.

But President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took office in 1933, was skeptical about insuring bank deposits. He warned, “We do not wish to make the United States Government liable for the mistakes and errors of individual banks, and put a premium on unsound banking in the future.” The government had a viable public alternative, a US postal banking system established in 1911. Postal banks became especially popular during the Depression, because they were backed by the US government. But Roosevelt was pressured into signing the 1933 Banking Act, creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that insured private banks with public funds.


Congress, however, was unwilling to insure more than $5,000 per depositor (about $100,000 today), a sum raised temporarily in 2008 and permanently in 2010 to $250,000. That meant large institutional investors (pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds) had nowhere to park the millions of dollars they held between investments. They wanted a place to put their funds that was secure, provided them with some interest, and was liquid like a traditional deposit account, allowing quick withdrawal. They wanted the same “ironclad moneyback guarantee” provided by FDIC deposit insurance, with the ability to get their money back on demand.


It was largely in response to that need that the private repo market evolved. Repo trades, although technically “sales and repurchases” of collateral, are in effect secured short-term loans, usually repayable the next day or in two weeks. Repo replaces the security of deposit insurance with the security of highly liquid collateral, typically Treasury debt or mortgage-backed securities. Although the repo market evolved chiefly to satisfy the needs of the large institutional investors that were its chief lenders, it also served the interests of the banks, since it allowed them to get around the capital requirements imposed by regulators on the conventional banking system. Borrowing from the repo market became so popular that by 2008, it provided half the credit in the country. By 2020, this massive market had a turnover of $1 trillion a day.


Before 2008, banks also borrowed from each other in the fed funds market, allowing the Fed to manipulate interest rates by controlling the fed funds rate. But after 2008, banks were afraid to lend to each other for fear the borrowing banks might be insolvent and might not pay the loans back. Instead the lenders turned to the repo market, where loans were supposedly secured with collateral. The problem was that the collateral could be “rehypothecated,” or used for several loans at once; and by September 2019, the borrower side of the repo market had been taken over by hedge funds, which were notorious for risky rehypothecation. Many large institutional lenders therefore pulled out, driving the cost of borrowing at one point from 2% to 10%.

Rather than letting the banks fail and forcing a bail-in of private creditors’ funds, the Fed quietly stepped in and saved the banks by becoming the “repo lender of last resort.” But the liquidity crunch did not abate, and by March the Fed was making $1 trillion per day available in overnight loans. The central bank was backstopping the whole repo market, including the hedge funds, an untenable situation.


In March 2020, under cover of a national crisis, the Fed therefore flung the doors open to its discount window, where only banks could borrow. Previously, banks were reluctant to apply there because the interest was at a penalty rate and carried a stigma, signaling that the bank must be in distress. But that concern was eliminated when the Fed announced in a March 15 press release that the interest rate had been dropped to 0.25% (virtually zero). The reserve requirement was also eliminated, the capital requirement was relaxed, and all banks in good standing were offered loans of up to 90 days, “renewable on a daily basis.” The loans could be continually rolled over. And while the alleged intent was “to help meet demands for credit from households and businesses at this time,” no strings were attached to this interest-free money. There was no obligation to lend to small businesses, reduce credit card rates, or write down underwater mortgages.


The Fed’s scheme worked, and demand for repo loans plummeted. Even J.P. Morgan Chase, the largest bank in the country, has acknowledged borrowing at the Fed’s discount window for super cheap loans. But the windfall to Wall Street has not been shared with the public. In Canada, some of the biggest banks slashed their credit card interest rates in half, from 21 percent to 11 percent, to help relieve borrowers during the COVID-19 crisis. But US banks have felt no such compunction. US credit card rates dropped in April only by half a percentage point, to 20.15%. The giant Wall Street banks continue to favor their largest clients, doling out CARES Act benefits to them first, emptying the trough before many smaller businesses could drink there.


In 1969, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi nationalized 14 of India’s largest banks, not because they were bankrupt (the usual justification today) but to ensure that credit would be allocated according to planned priorities, including getting banks into rural areas and making cheap financing available to Indian farmers.  Congress could do the same today, but the odds are it won’t. As Sen. Dick Durbin said in 2009, “the banks … are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”


Time for the States to Step In

State and local governments could make cheap credit available to their communities, but today they too are second class citizens when it comes to borrowing. Unlike the banks, which can borrow virtually interest-free with no strings attached, states can sell their bonds to the Fed only at market rates of 3% or 4% or more plus a penalty. Why are elected local governments, which are required to serve the public, penalized for shortfalls in their budgets caused by a mandatory shutdown, when private banks that serve private stockholders are not?

States can borrow from the federal unemployment trust fund, as California just did for $348 million, but these loans too must be paid back with interest, and they must be used to cover soaring claims for state unemployment benefits. States remain desperately short of funds to repair holes in their budgets from lost revenues and increased costs due to the shutdown.


States are excellent credit risks – far better than banks would be without the life-support of the federal government. States have a tax base, they aren’t going anywhere, they are legally required to pay their bills, and they are forbidden to file for bankruptcy. Banks are considered better credit risks than states only because their deposits are insured by the federal government and they are gifted with routine bailouts from the Fed, without which they would have collapsed decades ago.


State and local governments with a mandate to serve the public interest deserve to be treated as well as private Wall Street banks that have repeatedly been found guilty of frauds on the public. How can states get parity with the banks? If Congress won’t address that need, states can borrow interest-free at the Fed’s discount window by forming their own publicly-owned banks. For more on that possibility, see my earlier article here.


As Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, create a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” Post-COVID-19, the world will need to explore new models; and publicly-owned banks should be high on the list.

GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA offers factual information and viewpoints that might be useful in arriving at an understanding of the events of our time. We believe that the information comes from reliable sources, but cannot guarantee the information to be free of mistakes and incorrect interpretations. GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA and its Editor in Chief Norberto Tjon Ajong, has no official position on any issue and does not necessarily endorse the statements of any contributor, news reporter, or affiliated news agency.  Contact the source and author and journalist for any further question on any article. or contact [email protected] 
Read our disclaimer policy for more information.

Ellen Brown is Vice Editor in Chief and advisor of Global News Aruba. She has been a contributor and advisor to the Editor in Chief of Global News Aruba since Global News Aruba has been founded in September 3rd, 2007. She is also the founder of the Public Banking Institute and the author of a dozen books and hundreds of articles. She developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In the best-selling Web of Debt (2007, 2012), she turned those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and “the money trust,” showing how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves and how we the people can get it back.

In The Public Bank Solution (2013) she traces the evolution of two banking models that have competed historically, public and private; and explores contemporary public banking systems globally. She has presented these ideas at scores of conferences in the US and abroad, including in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Iceland, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Croatia, Malaysia, Mexico and Venezuela.

Brown developed an interest in the developing world and its problems while living abroad for eleven years in Kenya, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. She returned to practicing law when she was asked to join the legal team of a popular Tijuana healer with an innovative cancer therapy, who was targeted by the chemotherapy industry in the 1990s. That experience produced her book Forbidden Medicine, which traces the suppression of natural health treatments to the same corrupting influences  that have captured the money system. She also co-authored the bestselling Nature’s Pharmacy, which has sold 285,000 copies.

Ellen ran for California State Treasurer in 2014 with the endorsement of the Green Party garnering a record number of votes for a Green Party candidate. The Public Banking Institute is at http://PublicBankingInstitute.org. She can be heard biweekly on “It’s Our Money with Ellen Brown” on PRN.FM.


Contact Dr Juris Doctor Ellen Brown, Attorney at Law and Financial Expert at  : [email protected] 

Mexico’s President AMLO Shows How It’s Done
by Ellen Brown/ Global News Aruba
Senior News Reporter

While U.S. advocates and local politicians struggle to get their first public banks chartered, Mexico’s new president has begun construction on 2,700 branches of a government-owned bank to be completed in 2021, when it will be the largest bank in the country. At a press conference on Jan. 6, he said the neoliberal model had failed; private banks were not serving the poor and people outside the cities, so the government had to step in.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) has been compared to the United Kingdom’s left-wing opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, with one notable difference: AMLO is now in power. He and his left-​wing coalition won by a landslide in Mexico’s 2018 general election, overturning the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that had ruled the country for much of the past century. Called Mexico’s “first full-fledged left-wing experiment,” AMLO’s election marks a dramatic change in the political direction of the country. AMLO wrote in his 2018 book “A New Hope for Mexico,” “In Mexico the governing class constitutes a gang of plunderers…. Mexico will not grow strong if our public institutions remain at the service of the wealthy elites.”

The new president has held to his campaign promises. In 2019, his first year in office, he did what Donald Trump pledged to do — “drain the swamp” — purging the government of technocrats and institutions he considered corrupt, profligate or impeding the transformation of Mexico after 36 years of failed market-focused neoliberal policies. Other accomplishments have included substantially increasing the minimum wage while cutting top government salaries and oversize pensions; making small loans and grants directly to farmers; guaranteeing crop prices for key agricultural crops; launching programs to benefit youth, the disabled and the elderly; and initiating a $44 billion infrastructure plan. López Obrador’s goal, he says, is to construct a “new paradigm” in economic policy that improves human welfare, not just increases gross domestic product.

The End of the Neoliberal Era

To deliver on that promise, in July 2019 AMLO converted the publicly owned federal savings bank Bansefi into a “Bank of the Poor” (Banco del Bienestar or “Welfare Bank”). He said on Jan. 6 that the neoliberal era had eliminated all the state-owned banks but one, which he had gotten approval to expand with 2,700 new branches. Added to the existing 538 branches of the former Bansefi, that will bring the total in two years to 3,238 branches, far outstripping any other bank in the country. (Banco Azteca, currently the largest by number of branches, has 1,860.) Digital banking will also be developed. Speaking to a local group in December, AMLO said his goal was for the Bank of the Poor to reach 13,000 branches, more than all the private banks in the country combined.

At a news conference on Jan. 8, he explained why this new bank was needed:

There are more than 1,000 municipalities that don’t have a bank branch. We’re dispersing [welfare] resources but we don’t have a way to do it.  . . .  People have to go to branches that are two, three hours away. If we don’t bring these services close to the people, we’re not going to bring development to the people. …

They’re already building. I’ll invite you within two months, three at the most, to the inauguration of the first branches because they’re already working, they’re getting the land … because we have to do it quickly.

The president said the 10 billion pesos ($530.4 million) needed to build the new branches would come from government savings; and that 5 million had already been transferred to the Banco del Bienestar, which would pass the funds to the Secretariat of Defense, whose engineers were responsible for construction. The military will also be used to transport physical funds to the branches for welfare payments. AMLO added, “They are helping me. They are propping me up. The military has behaved very well and they don’t back down at all. They always tell me ‘yes you can, yes we do, go.’ ”

To concerns that the government-owned bank would draw deposits away from commercial banks and might compete in other ways, such as making interest-free loans to small businesses, AMLO countered:

There’s no reason to be complaining about us building these branches. … [I]f private banks want to build branches, they have every right to go to the towns and build their branches, but as they won’t because they believe that it’s not [good] business, we have to do it . . . it’s our social responsibility, the state can’t shirk its social responsibility.

Issues with the Central Bank

While the legislature has approved the new bank, Mexico’s central bank can still block it if bank regulations are breached. Ricardo Delfín, who works at the international accounting firm KPMG, told the newspaper La Razón that if the money to fund the bank comes from a loan from the federal government rather than from capital, it will adversely affect the bank’s “Capitalization Ratio.” But AMLO contends that the bank will be self-sufficient. Funding for construction will come from federal savings from other programs, and the bank’s operating expenses will be covered by small commissions paid on each transaction by customers, most of whom are welfare recipients. Branches will be built on land owned by the government or donated, and software companies have offered to advise for free.

About the central bank, he said:

We’re going to speak with those from the Bank of México respecting the autonomy of the Bank of México. We have to educate them because for them this is an anachronism, even sacrilege, because they have other ideas. But we’ve arrived here [in government] after telling the people that the neoliberal economic policy was going to change. . . .

There shouldn’t be obstacles. How is the Bank of México going to stop us from having a [bank] branch that disperses resources in favor of the people? What damage does that do? Whom does it harm?

AMLO has repeatedly promised not to interfere in the business of the central bank, which has been autonomous for the past quarter of a century. But he has also said that he would like its mandate expanded from just preserving the value of the peso by fighting inflation to include fostering growth. The concern, according to The Financial Times, is that he might use the central bank to fund government programs, following in the footsteps of Argentina’s former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, “whose heterodox policies led to high inflation and, many economists believe, the country’s current crisis.”

Mark Weisbrot counters in The New York Times that Argentina’s problems were caused, not by printing money to fund domestic development, but by a massive foreign debt. Hyperinflation actually happened under Fernández de Kirchner’s successor, President Mauricio Macri, who replaced her in 2015. The public debt grew from 53% to more than 86% of GDP, inflation soared from 18% to 54%, short-term interest rates shot up to 75%, and poverty increased from 27% to 40%.

In an upset election in August 2019, the outraged Argentinian public re-elected Fernández de Kirchner as vice president and her former head of the cabinet of ministers as president, restoring the 12-year Kirchner legacy begun by her husband, Nestor Kirchner, in 2003 and considered by Weisbrot to be among the most successful presidencies in the Western Hemisphere.

More appropriate than Argentina as a model for what can be achieved by a government working in partnership with its central bank is that of Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has funded his stimulus programs by selling government bonds directly to the Bank of Japan. The BOJ now holds nearly 50% of the government’s debt, yet consumer price inflation remains low — so low that the BOJ cannot get the figure up even to its 2% target.

Other Funding Options

AMLO is unlikely to go that route, because he has vowed not to interfere with the central bank; but analysts say he needs to introduce some sort of economic stimulus, because Mexico’s GDP has slipped in the last year. The Mexican president has criticized GDP as the ultimate standard, advocating instead for a model of development that incorporates wealth distribution and access to education, health, housing and culture into its measurements.

But as Kurt Hackbarth warned in Jacobin in December, “To fully unfurl [his] program without simply ransacking other line items to pay for it will require doing something AMLO has up to now categorically ruled out: raising taxes on the rich and large corporations which, not surprisingly, make out like utter bandits in Mexico’s rigged financial system.”

AMLO has continually vowed, however, not to raise taxes on the rich. Instead he has enlisted Mexico’s business magnates as investors in public-private partnerships, allowing him to avoid the “tequila trap” that brought down Argentina and Mexico itself in earlier years — getting locked into debt to foreign investors and the International Monetary Fund. Mexico’s business leaders seem happy to invest in the country, despite some slippage in GDP.

As noted by Carlos Slim, Mexico’s wealthiest man, “Debt didn’t go up, there is no fiscal deficit and inflation came down.” In November 2019, the Economy Secretariat reported that foreign direct investment showed a 7.8% increase in the first nine months of that year compared with the same period in 2018, reaching its second highest level ever; and at the end of 2019 the peso was up around 4%. Stocks also rose 4.5%, and inflation dropped from 4.8% to 3%.

Partnering with local businessleaders is politically expedient, but public/private partnerships can be expensive; and as U.K. Professor Richard Werner points out, tapping up private investors merely recirculates existing money in the economy. Better would be to borrow directly from banks, which create new bank money when they lend, as the Bank of England has confirmed. This new money then circulates in the economy, stimulating productivity.

Today, the best model for that approach is China, which funds infrastructure by borrowing from its own state-owned banks. Like all banks, they create loans as bank credit on their books, which is then repaid with the proceeds of the projects created with the loans. There is no need to tap up the central bank or rich investors or the tax base. Government banks can create money on their books just as central banks and private banks do.

For Mexico, however, using its public banks as China does would be something for the future, if at all. Meanwhile, AMLO has been a trailblazer in showing how a national public banking system can be initiated quickly and efficiently. The key, it seems, is just to have the political will — along with massive support from the public, the legislature, local business leaders and the military.

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This article was first posted on Truthdig.com. Ellen Brown chairs the Public Banking Institute and has written thirteen books, including her latest, Banking on the People: Democratizing Money in the Digital Age.  She also co-hosts a radio program on PRN.FM called “It’s Our Money.” 

 

The Fed Protects Gamblers at the Expense of the Economy

Posted on January 10, 2020 by Ellen Brown
GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA 2020

Although the repo market is little known to most people, it is a $1-trillion-a-day credit machine, in which not just banks but hedge funds and other “shadow banks” borrow to finance their trades. Under the Federal Reserve Act, the central bank’s lending window is open only to licensed depository banks; but the Fed is now pouring billions of dollars into the repo (repurchase agreements) market, in effect making risk-free loans to speculators at less than 2%.

This does not serve the real economy, in which products, services and jobs are created. However, the Fed is trapped into this speculative monetary expansion to avoid a cascade of defaults of the sort it was facing with the long-term capital management crisis in 1998 and the Lehman crisis in 2008. The repo market is a fragile house of cards waiting for a strong wind to blow it down, propped up by misguided monetary policies that have forced central banks to underwrite its highly risky ventures.

The Financial Economy Versus the Real Economy

The Fed’s dilemma was graphically illustrated in a Dec. 19 podcast by entrepreneur/investor George Gammon, who explained we actually have two economies – the “real” (productive) economy and the “financialized” economy. “Financialization” is defined at Wikipedia as “a pattern of accumulation in which profits accrue primarily through financial channels rather than through trade and commodity production.” Rather than producing things itself, financialization feeds on the profits of others who produce.

The financialized economy – including stocks, corporate bonds and real estate – is now booming. Meanwhile, the bulk of the population struggles to meet daily expenses. The world’s 500 richest people got $12 trillion richer in 2019, while 45% of Americans have no savings, and nearly 70% could not come up with $1,000 in an emergency without borrowing.

Gammon explains that central bank policies intended to boost the real economy have had the effect only of boosting the financial economy. The policies’ stated purpose is to increase spending by increasing lending by banks, which are supposed to be the vehicles for liquidity to flow from the financial to the real economy. But this transmission mechanism isn’t working, because consumers are tapped out. They can’t spend more unless their incomes go up, and the only way to increase incomes, says Gammon, is through increasing production (or with a good dose of “helicopter money,” but more on that later).

So why aren’t businesses putting money into more production? Because, says Gammon, the central banks have put a “put” on the financial market, meaning they won’t let it go down. Business owners say, “Why should I take the risk of more productivity, when I can just invest in the real estate, stock or corporate bond market and make risk-free money?” The result is less productivity and less spending in the real economy, while the “easy money” created by banks and central banks is used for short-term gain from unproductive financial investments.

Existing assets are bought just to sell them or rent them for more, skimming profits off the top. These unearned “rentier” profits rely on ready access to liquidity (the ability to buy and sell on demand) and on leverage (using borrowed money to increase returns), and both are ultimately underwritten by the central banks. As observed in a July 2019 article titled “Financialization Undermines the Real Economy”:

When large highly leveraged financial institutions in these markets collapse, e.g., Lehman Brothers in September 2008, central banks are forced to step in to salvage the financial system. Thus, many central banks have little choice but to become securities market makers of last resort, providing safety nets for financialized universal banks and shadow banks.

Repo Madness

That is what is happening now in the repo market. Repos work like a pawn shop: the lender takes an asset (usually a federal security) in exchange for cash, with an agreement to return the asset for the cash plus interest the next day unless the loan is rolled over. In September 2019, rates on repos should have been about 2%, in line with the fed funds rate (the rate at which banks borrow deposits from each other). However, repo rates shot up to 10% on Sept. 17. Yet banks were refusing to lend to each other, evidently passing up big profits to hold onto their cash. Since banks weren’t lending, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York jumped in, increasing its overnight repo operations to $75 billion. On Oct. 23, it upped the ante to $165 billion, evidently to plug a hole in the repo market created when JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest depository bank, pulled an equivalent sum out. (For details, see my earlier post here.)

By December, the total injected by the Fed was up to $323 billion. What was the perceived danger lurking behind this unprecedented action? An article in The Quarterly Review of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) pointed to the hedge funds. As ZeroHedge summarized the BIS’ findings:

[C]ontrary to our initial take that banks were pulling from the repo market due to counterparty fears about other banks, they were instead spooked by overexposure by other hedge funds, who have become the dominant marginal – and completely unregulated – repo counterparty to liquidity lending banks; without said liquidity, massive hedge fund regulatory leverage such as that shown above would become effectively impossible.

Hedge funds have been blamed for the 2008 financial crisis, by adding too much risk to the banking system. They have destroyed companies by forcing stock buybacks, asset sales, layoffs and other measures that raise stock prices at the expense of the company’s long-term health and productivity. They have also been a major factor in the homelessness epidemic, by buying foreclosed properties at fire sale prices, then renting them out at inflated prices. Why did the Fed need to bail these parasitic institutions out? The BIS authors explained:

Repo markets redistribute liquidity between financial institutions: not only banks (as is the case with the federal funds market), but also insurance companies, asset managers, money market funds and other institutional investors. In so doing, they help other financial markets to function smoothly. Thus, any sustained disruption in this market, with daily turnover in the U.S. market of about $1 trillion, could quickly ripple through the financial system. The freezing-up of repo markets in late 2008 was one of the most damaging aspects of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC).

At $1 trillion daily, the repo market is much bigger and more global than the fed funds market that is the usual target of central bank policy. Repo trades are supposedly secured with “high-quality collateral” (usually U.S. Treasuries). But they are not risk-free, because of the practice of “re-hypothecation”: the short-term “owner” of the collateral can use it as collateral for another loan, creating leverage – loans upon loans. The IMF has estimated that the same collateral was reused 2.2 times in 2018, which means both the original owner and 2.2 subsequent re-users believed they owned the same collateral. This leveraging, which actually expands the money supply, is one of the reasons banks put their extra funds in the repo market rather than in the fed funds market. But it is also why the repo market and the U.S. Treasuries it uses as collateral are not risk-free. As Wall Street veteran Caitlin Long warns:

U.S. Treasuries are … the most rehypothecated asset in financial markets, and the big banks know this. … U.S. Treasuries are the core asset used by every financial institution to satisfy its capital and liquidity requirements – which means that no one really knows how big the hole is at a system-wide level.

This is the real reason why the repo market periodically seizes up. It’s akin to musical chairs – no one knows how many players will be without a chair until the music stops.

ZeroHedge cautions that hedge funds are the most heavily leveraged multi-strategy funds in the world, taking something like $20 billion to $30 billion in net assets under management and levering it up to $200 billion. According to The Financial Times, to fire up returns, “some hedge funds take the Treasury security they have just bought and use it to secure cash loans in the repo market. They then use this fresh cash to increase the size of the trade, repeating the process over and over and ratcheting up the potential returns.”

ZeroHedge concludes:

This … explains why the Fed panicked in response to the GC repo rate blowing out to 10% on Sept 16, and instantly implemented repos as well as rushed to launch QE 4: not only was Fed Chair Powell facing an LTCM [Long Term Capital Management] like situation, but because the repo-funded [arbitrage] was (ab)used by most multi-strat funds, the Federal Reserve was suddenly facing a constellation of multiple LTCM blow-ups that could have started an avalanche that would have resulted in trillions of assets being forcefully liquidated as a tsunami of margin calls hit the hedge funds world.

“Helicopter Money” – The Only Way Out?

The Fed has been forced by its own policies to create an avalanche of speculative liquidity that never makes it into the real economy. As Gammon explains, the central banks have created a wall that traps this liquidity in the financial markets, driving stocks, corporate bonds and real estate to all-time highs, creating an “everything bubble” that accomplishes only one thing – increased wealth inequality. Central bank quantitative easing won’t create hyperinflation, says Gammon, but “it will create a huge discrepancy between the haves and have nots that will totally wipe out the middle class, and that will bring on MMT or helicopter money. Why? Because it’s the only way that the Fed can get the liquidity from the financial economy, over this wall, around the banking system, and into the real economy. It’s the only solution they have.” Gammon does not think it’s the right solution, but he is not alone in predicting that helicopter money is coming.

Investopedia notes that “helicopter money” differs from quantitative easing (QE), the money-printing tool currently used by central banks. QE involves central bank-created money used to purchase assets from bank balance sheets. Helicopter money, on the other hand, involves a direct distribution of printed money to the public.

A direct drop of money on the people would certainly help to stimulate the economy, but it won’t get the parasite of financialization off our backs; and Gammon is probably right that the Fed lacks the tools to fix the underlying disease itself. Only Congress can change the Federal Reserve Act and the tax system. Congress could impose a 0.1% financial transactions tax, which would nip high-frequency speculative trading in the bud. Congress could turn the Federal Reserve into a public utility mandated to serve the productive economy. Commercial banks could also be regulated as public utilities, and public banks could be established that served the liquidity needs of local economies. For other possibilities, see Banking on the People here.

Solutions are available, but Congress itself has been captured by the financial markets, and it may take another economic collapse to motivate Congress to act. The current repo crisis could be the fuse that triggers that collapse.

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This article was first posted on Truthdig.com. Ellen Brown chairs the Public Banking Institute and has written thirteen books, including her latest, Banking on the People: Democratizing Money in the Digital Age.  She also co-hosts a radio program on PRN.FM called “It’s Our Money.”

" UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME IS EASIER THAN IT LOOKS "
by Juris Doctor Ellen Brown
Adviser and Senior News Reporter 
Global News Aruba

Calls for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) have been increasing, most recently as part of the “Green New Deal” introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and supported in the last month by at least 40 members of Congress. A UBI is a monthly payment to all adults with no strings attached, similar to Social Security. Critics say the Green New Deal asks too much of the rich and upper-middle-class taxpayers who will have to pay for it, but taxing the rich is not what the resolution proposes. It says funding would primarily come from the federal government, “using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks,” among other vehicles.

The Federal Reserve alone could do the job. It could buy “Green” federal bonds with money created on its balance sheet, just as the Fed funded the purchase of $3.7 trillion in bonds in its “quantitative easing” program to save the banks. The Treasury could also do it. The Treasury has the constitutional power to issue coins in any denomination, even trillion dollar coins. What prevents legislators from pursuing those options is the fear of hyperinflation from excess “demand” (spendable income) driving prices up. But in fact the consumer economy is chronically short of spendable income, due to the way money enters the consumer economy. We actually need regular injections of money to avoid a “balance sheet recession” and allow for growth, and a UBI is one way to do it.

The pros and cons of a UBI are hotly debated and have been discussed elsewhere. The point here is to show that it could actually be funded year after year without driving up taxes or prices. New money is continually being added to the money supply, but it is added as debt created privately by banks. (How banks, rather than the government, create most of the money supply today is explained on the Bank of England website here.) A UBI would replace money-created-as-debt with debt-free money—a “debt jubilee” for consumers—while leaving the money supply for the most part unchanged; and to the extent that new money was added, it could help create the demand needed to fill the gap between actual and potential productivity.

The Debt Overhang Crippling Economies

The “bank money” composing most of the money in circulation is created only when someone borrows, and today businesses and consumers are burdened with debts that are higher than ever before. In 2018, credit card debt alone exceeded $1 trillion, student debt exceeded $1.5 trillion, auto loan debt exceeded $1.1 trillion, and non-financial corporate debt hit $5.7 trillion. When businesses and individuals pay down old loans rather than taking out new loans, the money supply shrinks, causing a “balance sheet recession.” In that situation, the central bank, rather than removing money from the economy (as the Fed is doing now), needs to add money to fill the gap between debt and the spendable income available to repay it.

Debt always grows faster than the money available to repay it. One problem is the interest, which is not created along with the principal, so more money is always owed back than was created in the original loan. Beyond that, some of the money created as debt is held off the consumer market by “savers” and investors who place it elsewhere, making it unavailable to companies selling their wares and the wage-earners they employ. The result is a debt bubble that continues to grow until it is not sustainable and the system collapses, in the familiar death spiral euphemistically called the “business cycle.” As economist Michael Hudson shows in his 2018 book, “… and Forgive Them Their Debts,” this inevitable debt overhang was corrected historically with periodic “debt jubilees”—debt forgiveness—something he argues we need to do again today.

For governments, a debt jubilee could be effected by allowing the central bank to buy government securities and hold them on its books. For individuals, one way to do it fairly across the board would be with a UBI.

Why a UBI Need Not Be Inflationary

In a 2018 book called “The Road to Debt Bondage: How Banks Create Unpayable Debt,” political economist Derryl Hermanutz proposes a central-bank-issued UBI of $1,000 per month, credited directly to people’s bank accounts. Assuming this payment went to all U.S. residents over 18, or about 241 million people, the outlay would be about $3 trillion annually. For people with overdue debt, Hermanutz proposes that it automatically go to pay down those debts. Since money is created as loans and extinguished when they are repaid, that portion of a UBI disbursement would be extinguished along with the debt.

People who were current on their debts could choose whether or not to pay them down, but many would also no doubt go for that option. Hermanutz estimates that roughly half of a UBI payout could be extinguished in this way through mandatory and voluntary loan repayments. That money would not increase the money supply or demand. It would just allow debtors to spend on necessities with debt-free money rather than hocking their futures with unrepayable debt.

He estimates that another third of a UBI disbursement would go to “savers” who did not need the money for expenditures. This money, too, would not be likely to drive up consumer prices, since it would go into investment and savings vehicles rather than circulating in the consumer economy. That leaves only about one-sixth of payouts, or $500 billion, that would actually be competing for goods and services; and that sum could easily be absorbed by the “output gap” between actual and forecasted productivity.

According to a July 2017 paper from the Roosevelt Institute called “What Recovery? The Case for Continued Expansionary Policy at the Fed”: “GDP remains well below both the long-run trend and the level predicted by forecasters a decade ago. In 2016, real per capita GDP was 10% below the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 2006 forecast, and shows no signs of returning to the predicted level.”

The report showed that the most likely explanation for this lackluster growth was inadequate demand. Wages have remained stagnant; and before producers will produce, they need customers knocking on their doors.

In 2017, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product was $19.4 trillion. If the economy is running at 10 percent below full capacity, $2 trillion could be injected into the economy every year without creating price inflation. It would just generate the demand needed to stimulate an additional $2 trillion in GDP. In fact a UBI might pay for itself, just as the G.I. Bill produced a sevenfold return from increased productivity after World War II.

The Evidence of China

That new money can be injected year after year without triggering price inflation is evident from a look at China. In the last 20 years, its M2 money supply has grown from just over 10 trillion yuan to 80 trillion yuan ($11.6T), a nearly 800 percent increase. Yet the inflation rate of its Consumer Price Index (CPI) remains a modest 2.2 percent.

Why has all that excess money not driven prices up? The answer is that China’s Gross Domestic Product has grown at the same fast clip as its money supply. When supply (GDP) and demand (money) increase together, prices remain stable.

Whether or not the Chinese government would approve of a UBI, it does recognize that to stimulate productivity, the money must get out there first; and since the government owns 80 percent of China’s banks, it is in a position to borrow money into existence as needed. For “self-funding” loans—those that generate income (fees for rail travel and electricity, rents for real estate)—repayment extinguishes the debt along with the money it created, leaving the net money supply unchanged. When loans are not repaid, the money they created is not extinguished; but if it goes to consumers and businesses that then buy goods and services with it, demand will still stimulate the production of supply, so that supply and demand rise together and prices remain stable.

Without demand, producers will not produce and workers will not get hired, leaving them without the funds to generate supply, in a vicious cycle that leads to recession and depression. And that cycle is what our own central bank is triggering now.

The Fed Tightens the Screws

Rather than stimulating the economy with new demand, the Fed has been engaging in “quantitative tightening.” On Dec. 19, 2018, it raised the Fed funds rate for the ninth time in three years, despite a “brutal” stock market in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average had already lost 3,000 points in 2 ½ months. The Fed is still struggling to reach even its modest 2 percent inflation target, and GDP growth is trending down, with estimates at only 2-2.7 percent for 2019. So why did it again raise rates, over the protests of commentators, including the president himself?

For its barometer, the Fed looks at whether the economy has hit “full employment,” which it considers to be 4.7 percent unemployment, taking into account the “natural rate of unemployment” of people between jobs or voluntarily out of work. At full employment, workers are expected to demand more wages, causing prices to rise. But unemployment is now officially at 3.7 percent—beyond technical full employment—and neither wages nor consumer prices have shot up. There is obviously something wrong with the theory, as is evident from a look at Japan, where prices have long refused to rise despite a serious lack of workers.

The official unemployment figures are actually misleading. Including short-term discouraged workers, the rate of U.S. unemployed or underemployed workers as of May 2018 was 7.6 percent, double the widely reported rate. When long-term discouraged workers are included, the real unemployment figure was 21.5 percent. Beyond that large untapped pool of workers, there is the seemingly endless supply of cheap labor from abroad and the expanding labor potential of robots, computers and machines. In fact, the economy’s ability to generate supply in response to demand is far from reaching full capacity today.

Our central bank is driving us into another recession based on bad economic theory. Adding money to the economy for productive, non-speculative purposes will not drive up prices so long as materials and workers (human or mechanical) are available to create the supply necessary to meet demand; and they are available now. There will always be price increases in particular markets when there are shortages, bottlenecks, monopolies or patents limiting competition, but these increases are not due to an economy awash with money. Housing, health care, education and gas have all gone up, but it is not because people have too much money to spend. In fact it is those necessary expenses that are driving people into unrepayable debt, and it is this massive debt overhang that is preventing economic growth.

Without some form of debt jubilee, the debt bubble will continue to grow until it can again no longer be sustained. A UBI can help correct that problem without fear of “overheating” the economy, so long as the new money is limited to filling the gap between real and potential productivity and goes into generating jobs, building infrastructure and providing for the needs of the people, rather than being diverted into the speculative, parasitic economy that feeds off them.


Copyright Reserved to Ellen Brown

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