Sunday, October 28, 2018

Redistributing wealth is not as straightforward as redistribution profiteers want us to think.

I posted a thread with 8 tweets 

Louis XII could be the filthy rich who gave up main-street purchase power to commission Leonardo da Vinci to paint Salvator Mundi. 500 years later another filthy rich freezes $450 million of his own purchase capacity, hanging that painting on a wall. Bad or great? 

Why are just the "filthy rich", like Louis XII and the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi cursed? Why not Leonardo da Vinci, or the current vendor of Salvator Mundi? Could they‘ve not just as well used money they got from filthy rich for something “more worthwhile”?

Does it all boil down to that Louis XII should not have commissioned Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi and instead have bought food for the poor? I guess that would then depend on what the food suppliers did with that money, grow more food or drink more gin. Life isn’t easy

We can just pray that something of that main-street-purchasing-power comes into the hands of the few risk-taking entrepreneurs who, with luck, help catapult our world forward. Sadly, with risk weighted capital requirements for banks, regulators have made that less possible.

Yes, life isn’t easy. So let us all beware of all those redistribution profiteers out to make money or gain political power and who tell us “Let us just redistribute the wealth of the filthy rich, and you will all live in Nirvana. Venezuela, Nirvana? My …!!!

If Louis XX commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint Salvator Mundi, would it not make a beautiful novel to trace how that money flowed, perhaps to a Bill Gates, generating wealth so that someone could freeze $450 million on a wall, and keep the human development ball rolling? 

These ramblings about how the “filthy rich” convert their main-street-purchasing-power into assets and services, some that would never have existed without them started when seeing a totally useless shield in the Louvre in Paris.

Just in case, this is not a point blank defense of the “filthy rich”. It refers strictly to how their purchase power morphs into assets and services. Many “filthy rich” do become so in unjust and corrupt ways, quite often highly detrimental to development.

PS. This of course does not mean that I am not in favor of reducing inequality. For that I strongly believe in the need for an unconditional universal basic income, a Societal Dividend

PS. When it comes to wealth, yachts are often depicted… but rarely do we see any interest in what those yacht-builders did with the money they received.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Five tweets and four PS: When shares and houses will want or need to transition from here to there, what will happen?

Huge QE, large fiscal deficits, and generous bank credit pushed on by very low capital requirements, injected huge amounts of liquidity that, among others, caused the price of shares, and the price of houses that morphed from homes into investment assets, to increase immensely.

Soon many of the elderly owners of shares and houses, will want to reconvert these assets again into main-street purchase capacity, whether voluntarily, in order to cover for their retirement costs, or involuntary, by having these assets becoming part of an inheritance.

The sale of shares and houses will then face: An extremely indebted economy that includes huge unfunded social obligations. Gig jobs, robots that tend to hold down wages, and pension funds and insurance companies also needing to sell assets in order to meet their own commitments.

How is all that going to play out? Since there are no possibilities of reenacting Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), or placing all shares and houses on central bank’s balances, it has me very troubled and finding very little that could bring me, a grandfather, some relief.

Is someone somewhere preparing financial or economic counter measures that could alleviate the problems brewing in the horizon? I really doubt it! As Einstein said, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

PS. All this could be further much complicated by social tensions caused by lack of employment. Therefore I would ignore all the redistribution profiteers’ natural objections, and immediately enact an Unconditional Universal Basic Income. Even $100 per month would do for a start.

PS. That UBI could be partially funded by a high tax on carbon emissions. That would allow us to use market signaling more, in order to avoid that whatever little resources we might have available for fighting climate change, are captured by green-profiteers.

PS. Bank regulators messed it up for us. Their risk-weighted capital requirements only guarantee banks building up especially large exposures, to what’s perceived as especially safe, against especially little capital, dooming bank systems to especially large crises

PS. If our descendants are to stand a chance they must understand that risk-taking is the oxygen of any development, and so they must be wary of any loony runaway risk aversion, imposed by expert besserwisser nannies. God make us daring!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Investors want to promote the use of the products they have invested billions in; and that goes for cannabis-marijuana-marihuana-pot too.

My grandchildren are Canadian. 

So when I read in the Globe and Mail that “Investment banks reap rewards with $2.8-billion in cannabis equity deals” and the head of a Canadian bank’s Canadian equity capital-markets investments saying “Without cannabis new issue activity, our volumes would be down substantially more… it has certainly offset the declines in energy and power and utilities”, I really got nervous, mad, and began tweeting out everywhere.

"Is nobody concerned with those billions in equity invested in the legal production of cannabis-marijuana-marihuana-pot in Canada? That equity will search for good returns by promoting its intensive use. Have the pushers now moved to Wall Street?

I am not an absolutist against legalization of cannabis. I thought one of the best reasons for it was to fight the illegal business involved with its distribution… but what I now see seems more related to taking over that business L

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Having fallen so low, Venezuela should take that golden opportunity to try reach the stars.

Moisés Naím and Francisco Toro describe well the utter current horrors of Venezuela in “Venezuela’s suicide: Lessons from a failed state” Foreign Affairs, December 2018.  But they conclude in that: 

“Even if opposition forces—or a U.S.-led armed attack—somehow managed to replace Maduro with an entirely new government, the agenda would be daunting. 

A successor regime would need to reduce the enormous role the military plays in all areas of the public sector. It would have to start from scratch in restoring basic services in health care, education, and law enforcement. 

It would have to rebuild the oil industry and stimulate growth in other economic sectors. It would need to get rid of the drug dealers, prison racketeers, predatory miners, wealthy criminal financiers, and extortionists who have latched on to every part of the state. 

And it would have to make all these changes in the context of a toxic, anarchic political environment and a grave economic crisis.”

That mission impossible sounding reads like placing all responsibility on the government to fix it all by going back and repeat, this time differently, all that got Venezuela to where it is today.

That to me is unacceptable. After all the blood, sweat and tears Venezuela has had to spill during the last decades, it really deserves a brand new future.

Here are eight tweets that imbed my action plan and dreams for my country.

"So Venezuelans can eat, quickly, PDVSA must be handed over in payment in full to all Venezuela’s creditors quickly, so they put that junk to work quickly, so they can recover some money quickly, and so as to pay us citizens, not the government, royalties quickly"

“Let then the government tax those oil revenues received by the citizens (like with 10%), so that those in government are clear about who they work for, and let what the citizens have left, then flow through the market and help oil the economy of Venezuela.”

“The result will be a different and better Venezuela, freed from those oil revenue distributing profiteers that have always found ways to keep more for themselves or their crony friends. No longer will Venezuelans have to live in somebody else’s business”

“New government debt should be contracted only to help pay for investments needed by its core infrastructure; Guri’s hydroelectric dams and central transmission lines. Privatizations should be designed to provide good and low priced services to the public ” 

“Expropriated properties should be returned to original owners, and all efforts made to recover what has been stolen the last 20 years, including by paying a bounty on any money recovered.”

“The government employees should be reduced to a fraction of their current number. With their individual share of oil revenues, and not having to go to work, most of them would anyhow be better off than today”

“The government’s initially ultra low revenues should be used almost exclusively for law enforcement (not military spending). Make Venezuela’s streets safe again, and Venezuela’s citizens, including returning migrants, will take care of the rest”.

“The best way to eradicate forever that economic human rights violation of giving away gasoline domestically, would be to have all citizens to participate in the revenues generated by the sale in Venezuela of gasoline at international prices”

These tweets are not just based on current realities. In 1974, as a 24 years old recently graduated MBA, I was appointed to be the first diversification manager in the Venezuelan Investment Fund that was being created to manage the oil revenues from the oil boom of those days. I resigned after only two weeks, the same day my desk arrived, already convinced by outside pressures exerted, that oil revenues redistribution profiteers would never allow the Fund to have the independence needed.

Three decades later, as an Executive Director of the World Bank 2002-04, a chair that Moisés Naím had also occupied before me, during and after the Iraq war I tried to push for an oil revenue sharing scheme as best I could. No luck, the crony statism interest of concentrating these revenues in the hands governments, were they could be more easily exploited, proved much too strong for me. 

Now Venezuela has a golden opportunity to free itself from the most malignant part of its oil curse, the excessive concentration of power in its government. I pray it is able to keep away any neo-redistribution profiteers. Let us make sure that having fallen this low we Venezuelans will aim for the stars… that way we will, as the Chinese saying goes, at least reach higher than if aiming at something seemingly more reachable.

“Venezuela would need to get rid of [all] who have latched on to every part of the state.”  What better way than assuring there is much less to latch on?

Here are some of the articles I've written and that relate to my desires about Venezuela’s future.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Bank regulators behave like the scarer employed at the energy-producing factory Monsters, Inc.

The idea of requiring banks to hold less capital (equity) against what is perceived, decreed or concocted as safe, like sovereigns, the AAArisktocracy and residential houses, than against what is perceived as risky, like SMEs and entrepreneurs, is absolutely cuckoo.

That means that when banks try to maximize their risk adjusted return on equity they can multiply (leverage) many times more the perceived net risk adjusted margins received from “the safe” than those received from “the risky”. As a result clearly, sooner or later, the safe are going to get too much bank credit (causing financial instability) and the risky have, immediately, less access to it (causing a weakening of the real economy). 

Anyone who can as regulators did in Basel II, assign a 20% risk weight to what is AAA rated, and to which therefore dangerously excessive exposures could be created, and 150% to what is made so innocuous to our banking systems by being rated below BB-, always reminds me of those in Monsters, Inc. who run scared of the children. I wish they stopped finding energy in the screams of SMEs and start using their laughter instead.

“We need a people’s Fed”. Yes, we sure do! Assigning 0% risk weight to the sovereign and 100% to any unrated citizen is pure statist ideology driven discrimination in favor of government bureaucrats and against the people. But perhaps the activists depicted are not into that kind of arguments. 

PS. Those in Monsters Inc. finally figured it out. Our bank regulators in the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board have yet to do so, even 10 years after that 2008 crisis, which was caused exclusively by excessive exposures to what was perceived, decreed of concocted as safe, like AAA rated securities and loans to sovereigns like Greece 😩