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If The US Wants To Beat China, Why Is It Copying China’s Socialism?

If The US Wants To Beat China, Why Is It Copying China’s Socialism?

Authored by Mihai Macovei via The Mises Institute,

Under the Biden administration…

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This article was originally published by Zero Hedge
If The US Wants To Beat China, Why Is It Copying China's Socialism?

Authored by Mihai Macovei via The Mises Institute,

Under the Biden administration the US continued escalating the economic and geopolitical frictions with China. At the recent G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, President Biden sought to rally a “united front” against China with traditional G7 allies and new ones such as Australia, India, South Korea, and South Africa and rebuked China on economic policies, human rights, and tensions in the East and South China Seas. The US also persuaded its G7 allies to back a massive infrastructure support package for developing countries. The so-called Build Back Better World Partnership (B3W) is a de facto rival to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But it is far from obvious what the West stands to gain by emulating China’s exorbitant and highly controversial modern “Silk Road” venture.

The US’s Ambitious Global Infrastructure Plan

The B3W wants to mobilize “hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment,” in order to narrow an estimated infrastructure need of $40 trillion plus in the developing world. The B3W financing is expected to come from US budgetary instruments, such as the Development Finance Corporation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); from multilateral development banks (MDBs), such as the World Bank; and from the private sector and G7 partners. As the B3W is meant to challenge China’s project, we expect it to at least match the Chinese financial envelope, most commonly estimated at more than $1 trillion in investment and lending commitments so far. This is more than eight times higher than the nearly $113 billion in official development assistance and $22 billion in private sector investment provided by G7 countries for foreign infrastructure projects during 2015–19 (graph 1).

Graph 1: G7 Infrastructure Development Assistance

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

In order to surpass China, the B3W aims at having a broader geographical coverage, a wider focus, and better project governance and standards. The BRI comprises a “Silk Road Economic Belt” trying to link China with Asia, Russia, and Europe by land, and a “Maritime Silk Road,” connecting China’s coastal regions with Asia, the South Pacific, Africa, and Europe, but its Western challenger aims at being global in scope. While the Chinese initiative is focused on traditional infrastructure projects—highways, railroads, ports, and power plants, the B3W wants to invest also in climate, health and digital technology. And because Chinese projects have been heavily criticized for lack of transparency, corruption, unsustainable debt and adverse environmental and social impacts, the B3W advertises itself as “a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies.”

Holes in China’s “Silk Road”

From its announcement in 2013, China’s megainfrastructure project has been met with suspicion in the West. Most important, it was feared that China had geostrategic ambitions to bring smaller BRI partners under its sphere of influence. It was also claimed that China was pursuing a “debt-trap diplomacy” in order to take over key strategic assets such as electric grids and ports, while the latter could be also used for military purposes.

With time, many analysts realized that much of this criticism was exaggerated. First, almost 140 countries have signed on to the BRI as of this writing, of which eighteen are from the EU, showing that many governments find the Chinese deal beneficial. And although China has not financed in full the promised $1 trillion in projects so far, it did make $190 billion worth of investments and $390 billion in construction work (financed by Chinese loans in general) during 2014–18. This is more than the $467 billion of development loans provided by the World Bank during 2008–19. Second, while the number of requests for debt renegotiation and relief has increased, overseas asset seizures have rarely occurred. Third, many pundits concur that the BRI ports are commercially designed and almost impossible to employ militarily.

Undeniably, China has been trying to enhance its political influence through the BRI, and is now perceived as the most influential economic actor in Southeast Asia and Africa. But resentments over some onerous projects, corruption scandals, and increasing debt burdens mean that such gains could be easily reversed, and China has started to improve its lending and investment standards. The BRI focus has been widened from traditional infrastructure to telecommunications, digital technology, and fintech. And China also expanded the BRI’s overarching goal to helping build a free trade and investment area which would accelerate economic growth for all partner countries.

But BRI’s economic benefits are skewed in favor of Chinese construction companies at the expense of taxpayers. The BRI provided much business for China’s overstretched construction sector after the end of the domestic stimulus binge following the Great Recession. Almost 90 percent of the construction works funded under the BRI went to Chinese contractors, fueling criticism that the BRI creates unfair advantages for Chinese companies, which have become global leaders. Seven of the ten largest construction companies in the world by revenue were Chinese in 2017. At the same time, if China wanted to set a debt trap with the BRI, it seems that it is the country which has fallen into it. The pandemic has accelerated the already growing debt defaults and renegotiations and an estimated $94 billion, or a quarter of China’s overseas lending, has come under renegotiation so far (graph 2). It shows that the BRI’s most important lenders, i.e. China’s two main policy banks—the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China—have done a poor job of financing viable projects, for which the Chinese taxpayer is likely to foot the bill eventually.3 And given the sizeable amount of investments put on hold, scaled back, or cancelled, and the very low participation of private lenders, it is obvious that the BRI participating governments have made several bad investment decisions too.

Graph 2: China’s Debt Renegotiation Cases

Source: Rhodium Group Research.

Over 2013–17, the BRI looked pretty successful and was growing fast in terms of contracts signed and loans. After high-profile contracts were cancelled and debt renegotiations surged, the project ran out of steam. China’s big banks started rethinking and reducing their overseas lending and the number of construction contracts went down too (graph 3). This was also driven by the deleveraging of Chinese banks after the large credit expansion following the global financial crisis. China’s large domestic growth stimuli weakened its external competitiveness and reduced current account surpluses and outward FDI (foreign direct investment). The balance of payments crisis of 2015–16, which was accompanied by a drop in international reserves of more than $1 trillion and imposition of capital controls, reduced China’s ability to fund the massive overseas demand for infrastructure projects and investment. In addition, domestic voices started to question why Chinese people, also relatively poor, should subsidize unprofitable capital investment overseas.

Graph 3: China’s Overseas Construction Contracts

Source: Rhodium Group.

Should the West Go down China’s Road?

Before pouring money into B3W, the US should heed important lessons from China’s BRI venture and its own past. First, trying to fill in the $40 trillion plus infrastructure gap in the developing world requires a massive amount of resources. Just printing trillions of US dollars will not be enough, because real savings, i.e., goods and services, will need to be transferred abroad as current account surpluses. In order to carry out mammoth BRI projects, China recorded large current account surpluses and drew on its huge international reserves. Japanese companies also have a long history of building infrastructure across Southeast Asia which was also backed by substantial current account surpluses for several decades. On the other hand, both the US and the UK have been running chronic current account deficits, while the euro area started to register small surpluses only a few years ago (graph 4).

Graph 4: Current Account Balances

Source: OECD Statistics.

In addition, both the US and the EU are about to launch large domestic growth stimuli, including substantial green and digital investments, which are likely to strain further their feeble domestic real savings. Moreover, President Biden’s economic agenda includes important measures, such as tax and minimum wage hikes and higher social spending, that are likely to increase consumption while depressing economic activity and savings. Lastly, investment as a share of GDP is already relatively low in both the US and EU, calling into question the economic rationale for a government-led transfer of capital overseas (graph 5).

Graph 5: Domestic Investment Ratios

Source: World Bank Data.

The second lesson is that BRI slowed down not only when domestic resources dwindled, but also when the wasteful projects and bad debts became visible. The US and its allies seem convinced that, unlike the BRI, their projects will be profitable and transparent. But this is not what history tells us. Jeffrey Tucker shows that the true intent of the much-hailed Marshall Plan was not to help foreign countries, but to internationalize the New Deal and for the American taxpayer to subsidize US corporates. The plan drained private capital out of the US economy, and the country fell into recession shortly thereafter. It also helped entrench unionism, welfare states, and heavy regulations in Europe. According to Ryan McMaken, the history of building transcontinental railroads in the US is also rife with crony capitalism and corruption. The track record of conditional development lending from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other institutions that are supposed to back the B3W is not spotless either. These institutions are rarely able to support viable projects and economic liberalization: given their role as global lenders of last resort, they must prop up foreign governments that are usually overbureaucratic and corrupt.

In conclusion, if the US wants to strengthen its economic and geostrategic position versus China, it needs to apply the same free market principles that made it prosperous and powerful in the first place. Launching a second Marshall Plan, which mirrors China’s wasteful BRI, will only consolidate big government, crony capitalism, and corruption, eroding the US economy’s capital stock and competitiveness.

Tyler Durden Wed, 07/21/2021 - 21:20

Economics

How Science Becomes Religion

How Science Becomes Religion

Authored by Sheldon Richman via The Libertarian Insititute, 

The popular slogan today is "Believe in science."…

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How Science Becomes Religion

Authored by Sheldon Richman via The Libertarian Insititute, 

The popular slogan today is "Believe in science." It’s often used as a weapon against people who reject not science in principle but rather one or another prominent scientific proposition, whether it be about the COVID-19 vaccine, climate change, nutrition (low-fat versus low-carb eating), to mention a few. My purpose here is not to defend or deny any particular scientific position but to question the model of science that the loudest self-declared believers in science seem to work from. Their model makes science seem almost identical to what they mean by, and attack as, religion. If that’s the case, we ought not to listen to them when they lecture the rest of us about heeding science.

The clearest problem with the admonition to "believe in science" is that it is of no help whatsoever when well-credentialed scientists–that is, bona fide experts–are found on both (or all) sides of a given empirical question. Dominant parts of the intelligentsia may prefer we not know this, but dissenting experts exist on many scientific questions that some blithely pronounce as "settled" by a "consensus," that is, beyond debate. This is true regarding the precise nature and likely consequences of climate change and aspects of the coronavirus and its vaccine. Without real evidence, credentialed mavericks are often maligned as having been corrupted by industry, with the tacit faith that scientists who voice the established position are pure and incorruptible. It’s as though the quest for government money could not in themselves bias scientific research. Moreover, no one, not even scientists, are immune from group-think and confirmation bias.

So the "believe the science" chorus gives the credentialed mavericks no notice unless it’s to defame them. Apparently, under the believers' model of science, truth comes down from a secular Mount Sinai (Mount Science?) thanks to a set of anointed scientists, and those declarations are not to be questioned. The dissenters can be ignored because they are outside the elect. How did the elect achieve its exalted station? Often, but not always, it was through the political process: for example, appointment to a government agency or the awarding of prestigious grants. It may be that a scientist simply has won the adoration of the progressive intelligentsia because his or her views align easily with a particular policy agenda.

But that’s not science; it’s religion, or at least it’s the stereotype of religion that the "science believers" oppose in the name of enlightenment. What it yields is dogma and, in effect, accusations of heresy.

In real science no elect and no Mount Science exists. Real science is a rough-and-tumble process of hypothesizing, public testing, attempted replication, theory formation, dissent and rebuttal, refutation (perhaps), revision (perhaps), and confirmation (perhaps). It’s an unending process, as it obviously must be. Who knows what’s around the next corner? No empirical question can be declared settled by consensus once and for all, even if with time a theory has withstood enough competent challenges to warrant a high degree of confidence. (In a world of scarce resources, including time, not all questions can be pursued, so choices must be made.) The institutional power to declare matters settled by consensus opens the door to all kinds of mischief that violate the spirit of science and potentially harm the public financially and otherwise.

The weird thing is that "believers in science" sometimes show that they understand science correctly. Some celebrity atheists, for example, use a correct model of science when they insist to religious people that we can never achieve "absolute truth," by which they mean infallibility is beyond reach. But they soon forget this principle when it comes to their pet scientific propositions. Then suddenly they sound like the people they were attacking in the previous hour.

Another problem with the dogmatic "believers in science" is that they assume that proper government policy, which is a normative matter, flows seamlessly from "the science," which is a positive matter. If one knows the science, then one knows what everyone ought to do–or so the scientific dogmatists think. It’s as though scientists were uniquely qualified by virtue of their expertise to prescribe the best public-policy response.

But that is utterly false. Public policy is about moral judgment, trade-offs, and the justifiable use of coercion. Natural scientists are neither uniquely knowledgeable about those matters nor uniquely capable of making the right decisions for everyone. When medical scientists advised a lockdown of economic activity because of the pandemic, they were not speaking as scientists but as moralists (in scientists’ clothing). What are their special qualifications for that role? How could those scientists possibly have taken into account all of the serious consequences of a lockdown–psychological, domestic, social, economic, etc.–for the diverse individual human beings who would be subject to the policy? What qualifies natural scientists to decide that people who need screening for cancer or heart disease must wait indefinitely while people with an officially designated disease need not? (Politicians issue the formal prohibitions, but their scientific advisers provide apparent credibility.)

Here’s the relevant distinction: while we ought to favor science, we ought to reject scientism, the mistaken belief that the only questions worth asking are those amenable to the methods of the natural sciences and therefore all questions must either be recast appropriately or dismissed as gibberish. F. A. Hayek, in The Counter-Revolution of Science, defined scientism as the "slavish imitation of the method and language of Science."

I like how the philosopher Gilbert Ryle put it in The Concept of Mind: "Physicists may one day have found the answers to all physical questions, but not all questions are physical questions. The laws they have found and will find may, in one sense of the metaphorical verb, govern everything that happens, but they do not ordain everything that happens. Indeed they do not ordain anything that happens. Laws of nature are not fiats."

"How should we live?" is not one of those questions which natural scientists are specially qualified to answer, but it is certainly worth asking. Likewise, "What risks should you or I take or avoid?" There is a world of difference between a medical expert’s saying, "Vaccine X is generally safe and effective" and "Vaccination should be mandatory." (One of the great critics of scientism was Thomas Szasz, M.D., who devoted his life to battling the medical profession’s, and especially psychiatry’s, crusade to recast moral issues as medical issues and thereby control people in the name of disinterested science.)

Most people are unqualified to judge most scientific conclusions, but they are qualified to live their lives reasonably. I’m highly confident the earth is a sphere and that a water molecule is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. But I do not know how to confirm those propositions. So we all need to rely on scientific and medical authorities–not in the sense of power but in the sense of expertise and reputation. (Even authorities in one area rely on authorities in others.)

But we must also remember that those authorities’ empirical claims are defeasible; that is, they are in principle open to rebuttal and perhaps refutation, that is, the scientific process. Aside from the indispensable and self-validating axioms of logic, all claims are open in this sense. That process is what gets us to the truth. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, even a dissenter who holds a demonstrably wrong view on a question might know something important on that very question that has been overlooked. To our peril do we shut people up or shout them down as heretics. That’s dogma, not science.

Tyler Durden Sat, 07/31/2021 - 13:00
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Precious Metals

Constant Inflation Doubletalk from Fed Erodes Confidence

The summer doldrums in precious metals markets have tested the patience of bulls. The silver market has been hit especially hard…

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Welcome to this week’s Market Wrap Podcast, I’m Mike Gleason.

The summer doldrums in precious metals markets have tested the patience of bulls. The silver market has been hit especially hard in recent weeks, but price stayed above the $24 level and avoided dipping to new lows for the year.

Nervous and frustrated investors who bailed out this summer may have made a huge mistake. Gold and silver markets appear to now be catching a break on the upside.

On Thursday, gold gained 2% to record its best close since mid-June. As of this Friday recording, the monetary metal trades at $1,830 an ounce and is up 1.1% for the week.

Turning to silver, prices are advancing by 1.4% this week to check in at $25.62 per ounce. Platinum, which was basically flat through Thursday, now shows a weekly loss of 1.8% to trade at $1,056. And finally, palladium is drifting slightly lower by 0.9% to come in at $2,682 per ounce.

Metals markets stand to benefit from renewed weakness in the dollar.

Since late May, U.S. dollar strength versus foreign currencies had put downward pressure on hard assets. The U.S. Dollar Index rallied from about 89.50 to just over 93 before momentum waned in recent days.

The Index failed to make a new high for the year on its summer rally, setting the stage for a potential bearish reversal. That reversal appears to have taken place this week, with the Dollar Index breaking down below 92 yesterday.

Currency traders were unimpressed by the Federal Reserve’s latest policy briefing. On Wednesday, the Fed announced it would leave its benchmark Funds rate unchanged and continue its $120 billion in monthly asset purchases.

No tapering was on the table, though there was some taper talk. It amounted to vague indications of future tightening after the U.S. economy attains "substantial further progress."

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell tried to quell inflation concerns. He reverted again to his “transitory” claims, but in remarks to the media he seemed confused about what his own definition of transitory inflation means.

Jerome Powell: The increases will happen. We're not saying they will reverse. That's not what transitory means. It means that the increases in prices will happen. So, there will be inflation, but that the process of inflation will stop, so that there won't be ...

When we think of inflation, we really think of inflation going up year, upon year, upon year, upon year. That's inflation. When you have inflation for 12 months, or whatever it might be, I'm just taking an example, I'm not making an estimate, then you have a price increase but you don't have an inflation process. And so, part of that just is that if it doesn't affect longer term inflation expectations, then it's very likely not to affect the process of inflation going forward.

So, what I mean by transitory is just something that doesn't leave a permanent mark on the inflation process. Again, I don't mean that producers are going to take those price increases back; that's not the idea. It's just that they won't go on indefinitely. We have two mandates, maximum employment and price stability. Price stability for us means inflation average of 2% over time. And so, we've got to be very careful about that, but I think it's a good point that it's a term, what it really means is "temporary." But then you've got to understand that it doesn't mean that the increases will be taken back. Some of them will be, but that's not really what it means.

Well, anyone wants to make sense out of all that would need a degree in Fedspeak. We are supposed to believe that stable prices actually means prices rising at a 2% average rate – except when the Fed wants inflation to run higher. But when it does, it’s only transitory – except when it affects the inflation process, which happens when long-term inflation expectations rise, which the Fed says won’t happen but at the same time doesn’t really know what will happen in the future.

Maybe what the Fed says matters less than what economic realities say. Investors would be better served focusing on fundamentals than trying to decipher central bankers’ forecasts.

Unfortunately, investors can’t ignore the Fed entirely. Since its monetary policy decisions can and do drive financial markets, it is necessary to pay attention to what the Fed is actually doing.

Right now it is still stimulating rather than fighting inflation, still holding interest rates artificially low, and still offloading negative real yields upon savers and investors.

That puts both the bond and stock markets in precarious positions. If inflation expectations were to shift to rising prices being a long-term rather than a transitory problem, a dramatic downside readjustment in interest-rate sensitive financial assets would commence.

There would also likely be a dramatic upside revaluation of hard assets including precious metals.

Whether investor psychology shifts suddenly or gradually toward an inflation-protection mindset remains to be seen. Metals markets tend to move slowly at the beginning of bull markets, then rapidly and even violently toward the end.

Market timing is an impossible task given the unpredictable nature of people and circumstances. What is possible is to capitalize on opportunities when markets are over-pricing financial assets and under-pricing hard assets.

The opportunity exists now, but it won’t last forever. There may even come a day when the opposite is true – hard assets are overpriced with inflation expectations running way ahead of actual inflation realities and financial assets offering tremendous value as a result.

Yes, that could happen. It did in the early 1980s.

But the early 2020s look more like the start of a new inflationary cycle rather than the unwinding of one.

Well, that will do it for this week. Be sure to check back next week for our next Weekly Market Wrap Podcast. Until then this has been Mike Gleason with Money Metals Exchange, thanks for listening and have a weekend everybody.

      

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Economics

Michael “Big Short” Burry: This Is The Greatest Bubble Of All Time In All Things “By Two Orders Of Magnitude”

Michael "Big Short" Burry: This Is The Greatest Bubble Of All Time In All Things "By Two Orders Of Magnitude"

Earlier this year, none other…

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Michael "Big Short" Burry: This Is The Greatest Bubble Of All Time In All Things "By Two Orders Of Magnitude"

Earlier this year, none other than Michael 'Big Short' Burry confirmed BofA's greatest fears, as he picked up on the theme of Weimar Germany and specifically its hyperinflation, as the blueprint for what comes next in a lengthy tweetstorm cribbing generously from Parsson's seminal work, warning that:

"The US government is inviting inflation with its MMT-tinged policies. Brisk Debt/GDP, M2 increases while retail sales, PMI stage V recovery. Trillions more stimulus & re-opening to boost demand as employee and supply chain costs skyrocket."

#ParadigmShift

 "The life of the inflation in its ripening stage was a paradox which had its own unmistakable characteristics. One was the great wealth, at least of those favored by the boom..Many great fortunes sprang up overnight...The cities, had an aimless and wanton youth"

"Prices in Germany were steady, and both business and the stock market were booming. The exchange rate of the mark against the dollar and other currencies actually rose for a time, and the mark was momentarily the strongest currency in the world" on inflation's eve.

"Side by side with the wealth were the pockets of poverty. Greater numbers of people remained on the outside of the easy money, looking in but not able to enter. The crime rate soared."

"Accounts of the time tell of a progressive demoralization which crept over the common people, compounded of their weariness with the breakneck pace, to no visible purpose, and their fears from watching their own precarious positions slip while others grew so conspicuously rich."

"Almost any kind of business could make money. Business failures and bankruptcies became few. The boom suspended the normal processes of natural selection by which the nonessential and ineffective otherwise would have been culled out."

"Speculation alone, while adding nothing to Germany's wealth, became one of its largest activities. The fever to join in turning a quick mark infected nearly all classes..Everyone from the elevator operator up was playing the market."

"The volumes of turnover in securities on the Berlin Bourse became so high that the financial industry could not keep up with the paperwork...and the Bourse was obliged to close several days a week to work off the backlog" #robinhooddown

"all the marks that existed in the world in the summer of 1922 were not worth enough, by November of 1923, to buy a single  newspaper or a tram ticket. That was the spectacular part of the collapse, but most of the real loss in money wealth had been suffered much earlier."

 "Throughout these years the structure was quietly building itself up for the blow. Germany's #inflationcycle ran not for a year but for nine years, representing eight years of gestation and only one year of #collapse."

His punchline: the above was "written in 1974 re: 1914-1923" and then makes the ominous extrapolation that "2010-2021: Gestation" adding that "when dollars might as well be falling from the sky...management teams get creative and ultimately take more risk.. paying out debt-financed dividends to investors or investing in risky growth opportunities has beaten a frugal mentality hands down."

And, as if reading from the same playbook, Paul Tudor Jones warned yesterday that things are "bat shit crazy" and if Jay Powell

“The idea that inflation is transitory, to me ... that one just doesn’t work the way I see the world."

All of which led to Burry's latest tweet warning this morning...

"People always ask me what is going on in the markets. It is simple. Greatest Speculative Bubble of All Time in All Things. By two orders of magnitude. #FlyingPigs360"

In other words: "Brace!"

So what are you going to do about it?

Tudor Jones had some simple advice: "buy commodities, buy crypto, buy gold."

Tyler Durden Tue, 06/15/2021 - 11:10

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