Deindustrialisation & Male Jobs

A whole lot of pundits are spending column inches trying to explain the cruel reality of the last forty years — stagnant wages for full-time male workers, and falling wages for men as a whole:

And there has been a huge outgrowth of men who aren’t in the labour force. In 1954, 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today, that number is down to 80 percent. That’s a humungous decrease.

The question is why.

Mainstream media pundits are suggesting that men are unsuited to the present economic landscape. The suggestion is that men have been bad at adapting to change, and that women have been good at adapting to change:

In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin argues that changes in the world economy have dramatically shifted gender roles. Women have adapted more skillfully to the new socioeconomic landscape by doggedly pursuing self-improvement opportunities, rebranding as the economy requires it, and above all possessing the kind of 21st century work attributes — such as strong communication skills, collaborative leadership and flexibility — that are nudging out the brawny, stuck-in-amber guys. Rock steadiness, long a cherished masculine trait, turns out to be about as useful in our fleet-footed economy as a flint arrowhead. Life favors the adapters, and it turns out they’re more likely to be women.

Now two things have very clearly changed for women — access to birth control, and the end of the traditional social compact where women did housework, and men did wage work. In regard to the vast majority of expanding occupations today — teaching, medical services, bureaucracy — women no longer are at a material disadvantage due to their (on average) smaller size and lesser strength.

Overall, this has meant proportionally less jobs for men, and proportionally more for women.

But it’s not just that women have been advantaged. Men have been deeply disadvantaged. In sectors that due to physical characteristics men have traditionally been dominant in — manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, mining and heavy industry — there has been a vast decline in output-as-a-percentage-of-GDP, whereas in services — a sector in which men have not traditionally dominated — there has been a vast increase.

Yet it is not the case that there are less manufacturing jobs globally. As we mostly already know, this is a case of manufacturing and industry being exported overseas, most obviously to China. China manufactures, and America consumes. This is America’s trade balance with China:

This is reflected in China’s sectoral employment balance compared to Western nations, and the world at large:

So it’s not at all the case that the United States is cutting back on industrial jobs because industry is less in demand. The United States still has plenty of demand for industry. America has cut back on industrial jobs because it has the ability to run huge trade deficits, through the dollar’s role as global reserve currency, and shipped its manufacturing industry abroad. Other countries have required dollars for trade purposes, so have been more than happy to sell to the United States, making dollars and debt the United States’ greatest exports.

Yet the present paradigm has severely damaged the prospects of young men, for whom a generation ago jobs in industry and manufacturing were once plentiful. Quantitative easing led to a jobs boom — in China, for Chinese industrial workers. That doesn’t help the growing chunk of the male population in the United States who have been shut out of the job market by the rise of America’s Chinese addiction.

And it seems unlikely that the industrial jobs are coming back any time soon. Although there are reasons why America may soon import less from China — rising energy and transport costs, rising Asian wage costs, and questions of the dollar’s sole reserve currency status — there are plenty of places in Latin America with cheap and plentiful labour for America’s corporate elite to set up factories. Even the manufacturing jobs that remain in America will be under threat from increased automation and robotics.

This implies that barring a miracle, joblessness and stagnant or falling real wages will continue to be a significant and worsening challenge for young Americans, and particularly men, in the coming years.

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One Simple Rule To Stop Unnecessary Wars

I’m sick of war.

Officially the cost of the war on terror has been $1.3 trillion. And military spending — especially the interest on debt to pay for past wars — keeps growing year on year:

As General Eisenhower noted:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

The cost in life was been ever steeper; over a million Iraqis died.

But it’s more than cost; this a problem of responsibility. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney live a comfortable life of wealth and leisure, four years after leaving office having started two destructive, costly and ineffective wars of choice. They didn’t fight. None of their children fought. But lots of American and British soldiers and innocent Arabs got their limbs and heads blown off.

Of course, military deterrence — and sometimes military action — is necessary.

As Eisenhower noted:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

The trouble is that war is a great excuse for weapons contractors to make lots of money, and weapons contractors happily fund war-mongering politicians into power. That’s the self-perpetuating military industrial complex.

So the problem then lies in differentiating the necessary actions from the unnecessary.

I propose a simple heuristic for this purpose, one that if introduced would also render the war-mongering politician — the Congressman who votes to authorise, or the President who signs the authorisation into law — personally responsible:

If you start a war, you have to fight. If you cannot fight, then your nearest fit relative has to fight.

This puts the skin back into the game. You want to risk blood and treasure to start a war? If it’s that important, you’ll put your body and blood on the line before you ask any soldier to fight, or any taxpayer to pay. If not, then it must not be necessary.

Would George W. Bush have started the Iraq war had he known his two daughters would be conscripted, and shipped off to Iraq to find Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction?

I doubt it.

We’re All Nixonians Now

People have got to know whether their President is a crook

Richard M. Nixon

I often wonder who is worse: George W. Bush — the man who turned a projected trillion dollar surplus into the greatest deficits in world history, who bailed out the profligate Wall Street algos and arbitrageurs, who proceeded with two needless, pointless and absurdly costly military occupations (even though he had initially campaigned on the promise of a humble foreign policy), who ignored Michael Scheuer’s warnings about al-Qaeda previous to 9/11, who signed the Constitution-trashing PATRIOT Act  (etc etc ad infinitum) or his successor Barack Obama, the man who retained and expanded the PATRIOT Act powers under the NDAA (2011), who claimed the right to extrajudicially kill American citizens using predator drones, who expanded Bush’s expensive and pointless occupations (all the while having run on a promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and reverse Bush’s civil liberties incursions), who proceeded with Paulson’s Wall Street bailouts, authorised the NSA to record all phone calls and internet activity, and continued the destructive War on Drugs (even though he had in the past been a drug user).

The answer, by the way, is Richard Nixon. For almost forty years after that man’s resignation, it is arguable that almost every single administration (with the possible exception of  Carter as well as Reagan’s first year in office) — but especially that of Bush and Obama — has been cut from his cloth. It was Richard Nixon who inaugurated the War on Drugs — that despicable policy that has empowered the drug gangs and obliterated much of Latin America. It was Richard Nixon who so brazenly corrupted the White House and tarnished the office of the Presidency through the Watergate wiretapping scandal.  It was Nixon’s administration that created the culture of government surveillance that led directly to the PATRIOT Act. It was Nixon who internationalised the fiat dollar, so trampling George Washington’s warnings about not entangling alliances, and of course setting the stage for the gradual destruction of American industry that continued apace under NAFTA and into the present day, where America runs the greatest trade deficits in human history. It was Richard Nixon who set the precedent of pointless, stupid, blowback-inducing militarism, by continuing and expanding the Vietnam war. It was Richard Nixon whose administration authorised the use of chemical weapons (or as George W. Bush might have put it, “weapons of mass destruction”) against the Vietcong.

Presidents since have followed — to a greater or lesser extent — in his mould. This is particularly acute this election cycle; you vote for Obama and you get Richard Nixon, or you vote for Romney and you get Richard Nixon. Nixon’s words: “we’re all Keynesians now” have a powerful resonance; not only has every administration since Nixon retained the petrodollar standard and spent like a drunken sailor in pursuit of Keynesian multipliers, but every President since has followed in the Nixonian tradition on civil liberties, on trade, on foreign policy. Henry Kissinger — the true architect of many Nixonian policies, and Obama’s only real competition for most bizarre Nobel Peace Prize recipient — has to some degree counselled each and every President since.

It is hard to overstate the magnitude of Nixon’s actions. The demonetisation of  gold ended a 5,000 year long tradition. It was a moment of conjuring, a moment of trickery; that instead of producing the goods, and giving up her gold hoard to pay for her consumption habits (specifically, her consumption of foreign energy), America would give the finger to the world, and print money to pay her debts, while retaining her (substantial) gold hoard. The obvious result of this policy has been that America now prints more and more money, and produces less and less of her consumption. She has printed so much that $5 trillion floats around Asia, while the American industrial belt rusts. Industrial production in America is where it was ten years ago, yet America’s debt exposure has ballooned.

America has had not one but two Vietnams in the past ten years.

First, Afghanistan, in the pursuit of the elusive Osama bin Laden (or, “in the name of liberating women”, presumably via blowing their legs off in drone strikes), where young Western soldiers continue to die (for what?), even after bin Laden’s supposed death in a Pakistani compound last year.

Then, Iraq, presumably in the interests of preventing Saddam Hussein from using non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction, or liberating more women by blowing their legs off (or as Tom Friedman  put it: “SUCK! ON! THIS!”).

Like Nixon’s Presidency, the Nixonian political system is highly fragile. Debt is fragility, because it enforces the inflexibility of repayment, and the Nixonian political system has created staggering debt, much of it now offshore. The Nixonian economic policy has gutted American industry, leaving America uncompetitive and dependent on foreign productivity and resources. The Nixonian foreign policy has created a world that is deeply antipathetic to America and American interests, which has meant that America has become less and less capable of achieving imperatives via diplomacy.

Future historians may finger George W. Bush as the worst President in history, and the one who broke the American empire. But smarter scholars will pinpoint Nixon. True, the seeds of destruction were sown much earlier with the institution of permanent limited liability corporations. This allowed for the evolution of a permanent corporate aristocracy which eventually bought out the political echelon, and turned the Federal government into an instrument of crony capitalism, military Keynesianism and corporate welfare. Nixonianism has been the corporate aristocracy’s crowning achievement. And to some extent, this period of free lunch economics was a banquet, even for middle class Americans. The masses were kept fat and happy. But now the game is up — like Nixon’s Presidency — its days are numbered.

The Great Treasury Dumping Game Continues

A few months ago I wrote:

A couple months ago, I hypothesises about the possibility foreign treasury dumping:

It is becoming clearer and clearer that America cannot and will not produce a coherent economic strategy. China seems to be beginning to offload not only its Treasury balance, but also its dollar pile.

Then I noted some of the prospective dangers:

Now we get the news that creditors are currently engaged in a huge Treasury liquidation.

A new post from Zero Hedge establishes that Russia is joining the Treasury-dumping party:


Well, we know the UK is now out, courtesy of idiotic statements such as this one by Christina Noyer. So who will step up? Why Russia it seems.


Why’s that? Because like China (more on that in an upcoming post), Russia just dumped US bonds for the 12th straight month and instead both Russia and China are now focusing on making Europe their vassal state. So now we know where the money is coming from – sales of US debt of course!

Source: TIC

Is the US quietly becoming increasingly isolated in global affairs?

The question as to whether the US is becoming increasingly isolated is completely spurious; the United States isolated herself politically way back when in 1971 she took itself off the gold standard, and decided that she could get a free lunch at others’ expense from printing money.

The key thesis I have advanced seems to be hotting up:

What would a treasury crash look like? Most likely, it would be dictated by supply — the greater the supply of treasuries coming onto the market, the more there are for buyers to buy, the lower prices will be forced before new buyers come onto the market. Specifically, a treasury crash would most likely begin with a big seller dumping significant quantities of treasuries bonds onto the open market. I would expect such an event to be triggered bylower yields— most significant would be the 30-year, because it still has a high enough yield to retain purchasing power (i.e. a positive real rate). Operation Twist, of course, was designed to flatten the yield curve, which will probably push the 30-year closer to a negative real return.

A large sovereign treasury dumper (i.e. China with its $1+ trillion of treasury holdings) throwing a significant portion of these onto the open market would very quickly outpace the dogmatic institutional buyers, and force a small spike in rates (i.e. a drop in price). The small recent spike actually corresponds to this kind of activity. The difference between a small spike in yields and one large enough to make the (hugely dogmatic) market panic enough to cause a treasury crash is the pace and scope of liquidation.

Now, no sovereign seller in their right mind would fail to pace their liquidation just slowly enough to keep the market warm. After all, they want to get the most for their assets as they can, and panicking the market would mean a lower price.

But there are two (or three) foreseeable scenarios that would raise the pace to a level sufficient to panic the markets:

  1. China desperately needs to raise dollars to bail out its real estate market and paper over the cracks of its credit bubbles, and so goes into full-on liquidation mode.
  2. China retaliates to an increasingly-hostile American trade policy and — alongside other hostile foreign creditors (Russia in particular) — organise a mass bond liquidation to “teach America a lesson”
  3. Both of the above.

Gold in 2012 & the Coming Bond Crash?

Since that spurt up to $1917, and the slump down to $1528 gold has been on ice below $1700. The technical analysis suggests that there is little to get excited about until gold breaks out of the $1600 to $1700 range, and I tend to agree. This is a slow-motion degeneration: triggers for a breakout seem limited to a deeper Euro meltdown (coming — and ultimately leading to a default cascade, and a derivatives meltdown), more American money printing (coming), or (most importantly) a large scale and visible dumping of dollars or treasuries by foreign creditors. Black swans like another Fukushima, incidences of terrorism, or broader social unrest might be bullish for gold in the long term, but gold right now (at least in the West) is up against a wall of perceptions: namely, that haven assets are limited to dollars, and to US treasury bonds. In the mainstream lexicon, gold is used to hedge tail risk and to make jewellery, and until that perception is shattered then I don’t think the funds will begin to significantly increase gold allocations.

There are two very strong pieces of evidence here for dollar and treasury weakness and instability: firstly, the very real phenomenon of negative real interest rates (i.e. interest rates minus inflation) making treasury bonds a losing investment in terms of purchasing power, and secondly the fact that China (the largest real holder of Treasuries) claims to be committed to dumping them and acquiring harder assets (and bailing out their real estate bubble). So when these perceptions will be shattered? Here are bond yields since 2007:

The bond market is a market, and like any other it is determined by supply and demand (Zero Hedge readers — algorithmic trading is still a form of supply and demand, albeit a fucked-up one). Low yields mean high prices, which mean that demand is still high — pretty close to all-time highs — which means that in the market the belief that treasuries are a haven still mostly holds.

A large sovereign treasury dumper like China with its $1+ trillion of treasury holdings throwing a significant portion of these onto the open market could very quickly outpace the institutional buyers, and force a small spike in rates (i.e. a drop in price). The small recent spike corresponds to this kind of activity. The difference between a small spike in yields and one large enough to make the market panic enough to cause a treasury crash is the pace and scope of liquidation.

Now, no sovereign seller in their right mind would fail to pace their liquidation just slowly enough to keep the market warm. After all, they want to get the most for their assets as they can, and panicking the market would mean a lower price.

But there are two (or three) foreseeable scenarios that would raise the pace to a level sufficient to panic the markets:

  1. China desperately needs to raise dollars to bail out its real estate market and paper over the cracks of its credit bubbles, and so rashly goes into full-on liquidation mode.
  2. China retaliates to an increasingly-hostile American trade policy and — alongside other hostile foreign creditors (Russia in particular) — organise a mass bond liquidation to “teach America a lesson”.
  3. Both of the above.

Now the pace and scope of any coming treasury liquidation is still uncertain and I expect it to very much be dictated by how the Chinese real estate picture plays out — the worse the real estate crash, the more likely a Chinese liquidation.

The pace of events might also be significantly accelerated in the light of a full-blown Eurozone default.

So in conclusion — give or take the inevitable QE3 spike — I expect gold prices to be stable or lower — even in the context of low real interest rates — up ’til a significant treasury liquidation. I don’t know when or if this will occur, but if it does, I would expect gold prices to soar in the following months. If it doesn’t occur and markets return to stronger organic growth, the gold bull market will probably end.

It must also be noted that a stock market crash will probably send gold lower in the short term, as with 2008. Ironically, the subsequent flight into treasuries (driving rates lower still) might be a NASDAQ-esque “blow-out top” that signifies the end.

China’s Trillion Dollar Bluff

Is China outsmarting America? Since I began writing this blog, I have paid keen attention to the strange and tempestuous relationship between the world’s greatest industrial behemoth, and history’s greatest debtor. Of course, any student of international relations or history could tell you that diplomacy is a game of bluff and counter-bluff. From Reuters:

China is confident the U.S. economy will get back on the track of healthy growth, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao told visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Friday during his five-day trust building mission to the United States’ largest creditor.

Earlier in the day, China’s vice president and heir apparent Xi Jinping gave a ringing endorsement of the resilience of the debt-ridden American economy during a second day of talks with his U.S. counterpart.

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