Get Ready for World Money

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Since Federal Reserve resources were barely able to prevent complete collapse in 2008, it should be expected that an even larger collapse will overwhelm the Fed’s balance sheet.

That’s exactly the situation we’re facing right now.

The specter of a global debt crisis suggests the urgency for new liquidity sources, bigger than those that central banks can provide. The logic leads quickly to one currency for the planet.

The task of re-liquefying the world will fall to the IMF because the IMF will have the only clean balance sheet left among official institutions. The IMF will rise to the occasion with a towering issuance of special drawing rights (SDRs), and this monetary operation will effectively end the dollar’s role as the leading reserve currency.

The Federal Reserve has a printing press, they can print dollars. The IMF also has a printing press and can print SDRs. It’s just world money that could be handed out.

The IMF could function like a central bank through more frequent issuance of SDRs and by encouraging the use of “private SDRs” by banks and borrowers.

What exactly is an SDR?

The SDR is a form of world money printed by the IMF. It was created in 1969 as the realization of an earlier idea for world money called the “bancor,” proposed by John Maynard Keynes at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944.

The bancor was never adopted, but the SDR has been going strong for 50 years. I am often asked, “If I had 100 SDRs how many dollars would that be worth? How many euros would that be worth?”

There’s a formula for determining that, and as of today there are five currencies in the formula: dollars, sterling, yen, euros and yuan. Those are the five currencies that comprise in the SDR calculation.

The important thing to realize that the SDR is a source of potentially unlimited global liquidity. That’s why SDRs were invented in 1969 (when the world was seeking alternatives to the dollar), and that’s why they will be used in the imminent future.

At the previous rate of progress, it may have taken decades for the SDR to pose a serious challenge to the dollar. But as I’ve said for years, that process could be rapidly accelerated in a financial crisis where the world needed liquidity and the central banks were unable to provide it because they still have not normalized their balance sheets from the last crisis.

“In that case,” I’ve argued previously, “the replacement of the dollar could happen almost overnight.”

Well, guess what?

We’re facing a global financial crisis worse even than 2008. That’s because each crisis is larger than the previous one. The reason has to do with the system scale. In complex dynamic systems such as capital markets, risk is an exponential function of system scale. Increasing market scale correlates with exponentially larger market collapses.

This means a market panic far larger than the Panic of 2008.

SDRs have been used before. They were issued in several tranches during the monetary turmoil between 1971 and 1981 before they were put back on the shelf. In 2009 (also in a time of financial crisis). A new issue of SDRs was distributed to IMF members to provide liquidity after the panic of 2008.

The 2009 issuance was a case of the IMF “testing the plumbing” of the system to make sure it worked properly. With no issuance of SDRs for 28 years, from 1981–2009, the IMF wanted to rehearse the governance, computational and legal processes for issuing SDRs.

The purpose was partly to alleviate liquidity concerns at the time, but also partly to make sure the system works in case a large new issuance was needed on short notice. The 2009 experience showed the system worked fine.

Since 2009, the IMF has proceeded in slow steps to create a platform for massive new issuances of SDRs and the creation of a deep liquid pool of SDR-denominated assets.

On Jan. 7, 2011, the IMF issued a master plan for replacing the dollar with SDRs. This included the creation of an SDR bond market, SDR dealers, and ancillary facilities such as repos, derivatives, settlement and clearance channels, and the entire apparatus of a liquid bond market. A liquid bond market is critical.

The IMF study recommended that the SDR bond market replicate the infrastructure of the U.S. Treasury market, with hedging, financing, settlement and clearance mechanisms substantially similar to those used to support trading in Treasury securities today.

In November 2015, the Executive Committee of the IMF formally voted to admit the Chinese yuan into the basket of currencies into which an SDR is convertible.

In July 2016, the IMF issued a paper calling for the creation of a private SDR bond market. These bonds are called “M-SDRs” (for market SDRs) in contrast to “O-SDRs” (for official SDRs).

In August 2016, the World Bank announced that it would issue SDR-denominated bonds to private purchasers. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the largest bank in China, will be the lead underwriter on the deal.

In September 2016, the IMF included the Chinese yuan in the SDR basket, giving China seat at the monetary table.

Over the next several years, we will see the issuance of SDRs to transnational organizations, such as the U.N. and World Bank, to be spent on climate change infrastructure and other elite pet projects outside the supervision of any democratically elected bodies. (I call this the New Blueprint for Worldwide Inflation.)

The SDR can be issued in abundance to IMF members and can also be used in the future for a select list of the most important transactions in the world, including balance-of-payments settlements, oil pricing and the financial accounts of the world’s largest corporations, such as Exxon Mobil, Toyota and Royal Dutch Shell.

So the international monetary elite has been awaiting the global liquidity crisis that we’re facing right now. In the not-too-distant future, there will be massive issuances of SDRs to return liquidity to the world. The result will be the end of the dollar as the leading global reserve currency.

SDRs will perhaps never be issued in bank note form and may never be used on an everyday basis by citizens around the world. But even such limited usage does not alter the fact that the SDR is world money controlled by elites.

But monetary resets have happened three times before, in 1914, 1939 and 1971. On average, it happens about every 30 or 40 years. We’re going on 50.

So we’re long overdue.

You’ll still have dollars, but they’ll be local currency like the Mexican peso, for example. But its global dominance will end.

Based on past practice, we can expect that the dollar will be devalued by 50–80% in the coming years.

A devaluation of this magnitude will wipe out the value of your life’s savings. You’ll still have just as many dollars, but they won’t be worth nearly as much.

Individuals will not be allowed to own SDRs, but you can still protect your wealth by buying gold — if you can find any.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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The Great Dollar Shortage

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The coronavirus pandemic is a human tragedy. It’s also an economic tragedy, as the global economy is collapsing around us.

Second-quarter U.S. GDP may drop as much as 30%, which is a staggering figure. Many economists predict a third-quarter recovery, but there are still so many unknowns that it’s impossible to say.

It’s still too soon to say when America will reopen for business. And you can’t just flip a switch and return things to normal. That’s not how economies function.

Many industries may never recover and millions may be out of work for extended periods.

At the very least, we’re heading into a severe recession. And we could well be heading for a full-scale depression.

That’s not being alarmist.

The crisis will also accelerate the collapse of the dollar as the world’s leading reserve currency. So you need to prepare now. What do I mean?

The U.S. dollar is at the center of global trade.

The dollar represents about 60% of global reserve assets, 80% of global payments and almost 100% of global oil sales. About 40% of the world’s debt is issued in dollars.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) estimates that foreign banks hold over $13 trillion in dollar-denominated assets.

All this, despite the fact that the U.S. economy only accounts for about 15% of global GDP.

The reason the dollar is the world’s leading reserve currency is because there’s a very large liquid dollar-denominated bond market. Investors can go buy 30-day 10-year, 30-year Treasury notes, etc. The point is there’s a deep, liquid dollar-denominated bond market.

But the coronavirus crisis is creating a massive problem for foreign nations dependent on the dollar.

That’s because the world is facing a critical dollar shortage.

Many observers are surprised to hear about a dollar shortage. After all, didn’t the Fed print almost $4 trillion to bail out the system after 2008?

Yes, but while the Fed was printing $4 trillion, the world was creating $100 trillion in new debt.

This huge debt pyramid was fine as long as global growth was solid and dollars were flowing out of the U.S. and into emerging markets.

But that’s no longer the case, and that’s an understatement. Global growth was anemic before the crisis hit. Now it’s contracting rapidly.

If dollars are in short supply, China can’t control its currency and emerging markets can’t roll over their debts.

But again, you might say, isn’t the Fed engaged in its most massive liquidity injections ever and extending swap lines to foreign central banks to ensure they can access dollars?

Yes, but it’s not nearly enough to meet global funding needs.

Foreign nations are scrambling to acquire dollars right now. And that surging demand for dollars only drives up the value of the dollar, which puts additional strain on their ability to service debt.

When those debt holders want their money back, $4 trillion is not enough to finance $100 trillion, unless new debt replaces the old. That’s what causes a global liquidity crisis.

We’re facing a global liquidity crisis far worse than the one that occurred in 2008. In fact, the world is heading for a debt crisis not seen since the 1930s.

The trend away from the dollar was already underway before the latest crisis, led by China and Russia. Now that trend will greatly accelerate as the world seeks to eliminate, or greatly reduce, its dependence on the dollar.

That’s not just my opinion, by the way. Here’s what Eswar Prasad, former head of the IMF’s China team, says:

“The dollar’s surge will renew calls for a shift from a dollar-centric global financial system.”

It can happen much faster than you think. And the dollar’s days are more numbered now than ever.

But what will replace it? And why can you expect the dollar to lose up to 80% of its value in the years ahead? Read on.

Regards

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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Rickards: It’ll Get Worse it Before It Gets Better

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We’re well into the coronavirus pandemic at this point. As of this writing, there are 360,765 reported infections and 15,491 deaths worldwide.

Over the next few days, you may be certain that those numbers will be significantly higher.

That’s how pandemics work. The cases and fatalities don’t grow in a linear fashion; they grow exponentially.

It’s widely acknowledged that this pandemic will get much worse before it gets better. There’s no doubt about that.

It didn’t take long for the coronavirus crisis to turn into an economic and financial crisis.

The Worst Collapse Since the Great Depression

The U.S. is falling into the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression in 1929. This will be worse than the dot-com collapse of 2000–01 and worse than the Great Recession and global financial crisis of 2008–09.

Don’t be surprised to see second-quarter GDP drop by 10% or more and for the unemployment rate to race past 10% on its way to 15% or higher.

The questions for economists are whether the lost output will be permanent or temporary and whether U.S. growth will return to trend or settle on a new path that is below the pre-virus trend.

Some lost expenditure may just be a timing difference. If I plan to buy a new car this month and decide not to buy it until August, that’s just a timing difference; the sale is not permanently lost.

But if I don’t go out for dinner tonight and then do go out a month from now, I’m not going to order two dinners. The skipped dinner is a permanent loss.

Unfortunately, 70% of the U.S. economy is based on consumption and the majority of that consists of services rather than goods. This suggests that much of the coronavirus impact will consist of permanent losses, not timing differences.

More important is the question of whether growth returns to trend by next year or follows a new lower trend. (Bear in mind that “trend” for the past 11 years has been 2.2% growth compared with average growth in all recoveries since 1980 of 3.2%; any decline in trend growth would be from an already low base.)

This is unknown, but the result will be as much psychological as policy driven.

The Fed’s Bazooka Is Empty

In situations like this, the standard policy response is for the Fed to cut rates, which it has certainly done.

The Fed has also launched massive amounts of quantitative easing.

In addition, they have guaranteed or offered credit facilities to banks, primary dealers, money market funds, the municipal bond market and commercial paper issuers so far.

Now the central bank has taken the unprecedented step of committing to buy as many U.S. government bonds and mortgage-backed securities as needed to keep the market functioning.

The problem is that the Fed’s programs won’t work as a form of stimulus. We’re seeing a supply shock as the economy grinds to a standstill. What’s everyone going to buy with all the money?

Still, they may have done things exactly backward.

Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz, says that the Fed should have focused on payment system problems and liquidity first but should not have cut rates.

Interest rates were already quite low. Once the Fed goes to zero as they did, they are incapable of cutting rates further (leaving aside negative rates, which also don’t provide stimulus).

El-Erian argues the Fed should have saved their rate cuts in case they are needed more acutely in the weeks ahead. Too late now. The interest rate bullets were fired. Now the Fed’s bazooka is empty at the worst possible time.

No Stimulus Bill

Meanwhile, Congress is working to pass a “stimulus” bill to fight the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Negotiations stalled this morning as Democrats want to insert provisions that would give tax credits to the solar and wind industry, give more power to unions and introduce new emissions standards for the airline industry.

“Democrats won’t let us fund hospitals or save small businesses unless they get to dust off the Green New Deal,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Once again, I need to emphasize the point: The economic impact of coronavirus could be devastating.

If consumers get used to not spending and decide that increased savings and debt reduction are the best ways to prepare for another virus or natural disaster, then velocity will fall and growth will be weak no matter how much money the Fed prints or the Congress spends.

The bottom line is that these spending bills provide spending but they do not provide stimulus. That’s up to consumers. And right now consumers are hunkered down.

It may be that the last of the big spenders just left town.

Gold Roars $75

Markets were down again today, what a surprise. The Dow lost another 600 points, finishing the day at 18,591.

Meanwhile, gold was up about $75 today. Physical supply is drying up and dealers are running out.

That’s why I’ve been warning my readers for years to get their gold before the crisis hits. Once it does (and it has), you won’t be able to get any.

What about silver?

You Should Get a “Monster Box”

Silver’s dynamics are a little bit different than gold because there are some industrial applications, but there’s no question that it’s a monetary metal.

And I always recommend that people have a “monster box.” A monster box is 500 American Silver Eagles, fine pure silver that comes directly from the Mint. It comes in a green case and is sealed.

The 500 coins at retailer commission will run you about $12,000 right now, but everybody should have one.

You ought to have a monster box of silver because if the power grid goes down, which could happen for a lot of reasons, the ATMs won’t work and neither will credit cards.

But if you walk into a store with five or six silver coins, you’ll be able to get groceries for your family.

Believe me, that’ll be legal tender when the time comes, so I definitely recommend silver.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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Complex Systems Collide, Markets Crash

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At some point, systems flip from being complicated, which is a challenge to manage, to being complex. Complexity is more than a challenge because it opens the door to all kinds of unexpected crashes and events.

Their behavior cannot be reduced to their component parts. It’s as if they take on a life of their own.

Complexity theory has four main pillars. The first is the diversity of actors. You’ve got to account for all of the actors in the marketplace. When you consider the size of global markets, that number is obviously vast.

The second pillar is interconnectedness. Today’s world is massively interconnected through the internet, through social media and other forms of communications technology.

The third pillar of complexity theory is interaction. Markets interact on a massive scale. Trillions of dollars of financial transactions occur every single day.

The fourth pillar, and this is the hardest for people to understand, is adaptive behavior. Adaptive behavior just means that your behavior affects my behavior and my behavior affects yours. That in turn affects someone else’s behavior, and so on.

If you look out the window and see people bundled up in heavy jackets, for example, you’re probably not going to go out in a T-shirt. Applied to capital markets, adaptive behavior is sometimes called herding.

Assume you have a room with 100 people. If two people suddenly sprinted out of the room, most of the others probably wouldn’t make much of it. But if half the people in the room suddenly ran outside, the other half will probably do the same thing.

They might not know why the first 50 people left, but the second half will just assume something major has happened. That could be a fire or a bomb threat or something along these lines.

The key is to determine the tipping point that compels people to act. Two people fleeing isn’t enough. 50 certainly is. But, maybe 20 people leaving could trigger the panic. Or maybe the number is 30, or 40. You just can’t be sure. But the point is, 20 people out of 100 could trigger a chain reaction.

And that’s how easily a total collapse of the capital markets can be triggered.

Understanding the four main pillars of complexity gives you a window into the inner workings of markets in a way the Fed’s antiquated equilibrium models can’t. They let you see the world with better eyes.

People assume that if you had perfect knowledge of the economy, which nobody does, that you could conceivably plan an economy. You’d have all the information you needed to determine what should be produced and in what number.

But complexity theory says that even if you had that perfect knowledge, you still couldn’t predict financial and economic events. They can come seemingly out of nowhere.

For example, it was bright and sunny one day out in the eastern Atlantic in 2005. Then it suddenly got cloudy. The winds began to pick up. Then a hurricane formed. That hurricane went on to wipe out New Orleans a short time later.

I’m talking about Hurricane Katrina. You never could have predicted New Orleans would be struck on that bright sunny day. You could look back and track it afterwards. It would seem rational in hindsight. But on that sunny day in the eastern Atlantic, there was simply no way of predicting that New Orleans was going to be devastated.

Any number of variables could have diverted the storm at some point along the way. And they cannot be known in advance, no matter how much information you have initially.

Another example is the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan a few years back. You had a number of complex systems coming together at once to produce a disaster.

An underwater earthquake triggered a tsunami that just happened to wash up on a nuclear power plant. Each one of these are highly complex systems — plate tectonics, hydrodynamics and the nuclear plant itself.

There was no way traditional models could have predicted when or where the tectonic plates were going to slip. Therefore, they couldn’t tell you where the tsunami was heading.

And the same applies to financial panics. They seem to come out of nowhere. Traditional forecasting models have no way of detecting them. But complexity theory allows for them.

I make the point that a snowflake can cause an avalanche. But of course not every snowflake does. Most snowflakes fall harmlessly, except that they make the ultimate avalanche worse because they’re building up the snowpack. And when one of them hits the wrong way, it could spin out of control.

The way to think about it is that the triggering snowflake might not look much different from the harmless snowflake that preceded it. It’s just that it hit the system at the wrong time, at the wrong place.

Only the exact time and the specific snowflake that starts the avalanche remain to be seen. This kind of systemic analysis is the primary tool I use to keep investors ahead of the catastrophe curve.

The system is getting more and more unstable, and it might not take that much to trigger the avalanche.

To switch metaphors, it’s like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. You can’t tell in advance which straw will trigger the collapse. It only becomes obvious afterwards. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good idea when the threat can no longer be ignored.

Let’s say I’ve got a 35-pound block of enriched uranium sitting in front of me that’s shaped like a big cube. That’s a complex system. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. At the subatomic level, neutrons are firing off. But it’s not dangerous. You’d actually have to eat it to get sick.

But, now, I take the same 35 pounds, I shape part of it into a sphere, I take the rest of it and shape it into a bat. I put it in the tube, and I fire it together with high explosives, I kill 300,000 people. I just engineered an atomic bomb. It’s the same uranium, but under different conditions.

The point is, the same basic conditions arrayed in a different way, what physicists call self-organized criticality, can go critical, blow up, and destroy the world or destroy the financial system.

That dynamic, which is the way the world works, is not understood by central bankers. They don’t understand complexity theory. They do not see the critical state dynamics going on behind the scenes because they’re using obsolete equilibrium models.

In complexity theory and complex dynamics, you can go into the critical state. What look like unconnected distant events are actually indications and warnings of something much more dangerous to come.

So what happens when complex dynamic systems crash into each other? We’re seeing that right now.

We’re seeing two complex systems colliding into each other, the complex system of markets combined with the complex system of epidemiology.

The coronavirus spread is a complex dynamic system. It encompass virology, meteorology, migratory patterns, mass psychology, etc. Markets are highly complex, dynamic systems.

Financial professionals will use the word “contagion” to describe a financial panic. But that’s not just a metaphor. The same complexity that applies to disease epidemics also apply to financial markets. They follow the same principles.

And they’ve come together to create a panic that traditional modeling could not foresee.

The time scale of global financial contagion is not necessarily limited to days or weeks. These panics can play out over months and years. So could the effects of the coronavirus.

Just don’t expect the Fed to warn you.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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Why the Fed Can’t Get It Right

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The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic today. The virus has now spread to over 100 countries and infected well over 100,000 people.

After Monday’s 2,000-point collapse of the Dow and yesterday’s 1,100-point gain, stocks broke down again today. The Dow puked another 1,465 points on further fears.

What we’re seeing now is the very definition of volatility. The market’s in a highly unstable state right now.

These violent swings show the inadequacy of the standard models that the Fed and other mainstream analysts use.

The Fed assumes so many things about markets that are simply false, like that markets are always efficient, for example. They’re not.

Under volatile conditions like these they gap up and down — they don’t move in rational, predictable increments like the “efficient-market hypothesis” supposes.

The problem is that the Fed’s models are empirically false. Studies have proven how faulty their models are.

The Fed has the worst forecasting record in the world. It’s basically been wrong every year since 2009.

Equilibrium models like the Fed uses basically say the world runs like a clock and occasionally it gets knocked out of equilibrium. And all you have to do is tweak policy or manipulate some variable to push it back into equilibrium.

It’s like resetting a clock. That’s a shorthand way of describing what an equilibrium model is. They treat markets like they’re some kind of machine. It’s a 19th-century, mechanistic approach.

But traditional approaches that rely on static models bear little relationship to reality. Twenty-first-century markets aren’t machines and they don’t work in this clockwork fashion.

On the other hand, complexity theory explains financial panics much better than the Fed’s old-fashioned models. Complexity theory accounts for market shocks that seem to come out of nowhere, like the one we’re seeing now.

It also lends you greater insight into where markets are going next, unlike traditional models.

And I promise you, because I know firsthand, the Fed doesn’t use complexity theory. I’ve discussed it with them and they know nothing about it.

But it’s not just the Fed. I’ve talked to monetary economists. I’ve talked to staff people. They just stare at me blankly. They can’t even process what I’m saying.

Complexity theory has had great success explaining phenomena in fields such as climatology, seismology and many other dynamic systems.

And I’ve taken the insights of complexity theory and applied them to financial markets, which are perfect models of complex systems.

I’m happy to say I’m one of a few pioneers who have applied the insights of complexity theory to financial markets.

That’s how I analyze risk in financial markets, and it’s very powerful. Applying complexity theory to markets sets my analysis apart from the mainstream. The evidence for its effectiveness is very, very strong.

What led me to start studying complexity theory? And what exactly is it?

Back in 1997, I was a lawyer for Long Term Capital Management (LTCM). We had two Nobel Prize winners on our staff. We had a team of Ph.D.s from MIT, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. We had some of the best brains in finance working for us, in other words.

I trusted all those Ph.D.s and Nobel Prize winners because they had made us a lot of money. I had no reason to doubt them.

Then the Asian financial crisis came along. By the time the crisis was over, I lost 92% of my own money.

I was only their lawyer, so I wasn’t making these deals. And I didn’t understand the deeper complexities of the financial system at the time. I’ve since learned the truth.

The truth is that their models had nothing to do with the real world. If their models were right, the crisis never would have happened.

I began studying the dynamics of capital markets on my own. I took some university courses, but I did most of the research on my own.

I studied physics, network theory, complexity theory, applied mathematics, behavioral psychology and so on. I took all that learning and applied it to the markets, which the Fed does not do.

So I’ve studied complexity theory intensively for over two decades now. And I’m more convinced than ever of its effectiveness in understanding markets.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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Heading Into Negative (Real) Interest Rates

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Last July I was in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, along with a host of monetary elites, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Bretton Woods conference that established the post-WWII international monetary system. But I wasn’t just there to commemorate  the past —I was there to seek insight into the future of the monetary system.

One day I was part of a select group in a closed-door “off the record” meeting with top Federal Reserve and European Central Bank (ECB) officials who announced exactly what you can expect with interest rates going forward — and why.

They included a senior official from a regional Federal Reserve bank, a senior official from the Fed’s Board of Governors and a member of the ECB’s Board of Governors.

Chatham House rules apply, so I still can’t reveal the names of anyone present at this particular meeting or quote them directly.

But I can discuss the main points. They essentially came out and announced that rates are heading lower, and not by just 25 or 50 basis points. Rates were 2.25% at the time. They said they have to cut interest rates by a lot going forward.

Well, that’s already happened. The Fed cut rates last September and October (each 25 basis points), bringing rates down to 1.75%. And now, after Tuesday’s emergency 50-basis point rate cut, rates are down to 1.25%.

That’s a drop of one full percentage point. If the Fed keeps cutting (which is likely), it’ll soon be flirting with the zero bound. And if the economic effects of the coronavirus don’t dissipate (very possible), the Fed could easily hit zero.

But then what?

These officials didn’t officially announce that interest rates will go negative. But they said that when rates are back to zero, they’ll have to take a hard look at negative rates.

Reading between the lines, they will likely resort to negative rates when the time comes.

Normally forecasting interest rate policy can be tricky, and I use a number of sophisticated models to try to determine where it’s heading. But these guys made my job incredibly easy. It’s almost like cheating!

The most interesting part of the meeting was the reason they gave for the coming rate cuts. They were very relaxed about it, almost as if it was too obvious to even point out.

The reason has to do with real interest rates.

The real interest rate is the nominal interest rate minus the inflation rate. You might look at today’s interest rates and think they’re already extremely low. And in nominal terms they certainly are. But when you consider real interest rates, you’ll see that they can be substantially higher than the nominal rate.

That’s why the real rate is so important. If you’re an economist or analyst trying to forecast markets based on the impact of rates on the economy, then you need to focus on real rates.

Assume the nominal rate on a bond is 4%; what you see is what you get. But the real rate is the nominal rate minus inflation. If the nominal rate is 4% and inflation is 2%, then the real rate is 2% (4 – 2 = 2).

That difference between nominal and real rates seems simple until you get into a strange situation where inflation is higher than the nominal rate. Then the real rate is negative.

For example, if the nominal rate is 4% and inflation is 5%, then the real rate of interest is negative 1% (4 – 5 = -1).

The U.S. has never had negative nominal rates (Japan, the eurozone and Switzerland have), but it has had negative real rates.

By the early 1980s, nominal interest rates on long-term Treasury securities hit 13%. But inflation at the time was 15%, so the real rate was negative 2%. The real cost of money was cheap even as nominal rates hit all-time highs.

Nominal rates of 13% when inflation is 15% are actually stimulative. Rates of 3% when inflation is 1% aren’t. In these examples, nominal 2% is a “high” rate and 13% is a “low” rate once inflation is factored in.

What is the real rate today?

The yield to maturity on 10-year Treasury notes is currently at a record low of under 1% (it actually fell to 0.899% today before edging slightly higher). That’s never happened before in history, which is an indication of how unusual these times are.

Meanwhile, inflation as measured by the PCE core deflator (the Fed’s preferred measure) is currently about 1.6% year over year, below the Fed’s 2% target.

Using those metrics, real interest rates are in the neighborhood of -.5%. But believe it or not, that’s actually higher than the early ’80s when nominal rates were 13%, but real rates were -2%.

That’s why it’s critical to understand the significance of real interest rates.

And real rates are important because the central banks want to drive real rates meaningfully negative. That’s why they have to lower the nominal rate substantially, which is what these central bank officials said at Bretton Woods.

So you can expect rates to go to zero, probably sooner or later. Then, nominal negative rates are probably close behind.

The Fed is very concerned about recession, for which it’s presently unprepared. And with the coronavirus, now even more so. It usually takes five percentage points of rate cuts to pull the U.S. out of a recession. During its hiking cycle that ended in December 2018, the Fed was trying to get rates closer to 5% so they could cut them as much as needed in a new recession. But, they failed.

Interest rates only topped out at 2.5%, only halfway to the target. The market reaction and a slowing economy caused the Fed to reverse course and engage in easing. That was good for markets, but terrible in terms of getting ready for the next recession.

The Fed also reduced its balance sheet from $4.5 trillion to $3.8 trillion, but that was still well above the $800 billion level that existed before QE1 (“QE-lite” has since taken the balance sheet up above $4 trillion, and it’s probably going higher since new cracks are forming in the repo market).

In short, the Fed (and other central banks) only partly normalized and are far from being able to cure a new recession or panic if one were to arise tomorrow.

The Fed is therefore trapped in a conundrum that it can’t escape. It needs to rate hikes to prepare for recession, but lower rates to avoid recession. It’s obviously chosen the latter option.

If a recession hit now, the Fed would cut rates by another 1.25% in stages, but then they would be at the zero bound and out of bullets.

Beyond that, the Fed’s only tools are negative rates, more QE, a higher inflation target, or forward guidance guaranteeing no rate hikes without further notice.

Of course, negative nominal interest rates have never worked where they’ve been tried. They only fuel asset bubbles, not economic growth. There’s no reason to believe they’ll work next time.

But the central banks really have no other tools to choose from. When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Now’s the time to stock up on gold and other hard assets to protect your wealth.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

The post Heading Into Negative (Real) Interest Rates appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Gold Is a Chameleon

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Is gold a commodity, an investment, or money?

The answer is…

Gold is a chameleon. It changes in response to the environment. At times, gold behaves like a commodity. The gold price tracks the ups and downs of commodity indices. At other times, gold is viewed as a safe haven investment. It competes with stocks and bonds for investor attention. And on occasion, gold assumes its role as the most stable long-term form of money the world has ever known.

A real chameleon changes color based on the background on which it rests. When sitting on a dark green leaf, the chameleon appears dark green to hide from predators. When the chameleon hops from the leaf to a tree trunk, it will change from green to brown to maintain its defenses.

Gold also changes its nature depending on the background.

Let’s first look at gold a commodity…

Gold does trade on commodity exchanges, and it tends to be included in commodity industries. The common understanding here is that gold is a commodity. But I don’t think that’s correct.

The reason is that because a commodity is a generic substance. It could be agricultural or a mineral or come from various sources, but it’s a substance that’s input into something else. Copper is a commodity, we use it for pipes. Lumber is a commodity, we use it for construction. Iron ore is a commodity, we use it for making steel.

Gold actually isn’t good for anything except money. People don’t dig up gold because they want to coat space helmets on astronauts or make ultra-thin wires. Gold is used for those purposes, but that’s a very small portion of its application.

So I don’t really think of gold as a commodity. But nevertheless we have to understand that it does sometimes trade like a commodity.

As far as being an investment, that’s probably gold’s most common usage.

People say, “I’m investing in gold,” or, “I’m putting part of my investment toward bullion gold.”

But I don’t really think of gold as an investment either. I understand that it’s priced in dollars, and its dollar value can go up. That will give you some return, but to me that’s more a function of the dollar than it is a function of gold.

In other words, if the dollar gets weaker, sure the dollar price of gold is going to go up. If the dollar gets stronger, then the dollar price of gold may go down.

So if you’re using the dollar as the measure of all things, then it looks like gold is going up or down. But I think of gold by weight. An ounce of gold is an ounce of gold. If I have an ounce of gold today, and I put it in a drawer, and I come back a year from now and take it out, I still have an ounce of gold. In other words it didn’t go up or down.

The dollar price may have changed, but to me that’s the function of the dollar, not a function of gold. So again, I don’t really think of it as an investment.

One of the criticisms of gold is that it has no yield. You hear it from Warren Buffet, you hear it from others, and that’s true. But gold is not supposed to have a yield because it’s money. Just reach into your wallet or your purse and pull out a dollar bill and hold it up in front of you, and ask yourself what’s the yield? There is no yield. The dollar bill doesn’t have any yield. It’s just a dollar bill, the way a gold coin is a gold coin.

If you want yield, you have to take some risks. You can put that dollar in the bank, and the bank might pay you a little bit of interest, but now it’s not money anymore. People think of their money in a bank deposit as money, but it really isn’t money. It’s an unsecured liability of an occasionally insolvent financial institution. The risk may be low, but there’s some risk, and that’s why you get a return.

Of course, you can take more risk in the stock market or the bonds market and get higher returns (or losses, as the stock market is currently proving). The point is, to get a return you have to take risk. Gold doesn’t have any risk. It’s just gold, and it doesn’t have any return. But again, it’s not supposed to.

Gold’s role as money is difficult for investors to grasp because gold hasn’t been used as money for decades. But gold in recent years has been behaving more like money than a commodity or investment. It is competing with central bank fiat money for asset allocations by global investors.

That’s a big deal because it shows that citizens around the world are starting to lose confidence in other forms of money such as dollars, yuan, yen, euros and sterling.

When you understand that gold is money, and competes with other forms of money in a jumble of cross-rates with no anchor, you’ll know why the monetary system is going wobbly.

It’s important to take off your dollar blinders to see that the dollar is just one form of money. And not necessarily the best for all investors in all circumstances. Gold is a strong competitor in the horse race among various forms of money.

Despite the recent price action, which is far more a function of the stock market rather than gold itself, this is great news for those with price exposure to gold. The price of gold in many currencies has been going up as confidence in those other currencies goes down. Confidence in currencies is dropping because investors are losing confidence in the central banks that print them.

For the first time since 2008, it looks like central banks are losing control of the global financial system. Gold does not have a central bank. Gold always inspires confidence because it is scarce, tested by time and has no cre‌dit risk.

Lost confidence in fiat money starts slowly then builds rapidly to a crescendo. The end result is panic buying of gold and a price super-spike.

We saw this behavior in the late 1970s. Gold moved from $35 per ounce in August 1971 to $800 per ounce in January 1980.

That’s a 2,200% gain in less than nine years.

We’re in the early stages of a similar super-spike that could take gold to $10,000 per ounce or higher. When that happens there will be one important difference between the new super-spike and what happened in 1980.

Back then, you could buy gold at $100, $200, or $500 per ounce and enjoy the ride. In the new super-spike, you may not be able to get any gold at all. You’ll be watching the price go up on TV, but unable to buy any for yourself.

Gold will be in such short supply that only the central banks, giant hedge funds and billionaires will be able to get their hands on any. The mint and your local dealer will be sold out. That physical scarcity will make the price super-spike even more extreme than in 1980.

The time to buy gold is now, before the price spikes and before supplies dry up. The current price decline gives you an ideal opportunity to buy gold at a bargain basement price. It won’t last long.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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How Gold Is Manipulated

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Is there gold price manipulation going on? Absolutely. There’s no question about it. That’s not just an opinion.

There is hard statistical evidence to make the case, in addition to anecdotal evidence and forensic evidence. The evidence is very clear, in fact.

I’ve spoken to members of Congress. I’ve spoken to people in the intelligence community, in the defense community, very senior people at the IMF. I don’t believe in making strong claims without strong evidence, and the evidence is all there.

I spoke to a PhD statistician who works for one of the biggest hedge funds in the world. I can’t mention the fund’s name but it’s a household name. You’ve probably heard of it. He looked at COMEX (the primary market for gold) opening prices and COMEX closing prices for a 10-year period.

He was dumbfounded.

He said it was is the most blatant case of manipulation he’d ever seen. He said if you went into the aftermarket, bought after the close and sold before the opening every day, you would make risk-free profits.

He said statistically that’s impossible unless there’s manipulation occurring.

I also spoke to Professor Rosa Abrantes-Metz at the New York University Stern School of Business. She is the leading expert on globe price manipulation. She has actually testified in gold manipulation cases.

She wrote a report reaching the same conclusions. It’s not just an opinion, it’s not just a deep, dark conspiracy theory. Here’s a PhD statistician and a prominent market expert lawyer, expert witness in litigation qualified by the courts, who independently reached the same conclusion.

How do these manipulations occur?

Currently the price of gold is set in two places. One is the London spot market, controlled by six big banks including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. The other is the New York gold futures market controlled by COMEX, which is governed by its big clearing members, also including major western banks.

In effect, the big western banks have a monopoly on gold prices even if they do not have a monopoly on physical gold.

The easiest way to perform paper manipulation is through COMEX futures. Rigging futures markets is child’s play. You just wait until a little bit before the close and put in a massive sell order. By doing this you scare the other side of the market into lowering their bid price; they back away.

That lower price then gets trumpeted around the world as the “price” of gold, discouraging investors and hurting sentiment. The price decline spooks hedge funds into dumping more gold as they hit “stop-loss” limits on their positions.

A self-fulfilling momentum is established where selling begets more selling and the price spirals down for no particular reason except that someone wanted it that way. Eventually a bottom is established and buyers step in, but by then the damage is done.

Futures have a huge amount of leverage that can easily reach 20 to 1. For $10 million of cash margin, I can sell $200 million of paper gold.

Hedge funds are now large players in the gold market. To a hedge fund, gold may be an interesting market in which to deploy its trading style. To them, gold is just another tradable commodity. It could just as well be coffee beans, soybeans, Treasury bonds, or any other traded good.

Hedge funds use what are called “stop-loss” limits. When they establish a trading position, they set a maximum amount they are willing to lose before they get out. Once that limit is reached, they automatically sell the position regardless of their long-term view of the metal.

Perhaps they don’t even have a long-term view, just a short-term trading perspective. If a particular hedge fund wants to manipulate the gold market from the short side, all it has to do is throw in a large sell order, push gold down a certain amount, and once it hits that amount, these stops are triggered at the funds that are long gold.

Once one hedge fund hits a stop-loss price, that hedge fund automatically sells. That drives the price down more. The next hedge fund hits its stop-loss. Then it sells too, driving the price down again. Selling gathers momentum, and soon everyone is selling.

Another way to manipulate the price is through gold leasing and “unallocated forwards.”

“Unallocated” is one of those buzzwords in the gold market. When most large gold buyers want to buy physical gold, they’ll call JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Citibank, or one of the large gold dealers.

They’ll put in an order for, say, $5 million worth of gold. The bank will say fine, send us your money for the gold and we’ll offer you a written contract in a standard form. Yet if you read the contract, it says you own gold on an “unallocated” basis. That means you don’t have designated bars.

There’s no group of gold bars that have your name on them or specific gold bar serial numbers that are registered to you.

In practice, unallocated gold allows the bank to sell the same physical gold ten times over to ten different buyers.

It’s no different from any other kind of fractional reserve banking. Banks never have as much cash on hand as they do deposits. Every depositor in a bank thinks he can walk in and get cash whenever he wants, but every banker knows the bank doesn’t have that much cash. The bank puts the money out on loan or buys securities; banks are highly leveraged institutions.

If everyone showed up for the cash at once, there’s no way the bank could pay it. That’s why the lender of last resort, the Federal Reserve, can just print the money if  need be. It’s no different in the physical gold market, except there is no gold lender of last resort.

Banks sell more gold than they have. If every holder of unallocated gold showed up all at once and said, “Please give me my gold,” there wouldn’t be nearly enough to go around. Yet people don’t want the physical gold for the most part.

There are risks involved, storage costs, transportation costs, and insurance costs. They’re happy to leave it in the bank. What they may not realize is that the bank doesn’t actually have it either.

Gold holders should expect these games to continue until a fundamental development drives the price to a permanently higher plateau.

How does the individual investor stand up against such forces?

In the short run, you can’t beat them, but in the long run, you always will, because these manipulations have a finite life.

Eventually the manipulators run out of physical gold, or a change in inflation expectations leads to price surges even governments cannot control. There is an endgame.

History shows manipulations can last for a long time yet always fail in the end. They failed in the 1960s London Gold Pool, with the United States dumping in the late 1970s, and the central bank dumping in the 1990s and early 2000s. The gold price went relentlessly higher from $35 per ounce in 1968 when the London Gold Pool failed to $1,900 per ounce in 2011, the all-time high.

Price manipulation always fails. And the dollar price of gold will resume its march higher. The other weakness in the manipulation schemes appears in the use of paper gold through leasing, hedge funds, and unallocated gold forwards.

These techniques are powerful. Still, any manipulation requires some physical gold. It may not be a lot, perhaps less than 1% of all the paper transactions, yet some physical gold is needed. The physical gold is also rapidly disappearing as more countries are buying it up. That puts a limit on the amount of paper gold transactions that can be implemented.

My advice to investors is that it’s important to understand the dynamics behind gold pricing. Understanding these dynamics lets you see the endgame more clearly and supports the rationale for owning gold even when short-term price movements are adverse.

Gold will win in the end.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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Why Is Gold Tanking?

This post Why Is Gold Tanking? appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

The coronavirus continues to take its toll on the stock market.

If you were expecting a major recovery today after yesterday’s bloodbath, you were very disappointed.

Stocks opened higher this morning but soon fell back into red territory again, where they stayed throughout the day.

The Dow ended up losing another 879 points today after yesterday’s 1,031-point hammering.

The S&P and Nasdaq were also big losers today, down 98 and 256 points respectively.

For investors accustomed to “buying the dip,” this is quite a change. As noted macroeconomic analyst Mohamed El-Erian said earlier today:

I understand the inclination to buy on the dip. I understand that the path of least resistance in this market is to bounce up… but I stress, this is different.

Meanwhile, the all-important 10-year Treasury yield fell to a record low this morning as investors continue to pour into safe-haven assets.

The 10-year yield dropped to 1.32%, falling beneath its previous record low of 1.325%, which it set in July 2016 following Brexit.

That means the bond market is projecting a poor outlook for the global economy. And over the long haul, the bond market has an excellent track record of being right.

Gold was down big today, losing $45.20. But that’s not because of gold itself. It’s all about the falling stock market.

When you think about it, it doesn’t make sense.

After all, if investors are fleeing for safety, which we’re seeing in the Treasury market, why wouldn’t they be buying up gold as well?

Gold was up close to $30 yesterday, before the price began dropping late in the day.

Here’s the likely reason why gold is falling right now when it should be rising…

With the stock market plummeting, hedge funds and other institutional investors have had to suddenly raise cash to meet margin calls on their positions in the equity markets. And they had to get the cash from somewhere.

Gold is a very liquid asset that can quickly be traded for cash.

They can either sell the actual gold bullion they own or they can unload their positions in gold ETFs (like GLD).

So my estimate is that they dumped their gold positions to raise the money. And that’s been driving the listed gold price lower.

It has nothing to do with gold’s fundamentals, which are actually very strong. Demand is increasing, central banks are hoarding record amounts of gold and new supplies are dwindling.

That’s a recipe for skyrocketing prices, and the bull market in gold is still very much intact.

The latest selling is just a quirk of the market, in which institutions have to raise cash in order to cover their positions when the market’s dropping.

Again, it has really nothing to do with gold itself. This is just a temporary blip.

If you haven’t bought gold yet, this is an ideal opportunity to scoop up gold at a bargain-basement price. Or, if you already own gold, to stock up on more.

For gold at least, it’s an ideal opportunity to “buy the dip.”

Gold is going much, much higher.

I’m not sure how many more opportunities like this we’re going to see. I urge you to take advantage of it while you can.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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“1984” Has Come to China

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You’re probably familiar with George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four; (it’s often published as 1984). It was written in 1948; the title comes from reversing the last two digits in 1948.

The novel describes a world of three global empires, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, in a constant state of war.

Orwell created an original vocabulary for his book, much of which is in common, if sardonic, usage today. Terms such as Thought Police, Big Brother, doublethink, Newspeak and memory hole all come from Nineteen Eight-Four.

Orwell intended it as a warning about how certain countries might evolve in the aftermath of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. He was certainly concerned about Stalinism, but his warnings applied to Western democracies also.

When the calendar year 1984 came and went, many breathed a sigh of relief that Orwell’s prophesy had not come true. But that sigh of relief was premature. Orwell’s nightmare society is here today in the form of Communist China…

China has most of the apparatus of the totalitarian societies described in Orwell’s book. China uses facial recognition software and ubiquitous digital surveillance to keep track of its citizens. The internet is censored and monitored. Real-life thought police will arrest you for expressing opinions opposed to the government or its policies.

Millions of Chinese have been arrested and sent to “reeducation” camps for brainwashing (the lucky ones) or involuntary organ removal without anesthetic (the unlucky ones who die in excruciating pain and are swiftly cremated as a result).

While these atrocities are not going to happen in the U.S. or what passes for the West these days, the less extreme aspects of China’s surveillance state could well be. And while you might not be arrested for expressing unpopular opinions or challenging prevailing dogmas (at least not yet), you could face other sanctions. You could even lose your job and find it nearly impossible to find another.

You can certainly be banned from social media…

Anything seems to go on social media (primarily Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and a few other platforms) — unless you’re a conservative personality or politico. That’s where the censorship begins.

Many conservative social media participants have had their acco‌unts closed or suspended, not for threats or vulgarity but for criticism of “progressive” views (albeit criticism with some sharp edges).

Meanwhile, those with progressive views can say almost anything on social media, including the implicit endorsement of violence. But nothing happens.

Other conservatives report being the targets of “shadow banning.” That’s where your acco‌unt is open and seems to operate normally, but unbeknownst to you, much of the network is being blocked from seeing your posts and popular features such as “likes” and “retweets” are being truncated and not distributed.

It’s like being a pro athlete who finds out the stadium is empty and no tickets are being sold. That’s bad enough. But Twitter took the war on conservatives a step further.

Well, one of the most widely followed acco‌unts on Twitter is none other than Donald J. Trump’s, with 68 million followers. President Trump uses Twitter to announce policy initiatives and personnel changes and to offer pointed criticism of political opponents. It’s a major platform for him.

Last month Trump issued a tweet that identified the so-called “whistleblower” of the Ukraine phone call that led to his impeachment. That’s not as big a deal as it sounds because everyone in Washington knew who the whistleblower was (you can look his name up on the web), and he wasn’t even a real whistleblower because he didn’t meet statutory requirements.

Still, Twitter blocked Trump’s tweet. Twitter blamed a temporary system “outage,” but that claim was highly suspicious. Later, Trump’s tweet was restored, but the original acco‌unt that Trump linked to had been deleted. No one ever said that politics was fair.

But Twitter’s blatant interference in the election could have adverse consequences for the company in Trump’s second term.

And a few social media companies are now de facto censors, taking over the job from the government. Given their massive media footprint, they wield extraordinary influence over the American public.

They’re in essence becoming propaganda outfits.

It’s not just here of course. Canada, for example, is actively pursuing digital surveillance to track the activities of law-abiding citizens.

A report for the Bank of Canada says that financial information gathered from digital transaction records could be used for “sharing information with police and tax authorities.”

If all transactions are digital (including credit and debit cards), authorities can track your whereabouts, buying habits, restaurant choices and much more. They could also reveal your political orientation and personal associations.

It’s not difficult to imagine the police and tax authorities using that power to make life extremely difficult for those who criticize the government or sacred ideologies like “climate change.” If you think that sounds extreme, some have actually advocated jailing climate change “deniers.”

Do you think I’m making that up?

Well, the executive director of an outfit called Climate Hawks Vote said “Put officials who reject science in jail.”

The Nation also ran an article called, “Climate Denialism Is Literally Killing Us: The victims of Hurricane Harvey have a murderer — and it’s not the storm.”

“How long,” its author asked, “before we hold the ultimate authors of such climate catastrophes accountable for the miseries they inflict?”

And Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said the Koch brothers “should be in jail,” “with all the other war criminals.”

Well, David Koch has since died, so he’ll escape Kennedy’s justice.

But their “war crimes” consisted of funding organizations that question the climate change alarmism the media  is constantly feeding us.

But guess what? There’s plenty of hard scientific evidence that refutes the alarmist view. This article isn’t the venue to get into it, but the scientific case against climate alarmism is much stronger than the case for it.

But if you dissent against the official view, today’s tech censors will silence or marginalize you, no matter how valid your point.

The problem is, the trend is moving very quickly in this direction and it’s difficult to stop. And sophisticated surveillance technology to monitor citizens is already in place…

For example, cameras with the latest surveillance technology can spot and match millions of faces in real time with an accuracy rate of over 99%. They’re touted as anti-terrorism and anti-crime tools, which they certainly are.

But as Stalin’s ruthless secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria said, “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” It’s easy to see that power being abused to target everyday citizens.

(By the way, Beria would ultimately prove his own point, as he was later arrested and executed for treason).

And actually, many people welcome intrusive surveillance technology on the grounds of convenience. As an example, look at microchipping, where people are injected with a small microchips beneath their skin. Microchipping has been associated with an Orwellian nightmare in which Big Brother constantly monitors your every move.

Well, over 4,000 Swedes have already happily volunteered to have it done.

In addition to acco‌unt information that negates the need to carry cash or credit cards to pay for goods, these chips can contain personal information. It’s all happened fairly quickly. Just a few years ago, the very idea of it would have sent chills down the spines of most people.

But that’s how fast Big Brother can go from nightmare to reality, and appear benign or even beneficial.

Big Brother’s on full display in China right now, but he could be on his way here before too long.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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