Category Archives: Finance and Economics

Phone-to-phone payments already bringing massive changes to Kenya

Try to imagine what your life would be like if you had no bank account, no credit or debit cards, and no cash, and on top of that, you lived in a country where poverty, crime, and corruption were rampant. I’ve never been there, but by many reports Kenya is just such a place. How do people cope?

As in other places, like India and Thailand, that I have visited, it seems that the majority of people in Kenya are micro-entrepreneurs who eke out a living by producing and selling products or services of some sort. And, like everywhere else, having a means for exchanging those goods and services and “paying” each other is crucial to survival.

Ultimately, as private currencies and moneyless exchange mechanism proliferate, we all will have numerous payment options.  The Bangla-Pesa project operating near Mombasa is one such model that is now being replicated in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya. But even technologies that only provide new ways of paying with national currencies are proving to be beneficial in many ways.

Kenya’s Safaricom company has led the world in implementing phone-to-phone payments with the M-pesa. All it takes is a text message from the buyer’s phone to the seller’s phone to make a payment. Almost everyone in Kenya has access to mobile phone service and they may draw cash from their accounts at any of the 45,000 independent agents scattered around the country.

A recent Business Week article documents the ubiquity of this payment mechanism and its positive effects in such diverse areas as security, renewable energy, crowdfunding, and economic development . You can read it here: Ten Days in Kenya With No Cash, Only a Phone.

When mobile phone payment systems include complementary currency options, the beneficial effects will be multiplied manifold. — t.h.g.

How do central banks control interest rates?

Question: How do central banks control interest rates?

Answer: By creating counterfeit money.

Of course, they will never admit that. They see their “purchases” of debt instruments, mainly those of governments, as being legitimate. But such purchases violate sound monetary principles, and even their legality is questionable.

The obvious question that must be asked is “Where do central banks get the money with which to buy those debt instruments?” The answer is, they do not “get” the money, they create it–by fiat. This is  their celebrated “quantitative easing,” which is actually currency inflation. The new “high powered money” thus created puts new “reserves” into the banking system, which banks use to multiply their own purchases of government bonds and other assets.

Without this “monetization” of debts by the banking system, newly offered debt instruments, like government bonds, would have to offer higher rates of interest to attract buyers from the general public.

Interest rates on the ever-increasing amounts of sovereign debts can only be kept low by this sort of central bank intervention. As I put it, central banks are the “buyers of last resort” for bonds that cannot be sold at artificially low rates of interest. The chart below show just how desperate the situation has become since the financial crisis of 2008.

Interest Rate Elephant In The Room

 

Initially, however,  in the case of the Fed, the purchases were of “junk” that the banks had created during the real estate bubble. That was the bailout that saved the banks but put the squeeze on people through foreclosures, layoffs, and loss of income on their savings.

As shown in this chart and others I posted previously, all he major central banks are doing the same thing, so foreign exchange rates are not too adversely affected–yet. But keep your eye on Brazil, Russia, India, China, and other countries that show signs that they may not be willing to play along./ t.h.g.

Revolutionary aid project set to spread in Kenya

On the heels of the successful Bangla-Pesa community currency project, the NGO, Koru Kenya has been asked by the government to create similar programs in other poor neighborhoods around Nairobi and Mumbasa. Unfortunately, no significant funding is being provided by the government, so private contributions are being solicited through a Crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo: Fight Poverty in Africa by Redefining Community Development.

This is a revolutionary approach to aid, one that empowers people to sustainably provide for their own needs. I strongly endorse this project and encourage all to make a financial contribution. Even small amounts can make a big difference. –t.h.g.

Income (and wealth) inequality becoming a political issue

At long last, income inequality is becoming a mainstream political issue, thanks in large part to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Thomas Piketty, an obscure professor at the Paris School of Economics.

The English translation of Picketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Centuryhas become a political bombshell especially since Krugman’s review of it appeared in New York Review of Books. Titled, Why We’re in a New Gilded Age, the review highlights Picketty’s research findings and political agenda.

As Krugman describes it, “The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.” And in assessing the book, he calls it “a tour de force of economic modeling, an approach that integrates the analysis of economic growth with that of the distribution of income and wealth. This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.”

Krugman concludes his review with this statement: “Piketty ends Capital in the Twenty-First Century with a call to arms—a call, in particular, for wealth taxes, global if possible, to restrain the growing power of inherited wealth. It’s easy to be cynical about the prospects for anything of the kind. But surely Piketty’s masterly diagnosis of where we are and where we’re heading makes such a thing considerably more likely. So Capital in the Twenty-First Century is an extremely important book on all fronts. Piketty has transformed our economic discourse; we’ll never talk about wealth and inequality the same way we used to.”

Now, Krugman has upped the ante with his April 24 editorial The Pikkety Panic, arguing that “..what’s really new about “Capital” is the way it demolishes that most cherished of conservative myths, the insistence that we’re living in a meritocracy in which great wealth is earned and deserved.” Krugman presents evidence to suggest that “conservatives are terrified” and in a panic to try to refute Pikkety’s inevitable conclusions, but failing to find substantive arguments, they have fallen back on name calling. If you can’t refute the facts, then try to discredit the source.

Summing up, Krugman says,

“Now, the fact that apologists for America’s oligarchs are evidently at a loss for coherent arguments doesn’t mean that they are on the run politically. Money still talks — indeed, thanks in part to the Roberts court, it talks louder than ever. Still, ideas matter too, shaping both how we talk about society and, eventually, what we do. And the Piketty panic shows that the right has run out of ideas.”

If that isn’t enough to make the political pot boil over, another newly published academic study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens finds that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”

Of course, most activists and even ordinary people have known all that, but now that academia has taken notice and begun to present solid scientific evidence, the pressure on politicians to acknowledge these conditions and act on them will build more quickly.

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Qoin launches B2B exchange

Community Currencies in Action (CCIA) has announced the launch of TradeQoin , a business-to-business trade exchange in the Netherlands.

As their website describes it, “TradeQoin is a trading network for SME entrepreneurs to do business with each other and pay with their own digital form of payment: the TradeQoin. Entrepreneurs can use TradeQoin to purchase and sell quality products and services. By selling products and/or services the entrepreneur can earn TradeQoin. These can then be spent on making purchases within the network, which reduces Euro expenditure.”

The video below features members describing the benefits of the exchange.

http://youtu.be/7VuIpFO7zZM

You can read more about it here, http://communitycurrenciesinaction.eu/sme-tradenetwork/

 

Free Community Capital Toolkit

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) is offering a Community Capital Toolkit that can be downloaded free of charge from the BALLE website.

In case you’re not familiar with BALLE, here is a brief description of the BALLE vision and mission from their website:

Within a generation, we envision a global system of human-scale, interconnected local economies that function in harmony with local ecosystems to meet the basic needs of all people, support just and democratic societies, and foster joyful community life.

At the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, BALLE [bawl-EE], our work is focused on creating real prosperity by connecting leaders, spreading solutions that work, and driving investment toward local economies.

BALLE equips entrepreneurs with tools and strategies for local success, and we provide the national forum for the most visionary local economy leaders and funders to connect, build their capacity and innovate. …more…

Toolkit includes: The 20-page Guide to Community Capital
Seven FREE past webinar recordings
Access to a community capital library of resources

You can download it here.

New video describes “A flaw in the monetary system”

This is an excellent video–clear, concise and accurate. If you want to understand why we have recurrent financial crises, dire want amidst plenty, and why debts keep growing faster than ability to pay them, this is a great place to start.–t.h.g.

“The new film ‘A Flaw in the Monetary System?’ depicts in 7 ½ minutes consequences of interest and compound interest in the financial world in descriptive graphics. It illustrates the systematic redistribution of money from the majority to the wealthy.”

See it here: https://vimeo.com/71074210

 

Welcome to Goldman Sachs

I’m a subscriber to Quora.com and receive a weekly digest by email listing things that I’ve expressed an interest in. One item this week consisted of answers to the question: “What are some of the most profound jokes ever?” I found this one below to be especially profound and timely.

Anonymous

5725 votes by Matthew Baldwin, Massimiliano Marangon, Vallabh Anwikar

A manager at Goldman Sachs has this to tell.

Once upon a time in a village, a man announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for Rs 10. The villagers, seeing that there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest and started catching them.

The man bought thousands at Rs 10 and as supply started to diminish, the villagers stopped their effort.

He further announced that he would now buy at Rs 20. This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again.

Soon the supply diminished even further and people started going back to their farms. The offer rate increased to Rs 25 and the supply of monkeys became so little that it was an effort to even see a monkey, let alone catch it!

The man now announced that he would buy monkeys at Rs 50!

However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would now buy on behalf of him.

In the absence of the man, the assistant told the villagers, “Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has collected. I will sell them to you at Rs 35 and when the man returns from the city, you can sell it to him for Rs 50.”

The villagers squeezed up with all their savings and bought all the monkeys.

Then they never saw the man nor his assistant, only monkeys everywhere!

Welcome to ‘Goldman Sachs’!

Hmm, sound familiar?

More profound jokes here.

 

Do Banks Create Money out of Nothing?

One of my correspondents recently referred me to an article and asked for my opinion about it. The article is Creating Money out of Nothing: The History of an Idea, by Mike King, dated April 2012 .

I read the abstract, the conclusions, and part of the body text, but could not bring myself to make a detailed read. “The history of an idea” is not relevant to my interests nor to the debt crisis that plagues civilization. Verbose and tedious, it seems to be an academic exercise that I doubt  will be of interest even to historians.

On the positive side, it did prompt me to write a few words of clarification on the question, words that I think are both pertinent and helpful to those who truly wish to understand the nature of money and the role of banks in today’s world.

The accusation that banks create money out of nothing has, according to King, been made by many famous economists, including Schumpeter, von Mises, and Keynes. I too must admit to having once or twice used that statement as a sort of shorthand criticism of the global money and banking system.

It is surely true that saying that banks make “money out of nothing” is an exaggeration that can be misleading to the uninitiated.

Bank actually create money out of something. The question is, what is that something, and what is wrong with it?

The short answer is that banks create money on the basis of the promises of their borrowers to repay.

Mr. King would have us believe that banks simply take in money from savers and lend it out to borrowers. That is clearly wrong. Even the Federal Reserve, in its own publications, says that,

The actual process of money creation takes place primarily in banks.(1) As noted earlier, checkable liabilities of banks are money. These liabilities are customers’ accounts. They increase when customers deposit currency and checks and when the proceeds of loans made by the banks are credited to borrowers’ accounts.

In the absence of legal reserve requirements, banks can build up deposits by increasing loans and investments so long as they keep enough currency on hand to redeem whatever amounts the holders of deposits want to convert into currency. This unique attribute of the banking business was discovered many centuries ago.–Modern Money Mechanics

As I’ve pointed out in all of my books, banks serve two primary functions. They act as both depositories, reallocating funds from savers to borrowers, and banks of issue that monetize the promises of their borrowers. I’ve explained that in detail in Chapter 1 of my book, Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender, and in Chapter 9 of my latest book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization.

But not all promises provide a proper basis for creating money. As Edward Popp, describes it, banks create both bona-fide and non-bona-fide money. (See Money, Bona Fide or Non-Bona Fide at http://www.reinventingmoney.com/documents/bonafidePopp.pdf).

The vast majority of the non-bona-fide money that banks create, is created on the basis of loans made to national governments (when banks buy government bonds). Further large amounts of non-bona-fide money are created when banks make loans to finance purchases of consumer goods and real estate (see my books for details). This is a violation of the principle that money should be created on the basis of goods and services on the market or soon to arrive there, which includes promises of established producers who are ready, willing and able to sell for money the things they ordinarily offer.

The bottom line remains: the present global, interest-based, debt-money system, is dysfunctional and destructive.

The creation of money on the basis of interest-bearing loans is the cause of the growth imperative, and the creation of non-bona-fide money is the cause of inflation.

If we are to achieve a sustainable society and assure the survival of civilization, we must transcend the present money and banking paradigm and reinvent the exchange process.  – t.h.g.

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Developing a framework for an equitable, harmonious and sustainable global society

The current global mega-crisis is forcing us to confront the flaws and inconsistencies inherent in the present dominant structures of economics, money, and finance. As a result, we have before us a great opportunity to open up a conversation that admits to consideration ideas and proposals that may have heretofore be rejected out of hand as radical, impractical, or utopian, ideas like those put forth by Mahatma Gandhi three quarters of a century ago.

My good friend and scholar, Rajni Bakshi, has recently articulated that possibility and those ideas in her article, Civilizational Gandhi. You can download the full article here. I also recommend her article, Replacing Keynes With Gandhi.

Ms. Bakshi is the Gandhi Peace Fellow at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations based in Mumbai, India.

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