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They grind exceeding small

By Owen Paine on Saturday March 27, 2010 03:09 PM

You always like to find an edge where the fabric holding us all in our "one big world" rips apart easily, revealing the scam under the blanket-toss, so to speak. Here's one deluded soul not quite breaking all the way through:

"To be honest, sometimes I feel that I’ve spent most of my adult life knocking down the same misunderstanding, over and over again. I wrote about more or less the same issue more than 20 years ago:

There is a widespread view that world payments imbalances can be remedied through increased demand in surplus countries and reduced demand in deficit countries, without any need for real exchange rate changes. In fact shifts in demand and real exchange rate adjustment are necessary complements, not substitutes."

That's a reaction to Steve Roach -- bigtime bankers' "economist" -- and his Rx for the presently imbalanced global trade and finance system. Seems Steve is opposed to currency adjustments; instead he prescribes some carefully calibrated differential national rates of expansion... Meaning? Well, as an example: 'keep up the stagnation here in Norte America and get back to boomin' over there China way.'

Intended result: the bilateral trade gap doesn't explode again, leading to -- what else -- pleb cries to uncle for some "goddam protection, fer chrissake, they're killin' us here, killin' us!"

Dr Roach is really just pulling the old Bretton Woods remedy bottles down off the shelf. Way back when -- despite their obvious brutality -- they were at least plausibly "appropriate". In a fixed exchange regime like the globe had for the first 26 years after WWII, if you want to keep the fix in fixed exchange you try absolutely everything before you adjust your rate. Almost "euro zone for everyone," you might say. (Why Bretton Woods blew up is another story, one with Yankee gold in its lining, in fact.)

Why that old paradigm now? Haven't we escaped that confounded booby trap of a system, with all it's expansion- and prosperity-choking bits and bridles? Why act as if the harness is still in place? We got a flexible system today, and have had it for over 35 years, and we know that forex flex is great for macro jobs management.

Look what a good strategic devaluation did for Sweden in the 90's, after a wickedly deep financial crisis threatened to derail the prized Swedish social model. Instead of swallowing hard, like Ireland is doing, Sweden devalued -- massively. Result: a fast robust recovery:

"... the Swedish share of exports in gross domestic product rose from about 27 per cent to 52 per cent today. Previously, that share moved in the range of 20 to 30 per cent. In the past four years alone, this ratio went up by almost 10 percentage points.

The reason for this tectonic structural shift lies almost entirely in the real devaluation of the krona.... After Sweden abandoned the peg against the ecu, the former European basket currency, in 1992, the krona’s effective real exchange rate depreciated by 30.7 per cent compared with today. The real devaluation of the krona provided Swedish export industries – electronics, heavy engineering, cars and trucks, forestry products, among others – with an invaluable boost to their competitiveness. The renaissance of Swedish manufacturing industry is not a tribute to the quality of Swedish management, as it is sometimes claimed in Sweden. It is a real devaluation story first and foremost."

Imagine if Sweden had to pull that off with the limitations that say. Portugal or Ireland face today. Yup, job drought and credit crunch for Inga here:

... so then why inflict needless punishment on the millions out there just like her -- well, maybe not quite like her -- if a simple Swedish adjustment would set the whole ball o' wax back on the prosperity track?

Let 'cui bono' be your guide. There are folks that just happen to like the present pseudo-fixed setup just fine.

Take a look at what are called purchasing power parity(PPP) tables to lay it all out in numbers. These tables compare, at existing exchange rates, one universal basket of products across currencies. After a little grouping and comparing you realize there's an astonishingly clear pattern here, a systematic inter-hemispheric forex tilt; not just a few anomalies, but a full set of exchange rates permanently off kilter in the same way.

Using PPP comparisons, you find -- and this persists through time -- north currencies buy more of the indexed products at existing exchange rates. That is: the dollar at the moment exchanges for 12.5 Mexican pesos. So you's expect that 12.5 pesos would buy about as much rice, or electricity, or soap, as one dollar, right?

Wrong. In fact 12.5 pesos buy a Mexican less soap or whatever than a dollar buys an Amurrican. And this is not a fluky, transitory affair, a matter of hysteresis or stickiness. It's permanent and institutionalized.

The great political economist David Ricardo -- father of us all, in some respects -- long ago was forced to assume no tilt could exist, in order to convince his countrymen to open their harbors to unrestricted foreign trade. Any tilt would automatically disappear. If 12.5 pesos today buys less soap than a dollar, then the exchange rate has to change tomorrow and the peso has to drop relative to the dollar.

If Ricardo faced today's world market he'd have to assume reality away. So what keeps these anomalies in place?

Back to our cui bono: what if that systematic north/south tilt produces vast profits for cross hemisphere traders -- profits that come in and apparently keep on coming in and coming in so long as the tilt shall last. The correction Ricardo made instantaneous is here postponed indefinitely.

Mr PAINE, for The People: At this point, your honor, may I call the cross border corporations to the stand?

[The DEFENDANTS are sworn]

Mr PAINE: Gentlemen, I draw your attention to the present reality outside this courtroom. Is it not true that out there, humble smurf-like Americans today face a brutal bonesnapping nightmare, an endless season of misery where job dearth and debt are mocked by a willful credit drought? And sirs, is it not also true that for you clever grasping souls this present utterly contrived stagnation is well... you know... from where you sit... a most necessary and indeed salutary part of the best of all possible games on the planet?

The DEFENDANTS: You don't understand... it's not that simple --

Mr PAINE: A simple yes or no will suffice.

The DEFENDANTS: Err... ummm... yes.

Crowd grows restless, there is the sound of the gavel as we fade to black....

* * * * *

We began with a quote from that national treasure in a pocket protector, Paul Krugman. Once more, with feeling:
"There is a widespread view that world payments imbalances can be remedied through increased demand in surplus countries and reduced demand in deficit countries, without any need for real exchange rate changes. In fact shifts in demand and real exchange rate adjustment are necessary complements, not substitutes."
Yet -- amazing! --
"Sometimes I feel that I’ve spent most of my adult life knocking down the same misunderstanding, over and over again."
Despite Krug's efforts to enlighten them, guys like ole Steve Roach here appear to dwell in the dark ages of the science. How odd.

Krug never wonders whether this might be a mask Roach wears. With all his brightness and probing self-confident merit-badge boy wonder's curiosity, Krugman just can't quite poke his finger all the way through the seam here, and ask, Cui bono?

So he can't figure out why this nonsense persists: Why don't they grasp what's at stake? Why this persistent stubborn -- willful almost -- inability to see the need for currency devaluation and revaluation? Why, how else can you restore global trade balance? Why do those overpaid monkeys, those goddam PTB quack Merlins, even after all the formal models we've built to the contrary these last 35 years -- why why why do they still crave a more or less Bretton Woods-y straitjacket(*)?

Unlike Paul, we dumbclucks here at SMBIVA -- some of us at least -- know why they persist in their know-nothingness. O Paul! Behold the secret motor of globalization, the gigantic hypergizmological global money market casino. Behold the forex rigs imperious that sustain the fabulous transoceanic profit slurry, as it runsmiraculously and perpetually uphill from the economic south to the economic north.

* * * * *

To get a gander at the Atlas under this apparatus, imagine that post war international trade operated a two track game. On one track. the system was building one big market earth by knocking down all sorts of official trade barriers. But on another track just as fast as the old state-erected barriers came down, the MNCs, by way of various shadowy moves, scooped up the proceeds that formerly would have gone into tariff revenue and higher prices and protected domestic firms' profits. Forex fiddlin' played a star role in facilitating this stealthy extraction by the MNCs, and gave us a rigid irrational global welfare-reducing non-adjusting devil's own brew of exchange rates -- the apparently paradoxical prize product of all the free-trade one-worldism ballyhoo.

It's been operating in one way or another ever since Clement Attlee had his family jewels removed in '46, and give or take a few easy topological contortions, it still looks today pretty much as it did back then.

Oh there's more ways than this to peel the world, of course; many, many more ways; and the MNCs use 'em all. But this gimmick here, the big tilt at the main tables, is the deepest chamber in the soul of market earth.


(*) Without, of course, the dollar tie to gold, Nixon the Great and Terrible be praised.

Comments (50)


a hasten to add the dollar buys more in mexico then it does in the us
ie the peso might need to be at say 8 to the dollar to reach cross border mutual parity pricing

this gets complex till yoy get the hang of it

just think the exchange rate is supposed to make prices comparable in both countries in either currency


of course we mean fob mexico city or newark new jersey of course
trans port handling and storage costs
may or may not be fully included
but now we're into price discrimination
by markets maybe reinforced by
non tariff trade barriers

recall the drug cost differences between ontario and michigan


nice. excellent post op

I don't think I have much to add, besides a mugshot of the vile Stephen Roach:


I'm pretty sure that he is the number one guy I would like to punch in the face repeatedly.


that second pic was snapped just after super Al pasted him one
for not saying grace before their two martini lunch

--- yes sueper Al has a dual identity thing goin'
mild mannered rustic truck farmer
and manhattan hot head currency trader---

Al Schumann:

Bob, I take back every nice thing I said about your Chomsky cardigan exegesis. I no longer find it explicative. Although I will admit, grudgingly, to continued delight in the thought of a walk-in closet full of blood-cardigans.

a killer for sure, op!

I'll volunteer to take care of Inga.


ox that was inga in 94

this is inga


want to reconsider ???

i think i've upheld te antient order of male chauvinist pigs quite well all by myself
---occasional unsolicited assists by
dacron mike fluggle-horn aside ---

no need to join the site sty oxy

keep our vanishing few lady visitors
some room for gender respect
i must say
the father of us all monsignior smiff
rector of our lady of perpetual hog wallow
sets a sterling example for us all
of scrupulous sensitivity
to the niceties of inter gender dialogue


what think u of my atlas ????


I was wondering who would take public notice of Atlas first. He's an editorial contribution, not OP's fault. I figured Inga needed some balance.

op, I think Nathaniel Branden wants him to shrug.

Hillary Permalink | Comments (0):

Couldn't find one with glasses, but this one's for Ox.


Sorry Al. Owen provoked me. If it's any consolation, I'm going to go ahead and pick some Wall Street alter-egos for the rest of the SMBIVA crew:



Who's mine?


OK, enough google image sifting for me.

More and more I'm coming to the view that almost every serious economic problem has been rooted in bad exchange rate regimes (the GD, Latin American "debt" crises, AFC, GFC).

op, I'm wondering what you favor as an overall solution?

I quite like floating exchange rates, but it's a fuzzy standard. What sort of rules re: CB operations would be needed to ensure that "floating" currencies actually float? Should they be forced to rely solely on the interest rate to affect the exchange rate (as in Canada)?

On the other side, there's the back-to-Bretton Woods SDR/global reserve currency. I'm pretty skeptical of that idea. The Chinese blatantly just want the IMF to issue reserve currency and bonds so that instead of US Treasuries they will be able to buy IMF debt, spreading the savings glut burden across all trading partners. I think that you would need some sort hard limits on surpluses and deficits, like Keynes originally proposed, but I highly doubt that they would be established.


Those cufflinks! The horror!

Hillary... Gustav Klimt for the win? Might be!

Hillary | Permalink | Comment(0):

staff with its last lady reader. L to R: mjs, super Al, last lady reader, op.

As usual, op gets the girl. (At least Al's human.)


correction FIRST lady "reader "!!!!

that was snapped long ago
even before Al landed that hitch
on the touring company of chorus line

fran btw was FINE !!!!
-- in the spiritual sense --

lost a little top hair since then
and mjs
i see was wearing his celtic skull wig
(thought it made him hilarious)
the father after ordination
need less to say
never wore it again

i'm told by his friends
mjs lets his long brunette locks
flow like a mountain rill
even when sailing he cuts
a most masculine figure
for a pastor of pink souls


"... what you favor as an overall solution?"

i think keynes had it about right

a global source of credit
using a reserve currency paper gold
that would be legal tender
to all central banks
in addition i'd settle for a surplus penalty
that leveled the trading plane

the ppp calculation is only a rough way to determine how much super profit a trans nat can make off existing fiddling gambits

the whole subject deserves
a decent transparent
stages of complexity
expositor model

muliti national
multi currency zoned
ricardian (labor as only productive factor PF )
an H/O version with 2 to n PFs

traded and non traded products
credit flows reserves
two tiered...real and financial

inter market costs
(transport etc)
border barriers
tariffs etc
the existence of international price dispersion
product differentiation
and of course all built around
profit max trans border firms
monopoly oligopoly structures
all the panoply of market imperfections
and state razzle dazzle

a real toy train version of "market earth"
using changing technologies of course
and unpenetrated partial penetrated
national markets for n products
and credit types


we build thess
toy worlds
by assembling and inter connecting
of a batch of analytically coherent
-- n models => one big system of models ---

the point is not to
simply understand these
of course
but to change them
over time
deepen them
as train sets used to self-complicate
and intricate themselves
in the golden age of toy train clubs

a toy market earth club
on ...the inter net


"i think keynes had it about right

a global source of credit
using a reserve currency paper gold
that would be legal tender
to all central banks
in addition i'd settle for a surplus penalty
that leveled the trading plane"

would they have hard pegs to the reserve currency, as in Bretton Woods?

I still don't like the idea of pegged exchange rates. They strike me as almost always resulting in a sort of price level indeterminancy, same as a fixed interest rate (w/o some sort of fiscal reaction function). Do you envision the forex rates being repegged every few months or something, like how interest rates are now managed?


MJS, I thought you might get a kick out of those. as if the bespoke pinstripe suit & french cuffs combo wasn't over the top already.

I wonder what's actually on them. his prep school coat of arms? seal of the ancient order of lizard people?


the flex in rates out to be an algorithm
attached to the same data feed
as surplus penalty algorithm

the flex is in this case top down
but pro deficit trader

the world paper gold would flaot
why not ??

this fear of exchange rate uncertainty has more to do with spec mobs roaming about unchecked in my estimation
but now we head into deeper waters

mjs wants me to blue print how the tilt is preserved
beside by cb overt fiddles

i've suggested to him a sponayneous emergent tilt is "in " the very structure of the global hi fi system and its markets

at this point call that

a conjecture


"price level indeterminancy"
of course that becomes the adjustment mechanism
and if it flashes for the home team
a change inrelative price level

watch out !!!

deval is the fast and better route
to disinflation
--let alone actuall below zero disinflation
ie deflation

as paul k here
and most other
" decent "sparks
of the ivy inter-trade econ con biz
know quite well

keynes on the gold standard
might as well have been talking about
fixed rate systems
he wasn't because he suffered under the illusion the uk
had bad lerner marshall elastcity

operating with incomplete model in his head
so the assumption goes anyway


in these matters we neeed to always think in terms of

pq= y
where if y is fixed at say a
we get a hyperbolic function
with an infinite number of possible pairs of p's and q's
the feasible range of solutions
of course is a small fraction of that
but still the amount of adjustment that is p and not q varies
and since we hope its all p on the down side and all q on the upside
to find the spontaneous adjustments needed to close gaps
for the deficit trader are often mostly q on the down side and for the surplus trader
mostly p on the up side


why so bleak ??

well the surplus trader is usually --not china of course--
at full capacity or nearly so already
and the deficit trader is prolly already operating below capacity

now suggest the surplus outfit
use its monetary and fiscal macro levers
to up effective demand and
the deficit outfit cut effective demand

why fight an oil fire with water


china of course can draw on its vast pool of surplus labor power

and get some real super fine q out of
macro thrust
where as we have to add furher misery to misery
awaiting the recovery of our export markets whilst allowing general effective demand
restraint to hold us back

the reason the china boom looksgreat to the MNCs ??

with the tilt still intact they can buy into that boom cheaply

recall a tilt allows the high side trader
to both import the counter part low traders
products more cheaply and buy up the low traders domestic capacity more cheaply too
and participate in the low siders domestic boom

i note doleful GM is booming in china these days


"he flex in rates out to be an algorithm
attached to the same data feed
as surplus penalty algorithm

the flex is in this case top down
but pro deficit trader

the world paper gold would flaot
why not ??

this fear of exchange rate uncertainty has more to do with spec mobs roaming about unchecked in my estimation
but now we head into deeper waters"

hot money is a problem under both systems, no? Wasn't that why capital controls were required under BW?

the sketch doesn't sound bad. If you had a system with automatic adjustment (continuous?) and automatic penalties on surpluses I could see it working. It would be difficult to get off the ground though.

To rewind a little bit: why is it even necessary to have a reserve currency? Isn't it just an leftover idee fixe from the gold standard era?


Isn't a reserve currency pretty essential to some of the more nebuluous ways of making money on money? Meaning, wouldn't eliminating reserve currency make it harder for people to create and use hypothecated forms of money-value manipulation?


i think you have one hand on a tigers back here oxy
great question
impossibly hard to answer reasonably
so to cut the knot

"...eliminating reserve currency (wouldn't )make it harder for people to create and use hypothecated forms of money-value manipulation?"

the entire phantasm of notional values
that project up from and dance around
the real economy
has so many mirrorings and other methods of topological manipulations and
ad hoc multiplications
getting rid of sovereign reserves
wouldn't end what i suspect you'd like to end
or for that matter
even reduce it

it would be like thinking you could fire
the revolver in that fun house hall of mirrors scene in lady from shanghai
and hit your real target every
time you fired
when even one miss
shatters the whole illusion


Hah! Nice visual imagery!

So the idea that trouble for (i.e.) Exxon-Mobil due to foreign oil bourses moving from USD-basis to Euro-basis, that's a smokescreen and not a real problem for the USD-based petro-profiteers?

Am I confusing things?


Dean Baker isn't exactly honest or well-informed. Anyone who spends time performing metaphoric "oral favors" for The Donkle is especially un-trustworthy, but supremely so when the Fed Govt is on Donkeybot lockdown.

I'm sure he's valuable for something other than being a target for my scorn, but I'm still unclear on what that other thing might be.


you're joking, right?


I thought that the problem associated with the move from dollar denominated trade to euro denominated trade, etc. was not a problem for the commodities players or prices but a problem for the US Treasury's favorite funding mechanism, borrowing from foreigners.

Junior high level econ maybe, but still right, huh?

Did I get this from M. Hudson or P. C. Robert's.

Why would I joke about Dean Baker? I see no humor in that clown's offerings.

If I come to the bazaar looking for a gift for Mangan's sister, and I've got seashells and acorns to trade, and the booth-operators don't give a care for seashells or acorns, am I not out of luck, and going home with an Araby-broken heart?



I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and just assume that you are trolling.

Cluster's Stalker:

Got it in one, bob!

Oh yes. Those who do not worship Dean Baker's manifold insights into keeping The Donkle empowered through "economics," they are merely trolls.

Brilliant stuff!


Yes, The American Prospect is really advancing the truth, and not just another pro-consumerist, pro-American Business perspective.


In such a universe, I would imagine Amber Milgram nearing the status of saint in the church of Donklenomics.

Perhaps we can put this in Deano's Corner though...


...but doing so is like saying passing health care reform is great because it pissed off the teabaggers. Simply creating disagreement from The Fat Little Krug(gerrand) doesn't make Baker instantly authoritative or correct.

Oh boy, he "predicted" a recession from a housing bubble?

That required a PhD in Econ from Michigan?

"Gosh, Charles! Isn't the emperor's new robing beautiful! So luxurious!"

"I dunno, Debbie the Donkey... Emperor Deano looks naked to me."


you missed the "benefit of the doubt" part

Troll was a generous assessment, but you seem determined to prove that you are actually a moron.

You're quite sure of your "proofs," eh?

"You are a MORON because...


"...because I say so!"

Yes, anyone who doesn't worship Dean Baker clearly is a troll. There is NO room for people who find Baker disagreeable. NONE. All who read here must salute, honor and pray to Baker -- in that order! Gainsayers will be branded as TROLLS! This is the word of the bob!

Next up:

"bob" accuses me of stumping for The Fat Little Krug(gerrand) because I criticize Naked Emperor Deano!

Cluster's Stalker:

You are becoming your own one man troll storm. Congrats!


"the dollar at the moment exchanges for 12.5 Mexican pesos. So you's expect that 12.5 pesos would buy about as much rice, or electricity, or soap, as one dollar, right?

Wrong. "

in fact 12.5 pesos buys more soap or whatever in mexico than a dollar buys in Amurrica.

Hands down, Apple's app store wins by a mile. It's a huge selection of all sorts of apps vs a rather sad selection of a handful for Zune. Microsoft has plans, especially in the realm of games, but I'm not sure I'd want to bet on the future if this aspect is important to you. The iPod is a much better choice in that case.

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