Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Anatomy of Economic Collapse

What we are seeing now is the collapsing of the global economy as a result of the destruction of the global supply chain from policy responses to Covid 19, and the escalation of global prices as a result of Russian responses in oil prices to economic sanctions to its attack on Ukraine. Furthermore, the US Fed decision to raise interest rates cannot be to stifle inflation which is structural in nature and cost push. In consequence, the global economy slows down and domestic unemployment increases.

One way to resolve domestic political issues arising from economic depression is to go for war, as a disruption and a distraction to the voting public. This seems to be a major policy option.

The excuse seems to be to reclaim past glories and, if this the way forward, there will be no end to retracing the relatively long history of this short-lived human civilisation. Global warfare could be a protraction scenario for our world in the foreseeable future.

The major global economic issue is that there is an economic imbalance in international trade whereas China's economic success seems to be measured by its immense economic development in infrastructure, city building and the establishment of its industrial base. This in fact has been the purpose of the long quantitative easing by the US Fed in order to provide the global liquidity for global growth led by IT and the digital economy. There is no doubt that the rise of the Chinese economy is a massive achievement not only for the Chinese but also the world, in terms of global economic development.

But the great economic success of the Chinese is apparently marred by the simple fact that it ended up holding an enormous pile of the US paper money which it is does not seem to be happy about. It could be that the US is trying to entice the Chinese to hold onto its paper currency that the US interest rate is raised.

Instead, the Chinese chooses to divest its foreign reserves into non-US currency holdings. The first alternative asset is gold whose demand and price have soared in the many preceding years. Gold has zero return except as speculation in a rising market. Unless payments can be made in gold, to use gold for payment means the need to sell the gold for other acceptable international currencies, which means that gold price must eventually drop or collapse when there is need to made use of it for international payments.

Hence, the need to create an alternative gold-backed currency, so as to bypass the need to sell gold. To do this, a regional central bank or an alternative global central bank to the IMF is needed. While a new international reserve currency may be created, it may not have a sufficiently large global reach to be popular or readily accepted. Its value needs to be managed. In the limit, if backed by a limit amount of gold, then the supply of that reserve currency is limited and it will limited the growth of the economies supporting that new international currency. And not many countries in the world have the necessary experience to do that well, probably except the incumbents who truly understand the fundamentals of central banking and the integrity that goes with it.

In lieu of a new international reserve currency, regional groupings may agree to trade among themselves their own selected currencies, all except the US dollar.

But this does not mean the US dollar will die. It takes many years to build up confidence and the market systems to trade in the US dollar and the keep it as an international reserve. For one, the issuer of that currency must be able to run the world's largest trade deficit. Which means it must have to capacity to consume a major chunk of global production and get its citizens totally obese and unhealthy. You cannot be the world's greatest producer and the world's greatest consumer. If you are, you will have a  perfect trade balance.

It will be an enormous task for a country with a huge trade surplus to turn around and have a huge trade deficit. It is quite hard to be a global player with yourself as the only player in town.

If the ambition is to be the only global player, then the policy goal must be to conquer the whole world and monopolise (or rather monosopnise) all the resources in the world. You are the only producer and the only consumer. This may seem to be a ridiculous end-game but do not dismiss it, for there are men in the world madder than this.

The global economy is certainly going through a global economic structural change, as China, having experienced forty years of continuous economic growth, thinks it knows how to manage a modern money using economy, as it now tries to dis-engage itself from the US and its corporate influences. Before China can do that, it must first solve its domestic economic problems.

It is a no-brainer to keep printing money, the banks to give out loans indiscriminately, and for developers and businesses to construct brick-and-mortar structures; in other words, to expand only the supply curve or for the whole economy the whole production function. If Keynes were to teach anything in economics, the question is always of demand - whether there is sufficient sustainable demand. For the banks also to lend to buyers of properties and other buildings put the entire burden and liability of the economy on the shoulders of banks, not bankers who are often corrupt and can be dismissed or even executed. When loans cannot be repaid by developers or property buyers on a massive scale, banks are at risk of insolvency. The collapse of banks is the making of economic depression.

If you now want to restrict the printing of your currency by having it backed by a fixed quantity of gold, then you have set yourself up for policy quandary.

The way forward for the world economy is for the price of oil to come down to reasonable levels in a global environment of peace and cooperation. There could be global transformation but only by natural process over the next fifty to a hundred years, not the next five to ten years. There could be a breakup of the global monopoly on the supply of essential components, with multiple players and not just one. The global market may be less integrated but there will be competition and proper choices. The world is big enough for everyone.

In the meantime, we will have to deal with the excesses of the last forty years with implications for the real estate markets and the banks around the world. If these adjustments do not take place, then the countless unemployed and homeless will take matters in their own hands. Peace.


walla said...


A current example is the quadrupling of tariffs on China EVs into the US when the world laments the 1.5 degree Celsius target to arrest global warming will no longer be reached. The point about EVs is the business case to install ubiqitously their charging ports so as to allay the fear of motorists regarding range of use. A booming EV market can create immediate demand so that indigenous EV makers can innovate for some market share today instead of languishing long term to the wallet detriment of both EV buyers and climate fighters.

Likewise the same argument can apply to semiconductors. Banning countries from buying US and European leadership in advanced microchips and their equipment will only reduce their market sizes to those which can afford western prices while increasing the opportunity costs of global technology adoption.

The excuse that advanced technologies for commercial applications can be assimilated into military functions is based on a zero-sum combative approach towards geopolitics. After all, countries, whatever their ideological inclinations, will still be around after as before any conflict which can be made unnecessary by closer engagement and healthier relationships. In their hedging with all their bets, the proponents of 'small-yard high-fence' strategies and zero-sum supremacy never answered "so, what's next?". And in trying to create 'sputnik moments' to ramp up indigenous interest to make up from previous neglects but at final expense of globally-expanded conflict is unwise when the world is already globally integrated down to peoples-to-peoples levels let alone parts ecosystems.

Fifth, Asia is now in an arms race towards a war of machines, basically using drones and short-range highspeed missiles. Soon, AI will be embedded. But cultures and thus big-data configurations are different, the risk of an AI system in a military excursion going rogue will render any guard-rail algorithm superfluous. A spark in one place can asymmetrically trigger an engulfment in another leading to responses where none is preplanned. In this, the US continues to think that so long as any conflict takes place in Asia, the pendulum will swing back from east to west in the centre of gravity of economic growth but it fails to acknowledge the west only has 12% of the world's population - and its notion of 'human rights' must statistically apply to economic wellbeing of the 88% left behind after colonialism and destruction.

That eclipses the present paradox of wanting to disengage militarily but underneath which the supply of arms, installation of missile batteries and building of battle bases to vice-grip China's sovereignty whilst blaming her a'la "friend of my enemy is my enemy" for Ukraine slyly equated with Taiwan and HK.

walla said...


Lastly, it was a surprise to most economists how US equity had played out parallel to bonds when many had expected one to be the anti-matter to the other as matter. Against conventional wisdom, the popularity of one had risen but the other didn't fall.

If only we locally have had this outlier market behavior, it might have alleviated our financial situation and the present tepid retail market. Unlike China whose downs and ups are measured in more than decades, we don't have the luxury of time to start reinventing ourselves by laying a stronger pro-growth foundation beyond microchip assembling and testing.

Meanwhile, China hasn't avalanched more incentives to break her property market deadlock which could mean she has calculated for that sector to self-heal by the process of natural attrition of exposed players whilst she embarks on total factor productivity and export-oriented manufacturing to include her SOEs and her tier-two cities.

And, if eyes are tired: