BoJ NEGATIVE RATES BOMBSHELL: Why this will look to many people like desperation

crashplane

Assume crash positions

Everything and everyone holding Bank of Japan bonds woke up this morning to the news that as from here on, they’re paying money for the privilege of buying and holding public debt bonds or keeping other deposits at the Bank.

That’s how bonkers things have become. But forgetting the lunacy of asking people to pay for the privilege of lending money to you – yes, even without that – the shock move being described this morning in the West as “risky” will, it seems to me, evoke some of the stuff the BoJ fantasises about…but also, all the stuff they have nightmares about.

Atypically compared to any Western country, Japanese citizens have traditionally held a lot of Japanese debt. But since the last time the BoJ pulled this stunt (September 2014) they’ve been massively overtaken by…..oh yes, the Bank of Japan. It seems to me obvious that the 20% share of T-Bills owned by the Bank will zoom upwards. Insurance companies own about 19%, financial institutions 13%, and overseas investors (as ever) quite low at around 8%.

So far, the few people awake I can talk to have as many theories per minute as they have heartbeats, but I’m sticking to the commonsense line.

What’s happening here – surely – is that the Central Bank is now lending money directly to the Japanese Treasury and all at a loss.

Can this really be a very clever idea? Well, the Government borrows free money (so it might cut consumer taxes to encourage reflation) and the Yen effectively devalues….which it already has in Asian trading….and to pay for all this, the BoJ prints more money which produces the 2% inflation that Abenomics desires.

Sooooo, consumption grows, exports increase and deflation is reversed. Excellent.

Um, not really.

Generally, what this represents is yet more financial pointyheads firmly of the belief that monetarist sleight of hand is a solution to economic problems. I don’t care what anyone says, printing money and entering a potential spiral is never a good idea.

Then there is the size of Japan’s public debt. It is, as the euphemists remark on ‘an upward path’, which is not a good direction:

japdebt

It stood two years ago at 230%. The IMF estimates it is now 250%, and last July 23, the Lagarnauts declared the debt to be ‘unsustainable’. Japan has by far the highest debt ratio of any developed nation – Greek debt stands at around 190%, but quite a bit of that is the result of “help” from the Troika. Japan managed its figure without any outside help at all.

A third consideration is our old friend the zero sum game. A cheaper Yen has been achieved, and I will gladly be a candidate for monkey’s uncle if this doesn’t produce a retaliation from Beijing and others by return of post.

Now this is where the broader ripples might get tricky, in the light of late of a deliberately weakened dollar. In total, some 46% of Japanese T-Bills are owned by commercial and public institutions there….not counting the insurance companies, who similary need to make a turn on the money. As the BoJ hoovers up this costly lending (or income from government borrowing, depending on how mad you are) a good two-thirds of the money could easily fly to safety…..aka, the US Treasury – and that means the potential for negative yields there plus a strengthening Dollar.

What then? Sounds to me like Janet Yellen has a new place to sit in between the rock and the hard place. I think one might call it a spike….but that means a restrengthening Dollar. My initial thought is that it will give the US Fed a ready-made excuse to reverse the December rate-rise.

Last but not least, although very few observers saw this coming, as I wrote earlier this is not a new policy: it is an old policy applied to the failure of the one of the worst ideas of all time, Quantitative Easing. It looks and feels like Abenomics, having reached the end of the road, is going round in circles.

That means more doubts about central bank efficacy and new ideas. Assume more turbulence.

56 thoughts on “BoJ NEGATIVE RATES BOMBSHELL: Why this will look to many people like desperation

  1. Which way is up?

    Is today’s Capitalism upside-down?

    40 years ago most economists and almost everyone else believed the economy was demand driven and the system naturally trickled up.

    Now most economists and almost everyone else believes the economy is supply driven and the system naturally trickles down.
    Economics has been turned upside down in the last 40 years.

    All the Central Bank stimulus programs have been Neo-Keynesian, in line with the new economics. The money is pushed into the top of the economic pyramid, the banks, and according to the new economics it should trickle down.

    What we have seen is that the money stays at the top inflating asset bubbles in stocks, fine art, classic cars and top end property.

    The old economics looks as though it was right all along.

    Keynes and the old economics suggested spending on infra-structure projects to create jobs and wages which will be spent into the economy and trickle up.

    When the Western consumer went on life support in 2008, China used Keynesian stimulus to keep its economy going through infra-structure spending and job creation. Unfortunately, it has reached max. debt before the Western consumer has recovered.

    The West has done totally the wrong thing in the intervening eight years and just blown asset bubbles rather than helping its consumer base recover.

    After Keynesian stimulus you have new infra-structure that you can hopefully use in the future.

    After Neo-Keynesian stimulus the asset bubbles burst and you have a deflation problem on your hands.

    If you are using upside-down economics, you have rendered yourself incapable of finding a solution that works.

    Businessmen believe in the new upside-down economics when it comes to keeping all the rewards for themselves and their shareholders whilst constantly cutting jobs and leaving wages stagnant.

    Businessmen believe in the old economics when it comes to investment and won’t invest until demand rises.

    What can we do to fix Greece?
    Job cuts in the public sector; wage cuts in the public sector; reducing pensions and other austerity measures.

    Put it though the lens of the old economics and you can see you are reducing demand in the economy.

    The old economics would suggest raising taxes on those that can consume no more to balance the budget.

    Upside-down economics at work:

    When South America was in trouble the World Bank stepped in and offered loans as long as they reformed their economies with less public spending, austerity and privatising previously public companies.

    It was a disaster.

    In the Asian Crisis in 1998 the IMF stepped in and offered loans as long as they reformed their economies with less public spending, austerity and privatising previously public companies.

    It was a disaster.

    When Greece got into trouble recently the IMF stepped in and offered loans as long as they reformed their economies with less public spending, austerity and privatising previously public companies.

    It was a disaster.

    The EU has applied the same prescription to Spain, Italy and Portugal.
    It didn’t work.

    Upside-down economics gives all the wrong answers.

    Upside-down economics in action:

    1920s/2000s – high inequality, high banker pay, low regulation, low taxes for the wealthy, robber barons (CEOs), reckless bankers, globalisation phase

    1929/2008 – Wall Street crash

    1930s/2010s – Global recession, currency wars, rising nationalism and extremism

    The 1st time, before Keynes had learnt from past mistakes.
    The 2nd time, after we had forgotten what Keynes had learnt from past mistakes.

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  2. There is one aspect that has been overlooked in this interesting post, and that is the fact that Japan has world-beating technology. Now the Japanese are not your inventive kind of person, but once they’ve got hold of an idea – and the Americans are so easily duped that they literally give the stuff away – the Japanese can improve it.

    I was informed that it is Ducatti, the motorcycle producer, who use their own engine-management systems. I am unaware of any other manufacturer who does not use Japanese systems*. The point is that these ‘producer parts’ as they are known in the trade are not easy to make, and the Japanese do a very good job of making them. Not only that, unlike the US, they do not treat the world as a captive market and force up the price: but this re-inforces JW’s point about Japanese styles of investment.

    Everybody’s investing in everybody else.

    And it is a merry go round! Only it is the kind of merry go round that actually works. It’s not like the American system where the merry go round turns from the Fed to the government and back to the banks again… it has more of the quality of the German town improvement initiatives where a little money was put into the building sector and the resulting cream (in terms of house price rises) was skimmed off by the government who got money from their banks! But this is anathema to a democracy like America… where everybody believes in trickle down for the few, rather than the reality of trickle up for the many.

    As for the Japanese investors who now have to pay for the bonds they hold, this is Japan, not America. The Japanese have a culture that is quintessentially different from the Anglo-Saxon “make your profits by ripping the colonies apart” style of economics. The Japanese corporation will not be very happy to pay the money over, but will do so in order to have a government at all – rather than the alternative offered by the US: chaos and warfare.

    And for you who are reading this post – and these comments – on your smartphone, remember that the majority of the expensive components are Japanese. If the touch screen’s any good, it’ll be Japanese; if the semiconductors are any good, (including Cambridge’s ARM microprocessors), they’ll be based on the only decent silicon wafers available, which are Japanese. In short, Japan has driven its tentacles into every conceivable industry in the world.

    Only as JW notes, Japan has a few problems. But they aren’t Anglo-Saxon problems, that doesn’t make them any less of a problem though. It only means you can’t treat the problem with Anglo-Saxon economic thinking. The Japanese are in a mess of their own making, and need their own thinking to crawl out from underneath it. It’s the kind of thing the Brits are good at, when they speak the lingo well enough for their dreams to be in that language: that’s when they understand the culture well enough to help.

    *(Which includes VW of course, who use the systems that every other car maker in the world does… well, that isn’t mentioned in the media where VW is harangued.)

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  3. Sound Of The Suburbs

    All the Central Bank stimulus programs have been Neo-Keynesian, in line with the new economics. The money is pushed into the top of the economic pyramid, the banks, and according to the new economics it should trickle down.

    That new economics is nothing more than the old fear-driven economics that led the UK of the 1890s to see Germany as a threat. The result was Britain winning the war, but losing their economy. The funding of British banks has achieved much the same end.

    Trickle up economics requires a very different approach: it’s what the German government did with the atrociously delapidated housing stock of the DDR. They didn’t tell the banks “okay, lend money on them as if they were decent properties” (which is what the Americans did, and is called ‘the easy way out’) – the Germans, being German, took a measured risk and invested in small building firms to restore these properties.

    It worked very well until the pigeons came home to roost in Wall Street in 2008 – and the resulting housing slump in Germany led to a few bad banks. They’d not have been bad banks if the properties had retained their value which they would have done had the Americans not renaged on their promises. But that’s America for you, and that’s Germany for you. The one has the power but no sense, the other has the sense but no power.

    I know which I’d choose, any day.

    This was my version of the full story, in as much as I understood it.

    https://gemmasponderings.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/the-german-stadtsanierung/

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  4. Gemma:

    Ducati use both Siemens and Mitsubishi ECUs, they were plagued by electrical problems for years when using homegrown parts; they are a lovely ride but definitely high maintenance and not for the faint hearted.

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  5. Hieronimusb, the last flag falls, eh? And I wonder how many Japanese widgets are in that Siemens setup?

    After all, Liebherr are just solid German engineering – with ultra-sensitive Japanese control systems ;)

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  6. KFC

    yet oil continues to rise…Anybody have an explanation?

    Perhaps the Americans ran out of money to push the price down using derivatives? Market manipulations isn’t cheap, you know. One of the costs has been the Baltic Dry Index… I wonder if the Americans weren’t looking at the right commodities to shaft?

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  7. This isnt desperation, in that its a rash or unexpected change of direction, its been a long time coming and its been widely telegraphed.
    Its certainly a dark signal.

    “A third consideration is our old friend the zero sum game. A cheaper Yen has been achieved, and I will gladly be a candidate for monkey’s uncle if this doesn’t produce a retaliation from Beijing and others by return of post.”

    China is pinned.
    Its new “trade weighted exchange rate” is the gospel truth of the current heads, they have spent several hundreds of billions of dollars defending the new peg, and have repeatedly said that this is the unbreakable unchangeable policy of the new china.
    It cant follow Japan down, and infact, the Dollar is likely to drag it up.

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  8. I posted recently that the week to determine the direction of investments will be w/c 8th february.
    The omens are now pointing north.

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  9. Jamboree – I was at Davos myself. Let’s be open about this,it was agreed that if we’re all going to fall off our horses then we should be at full tilt gallop, and not just a timid trot.

    Gemma – you’re on form today…;-) Nicely stoked.

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  10. Thankyou, Ricoh.

    Only, isn’t there more sensible things one can do with an economy than try to fall off it at the gallop? Surely the point is to achieve an end, rather than a broken arm.

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  11. @S of the S and Gemma

    Both excellent comments. Thank you.

    BTW, I’m now going to have to Youtube The Members. Same old boring Sunday morning…

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  12. The world is trialling set incomes(Denmark) negative rates(Japan) bailin (Cyprus) & ultra Austerity (Greece) & QE (Austrian/Portuguese variety) worldwide & also being muted helicopter money & many other experiments at local levels throughout the world,they’re looking to see if or what protects all there assets but stabilises the worlds markets,only rebalance can achieve that,that could be achieved but it would mean the wiping out of asset values & bankruptcy for most of those who have them !
    They fear socialism because it will appear to work has it does rebalance the economy only to force ahead & destabilise the economy from lack of private enterprise! but people know about socialism & the alternative has to be found & seem to work for them to remain in a position of influence if not actual power,to counter socialism,at the moment if it collapsed capitalism is so toxic(there own doing) that socialism or worse will be the choice of the people(by revolution most likely),i don’t think they want what is happening,but neither can they seem to want to admit it & oppression for them is seen has the best course of action,but even that can’t be maintained by flat earth economics

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  13. “Last but not least, although very few observers saw this coming, as I wrote earlier this is not a new policy: it is an old policy applied to the failure of the one of the worst ideas of all time, Quantitative Easing. It looks and feels like Abenomics, having reached the end of the road, is going round in circles.”

    S.S.does not agree?

    “So Japan’s hit almost exactly 2% inflation on Japanese produced goods and services, after decades of steady 1% deflation. Unemployment has fallen to a multi-decade low. Labor force participation is soaring. And yet we are to believe that Abenomics has failed . . . ”
    http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=31355#comments

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  14. The only rational explanation for all this is that the pointy heads are away with the faeries and, just like all entanglements with the little people, it will end in tears.

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  15. Ghost

    They fear socialism because it will appear to work has it does rebalance the economy only to force ahead & destabilise the economy from lack of private enterprise!

    Look no further than Germany for an economy that has private enterprise, as well as the joys of socialist style regulations (which the corporations and banks detest). It does work, for all the Media onslaught on Germany, the German leadership and German corporations. Germany is a little like Japan, where as Postkey mentions, Abenomics “isn’t” working… well, it only doesn’t work if you use the standard-issue Anglo-Saxon econmomic ‘spectacles’ to look through.

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  16. But you see Gemma mein kleiner Schnitzel, ze Germans sind immer ze rules obeyink and auch ze orders at all times und so ist alles in Ordnung gemacht.

    It’s not that Abenomics isn’t working: it’s that it is and always was a fake. Monetary policy on steroids has never revived a single economy in existence, ever.

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  17. Trt
    Your name is a bit of a giveaway. China has an internal/external currency policy. Of course they can follow Japen down….it’s what they want to do.

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  18. oil is a deadcat bounce based on “less supply”, the trouble being that analysts can’t add up. There is still no demand for it. It is being temporarily directionalised by the milkers…purely for profit.

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  19. More creative solutions will eventually arise. The options could eventually be either war or a form of Peoples QE where the state puts £x in everyone’s bank account plus increased expenditure on infrastructure. Steve Keen has the best suggestion: the money should be given to everyone on an equal basis but those with debts must use it first to clear them up. Finland and Switzreland are already discussing universal incomes.

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  20. John Ward:

    It’s not that Abenomics isn’t working: it’s that it is and always was a fake. Monetary policy on steroids has never revived a single economy in existence, ever.

    Abenomics isn’t about monetary policy as such; it’s the government adding to the investments that the Japanese businesses and people are making. Now I do agree that it’s not working but that’s due to other factors, such as the continued collapse of the US economy, which isn’t buying anything – just look at their railway tonnages. Plus their atrocious lack of investment, they can’t dock any of the newer and more efficient container ships!

    What is forgotten by Anglo-Saxon economists is where the figures emanate from. In Britain, it’s fine to have decent GDP figures, irrespective of their provenance. That isn’t the case in Germany, which, I will remind you focusses on other metrics rather than the outward ones. Japan too, has other ideas, most of which see the rest of the world as incompetent, and deserve to be told the things they want to hear – and that is especially true of the gullible Yanks, who’ll believe any authority figure.

    My point is, and has always been this: GDP figures are not enough to determine the quality of an economy. A peek at the electriticy consumption – or the use of sulphuric acid – will give you a far better idea of whether the economy is actually doing anything. The British and Americans conjour up their figures using the foot-pump method and a few de-regulated banks; serious economies make things.

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  21. Gemma Germany has strong local municipal government to keep both national & private sectors on there toes,i was trying to point out that the destruction of our municipals to do the same has been very costly,but history proves that the right mix does work best, but both neoliberalism & socialism is about control & doing everything to stop the other rather than looking to mix the best of both! & yes that is very Anglo-Saxon

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  22. An excess of shipping was commenced a few years back on the basis of over optimistic expectations in terms of possible tonnages .Isnt this what is skewing the BDI.
    Historic: Don’t take your Ducati out in the rain.
    A friend came back from the Middle East yesterday .They are still pumping like no tomorrow , hard to foresee prices firming up for long.

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  23. Ghost, thankyou.

    As you indicate, it is a matter of perspective. The Anglo-Saxon régime has seen de-regulation as the answer, and came to that point of view because it allowed for the plundering of colonial assets. (Please note that Britain joined the second world war because they were affronted that Hitler was doing exactly what the British had been doing for centuries… but Germany and Poland are ‘different’, aren’t they?)

    Now: if neo-liberalism and socialism are all about control, they form two ends of the same stick. Again, perspective! However, I will add that the Germans are very keen on control, only when they accept it and work with it, it can be made to work, although controlling customers is not good business.

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  24. Gemma like i said the control is mutual & beneficial to all sides,which makes it work for the majority,the greatest freedom we have are the ones we lend in good faith to use for the benefit of us all,misuse & we reserve the right to take them back!

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  25. I’m trying to work out them items to be trotted out by the presstitute media on behalf of the connected and corrupt when the Ponzi scheme falls over. My bullshit bingo shit list is small at the moment, but growing……..

    Of course there will be claims of plagarism from the criminal Barrack Obama, but top of my list is:

    1. We must look forward and not backwards.

    Somewhere in the list will be ‘We didn’t see this’,’no one could have predicted this’,’we must end cash use, which helped cause this crash’,’why do english people seek to own houses’,’we are all in this together’,’your gold is ours, hand it over’,’putin started it’,’the conspiracy theorists are comming’……………….

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  26. @Gemma
    I am sure that most readers on this site will benefit from alternate views; especially those that point out the differences between German, Japanese and Anglo-Saxon economic philosophies and economies. They certainly got me to thinking. But the overall impact was considerably diluted in my eyes by untrue statements like … in America, where everybody believes in trickle down for the few, rather than the reality of trickle up for the many or… especially true of the gullible Yanks, who’ll believe any authority figure.

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  27. this 2% inflation target that just about everyone inside the system demands? I have never yet met a soul, and def. not a banker or economist soul, who has ever had a scintilla of evidence * that the greater population would benefit from any inflation whatsoever.

    * and, no, as long term debts reduce in notional value, so does the pound in your pocket.

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  28. Jaime in Quebec

    When you question “in America, where everybody believes in trickle down for the few, rather than the reality of trickle up for the many” – have you ever experienced a ‘trickle up’ kind of economy? Because this is my point: it is a matter of having experienced it to know that it can exist at all. I can imagine that most Americans do believe in trickle-down because their media tell them it is so. After all, most Europeans believe the media; it can’t be otherwise with Americans, can it? Which sort-of answers your second argument, because the media are seen as an authority.

    Ghost those are fair points.

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  29. “Economics has been turned upside down in the last 40 years.”

    Just about the time we accepted we were all living on a finite planet?

    Once the point of PUKE has been reached, a long & uncomfortable disorientation period ensues, before a period of delirium flowed by a persistent protracted catatonic state. (Peak of Unreasonable Knoledge & Expectation)

    “Is today’s Capitalism upside-down?”

    Well no, more like Bi-directional. Once all the “Growth” stops & all the borrowing stealing & hiding under the carpet has taken place… Then everything flows back to zero, if you are lucky. If it continues into minus figures it means that so much damage has been done that God has to be dusted off & given another airing until we get back to the point we can look towards the “Going Forward”.

    I have heard that admitting we cocked-up & need to start afresh could be substituted instead, but find others don’t have, new found, faith in this option.

    Thanks for all for all the insights into the minutia of “Market Mechanics”. Just wondering who we are going to have to pay to fix it, hope it’s not the arms industry.

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  30. Greshams law..’bad money drives out good.’ …. so our bad money began when Nixon shut the gold window in the summer of ’71 ? since then we have placed our faith in debt instead of gold.. the ride is over and now we must pick up the bill.. we will not go back to debt based money we will go back to gold in some way. . since it has proved the most effective for international finance down the years.. the BofE has 318 tons of its own gold. Germany has 3380.. over half of which is in their own country…… i would say that regardless of financial cultures and ways of accounting that Greshams Law always applies. … the london gold market will replicate the Kuwait camel market of the ’80s and in the end just worthless paper etfs.

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  31. @Desmond:

    from the obits: “Gordon Goody, who has died aged 85, was regarded as one of the masterminds behind the Great Train Robbery of 1963, popularly reckoned the “crime of the 20th century”. ……..Rank amateur…..Remind me again how many tons of Gold Gordon “end of Boom and Bust” sold at rock bottom prices…..?

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  32. Evening all, it’s the weekend and you’re all party people, so, answer me this one – when was the last time anyone saw an MP get his/her wallet out…. ?

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  33. @Gemma
    It is quite possible that I lived in a “trickle up” economy; after all I worked in 43 different countries. But that is not the point. The point is that your statement that everybody in America believes in trickle down for the few, rather than the reality of trickle up for the many simply is not true. I don’t live in either Germany or the US so I refrain from making sweeping generalizations about either.

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  34. Everyone has great points about the aftermath of an economic policy. But using money like this only guarantees failure in the end. If the country does something for its people that will last longer than the controversy and collapse, the money may be well spent, even knowing it will still be a failure of the policy and currency. So who has done this? Chile, Japan, and at what cost? Which others have made lasting use of the insanity of their temporary monetary policy?

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  35. Jaime ” I don’t live in either Germany or the US so I refrain from making sweeping generalizations about either.” – I know, it’s a dangerous world we live in, and taking risks is not for the faint hearted.

    However, there are such people as Americans, just as there are Germans. What’s more, they generally tend to behave differently. The one dreams that Trump will bring back their prosperity, the other believes that they have to work for it. But then, this is a sweeping generalization, because Trump won’t win the elections because he doesn’t have enough money.

    No, wait a moment, he’s got lots of money…

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  36. @jeremy

    Wallet is a diminutive, and wallets are for the little people; MPs, and this is a sweeping generalisation, are so well greased that they favour the larger version or wall. They get these out whenever they need something to hide behind, which is not frequently enough. Hope that helps..

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  37. What if you’re both wrong?

    Never really rated “Annie Get Your Gun”… Too much singing, & yes, I know I’m not very bright.

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  38. NIRP strikes me as the Central Bankers’ version of Breatharianism – the idea that one can live on air alone. Real food and water intake are unnecessary for life as a Breatharian.
    Similarly, for the ultimate (or “consummate”, please forgive the pun) Keynesian Economist, or Modern Monetary Theorist, real economic activity is not necessary to sustain a country’s economy – all one needs is fiat printing. Hence the BoJ provides Free of Charge Yen (Yen as cash, not Yen as wishful thinking, I assure you) Plus A Borrower’s Bonus to the government of Japan so the government can not only meet its living expenses, but live in Imperial Splendour befitting the leader of the New East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The provided Yen need have no substance greater than air.

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  39. Obviously the atomic bombs worked. The ugly manifestations of Japanese culture the resulted in its dream of an empire of conquest has morphed into a government that is slaves to American neoliberal doctrine. Actually Japan is a shining example of the ideal future. That is a falling population dedicated to serving a system, of sorts, which involves makings stuff; good stuff and or overseeing the making of that stuff.

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  40. @stephenroi… just for the record the Broon what busy saving the world economy… and giving every last scrap of the shiny stuff to banks… this was one of the earlier and not publicized QE bailouts during the dot com bubble of circa 2000ad. He likely imagined or was told that their would be no more crashes. .. £200 an ounce sale price… but only for the bust banks.. not u and me.

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  41. Undeniably believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the internet the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

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