Tuesday , February 20 2018
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Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith

At readers' request, I've prepared a biography. I am not confident this is the right length or has the desired information; the whole project veers uncomfortably close to PR. On the other hand, who wants to read a boring bio? I am reminded of the "Peanuts" comic character Lucy, who once issued this terse biographical summary: "A man was born, he lived, he died." All undoubtedly true, but somewhat lacking in narrative.

Articles by Charles Hugh Smith

What Just Changed?

5 days ago

The illusion that risk can be limited delivered three asset bubbles in less than 20 years.
Has anything actually changed in the past two weeks? The conventional bullish answer is no, nothing’s changed; the global economy is growing virtually everywhere, inflation is near-zero, credit is abundant, commodities will remain cheap for the foreseeable future, assets are not in bubbles, and the global financial system is in a state of sustainable wonderfulness.
As for that spot of bother, the recent 10% decline in stocks: ho-hum, nothing to see here, just a typical “healthy correction” in a never-ending bull market, the result of flawed volatility instruments and too many punters picking up dimes in front of the

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Three Crazy Things We Now Accept as “Normal”

10 days ago

How can central banks “retrain” participants while maintaining their extreme policies of stimulus?
Human habituate very easily to new circumstances, even extreme ones. What we accept as “normal” now may have been considered bizarre, extreme or unstable a few short years ago.
Three economic examples come to mind:
1. Near-zero interest rates. If someone had announced to a room of economists and financial journalists in 2006 that interest rates would be near-zero for the foreseeable future, few would have considered it possible or healthy. Yet now the Federal Reserve and other central banks have kept interest rates/bond yields near-zero for almost nine years.
The Fed has raised rates a mere .75% in three cautious

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Before You “Buy the Dip,” Look at This One Chart

11 days ago

Hello reverse wealth effect.
There’s a place for fancy technical interpretations, but sometimes a basic chart tells us quite a lot. Here is a basic chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the DJIA. It displays basic information: price candlesticks, volume, the 50-week and 200-week moving averages, RSI (relative strength), MACD (moving average convergence-divergence), stochastics and the MACD histogram. These kinds of charts are free (in this case, from StockCharts.com).

Dow Jones Industrial Average Index, Nov 2015 – Feb 2018 – Click to enlarge

This is an ugly chart.It’s ugly because the decline to date is still far above support levels (the 50-week and 200-week moving averages) and the indicators have only

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Is the 9-Year Long Dead Cat Bounce Finally Ending?

14 days ago

Ignoring or downplaying these fundamental forces has greatly increased the fragility of the status quo.
The term dead cat bounce is market lingo for a “recovery” after markets decline due to fundamental reversals. Markets tend to bounce back after sharp declines as participants (human and digital) who have been trained to “buy the dips” once again buy the decline, and the financial media rushes to reassure everyone that nothing has actually changed, everything is still peachy-keen wonderfulness.
I submit that the past 9 years of market “recovery” is nothing but an oversized dead cat bounce that is finally ending. Here is a chart that depicts the final blow-off top phase of the over-extended dead cat bounce:

Dow

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Is Congress Finally Pushing Back Against Security Agencies’ Over-Reach?

15 days ago

The last time the U.S. Congress pushed back against the Imperial Presidency and the over-reach of the nation’s Security Agencies was 43 years ago, in 1975.
The last time the U.S. Congress pushed back against the Imperial Presidency and the over-reach of the nation’s Security Agencies was 43 years ago, in 1975. In response to the criminal over-reach of the Imperial Presidency (Watergate) and to the criminal over-reach of the security agencies (FBI, CIA, et al.), the Church Committee finally resusitated the constitutional powers of the Congress to serve the interests of the citizenry rather than the interests of political elites and the rogue agencies of the federal government.
The erosion of congressional power (or

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Political Correctness Serves the Ruling Elite

17 days ago

No wonder the Ruling Elites loves political correctness: all those furiously signaling their virtue are zero threat to the asymmetric plunder of the status quo.
The Ruling Elites loves political correctness, for it serves the Elite so well. What is political correctness? Political correctness is the public pressure to conform to “progressive” speech acts by uttering the expected code words and phrases in public.
Note that no actual action is required. This is why the Ruling Elite loves political correctness: conformity is so cheap. All a functionary of the Ruling Elite need do is utter the code words (“hope and change,” “we honor diversity,” “thank you for your service,” etc.) and they get a free pass to continue

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The Pie Is Shrinking for the 99 percent

20 days ago

The ensuing social disunity and disruption will be of the sort many alive today have never seen.
Social movements arise to solve problems of inequality, injustice, exploitation and oppression. In other words, they are solutions to society-wide problems plaguing the many but not the few (i.e. the elites at the top of the wealth-power pyramid).
The basic assumption of social movements is that Utopia is within reach, if only the sources of the problems can be identified and remedied.  Since inequality, injustice, exploitation and oppression arise from the asymmetry of power between the few (the financial and political elites) and the many, the solution is a reduction of the asymmetry; that is a tectonic realignment of

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Can We Finally Have an Honest Discussion about the Opioid Crisis?

25 days ago

The economy no longer generates secure, purposeful jobs for the working class, and so millions of people live in a state of insecure despair. The opioid epidemic is generating a lot of media coverage and hand-wringing, but few if any solutions, and this is predictable: if you don’t face up to the causes, then you …

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Central Banks: From Coordination to Competition

28 days ago

This is one reason why I anticipate “unexpected” disruptions in the global economy in 2018.
The mere mention of “central banks” will likely turn off many readers who understandably have little interest in convoluted policies and arcane mumbo-jumbo, but bear with me for a few paragraphs while I make the case for something to happen in 2018 that will impact us all to some degree.
That something is the decay of the synchronized central bank stimulus policies that have pumped trillions of dollars, yuan, yen and euros into the global financial markets over the past nine years. Here are two charts that depict the “tag team” coordinated approach central banks have deployed: when one CB tapers its stimulus, another ramps

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It’s Time to Retire “Capitalism”

January 21, 2018

Our current socio-economic system is nothing but the application of force on the many to enforce the skims, scams and privileges of the self-serving few.
I’ve placed the word capitalism in quotation marks to reflect the reality that this word now covers a wide spectrum of economic activities, very little of which is actually capitalism as classically defined. As I have explained here for over a decade, the U.S. economy is dominated by cartels and quasi-monopolies that are enforced by the Central State, a state-cartel system of financialized rentier skims that has no overlap with Adam Smith’s free market, free enterprise concept,i.e. classical capitalism.
This is what passes for “capitalism” in modern-day

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The Fascinating Psychology of Blowoff Tops

January 15, 2018

Central banks have guaranteed a bubble collapse is the only possible output of the system they’ve created.
The psychology of blowoff tops in asset bubbles is fascinating: let’s start with the first requirement of a move qualifying as a blowoff top, which is the vast majority of participants deny the move is a blowoff top.

Exhibit 1: a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJ-30):
Is there any other description of this parabolic ascent other than “blowoff top” that isn’t absurdly misleading? Can anyone claim this is just a typical Bull market? There is nothing even remotely typical about the record RSI (relative strength index), record Bull-Bear ratio, and so on, especially after a near-record run of 9 years.

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Yes, But at What Cost?

January 11, 2018

This is how our entire status quo maintains the illusion of normalcy: by avoiding a full accounting of the costs.
The economy’s going great–but at what cost? “Normalcy” has been restored, but at what cost? Profits are soaring, but at what cost? Our pain is being reduced–but at what cost?
The status quo delights in celebrating gains, but the costs required to generate those gains are ignored for one simple reason: the costs exceed the gains by a wide margin. As long as the costs can be hidden, diluted, minimized and rationalized, then phantom gains can be presented as real.
Exhibit One: the US public debt. If you borrow and blow enough money, it’s not too difficult to generate a bit of “growth”–but at what cost?

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Why the Financial System Will Break: You Can’t “Normalize” Markets that Depend on Extreme Monetary Stimulus

January 6, 2018

Central banks are now trapped.
In a nutshell, central banks are promising to “normalize” their monetary policy extremes in 2018. Nice, but there’s a problem: you can’t “normalize” markets that are now entirely dependent on extremes of monetary stimulus. Attempts to “normalize” will break the markets and the financial system.
Let’s start with the core dynamic of the global economy and nosebleed-valuation markets: credit.
Modern finance has many complex moving parts, and this complexity masks its inner simplicity.
Let’s break down the core dynamics of the current financial system.
The Core Dynamic of the “Recovery” and Asset Bubbles: Credit
Credit is the foundation of the current financial system, for credit enables

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The Hidden-in-Plain-Sight Mechanism of the Super-Wealthy: Money-Laundering 2.0

January 2, 2018

Financial and political power are two sides of one coin.
We all know the rich are getting richer, and the super-rich are getting super-richer. This reality is illustrated in the chart of income gains, the vast majority of which have flowed to the top .01%–not the top 1%, or the top .1% — to the very tippy top of the wealth-power pyramid:

Though all sorts of reasons have been offered to explain this trend–I’ve described the mechanisms of financialization here for years–two that don’t attract much mainstream media attention are money laundering and control fraud, i.e. changing the rules of what’s legal so what was illegal yesterday is legal today–presto-magico, illegally skimmed wealth is now “legal.”
Correspondent

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“Wealth Effect” = Widening Wealth Inequality

January 1, 2018

Note that widening wealth and income inequality is a non-partisan trend.
One of the core goals of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policies of the past 9 years is to generate the “wealth effect”: by pushing the valuations of stocks and bonds higher, American households will feel wealthier, and hence be more willing to borrow and spend, even if they didn’t actually reap any gains by selling stocks and bonds that gained value.
In other words, the mere perception of rising wealth is supposed to trigger a wave of renewed borrowing and spending.
This perception management only worked on the few households which owned enough of these assets to feel wealthier–the top 5%, the top 6 million out of 120 million households. This

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Christmas 2017: Why I’m Hopeful

December 28, 2017

A more human world lies just beyond the edge of the Status Quo.
Readers often ask me to post something hopeful, and I understand why: doom-and-gloom gets tiresome. Human beings need hope just as they need oxygen, and the destruction of the Status Quo via over-reach and internal contradictions doesn’t leave much to be happy about.
The most hopeful thing in my mind is that the Status Quo is devolving from its internal contradictions and excesses. It is a perverse, intensely destructive system with horrific incentives for predation, exploitation, fraud and complicity and few disincentives.
A more human world lies just beyond the edge of the Status Quo.
I know many smart, well-informed people expect the worst once the

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Santa’s Stock Market Rally: Tears of Joy, Or Just Tears?

December 27, 2017

Everyone who believes risk has disappeared has fallen for the con.
Judging by this year’s version of Santa Claus’s reliable year-end stock market rally, risk has vanished, not just in stocks but in bonds, junk bonds, housing, commercial real estate, collectible art–just about the entire spectrum of tradable assets (with precious metals and agricultural commodities among the few receiving coals rather than rallies).
One of the maxims of this site is: risk cannot be made to disappear, it can only be cloaked, hedged or offloaded onto others. In other words, when the magician makes the white rabbit disappear, the physical rabbit does not in fact vanish; it is merely transported out of sight of the enthralled audience.

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Regulating Cryptocurrencies–and Why It Matters

December 22, 2017

Nations that attempt to limit cryptocurrencies’ ability to solve these problems will find that protecting high costs and systemic friction will grind their economies into dust.
There’s a great deal of confusion right now about the regulation of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. Many observers seem to confuse “regulation” and “banning bitcoin,” as if regulation amounts to outlawing bitcoin.
Further confusing things is the regulation of cryptocurrency exchanges, where cryptocurrencies are bought and sold.
In China, for example, cryptocurrencies are not outlawed, but exchanges were shut down until regulators could get a handle on how to deal with the potential for excesses such as fraud, misrepresentation, etc.
A Wild

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Could Central Banks Dump Gold in Favor of Bitcoin?

December 17, 2017

All of which brings us to the “crazy” idea of backing fiat currencies with cryptocurrencies, an idea I first floated back in 2013, long before the current crypto-craze emerged.
Exhibit One: here’s your typical central bank, creating trillions of units of currency every year, backed by nothing but trust in the authority of the government, created at the whim of a handful of people in a room and distributed to their cronies, or at the behest of their cronies.
And this is a “trustworthy” currency?

Bank of Japan Balance Sheet, 2000 – 2017 – Click to enlarge
Exhibit Two: central banks can’t become insolvent, we’re told, because they can create as much currency as they want, whenever they want. And this is a

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Bitcoin vs Fiat Currency: Which Fails First?

December 16, 2017

What if bitcoin is a reflection of trust in the future value of fiat currencies?
I am struck by the mainstream confidence that bitcoin is a fraud/fad that will soon collapse, while central bank fiat currencies are presumed to be rock-solid and without risk. Those with supreme confidence in fiat currencies might want to look at a chart of Venezuela’s fiat currency, which has declined from 10 to the US dollar in 2012 to 5,000 to the USD earlier this year to a current value in December 2017 of between 90,000 and 100,000 to $1:

Venezuelan Bolivar, Jan 2013 – Apr 2017 – Click to enlarge

Exchange Rate in Venezuela:
On 1 December, the bolivar traded in the parallel market at 103,024 VED per USD, a stunning 59.9%

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A Radical Critique of Universal Basic Income

December 12, 2017

This critique reveals the unintended consequences of UBI.
Readers have been asking me what I thought of Universal Basic Income (UBI) as the solution to the systemic problem of jobs being replaced by automation.To answer this question, I realized I had to start by taking a fresh look at work and its role in human life and society. And since UBI is fundamentally a distribution of money, I also needed to take a fresh look at our system of money.
That led to a radical critique of Universal Basic Income (UBI) and an outline for a much more sustainable and just system of money and work than we have now. To adequately explore these critical topics, I ended up writing a 50,000 word book, Money and Work Unchained.
Universal

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What Is Money? (Yes, We’re Talking About Bitcoin)

December 11, 2017

Good ideas don’t require force. That describes the Internet, mobile telephony and cryptocurrencies.
What is money? We all assume we know, because money is a commonplace feature of everyday life. Money is what we earn and exchange for goods and services. Everyone thinks the money they’re familiar with is the only possible system of money—until they run across an entirely different system of money.
Then they realize money is a social construct, a confluence of social consensus and political force– what we agree to use as money, and what our government mandates we use as money under threat of punishment.
We assume that our monetary system is much like a Law of Nature: since it’s ubiquitous, it must be the only possible

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The Cost Basis of our Economy is Spiraling Out of Control

December 6, 2017

What will it take to radically reduce the cost basis of our economy?
If we had to choose one “big picture” reason why the vast majority of households are losing ground, it would either be the stagnation of income or the spiraling out of control cost basis of our economy, that is, the essential foundational expenses of households, government and enterprise.
Clearly, both rising costs and stagnating income cause households to lose ground, i.e. their income buys fewer goods and services every year.
I’ve often covered the dynamics of stagnating income for the bottom 95%, and real-world inflation, i.e. a decline in purchasing power.
But neither of these dynamics fully describes the relentless upward spiral of the cost

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Stock Market 2018: The Tao vs. Central Banks

December 4, 2017

The central banks claim omnipotent financial powers, and their comeuppance is overdue.
I will be the first to admit that invoking the woo-woo of the Tao as the reason to expect a reversal of the stock market in 2018 smacks of Bearish desperation. With everything coming up roses in much of the global economy, there is precious little foundation for calling a tumultuous end to the global Bull Market other than variations of nothing lasts forever.
Invoking the Tao specifically calls for extremes to return or reverse to the opposite polarity: this is expressed in the line from Lao Tzu, The way of the Tao is reversal or Reversal is the movement of Tao.
In other words, extremes of bullishness lead to extremes of

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Did Anyone Do Even a Minimal Check on the Sensationalist Bitcoin Electrical Consumption Story?

December 3, 2017

Check the context before uncritically accepting sensationalist conclusions.
Let’s start with a primer on how to write a sensationalist story that can be passed off as “journalism:”
1. Locate credible-sounding data that can be de-contextualized, i.e. sensationalized.
2. Present the data as “fact” rather than data that requires verification by disinterested researchers.
3. Exaggerate the data as much as possible and set the tone and context with emotionally laden words: “shocking,” etc.
4. Select a context that sensationalizes the conclusion.
Now let’s take a look at a story that has been swallowed whole, with little to no fact-checking or disinterested inquiry: bitcoin’s electrical consumption, i.e. the electricity

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My Crazy $17,000 Target for Bitcoin Is Looking Less Crazy

December 1, 2017

The basis of this admittedly crazy forecast was simple: capital flows.
I think we can all agree that bitcoin (BTC) is “interesting.” One of the primary reason that bitcoin (and cryptocurrency in general) is interesting is that nobody knows what will happen going forward.
Unknowns and big swings up and down are characteristics of open markets.It’s impossible to forecast bitcoin’s future price because virtually all the future inputs are unknown.
We’ve lived so long with managed markets that only loft higher that we’ve forgotten that unmanaged markets are volatile and full of unknowns. We’ve forgotten that markets are reflections of all sorts of things, from human emotions to herd behavior to changes in the underlying

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The Asymmetry of Bubbles: the Status Quo and Bitcoin

December 1, 2017

Shall we compare the damage that will be done when all these bubbles pop?

Regardless of one’s own views about bitcoin/cryptocurrency, what is truly remarkable is the asymmetry that is applied to questioning the status quo and bitcoin. As I noted yesterday, everyone seems just fine with throwing away $20 billion in electricity annually in the U.S. alone to keep hundreds of millions of gadgets in stand-by mode, but the electrical consumption of bitcoin is “shocking,” “ridiculous,” etc.
Since the U.S. consumes about 20% of the world’s energy, we can guesstimate the total amount of electricity wasted on stand-by and similar sources of waste is more on the order of $100 billion annually.
What’s shocking and ridiculous

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Addictions: Social Media & Mobile Phones Fall From Grace

November 26, 2017

Identifying social media and mobile phones as addictive is only the first step in a much more complex investigation.
For everyone who remembers the Early Days of social media and mobile phones, it’s been quite a ride from My Space and awkward texting on tiny screens to the current alarm over the addictive nature of social media and mobile telephony.
The emergence of withering criticism of Facebook and Google is a new and remarkably broad-based phenomenon: a year or two ago, there was little mainstream-media criticism of these tech giants; now there is a constant barrage of sharp criticism across the media spectrum.
Even the technology writer for the Wall Street Journal has not just curbed his enthusiasm, he’s now

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Beware the Marginal Buyer, Borrower and Renter

November 24, 2017

Bubbles always look unstoppable, yet they always burst.When times are good, the impact of the marginal buyer, borrower and renter on the market is often overlooked. By “marginal” I mean buyers, borrowers and renters who have to stretch their finances to the maximum to afford the purchase, loan or rent.
In bubble manias, buyers of real estate reckon the potential appreciation gains are worth the risk of buying a house they really can’t afford with the intention of flipping the home for a profit.
Workers moving to high-rent cities reckon they’ll either make more money going forward or find a cheaper flat later, so they pony up the high rent.
When there’s steady overtime or generous tips adding to the household income,

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Want Widespread Prosperity? Radically Lower Costs

November 22, 2017

As long as this is business as usual, it’s impossible to slash costs and boost widespread prosperity.
It’s easy to go down the wormhole of complexity when it comes to figuring out why our economy is stagnating for the bottom 80% of households. But it’s actually not that complicated: the primary driver of stagnation, decline of small business start-ups, etc. is costs are skyrocketing to the point of unaffordability.
As I have pointed out many times, history is unambiguous regarding the economic foundations of widespread prosperity: the core ingredients are:
1. Low inflation, a.k.a. stable, sound money
2. Social mobility (a meritocracy that enables achievers and entrepreneurs to climb out of impoverished beginnings)
3.

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