Category Archives: GIS Statements

GIS Statements

Murder is a Habit

GIS* statement by Prince Michael of Liechtenstein

World-famous British crime novelist Agatha Christie was an outstanding observer of human nature. In Murder in Mesopotamia, her sleuth hero, Hercule Poirot, makes this astute observation: “There are things that my profession has taught me. And one of these things, the most terrible thing, is this: murder is a habit.” The implication is that after one commits a crime for the first time, doing it again becomes easier. Looking at the present behavior of governments and institutions in Europe, one is reminded of the wisdom of this insight.

When a law – or even a best practice – is violated and no sanction follows, what was once a transgression becomes a common practice. Habitual abuse of the law is a form of corruption. There will always be miscreants deriving advantages from this – for example, to get reelected.

The tendency for disregarding sound rules of governance became noticeable in Western Europe a number of years ago, mostly due to public overspending. This has led to various crises today. Among them is a crisis of political institutions.

For one, the European Central Bank does not respect the necessity to separate monetary policy from fiscal policy. Its artificially low interest rates erode the value of money, while quantitative easing constitutes a significant breach of the EU’s fundamental no-bailout rule …

Continue reading the original statement “Murder is a Habit” here -> GIS Statements

*GIS is a global intelligence service providing independent, analytical, fact-based reports from a team of experts around the world. We also provide bespoke geopolitical consultancy services to businesses to support their international investment decisions. Our clients have access to expert insights in the fields of geopolitics, economics, defence, security and energy. Our experts provide scenarios on significant geopolitical events and trends. They use their knowledge to analyse the big picture and provide valuable recommendations of what is likely to happen next, in a way which informs long-term decision-making. Our experts play active roles in top universities, think-tanks, intelligence services, business and as government advisors. They have a unique blend of backgrounds and experience to deliver the narrative and understanding of global developments. They will help you develop a complete understanding of international affairs because they identify the key players, their motivations and what really matters in a changing world. Our experts examine the challenges and opportunities in economies old and new, identify emerging politicians and analyse and appraise new threats in a fast-changing world. They offer new ideas, fresh perspectives and rigorous study.

Who is afraid of Donald Trump?

GIS statement by Prince Michael of Liechtenstein

Europe and the world are watching Donald Trump’s behavior in the United States presidential campaign with amazement. He has shocked his country’s media elites, who are more accustomed than their European counterparts to harsh talk and mudslinging between candidates. His aggressive rhetoric and erratic tactics are a novelty for even seasoned followers of U.S. politics, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Most interestingly, though, Donald Trump continues to run a successful campaign. Intellectuals criticize his supporters as ignorant, but experience shows that in instances where populist newcomers are successful, there is a flaw in the system. Voters are not ignorant.

Florida, U.S., March 15, 2016: a Trump supporter gives the thumbs up to motorists honking at his sign outside the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office. Source: GIS/dpa

In representative democracies, the political establishment typically reacts to newcomers by trying to marginalize them. Usually, the outsider is branded a buffoon, a racist, a radical or an extremist of one sort or another.

But instead of trying to brush aside Mr. Trump, opinion shapers should take a close look at what is wrong with the system that allowed him to get this far. The fact is that most people no longer believe that the political establishment has their best interests at heart. This is certainly the case in Europe, and Mr. Trump’s success indicates it is in the U.S. as well.

The working population feels unrepresented by both the right and the left. Entrepreneurs are increasingly stymied by overregulation. These two groups form the backbone of any properly functioning economy and are responsible for producing the country’s wealth. But there is a widening gap between them and those who reap the benefits: government, politicians and intellectuals. In this context workers can, and should, identify with entrepreneurs.

Seen from across the Atlantic, this seems to be the reason why Donald Trump’s exaggerated statements appeal to large swathes of the population. In Europe the problem is even worse; politicians’ reputations are at the lowest end of the scale.

The anti-Trump forces are now resorting to the marginalization tactic. This might work for the moment. But if the political classes do not learn the lesson of why people are gravitating toward more realistic, less intellectual, less party-centered politics, the consequences could be dire. The “newcomers” who crop up in the future could make Mr. Trump look far less radical than we see him today.

Read the original statement “Who is afraid of Donald Trump?” here -> GIS Statements

The Political Value of Gold

GIS statement by Gisela von Liechtenstein*

People and economies have always needed means of exchange that represent value and set prices, even in a barter economy. These means of exchange had to have a trusted value and as economies evolved, precious metals, silver and gold served this purpose. As international trading developed, nations relied on paper money supplied by their governments and central banks that was still backed by silver and gold. This gave value and trust to the currency and forced discipline on the emitting institution.

EZB Draghi Helicopter Money

In the course of the 20th century, the gold standard was abandoned and trust in the resulting fiat money depended on assessments of the underlying economy, political stability and belief that the central bank would protect the value of the currency with responsible monetary policies. This worked in some instances. Germany and its Bundesbank set with the deutsche mark an outstanding example of prudent monetary policy, impervious to pressure from politicians.

Unfortunately, government overspending led to large budget deficits and a fiscal crisis. Allowing economic cycles to run their course is rejected for political reasons, meaning that unsustainable cheap money is often used to ease cyclical lows in the economy. On the whole, the European Central Bank (ECB) has followed the politically expedient approach of southern European countries rather than the discipline that was the bedrock of the old German Bundesbank.

All means of exchange should be constrained in supply in order to retain value. For fiat currencies, the supply limit is no longer restrained. The euro area’s monetary base has increased from approximately 700 billion euros in 2006 to about 1.8 trillion euros in 2016, according to the ECB. This additional money creation, not covered by an economic basis, is worrying.

Gold-backed currencies used to provide a measure of control on monetary aggregates that is lacking today. Without controls on the money supply, confidence in its rarity is being sacrificed along with value. While gold may no longer be a realistic form of currency, it is still a valid medium of exchange with the advantage of holding intrinsic value and being limited in supply.

With individuals being discouraged from acquiring gold, central banks are buying again – especially Russia and China. Increasing gold reserves relative to foreign currency reserves has the advantage of reducing exposure to foreign monetary policies. There are large uncertainties around the quantity of gold the Chinese are acquiring, as the Peoples Bank of China may not be the sole purchaser. The authorities in Beijing can use other entities to buy gold on global markets, while China is also the world leader in gold mining output.

Both China and Russia are seeking to reduce their dependence on the U.S. dollar, especially China, which is striving to establish the renminbi as a global reserve currency. The gold in the vaults of the Russian and Chinese central banks is insufficient to back their currencies. So why are these countries buying? They are probably trying to use gold as a lever to increase confidence in their currencies and make them more independent from U.S. monetary policies and the dollar.

Meanwhile, there is growing awareness that central banks have misused their money creating capacity for political ends. This realization, combined with low interest rates, plunging confidence in traditional currencies and government institutions, and increased gold demand by Eastern central banks, may be contributing to the present rally in gold prices.

Unless Western governments and central banks change their policies, people may start shifting their trust from fiat money back to gold. Precious metals have the advantage of being easily storable, holding intrinsic value, and not being subject to negative interest rates, as is the case with bank deposits. Gold will only become more attractive if governments make progress in their current push to physically abolish cash.

A key concern is that today’s policymakers could abuse their legislative powers to outlaw physical ownership of gold, especially in Europe and the U.S., as a way of extending the control and reach of monetary policy. There are precedents for this, including President Franklin Roosevelt’s executive order in 1933 to outlaw gold currency ownership by individuals. The step would be a logical, if totalitarian, outcome of current monetary policies.

It is just one small step from abolishing cash to outlawing gold ownership. If the current economic policy direction is maintained, the strength of the U.S. dollar and the euro will wane, people’s trust in gold relative to their own currencies will increase, and certain members of the “dollar bloc” will prepare themselves to stop following the lead of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. currency.

Read the original statement “The Political Value of Gold” here -> GIS Statements

*GIS expert Gisela von Liechtenstein is an environmental engineer working in sustainability management at Midas Gold Corp., a Canadian mining company focused on gold exploration.

Economies need structural reform, not helicopter money

GIS statement by Prince Michael of Liechtenstein

Money facilitates trade and serves as remuneration for work. It also stores value. Money that is earned but not spent becomes savings, which can provide capital for investment. The effort expended in providing labor, services, or entrepreneurial activities, as well as the need for goods and investment, form the basis for the value we place in money.

Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, admitted at a press conference during the G20 summit in Shanghai that monetary measures have a limited scope for stimulating the economy. Structural reforms, though they hurt, are necessary. GIS experts have repeated this many times over the past few years, but at least the PBoC is willing to admit it officially, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

For years policymakers in governments, central banks and academia have preached easy money and inflation as a solution to the economic woes in Europe, the United States and Japan. But years of administering this medicine have had no effect on growth. Instead, it has led to an asset bubble, damaged savings (especially retirement funds) and motivated governments to delay painful but necessary reforms.

China tried the same tactics, and was also unsuccessful.

The reasoning behind implementing these measures was an oversimplification: Cheap, abundant money would incentivize businesses to invest and consumers to spend, further allowing banks to lend.

What was ignored, especially in Europe, was that the lack of reform to restrictive labor laws, oversized public sectors and bloated regulatory frameworks creates doubt about whether growth can be sustained. Businesses become reluctant to invest and consumers to spend. Japan and the U.S. are seeing similar effects.

The money therefore stays in the financial system and does not reach the rest of the economy. That some companies prefer to use the excess cash to buy back their own shares is significant: it shows they see a lack of viable options for investment. The blame for that lies not with business, but with bad government policies, which have stifled investment incentives.

In a well-run business, damaging the company, first by assessing the situation wrongly and then by not reacting when the mistake becomes clear, would be grounds for changing management (and their advisors). Not so with these policymakers.

EZB Draghi Helicopter Money
ECB Draghi

The European Central Bank continues with quantitative easing and negative interest rates, ignoring that such policies have not solved the problem. They will prove even less effective in the future, due to a decrease in marginal utility. Then there are all of the negatives already mentioned.

However, slowly, people are beginning to realize that the abundant, cheap money provided to the banks is not being injected into the economy. Instead of coming to the same conclusion as Mr. Zhou, some analysts are promoting the concept of “helicopter money”: central bank money, freshly printed, provided directly by the government to consumers as a gift – like throwing banknotes out of a helicopter.

That sounds wonderful and might stimulate consumption. But the populace could rightly see it as unsustainable, and might instead decide to save. In any case, such policies will only have a short-term effect and will further delay the necessary reforms. The underlying structural problems will remain.

“Helicopter money” policies may or may not be implemented, but that the discussion has come to this shows the difficulty of changing the mindset that economies can be stimulated purely through money supply. This mentality might lead to helicopter money but is certainly not a helicopter view. An efficient economy needs business, and not theoretical money supply equations.

It was refreshing to hear Mr. Zhou’s words. Such an obviously necessary change of paradigm would be welcome in the West.

Read the original statement “Economies need structural reform …”
here ->
GIS Statements

Reducing the role of cash will destroy the public’s trust in money

GIS statement by Prince Michael of Liechtenstein

Money facilitates trade and serves as remuneration for work. It also stores value. Money that is earned but not spent becomes savings, which can provide capital for investment. The effort expended in providing labor, services, or entrepreneurial activities, as well as the need for goods and investment, form the basis for the value we place in money, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Today, that value is based on trust. People believe that the institutions which print or issue currency – such as central banks – will fulfill their obligation to protect its value. Most central banks have such an obligation written into their statutes. But they can only do so when they are independent: monetary policy must be kept separate from the government’s fiscal policy. When politicians gain control over monetary policy, the temptation to misuse the central bank’s ability to create money to fund all their wild spending desires might become too big to resist.

Unfortunately, when the fiscal crisis hit the U.S. and Europe, central banks started buying government debt. These were thinly disguised measures to give governments fiscal breathing room, and they were financed through the artificial creation of money. Money should represent value, but the new funds issued did not represent the creation of any new value. The amounts involved are so mind-boggling that people could begin to lose their respect for money altogether.

But there are a number of other signs that the value we put in money is becoming increasingly endangered. This goes especially for the euro, the U.S. dollar and the yen.

When central banks set interest rates at extremely low levels, and especially when interest rates are negative – as in the eurozone and in Japan – it erodes the incentive to save. Savers such as pension funds are punished. However, it helps governments reduce borrowing costs and thus rewards overspending.

The heads of the German Bundesbank and the Banque de France, both members of the board of the European Central Bank, have called for the introduction of a centralized European Ministry of Finance in order to save the euro. This is a sign of alignment of fiscal and monetary policy and a very strange call from central bankers. The only plausible reason for this appeal is the hope that an EU finance ministry would be more disciplined than national ones. Knowing politics, this is highly unlikely.

The entire global monetary system has become abstract and opaque. It is even difficult for economists to understand. This does nothing to increase confidence. Cash, in the form of physical notes and coins, however, are tangible, and can help maintain the public’s trust in money.

Calls to reduce the use of cash – and even to abolish it altogether – have become widespread. They can be heard from Harvard economists to bankers to European governments. Various pretexts are offered: fighting terrorism, simplifying transactions, improving hygiene. But abolishing cash won’t accomplish any of these things. Instead, the agenda appears to be twofold: first to facilitate the nationalization of private savings – a sort of legalized theft – and second, to give the state total control over citizens’ finances.

Getting rid of cash would eliminate the last physical point of contact between the broad public and money, and would finally destroy any remaining confidence in it. The result would be an expansion of the black market. In the end, this could prove beneficial, at least economically speaking, since it would create a “free” market. However, it would further erode the rule of law.

Moreover, as understanding of the monetary system and voter interest decrease, less accountability will be needed. This will allow governments to behave even more irresponsibly with public finances. The end of trust, combined with the loss of accountability, could destroy the world’s monetary system.

Read the original statement “Reducing the role of cash …” here -> GIS