Book on Economics, Written in 1994

From The introduction to my book …

I first had the idea of writing a book such as this about ten years ago. It seemed to me that each of us learns something of value as we go through life, but most of us do not succeed in passing along our knowledge to others before we die. This, then, is my attempt to pass on to others what I, over my fifty-odd years, have come to believe are the truths of life and what I believe may be a path into a better future. Much of what I write about involves economic issues, since I am an economist by training. Economics, however, is a social science, and my excursions into other areas of the social sciences are therefore not totally out of line.

I have had a great deal of “life” experience (both educational and professional) and this book thus covers many subject areas. While analyzing these subjects, I have tried to be logical and objective (as I have tried to be all my life), and hopefully this proclivity is reflected herein. You, the reader, will probably disagree with some or much of what I have written. That’s fine if your disagreement is based on fact; it’s unacceptable, however, if your disagreement is the result of prejudice and preconceived ideas.
Throughout this book, I have included editorial writings, which I felt were astute, and which help to illuminate my ideas. In each case, I have credited the author and distinguished his/her writing from my own.

Much of what I write about could be construed as anti-religious; it is not. It has not been my intention to support or deny the existence of God or a Supreme Being.
A thought that should be kept in mind when reading this book is that virtually nothing we do today is done as it was in the past. By this I mean the “near past”–remember that radio was invented only ninety-nine years ago, and it has been only ninety-one years since the first powered flight. Most of the technology that we now take for granted has been developed in the past fifty years. The corollary to this is that our ideas and attitudes must also be different from those of the past. Try to imagine how people will regard the “absurdly primitive” last decade of the twentieth century in the year 2045 (when all that we know today will have been gone for fifty years). The point is to keep an open mind, don’t pre-judge, and don’t be too certain about anything.

We live in a world of fantastic ideas if only we can keep an open mind!

The link below will allow you to download the book, if you want, and at no cost.

Power Economics

Turkey & the Real Risk of a Debt Crisis

The Treasury and Finance Ministry of Turkey announced that the country’s net external debt stock totaled $286.2 billion going into the end of the 3rd quarter of 2018. The country’s net external debt stock to its gross domestic product (GDP) ratio was 34.4% at the end of the third quarter of 2018. However, Turkey’s gross external debt stock amounted to $448.4 billion at the end of the 3rd quarter, bringing the debt/GDP ratio to 53.8% according to the official figures.

Interestingly, because of the fear of the Turkish lira, Turkish corporations have been often compelled to borrow in dollars. Therefore, the private sector’s share in the country’s gross external debt stock was 68.2% ($305.9 billion), while some $215.9 billion of this amount consisted of long-term debts with a maturity of more than one year. The Turkish public sector’s share of this debt was 30.6% in the country’s total foreign debt, which is about $21.4 billion in short-term (under one year) with $115.7 billion in the long-term (over one year). The banking sector’s (lenders and the central bank) external debt stock was $176.99 billion at the end of the 3rd quarter.

When we break this down further, 58.5% of the total gross external debt is denominated in U.S. dollars with only 32.3% denominated in euros. The amount denominated in Turkish lira among the external debt stock was a trifling 5.9%. This illustrates the crisis that will emerge with a change in the currency values.


Roman Coins Wash up on Beach in Florida


There have been discoveries of Roman coins in Japan as well as in North America. There has even been the discovery of a Roman sword in Newfoundland. Now, a treasure hunter with a metal detector uncovered seven Roman coins that washed up on a beach here in the Tampa region. This is strong evidence that there must have been a Roman shipwreck off the coast of Tampa or in nearby proximity.

These coins are of the 4th century from the era of Constantine. They are bronze and of no particular rarity. In such a condition, they are really worthless. Nevertheless, there certainly seems to have been Roman ships that crossed the Atlantic long before even the Vikings, no less Columbus.

There are accounts that the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius sent diplomats to China around 180 AD. There are no written records from Rome, but there are written records from China confirming that meeting and even a recording of the name of the Roman emperor.

There are no documents that confirm Romans traveling across the Atlantic, yet there is evidence that they were indeed here in North America. This raises the possibility that these were one-way trips, perhaps from a ship caught in a storm and set on its path to America.

The left coin in this photograph is clearly one of Saint Helena who was the mother of Constantine I the Great. She was a devout Christian who set out to discover the major places in the Holy Land. She built the church in Jerusalem over Calvary and near the tomb of Jesus Christ

Preferred v Ordinary Shares

QUESTION: Hi Martin,

What are your thoughts on preferred shares? Especially the ones with good quality DBRS ratings. Will they survive the downturn or will they fail?

ANSWER: Ordinary and preference shares are a claim on corporate earnings and assets. Dividends for ordinary shares may be irregular and indefinite, whereas preference shareholders will receive a fixed dividend which will accrue usually if the payments are not made in one term. Ordinary shareholders are in a riskier position than preference shareholders since they are the last to receive their share in the event of liquidation. That may not be a concern in a blue chip company. Nevertheless, they also are open to the possibility of a higher dividend during times when the firm is doing well in contrast to preferred shared with fixed income.

Preferred shares can be looked upon as a hybrid debt where you have a claim on the assets, but like a loan, it has a fixed rate. Ownership of preference shares offers advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, it provides a higher claim on earnings, assets, and fixed dividends. On the other, it limits voting rights and the possibility for growth in dividends in times when the company is financially sound.

The good companies will generally survive. This is a collapse in government – not the private sector

Fear of Inflation & Sterilization

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong; you were friends with Milton Friedman. Do you agree with his view that the Great Depression was caused in part by the Fed refusing to expand the money supply? Isn’t Quantitative Easing expanding the money supply yet it too has failed to create inflation. Would you comment on this paradox?

Thank you for your thoughtful insight.


ANSWER: Yes, this certainly appears to be a paradox. This results from the outdated theory of economics which completely fails to grasp the full scope of the economy and how it functions. This same mistake is leading many down the path of MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) which assumes we can just print without end and Quantitative Easing proves there will be no inflation. They are ignoring the clash between fiscal policy carried out by the government and monetary policy in the hand of the central banks. This is a major confrontation where central banks have expanded the money supply to “stimulate” inflation. Governments are obsessed with enforcing laws against tax evasion and it is destroying the world economy and creating massive deflation.

In 1920, Britain legislated a return to the gold standard at the prewar parity to take effect at the end of a five-year period. That took place in 1925. Britain based its decision in part on the assumption that gold flows to the United States would raise price levels in Britain and limit the domestic deflation needed to reestablish the pre-war parity. In fact, the United States sterilized gold inflows to prevent a rise in domestic prices. In the 1920s, the Federal Reserve held almost twice the amount of gold required to back its note issue. Britain then had to deflate to return to gold at the pre-war parity. Milton saw that the Fed failed to monetize the gold inflows, fearing it would lead to inflation. So what we had back then was the opposite roles. This predates income tax being applied to everyone so there was no hunt for taxes on the part of the government. The scale was tipped because the Fed was imposing deflation by sterilizing the gold inflows.

Conversely, following World War I, France had counted unrealistically on German reparations to balance its budget. When they did not materialize, it used inflation as a tax to finance expenditures. In 1926, France pulled back from the brink of hyperinflation. Unlike Britain, France’s inflation had put the old parity hopelessly out of reach. Consequently, France returned to gold but at a parity which undervalued the franc. Fearing inflation, France sterilized its gold inflows to prevent a rise in prices declining to monetize the gold.

Therefore, all the theories behind MMT are once again wrong for they are only looking at one side of the equation. Today, simply stashing money in a safe deposit box is illegal and considered to be money laundering. The government can justify itself in confiscating your assets even after you paid your taxes.

Therefore, in the ’30s, Milton’s criticism of the Fed was justified because there was no massive hunt for taxes from the fiscal side. Today, we have the fiscal policies hunting capital resulting in a contraction economically (declining in investment) while you have QE just funding the government – not the private sector. It is a different set of circumstances today v 1930s.


Basel III – IMF – Liquidity Crisis

QUESTION: As of today, Basel III comes in effect. Rumour goes that in a couple of months, there will be a lot of turmoil on the market and it would be the start of the implementation of an SDR like thing where people would lose 20-30% of their value and get stuck with this new currency. You have mentioned before this was in the pipeline but no timing was given. Is it really this close or is it for 2020-2022?


ANSWER: The IMF has been pitching Washington to let their SDR become the new reserve currency. They claim this would eliminate the problem of the Fed having to worry about external influence v domestic. Let me say that this will NEVER eliminate the issues of international capital flows. The fixed exchange rate of Bretton Woods never prevented that problem and it was that very issue that brought it crashing down. Until we are ready to begin teaching the meaning of a floating exchange rate system and abandon Keynesian economics, I do not see this problem ever being eliminated.

Basel III is separate from the IMF and its purpose is capitalization of banks — not the reserve currency of a dollar v SDR. Basel III was agreed upon by the members of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in November 2010, and was scheduled to be introduced from 2013 until 2015. However, implementation was extended repeatedly to March 31, 2019, and then again until January 1, 2022. The Committee replaced the existing Basel II floor with a floor based on the revised Basel III standardized approaches. This revised output floor is to be phased in between January 1, 2022, and year-end 2026, thereby becoming fully effective on January 1, 2027, if the banking system can survive that long to begin with.

The Basel III leverage ratio framework and disclosure requirements (“the Basel III leverage ratio framework”) was supposed to be raised to protect banks from failures. Many were required to raise more capital. The Net Stable Funding Ratio (“Basel III NSFR standards”) was to be applied to participating banks. Moreover, the committee is monitoring the overall impact of Total Loss Absorbing Capacity (TLAC) and banks’ holdings of TLAC instruments. Capital requirements for market risk as well as the committee’s finalization of post-crisis reforms were all supposed to be back-tested. Additionally, profit and loss (P&L) accounts related to the revised internal models-based approach (IMA) for calculating minimum capital requirements for market risk more specifically.

All of that said, the crisis we have is a LIQUIDITY Crisis. This time it has been created especially by the European Central Bank (ECB). By keeping interest rates negative and punishing banks for having cash, they have (1) lent into real estate to get higher yields but this type of asset cannot be sold easily, (2) buying emerging market debt to get a high-yield like Turkey. Turkey was the favorite of Spanish Banks and the capital controls that Turkey did before the election sent shivers down the spine of institutional investors. The ECB has driven banks into these markets that are notoriously illiquid. This means that under Basel III, banks will not have the liquid assets to support their capitalization requirements. It becomes more likely that the Basel III requirements will be suspended or else there will be a wholesale collapse of the banking system.