Monthly Archives: September 2015

Immigration

Today via John Mauldin, we have articles regarding the migration of people from the middle east and Africa into Europe.  Daniel Stelter has a very common sense approach to how this should be handled.  Really, this is how every country should handle immigration.  I wish we could do this in the USA, rather than the current trend of “get off my lawn.”

Germany: A 10-Point Plan to Deal
With the Immigration Challenge

What does it take to make sure that the immigrants now arriving are integrated in a sustainable manner?

By Daniel Stelter
September 14, 2015

Reduce bureaucracy

The process of accepting someone as a refugee in Germany takes too long. We need to define safe countries, like Albania, and send immigrants from these countries back directly.

With all sympathy for their interest in a better living, they are not threatened by war or discrimination. On the other hand, refugees from countries in (civil) war should be accepted fast.

Get to work

It is very important to get immigrants into work once they are in Germany. It is bad for both skills and motivation levels if people cannot work.

Learning the German language is of utmost importance and should be mandatory. Ideally from day one onwards, immigrants should have to start learning the language.

And as long as the immigrants don’t have a job, they should do community service. This advances their integration into society and would give a clear signal: Everyone coming to Germany has to contribute to the common good with his or her abilities.

Significant investments in education and integration

…Education will the biggest challenge.

German schools even today fail to integrate and educate the children (and grandchildren) of migrants who have been in the country in some cases for some decades.

Defend our values

Not only skills and language are important. In addition, we need to emphasize our principles and values. This includes freedom of speech and religion, women’s rights, tolerance for minorities and non-violence.

We have to make clear that integration will only work this way and is expected from everyone. Simply arriving is not enough to stay.

Canada, while generally being very welcoming to immigration, every year sends back about 10,000 immigrants – not necessarily for lack of integration, but it is not a one-way street.

Mandatory schooling

Participation in language school and courses on values and rules in Germany need to be mandatory for every new arrival. Just as Brazil does with its bolsa familia, the payment of social welfare should be linked to language and values training.

In doing so, we would convey the image of Germany as we should – a country willing to help, but also a country in which everyone has to make a contribution. Everyone who expects help and support needs to be willing to learn the language.

Recruit qualified immigrants

…we should actively open the way for legal immigration to Germany. As a result, the applicants could spend their savings on building a new life here, instead of spending it on smugglers.

Permanent

Both sides, the migrants and the German population, need to accept immigration as a lifetime decision. It is not a temporary refuge.

Help in the poor countries

It would be cheaper and more effective to help the people in safe countries such as Albania, who aim for a better life, with direct financial and organizational support. The EU should invest there and help to build democratic institutions and a working rule of law.

Fostering peace

The current wave of immigration is the result of conflicts which have lasted for decades already – and will likely last decades more.

The West needs to reconsider its strategy fundamentally. The current U.S.-led approach of favoring military intervention over development aid only leads to even more destabilization.

Be all in

The humanitarian and financial costs of such a strategy are enormous. But if we don’t do this, we will have much higher costs to incur.

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Student Loans via US govt

Doug Short has published this amazing set of charts, which really require no further comment:

Federal-Loans-to-Students-Q2-2015 Federal-Government-Total-Financial-Assets-Q2-2015

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War in the Middle East

Here’s an idea.  To stop the wars all over the middle east, let’s stop shipping armaments and ammunition there.  Obama is going to meet with Putin regarding ISIS in Syria.  Maybe he can propose that to him.

All the arms.  To anyplace in the general vicinity.  Nothing to Israel, nothing to Iraq, nothing to Egypt, nothing to the Saudis, nothing to anywhere.

And maybe enforce that.  Set up a perimeter, and use drones to blow up anything coming in.  I’m sure drones can tell what is in trucks.

War will have to stop, at some point.  The actual governments in the area will conserve their stockpiles, but anyone in an active conflict will simply run out.

Yes, this is not “realistic.”  But then again, think about all the other solutions proposed.  And all the things that have been tried.  Maybe more realistic, but not working.  In  fact, it seems like everything we do makes it all worse.

Edit 9/17/15:  Not if Carly Fiorina has anything to say about it!  Wow!

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Fed Actions and Possible Results

The people running the Fed are smart, and are attempting to think through the second order effects of their decisions (this is a statement of faith, I guess).  Maybe they think it through, to some extent, and then decide based on the first order effects anyway.  Who knows.

This article in David Stockman’s blog by Lee Adler is interesting because until I read it, I had kind of assumed the same thing he is saying the Fed assumes.  That is, if they pay interest on reserves, the banks will just hold their excess reserves at the Fed and not lend it out.  But Adler is right.  Banks can easily have it both ways.  Thanks to the miracle of fractional reserve banking, they can literally have their cake and eat it too; they can earn the interest on the excess reserves while also loaning out the money 8 or 10 times (up to the reserve limit).

From Adler, with additional embedded quotes from The New York Times’s Binyamin Applebaum:


Yet the Fed has found itself forced to experiment. The immense stimulus campaign that it started in response to the 2008 financial crisis changed its relationship with the financial markets. It has pumped so many dollars into the system that it cannot easily drain enough money to discourage lending, its traditional approach. Instead, the Fed plans to throw more money at the problem, paying lenders not to make loans.

That is correct. The new Fed policy amounts to increasing their government subsidy. It is simple bribery. They will attempt to bribe the banks not to make loans. But they can’t enforce that. The banks will still hold all the cash they did before. The increased subsidy will lower their cost basis. I fail to understand how bribing them by paying them more money and telling them not to lend would work.

The Fed requires banks to set aside reserves in proportion to the deposits the banks accept from customers. The reserves can be kept in cash or held in an account at the Fed. Banks that need reserves at the end of a given day can borrow from banks that have a surplus. Before the crisis, the Fed controlled the interest rate on those loans by modulating the supply of reserves: It lowered interest rates by buying Treasury securities from banks and crediting their accounts, increasing the supply of reserves; it raised rates by selling Treasuries to banks and debiting their accounts.

 

This is incomplete, but essentially accurate. Most reserve management in recent years was done through the use of Repurchase Agreements, or repos. These were essentially Fed overnight loans to the banks. It was the key to the Fed Funds market–the bank overnight lending market–and the Fed Funds rate. The Fed set a target Fed Funds rate, and then would issue or withdraw repos daily to keep rates within the target range. In order to do that, it kept the level of excess reserves to an absolute minimum. That gave the Fed a measure of control over the Fed Funds rate.

As the crisis hit in 2008, the Fed pressed this machine to its limits. It bought enough securities and pumped enough reserves into the banking system to drive interest rates on short-term loans to nearly zero. The federal government now pays about a dime to borrow $1,000 for one month. Companies with good credit pay about a dollar to borrow $1,000 from money market funds and other investors.

But the Fed didn’t stop there. It kept buying Treasuries and mortgage bonds to eliminate safe havens, forcing money into riskier investments that might generate economic activity. As a byproduct, the Fed kept expanding the supply of reserves.

One result is a banking system almost comically awash in money. In June 2008, banks had about $10.1 billion in their Fed accounts. The total is now $2.6 trillion. Picture all of the money in June 2008 as a single brick; the Fed has added 256 bricks of the same size. On top of that first brick, there is now a stack five stories tall.

Bank of America, for example, had $388 million in its Fed account at the end of June 2008. Seven years later, at the end of June 2015, it had $107 billion. The bank could double in size and double again and still have more reserves than it needs.

To switch metaphors, the old monetary-policy machine sits at the bottom of a lake of excess reserves. The Fed would need to sell most of the securities it has accumulated before short-term rates would start to rise. Selling quickly could roil markets; selling slowly could allow the economy to overheat. So the Fed decided to find another way.

This is the crux of the issue. It is the corner into which the Fed has painted itself. It has made the market dependent on ZIRP and QE, and now the Fed fears what may happen if it withdraws them. The answer is that nobody knows, because this hasn’t been done before under similar circumstances.

What we do know is that the Fed and Wall Street fear the unknown. So they are averse to trying to do what is right and absolutely essential for restoring sanity in incentives for rational investment decisions , rather than the rank speculation and financial market distortion we have had for the past 7 years.

Instead of draining all that excess money, the Fed decided to freeze it.

Paying Banks Not to Lend

For the last seven years, the Fed has encouraged financial risk-taking in the service of its campaign to increase employment and economic growth. By starting to raise interest rates, the Fed intends to gradually discourage risk-taking.

The straightforward part of the plan is persuading banks not to make loans.

In a serendipitous stroke, Congress passed a law shortly before the financial crisis that let the Fed pay interest on the reserves that banks kept at the Fed. Written as a sop to the banking industry, it has become the new linchpin of monetary policy.

The Fed will “pay banks not to lend.” This is the essence of why it is akin to bribery.

When Will the Fed Raise Rates?

More than seven years ago the Federal Reserve put its benchmark interest rate close to zero, as a way to bolster the economy. But that policy is about to change.

Say the Fed wanted to raise short-term interest rates to 1 percent, meaning that it did not want banks to lend at lower rates. Because the glut of reserves is so great, the Fed could not easily raise rates by reducing the availability of money. Instead, the Fed plans to pre-empt the market, paying banks 1 percent interest on reserves in their Fed accounts, so banks have little reason to lend at lower rates. “Why would you lend to anyone else when you can lend to the Fed?” Kevin Logan, chief United States economist at HSBC, asked rhetorically.
“Why would they not?” I would ask Kevin. They still have all of the funds. The Fed increasing the rate on reserves would not restrict the banks from lending money in any way. The reserve exists as a liability account at the Fed. But it is still a cash asset to the banking system as a whole. The banks could make trillions in loans at whatever rate they want to without running into any constraints whatsoever as long as those excess reserves exist. If the Fed increases their subsidy, they could lend at an even lower rate and still be just as profitable as before.
In fact, if the Fed wants to raise rates, it would need to charge the banks interest on those reserves, not pay interest. In charging the banks interest, it would increase their cost of funds, forcing them to raise rates. This is exactly the opposite of what the Fed is proposing.
Adler’s conclusion here is really interesting.  What would happen if the Fed started charging interest on all those billions of excess reserves?  Well, certainly the banks would take the money out of the Fed, and hold cash.  But they would want to make money with all that cash, so they would do something with it.  Buy more already overvalued equities?  Make loans?  If the Fed did this, and also announced the sale of their accumulated balance sheet holdings (on a, say, less than 5 or 10 year timeline), it would essentially unwind the whole QE.  The banks would end up buying the Fed’s balance sheet and owning the (in some cases shitty worthless) assets again, including all the new treasury bonds issued to finance the deficit spending of the last recession.  Those actions would generate a lot of second order effects.  I’m not sure the Fed people are smart enough to figure out what all those unintended consequences might be, and which of those consequences might actually occur.  They are also smart enough to know that they aren’t going to figure it out.  So I’m pretty sure that charging interest on reserves is not in the realm of possibility.
Plus the Fed wants to hold all the bad assets through maturity.  That was part of the point of buying them from the banks.  Get the bad stuff off of the TBTF banks’ books.  So these are loans made up to and including 2008, with maturities of what, 10 and 15 years?  The Fed wants to keep that balloon of a balance sheet, at least the crappy part, for another 8 years or so, I would guess.  They might be able to unwind some of it, the treasuries, but not the CDOs.  The risk is that the banks will at some point start to make loans based on these excess reserves and circulate more money in the economy, which still could potentially result in some hard to control inflation.  This has been what “inflationistas” have been crowing about all this time.  Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  The problem is that it CAN happen.  It would seem to be in the banks’ best interest for the economy to limp along for another 8 years or so, until the Fed has taken all the losses on the bad loans.  But the banks have already gotten paid.  What is the incentive, at this point, for the banks to continue to play along?  If there are investments out there that the banks could make, at this point, why wouldn’t they?   I don’t know, but they haven’t, and aren’t.  Maybe the investments just aren’t out there.

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Possible cure for HIV, again.

This one looks promising.  Although all the others have, as well.  And truthfully, none of the research has been wasted, even though the disease is not cured.  I think that after 35 years of this horrible disease, there is finally a silver lining beginning to emerge.  The information we gain from HIV research is going to reap rewards far beyond its original intent, and have huge benefits for us all down the road.

From dailymail.com:

When deployed, a combination of a DNA-snipping enzyme called a nuclease and a targeting strand of RNA called a guide RNA (gRNA) hunt down the viral genome and remove the HIV-1 DNA.

From there, the cell’s gene repair machinery takes over, soldering the loose ends of the genome back together – resulting in virus-free cells.

‘Since HIV-1 is never cleared by the immune system, removal of the virus is required in order to cure the disease,’ explained Dr Khalili.

These molecular tools also hold promise as a therapeutic vaccine; cells armed with the nuclease-RNA combination proved impervious to HIV infection.

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Hydrogen gas generated directly from sunlight

The artificial leaf:

When the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) was established at Caltech and its partnering institutions in 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Innovation Hub had one main goal: a cost-effective method of producing fuels using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide, mimicking the natural process of photosynthesis in plants and storing energy in the form of chemical fuels for use on demand. Over the past five years, researchers at JCAP have made major advances toward this goal, and they now report the development of the first complete, efficient, safe, integrated solar-driven system for splitting water to create hydrogen fuels.

The new system consists of three main components: two electrodes—one photoanode and one photocathode—and a membrane. The photoanode uses sunlight to oxidize water molecules, generating protons and electrons as well as oxygen gas. The photocathode recombines the protons and electrons to form hydrogen gas. A key part of the JCAP design is the plastic membrane, which keeps the oxygen and hydrogen gases separate. If the two gases are allowed to mix and are accidentally ignited, an explosion can occur; the membrane lets the hydrogen fuel be separately collected under pressure and safely pushed into a pipeline.

More here.

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