The Quiet American Reset

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by Alastair Crooke, Strategic Culture:

The great de-coupling is here. The U.S. now has plan a to purge Chinese tech companies fully from America’s internet, creating what the Trump administration has dubbed the Clean Network. It mirrors the White House’s existing 5G Clean Path initiative to remove all Chinese components from systems ‘everywhere’, and which now extends it to everything tech on the ‘net.

China fears a financial ‘Iron Curtain’ is about to fall – a complete expulsion from the dollar sphere. In fact, soft capital control is already birthing, with Bloomberg reporting that the U.S. is now asking colleges and universities to divest from Chinese holdings in their endowments, “warning schools in a letter this last week, to get ahead of potentially more onerous measures [coming] on those holding the shares”.

Reportedly, the Chinese leadership annual August Beidaihe retreat, agreed (should the recommendations be subsequently endorsed at the Central Committee plenum in October) that China should prepare for war; build food and energy reserves; establish the Eurasian continental economic system, recover its overseas gold and broaden the global RMB settlement system (including its digital Yuan) – and prepare for the complete interruption of relations with the U.S.

Yet, whilst the media focus is all on this ‘tech’ and ‘sphere’ de-coupling, something profound – and quite separate – is already shaping the global monetary order (quite apart from likely Chinese exclusion). It is set, in the longer term, to be more revolutionary – and contentious – than even ‘de-coupling’. It is getting sparse attention.

However, as it becomes ever more evident that no ‘V’ shaped economic rebound will be arriving soon – as the U.S. ‘house’ catches fire again with Coronavirus over the autumn and winter, presaging a further economic closedown – the chances are that this bombshell will indeed ignite. First, a little background:

Earlier this month, Zero Hedge published a remarkable interview with two former Fed economists – Simon Potter (who was also the former head of the Fed’s Plunge Protection Team for many years) and Julia Coronado – both of whom have tremendous impact on thinking at the Fed.

They hinted at the Fed’s ‘last ditch’ stimulus and bailout strategy (i.e. should the U.S. economy be further stalled by Coronavirus): It is ‘to wire’ digital money directly into Americans’ smartphone financial apps, bypassing the banking system entirely. “The two propose creating a monetary tool that they call ‘recession insurance bonds’, which draw on some of the advances in digital payments and ‘wired’ instantly to Americans”:

“As Coronado explains the details, Congress would grant the Federal Reserve an additional tool for providing support — say, a percent of GDP [in a lump sum that would be divided equally and distributed] to households in a recession. Recession insurance bonds would be zero-coupon securities, a contingent asset of households that would basically lie in wait. The trigger could be reaching the zero lower bound on interest rates or, as economist Claudia Sahm has proposed, a 0.5 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate. The Fed would then activate the securities and deposit the funds digitally in households’ apps.

“As Potter then elucidates: “it took Congress too long to get money to people, and it’s too clunky. We need a separate infrastructure. The Fed could buy the bonds quickly without going to the private market. On March 15 they could have said interest rates are now at zero, we’re activating X amount of the bonds, and we’ll be tracking the unemployment rate—if it increases above this level, we’ll buy more. The bonds will be on the asset side of the Fed’s balance sheet; the digital dollars in people’s accounts will be on the liability side.””

Then, just days later, Federal Reserve Governor, Lael Brainard, hinted once again at the coming monetary revolution: “To enhance understanding of digital currencies, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston is collaborating with researchers at MIT, in a multi-year effort to build and test a hypothetical digital currency oriented to central bank uses … It is important to understand how the existing provisions of the Federal Reserve Act with regard to currency issuance apply to a CBDC and whether a CBDC would have legal tender status, depending on the design”.

So what would prompt the Fed to pursue “this significant policy process”? Why – another leg down, resulting from an upsurge in Covid-19, of course. The last bailout was not just “clunky”, it sent stocks and bonds soaring skyward. And has severed asset prices from any connection to metrics of value, from fundamentals, and from analysis (and did do not much either for ordinary Americans). What we now have, therefore, is a market focussed only on narratives, and not on reality. This has implications, too.

The prospect of the Fed ‘printing’ digital dollars, wired to peoples’ cash-pay apps, as a new stimulus mechanism – replete with the overtones of a ‘Davos Reset’ formula for moving toward a digital, global Universal Basic Income model is obvious – as is the political temptation for politicos to pay for all sorts of political ‘projects’ in this way.

Yet this is only a half of the ‘Revolution’ – two other components are already ‘done’. Two tipping-points have been passed. Firstly, people can see (with Boomer entitlement spending about to soar into the Trillions), that the U.S. government cannot support the debt burden without having the central bank simply ‘print’ more money. Many on Wall Street will see this as the solution: Putting digital money directly onto apps must be inflationary, they believe. And inflation can melt away America’s debt-load through de-basing the currency.

Secondly, in April, the Fed already changed the Supplementary Leverage Ratios (SLR) to exempt U.S. Treasuries from capital-ratio requirements. In simple English, this means that commercial banks can buy any amount of U.S. government debt instruments, without putting aside capital on their balance sheet, to support such purchases. So that (as long as rates are even marginally positive) they can buy and enjoy a nominal income. In June, U.S. banks increased their U.S. Treasuries by 48%. Effectively, the Fed facilitates the credit creation; the banks use it to buy Treasuries; and the government then spends the money.

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