A little over 100 years ago, there was a bubble asset that rose and fell wildly over the course of a decade. People who held it would have lost 100 per cent of their money five different times. They would have, at various points, made huge fortunes, or seen the value of their asset destroyed by hyperinflation.
The asset I’m referring to is gold priced in Weimar marks. If this reminds you of bitcoin, you are not alone. In his newsletter Tree Rings, analyst Luke Gromen looked at the startling similarities in the volatility of gold in Weimar Germany and bitcoin today. His conclusion? Bitcoin isn’t so much a bubble as “the last functioning fire alarm” warning us of some very big geopolitical changes ahead.
I agree. Central bankers have over the past 10 years (or the last few decades, depending on where you put the marker) quashed price discovery in markets with low interest rates and quantitative easing. Whether you see this as a welcome smoothing of the business cycle or a dysfunctional enabling of debt-ridden businesses, the upshot is that it’s now very difficult to get a sense of the health of individual companies or certainly the real economy as a whole from asset prices.
The rise in popularity of highly volatile cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could simply be seen as a speculative sign of this US Federal Reserve-enabled froth. But it might better be interpreted as an early signal of a new world order in which the US and the dollar will play a less important role.
The past four years of Donald Trump’s presidency and his toxic politics have taken a toll on the world’s trust in America. That has also diminished trust in some quarters about the dollar’s stability as the global reserve currency. This feeling reached an apex during the January 6 attack on the US Capitol building. As financial policy analyst Karen Petrou put it in a recent note to clients: “There are many casualties of this quasi-coup, but the US dollar may well be among them. It’s no more immortal than any other category-killer brand.”
Trump certainly devalued Brand USA. But he is also a symptom of longer-term economic problems in the US — problems which have in recent years been papered over by low rates and monetary policy, which kept asset prices high but also encouraged debt and leverage.
Bitcoin’s rise reflects the belief in some parts of the investor community that the US will eventually come in some ways to resemble Weimar Germany, as post-2008 financial crisis monetary policy designed to stabilise markets gives way to post-Covid monetisation of rising US debt loads. There are, after all, only three ways out of debt — growth, austerity, or money printing. If the US government sells so much debt that the dollar starts to lose its value, then bitcoin could conceivably be a safe haven.
A future without a liberal class will prove to be a problem not only for the people it is supposed to protect but also for the integrity of the American democratic system as a whole.
Indeed, the government needs to have a liberal functioning class, as it acts as a safeguard against policies that are too harsh. A liberal bulwark too is often the last hope for those whom the government has wronged.
It was the liberal class, for example, that pushed reforms such as workers’ rights, saving people from complete exploitation under an unfettered free market or despotic government.
A functioning liberal class also acts as an attack dog, battling radical movements that might wish to topple a government by instituting the moderate reforms that discredit more radical action.
The liberal class can claim, rightly or wrongly, that its policies can improve a social situation without the insecurity and chaos that can come with radical change.
Furthermore, Americans have become disappointed and restless without a functioning liberal class.
The failed liberal class in the United States provides no new meaningful reforms and is thus no longer a safeguard against governmental controls. Consequently, today’s working class feels disappointed and angry.
We can also find examples throughout history of how the disappearance of a functioning liberal class has caused the collapse of entire governments.
At the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany, for example, the liberal class failed to satisfy the needs of its citizens, such as providing job security and a stable economy. With their needs unmet, the public turned to extremists on both sides of the political spectrum for support, which eventually allowed the Nazi party to rise significantly in power.
The failure of the liberal class weakens an entire political system, the consequences of which are much harsher and broader than you might initially think.
The precipitating event was, of course, Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor. That was Jan. 30, 1933. Almost exactly a month later, the German parliament building, the Reichstag, was consumed by fire. A Dutch communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was accused of setting it. (He was subsequently guillotined.) Hitler, declaring a vast communist threat, asked President Paul von Hindenburg for emergency powers. He got them. He kept them until he died.
.. Trump despises dissent and often reacts emotionally to setbacks or challenges.
.. Now, ask yourself what might happen if there were a huge terrorist incident on American soil. Might this man of little knowledge and no restraint attempt to suspend civil liberties? (After all, even Abraham Lincoln did.) His instinctive reaction to flag-burning was all wrong. In addition, he holds the Nixonian view that the law is what he says it is.
.. So great was the urge to trash the status quo that Trump’s lying, bragging, cheating, insulting and breathtaking ignorance did not disqualify him.
.. Paul D. Ryan speaks of Trump as if he’s just had a chat with Ben Franklin — some good ideas, and let bygones be bygones — but this passivity is actually good. Trump needs to be surrounded by political adults. Sooner or later, someone’s going to have to throw a pitcher of cold water in his face.
It would be foolish and dangerous not to take him seriously. His bombast is attuned to Weimar America. The United States is not paying reparations, as Weimar Germany was after World War I. Hyperinflation does not loom. But the Europeanization of American politics is unmistakable.
.. “Every time things get worse, I do better,” Trump says. He does. They may get still worse.