Posts

From Carbon To Metals: the Renewable Energy Transition

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The world is transitioning from a carbon-intensive to a metals-intensive economy. Low-carbon technologies use much larger amounts of metal than traditional fossil fuel-based systems. Demand for metals is thus rising exponentially, fuelling a boom in mining and production. But this creates an environmental challenge. Metals extraction and processing is a significant contributor to global warming and a major pollutant. Unless more environmentally-friendly ways of generating energy from renewable sources can be found, saving the planet from carbon emissions may prove extremely costly for our fellow creatures and even for ourselves.   Climate change is driving a metals and mining boom The Paris Climate Agreement , which was ratified by 174 countries and the European Union in 2016, aims to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius this century and ideally not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Achieving this challenging target is dependent to an unknown degree on factors outside gove

The dismal decade

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Earlier today, the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, gave a speech at the Resolution Foundation outlining the nature of the Covid-19 crisis and the challenge that it poses for monetary policy. But as his speech progressed, it became clear that the Bank faces a much larger challenge. Covid-19 hit the UK economy at the end of a dismal decade. Returning to "where we were" before the pandemic won't be good enough.  Just how dismal the 2010s were is evident in this chart from Andrew Sentance:  Even before Covid-19 struck, average GDP growth was well below its historical average and heading downwards. The 2010s were, to put it bluntly, a decade of stagnation.  The 2000s were slightly worse, but that was because they included the deep recession after the financial crisis, during which the economy shrank by 6%. For the 2010s, there was no such excuse.  So Covid-19 hit an already under-performing economy. As a result, Sentance's forecast for the 2020s is frankly

Democracy won't save you

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The fashionable concentration on democracy as the main value threatened is not without danger. It is largely responsible for the misleading and unfounded belief that so long as the ultimate source of power is the will of the majority, the power cannot be arbitrary. The false assurance which many people derive from this belief is an important cause of the general unawareness of the dangers which we face. There is no justification for the belief that so long as power is conferred by democratic procedure, it cannot be arbitrary; the contrast suggested by this statement is altogether false: it is not the source but the limitation of power which prevents it from becoming arbitrary. Democratic control may prevent power from becoming arbitrary, but it does not do so by its mere existence. If democracy resolves on a task which necessarily involves the use of power which cannot be guided by fixed rules, it must become arbitrary power.   No, this isn't Hannah Arendt. It's the final parag

Bitcoin fixes Microstrategy (or does it?)

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Do you have a poorly-performing company that you don't know what to do with? Bitcoin fixes this!  At least, that's what Michael Saylor seems to think. Since August 2020, Microstrategy, the company of which he is simultaneously CEO, chairman and principal investor, has invested heavily in Bitcoin. And Saylor has joined the select group of billionaires fronting the campaign to promote Bitcoin's widespread adoption (and talk up its price).  Microstrategy has been bumping along the bottom for quite some time. MarketWatch helpfully reports the income statements for the last five years . They make grim reading. Here are the bottom-line net income and key financial metrics from 2015 to 2019 inclusive: Yes, there's been some improvement in net income, but just look at that EBITDA.... The financials reveal a company that is making little money, generating little free cash and repeatedly reporting operating losses. Sales are disappointing and operating costs are high. At the time

Reconciling IS-LM and endogenous money

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This post was sparked by conversations with people who have opposing views of how money creation works. Some people think that classical models such as IS-LM don't work with endogenous money theory, therefore the models need to be discarded: others think that there's nothing wrong with the model and the problem is endogenous money theory. Personally I think that simple models like IS-LM can be powerful tools to explain aspects of the working of a market economy, and it behooves us therefore to find ways of adapting them to work with an endogenous fiat money system. So this is my attempt to reconcile IS-LM with endogenous money. I don't claim that it is anything like the final word on the subject, so comments are welcome.  The IS-LM model looks like this: : where M is the quantity of money in circulation, L is the "liquidity preference" (the degree to which investors prefer to hold interest-bearing, less liquid assets rather than to zero-interest, highly liquid mon

The asymmetric mechanics of Tether

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Tether is the issuer of the cryptocurrrency world's premier stablecoin, USDT. Stablecoins aim to guarantee the value of cryptocurrencies in dollar terms, hedging volatility risk and making it easier to realise notional gains from cryptocurrency's wild price rises. But Tether's relationship with the main cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, is controversial. There is a raging battle between those who think that USDT issuance pumps up the price of Bitcoin, and those who argue that USDT issuance has nothing to do with Bitcoin's price. But in my view, the truth is more complex. Tether's asymmetric mechanics both support and disprove the arguments of both sides.  USDT, Tether's "token", is a representation of the US dollar that can be readily traded on cryptocurrency markets. People exchange dollars for USDT, then use the USDT to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. They do so secure in the belief that each USDT token is always worth 1 US dollar. And so far, U

Trade, saving and an economic disaster

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 The UK is running a trade surplus. No, really, I am not joking. This is from the ONS's latest trade statistics release : The UK total trade surplus, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, increased £3.8 billion to £7.7 billion in the three months to August 2020, as exports grew by £21.4 billion and imports grew by a lesser £17.5 billion It's the first time the UK has run a trade surplus since the late 1990s:  And if you were thinking this was because of the lockdown, you would be wrong. The UK has been running a trade surplus since the beginning of 2020: Admittedly, the trade surplus widened under lockdown. But the UK economy reopened to some degree from June to August - and yet the trade surplus continues to widen. This is no doubt music to the ears of balance of payments obsessives. Could the UK at last be pivoting away from a consumption-led growth model to an export-led one?  At first sight, it appears so. Exports have increased more than imports. And the s