Erdogan is Right about Monetary Policy

by Serban V.C. Enache

Last month, Turkey’s president fired the head of the country’s Central Bank, Murat Cetinkaya. “We told him several times to cut interest rates at meetings on the economy […] We said that if rates fall, inflation will fall. He didn’t do what was necessary.” His view on monetary policy was mocked by mainstream economists, who are either incompetent or just playing dumb. Sure enough, the CB did what Erdogan desired. That being said, Turkey’s key lending rate and interbank rate remain in the double digits. Meanwhile, private debt to GDP has stabilized at around 170 percent and the public’s desire now is to slowly unwind.

Here’s why Erdogan’s unorthodox view on monetary policy is correct. The CB’s lending rate is the cost of borrowing reserves; reserves are used by banks for accounting and settlement purposes. Banks DO NOT lend out reserves to their debtor customers. The ability of banks to approve loans is contingent on their capital and the actual demand for loans: the presence of credit-worthy customers willing to borrow money. Banks first approve the loans, and later acquire the reserves if they need them. So long as a bank meets the capital requirement, it can always borrow reserves [in case it’s short on reserves] from the interbank market [from banks with a surplus of reserves] or from the Central Bank itself. The lending rate is a cost on liquidity. During a period of deleveraging, which the Turkish private sector wants to do, it’s not wise to increase this cost. At the same time, higher interest on reserves and on Government bonds translates into larger financial flows into the economy through the CB & Treasury interest payments channel.

A counter-argument can be made that, with a lower lending rate, speculators could borrow Liras more easily and use them to buy foreign currency. This is a legitimate concern, however, since Turkish private sector debt has peaked, fewer economic agents have a good balance sheet to engage in such activities, and at the same time, given the overall situation, banks are more prudent now, since their equity positions are shaky. This particular concern wouldn’t exist if the country’s laws ensured asset side discipline for the banking sector. Contrary to conventional beliefs, you don’t discipline banks on the liability side, but on the asset side. A bank’s liabilities are stable in value, but its assets [loans made] oscillate in value. The riskier the loans, the riskier the spread between assets and liabilities, endangering the bank’s equity position. Erdogan’s desire to have the Central Bank lower rates is beneficial in two ways for the Turkish economy. First, it allows for a smoother deleveraging phase. Second, it minimizes the volume of funds entering the economy via the CB & Treasury interest payments channel, easing inflationary pressures.

Here’s what Erdogan’s Government should do with regard to asset side regulations. Banks shouldn’t have subsidiaries of any kind, since keeping assets off balance sheet doesn’t serve public purpose and it makes it harder in real terms for Government regulators to monitor them. Banks shouldn’t be allowed to accept financial assets as collateral for loans, because leverage serves no public purpose. Banks shouldn’t be allowed to lend off-shore [for foreign purposes]; bilateral agreements between states should cover that type of activity. Banks shouldn’t be allowed to engage in proprietary trading or any profit making venture beyond basic lending. Banks would issue loans based on credit analysis, not market valuation; they would not be allowed to mark their assets to market prices. Banks shouldn’t be allowed to buy or sell credit default insurance. Banks shouldn’t be allowed to contract in an interest rate set in a foreign country. Banks would only be allowed to lend directly to customers, service and keep those loans on their own balance sheet. No public purpose is served by selling assets to third parties. The interbank market should be abolished as well, since it serves absolutely no public purpose. The CB should lend directly to its member banks. The reserve requirement should also be removed, since banks can provision themselves with enough liquidity [from the State] by simply looking at the behavior of their customers. And under all these rules in place, limited Government deposit insurance can be upgraded to full insurance. Last but not least, in order to improve the ability of banks to manage risk and lower overall speculation, a principle from the Islamic banking model should be adopted. It works as follows – when a customer comes in to get a loan to acquire a piece of property [a house, an apartment, a vehicle etc], the bank buys that property and gives it to the customer for use, but the bank retains ownership over it, until the debt is squared. This provision serves another great purpose… it facilitates an easy transition from mainstream taxation to the Single Tax [Georgist] framework. With this rule in place, the responsibility for paying the land-value tax [LVT] falls upon the bank, not the debtor. The debtor makes the debt payments to the bank, and the bank uses those funds to pay the LVT.

Here are two examples:

Phasing in Land-Value Taxation. I bought land through a bank loan, and now the Government has eliminated the property tax and instead introduced a 10 percent LVT. I’m stuck with paying the LVT and the debt I owe to the bank, which is not fair. Therefore, the Government introduces the Islamic banking rule retroactively, and the ownership of the land goes to my creditor, who can’t kick me out, as long as I honor my debt payments. With this change in ownership, the bank accepts a loss of 10 percent [the LVT]. It’s much easier for Government to deal with financial firms in an orderly, institutional manner, than directly with every household faced with this double-burden. The State can temporarily relax capital requirements, should it be necessary in the transition from the antiquated, regressive and perverse tax code to the new, fair and efficient one. The boys and girls at the Bank of International Settlements will, of course, grimace at such a bold and informed move.

Full Land-Value Taxation is in place. Banks won’t be happy to accept land as collateral, given the fact land has a 100 percent tax liability on it. And those that do will have to hope for a near zero profit at best. So gaining access to land will be possible in most cases without any upfront cost. A citizen will simply pledge to pay LVT to the State, and he or she gets the respective plot.

Going back to the issue at hand… mainstream commentators can mock Erdogan as much as they want, but they’re the ones who are wrong about interest rates. The ‘natural’ interest rate on fiat money is zero! Anything below zero is a tax. Anything above zero is a subsidy. Those who claim that higher interest rates lower the volume of ‘malinvestment’ are arguing for a regressive and inefficient way to combat it. According to their logic, all pharmaceuticals should be sold at a premium, to make it more expensive for those seeking to buy the drugs for recreational use, instead of treating illnesses. Why should everyone pay more because a few abuse these products? Why should the cost of money be higher, just because some use it for speculation, rather than wealth creation? The correct logic is to distinguish between productive and unproductive economic activity. Encourage the former and discourage the latter. Higher interest rates across the board [levied irrespective of the type of economic activity] is as regressive as it gets and it hardly does anything to contain malinvestment. Those who blame the real estate bubble on low interest rates [so-called artificially low rates] are wholly missing the root cause: privatized land rents – landlords and money lenders appropriating the value of location [value which they did not create]. Without this phenomenon, asset price inflation wouldn’t occur. Under full land-value capture, property prices would be kept stable. If Erdogan wants to escape the looming recession and secure his power, instead of engaging in damage control, his Administration should push in the Georgist direction, even if that means completely pissing off the vested interests within and without Turkey.

On the Brink of War

by Serban V.C. Enache

Trump’s Neocons, with virtually no opposition from the Democrats, went to the final stage of trade warfare against Iran, by eliminating all wavers for Iranian oil exports into China, Turkey, Italy, India, Japan, Greece, Taiwan, and South Korea. Turkey’s Foreign Minister said that ending wavers for Iranian crude won’t serve regional peace and stability, but will harm the Iranian people; he rejected American unilateralism. Similarly, the Chinese Foreign Minister stated that Iranian-Chinese commerce is lawful and transparent and must be respected.

Mike Pompeo warned non-compliant state actors with trade sanctions. The Trump administration is practicing gunboat diplomacy, perfectly emulating the philosophy and means of the [defunct] British Empire, against the entire world, even its allies [many of whom are de facto US occupied territories, like Western Europe & the Balkans]. For those upstart enthusiasts who claim NATO is an alliance, and not an occupation, I ask them – how many European troops and European military bases are on United States soil? None. I rest my case.

In response to this final stage of commercial aggression, Teheran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. About 20 percent of global crude output destined for foreign markets travels through the Strait, that’s also about one third of seaborne oil. Saudi and US oil exporters are eager to expand production, in order to cover the [geopolitical] shortfall from Iranian and Venezuelan crude, and gain a higher market share as a result. Still, the closing of the Strait of Hormuz would bring about harsh consequences, especially for the Gulf states, and a prolonged conflict might leave countries like UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar extremely vulnerable. The navigable portion of the Strait is only 2 miles wide. Back in 1980-1988, there was the tanker war between [US-sponsored] Iraq and Iran. In the final year of that conflict, the American USS Vincennes shot down Iranian civilian air flight 655, killing all 290 souls on board.

As if in a trans-national orchestrated fashion, after the bombings in Sri Lanka against Christian churches, claimed by ISIS [a servitor faction of Washington, Riyadh, and Tel Aviv], the Saudi government engaged in mass executions, beheading 37 people, one of them a 16-year old boy, whom they crucified to serve as an example. These individuals were condemned for alleged terrorist activities, and they were all Shias [a religious minority in Saudi Arabia and a minority within the Muslim world]. Note: Iran is predominantly a Shia Muslim country. In fact, King Salman, so praised by Trump as a great guy, began his rule a few years ago – not with a general pardon of prisoners [a centuries old custom if not older, applied by new rulers to redress bad blood and wipe the slate clean with a gesture of mercy] but with the largest executions since 1980, beheading 47 and shooting four. These are your tyrannical and murderous regimes, folks, not those in Cuba and Venezuela. If you participate in a protest against the Saudi Government, you get killed. If you criticize Formula 1 in Bahrain [a stooge regime of the Saudis], you have your citizenship revoked. Contrast that state of affairs to Guaido, touring Venezuela, trying to incite the military to rebel against Maduro’s government.

Now, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, several months ago Trump publicly threatened the Saudi King with “you won’t last two weeks without us,” so without a second great power getting involved in that region, divergence from Washington’s instructions that the Saudis might wish to pursue is ruled out – not that they have any desire to come to a peaceful understanding with Teheran.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, a key founder of the US-Iran nuclear agreement, and a most sensible humanist, handed out his resignation two months ago. His gesture came in frustration with the government, after he was excluded from meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was visiting Teheran back in February. Iran’s President, however, Hassan Rouhani rejected Zarif’s resignation, saying that his leave would not serve the country’s interests. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei remained circumspect from the beginning, and his wariness was not misplaced, for Trump, after pulling the US out of the nuclear agreement, was quick to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Iran is left with no other option but to get in gear for a full-on war, since Washington already declared it. Despite all the diplomatic work put in by the Iranian moderates, there’s no understanding to be reached with the Neocons and, no doubt, Netanyahu can’t wait for the war’s arrival. I say this without a shadow of a doubt, the alliance between Christian Zionism, Jewish Zionism, and Wahhabism is the greatest threat to world peace in the 21st century.

Russo-Turkish Relations

Moving Away From US Hegemony

by Serban V.C. Enache

Yesterday, the heads of state of Russia and Turkey held a joint press conference, which is available here. One of their common points was to get bilateral trade working with just the ruble and the lira. Every sovereign nation ought to conduct trade in her own currency and that of her trade partner, and not conduct trade in a 3rd party currency [like the US dollar or the euro]. The issuer of the 3rd party currency receives an unearned increase in his currency’s value. When the international situation deters [like today, due to the USA’s war mongering], national currency swaps between partner countries is better than relying on a foreign currency with which to do settlement payments – especially if the reserve currency in question belongs to a belligerent actor, who – as we have seen in the case of Venezuela – has the power of freezing those accounts.

Both Russia and Turkey are advancing well in their bilateral trade and tourism, some of the most important deals are the TurkStream gas project, Rusatom aiding Turkey with her nuclear power plants, and the S-400 sealed deal.

Vladimir Putin, asked about the trade situation with Turkey being in Russia’s favor, said that a neutral trade balance is what he wishes. You’ll never hear such a statement from a German head of state or Eurocrat Neoliberal. You will never hear the EU or the Eurozone’s top brass criticize the huge and sustained German financial surpluses against the Periphery countries. They will insist for member state governments to have balanced fiscal statements, but never balanced current accounts. Putin emphasized that the main factor of attractiveness of Russian gas exports is reliability of delivery.

The situation in Syria was raised as well, including the Kurdish question. As the situation stands, the best option – which preserves human life and avoids further conflict – for the Kurds is to accept Syrian unity and relinquish any territorial claims. If we’re to invoke things like patriotism and nationalism, these ideals are incompatible with strife and death. No true patriot or nationalist can accept the blood of civilians, his own or that of the enemy, and pretend he or she is on the side of justice. The only way for sustainable peace, order, and development is through the implementation and observance of Westphalian principles: forgiving and forgetting past transgressions in perpetuity. The realist and moral position for the Kurdish region is to remain part of Syria, with full equality under the law.

The Kemalists are a concern, however, since their aim is to have stronger relations with NATO and get full EU membership. Erdogan saw how Washington treats its allies when they become independent, they tried a coup against him. Washington maintained radio silence during the coup operation, and only came out in public to condemn the coup attempt after it had failed. If you want further proof, Erdogan demanded Gulen from the Americans, so he could be tried in Turkey for his involvement in the coup. Gulen is NOT an American citizen, yet the Americans declined. It’s very clear that Washington tried to oust Erdogan, and Erdogan, since then, has taken measures to diversify geopolitical and economic relations. Erdogan should aim to strike a balance between the laic and religious sections of the population within Turkey, otherwise he risks a civil war of his own. I wrote about Turkey’s financial plight in August last year, and so far, despite the underwhelming results for Erdogan’s party [the AKP] at the recent local elections, he is pursuing a truly sovereign foreign policy and I give credit where credit is due. Turkey is no longer in the Yankee deck.

The only chance for peace in that part of the world is for Eurasia to rise, not just as an ideal, but as a Westphalian reality [a sisterhood of sovereign nation states]. I call it Southwest Asia, not the Middle East, because the latter, since the Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916, has been used as a British imperial term to describe a hot, resource dense, looting ground, and recurrent geopolitical hand grenade in Great Power conflicts [divide & rule].

The Clock’s Ticking for Turkey

by Serban V.C. Enache

The financial picture looks like this:

Turkish Government debt: 28 percent of GDP in 2017, and has been falling for several years. Private sector debt is 170 percent of GDP – and roughly 35 percent of that is denominated in foreign currency. Turkish nominal GDP growth has been solid for several years, even reaching the double digit mark. Continue reading “The Clock’s Ticking for Turkey”