Wolf Richter

“Confiscate, Secretly and Unobserved”

When inflation isn’t particularly hot, it’s praised as something desirable…. Alas: “Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily.” John Maynard Keynes.

Beloved Banana Republic of California

The horse-trading sessions in Greece will most likely lead to new elections, and the inevitable: Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. The uncertain consequences for Greece and the rest of Europe will confound jittery financial markets. And while all eyes are fixed on Greece, a tiny economy on the worldwide scale, a much larger economy is heading deeper into fiscal disaster: California.

Sunday Photographer

Tokyo, June 1996. Satoru-san is already at the izakaya near Mita Station when I get there, and I’m early. Despite the swelter, he’s unflinchingly dapper in his charcoal blazer, gray shirt, and silver tie. “I’m sorry I’m early,” he says, perhaps his standard greeting when he isn’t late, which he probably never is. “I benefit from my freedom. My wife doesn’t allow me to drink. Like many Japanese, I lack the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.”

The Endgame: “Greeks feel hopeless”

On Thursday, rumors that Greece would have a government goosed the stock markets in Europe. While everybody was out to lunch in Frankfurt, the DAX ran up 110 points. In Athens, the ATHEX, which appears to be on a multi-year trajectory toward zero, jumped 4.2%. But on Friday, when it became clear that the rumor was just a rumor, the index resumed its downward trajectory. And Greeks went to bed without a new government.

Germany and France Kiss, Make Up, and Flip-Flop

Originally, François Hollande planned on visiting Germany on May 16, the day after becoming President of France, to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel for some barbed-wire fence-mending. But now he pushed it up to May 15, the earliest second possible. At midnight, President Nicolas Sarkozy will hand him the keys to the Élysée Palace, while Merkel will be putting on lipstick for her dinner with him. And the flip-flopping has already started.

The Japanese Are Dumping Their Gold

In Japan, people who are old enough to have lived it as adults still reminisce about the bubble that blew up in 1989 when the Nikkei almost hit 40,000 (now 9,045) and when the sky-high prices of real estate could only go up further. The slide from top to reality has been brutal, and a lot of people lost their shirts. But there has been one investment that has worked out phenomenally well for the otherwise hapless Japanese investor: Gold.

Japan’s Sanctimonious Finance Minister

There are certainly some topics that Japan can lecture France on, for example standing in line. In Japan, a line is a display of communal discipline. In France, a line is something to be worked actively. Japan can also lecture France on designing and making cars and electronics. But the topic that Japan—fiscally the most undisciplined country in the developed world—can’t include in its sermon to France is fiscal discipline. And yet….

Blowback from Sarkozy’s Election Finance Shenanigans

Europe greeted with excitement—or exasperation—the arrival of the “President of Growth,” François Hollande. And outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed that he’d quit politics. He complained about journalists dogging him. “I’m spied on,” he said (ironically). “I hope they will leave me alone.” But that’s precisely what they won’t do because, on May 15, he’ll lose his immunity that has protected him against a ton of malodorous allegations.

Communication Problem: Buying Ointment for Ji

Tokyo, June 1996. Ji is the word for “hemorrhoid.” I looked it up. The sound is identical to chi, “blood,” and only the Japanese can distinguish them. My problem is I’ve run out of hemorrhoid ointment. A wiry lady in a lab coat, the only person in the small pharmacy, greets me apprehensively. I greet her in my best Japanese. “I’m sorry to trouble you,” I add, a fixed expression used in front of a question. It comes out smoothly, and I feel more confident. Her apprehension grows.

Ron Paul Slugs At The Fed One More Time

Before retiring from Congress, Rep. Ron Paul, Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology, slugs at the Fed one more time: Tuesday, his committee weighs six bills to reform or abolish the Fed which “continues to reward Wall Street banks while destroying the dollar’s purchasing power and driving up the cost of living for average Americans,” he said.