Author Archives: camillerimark

What’s the point of it all?

What’s the point of paying taxes and interest payments on loans if the central banks can print unlimited amounts of money with supposedly no consequences at all?

When Lehman Brothers crashed in 2007, they told us that bailing out the banks was not an acceptable solution.

Then they did just that and bailed out the banks.

Then they told us that debts and deficits had to be sustainable. Quantitative easing was here only temporally and the central bank’s balance sheet would eventually contract. No one would have to be bailed-out ever again.

Then they did just what they had been warning against for many years on end and went full-on Zimbabwe with quantitative easing, this time round, even buying junk bonds of private corporations.

Small businesses are still paying their interests on their loans and ordinary workers are out of work or living on unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile private banks keep making a profit, corporations get free money, and government’s get loaded up on debt paving the way for the new austerity.

Next time round they will eventually admit that all this debt is unsustainable and can not be paid. Bonds, like oil may become a liability eventually. But, even in this hypothetical scenario, it won’t be ordinary people who would be receiving the debt-jubilees I suspect.

More than 200 years after Karl Marx’s birthday it is still outstanding to see how the financial and banking system is strongly biased towards the haves, while the have-nots are locked-out from the largesse of central banks.

The incredible incompetence of the West

LagardeLast week I was speaking to small-medium sized printers. Clients are not paying bills for their past orders, the cash-flow has stopped and new orders have been reduced by up to 75%. Given the lack of cash-flow and that the money for the rest of the 25% will probably not be coming anytime soon, printers have started taking loans from banks to pay for salaries and wages.

So, basically, small businesses are strapped of cash and are expected to make sacrifices while banks keep making money on interest rates, fees and commission, not to mention the profits they are making from the orgy of the bond-market and the liquidity measures taken by the ECB.

What does the general public get in return? It gets austerity and a social welfare pay-cheque.  Meanwhile, we are lead to believe that eventually, when the pandemic is over, everything will be ok, and that all the liquidity spurred by debt will somehow stick.

So, small business get crushed, the general public gets austerity, governments get loaded up on debt, banks keep making profits, the public officers, civil-servants and the central bankers get to keep their pay-cheques and the oligarchical corporations get to take-over all the scraps that fall into the dead ground. Sounds like corporate-fascism to me. But let’s not call it that. Let’s not be hyperbolic. Let’s say, this is a temporary economic downturn which is being addressed by our heroic central bankers with their excessive liquidity measures.

Bullshit.

If you would have gone back five years ago and you would have told people that central banks would have been printing all this money, they would have told you that you were insane. Now, as we are living the insanity in real-time, we are beginning to slowly realise that our leaders are incredibly incompetent and totally reckless.

Yes, as if we don’t know the obvious, already – that whenever the economic problems of a country were solved by printing excessive amounts of new money, the economy and the monetary-system crashed.  No, I am not saying the Dollar will crash – it doesn’t seem like it and no one wants Russia or China to be the new global currency leaders. In fact the Dollar may go as well much higher and the Euro keeps getting crushed. However, even the fact that we are contemplating and discussing these issues is a clear indication of the gravity of the situation we are in.

What I’m mostly afraid of is that currently, no Western leader has the proverbial balls to do what is required: stop the bond-buying orgy, restructure the debt and the banking system, introduce debt-jubilees and bring real relief to small-businesses and the general public. So, let’s keep hoping that somehow, things will be better instead. Until then, dangerous political forces may swoop in and do unpredictable stuff which may be even scarier.

 

Why Karl Marx would have liked Bitcoin

imagesBitcoin was launched in 2009 as a Peer-to-Peer monetary network with a blockchain technology which can be used to send money to another party without going through a middle-man such as a bank or a money-institution.1 Many young people were back then familiar with the P2P concept thanks to programmes which enabled users to share files. A P2P network is independent from a central server and its existence relies on the network of its users. It is in this way that Bitcoin gets its value. When someone says I’m buying Bitcoin, they are actually buying part of the Bitcoin network – the more money is put into this network, the higher its value. At the time of writing, the Bitcoin network cost €114.3 billion which equates to the total amount of value of all Bitcoin held. This does not include the multiplier effect of this Bitcoin network which includes brokerage companies and Bitcoin financial institutions, but includes the value of the miners who produce Bitcoin by mining it through complex mathematical equations. The value of Bitcoin can only increase if more money is added to the network because the supply of Bitcoin is capped at 21 million units. The Bitcoin digital network itself is by its own nature a security-function against digital attacks known popularly as hacking, however online brokers and financial institutions storing or owning Bitcoin may be more prone to hacking and digital attacks.

Karl Marx would have liked Bitcoin. Marx is one of the most misunderstood economists and philosophers in the world. Unfortunately, the theories and philosophy of Marx have been mostly understood and interpreted across the world through the lens of the Bolsheviks, namely Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. This polemic may be the subject of another essay some other time.

Andrew Kliman is one of the few Marxist economists whom I prefer against the mainstream Marxist traditions. Kliman offers a very rational and literal interpretation of Marx’s Capital. Das Kapital is Marx’s magnum opus, but it has often been obfuscated with Marx’s own political work such as the more popular The Communist Manifesto which was commissioned by an international political association of workers called The Communist League. Readers of Capital should simply take it as it is: a deep and technical critique of the capitalist system, and when one reads Capital in this unbiased way, one can only be fascinated with Marx’s insights on the abstractions of capitalism.

As Kliman rightly points out, in Capital, Marx did not say that capitalism was to implode, and neither did he say that the rate of profit would gradually decrease to the extent that capitalism would stagnate permanently. Marx put forward the case that when technological innovations decrease labour-costs and increase productivity, surplus-value may increase and the rate of profit decreases.2 It is logical that if you want to make profits, you need customers, and customers are possible only if wages are paid and workers have money to spend. Furthermore, as Kliman correctly points out, Marx’s distinction between commodity-value and the price of the commodity was theoretical and in the real economy the two are interchangeable.3 Marx defined the value of a commodity according to its labour-time, and Marx’s contention with capitalism was that labour-value is artificially suppressed to create surplus-value.4 When one takes this logic in a literal manner, most of the economic stuff written about Marx’s theory of value which argues that capitalism produces two distinct values of the commodity is irrelevant. The second most important critique Marx makes of capitalism is that the concept of supply and demand in capitalism is not natural, given that demand is only conditioned by the supply and velocity of money and not by real and tangible demand. One can logically explain this by saying that if people had more money, they would spend more.5 The supply and velocity of money in the system is regulated by various means – namely credit, banking and interest-rates which in turn help regulate commodity prices and wages.6 When the general conditions of the economy reflect increasing commodity prices and people do not have any money to spend, an economic crisis is created which requires a readjustment in the system so as to increase the rate of profit. One way of adjusting the system is by issuing cheaper credit by lowering interest-rates.

Marx criticised the general notions and concepts adhered to the capitalist system, and clearly, Marx had a contention with how labour was valued. Marx’s contentions were made when workers lived very grueling lives and their wages were only meant to supplement their most basic needs. Those were the times of the industrial revolution, the child-workers, the dirt and disease, the poverty and hand-to-mouth subsistence life.7 Marx saw that the way the monetary and financial systems were constructed in capitalism favoured first and foremost the capitalist class. This does not mean that Marx was against the concept of money as a universal measure of value, in fact Marx made fun of Proudhon for proposing a system based on bartering.8

Briefly, what Marx saw was a gigantic financial and monetary system, run by a capitalist-class and regulated by a compromised government which enabled the same capitalist-class to accumulate even more capital and appropriate more resources. The private bankers and financiers were for Marx some of the most powerful players in the system so much so that in many cases they appropriated the resources of the capitalist, industrialist and merchant himself. On the other hand, the labourers were unable to determine their own labour-value let alone decide how this gigantic financial system worked. Marx never proposed any practical solutions for the creation of a society based on what he described as the “mode of production of associated labour”.9 Politically, Marx believed that the system had to change in its entirety, but after spending those years producing his lengthy critique of capitalism, Marx did not have enough time to creatively explore new and practical alternatives.

The founders of Bitcoin have, unwittingly, addressed one of Marx’s greatest contentions with capitalism – that of creating artificial values based on the needs of profits of one particular class rather than on natural and intrinsic values. Given that the value of Bitcoin is inherently based on the amount of money put into it, there can be, in theory, no artificial manipulation of the price of Bitcoin, in contrast to fiat currency, for example, where quantitative easing or other measures may influence the value of the currency. Simultaneously, Bitcoin is a monetary instrument inside another monetary system and is co-dependent on the mother monetary-system. Bitcoin is measured against fiat currency, like anything else, and one needs a bank account to extract the value of the Bitcoin but it is also this fungibility that makes Bitcoin potentially valuable. Founders of the blockchain technology have emphasised the argument that the monetary success of crypto-currency, namely Bitcoin, is simply that of buying the value of social scalability.10 This basically means that when I buy Bitcoin I believe that more people will buy it later and therefore its worth would increase.

One could argue that given that the price of Bitcoin has increased exponentially during the last ten years, being currently worth €6,242 at the time of writing, Bitcoin has been a massive success in social scalability. Indeed, many people made money from Bitcoin, but today it seems that Bitcoin has become a speculative instrument, so much so that in the recent weeks it has been correlated to the stock-markets.11 The excessive volatility of the Bitcoin price makes it unattractive to people who would want to use it as a store-of-value, and a safe-haven asset, and in fact, gold as of now, marching slowly once again to its all-time-high, seems to remain the preferred safe-haven asset to investors. Bitcoin has proved that it could create value by itself due to social scalability and without direct interference from government institutions, however Bitcoin as of now remains an exotic financial and/or monetary asset. The number of total Bitcoin owners in the world f have been estimated at 20 million12 to 25 million people.13

Could Bitcoin serve as a financial asset in a similar way to the traditional concept of bonds? Due to quantitative easing, and low interest-rates we have seen bonds turning into a speculative instrument and savers have been punished. Ordinary people no longer have the opportunity to receive some returns from their savings unless they risk their money in the equity market. It would be very difficult for Bitcoin to be considered as a safe investment if speculative capital drives up and down the Bitcoin price so violently in a short amount of time. Speculative capital in Bitcoin can only be counteracted in Bitcoin by exponential scalability which can either occurorganically or by strategic government use of Bitcoin itself.

Governments could make strategic use of Bitcoin to increase consumption in the economy and increase wages. For example, governments can buy Bitcoin units and then allow their employees to be paid from government’s Bitcoin supply in Bitcoin units. If European governments coordinate such schemes together and thus simultaneously attempt to stabilise the Bitcoin price, the large scalability of such use would exponentially increase the value of Bitcoin and the money held by people. Similar methods can be applied to financial aid packages and social relief payments during the current economic crisis. Naturally, such an international and strategic effort could only be made by an institution such as the European Union or the US Government.

Marx would have liked Bitcoin because he would have probably considered it as a way by which to appropriate value from a monetary-system which first and foremost served the interest of the capitalist classes. Bitcoin does not solve Marx’s dilemmas on value, but helps address it by offering a window of opportunity into an alternative monetary-value system which may rely only on the network of its users rather on large institutional or financial entities. Marx would have probably called Bitcoin “an associative way how to appropriate value from the capitalist-monetary system”. It is with great irony that most of the issue that Bitcoin maximalists complain about, namely the central-banking system, the debasement of currencies and inflation, the government’s appeasement of big financiers and the banking industry, were all targets of Marx’s deep critique of capitalism. I have no doubt that if Marx was alive today, he would have bought Bitcoin.

Disclosure: I own Bitcoin

1Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System, 2008. Downloaded from http://www.bitcoin.org

2Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital” (Lexington Books, 2007), 30-31.

3Ibid, 32-38.

4Capital Volume 1, Chapter 3.

5Capital Volume III, Chapter 10.

6Ibid.

7Readings which may provide details on the economic conditions of the working-class in the 19th century include Friedrich Engles, The Conditions of the Working Class in England, Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the Poor and E.P. Thompson, The making of the English working-class.

8Capital Volume III, Chapter 36.

9Ibid.

10Nick Szabo, Money, blockchains and social scalability, 2017 http://unenumerated.blogspot.com/2017/02/money-blockchains-and-social-scalability.html

It looks ugly for Europe

Now, first of all let me make some things clear. I’m not an economist, but a historian who studied economic history. And that is very different from being an economist.

As historians we are trained to look at things from the viewpoint of long stretches of time.

While politicians scramble to come up with knee-jerk reactions which are also acceptable to the public, historians have the privilege to sit back and analyse matters in depth and in this way, I have the privilege to write things which may not necessarily go down well with the public or anyone at all for that matter.

Secondly, I’m not here as a prophet of doom. I sincerely hope that in everything I say, I will be proved wrong. History can help us understand what is going on, but it can also help us understand the probabilities of the future. I will share with you what I see as a historian and try to provide the probabilities of the future, in the briefest way possible.

So, in order to be brief and simple as possible I will say very clearly that things look very ugly for Europe.

This is not an economic crisis like any other and it is, without any shadow of a doubt, the biggest crisis we have experienced so far in our lifetime, and may probably have adverse political, economic and social impacts that exceed those of even the 1930s Great Depression.

Since the 2008 economic crisis, both the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank addressed the economic crisis by injecting more liquidity into the financial system in various ways. Banks were saved, financiers and traders made easy money, big companies could take cheap loans and governments could keep on spending. Governments in Europe continued loading up on debt but the man in the street seemed to be missing out on the big financial packages being thrown away so easily to save the financial system. Young people were faced with new challenges, such as exclusion from the property market with soaring home prices and austerity politics hitting the most vulnerable, such as pensioners and single-parents.

When Greece imploded, the EU failed to provide it with a sensible programme of economic support and Greece remains today in economic shambles. Italy, with alarming levels of both private and public debt, looks like it’s heading into a similar Greek scenario.

Then there was the Brexit rebellion. The Euro keeps losing its value as does the geopolitical clout of Europe itself. As of last year, Germany’s export drive lost steam as China’s economic growth subsided and signs of a looming economic recession were all over the place.

At the same time, while all of this was taking place, the far-right in Europe has become mainstream once again.

Last, but not least, the immigration crisis is challenging our moral and rational principles. It looks like the 1930s, but hopefully I am wrong – bad politics, bad economics, the rise of the far-right and an increasing number of disenfranchised workers.

This doesn’t mean that history repeats itself. First of all, Europeans are by far much less trigger-happy than they used to be. We are now much more aware of the dangers of war and racism, and no one foresees the probability that Europeans would go to war with each other again.

But what we are clearly seeing, is this: since 2008 our politicians have been using a textbook economic and financial response to economic crises that crop up, supposedly, unexpectedly.

This time around, we will be using the same text- book measures again, only on a much bigger scale than previously.

I suppose it’s naive to think that if we apply the same measures we have applied during the last economic crisis, we will be getting a very different result, but maybe, eventually all the liquidity in the system will stick and things will stabilise on a permanent basis. They may well do for some time, but what will happen if say, in ten years’ time we are faced with another economic crisis?

Shouldn’t we also get used to the idea that when we come out of lockdown and the pandemic is over, we are going into economic recession and Italy will be at risk of imploding? It is not in our political and economic interest that Italy goes into an economic crisis, but it seems that risk is being underrated, and this should not be the case given the potential political risks if such a scenario occurs.

We are taking huge risks without knowing exactly where we are going to land. We are in uncharted territory and we need a very elaborate and definite navigation plan. Truth is: we don’t have it and politicians themselves do not necessarily know what they are doing. We are in a very tough bind here.

Malta should not be so averse at the idea of the Eurobond, but we should also start looking for more practical solutions. It’s pointless to toe the line at this point when the whole house is on fire. While we put out the fire, we should also start coming up with very well-structured plan for the future.

I’m not saying we need to be idealists. Yes, we should take in more debt to issue much needed economic relief, and even increase public spending, but in the meantime, we should also start planning for the future and have the capability of having more options at hand, given that the world tomorrow is going to be a very different place and we don’t know how is it going to be.

In Malta, specifically, we are exclusively using a European textbook solution. This European textbook is a crisis-by-management system where the ones most benefiting are big companies and banks, while small businesses get crushed and workers feel most of the pain.

Is the system broken? Most probably. Malta, apart from taking ownership of the risks and effects of the Euro’s financial system, is also risking having its financial services industry shut down by the EU – sounds like a very bad deal if this happens. This is a particular crisis and we need surgical solutions for it.

For starters, locally, we can minimise most of the damage by temporally conditioning banking policy: introduce debt jubilees, reduce existing interest rates, clean up the balance sheets, and yes, why not? Let building contractors and big property speculators default on their loans to flush out rent-seeking capital from the system.

At their current state, no one wants to own Maltese banks any way, yet they are a strategic asset which are essential to provide much needed relief to small businesses and workers at this critical stage.

And without any doubt we should also move in to cancel contracts with Electrogas and Steward and immediately appropriate all public assets which have been given off through corrupt government contracts.

Although I write all my words here with healthy scepticism and self-doubt, I write this next postulation with a lot of conviction: the legalese we are told about being unable to appropriate public assets given off under corrupt contracts is total bullshit.

Any driven lawyer can create strong cases for the right political decisions in these cases, however the problem is that our professional and academic class is totally compromised in a system of jobs, networking and government contracts.

I’m afraid there will be hardly any economists or lawyers who will compromise their careers with solutions which may hurt someone in office or on the board of a big company.

I digress. Once the liquidity was out and the financial relief enacted, Maltese politicians are more interested in holding meetings with Sandro Chetcuti and discussing the opening of spring hunting, so they aren’t going to save you.

And in ten years’ time, we’ll be doing a big disaster clean-up by ourselves.

May I be proved totally wrong.

https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/101484/it_looks_ugly_for_europe?fbclid=IwAR1iAL3Hmh5uvTFSBUAs7AdWsx2cC00X-0HjF5V-s7Y6PHwj43rtncVmcqs#.Xor6mJ9fgqo

Redrawing the Maltese economy in the time of Corona

There seems to be no in-depth discussion on what is actually going on with Malta’s economy, so Minister of Finance Edward Scicluna can count on the obliviousness of his cabinet colleagues to draw up schemes unilaterally.

Now, I have nothing personal against depositphotos_14661611-stock-photo-learn-to-drawScicluna, and this is not meant to offend him. This is simply my analysis and personal opinion of the situation. If you don’t like it, you can move on to the next thing. It should not be considered as financial advice and you should formulate your own opinion about the situation.

The biggest problem with Scicluna is that he comes from a very different world and background to my generation, the so called “millennials”.  Scicluna has lived in a world where the stock-market has always gone up, and where the gradual inter-connectedness of the global-economy increased market opportunities, capital and jobs. Back then, if you wanted to make money you could simply put unvest in a stock-market index fund like the S&P 500 and one fine day sell it at a hefty profit. The millennial generation has lived in a period where it witnessed this mega-capitalist edifice crumbling down, first with the 2008 crisis and with the current crisis today. The millennial  generation has also experienced significant challenges to get ahead in life, especially given the fact that they have been mostly excluded from the property market. So, it is obvious, that the millennial generation has a very different perspective of capitalism from Scicluna and the boomer generation. 

The generational perspective is probably why Scicluna genuinely believes that this economic rut is temporary and everything will get back to normal after the pandemic is over. It is also probably the reason why central bankers, most of them octogenarian males and baby boomers, keep pumping liquidity into the financial system in the form of quantitative easing genuinely believing that some day this liquidity may stick and things return to normal again. 

Scicluna has drawn up a liquidity package of bank guarantees for commercial credit, despite the fact that Maltese banks still charge high interests in a negative-rate environment. The aim of this package seems to be to provide local companies with loans to survive the economic rut. But the obvious questions is, why would companies take more loans at this stage if they don’t know when the economy will start picking up? Why would anyone want to take the risk right now, especially with Maltese banks still charging high interest rates? The biggest and obvious problem right now is that companies have no revenues, and if they have existing loans to pay, they are going to get crushed. 

I am not criticisng the liquidity-package either – it may actually be useful to many companies who need quick credit-lines to keep on going, but there seems to be one very common method shared by boomers in their solutions to economic problems: debt. Debt, debt, debt and more debt. 

The Central Banking system is incentivising and encouraging this debt with its quantitative easing and low interest-rates – governments can sell bonds easily with the easy credit provided to big banks – this system ensures that both government and banks are liquid. And who is paying for and sustaining this system? In Malta’s case, the ultimate payer is us, the companies and the working people who have to pay more than 3% over our loans. In this bizarre system, which sounds like a sophisticated Ponzi-scheme, the banks get a small profit and their shareholders get an insignificant dividend-payment as their stock price keeps crashing. Meanwhile, the Euro against the US Dollar is losing its value and some predict it may keep depreciating significantly.

Admittedly, Scicluna has to work in this environment and there seems to be very little he can do as Minister of Finance of a small EU nation-state, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent and fail to look at the bigger picture. 

One obvious solution to our problems is to halt bank-loan payments and restructure the debt, and/or provide debt jubilees to companies and individuals excluding building companies which have been grossly irresponsible in their excessive speculation and irregular construction all over the islands. Now, this may require the government to step up its ownership in local banks and take a strategic lead. Such a strategy may be unimaginable to a baby boomer who has got so accustomed to a certain perspective on capitalism to the extent that’s an equivalent to a dogmatic and a religious approach: if we have problems in the economy, we’ll simply pump liquidity into the system by increasing debt, and which we will pay tomorrow. Another big risk we are ignoring is the exposure of the local banks to a highly-leveraged construction industry. We still don’t know the extent of bad debts our local banks have. Meanwhile, we have to think about vulnerable people and we need to quickly provide them with necessities: food and shelter. There is an unprecedented number of lay-offs going on at the moment and many workers have problems paying their loans and their bills. Instant relief in the form of debt-jubilees and direct social payments are needed to help these people. 

It is not I, an insignificant soul in a miserable rock (Napoleon’s description, not mine) that is asking for radical measures to be taken. At this point of our political process in the world, there is an inevitable discussion going on about the fundamental social and economic relationships of the economy’s participants. The Republicans have turned to socialist measures as they scurry to provide helicopter money in the form of 2,000 dollar cheques to every individual – a measure which had been derided by most of the liberal technicians and economists. So, right now, the Republicans and the Democrats have come to terms with the idea that one of the ways to help ordinary people during a time of crisis is to literally hand them over some cash to spend. 

There are many things we can do in Malta to redraw our economy to ensure that everyone is protected and build a more just economy in the process. We have to survive this pandemic and this economic lock-down, but we also run the risk of waking up tomorrow with an array of problems which would cost us even more money if the current structural problems are not addressed. Once again, it is also important to stress that it is delusional to believe things will ever be the same again. These are turbulent times of historic proportions and we will be waking up to a very different tomorrow after this pandemic is over. We still don’t know where we are heading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What will happen to the Maltese Economy?

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We’re witnessing history in real-time with a world going into economic crisis. The idea of helicopter money, previously derided by the liberal technicians and academics is now mainstream politics. The global-economy is literally closing down as governments across the world try to contain the pandemic. Central banks are pumping endless supply of money into the financial system assuming all this liquidity will someday stick and stabilise the system. The Maltese government issued a liquidity mechanism providing new credit to commercial companies backed by government guarantees, tax deferrals and social payments such as quarantine leave subsidy to employers.

What’s going to happen?

No one knows. Eventually the pandemic will be contained and things will normalise but things won’t be the same again. Those who sell you the idea that things will be the same as they were before have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. The economic, monetary and financial implications of the current events are wide-ranging

What could happen?

There are various outcomes and scenarios which may probably happen. First of all, we have to assume that we are in uncharted waters. Although past historical experiences can have a lot of similarities to what we are experiencing today such as Spanish Flu and plague epidemics, debasement of currencies and increasing deflation, what we experience today has it own distinctive and particular features such as rapid economic shutdown accompanied with rapid stock market crash and despite monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank.

One of the probable outcomes with regards to Malta is that property prices will go down significantly – this will be great for young couples who couldn’t afford to buy in the last couple of years when property prices sky-rocketed. It will also be good for renters. There is also another important aspect to this situation. How many building companies are over-leveraged and what is the exposure of the banks in case the building industry collapses? This, I think may be one of the risks ahead.

The other probable outcome is that jobs will not be as plentiful as previously and wages would go down as well. Before the pandemic broke out, the Maltese economy was by-far much more robust than it was in 2013, but we still don’t know the extent of the economic damage being done. Anecdotal evidence from foreign companies and foreign investors in Malta is very negative and they are trusted much more than the local business-class which has a strong tradition of rent-seeking and notorious for buying out both political parties with donations (disclaimer, there are also many good people in the same business-class as well, but facts can’t be denied). Anecdotal evidence from personnel of gaming companies may be different. I was once told by an igaming professional that 2008 was actually good for them since people gambled more during the crisis. Obviously, the tourism industry is devastated, as is retail, publishing and printing. Medical companies seem to be doing well. Any feedback with left in the comments are welcome.

What is happening?

There are many questions and arguments being made about government’s liquidity scheme. Some are arguing that the scheme ultimately benefits local banks. Maltese companies are claiming that the liquidity provided for new credit won’t be enough and need direct helicopter money. Social activists are arguing that helicopter money should be given directly to everyone to subsidise purchases of necessities: rent, food and other necessary expenses.

On the other hand, some argue that if the Maltese government is using the National Social Development Fund to guarantee bank loans when Maltese banks are still lending with rates of 3% and above, why doesn’t the government simply use the money from the said Fund to buy Bank of Valletta outright and issue the loans right away without having to build a complex leveraged-financial instrument? Maltese banks have given us big interest-rates compared to interest rates given in other European countries and as of now, nobody wants to own them any way.

What should happen?

Everyone wants money and people have to go on living even if the economy is shutdown. What is clear to everyone now is that the State has a very important role to protect society as a whole but especially to defend the vulnerable. The idea that Central Bankers can simply print more money to save the financial system is getting quickly outdated. Political leaders across the globe seem to be mostly incompetent in their handling of the crisis, starting from Trump who failed to recognise the gravity of the situation, to EU commissioner Ursual Von der Leyden who is completely clueless without any ideas to stem the potential ramifications of what is coming for the Euro-zone.

Clearly, the world is going into reset, but we lack strong and convincing political direction. It’s been quite a while since the world was in such a crossroads. Liberal technicians and academics have clearly failed us and their solutions will be suspicious given their track-record. There is also a very important factor which will determine the outcome of the reset. Generally, in history we see that when people were collectively experiencing a severe crisis, social solidarity increased – we’ve seen this taking place during the Second World War. It was only after the Second World War that the idea of socialism was then taken very seriously and universal health care was set up, the social and economic charter, strong pensions and minimum wage, social mobility, the right and possibility to own your own domicile, but also to do business in a free market without rent-seeking and the kleptocracy of oligarchs. Such a balanced outcome would have to be found yet again. I am rather skeptical on whether the Maltese government and the Labour Party right now is really interested in coming up with deep social and economic change, including the reforms we need to curb rent-seeking.

Edward Scicluna’s €1.8 Billion Liquidity Bomb

These are indeed interesting times. Government has recently announced a package of measures which will provide up to €1.8 billion in liquidity to the economy in what probably is the first of its kind in Maltese history. Funds for this guarantee will come from government’s piggy-bank, the National Development-Social Fund which has been funded by passport sales, and originallyFalling euros on white background meant for investments, capital and social projects.

€1.6 billion will be provided to commercial companies in the form of €700 million tax deferrals and €900 million in bank guarantees over commercial loans guaranteeing a total of €4.5 billion in commercial credit. A further €210 million will be spent directly into the economy in the form of unemployment benefits, quarantine leave and further funding for the health-care system amongst other items.

It is yet unclear how the government is structuring this funding, but it seems that we will be borrowing to 1) sustain government’s recurrent revenue to offset tax deferrals and 2) and borrowing to fund commercial debt-payments in case companies default. It is unclear how many companies are currently at risk of missing their debt payments and also unclear who will be eligible for these guarantees. Government would have to borrow against capital from the NDSF to fund these guarantees. By 2019, government claimed that the Fund had acquired up to €544 million from passport sales of which €91 had been spent on capital and social projects while up to €200 million were spent on foreign securities and local shares such as BOV and Lombard Bank.

The package looks just a fraction of our total GDP which totaled around €13 billion last year, while government debt (mostly in bonds) amounts to €5.6 billion. It is unclear how much potential debt we will incur, but the bigger problem, even if we exclude this rescue package, is that we were previously sustaining debt-levels with significant economic growth, and it is of course not clear at what levels economic growth will come back. There are also many questions which the journalists at the press conference failed to ask, yet credit to Times of Malta and MaltaToday for asking the right questions on debt and interest rates. For example, will building companies who are already highly leveraged get these guarantees as well? Last thing we want in this country is for building magnates getting a bail-out.

The Minister of Health was then on national television explaining the pandemic and the measures being taken to contain it. Unsurprisingly he then got a little bit cocky and said that when in January Trump was still saying the situation was not serious, we in Malta were stocking up on ventilators. Trust the Maltese with survival and health-care. We have been surviving epidemics, famine and wars for most of our history now, so it may be no coincidence we appreciate some good health-care. Probably we have survivor genes too.

Now, some news from where I come from. Publishers have postponed the launch of their new books so basically they have stopped printing books. Book-shop sales have completely dried up and they are running on thin ice just with online orders. For the publishing industry the situation was already bad in the best of times, but now it’s a disaster. Over-all the situation seems and feels worse than 2008.