The Wealth of Nations 2010
By Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
1. Adam Smith (http://www.humanities.mq.edu.au/Ockham/y6402.html )wrote about the above title a long time ago (1757). He talked about invisible hands which were instrumental in growing the wealth of nations.
2. In the latest financial crisis in the United States the invisible hands certainly played a big role. It took the form of abuses of the banking, monetary and financial system.
3. Pushed out of the international market place by the cheaper and better manufactured goods of the East Asian countries the West turned towards the financial system in order to enrich themselves. The opportunities for abuses were abundant.
4. They discovered that banks could create money out of thin air; without Government control (free market) any amount of loans of non-existent money could be given by the banks; the sale of commodities need not involve the commodities at all. It is the same with selling shares and currencies; having physical possession is not necessary. Sell and buy imaginary shares and make tons of profit.
5. Their fertile brain soon gave birth to hedge funds, short selling, leveraged purchases, junk bonds, currency trade, free markets etc etc.
6. All these systems promised great wealth to speculators and manipulators without the need to produce or possess anything. Better still they need not employ substantial number of workers who may make demands and threaten business with industrial action.
7. A good example is the trade in commodities. Without possession of the physical commodity, a speculator may sell huge quantities of it. The effect of this dumping is to depress the price of the commodity. When the price reached a low level the sellers would buy the commodity to deliver to the buyers that they had sold to earlier at a higher price. Thus without ever touching or seeing, much less possessing the commodity, the manipulators would make handsome profits. They call this short selling and the public is persuaded that this is fair trade.
8. Individuals cannot do this. The amount of money involved is too big. So funds were set up and managed by smart people.
9. The fate of the real producers is not the concern of these fund managers. As the price of the commodity become depressed the producer countries and their people would suffer.
10. If the producer country bought the non-existent commodity from the speculators at the low prices for future delivery, and if at the delivery date the speculators could not deliver the commodity, they would be forced to buy the physical commodity at prices higher than they had sold. They would lose money. This is as it should be. But no. Their market controllers would save them by declaring that they need not honour their contracts.
11. This was what happened when tin prices were depressed through the short selling of non-existent tin by the speculators. In desperation Malaysia bought the tin knowing that the sellers had no physical tin, whereas Malaysia had. When the delivery date arrived the sellers would be forced to buy physical tin from Malaysia at Malaysian prices in order to deliver. The price of the physical (real) tin would of course be higher. The sellers would lose money having to purchase at the higher prices in order to deliver to the buyers (Malaysia) at the lower prices.
12. When the short sellers faced this threat of losing a lot of money from their short selling price depressing activities, the London Metal Exchange which controlled the market ruled that the sellers need not honour their contract to deliver physical tin, allegedly because the purchasers were trying to corner the market.
13. Clearly the players in the financial market are protected. They can make tons of money selling non-existent commodities but they need not deliver if they have no physical commodities.
14. And so the financial market expanded until it became much bigger than the real market. The trade in currencies for example is twenty times bigger than total world trade. Hedge funds, through mysterious investments pay as much as 30% to their investors. Pyramid schemes gave huge returns and banks calculate their earnings on the amount of money they lent out, whether the borrowers were able to pay or not.
15. There were numerous schemes which gave huge profits to the investors, far more than investments in the production of goods and services.
16. With these financial schemes the wealth of these developed countries and their rich investors appeared to grow at a high rate every year and the people appeared to have the capacity to buy unlimited amounts of imported goods. These countries were apparently the locomotives of growth for the whole world.
17. Then the balloons bursts.
18. The wealth of the West, acquired through the financial market is not real wealth. Their Per Capita and GDP figure are not based on reality. Their money also has a bloated value, guaranteed by no reserves or gold. (Their money is truly fiat money).
19. Their Governments were forced to bail out their banks and companies with trillions of dollars. It can be said that their Presidents and Prime Ministers are all responsible for the trillions of dollars lost by their countries.
20. I am waiting for a good unemployed journalist to investigate and write a book on these leaders who presided over the trillion-dollar losses by their countries.