UK General Election forecast – update

Boris vs Corbyn illustrative final-01

Yougov

 

“On Monday of this week, the man some people have begun referring to as “Dr. Doom” sits in a German restaurant in London, stares at his coffee and says, “I wish I hadn’t been right.”

Then he offers another prophecy: “I suspect we might have Boris Johnson for 10 years, maybe longer.”

De Spiegel interview with the former British ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers

 

We are nearly half way through this general election and it seems like a good time to provide an update on where we are heading.

In 2016, I wrote that “the Conservative Party is moving to bring on-board Labour voters, just as Donald Trump is doing with blue-collar Democratic voters, in the United States. You may hear a lot more in the coming years of the May Labourites and how they will bring an electoral landslide for the Tories at the next general election.” The Tories under the than Prime Minister May were embracing the rhetoric of a centre-left economic policy agenda and as a consequence enjoyed soaring polling ratings.

We know what happened next. That rhetoric failed to be converted into policy. The June 2017 snap general election was a disaster for the Tories and resulted in a hung parliament.

This time round, under their new leader Boris Johnson, it looks like the Tories have a better chance of capturing those ex-Labour blue-collar voters in the election on 12th December 2019. Current polling shows the Tories ahead with a 14% lead in the national polling

Poll on polls 24 Nov

Politico

 

Labour’s policy manifesto published earlier this week was a radical socialist programme which would overturn the 1979 political economy. The numbers involved are eye watering and it is questionable how credible much of the proposed policies are, whether in terms of their implementation or costings.

Focus group feedback indicate that this, far more radical manifesto, simply fails to pass “the smell test” with voters. The proposed four-day week idea, in particular, goes down badly with voters. Labour have missed the lesson of 2017 – yes to radical change of the status quo but it must be done in a way that is sellable on the doorstep and comes across as “credible” to the wider electorate.

The Tories, in contrast, have smartly learned the lessons of their electoral near-death experience in 2017. They have ditched the commitments to austerity and have promised significant investment across public services and infrastructure. The key retail propositions have been tested to destruction with focus groups and their overarching message of “get Brexit done” was literally copied from feedback from disgruntled voters. The Tory campaign has been disciplined, ruthless and much better focused on their key target seats.

One metric I am following closely is the net satisfaction in leaders’ ratings. This FT chart shows the huge gulf between the two leaders and the Tories need to maintain that healthy lead in the coming two weeks.

Net fav ratings

Financial Times

 

A recent poll suggests that gap is narrowing which, if replicated in other polls, could be a worrying sign for the Tories. However, it could also be an outlier. We will only know once we see further polling in the coming days and weeks. I suspect that the radical Labour manifesto could be having the impact of energising Labour’s core vote even if it hardens existing negative views of Corbyn among the wider electorate.

Net fav ratings 2

Political betting.com

 

As Eurointelligence noted recently, “the purpose of this manifesto is to fire up the Labour grassroots. We think it might succeed on that score. It is smart politics for Labour to vacate the centre ground and focus on turnout.” The risk of that strategy will be to turn soft Labour voters against the party even if it succeeds in raising the turnout figures for the core demographics of the Labour voting base. Until we see further polls in the coming weeks it will be difficult to precisely forecast whether Labour’s strategy is working or not.

So, to summarise, I’m sticking with my forecast that the Tories should get a solid comfortable majority on 12th December 2019 of 347 seats.

Scottish Conservatives seat tally update

For those readers who took up my advice and placed the bets of the Scottish Conservatives getting a vote tally of between 11 and 15 and 16 plus, things are looking good. The first Scottish poll in a month indicates that the Scottish Conservatives will lose one seat (Stirling) to the Scottish National Party (SNP). This is contrary to the widespread assumption that the Tories would get wiped out at the general election.

Note, though, that the seat projection is based on national polling and doesn’t factor in potential Unionist tactical voting in those marginal Tory-SNP seats. If that occurs, which is what is predicted by the Scottish Labour writer Ian Smart, then the Tories will increase their seat tally in Scotland.

The odds of the Scottish Tories getting over 16 seats is now crashing. A £25 bet would now return “only” £275 rather than over £400 when I recommended the trade a few weeks ago. I expect those odds to narrow further as we get closer to the election as it is clear that momentum is with the Scottish Conservatives.

Bet 5

Coral

 

It looks likely that the Tories will reach at least the seat tally of between 11 and 15 which will yield a nice profit for those who took the bet. And the prospects of a blow-up rise of their seat tally to 16 or more is increasingly promising.

As always, I look forward to receiving any feedback you might have on my analysis. Stay tuned!

FI

UK General Election forecast – update

UK General Election forecast

ADS-BritishGeneralElection

The New Yorker

 

This general election is likely to be the most consequential since 1979 when Margaret Thatcher swept to power. The fate of Brexit hangs on the outcome.

If the Tories win a majority Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to pass the withdrawal treaty and the United Kingdom will legally leave the European Union (EU). Should the result be a hung parliament, Brexit itself will be in doubt and the possibility of a Labour government looks very likely.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn into 10 Downing Street would be a transformational moment in British, and indeed, global politics. A man firmly on the radical left of politics would be in the driving seat of one of the major great powers.

So, what are my thoughts, with a huge caveat that there are 4 weeks to go, on the election so far.

Looking at the polls, which give a reasonable indication of where we are, the Tories have maintained a national lead of over 11% so far. This could change, given that the manifestos and debates haven’t occurred yet, but so far there seems to be a consistent pattern of the consolidation of both the Labour and Tory vote vis v vs the smaller parties (Brexit Party, Greens and the Lib Dems).

Poll on polls

Politico

 

The national polling hides distinct regional variations, and to a certain extent you should view this election as a series of regional contests.

One of the most reliable means of working out who the eventual winner is in terms of leader’s metrics.

The New Statesman recently noted that the only meaningful change since the campaign started was that Boris Johnson had become less unpopular whilst Corbyn’s dire personal ratings remained the same. That is good news for the Tories since it implies that their lead over Labour is more solid then many jittery commentators think.

The British political class are still shaken by the May 2017 general election when Labour surged in the polls once campaigning started. The risk is that commentators have the 2017 model in their head when they should be thinking of different scenarios.

The 2017 scenario is that Labour and Corbyn’s polling will surge during the coming weeks and ruin any prospect of a Tory majority. That remains a possibility although there is limited sign of it to date.

An alternative scenario is 2015, where the Tories were very nervous amid a consensus that Britain was heading towards a hung parliament. In the end the Tories won a slim majority to the shock of pollsters and commentators alike.

A few have posited a 1987 scenario, where, again, the national polling suggested that the Tories would win a large majority which, in the end, they did.

I have already posted why I think the Scottish Conservatives could do better than expected north of Hadrian’s Wall in this election. For those who wish to read about the asymmetrical betting opportunities click here.

Here are my mini-predictions on the shock results that are likely to happen on the 12th December:

There is also a risk that Boris Johnson might lose his seat on the night which would cause a political earthquake if it occurred.

In terms of the wider political landscape, I expect that the Tories will make patchy gains in Wales, Yorkshire and the north of England. However, a mix of Labour tribalism, the Brexit Party and the failure of Boris to fully “seal the deal” with the electorate will ensure that there won’t be a transformational realignment from Labour to the Tories.

The south may prove a bruising night for the Tories, in particular uber-Remain, middle class enclaves which, whilst traditionally Tory, will fall to the Liberal Democrats. In other seats, a combination of factors, including the Brexit Party withdrawing, the fear of a hard-left Labour government and local Tory support should save local Tory candidates from a swing to the Liberals.

So, overall, my tentative conclusion – which I may update as the campaign evolves – is that the Tories are on course to win approximately 347 seats. This will give them circa 20 seat majority in the House of Commons.

 

UK General Election forecast

Political betting alert: Scottish Conservative election gain opportunity

170606121333-scotland---travel-destination---shutterstock-512226913

CNN travel

 

As I’m sure many of my readers are aware, a general election is looming in the United Kingdom, on the 12th December 2019.

After the humbling experience of 2017, where I failed to forecast the hung parliament that resulted (although I wasn’t alone in that failure!), this will prove a difficult election to call. The polls indicate, so far, that the Tories are leading with approximately 11% of the vote compared to the Labour party but these are early days (literally) in the campaign.

One area where I do have a stronger conviction on what the likely eventual outcome will be is in Scotland.

The commentariat took the view that the SNP would sweep the board in the June 2017 campaign but this turned out to be wrong. The Tories, supported by industrial levels of tactical voting won numerous seats from the SNP.

One of the few Scottish commentators who successfully forecast this result was a Scottish Labour supporter called Ian Smart. Here is his snapshot of his forecast just prior to the June 2017 election:

Bet 4

Ian Smart blog

 

He has just completed his blog post on where he thinks this election will go and he is forecasting, contrary to nearly everybody else, that the Tories will gain seats in this election. You can read his blog post here.

Given his track record, and in my opinion his compelling argument that the Unionists will come out, again, to frustrate the SNP push for a 2nd referendum during this campaign, this is worthy of a small asymmetrical bet.

IS snap

Ian Smart blog

 

As a disclaimer, political betting is about probabilities and there is no guarantee that you will make profit from taking bets. You should only bet on what you can afford to lose.

 The Scottish Conservatives currently have 13 MP’s and they are widely considered, after the loss of their charismatic leader Ruth Davidson to be in for a drubbing. This is therefore a high-risk trade.

I would recommend that you place small deposits on two potential outcomes which look likely if Ian Smart forecast (as of now) comes true or anywhere near it. Smart is currently forecasting that the Scottish Conservatives will gain 4 seats, taking their overall tally of MP’s to 17. A major caveat is that this might change as the campaign evolves.

The UK political betting website Coral is the only firm, at least as far as I can find, that offers betting opportunities on the size of the Scottish Conservatives seats tally.

Bet 1

Bet 2

Bet 3

So, to conclude, the worst-case scenario is that the Scottish Tories fail to get 11 MP’s and you will lose £50. Should the Tories get between 11 to 15 seats, you will make a overall return (minus the £25 lost on the 16 plus bet) of £125.

Should the Scottish Tories do as well as Ian is saying in his blog, you will see a return of £400 (factoring in your loss of deposit of £25 on the 11-15 bet).

For me, this is a political betting opportunity worth taking but of course this is entirely up to you.

I also must remind readers that they need to check whether political betting is legal in their country of residence.

The Coral betting company is easy to register with. Note that there appears to be restrictions on how much you can bet on the 16 to 1 odds and I could only bet a maximum of £25.

I will be writing a full blog post this month of my thoughts on the likely outcome of this general election.

As always, I look forward to any feedback you can give on my writings.

Political betting alert: Scottish Conservative election gain opportunity

Book review: The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

Second Sleep pic

Penguin Books

 

“All civilisations consider themselves invulnerable; history warns us that none is.”

Robert Harris – The Second Sleep

“Greer sees the scientific profession sowing the seeds of its own undoing. These include the profiteering machinations of the medical industry, the demonstrable lies that scientific experts regularly tell the public, the verbal abuse that outspoken atheists within the scientific community hurl at people of faith and the toxic legacy that industrialism is leaving for future generations.

Even without these considerable downsides to modern-day science, scientific research would still have a tough go of it, since the resources on which it depends will be desperately needed for necessities like food production and defense against barbarians. In light of all this, predicts Greer, it will be a no-brainer for communities to decide to stop funding science altogether. Greer also sees laboratories and other scientific facilities being vandalized and burned down for the betrayal of public trust that they will have come to embody.”

A Review of Two Books by John Michael Greer: Dark Age America and The Retro Future by Frank Kaminski

 

Last month I wrote a post titled the Deep Future in which I charted the likely journey of our industrial civilisation over the course of the coming century or so as we descend into a future deindustrial Dark Ages.

Robert Harris, the brilliant British novelist, recently published a brillant novel, called The Second Sleep, which is posited in a future England after the collapse of our own civilisation in 2025. We never find out what triggered the collapse but the book hints that it was some type of global cyber-attack that brought down the internet.

Either way, the results were catastrophic for humanity. Our just-in-time (JIT) economic relationships collapsed amid the chaos, the ATM’s and supermarkets went empty and as a consequence society collapsed. A mass exodus of 8 million people fled London and the other great cities; fighting, rape, starvation and massacres stalked the land as the world descended into a 150 year long Dark Ages.

The fictional world where the reader explores is over 800 years after the Apocalypse as it is referred to. As the Guardian notes in their review, ‘into the void of the “Dark Age” steps a rejuvenated and dogmatic church, whose authoritarian rule and obsessive suppression of heretical “scientism” ensure that people live in brutal and backward conditions.’

I don’t intend to go into any further detail about the specific plot of the novel in case any of you wish to read the novel yourself (which I strongly recommend). What I do wish to do is explore some of the themes in the novel.

The scenario Robert Harris describes is what is known within the survivalist community as a “fast crash”. A sudden disaster causes chaos to our JIT systems, triggering shortages of food in our major urban centres which lead to mass panic and collapse. I used to fear that this was a likely scenario but over the years, after much reading and thinking, I’ve reached the conclusion that this is an unlikely fate. Whilst localised breakdown of food production and distribution are likely in the future, a global collapse is extremely unlikely given that there are many things governments can do, in an emergency, to ensure that food is requisitioned, rationed and distributed accordingly.

One should also remember that the majority of the world’s population are far less dependent upon the internet and global trading networks for their daily sustenance. Still, even if Harris fictional scenario remains unlikely, you should always prepare for short-term disruption to supplies, for example in the event of a global pandemic or in the case of major civil unrest.

One of the major themes in the book is the power of organised religion in this future Britain. A common pattern during the decline periods of previous civilizations is a resurgence of organised religion which has been termed the Second Religiosity by scholars. Note that it isn’t always the traditional religion that revives, after all, it was the Christians, not the legacy Pagan cult religions, that surged as the Roman Empire disintegrated.

In Harris book, it is the Church of England, with its network of thousands of churches, which act as a sanctuary after the collapse of our own civilization. Slowly, within a generation or two, the surviving descendants embrace a fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity which explains the collapse through the narrative of a sinful world destroyed by the Beast himself.

Science is distrusted and deemed heretical in this world. And who can blame them? After all, it was science and the civil religion of progress that created a high-tech civilisation that imploded with unimaginable horror, death and suffering.

In our future world a similar fate awaits science as referenced in the review of John Greer Dark Age America book at the top. Imagine the scene: its 2121, our civilisation is falling apart and enraged mobs destroy the remaining scientific establishments and hunt down scientists who are widely blamed for the nightmare unfolding. Science promised the masses eternal economic growth, flying cars, space travel and instead the world is descending into darkness.

The rise of religion also revisits another theme explored in the novel which is the reversion to medieval forms of geopolitical warfare in this far future Britain. Scotland is an independent fiefdom in a long-term war against the English.

In the north of England, the descendants of the Muslim populations who migrated to Britain in the 20th and 21st centuries formed a Northern Caliphate which is engaged in a permanent religious war against Christian England. All of the above are credible long-term possibilities should the United Kingdom disintegrate during the twilight era of our industrial civilisation.

Of course, this is a book of fiction, even if it is well researched, and it is unlikely that a far future Britain would correspond so closely with medieval England. I suspect that aspects of our late civilizational period would survive in a mutated form in a far future England. This would involve air travel (small planes for the elites), rudimentary renewable technologies, the use of ham radios and other low-tech technologies that don’t require extensive petroleum inputs to function.

My Americans readers are encouraged to read John Greer’s Dark Age America non-fictional book on what a deindustrial America might look like in the future. I would also recommend John Greer’s Stars Reach, a fictional novel in a post-collapse American world hundreds of years from now.

Overall, the book was a gripping read and a thought provoking take on the fragility of our current era and what might take its place in the centuries to come.

Book review: The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

Deep Future

Mayan

Loco Gringo

 

“Like modern industrial society, the Maya built their civilization on a nonrenewable resource base. In their case it was the fertility of fragile tropical soils, which couldn’t support intensive corn farming forever. On that shaky foundation they built an extraordinary civilization with fine art, architecture, astronomy, mathematics, and a calendar more accurate than the one we use today. None of that counted when the crops began to fail. Mayan civilization disintegrated, cities were abandoned to the jungle, and the population of the Mayan heartland dropped by 90%.”

John Michael Greer – “The Long road down: decline and the deindustrial future

 

Writing this month’s post has proven a challenge. I was planning to write an update on the latest twists in the on-going Brexit saga but the truth is that it is difficult to predict the eventual outcome of this drama.

So, I changed my mind.

I hope you readers clocked the recent news story of the successful drone attack on the Abqaiq oil fields in Saudi Arabia, the second largest in Saudi Arabia. Saudi oil supply has been halved as a consequence, oil prices are expected to spike to $100 per barrel and it could take weeks to get supply back to normal.

Imagine if, instead of a few drone attacks, a far bigger attack of Saudi oil facilities occurred and the bulk of Saudi oil supply went off-line for months on end, if not, forever? Could you imagine the economic and geopolitical chaos that would result! In such a scenario you would be wise to stockpile food and other core goods if you haven’t already got your secret supplies sorted.

This is a reminder of how fragile our industrial civilization is to major shocks.

I’ve just started reading a superb new novel, called The Second Sleep, by the brilliant British writer Robert Harris. On the surface, the novel is based in our medieval past among the ruins of the ancient Roman Empire but you realise, within a few chapters, that it is instead placed in our deep future where the Church is dominant, population is a fraction of today’s and we have returned to an era of lords and peasants.

The reason I’ve dedicated this month’s post on Forecasting Intelligence to our deep or far future is that it gives us a sense of perspective on the turmoil of our current era. I have focused on this blog on the likely challenges and trends within the next few decades given that this is what myself and you will be most concerned about since we will be living through them.

However, I probably have not covered in sufficient thought the longer-term fate of our industrial civilisation.

To start with, those readers who find this topic fascinating should read the following books, the Robert Harris one just mentioned, but also John Greer’s “The Long Descent” and “The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post-peak World”. They all provide an interesting fictional and non-fictional guide to the likely pattern of our own civilizational collapse and the potential future civilizations that could arise from the collapse.

Our human history has seen dozens of civilisations rise and fall and there are certain patterns that can be seen across the thread of history.

Our own industrial civilisation, as noted in the quote from a brilliant Greer article on the subject, seems to be tracking closely the Mayan civilisation which had a relatively “fast” collapse. This was because it was reliant on a non-renewable resource, fertile soil, in a similar way we are reliant on non-renewable fossil fuels.

There are not unlimited supplies of oil, gas and coal to sustain our civilisation for thousands of years to come and the consensus is that within decades we will be facing major supply problems, in particular oil.

And it isn’t just fossil fuels. Phosphate is a critical fertiliser that underpins the global food system which, if continued to be consumed at current levels, will be in critical shortages by 2040. Now, I would expect a degree of mitigation, adaptation and eventually strategic restrictions on the supply to global markets of such a strategically vital resource so it is unlikely to run out within twenty years. However, it is likely, given that the world population is likely to grow for at least another decade that demand for this critical resource will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Major supply problems for phosphate, geopolitical tensions over access and potentially even resource wars, are looking probable by the 2040’s. And that is just one non-renewable resource challenge the world is facing.

So where is all this taking us? My understanding is that our civilisation will peak, decline and collapse into a deindustrial Dark Ages within 150 years or so. Evaluating when we peaked as an industrial civilisation is a tricky art but the business-as-usual Limits to Growth modelling, which I originally reviewed here, indicates a global peak around 2020.

limits to growth update

Our finite world

 

There are alternative arguments, that within specific countries peaks occurred earlier. Greer himself argues that the United States peaked in the late 70’s in terms of energy per capita. For the sake of simplicity, I will go with a global “peak” which would indicate that our civilisation will end, 150 years from now, around 2170 AD.

How does this macro, and let’s be honest, slightly terrifying analysis, translate into our lives and perhaps more importantly our children and grandchildren who will bear the burden of handling this descent into a future Dark Ages?

This beautiful quote from John Greer describes the fate of a three generational American family over the next 150 years or so and it is a good description of any on our future destiny.

“Imagine an American woman born in 1960. She sees the gas lines of the 1970s, the short-term political gimmicks that papered over the crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, and renewed trouble in the following decades. Soaring energy prices, shortages, economic depressions, and resource wars shape the rest of her life. By age 70, she lives in a beleaguered, malfunctioning city where half the population has no reliable access to clean water, electricity, or health care. Shantytowns spread in the shadow of skyscrapers while political and economic leaders keep insisting that things are getting better.

Her great-grandson, born in 2030, manages to avoid the smorgasbord of diseases, the pervasive violence, and the pandemic alcohol and drug abuse that claim half of his generation before age 30. A lucky break gets him into a technical career, safe from military service in endless wars overseas or “pacification actions” against separatist guerrillas at home. His technical knowledge consists mostly of rules of thumb for effective scavenging, cars and refrigerators are luxury items he will never own, his home lacks electricity and central heating, and his health care comes from an old woman whose grandmother was a doctor and who knows something about wound care and herbs. By the time his hair turns gray the squabbling regions that were once the United States have split apart, all remaining fuel and electrical power have been commandeered by the new governments, and coastal cities are being abandoned to the rising oceans.

For his great-granddaughter, born in 2100, the great crises are mostly things of the past. She grows up amid a ring of sparsely populated villages surrounding an abandoned core of rusting skyscrapers visited only by salvage crews who mine them for raw materials. Local wars sputter, the oceans are still rising, and famines and epidemics are a familiar reality, but with global population maybe 15% of what it was in 2000, humanity and nature are moving toward balance. She learns to read and write, a skill most of her neighbors don’t have, and a few old books are among her prized possessions, but the days when men walked on the moon are fading into legend. When she and her family finally set out for a village in the countryside, leaving the husk of the old city to the salvage crews, it never occurs to her that her quiet footsteps on a crumbling asphalt road mark the end of a civilization.”

Only a lucky few, will escape the burden of poverty within neo-feudal conditions a century or so from now when our future descendants take the path described by John in the early 21st century away from the ruined cities to the villages.

In a world of warlords, military strongmen and neo-feudal aristocrats who own the future means of production (arable farmland, mines and traditional property in our towns and cities) it will be challenging, to say the least, to carve a profitable niche for our future families.

It is not impossible though. And it has been done before.

For those inclined, I would recommend acquiring arable farming land and good quality traditional property stock (e.g. pre 19th century) within those places within the world more likely to survive the coming collapse largely intact.

That could be in central-eastern Europe, Canada or parts of the far East. I would probably avoid the bulk of central America, north Africa and the greater Middle East, along with southern Europe and India given the likelihood that these areas of the world will be rendered uninhabitable by climate change or hugely impacted by the climate migrations, violence and chaos coming.

For those whose ambitions are more modest (and probably more sensible as a result), I would stick to the tips outlined recently in my post on the coming collapse of market economies. Most importantly, the key is to be useful in a world of the future and that will acquire learning, or to be precise re-learning, skills and traditions that have been lost in the developed world.

Deep Future

The coming Economic Dark Ages

planet-of-the-apes-ending

Screencrush

 

“Global population has to contract — 7 billion is way above this planet’s permanent carrying capacity — and yes, that’s going to involve the unravelling of the entire structure of growth-based economics. That’s standard in the late stages of a civilization, by the way — it’s why market economies give way to non-market economic arrangements as things unravel.”

John Michael Greer

“Again, the growth in potential consumption among the far poorer populations in no way offsets the declining potential of consumption among the declining wealthier populations…without ZIRP (or more likely NIRP) and debt of gargantuan proportions.”

Econimica – “Global Endgame looms – soaring debt smashes shrinking populations

“Emperors came to believe that the army was the sole source of power and they concentrated their efforts on sustaining the army at all cost. As the private wealth of the Empire was gradually confiscated or taxed away, driven away or hidden, economic growth slowed to a virtual standstill.

With the collapse of the money economy (3rd century AD), the normal system of taxation also broke down. This forced the state to directly appropriate whatever resources it needed wherever they could be found. Food and cattle, for example, were requisitioned directly from farmers.”

Cato Institute – “How excessive government killed ancient Rome”

 

Before I discuss how our market based economic system will unravel this century with the end of economic growth, I hope some of my readership were able to take advantage of my political betting tip on the Tory leadership election.

Those of you who followed my recommendation in betting between the 60 to 79% victory margins on Prime Minister Boris Johnson would have received a guaranteed profit (if they had betted equal amount on both victory margins). To paraphrase the new British prime minister, a case of having your cake and eating it!

Those of you who placed a short position on sterling, following my Brexit post on 26th May, would be enjoying a decent return now that GBP/USD has collapsed from 1.27 to 1.22. However, going into a sterling short at this point is probably too late given that in the event of a no-deal/hard Brexit (not a given!) sterling is likely to fall to 1.15. The risks of an unexpected bounce in sterling should the UK avoid a hard Brexit makes this an unsuitable trade to recommend from a risk versus reward perspective.

I will continue to look for opportunities with the appropriate risk versus reward ratio and will flag them when they come up.

Making money has proven a relatively easy thing to do over the last century because of economic growth. As a general rule, economies across the world have grown during most years so the typical business or investor has operated in a growing rather than shrinking economic environment.

We take this for granted but it is, historically, speaking, an exceptional period in human history. Until the discovery of fossil fuels economic growth was at best patchy and limited.

Now that we are in the long twilight era of fossil fuels it’s not surprising that global growth rates are declining throughout the world and will, at some point, flip over into outright economic contraction. I recently discussed this issue in my post “Economic Winter and the coming end of globalisation” which is worth re-reading again. In my post I quote John Greer, one of the few writers who have given this matter genuine reflection, who writes that “…timing of the turn into contraction is complex, not least because it’ll be papered over by the manipulation of abstractions for a good long while. I expect it to happen one country or region at a time, with some maintaining growth while others begin to contract, but the tipping points are to my mind likely to cluster around 2030.”

I also concur with that time-frame, taking into account the broadly accurate Limits to Growth modelling which pinpoints a permanent global economic contraction around 2030.

As John Greer notes in the quote at the top of the blog post, this is not the first time a market based economy unravels in the later stages of a civilization’s rise and fall. In fact, it has happened repeatedly throughout human history.

The history of the Roman Empire can give us clues to how the shift from market economies to non-market economic arrangements occurs. Reading the CATO Journal article on the fall of the Roman Empire was a disturbing experience for me. As somebody who works in financial services and follows political and economic news closely, much of the events of those ancient times feel oddly contemporary.

For example, the financial crisis in 33 .D. was caused by a severe shortage of money. The response by the Roman government was for the state make “large loans at zero interest in order to provide liquidity”. That sounds remarkably similar to the quantitative easing measures introduced by the global central banks to provide liquidity after the 2008/9 financial crisis!

The debasement of the Roman coinage, the gold aureus and the silver denarius, by repeated Roman emperors tracks the long-term decline in the real value of fiat currencies ever since the end of the Gold Standard. Under the generally well regarded reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) the silver content of the denarius was reduced from 85 to 75%. If that sounds bad, by the reign of Claudius II Gothicus (268-270 A.D.) the silver content of the denarius was reduced to only 0.02%!

The consequences of this gradual debasement of the Roman coinage was that Roman citizens hoarded the higher quality silver and gold, trade shrank and eventually people preferred to deal via non-monetary means e.g. through gifts, bartering or feudal style economic arrangements.

Given the monstrous global debts, an ageing population and incessant demands of a modern welfare state, it is likely that future governments will carry on printing money (the 21st century version of debasing the currency) just like the Roman emperors. Cash is likely to remain used for day-to-day use for a long time to come, at least 50 years and more likely up to 150 years from now but it should not be considered a long-term store of value.

One of the main reasons successive Roman emperors resorted to debasing the coinage was the financial demands of the Roman military for money. Despite imposing excessive tax burdens on the productive classes of society the state couldn’t keep up with the spending demands of the ancient military-industrial complex. Does that sound familiar to you reader? American readers should be aware that America national debt is now over 20 trillion.

US debt

trading economics

 

The deficit – the gap between revenue and expenditure, is heading towards $1 trillion per year.

deficit

bipartisan policy

 

Politicians from the Left are increasingly talking about the so-called “Modern Monetary Theory” that justifies massive printing money by central banks. And politicians from the Right are de facto practising the theory in government.

The message to expect is that the real value of the paper money in your wallet or handbag will continue to lose its value over the coming century.

The deficit is also leading to increasingly aggressive attempts to seize assets from private citizens. Roman Emperors like Domitian (81-96 .D.) “…would use trumped-up charges to confiscate the assets of the wealthy”. Recently, Western governments have given themselves the powers to seize assets of the wealthy through Asset Forfeiture Powers. The UK London police last year seized assets from UK criminals worth £94 million.

In America, a growing source of revenue is the seizure of assets from citizens. According to the Pulitzer Centre, “the federal government took in $36.5 billion in assets police seized from people on America’s roads and in its poorer neighborhoods, many of whom never were charged with a crime or shown to have drugs.”

Is this any different to the ancient Roman practice of armed soldiers seizing assets from private citizens on trumped up charges? We are in the early stages of this process and it is likely to get far worse in the coming decades. Draconian wealth taxes and the arbitrary use of asset seizure powers by cash starved governments are increasingly likely and you should prepare accordingly. Already, capital is flowing into bitcoin – the 21st century version of gold – to escape restrictive government measures on capital.

Next decade, I expect to see wealth taxes introduced on the rich across the Western world which will drive capital further underground.

And as the experience of the Roman empire illustrates, it will ultimately be the middle to lower classes who will be worst impacted by this process wealth confiscation, inflation and higher taxation.

“As the private wealth of the Empire was gradually confiscated or taxed away, driven away or hidden, economic growth slowed to a virtual standstill. Moreover, once the wealthy were no longer able to pay the state’s bills, the burden inexorably fell onto the lower classes, so that average people suffered as well from the deteriorating economic conditions.”

Given the demographic trends of an ageing population, shrinking birth-rate and escalating national debts across the developed world the inflation and zero interest rates mega-trend looks likely to accelerate into the next decade.

Whilst economic forecasting remains a difficult art, the Investing Haven team have recently published an article noting that the next major stock market crash will be in 2022. Given the presidential cycle (usually presidents do everything they can to goose the economy prior to an election year), the mixed economic data and the renewed push by central banks to lower interest rates, this seems broadly right.

Whilst the stock market is elevated there seems little – outside the corporate debt, tech IPO’s and private equity/venture capital markets – of the euphoria you tend to see during the final stages of a stock market boom. Retail investors still shy away from stocks, having been burned by the 2008 crash and until they return the stock market should continue to rise into the 2020’s.

It seems to me that the course of the next 10 to 20 years will be periodic deflationary crashes, when asset prices temporarily collapse in value, before the central bankers and governments intervene by printing trillions to prop up the money economy. If Investing Haven are right, the next one is scheduled in early 2020’s – interestingly a time frame also mentioned by John Greer.

At some point around or after 2030, the world will be heading into a “perfect storm” of biophysical (resource scarcity and climate change), demographic (collapsing birth rates) and economic/geopolitical trends (collapsing economic growth and mass migrations from a dying MENA region).

The trends outlined above: wealth taxes, inflation and massive debasing of fiat currencies, asset seizures and growing interventionism into allegedly “free markets” by increasingly authoritarian states) will get far worse in the 2030’s and 2040’s. Politics will see a further wave of Caesars come to power across the world, on a bigger scale than our current decade, as frightened populations turn to strongmen for economic and geopolitical security.

One of the lessons of history is that the status quo can last longer than many realise. It is quite possible that in 2038, the news headlines could include a report on the rise of the stock market after QE25 had been announced, the rise of wages for skilled tradesmen due to the shortage of workers and the rising disorder in southern Europe struggling with a massive wave of migration from a climate troubled Middle East. That world is not dissimilar to 2019.

One of the lessons of the collapse of the Roman Empire is that the debasement of money eventually destroys the money economy. “People fled to the countryside and took up subsistence farming or attached themselves to the estates of the wealthy, which operated as much as possible as closed systems, providing for all their own needs and not engaging in trade at all.” At the same time, wealthy landowners developed their own militias to protect their estates and exert power as the Empire slowly disintegrated.

This trend of emerging war bands is a common pattern in a declining civilisation and if you look closely, proto-war bands are already lurking around the margins of our core industrial civilisation. The Mexican drug cartels whose tentacles reach deep into America, the jihadi militias operating in Libya, Syria and the wider Sahal and the fascistic Ukrainian militias fighting the Russians in the Donetsk are all future war bands.

If you think I’m exaggerating the UN envoy to Mali recently warned that the Sahal (the zone between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south) “… is becoming an open military arsenal. There are more than 60 million weapons circulating in the Sahal. If the Europeans and the other powers are not stopping it… will obviously contaminate Europe and contaminate the rest of the world”.

 Eventually, these various dynamics will drive the collapse of the money economy and drag us into a world of non-market economic arrangements. In Roman times the State imposed a type of feudalisation of society where “…people were tied to their land, home, jobs and places of employment. Workers were organised into guilds and businesses into corporations called collegia. Both became de facto organs of the state, controlling and directing their members to work and produce for the state”. I can hear my readers already exclaiming this would never happen! Of course, this sounds remarkably similar to the state socialist model which collapsed in the late 20th century.

My point isn’t that it is a good system (it isn’t) but it is a functional system that has existed in our lifetime. It could reappear in the future. In 2010, the German magazine De Spiegel published a report by the Bundeswehr, the German military, into the implications of peak oil which you can read here. The secret report concluded that the security implications of a peak in global oil production would occur from 2025 to 2040. Shortages of petroleum would trigger, in the medium term, the collapse of the global economic system and every market-oriented national economy. More pertinently to our study of Roman history, the report predicted that “peak oil could lead to a ‘partial or complete failure of markets’. A conceivable alternative would be government rationing and the allocation of important goods or the setting of production schedules and other short-term coercive measures to replace market-based mechanisms in times of crisis.”

That, my friends, is how our free market economy slowly dies. Increasingly disruptive oil supply shocks going into mid-century which triggers the partial or complete collapse of market based economic arrangements around the world.

Recommendations

If you wish to avoid penury in the coming decades, which is the likely fate of the bulk of the middle classes of the developed world, I would recommend the following:

  • Invest in scarce asset classes including a small fraction of your wealth in physical gold and silver (https://www.goldmoney.com/). Although cryptos are highly controversial speculative products I wouldn’t rule our also owning a small amount of bitcoin, ripple and other top cryptos with the intention of selling them once the market likely peaks again in the early 2020’s.
  • Consider investing in fine wines (https://www.bbr.com/). Climate change is a serious risk to the wine making industry in France, Italy and Spain and as noted here, there is a reasonable chance that fine wines could grow in value due to the lower supply and increased global demand.
  • Property is almost certainly overvalued but if you can afford it, there should be bargains to buy during the deflationary crashes which should periodically occur over the next few decades. Many of the rich Roman landowners acquired their vast lands by buying up bankrupt small farmers during the periodic deflationary depressions. Eventually those landowners and their descendants who survived the barbarian invasions during the Dark Ages became the warlords of the post-Dark Ages feudal era. Arable farming land (above sea level) is a good long-term investment along with quality buy-to-let properties.
  • Blue-chip stocks are still worth holding, given that central banks are likely to try and prop up financial markets for many years to come. However, I would largely avoid government and corporate bonds which seem to be particularly leveraged to permanent economic growth.
  • Consider investing in quality, sustainable and well-run local businesses that provide a real good or service to the local economy. Greer has written before that every era of globalisation ends with a lurch back towards localisation and protectionism. That local brewery might be a sound investment which should survive the economic and geopolitical disruptions of the coming decades.
  • Develop your own skillsets and income streams in the real world. That could include massaging, gardening, DIY, brewing beer or anything else that can get some cash-in-hand or bartered favour with a neighbour, friend or colleague. As the money market economy slowly dissolves, these informal networks and skills will become increasingly useful for most of us outside the privileged circles of the wealthy.

The key takeaway from this post is that our world is changing fast and only those who adapt will survive and thrive in the coming decades.

 

 

The coming Economic Dark Ages

Political betting alert: Boris Johnson victory margin opportunity

Boris alone

BBC

 

This is a new feature of my blog and is not intended to be a deep dive analysis into politics. Instead, I will present what I think is an opportunity to make a profit in the political betting markets.

As a disclaimer, political betting is about probabilities and there is no guarantee that you will make profit from taking bets. You should only bet on what you can afford to lose.

In line with my previous Brexit updates, I continue to forecast that Boris Johnson will win the Tory leadership contest. I have now also concluded that the most likely scale of his victory will be between 70 to 79%, with a tentative prediction around the mid-70’s.

Recent polls, conducted by Conservative Home and Yougov, have indicated that Boris is going to win around 67% of the vote. The huge gaffe committed by Jeremy Hunt over fox hunting has damaged him at this critical stage of the leadership contest when Tory members are starting to vote en masse.

Wavering Tory members are more likely to vote for Boris given that Hunt’s pro-fox hunting comments have only strengthened the perception that Hunt is Continuity May.

The latest poll in the Daily Mail today shows that Johnson has now crashed through the 70% mark and is likely to win by 75% of the vote. There is a core anti-Boris tendency within the Tory membership so it is unlikely, although certainly not impossible, that Boris may end up with 80% or more.

Taking a probabilistic and risk-based approach to this, given the current odds (which are likely to change within 48 hours), I would say that there is currently an excellent opportunity to make a profit by betting on a margin of victory between 70 to 79% on betfair.

For those who want to play it safer, they can also place a bet between the 60 to 69% margin of victory, which ensures that you will make a profit, either way, depending on the amount you place on both trades (assuming that Boris wins between 60 to 79% of the vote).

You will need to register with betfair to do these trades and I can’t provide any advice for those of my readership who are outside the UK (different countries have different rules on gambling).

Just remember, this is betting and there is no guarantee that you will get your money back! Best of luck!

Betfair 1

Betfair 2

Political betting alert: Boris Johnson victory margin opportunity