Saturday, March 3, 2012

John Mauldin's Thoughts From the Frontline: Unintended Consequences

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Unintended Consequences
By John Mauldin | March 3, 2012
"Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces."
– Sigmund Freud
Let me introduce Mauldin's Rule of Thumb Concerning Unintended Consequences:
For every government law hurriedly passed in response to a current or recent crisis, there will be two or more unintended consequences, which will have equal or greater negative effects then the problem it was designed to fix. A corollary is that unelected institutions are at least as bad and possibly worse than elected governments. A further corollary is that laws passed to appease a particular group, whether voters or a particular industry, will have at least three unintended consequences, most of which will eventually have the opposite effect than the intended outcomes and transfer costs to innocent bystanders.
This week we wonder about the consequences of the European Central Bank (ECB) issuing over €1 trillion in short-term loans to try and postpone a banking credit crisis and lower sovereign debt costs for certain peripheral countries in Europe. What if, instead of holding the European Monetary Union (EMU or Eurozone) together, that actually makes a breakup more likely? That would certainly fall under the rubric of unintended consequences, and be worth our time to contemplate in this week's letter.
Further, what if the group that oversees credit default swaps declares an actual sovereign debt default not to be a technical default in order to avoid a credit crisis because CDSs would have to be paid? Could that actually undermine the ability of smaller countries to borrow money at lower cost, if they could even borrow it at all? Thus making the eventual outcome even worse? We will explore these perplexing questions and more as we once again turn our attention to Europe.

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