Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Year of the Antelope

Business Mirror

Did I happen to mention the other day that cute little bunny rabbits are also cannibals?

If you breed rabbits for a living, one thing that may cut into your profit margin is that mother bunnies might start munching on their newly born babies. One common denominator when they chow down their own or the neighbor’s kid is stress. Too much pressure and strain makes them want to take it out on the children. A deficiency in the food or water supply can bring on an anxiety attack leading to infanticide.

But in fairness to the rabbits, other animals such as tigers, lions, hippopotamuses and monkeys are also known to eat members of their own species. A male lion eliminates competition when it takes over as king of the pride by killing and sometimes eating its predecessor’s offspring.

So cannibalism in the animal kingdom is caused by stress, often due to a poor supply of basic necessities or is done to protect vital personal interests.

Humans are not much different put in the right circumstances. Get stranded on a desert island or in a plane crash on top of a snow-covered mountain, and eventually your seat mate may start looking like a fiesta lechon.

We are slightly more “civilized” than most other members of the animal kingdom when it comes to eating our own. But that is not to say that we humans are any less practical than animals when stress hits the fan as a result of diminishing resources or when our survival depends on taking out the other guy.

A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest member. When the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. At first glance, that culling of the herd might seem ruthless but is just Mother Nature’s way of keeping things in balance. The strong should probably be the ones to survive.

But here is where it gets interesting. African antelope have taken this idea one step further. The herd actually runs ahead of the weak and old ones to make sure they are the ones left behind to get eaten by the lions. And if by chance the “weak” ones are not that weak and can still tag along, they are physically pushed out of the herd so as to not cause any problems.

I think maybe we are looking at the Year of the Antelope.

Germany has just about had it with the European Union and the euro. But they have no one to blame but themselves. The German economy, through German bank lending, has funded all of the now-weak European Union countries to the tune of $1 trillion. The problem is that countries do not die off as easily as weak animals. Sure, Germany could kill the whole thing by pulling out of the euro currency, but that does not get their money back.

However, Germany may have found a sort of hungry lion to take out their weakest antelope—Spain, who owes Germany some $200 billion. China has offered to bail out Spain. But even so, that does not change the predicament that Germany finds itself. All Germany needs to do is convince China to take over the debts of Portugal, Italy, Hungary and the rest. Ultimately, China must protect its own domestic economy that may see some trouble in the near future.

Before the end of the year, China may find itself wanting to eliminate a member of its own herd: North Korea. China pays North Korea’s bills and, in the large picture, it is not very much. But the North Koreans are possibly becoming more trouble than they are worth. While the world knows they check with Beijing before doing anything, North Korea may have outlived its usefulness as a Chinese irritant to the US. Besides, unification with South Korea will probably be partially paid for with US funding.

The US has been the true global cannibal these last two years, feasting off the wealth of future generations of Americans, trying to preserve the dollar as the world’s reserve currency in order to sell their government debt cheaply. It has not worked. Now, America is a nation in survival mode and there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.

At this point, the US does not care whom they have to take down to survive. The US economy cannot live without more borrowed funds. To this purpose, all economic policy, no matter the global consequences, will be focused on maintaining the US’ ability to borrow. America is already the largest debtor nation and this will continue. If the only way that the US can continue to borrow is to devalue the dollar, then that is what it will do. A strong dollar policy to maintain its reserve status has now been abandoned in favor of being able to sell debt. The dollar may die in value but it will still be the most widely used currency because other nations do not have a choice. For all of its talk, China cannot afford to see its $1.5-trillion reserves become worthless paper. So it must accept devaluation.

Brazil and countries (Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the EU) whose economies depend on doing business with the US are helpless against the dollar-devaluation policy. It is as if the only department store in town doubled prices and you have no other shopping alternative.

The US will cannibalize the economies of any nation they have to in order to survive.

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