Money Is The New Commodity

In the major financial countries, Western Europe, North America and Japan, between half a million and a million people go to work and start trading a commodity, the commodity of money. These financial traders borrow from each other to bid up the price of currencies, trade an almost endless list of financial instruments and trade competitively to increase their own holdings at the expense of other traders. At any time they can cash in their financial instruments for the real thing, currency. Their world is a financial world on computers and is completely disassociated from anything that can generate real value, it is totally decoupled from the world that the rest of us live in.

"In 1975, about 80% of foreign exchange transactions (where one national currency is exchanged for another) were to conduct business in the real economy. For instance, currencies change hands to import oil, export cars, buy corporations, invest in portfolios, or build factories. Real transactions actually produce or trade goods and services.

The remaining 20% of transactions in 1975 were speculative, which means that the sole purpose was an expected profit from buying and selling currencies themselves, based on their changing values. So, even in the days when the real economy was dominant, some currency speculation was going on. There had always been that little bit of frosting on the cake.

Today, the real economy in foreign exchange transactions is down to 2.5% and 97.5% is now speculative. What had been the frosting has become the cake. The real economy has become just a small percentage of total financial currency activity." [1]

Unlike other computer games the games these people play have real world consequences. Financial investors and traders bid up the Mexican stock market. Only 10% of the money traded went into real investment. When traders realized that they built a bubble that might burst they rapidly pulled their investments to play elsewhere and the value of the peso plummeted. The results were massive job losses in Mexico and in the US. The US taxpayers were tapped for a $50 billion bailout package to back the Mexican bonds held by Wall Street firms. The same firms whose trading divisions caused the collapse.

"Economic textbooks say that corporations and individuals compete for markets and resources. This is not true. Corporations and individuals compete for money by using markets and resources." [2]

Some traders are not satisfied with potential legal profits. There are an increasing number of cases of rouge traders gambling with their company's money. Kidder Peabody saw a lone trader reported $1.7 trillion in phony trades over a two and half-year period and he reported that he earned the firm $350 million in profits. He was paid an $11 million bonus for his good work. In actual fact he lost the company $85 million on the few real trades he had made. At Barings bank a lone 28 year old trader lost that bank $1.3 billion on bad derivatives trades and forced the 233 year old bank into bankruptcy. These reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

What are these "financial weapons of mass destruction"? [ 3 ] Derrivatives.

[ 1 ] [ 2 ] Remarks by Bernard Lietaer at International Forum on Globalization (IFG) seminar, [15 December 1997]

[ 3 ] Warren Buffet, Berkshire Hathaway annual report, 2002