My country club locker room is a fascinating 19th hole observatory where human nature and intelligence often come into conflict. Almost all of my golfing buddies are risk takers by nature and many of them are gamblers – not just in the card room but also in the casinos in Las Vegas. Having spent some time in Sin City myself in my early 20s as one of the first blackjack counters, I was, and still am, most familiar with odds and the impossibility of beating the “House” in any game other than blackjack over a long period of time.
Still, this commonsensical conclusion is not so obvious to many of my friends, who first of all, claim that they usually “break even” on any particular weekend jaunt, and secondly, suggest that they can win by using various betting “systems” that somehow allow them to claw back losses or stabilize winnings. An absurd example of this would be to triple your bet if you’ve lost 3 times in a row, and if you lose that, to quadruple your bet and so on. All of these illusions are derivatives of the so-called Martingale System, which claims that
it is mathematically impossible to lose, given enough money and the willingness of the casino to take the increasing bet. The latter conditions, however, are where reality meets the road. A string of 4, 5 or perhaps 30 straight losses cannot work in the long run because the size of the bets eventually reach billions of dollars.
This same mathematical logic seems to have eluded central bankers around the globe. They are quite simply, employing a Martingale System in the conduct of monetary policy with policy rates now in negative territory for both the ECB and the BOJ – which in turn have led to over $15 trillion of negative yielding developed economy sovereign bonds. How else would one characterize the “whatever it takes” statement by Mario Draghi in 2014? How else would one interpret BOJ’s Kuroda when just last week he upped the ante in Japan by capping 10 year JGB’s at 0% until inflation exceeds 2% per year? How else would a rational observer describe Carney and Yellen other than “Martingale gamblers with a wallet or a purse?” Our financial markets have become a Vegas/Macau/Monte Carlo casino, wagering that an unlimited supply of credit generated by central banks can successfully reflate global economies and reinvigorate nominal GDP growth to lower but acceptable norms in today’s highly levered world.