December 28, 2018

President Trump seems to be on route to become one of the greatest “paga-peos” (scapegoats) in history.

Sir, Gillian Tett writes that for her “money, there is another, darker, way to interpret this week’s [extreme volatility in US equity markets]. Two years into Mr Trump’s presidency, global investors are questioning the administration’s financial credibility…Steel yourself to cope with further turbulence triggered by Mr Trump”,“Expect more turbulence from Trump’s Fed fight”, December 28.

Indeed, president Trump is to be blamed for some of it, but the truth is that had the markets been more normal, not so much bubbled-up, he would only cause some ripples never Tsunamis.

That Trump has given indications to fire Jay Powell, the Fed chair, is bad in as far as it interferes with the necessary independence and credibility of a central bank. But, that said, let me also hold that, if a central banker or a regulator believes that what bankers perceive as risky is more dangerous to bank systems than what they perceive safe, and therefore use credit distorting risk weighted bank capital requirements, as they’ve done for a long time, that is a clear justified cause for their removal.

Venezuelan historians sometimes recount that in old days the refined ladies of the society always used to keep a young slave close by. Whenever they let out noisy and smelly gases, they would hit the slave hard and loudly on his head spelling out “Boy/Girl!” whichever applied. These useful blame-takers, scapegoats, were known as “paga-peos”, literally “fart-payers”.

Sir, President Trump clearly produces some gases himself, but he could also go down in history as one of the greatest paga-peos ever.

When booming equity markets, house prices and unsustainable debt levels everywhere, built up with easy bank credit, huge liquidity injections and ultra-low interest rates come crashing down, as they must, sooner or later, those who are much more to blame for it, could all jointly point at President Trump and shout “He did it!” and Ms. Tett might smilingly nod in agreement.

PS. Though in Spanish here you will find more interesting details about the “paga-peos” tradition and about how it can be used with even worse intentions.