Tuesday, January 30, 2024

San Francisco Thieves Target Entire Drive-Thru ATM

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The Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Left Coast Affairs and Other Inexplicable Phenomena submits the latest update on progressive San Francisco's soft-on-crime policies. From this past weekend in Diamond Heights, one of the city's nicer neighborhoods...

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Biden Inadvertently Proves Taxing the Rich Doesn’t Work

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4 MIN READ - Ooops... from the Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Economic Affairs and Other Egghead Stuff.

We shouldn’t be surprised that given his mental state Joe Biden isn’t going to be good at arithmetic. But his math deficiency betrayed him last week when he effectively proved soaking the rich won’t solve the government’s fiscal problems.

First, Biden falsely claimed the richest Americans only pay an effective federal income tax rate of 8.5%.

”Look, folks, you know how many billionaires we have in America today? One thousand. You know what their average rate - tax rate - federal tax rate is? Federal tax rate is 8.5 percent.”
 -January 18th

Even the Washington Post admits Biden’s tax rate is way off, the real effective income tax rate paid being more than 20% and including all other federal taxes over 30% (article link at bottom of post).

But let’s use Biden’s lowball number as it provides him the strongest case possible which itself will still be a giant fail.

Biden said a minimum 25% income tax rate on the rich will do wonders for fixing the federal budget deficit.

”Think about this. There’d be $40 billion raised [per year] if they even pay 25 percent.” (January 18th)

And being even more generous and broadening higher tax rates beyond just “billionaires,” the Washington Post reports that “The line is a key part of his argument to impose a minimum 25 percent tax on all taxpayers with wealth greater than $100 million. That would raise about $360 billion over 10 years, the administration estimates.”

Perhaps some readers can already see how the math sinks Biden, but let's do it anyway.

If raising the federal income tax rate on everyone worth more than $100 million from the alleged 8.5% to 25%, or an extra 16.5 percentage points, would really generate $40 billion a year ($36 billion according to the Post but we’ll be generous to Biden and say $40 billion), then if you up the rate to 100%, effectively taxing 100 cents of every dollar made by the rich, the annual revenue raised would be $221.8 billion.

(100-8.5)/16.5 x 40B = $221.8 billion. 

The federal government ran a deficit last year of $1.7 trillion so the revenue generated in this fantasy scenario wouldn’t even raise 14% of what’s needed to balance the budget.

Also, does anyone remember the countless times we’ve heard Democrats like Bernie Sanders, AOC, Elizabeth Warren, etc… say if billionaires “pay their fair share” of income taxes not only would there not be a budget deficit, but the federal government’s revenue windfall would be enough to pay for the Green New Deal, free college education, government run healthcare, universal basic income, reparations, and every other unicorn program under the sun?

Well Joe Biden’s math, already bad as it is which we’ll continue picking apart in a moment, proves you could tax every billionaire's income at 100% plus everyone with $100 million at 100% and it wouldn’t even close one-seventh of the deficit.

Incidentally $221.8 billion is only 3.2% of the projected $6.9 trillion the federal government alone will spend in 2024. 

It’s also 2.1% of the projected $10.49 trillion all government at the federal, state, and local levels will spend this year, not that there will be anything left for the latter two once the IRS seizes 100% of all rich people’s income first like the first vulture finding a carcass.


Also, Biden assumes the very wealthy are only paying 8.5% tax rates to begin with which the Post has called out as untrue. Given that Biden’s target class is really paying 30%+ in total federal taxes (plus state taxes), the room to raise rates is narrower. By the Correspondent’s estimates a 100% tax rate wouldn’t generate $221.8 billion a year in extra revenue, but only $158 billion.

And this all assumes if the government taxes the very wealthy at a 100% rate they won’t change their behavior: like quit working, or move their money overseas, or pack their bags and move themselves overseas too.

We’re also told it’s “only the billionaires” that need to be taxed more heavily. Well anyone worth over $1 billion is a small subset of the larger group worth more than $100 million, so the AOC and Bernie Sanders claims that billionaires can fund everything falls even more flat.

And so much also for the old myth that “Trump’s tax cuts for billionaires blew up the deficit.” Even if he lowered their tax rate from 100% to 8.5% it wouldn’t have made much difference. But as it stands, Trump only tweaked the top income tax rate—from 39.6% to 37%—which, by Biden’s own math, means the federal government at most lost out on $5.7 billion from the $100 million-plus crowd—less from “just the billionaires”—or a meager 0.3% of the deficit.

And Trump left capital gains tax rates virtually unchanged.

Obviously there’s not enough money with the very wealthy to make a dent in the deficit let alone the federal budget PLUS the Christmas list of new programs progressives want to launch.

So their only remaining options are to go down the food chain and jack up taxes on the “just kinda wealthy” and middle class, start taxing not just income but assets too (most of which are not even liquid like real estate, securities, or entire businesses), or some combination of both.

And since illiquid wealth must be sold to generate the cash needed to pay all these new taxes, everyone running for the exits at the same time would generate selling pressure that pushes asset prices down further resulting in another shortfall of projected revenue, not that this orgy of taxation at current asset prices would be anything close to finance the progressive's vision of government anyway.

But meantime we have Joe Biden to thank for proving all this, even though that wasn’t his intent.

The good news for him is most of his followers can’t do math either, so he doesn’t have much to worry about with his voter base.

Read Washington Post "Analysis: Biden keeps saying billionaires pay 8 percent in taxes. Not really" at...


If you don't have a WP account there's a free Yahoo! version at...


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

A Political and Economic History of China, Part 10: The Fall of the Ming Dynasty

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7 MIN READ - The Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Economic Affairs and Other Egghead Stuff chronicles how the fall of the penultimate Ming dynasty enabled the unexpected rise of the final Qing dynasty (1644-1912). 1644 might seem like a long time ago, but as we approach the Qing more and more history with relevance to the 20th century and today begins to reveal itself.

1644: The last Ming emperor hangs himself
Last post we discussed the two “good” early Ming emperors, Hongwu and Yongle, who consolidated the new dynasty and set China on a good footing. After Yongle (r. 1402-1424) the situation in China never improved further and eventually declined.

Yongle’s oldest son and successor, the Hongxi emperor, died at age 46 after just eight months on the throne, probably from a heartattack as he was morbidly obese. 

The post-Yongle era was not off to an auspicious start.

The Ming was also issuing fiat paper currency right from its start (the “baochao” notes, backed by nothing). Although initially successful, inevitable overissuance by the state already produced inflation by the end of Yongle’s reign. Chinese citizens turned to silver and copper coinage, openly defying Ming edicts banning the use of any currency but the baochaos, and by 1425 the government’s paper notes were circulating at only 0.014% of their original face value.

Future Ming emperors also showed little to no interest in governing, leaving state matters to imperial eunuchs who, consistent with their long reputation, transformed the halls of government into a giant machine of corruption to line their own pockets.

A few emperors tried to reform the empire in their early years, but all of them eventually lost interest or gave in to the formidable power of the eunuchs.

One of the more famous Ming emperors who “tried” to improve China was the Wanli emperor (r. 1572-1620). Like many of his predecessors, Wanli eventually retreated from responsible state administration into hedonistic diversions, but one notable deed was inviting Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci to Beijing, the first European to enter the Forbidden City.

Wanli relied on Ricci for scientific expertise in matters such as astronomy, mathematics, and mapmaking. Ricci, who admired Chinese culture, also founded the Chinese Catholic Church and translated Confucian classics into Latin for the first time, making them available for western reading.

When Ricci died in 1610 he was buried in Beijing and his cemetery remains an official historical site. Over the centuries monuments and statues to Ricci’s Chinese work and friendship were also erected throughout the country.

Unfortunately during the 1960's Cultural Revolution Mao Zedong’s woke teenage Red Guards stormed through the country and destroyed most of the Ricci statues and monuments, but his memory remained so revered that police guards were placed at his burial site to protect it from radicalized communist youths whose attempts to desecrate his resting place were mostly thwarted. What damage they did to the headstones was repaired and restored by Deng Xiaoping after Mao died.

Ricci’s collaboration with the Wanli emperor was and remains a symbol of past Sino-western cooperation, and the Economics Correspondent understands that even today most college-educated Chinese are aware of who Matteo Ricci was and what he did during his years in China.


Throughout the 16th century imperial corruption and apathy within the Forbidden City ushered steady decline of the empire, but two events sealed the dynasty’s fate.

The first was the Little Ice Age, an episode of planetary cooling that scientists believe began in the 16th century, ended in the early 19th century, and which some (non-government patronized) scientists believe the world is still coming out of. Although the Little Ice Age lowered temperatures around the world, it hit China hardest in the early 1600’s, producing drought and a major famine in the 1630’s.

The final nail in the coffin was a huge outbreak of bubonic plague that started in 1633, reaching its peak in the early 1640’s (uncoincidentally the Ming was overthrown in 1644).

The corruption, inflation, natural disasters, and plague gave rise to a major insurrection led by peasant general Li Zicheng. By the mid-1630’s Li had rallied tens of thousands of peasants to the cause of overthrowing the Ming, and his armies had sacked government offices and killed many officials in the rebellion’s epicenter: the northern provinces of Henan, Shanxi, and Shaanxi.

Ineffective and corrupt, the Ming was unable to defeat Li’s armies as the rebellion spread. However, before we get to the end of the dynasty we must devote one last diversion to a subject where things get really interesting: the role of the Manchurians.


As things fell apart in early 17th century Ming China, Manchurian tribes to the northeast were growing as an outside force to be reckoned with.

Centuries prior the Manchurians had conquered the northern half of China during the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), establishing their own “Jin” dynasty north of the Huai river. Shortly after they themselves were invaded and conquered by the Mongols. Then for centuries they were disunited and their tribes scattered across Manchuria, Mongolia, and southeast Siberia, but in 1599 the tribal leader Nurhaci began a campaign to reunite all Manchus.

Much like Genghis Khan did with the Mongols, by 1616 Nurhaci had defeated his tribal rivals and he declared a new Jin dynasty which became belligerent to the Chinese Ming.

Nurhaci died in 1626 and by 1644 his six-year old grandson’s regent, Prince Dorgon, was running Manchu affairs. The dynasty’s name had also been changed to the Qing—pronounced “ching,” meaning “clear” or “pure.”

Which brings us up-to-date with the Ming’s final tumultuous days.

In early 1644 rebel general Li Zicheng was marching on Beijing. The last Ming emperor Chongzhen, who had initially tried to revitalize the dynasty, was dealt a losing hand from the start as the collapsing empire was already hopelessly corrupt and ineffective.

A famous story recounts as peasant armies breached Beijing’s exterior walls and closed in on the Forbidden City, Chongzhen knew the game was up. He slayed his concubines to preserve their honor, and on the morning of April 25th he walked atop Meishan Hill just north of the Forbidden City where he hanged himself from a tree.

Li’s armies, weakened but victorious, marched into the Forbidden City where Li declared the founding of the new Shun Dynasty (it would last less than two months).


Qing forces in the northeast, who were watching the fighting from afar, saw an opportunity to exploit and moved south towards Beijing. Qing regent Dorgon (meaning literally "badger") declared his armies were only marching to “save the Ming from the rebels.” This message resonated with Ming generals who couldn’t stand the idea of peasant armies ruling China and some defected to the Qing. One famous defector, the general Wu Sangui, is regarded as a traitor in modern Chinese history books.

On a side note, a very interesting modern-day discussion over which Qing-era figures are considered traitors and which are considered heroes will resurface in upcoming chapters on the Qing dynasty.

Rebel leader Li Zicheng got to Beijing first, but his armies were weakened from years of fighting Ming forces. This was precisely the window of opportunity that Qing armies, fresh and unscathed from fewer battles, took advantage of. One month later their army, joined by Ming general Wu Sangui’s troops, soundly defeated the dilapidated rebel forces at the Battle of Shanhai Pass. Li fled the scene and set fire to the Forbidden City before abandoning Beijing. He died a year later.

In a 20th century reference, when the victorious Mao Zedong entered Beijing to declare the founding of the People’s Republic of China, he turned to his closest confidant Zhou Enlai and joked “Today we’re heading to the capital… under no circumstances can we be like Li Zicheng.”

With Li's defeat Qing armies walked unopposed into Beijing in 1644. Having seen the rebels flee, local residents expected Ming troops to reclaim the capital but were shocked instead to see the victorious army of Manchus led by Qing regent Dorgon. Dorgon declared the Qing dynasty as new rulers of China and enthroned the six-year old monarch Shunzhi as Chinese emperor on November 8, 1644.

The vow of “we're only marching on Beijing to save the Ming," much like "we’re only persecuting political opponents and removing them from the ballot to save democracy,” belied Qing ulterior motives. It was all calculated lies, for the Qing had plotted to exploit the internal rebellion and seize total power for themselves from the beginning.

In the next post we’ll begin a mini-series on 268 years of Qing dynasty rule (1644-1912) which, in the Correspondent’s opinion, is more interesting than all the other dynasties combined.

But before we go there’s one last 20th century reference that relates directly to the 1644 peasant rebellion and Qing conquest.

When Imperial Japanese forces invaded Manchuria in 1931, Chinese president Chiang Kai-Shek was busy fighting communist rebels led by Mao Zedong. Chiang, knowing China’s armies were not yet a match for modernized Japanese forces, tried appeasement to buy time—both to rout out the last of Mao’s rebels and modernize his own army.

This policy of fighting Chinese communists while appeasing Japanese, named “first internal pacification, then external resistance,” was unpopular with the public who urged combatting Japanese invaders.

Chiang tried to convince the Chinese people that his strategy was right, repeatedly alluding to the Qing conquest of 1644. That is, when the Ming dynasty could not control the rebels it left the country vulnerable to outside Qing invaders. The lesson to be learned from history, according to Chiang, was to rid the country of the rebels first so that a united China can then focus on fighting its external enemy without worry of being stabbed in the back by its own people.

Chiang’s famous adage was “The Japanese are a disease of the skin. The communists are a disease of the heart.”

Chiang didn’t get the chance to realize his plan to the end, and we don’t know how history may have changed had he been able to. The key event that prevented his stamping out the communists before confronting the Japanese occurred in 1936: a story we will save for when we get to the 20th century.

Correspondent's note: Anyone who has seen "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" may recall Harrison Ford trading the cremated remains of Qing emperor Nurhaci for a large diamond from Chinese henchman Lao Che. The movie correctly describes Nurhaci as "first emperor of Manchu dynasty." (5:24)

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

A Political and Economic History of China, Part 9: The Ming Dynasty of 1368-1644

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6 MIN READ - The Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Economic Affairs and Other Egghead Stuff discusses the second-to-last imperial Chinese dynasty, also the last dynasty governed by Chinese themselves.

Beijing: Wellwishers throw paper money at the Yongle emperor's feet

The Economics Correspondent is a little flustered to admit he has only two columns worth of material on the Ming. 

One would think the second-to-last imperial dynasty—276 years long and the last run by ethnic Chinese—might be full of exciting fireworks. But every text the Correspondent has ever read about the Ming has been the same narrow and surprisingly small number of important stories, in stark contrast to its successor: the far more interesting Qing dynasty.

(academic Ming scholars would probably chide this page for saying so, but there it is)

Nevertheless what there is to the Ming, however little for such a long period, is still important enough to write about so we’ll cover the basics here.

We’ve already covered the founder of the Ming in the last column. Zhu Yuanzhang, a peasant boy from Anhui province whose entire family was wiped out by the plague and famine of the late Yuan (Mongol) dynasty, grew up in a monastery, spent time as a beggar, and eventually joined an anti-Mongol rebel society named the Red Turbans. Over time he rose to lead the Red Turban rebellion and, after chasing the last Yuan emperor out of China, proclaimed the restoration of Chinese rule and the Ming dynasty.

Zhu also declared himself the Hongwu emperor.


Diverting a moment away from Hongwu, it’s worth discussing Ming emperors in general, the succession of which follows a pattern similar to that of many other dynasties.

Whenever analyzing the longer-lived Chinese dynasties a familiar story repeats itself: the greater dynasties enjoyed leadership by anywhere from one to three very good, even excellent, emperors in their earlier phases, monarchs who built a strong administrative state and ushered in a period of stability and prosperity.

After the “good emperors” things start to go south, with a string of mediocre-to-bad emperors who oversee growing corruption and decline before the dynasty is overthrown.

The rise-and-fall pattern usually consists of a longer decline than the shorter ascent. Even as things get worse and the general populous becomes unhappy they are still reluctant to risk their necks by rebelling. But after many, many more decades of things deteriorating further the people finally become so fed up that they dare rise up in revolt. Even then some rebellions are brutally put down and the dynasty limps on for decades more, but after a long enough period of decay the dynasty finally falls.

The Correspondent noted at least the last 152 years of the Tang dynasty were marked by civil wars, insurrection, famine, and general suffering among the people before the weakened regime finally collapsed.

The Song dynasty also enjoyed a near century-long golden age which started to reverse in 1070. Then over the next 209 years the Song was wrecked by monetary inflation, invaded and then split into two by the Jurchen tribes of the north. The then Southern Song dynasty was later hit by inflation and corruption again and invaded by the Mongols in 1235 before being overrun in 1279.

The same pattern: about a century of ascent followed by over two centuries of reversal, decline, and final collapse.

The Ming follows a similar timeline. By the Correspondent’s estimates the Ming benefited from two good (one very good) emperors from its founding in 1368 to 1424, a shorter 56 years. After the death of the last good emperor, the Ming leveled off and underwent a steady 220 year decline characterized by growing corruption and influence of imperial eunuchs, monetary inflation, frequent famines, plagues, and rebellion.


So who are these two good emperors who laid the framework which would keep the Ming in power, even through two long centuries of decline?

The first is founding emperor Hongwu himself who we’ve already mentioned. Once he established the Ming dynasty he moved China’s capital from the northern city of Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing) to Nanjing, translated literally as “southern capital.”

Wikipedia does a good job of summarizing what Hongwu did right in rebuilding China after a half-century of Mongol neglect, explaining his reign was…

”…notable for his unprecedented political reforms. The emperor abolished the position of chancellor, drastically reduced the role of court eunuchs, and adopted draconian measures to address corruption… …The emperor encouraged agriculture, reduced taxes, incentivized the cultivation of new land, and established laws protecting peasants' property. He also confiscated land held by large estates and forbade private slavery.”

If Hongwu had accomplished this much and then died he would be hailed unquestionably as one of China’s greatest emperors.

Unfortunately he lived too long, and in the process also built a vast secret police network. In his old age Hongwu became increasingly paranoid and ordered the arbitrary arrest, torture, and execution of tens of thousands of suspected and imagined enemies. 

His final decades are recorded by historians as being incredibly cruel and despotic. He swiftly executed concubines who displeased him, sometimes doing it personally by his own sword, and he reintroduced the “mass sacrifice of concubines” system to prevent factional power struggles after his death. When Hongwu died at least 38 concubines received the dreaded “red silk decree” and were promptly executed as part of his funeral human sacrifice.

Hongwu also outlived his oldest sons, leaving the throne to his grandson—the Jianwen emperor—by way of his eldest son who had died six years earlier.

Jianwen is not one of the Ming’s good emperors, and after assuming power he quickly began executing any uncles he thought might pose a threat to his authority. Eventually one of his most powerful uncles, named Zhu Di and responsible for the armies guarding the northern frontier from Mongols, decided Jianwen had gone too far. Not only had many of Zhu Di’s brothers already been executed, the Jianwen emperor also began killing his closest aides and tried to reduce his influence.

Zhu Di rebelled and a brief civil war ensued with Zhu coming out on top. In the end, Jianwen’s reign only lasted four years. Historians don’t know the exact date or method of his death although best estimates are he died shortly after being deposed (1402), perhaps by suicide.

Zhu Di declared himself the Yongle emperor (pronounced "yohng-luh"), imprisoned most of Jianwen’s sons and killed his closest aides. However once his power base was secure Yongle turned out to be the greatest of the sixteen total Ming emperors.

Yongle moved the capital north from Nanjing back to the old Mongol capital of Khanbaliq, renaming it Beijing (“northern capital”). He also ordered the construction of a city within the city, a huge compound of palace buildings and lakes. Construction took place from 1406 to 1420 after which Yongle and all future Chinese emperors made the complex their residence. In 1576 the name “Forbidden City” made its first official appearance and today it’s a national historic museum that attracts millions of tourists.

Yongle re-established a strong Chinese culture and implemented economic, educational, and military reforms that (according to Wikipedia again) “provided unprecedented benefits for the people.” One of the most frequently cited accomplishments of Yongle is his commissioning the eunuch Admiral Zheng He to send his navy to the far reaches of Asia and the Indian Ocean, sailing as far as the Horn of Africa. The early 15th century is recorded as an era of Chinese supremacy in seafaring, a distinction the Ming and Qing dynasties would eventually lose to rising European powers such as the British Royal Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy.

However Yongle preserved his father’s secret police apparatus and shared a streak of cruelty himself, sometimes acting as despot. Wikipedia summarizes the pros and cons of Yongle’s rule as such:

“Despite these negatives, the Yongle Emperor is considered an architect and keeper of Chinese culture, history, and statecraft and an influential ruler in Chinese history.”

On a final note, the Economics Correspondent visited Beijing nearly two decades ago where his tour group was shown the Ming tombs, including a large monument to Yongle. The tour guide mentioned highlights of Yongle’s life and the group was taken to a large statue of the emperor inside the tombs hall. Several hundred notes of paper currency were lying at Yongle’s feet—from wellwishers praying for Yongle to deliver good fortune in exchange for the money he will use in heaven.

In the next post we’ll discuss the fall of the Ming and its conquest by outsiders who would establish the final Qing dynasty of 1644-1912.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The World-Famous "Hall of Mirrors" (aka. San Francisco Target)

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The Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Economic Affairs visits the world-famous "Hall of Mirrors," also known as San Francisco Target—where merchandise is sealed behind locked glass doors, even the coveted socks and underwear.

Because progressive policies are working so well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

World's Largest Banks by Assets

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From the Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Economic Affairs.
World's largest banks in 2023 by assets (in billions of USD):

1. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China*    (CHN) $5,743
2. China Construction Bank*                            (CHN) $5,017
3. Agricultural Bank of China*                         (CHN) $4,919
4. Bank of China*                                             (CHN) $4,192
5. JPMorgan Chase                                           (USA) $3,898
6. Bank of America                                           (USA) $3,051
7. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group                   (JPN) $2,968
8. HSBC                                                            (UK) $2,865
9. BNP Paribas                                                 (FRA) $2,850
10. Crédit Agricole                                           (FRA) $2,543
11. Citigroup Inc.                                              (USA) $2,417
12. Postal Savings Bank of China*                  (CHN) $2,040
13. SMBC Group                                              (JPN) $2,007
14. Mizuho Financial Group                             (JPN) $1,909
15. Bank of Communications*                        (CHN) $1,884
16. Wells Fargo                                                (USA) $1,881
17. Santander                                                   (ESP) $1,854
18. Barclays                                                     (UK) $1,824
19. Japan Post Bank                                         (JPN) $1,720
20. UBS                                                            (SUI) $1,679
21. Groupe BPCE                                            (FRA) $1,636
22. Société Générale                                        (FRA) $1,589
23. Royal Bank of Canada/RBC                      (CAN) $1,544
24. Toronto-Dominion Bank/TD                      (CAN) $1,525
25. Deutsche Bank                                           (GER) $1,480
26. China Merchants Bank*                             (CHN) $1,470
27. Goldman Sachs                                          (USA) $1,442
28. Industrial Bank                                           (CHN) $1,344
29. China CITIC Bank*                                   (CHN) $1,239
30. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank       (CHN) $1,184
31. Morgan Stanley                                          (USA) $1,180
32. France Crédit Mutuel                                 (FRA) $1,180
33. Lloyds Banking Group                               (UK) $1,058
34. China Minsheng Bank*                             (CHN) $1,052
35. Italy Intesa Sanpaolo                                  (ITA) $1,043
36. ING Group                                                 (NED) $1,034
37. Scotiabank                                                 (CAN) $1,030
38. UniCredit                                                   (ITA) $917
39. China Everbright Bank*                            (CHN) $913
40. NatWest Group                                          (UK) $868
41. Bank of Montreal/BMO                            (CAN) $859
42. Commonwealth Bank                                (AUS) $837
43. Standard Chartered                                    (UK) $820
44. La Banque postale*                                   (FRA) $797
45. Ping An Bank                                            (CHN) $772
46. Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria             (ESP) $762
47. Norinchukin Bank                                     (JPN) $753
48. State Bank of India*                                  (IND) $695
49. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce     (CAN) $691
50. National Australia Bank                            (AUS) $680

*Majority or wholly state-owned enterprise

Number of top 50 banks by country:

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Largest North American Banks by Assets

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From the Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Economic Affairs and Other Egghead Stuff: Largest North American banks in 2023 by assets (in billions of USD).

1. JPMorgan Chase (US)                        $3,898.33  New York City
2. Bank of America (US)                        $3,051.38  Charlotte
3. Citigroup (US)                                    $2,416.68  New York City
4. Wells Fargo (US)                                $1,881.02  San Francisco
5. Royal Bank of Canada/RBC (CA)     $1,544.17  Toronto
6. Toronto-Dominion/TD (CA)              $1,524.83  Toronto
7. Goldman Sachs (US) *                       $1,441.80  New York City
8. Morgan Stanley (US) *                       $1,180.23  New York City
9. Scotiabank (CA)                                 $1,029.80  Toronto
10. Bank of Montreal/BMO (CA)          $859.05    Montreal
11. CIBC (CA)                                       $691.31     Toronto
12. U.S. Bancorp (US)                           $674.81    Minneapolis
13. PNC Financial (US)                         $557.26    Pittsburgh
14. Truist Financial (US)                        $555.26    Charlotte
15. Capital One (US)                              $455.25    McLean, CA
16. BNY Mellon (US)                            $405.78    New York City
17. National Bank of Canada (CA)        $312.67    Montreal
18. State Street (US) *                            $290.81     Boston
19. Citizens Financial Group (US)         $222.25     Providence
20. First Citizens BancShares (US)        $214.65     Raleigh
21. Fifth Third Bancorp (US)                 $212.15    Cincinnati
22. M&T Bank (US)                               $208.61    Buffalo
23. Huntington Bank (US)                      $186.36    Columbus, OH
24. Ally Bank (US)                                 $185.72     Sandy, UT
25. Keycorp (US)                                    $185.57    Columbus, OH

*Denotes primary investment bank

Friday, January 5, 2024

"Emboldened" San Francisco Thieves Drive SUV Through Bank of America Window

Click here to read the original Cautious Optimism Facebook post with comments

The Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Economic Affairs and Other Egghead Stuff lives in the same quiet and (relatively) safe district as this latest robbery scene. The Bank of America branch is 6/10ths of a mile from the CVS that was robbed in a similar fashion twenty-six days ago: driving a van through the front entrance in an attempt (successful at CVS) to steal the ATM.

While many commenters on San Francisco NextDoor are shocked (shocked I tell you), a few who dared say it's time for a change in San Francisco City Hall and defund the police was a bad idea (without mentioning national politics) were attacked with: 

"You want to terminate the Constitution (and the Bill of Rights) like Orangeman?" 

"You’re in favor of a fascist dictatorship!"

"That is just a right wing trope."

And that, Cautious Rockers, is why things don't change in San Francisco.

Read "San Francisco suspect robs Bank of America by driving SUV through window: 'Criminals are emboldened'" at...


Wednesday, January 3, 2024

A Political and Economic History of China, Part 8: The Decline and Fall of the Yuan Dynasty

Click here to read the original Cautious Optimism Facebook post with comments

6 MIN READ - The Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Economic Affairs and Other Egghead Stuff discusses the decline and fall of China’s short-lived but important Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) plus a few lessons from its overthrow that today’s Chinese Communist Party has learned quite well.

Red Turban rebellion leader and first Ming emperor Zhu Yuanzhang

Kublai Khan ruled as first emperor of the Chinese Yuan Dynasty from its establishment in 1279 to his death in 1294. Before founding the Yuan Kublai had also ruled as Great Khan of the Mongol empire from 1260.

After his death the larger Mongol empire fell into disarray with competing khanates vying for supreme power. Even when Kublai was alive the khans governing outside regions of the empire were already accusing him of becoming “too Chinese” and no longer a true Mongol. Although he was officially “Great Khan” of the combined empire, Kublai Khan only had unchallenged power within Yuan China and seeds of division were already being sown between khanates: the Chagatai Khanate of central Asia, the Ilkhanate of Persia and the Middle East, and the Golden Horde of Russia and Eastern Europe.

Once Kublai died, he left behind a string of short-lived and unimpressive successors who were unable to or uninterested in strengthening and reuniting the empire. In one thirteen-year stretch (1320-1333) the Yuan was ruled by nine different emperors.

There was another self-inflicted wound. The post-Kublai Yuan increasingly relied on the same economic elixir that hastened the collapse of the prior Southern Song dynasty: monetary inflation.

Visiting Italian merchant Marco Polo noted that, when entering Yuan China, all merchants were required to surrender their gold and silver—whether in the form of coins or bars—in exchange for Kublai Khan’s paper money.

Incidentally the “give up your gold” edict echoes of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 executive order that forced Americans to surrender their gold coins and bars to the Federal Reserve in exchange for $20.67 in paper money (the private ownership of gold was only decriminalized in 1975 by Gerald Ford).

After Kublai Khan’s death his successors resorted increasingly to the printing press to fund administration of the empire—and their palatial lifestyles—eventually leading to high inflation which drained the economy. Although Marco Polo commented positively on the ease by which commerce was conducted using Mongol sovereign notes, bringing the idea back to Italy where it eventually took hold in Europe, he left China before witnessing the inflationary havoc wreaked by future Yuan emperors.


But compounding problems most of all for the Yuan was the scourge of natural disasters, mostly drought and an epic plague.

The same Black Death that wiped out one-third of Europe is believed to have started within the Yuan empire. It worked its way through China during the early 14th century, ravaging the population which is estimated to have declined from 123 million in 1300 to 65 million by 1400. Some provinces are believed to have suffered 90% mortality. Carried by Silk Road commerce, the plague hitched a ride into central Asia, the Middle East, and by ship to Italy and the rest of Europe in 1347.

The plague was far-reaching not only because of the devastation it wrought, but also because the upheaval forged a Chinese rebel leader who would emerge from the ashes to command peasant armies that overthrew the Yuan itself. His name was Zhu Yuanzhang.

Zhu was only a small peasant boy from the modern-day province of Anhui when the plague and famine came to his small village, wiping out his entire family and most members of the hamlet. Parentless and without any surviving family, Zhu was sent to a monastery for care. Once an adult Zhu concluded that a life devoted to religion was not for him and left, for a while even resorting to begging, but eventually he found a place in an underground anti-Mongol resistance group named the Red Turbans.

It was there that Zhu discovered he had a talent for organization, politics, and military leadership and over many years he navigated through internal Red Turban power struggles to emerge as its leader. With indigenous Han Chinese suffering from drought, hunger, plague, inflation, Yuan corruption, and full of hatred for their alien Mongol conquerors, Zhu found fertile ground to recruit and organize rebelling peasant armies.

Zhu won battle after battle against the weakened, corrupt Yuan. Once he gained control of southern China he established his capital in Nanjing (meaning “southern capital”) and marched on the northern Yuan capital of Khanbaliq. The Yuan emperor Toghon-Temür, who had long since retreated from governing into wine, women, and tantric rituals, didn’t put up a fight and fled, abandoning China altogether to the safety of northern Mongol territories.

China was now ruled by Chinese again and Zhu founded the Ming dynasty in 1368, crowning himself as Hongwu emperor.

From the Chinese perspective the fall of the Yuan and rise of the Ming marks the end of Mongol affairs, but it’s noteworthy to mention the Mongols still held an enormous empire that stretched all the way to Eastern Europe. In 1368 they had only been expelled from China and continued to rule their retained territories for nearly three more centuries before being conquered by Manchurian armies in 1635 who themselves went on to successfully invade China in 1644.

Interestingly Zhu Yuanzhang's rebellion and overthrow of the Yuan, a story from 650 years ago, provides valuable lessons for modern Chinese leaders—particularly the present-day Communist Chinese Party.


Not only did plague devastate a Chinese population that already hated the Yuan and set the stage for a successful rebellion, but plague would also devastate the Ming dynasty 270 years later and precipitate another rebel leader who overthrew it as well (more on that when we get to the fall of the Ming).

Furthermore, a less severe plague broke out in China as its last dynasty, the Qing, was declining and, while not the primary cause of the Qing’s fall, historians at least associate an outbreak of disease with the end of that dynasty too.

All in all, plague accompanied the end of China’s last three dynasties in 1368, 1644, and 1912, and plague was the primary factor befalling two of the three (the Yuan and the Ming).

CCP officials are more than aware of this history.

Hence when a strange disease named “Wuhan coronavirus” broke out in late 2019, communist officials instantly recognized the nascent threat to their own regime. Although CCP officials wield massive control over media and many of their citizens’ eyes and ears, they know they are still disliked—even hated—among a considerable share of the population.

When what was later called Covid began to spread throughout the country and government officials realized they wouldn’t be able to contain it, the CCP sprang into action to ensure their dynasty would not meet the same fate that befell the Yuan and the Ming.

As early as December 2019 Chinese state media began broadcasting stories about the “American virus” that was deliberately unleashed on China by U.S. military athletes at the October Wuhan military Olympic games.

While the CCP refused to allow outside observers into the Wuhan Institute of Virology for nine months after the initial outbreak, state propaganda accused the United States government of creating the virus, repeatedly alleging Fort Detrick, Maryland’s US Army bioresearch lab had concocted the bug and demanding the WHO launch an investigation of the army base—all to distract everyday Chinese from pondering their own government's hand in the pandemic.

Propagating more “evidence” to confuse the public, CCP-controlled media reported on a strange flu-like outbreak at a single retirement home in Virginia around late 2019, attempting to convince Chinese audiences the United States must be to blame for not only China's Covid problems but the entire world’s.

Strangely, that flu-like outbreak never got beyond the retirement home, hardly consistent with the super-transmissible Covid virus that spread like wildfire through the USA in March and April of 2020.

In late 2019 as the virus overwhelmed Wuhan most internet and mobile communications were shut down by CCP officials and residents were locked in their homes. The Economics Correspondent has an acquaintance who hails from Wuhan and who, on New Years Eve ending 2019, told the Correspondent he had received multiple smartphone messages from friends and family in Wuhan that the government was shutting down electronic communication and he might not hear from them soon.

Shortly afterwards the messages went silent.

Hence Yuan dynasty history provides both CO Nation and the Chinese Communist Party with valuable lessons about the threats a plague can pose to authoritarian government power. From the very beginning CCP officials understood very well the hazard that Covid presented to their regime and they used every power in their possession—namely lockdowns and propaganda disseminated through their tightly controlled media apparatus—to shift blame away from Beijing towards Washington DC so a confused Chinese public could find fewer reasons to rise up in revolt.

In 2019 no repeat of the Yuan or Ming’s downfalls ever got out of the starting gate. Beijing officials, well learned from their own history, made sure of that.