One of the few things we know with certainty is that which is unsustainable will go away and be replaced by another more sustainable arrangement. Whether we like it or not, or are willing to accept reality or not, unsustainable public pensions will go away. What makes "defined benefit" pensions unsustainable? 1) Promised cash/benefits packages that are not aligned with the fiscal realities of what can be contributed annually to the pension funds 2) New Normal low yields on low-risk investments and 3) skyrocketing costs of healthcare benefits.
This is easily illustrated with basic math.
What we have is a Central State and an economy that has borrowed and squandered trillions of dollars on consumption and malinvestment in unproductive "stranded" assets. The debt and risk pile up, while the labor that results from consumption is temporary and does not create wealth or permanent employment. Figuratively speaking, we're stranded in a McMansion in the middle of nowhere, a showy malinvestment that produces no wealth or value, and we're wondering how we're going to pay the gargantuan mortgage and student loans. Debt and the risk generated by rising debt create a death-spiral when the money is squandered on consumption, phantom assets, speculation and malinvestments. Sadly, that systemic misallocation of capital puts the job market in a death spiral, too.
This afternoon the CBO reported a number that in itself is quite remarkable: in April, a preliminary estimate of US receipts and outlays showed that the US Treasury posted its first budget surplus in 42 months, or since September 2008. At $58 billion, the surplus was nearly $100 billion more than the the $40 billion deficit from a year earlier. Unfortunately, while superficially this number would have been worthy of praise, digging underneath the surface as always reveals 'footnotes'. Sure enough, in the aftermath of February which saw a record US deficit of $232 billion and March's $198 billion in net outlays, there was a "catch." As the CBO admits: "This April, the Treasury realized a surplus of $58 billion, CBO estimates, in contrast with the $40 billion deficit reported for the same month last year. The results in both years were influenced by timing shifts of certain payments; adjusted for those shifts, the surplus in April 2012 would have been $27 billion, compared with a deficit of $13 billion in April 2011.... The federal government incurred a budget deficit of $721 billion in the first seven months of fiscal year 2012, $149 billion less than the shortfall reported during the same period last year. Without shifts in the timing of certain payments, however, the deficit so far this year would have been only $92 billion smaller." In other words, without various temporal adjustments, the April surplus of $58 billion would have been completely netted out by the cumulative $57 billion in deficit time shifts. However, in an election year, every beneficial item such as this is an extended talking point as the president will gladly take the praise for a number which is indicative of anything but the underlying US financial "health." After all, others can bother with the explanations.
The entire bogus recovery is again being driven by subprime auto loans being doled out by Ally Financial (85% owned by the U.S. government) and the other criminal Wall Street banks. The Federal Reserve and our government leaders will continue to steer the country on the same course of encouraging rampant speculation, deterring savings and investment, rewarding outrageous criminal behavior, purposefully generating inflation, and lying to the average American. It will work until we reach a tipping point. Dr. Krugman thinks another $4 trillion of debt and a debt to GDP ratio of 130% should get our economy back on track. When this charade is revealed to be the greatest fraud and theft in the history of mankind, Ben and Paul better have a backup plan, because there are going to be a few angry men looking for them.
Gold is down 1.6% on the week. The gold market has seen peculiar, lack lustre, low volume trading this week punctuated with sudden, oddly timed, very large sell orders. This leads to quick price falls followed either by slow, gradual recovery or a sharp bounce, prior to next bout of strangely timed sudden large sell orders.
This was clearly seen by the mysterious and massive $1.24 billion ‘Goldfinger’ trade on Monday.
In this final part of the four-part series from The Heritage Foundation, we look at the scale of the entitlement society we live in relative to the Federal Budget. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security spending is set to explode, placing enormous pressure on other priorities such as defense and the rest of the budget.
Excessive spending has created record levels of debt and deficits, and the worst is yet to come, threatening opportunity and prosperity for younger generations. In these 10 charts, via The Heritage Foundation, we highlight the third (and arguably most frightening) in our four-part series on the Federal Budget - Debt & Deficits.
In this second part of the four-part series describing the state of the Federal Budget, we present 10 charts courtesy of The Heritage Foundation on Federal Revenues. America’s growing tax burden is a drag on the economy and will reach record levels without policy changes.
In a four-part series, on the premise that a picture paints a thousand words, we present, via The Heritage Foundation, everything you wanted to know about the Federal Budget - In Charts. We start with Federal Spending - which is at record levels and is still growing, threatening economic freedom.
A month ago we chronicled what we consider one of the biggest problems for America's long-term viability in "No Country For Thin Men: 75% Of Americans To Be Obese By 2020" which goes straight to the heart of the biggest shortfall in America's balance sheet: the net present value of future spending associated with Medicare and various other healthcare related programs, which will sadly only rise as more and more Americans become morbidly obese, and demand more expensive health service out of the piggy bank that even now has tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities. And while the future is certainly not bright, the past and present are just as bleak. A Reuters report focuses on just how it is that America got to where it is today (most likely sitting in front a computer, eating potato chips and drinking sugar-laden soda): "The percentage of Americans who are obese (with a BMI of 30 or higher) has tripled since 1960, to 34 percent, while the incidence of extreme or "morbid" obesity (BMI above 40) has risen sixfold, to 6 percent. The percentage of overweight Americans (BMI of 25 to 29.9) has held steady: It was 34 percent in 2008 and 32 percent in 1961. What seems to have happened is that for every healthy-weight person who "graduated" into overweight, an overweight person graduated into obesity." Which is not surprising: with pink and white slime food substitutes (as an example) allowing more and more low income individuals to drown their sorrows in fat (aka high calorie dollar meals) it was only a matter of time. Sadly, there is nothing in the equation that indicates this is set to change any time soon, even as the all too real costs, to both the individual and to society, mount in an exponential manner.
The Social Security Administration made an alarming announcement recently that they will exhaust their funding capability by 2033 which was several years earlier than originally projected. As millions of baby boomers approach retirement more strain is put on the fabric of the Social Security system. The exact timing of this crunch is less important than its inevitability. The problem that Social Security has is "real" employment. I say "real" employment simply to sidestep the ongoing arguments about the validity of government employment survey's from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Federal Government receives income from the Social Security "contribution" from employee's paychecks. Social security "contributions" have decreased sharply by almost $70 billion from its peak. This is due to two factors. The first is that the number of "real" employees, while growing, is in lower income producing and temporary jobs. The second factor is that a larger share of personal incomes is made up of government benefits which does not affect social security contributions. The entire social support framework faces an inevitable conclusion and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.
UPDATE: Added Tim Geithner's ever-positive spin-fest...
Medicare trustees just released their annual report on the program's finances and it does not make for healthy reading. In fact the main headline takeaway is that the social security fund itself will now run dry three years sooner than was projected in 2011. While 2035, the new deadline, seems a long way off, the 5% rise in medicare costs in 2011 should be enough to worry most and perhaps more disturbing is the separate disability program is set to run dry in 2016 (two years earlier than expected) and Medicare is to be depleted by 2014. Headlines via Bloomberg:
- *MEDICARE COSTS RISE 5 PERCENT TO $549 BILLION IN 2011 :UNH US
- *LONG-TERM PROJECTIONS FOR MEDICARE WORSEN, TRUSTEES SAY :UNH US
- *HOSPITALS TO FACE MEDICARE PAYMENT CUTS IN 2024, U.S. SAYS
- *TRUSTEES SAY FUND TO RUN OUT THREE YEARS EARLIER THAN PREDICTED
The Congressional Budget Office has just released three very telling infographics which, unintentionally, spell out a pretty dreary picture of US government finances. At the very bottom corner is a most disingenuous statement that says ”Net Interest not included.” In other words, they didn’t bother to include the $454,393,280,417.03 (nearly half a trillion dollars) that the US government spent on interest last year. To put this number in perspective, the US paid more in interest last year than the entire GDP of Saudi Arabia, or the combined GDPs of the smallest 82 economies in the world. Not exactly a trivial number… unless you’re Tim Geithner. A few days ago, Geithner quipped on NBC’s Meet the Press that there is ”no risk” of the US turning into Greece over the next few years due to such extraordinary fiscal imbalances. This is the same guy who said there was no risk of the US losing its AAA credit rating, and that inflation on a global level is “not high on the list of concerns…” Whether it’s lies, ignorance, or arrogance is irrelevant at this point. The situation is what it is. It’s not going to go away just because the political leadership denies it. Each one of us has a choice. We can either bury our heads in the sand, just like they’re doing… or embrace reality and take control of our own financial futures.
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service released a new report on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as Food Stamps) earlier this week with some fresh data on the program. Given our earlier note on Mr.EBT, we thought the following brief clip from Bloomberg TV on the $82bn-per-year program would provide some rather shockingly sad insights and then Nic Colas' recent focus on the SNAP report provides some much more in depth color. First and foremost, there are 46.5 million Americans in the program as of the most recent information available (January 2012), comprising 22.2 million households. That’s 15% of the entire population, and just over 20% of all households. Moreover, despite the end of the official “Great Recession” in June 2009, over 10 million more Americans have been accepted into the program since that month, and the year-over-year growth rate for the program is still +5%. The USDA’s report is, not surprisingly, very upbeat on the utility of the program. Fair enough. But what does it mean when 20% of all households cannot afford to buy the food they need for their families? To our thinking, it highlights an underappreciated new facet of American economic life – one that will be felt everywhere from the ballot box to the upcoming Federal Deficit debates.