If you haven't heard yet, the United States of America just hit $16 trillion in debt yesterday. On a gross, nominal basis, this makes the US, by far, the greatest debtor in the history of the world. It took the United States government over 200 years to accumulate its first trillion dollars of debt. It took only 286 days to accumulate the most recent trillion dollars of debt. 200 years vs. 286 days. This portends two key points:
- Anyone who thinks that inflation doesn't exist is a complete idiot;
- To say that the trend is unsustainable is a massive understatement.
This is banana republic stuff, plain and simple... and smart, thinking people ought to be planning on capital controls, wage and price controls, pension confiscation, and selective default. Because the next trillion will be here before you know it.
Debt offers a compelling fantasy: there is no need for difficult trade-offs or sacrifices, everything can be bought and enjoyed now. If income is flat and interest rates already near zero, then where is the leverage for additional debt going to come from? The answer is the game of relying on ever-expanding debt is over. You can claim phantom assets and income streams as collateral for a while, but eventually the market sniffs out reality, and the phantom assets settle at their real value near zero. Once the collateral is gone, the debt is also revalued at zero, and the debtor is unable to borrow more. This is the position Greece finds itself in; the collateral and income steams have been discounted, the credit lines have been pulled, and so the reality of living within one's means is reasserting itself. Living within one's income (household or national income) requires making difficult trade-offs and sacrfices: either current consumption is sacrificed for future benefits, or the future benefits are sacrificed for current consumption. You can't have it both ways once the collateral and credit both vanish.
Since the GOP presidential candidate still refuses to give any substantial details on how the republicans plan to grow the country, not to mention fund the budget deficit (even as various pageview hawking blogs concurrently try to give the impression that private equity prospectuses stamped with the "confidential" seal for purely regulatory reasons will somehow provide an insight into the Bain Capital CEO's taxpaying practices, confirming that "finance for the masses" may not be the best idea), those who wish to gain some insight into the actual workings of Romney's brain may have to resort with the following Op-Ed published overnight in the WSJ titled, "What I Learned at Bain Capital: My business experience taught me how to help companies grow—and what to do when trouble arises. When you see a problem, run toward it before the problem gets worse." Read it - it may well be the only public policy "prescription" out of the republican before the election.
The biggest geostrategic change of the past decade overlooked by Washington policy wonks in their fixation on their self-proclaimed “war on terror” is that Latin America has been throwing off the shackles of the Monroe Doctrine. These ignored developments may well soon refocus Washington’s attention on the Southern Hemisphere, as Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez reorients his country’s to China. So, where does Washington go from here? If it wants to preserve its increasingly tenuous foothold in a nation with the world’s largest oil reserves, it might begin by engaging in some honest diplomacy.
Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his veep clarifies the policy debate (forcing typically middle-of-the-road voters to become more polarized to the size of government) into the November election and materially changes the odds of the fiscal cliff's resolution. As Morgan Stanley's Vince Reinhart notes, "by tying one side to an explicit plan for fiscal consolidation, the Ryan selection makes it much more likely that the campaign will focus on the appropriate role of the government. That is, the debate will be about the right level of federal expenditure relative to national income, the progressivity of the tax system, and the extent to which family incomes are protected on the downside by Washington, DC." Although theoretically the Ryan pick raises the chance of a benign, before-the-election resolution to the fiscal cliff 'issue', it also worsens the likely outcome if the legislative stand-off continues into 2013 - which the odds suggest is the case.
In the past 50 years, the way health care is financed has changed, with private payers and public insurance paying for more care. The California Healthcare Foundation has created this excellent interactive graphic shows who paid for the nation's health care and how much it's costs have shifted since 1960. The tree-map provides an intriguing exposition of the 'relative costs' but as The Economist adds, with regard the 'absolute costs': American healthcare costs increased by roughly 100 times, from $27 billion in 1960 to $2.6 trillion in 2010.
Two days ago, historian Niall Fergsuon had the temerity to voice a personal opinion, one which happens to not exactly jive with the rest of the media's take on current events, on the cover page of Newsweek (Newsweek is still in print?) titled, succinctly enough, "Hit the road Barack: Why we need a new president." The response was fast, furious, and brutal, particularly emanating from what Ferguson has dubbed the "liberal blogosphere." Naturally in an election year, said blogosphere has much CPM-generating rumination to do (after all who knows what happens to all those ad revenues if the US corporate base implodes and all that cash on the sidelines stays there due to "policy uncertainty"), so Ferguson merely provided the chum in the water (once the time comes to pick up the calculators again after the presidential election, things will immediately quiet down but until then there is, sadly, at least two more months of ever rising cacophony). So did Ferguson back off having said his piece? Hell no. In fact, he has just made sure that the "liberal blogosphere" is will be burning the midnight oil for weeks to come engaged in completely meaningless point-counterpoint between itself and the historian, when, in reality nothing changes the simple fact that come August 2016, the US will have a simply idiotic 130%+ debt/GDP completely independent of who is in the White House, or in other words, there very well may not be another presidential election. For now, however, we have much needed bread and circuses. Below is Ferguson's just released interview from Bloomberg TV in which he responds to the salient accusations that have been leveled at him (a more essayistic version can be found here).
Don't worry, the 'fiscal cliff' will all be taken care of; have no fear, the market AAPL will hold up into the election to sustain Obama's hope-and-change; and, as The Heritage Foundry blog reports, in that change, there are 18 new tax hikes on their way via Obamacare.
Some must read observations on the dangerous path down which American society is headed.
In four months the debate over America's Fiscal cliff will come to a crescendo, and if Goldman is correct (and in this case it likely is), it will probably be resolved in some sort of compromise, but not before the market swoons in a replica of the August 2011 pre- and post-debt ceiling fiasco: after all politicians only act when they (and their more influential, read richer, voters and lobbyists) see one or two 0's in their 401(k)s get chopped off. But while the Fiscal cliff is unlikely to be a key point of contention far past December, another cliff is only starting to be appreciated, let alone priced in: America's Demographic cliff, which in a decade or two will put Japan's ongoing demographic crunch to shame, and with barely 2 US workers for every retired person in 2035, we can see why both presidential candidates are doing their darnedest to skirt around the key issue that is at stake not only now, be every day hence.
What do the following have in common? LIBOR, Bernie Madoff, MF Global, Peregrine Financial, zero-percent interest rates, the Social Security and Medicare entitlement funds, many state and municipal pension funds, mark-to-model asset values, quote stuffing and high frequency trading (HFT), and debt-based money? The answer is that every single thing in that list is an example of market rigging, fraud, or both. How are we supposed to make decisions in today’s rigged and often fraudulent market environment? Where should you put your money if you don’t know where the risks lie? How does one control risk when control fraud runs rampant? Unfortunately, there are no perfect answers to these questions. Instead, the task is to recognize what sort of world we happen to live in today and adjust one’s actions to the realities as they happen to be. The purpose of this report is not to stir up resentment or anger -- although those are perfectly valid responses to the abuses we are forced to live with -- but to simply acknowledge the landscape as it is so that we can make informed decisions.
Mark Grant stated yesterday on CNBC that Europe will have a “Lehman Moment” and likely a number of them. The construct is a failing enterprise as the available European capital cannot support the combined debts and as real money investors pull their capital and stop lending because of the continuing deceit. You may be able to “fool some of the people some of the time” as Abraham Lincoln so succinctly put it but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time as he humbly nod to his sage wisdom.
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate has generated renewed interest in the House-passed budget resolution that Ryan authored. Ryan's budget outline would reduce the deficit more quickly and impose more fiscal restraint than the President's budget proposal. However, as Goldman notes. while both proposals would increase revenues due to the scheduled expiration of the payroll tax cut at year end, the President's would raise income taxes as well. Rep. Ryan's plan, on the other hand, would cut spending sharply in 2013 and 2014, even though it assumes a one-year delay in the spending cuts under the "sequester" set to take effect at year-end. If the President wins reelection and/or Democrats hold their majority in the Senate, a bipartisan compromise would be necessary to enact fiscal reforms. This has been difficult to achieve over the last year or so and we expect compromise to be even tougher. We continue to believe that the economic effects of allowing the fiscal cliff to take effect in full will be the greatest motivation for members of Congress to reach an agreement.
Conjuring images of Jack Nicholson in 'A Few Good Men', Alan Simpson laid out the sad and terrible truth that none of us or our politicians can handle in a very direct and sincere interview with Bloomberg TV's Deirdre Bolton. "Medicare costs stand to squeeze out the rest of domestic government spending," Simpson said, "it is on automatic pilot. It will use up every resource in the government." Simpson also said that the current path of debt, deficit and interest is “totally unsustainable” confirming once again the facade that his 18 years in Washington proved to him that he "never saw any projection of any economist ever come true." From Paul Ryan's plan to the 'simple math' of CBO budget projections, and whether older Americans should be afraid, Simpson pulls no punches as he sums up American society thus: "we don't care about our money, all we want is more money for our money."
Many folks were surprised Friday night as rumors began leaking that Romney tapped Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, for the prestigious VP slot. The surprise came largely because many were expecting a more mundane pick like Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman. The reactions from the GOP base is positive overall, although the story is still fresh and drawing conclusions is difficult. The reactions from the Democrat/Liberal base are predictable and we are guessing that the Obama campaign is licking its lips over the prospect of skewering Ryan like a kabob. We have a slightly different take, my feeling is that this pick is an indication that the Romney team is struggling and sees the prospect of winning in November diminishing with each passing day. People like Pawlenty and Portman is the equivalent of swinging for a base hit - the selection of Ryan is swinging for the fences. It is desperation and an attempt to shake things up substantially in the hopes of energizing a splintered and unimpressed Conservative base. However we prefer to focus on the economics of politics, not the politics of politics - so lets take a look at what exactly makes Ryan such a risk.