Guest Post: You Don’t Need A PhD In Economics– You Just Need To Understand Basic Arithmetic

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Simon Black of Sovereign Man

You Don’t Need A PhD In Economics– You Just Need To Understand Basic Arithmetic

We recently received a note from a German journalist writing for a national paper there. He asked, “Simon, German politicians swear to support the well-being of the German people. Given this, what would you advise the German government about the euro– keep saving it? Or let everything fail regardless of the consequences?”

Europe and the United States have much in common in that their sovereign debt problems are really quite simple to understand. You don’t need a PhD in economics– you just need to understand basic arithmetic.

In the US, for example, the government does not collect enough tax revenue to cover even the most basic services that society deems sacrosanct: defense [offense], social security, and Medicare.

In 2010, the federal government collected $2.2 trillion in tax revenue and spent north of $2.5 trillion just on those three programs– already $300 billion in the hole. Everything else– the post office, Homeland Security, the FAA, the FDIC, even the light bill at the White House– is funded by debt.

That includes the most peculiar debt-funded item– interest on the debt. The US government has to borrow money just to pay interest on the money it has already borrowed. This is unsustainable, it’s simple arithmetic.

Europe’s problems can also be explained as simply. Greece effectively has no money, and its only access to capital is continued bailouts. There are four options for the country being discussed:

1) Austerity. Not only is this politically unpopular, it causes social unrest. People won’t stand for it… nor will they be able to pay enough police officers to beat them back with batons. The populist uprising will squash any meaningful austerity plan.

2) “Grow its way out”. Not possible. When you count public and private debt together (roughly 260% of GDP), Greece is spending roughly 15% of its entire GDP just on interest payments. That’s an incredibly high barrier to growth.

3) Inflation. Ordinarily, governments would just print their way out… but this isn’t even possible right now because Greece doesn’t control its own printing press.

4) Default. Result? Set off a chain reaction of banking failures and a derivatives meltdown. Utter financial carnage. Nobody wants to see this.

Germany is particularly focused on #4. Many German banks would suffer or fail as a result of a Greek default, sending a terrible ripple throughout the economy.

It’s understandable that politicians want to avoid this scenario and are willing to pay a high price to do it. Hence the bailouts. But they’re completely ignoring the fact that the other options (growth, inflation, austerity) aren’t even possible.

If German politicians are really sworn to support the well-being of their citizens, the best thing they can do is look everyone in the eye and say, “Buckle up, people, we’re about to swallow a nasty pill… better we get it over with now than drag it out for years.”

The same goes for the United States.

All of these countries have seen the face of disaster before; there’s not a single nation on this planet that hasn’t been through a terrible period in its history. People suffer. They survive. And then they move on.

On a brighter note, we received a comment from reader Seneka who wrote, “I just spent 3-months living in South America. Mostly Argentina with some time in Chile.
Words that come to mind to describe Chile? Clean, advanced, polite, friendly, orderly. It is a world away from its neighbors.”

I couldn’t agree more. Look, no place is perfect. Chile has its problems too. But of all the places I’ve been to in the world (more than 100 countries on 6 continents), there are few places in the same ballpark when it comes to a free, civilized, advanced society with plenty of opportunity for all.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Snakeeyes's picture

Or write for a business news show. The media reports retail sales up 1.1%. We're out of the recession!

Try look at the data. We were actually DOWN 5%\


The seasonal pattern indicates that retail sales will rise in Oct and Nov, then SPIKE in December before collapsing in January.


LawsofPhysics's picture

Thanks for the link.  Down is the new up, don't cha know?

donsluck's picture

My favorite class of all time was Calculus. English and history were tough. Math is truth, you are either right or wrong, it didn't matter if the teacher didn't like you.

sqz's picture

At the end of the day, the world is a worse off place if countries, like individuals, are unable to declare their insolvency. CDS or not. ECB or not. Euro or not. It's all irrelevant against this core tenet of capitalism.

Germany, of all the states in the world, should understand the importance of frugality and dangers of debt.

Moe Howard's picture

It is not a core tenet of capitalism that countries cannot declare their insolvency. 

It is a core tenet of banksterism, which has nothing to do with capitalism.


jeff montanye's picture

the core tenet is that it is bad if x cannot declare (or attempts to hide) its insolvency.  that is sqz's point.

ImNotExposed's picture

4) Default. Result? Set off a chain reaction of banking failures and a derivatives meltdown. Utter financial carnage. Nobody wants to see this.


Like hell no one wants to see this.

Fish Gone Bad's picture

The banks are all unloading their own stock and shorting what they can.  I assure you, the banks will be fine even if there is complete failure.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Again, no shit. I would expect nothing less, in fact I would expect them to engineer it.

jeff montanye's picture

it is a false choice between endless bankster bailout and lehman style chaos.  that is bankster propaganda.  fdic routinely reorganizes failed banks with little chaos and no depositor or counterparty defaults.  of course shareholders are wiped out and bondholders lose, but that is a core tenet of capitalism.  for more detail see

SheepDog-One's picture

'Everyone but the bankers want to see the banks melt down' is the proper sentence.

'Financial carnage' to the bankrupt and unemployed masses is a big *YAWN*

economessed's picture



....for extremely high values of 2.

Cpl Hicks's picture

Well, of course.

All you have to do is use the rounding techniques used by the OMB, DOD, FED, BLS,

SAJ's picture


Best comment in weeks.


hambone's picture

Failed premise to begin with...

German (any) politicians swear to support the well-being of the German (any) people

Start w/ a different premise, maybe self interest of TPTB and you'll get a more sensible answer (no more palatable but logical).

Popo's picture

The even *more* absurd premise is that some German journalist ever asked Simon for advice on what his country should do.

Give me a fucking break.  No one is asking lame-blogger Simon Black for advice on how to run a country.  

Anyone who believes this charlatan is a sucker.

hambone's picture

Dear Simon,

my name is Dr. Evil and I run a world wide ponzi scheme engulfing all economies and peoples of the world.  Lately. I've found new investors are harder to come by and seems this job is requiring more actual work than I anticipated (prefer to leave it to my minions so I can enjoy the high life). 

Anyway, appreciate your thoughts on how I can stretch out the ponzi a bit further or would you suggest we collapse it now and restart it under a different premise?

RichardENixon's picture

Or maybe he got this e mail:

Dear Sir,

Good day and compliments. I am Dr (Mr) Benjamin Bernanke, Chairman of Federal Reserve of United States of America. This mail will surely come to you as a great surprise, since we never had any previous correspondence. My aim of contacting you is to crave your indulgence to assist us in securing some funds abroad to prosecute a transaction of great magnitude.

Due to poor banking system in America, many subprime borrowers are not paying back mortgages and banks have lost ONE TRILLION TWO HUNDRED BILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS ($1,200bn) so far. This calamity has caused much suffering in my country. To help remedy this situation, our president, Mr Barack Obama, has authorised to be spent a sum of EIGHT HUNDRED NINETY SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS ($897bn) on stimulus plus many other good deeds like cash for clunkers. Unfortunately, since that time, we are being molested and constantly harassed by bond vigilantes who do not care that their reckless and vicious behaviour could ruin our hopes and plans.

To this effect, last year I authorised the printing of ONE TRILLION TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY BILLION ($1,250bn) of United States currency to purchase government securities. To my great shock, this was not enough so I am now buying another SIX HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS ($600bn).

If you forward a modest sum to purchase Treasury notes then I can buy many more of them with my unlimited printing press and their price will rise. I am absolutely positive that this arrangement will be of mutual benefit to both of us. I can offer you generous interest rate of EIGHT TENTHS OF A PERCENT after taxes.

I want you to immediately inform me of your willingness in assisting and co-operating with us, so that I can send you full details of this transaction and let us make arrangement for a meeting and discuss at length on how to transfer this funds.

Yours Faithfully,

Dr (Mr) Benjamin Bernanke

N/B: Please contact Mr Timothy Geithner on this e-mail address for further briefing and modalities.

defencev's picture

Once again SB shows that he has no clue. You need to ask yourself what is he talking about. Everybody understands that Greek default is inevitable (otherwise , why all pundits talk about hair cut on Greek bonds and why would one need to recapitalize European banks if there are no losses on sovereign bonds) . The real question whether new facility (leveraged if necessary) will be sufficient to fence off other weak links like Spain and Italy. If not, the monetization of debt will become inevitable (through practically unlimited ECB money printing).

In my opinion, people like SB have serious problems with arithmetic let alone any kind of PH D.

Zedge Hero's picture

Occupy Dame Street in Dublin, Ireland and a preview of the World Wide Protest tomorrow.  Is Ireland the next Greece?



mjk0259's picture

One of the best run governments in the history of Earth is asking Soverign Man for advice?

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

Germany is one of the best run ever?  Compared to what?  All the other best governments? 


I'll take the United States of America from 1700-1900, and any second place is far down the pole.

Deadpool's picture

Stalin ran a good "government" just lacked style. Mussolini had the trains running on time and Hitler had a well oiled machine of a "government". this article is so stupid why bother?

kito's picture

....rumor has it simon black is actually george soros.....

SheepDog-One's picture

Who needs math when youve got *cntrl-alt-print* keys?

tony bonn's picture

"4) Default. Result? Set off a chain reaction of banking failures and a derivatives meltdown. Utter financial carnage. Nobody wants to see this."

i want to see it....the lying, flith, racketeering, and economic terrorism of the plutocrats will only end with Bis ans Ende der Welt

SheepDog-One's picture

No possible way out, bitchez. So may as well just stage some more market melt-up rallies!

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

There are ways out, they are just to simple for Ivy League scholars to understand. 


It is hard to see one's feet with one's nose in the air.  So, let's ask, what type of ground is the financial system standing on?

SheepDog-One's picture

Well, of course 'no way out' means the bankers would have to take huge haircuts otherwise, most of them going right thru their necks.

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

Why give them a haircut when their heads could be chopped off?

FatFingered's picture

Why trim the doos when when you could send some noggins a rollin'?

Deadpool's picture

the way out is so painfully obvious as to be invisible to central planners....roll up all the debts outstanding while the world still accepts US dollars into the central banks and close them. (same shit done with S&Ls in 70s). The world hates central and mercantile banks? fine, blow them up and let the world live again...yes hyperinflation will bloom, but that's a short lived horror vs. this slow mo train wreck of bank bailouts to infinity. Let the bond holders lose on their awful bets that Greece will be capitalist and pay back what they owe and move on (no 20-50% haircuts; 100%). the longer this takes the more deep the depression the more starvation, corruption and disease. Rip the band aide off quick so the healing can begin, preferably with a gold backed currency (one world or state issue, doesn't matter if accepted everywhere you want to be). Too bad it'll never happen this way. WWIII more likely.

Deadpool's picture

no practical way out on the table, lots of possible ways out. Nobody has the courage to act on them. Even Slovakia caved.

abugarance's picture

book me a one-way to Santiago please...

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

Or we recapitalize the Treasurie by ending the Fed, stop bailing out the Major Banking Houses, and then use gold reserves to fund the curencie.

Gold apreciates, the Treasurie is fully operational, the Fed doesn't get to steal 1/3 of the income tax with the usury of interest, or even get to issue the unconstitutional Income Tax.

Yes, it's really simple.

End the Fed

Deadpool's picture

Mr. John Jimmi,

I agree, as written above, but they'd nationalize the mines and confiscate the gold (and make it illegal to trade in) except with fiat printed gold "backed" notes and we'd start all over again.

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

I don't think they could confinscate it, too many people with too many guns would not have that.  I also don't think any future government could have the where with all to enforce people from not trading with gold.  They would have trouble enorcing them; there are always ways around government measures.

Börjesson's picture

The dude doesn't answer the question, which was "keep saving the euro or let it fail". Default may be the only option, but there are still many ways to do that, and many ways to deal with the ensuing mess.

SheepDog-One's picture

Yep...for instance starting a world war with Iran.

Always the endgame for this financial mess which is nothing new at all, just more technologically advanced...better weapons.

StychoKiller's picture

I'm in favor of Gladitorial games, two Banksters go in, only one (preferably bleeding and barely alive!) comes out! :>D

twotraps's picture

The Fed will protect what it has, we will need to see an out of control melt-down before they consider ending it.  Even will seem a great excuse to start the game again their way.  When the biggest player in the world has an unlimited account and makes the rules, anyone really think that a little reason, logic or basic understanding of history/economics will help you come up with a reasonable scenario??  Not likely.  Perhaps a whole new industry gets created trading some twisted aspect of the giant debt that will never be repaid........we'd need a catchy name of course, something fierce and complicated sounding, a good strong short name with some historic bullshit behind it.  Sounds good.

g's picture

A crisis of such depth will be the catalyst for QE to infinity, they are just waiting for the excuse. Why do you think those Wall st assholes put 'we are the 1%' on their building, because they know what is coming. That is why idiots like Schumer and co., do not care if they piss off China by starting a currency war, no one buying our debt is once again just the catalyst they need for QE to infinity.


What a screwed up mess, to bad most of us had no clue how anything worked, at least I did not until just before the last crisis. At least OWS is out there brining it out into the open.


It is true, mathmatically none of this works, it has not for a long time actually. Was it Albert Bartlett, that said, (paraphrasing here) "...[the inability of the human mind to understand the exponential function is one of its greatest shortcomings]..." how true.

Tadross's picture

Amen.  Our debt is growing 10%+ a year but inflation is less than 5%.  There is no way we can inflate out of it.   It's game over folks.