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 U.S. stock market is getting a wedgie, and so is the U.S. dollar. That matters, as wedges tend to break up or down in a big way. Stocks are a "risk-on" trade, the dollar is a "risk-off" trade, so they are riding a see-saw with wedgies. Yes, I realize this is an unpleasant image, so let's turn to the charts.
The political left misunderstands the causes of income inequality —confused by the belief that government can somehow challenge the corporate and financial power it created in the first place — and thus proposes politically unrealistic (non-) solutions, particularly campaign finance reform, and raising taxes on the rich and corporations. Yes, the left are well-intentioned. Yes, they identify many of the right problems. But how can government effectively regulate or challenge the power of the financial sector, megabanks and large corporations, when government is almost invariably composed of the favourite sons of those organisations? How can anyone seriously expect a beneficiary of the oligopolies — whether it’s Obama, McCain, Romney, Bush, Gore, Kerry, or any of the establishment Washingtonian crowd — to not favour their donors, and their personal and familial interests? How can we not expect them to favour the system that they emerged through, and which favoured them? In reality, the system of corporatism that created the income inequality will inevitably degenerate of its own accord. The only question is when…
Milton Friedman was a proponent of so-called “floating” exchange rates between the various irredeemable paper currencies that he promoted as the proper monetary system. Many have noted that the currencies do not “float”; they sink at differing rates, sometimes one is sinking faster and then another. This article focuses on something else. Under gold, a nation or an individual cannot sustain a deficit forever. A deficit is when one consumes more than one produces. One has a negative cash flow, and eventually one runs out of money. The economy of a household or a national is therefore subject to discipline—sooner or later. Friedman asserted that floating exchange rates would impose the same kind of forces on a nation to balance its exports and imports. He claimed that if a nation ran a deficit, that this would cause its currency to fall in value relative to the other currencies. And this drop would tend to reverse the deficits as the country would find it expensive to import and buyers would find its goods cheap to import. Friedman was wrong.
Here are four charts of wages, income and consumption. The charts depict changes from a year ago (also called year-over-year) and the percentage of change from a year ago. These measure rates of change as opposed to absolute changes, and so they are useful in identifying trends... The build-out of Internet infrastructure that culminated in the dot-com boom boosted employment, wages and consumption, and the credit-housing bubble of the mid-2000s also boosted income and consumption. Now that these temporary conditions have faded, what's left is the relentless chewing up of traditional industries by the Web as distributed software boosts productivity while slashing the number of people required to create value. What's remarkable about the first chart is the increase in volatility in recent years: the changes in wages and salaries are increasingly dramatic. This might be reflecting the dynamics of the global economy pulling wages lower while massive financial-stimulus policies of the Central State and bank (the Federal government and the Federal Reserve) act to artificially boost wages with trillions of dollars in borrowed/printed money.
The states of America are, truly, children of the Constitution. The legal framework that is the foundation of state sovereignty and internal administration is unique for perhaps any country in history up to the moment the U.S. won its independence. States were designed to decentralize and keep in check the power of a subservient Federal Government. They were meant to be the guardians at the gate, the barrier to the formation of oligarchy or outright dictatorship. This, of course, has changed drastically. The battle over centralized verses decentralized authority and economy has been going on for quite some time, and is undeniably critical in our climate of crisis now, under a government which is bankrupt in every sense and a currency which is on the verge of calamity... The following is a step by step method that states could use to accomplish the task of insulation from financial crisis and federal control. Much of it hinges on a willingness by state governments to actually pursue independence, which might seem like a naïve dream to most of us. But, in the wake of a major breakdown, and the fall of the greenback, I believe many states will be seeking a way to weather the storm, if only out of a desire to survive, and this includes walking away from their ties to Washington.
No, it’s not Greece Prime Minister and bankster puppet Lucas Papadermos who serves his former masters at Goldman Sachs rather than the people of the country he was “appointed” to lead. No, it’s not German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is putting the interests of the banks and bailout recipients above her fellow Germans at the risk of a continually devaluing euro. And no, it’s not European Central Bank president Mario Draghi whose cheap euro policies are propping up both the banking sector and governments of the periphery at the expense of capital investment in sectors that would result in actual wealth creation rather than sustaining a clearly unsustainable status quo. Meet Ed Houben. He is not solely responsible for the slow implosion of the poster boy of New World Order also known as the Eurozone, but the results of his career certainly play a part. So who is Ed Houben? Well, he is not a politician buying votes with stolen funds. Nor is he a banker looking to use taxpayers to cover his poor investments. Mr. Houben is just a lowly entrepreneur. His business just happens to be in putting a strain on the various welfare states which permeate throughout the Eurozone. Ed Houben is a sperm donor; but he is not just any sperm donor. The “fruits of his labor,” pardon the phrase, have thus far granted him 82 children; with at least 10 more on the way.
Decades of manipulation by the Federal Reserve (through its creation of paper money) and by Congress (through its taxing and spending) have pushed the US economy into a circumstance that can't be sustained but from which there is no graceful exit. With few exceptions, all of the noble souls who chose a career in "public service" and who've advanced to be voting members of Congress are committed to chronic deficits, though they deny it. For political purposes, deficits work. The people whose wishes come true through the spending side of the deficit are happy and vote to reelect. The people on the borrowing side of the deficit aren't complaining, since they willingly buy the Treasury bonds and Treasury bills that fund the deficit. And taxpayers generally tolerate deficits as a lesser evil than a tax hike. So stay up as late as you like on election night to see who wins, but the deficits aren't going to stop anytime soon. The debt mountain will keep growing. The part of it the government acknowledges is now approaching $16 trillion, which is more than the country's gross domestic product for a year. Obviously, the debt can't keep growing faster than the economy forever, but the people in charge do seem determined to find out just how far they can push things.
Crony capitalism arises when an expansive Central State dominates the economy. The Central State can then protect crony-capitalist perquisites, cartels, quasi-monopolies and financialization skimming operations of the sort which now dominate the U.S. economy's primary profit centers. If we step back, the larger context is the purpose and role of establishing a State to protect its citizens from foreign and domestic predation and exploition. The Central State is granted the sole power of coercion by its membership (citizenry) to protect the membership from the predation of individuals, concentrations of wealth and other subgroups seeking monopoly. They grant the State this extraordinary power to insure that no subgroup or individual can gain enough power to dominate the entire membership for their private gain and to protect freedom of faith, movement, expression, enterprise and association. Granting this power to the State creates a risk that the State itself may become predatory, supplanting the parasitic elements it was designed to limit.
The campaign of Barack Obama in 2008 was a perfect example of the propaganda pageant, complete with visceral slogans like “Hope” and “Change”. After eight years of the clownish George Bush Jr., when our country spiraled down into a state of disturbed and vicious adolescence, people were looking for a renewal. They were looking for a path away from the edge of the abyss. Instead, they were given a better liar, with a brand new costume. The American Dream has become harder to sustain since…to say the least. In 2012, what I see is like a lightning bolt in slow motion. I can sense it branching out across the sky towards the ground and tearing through our surroundings, upending everything we know. Both the President and Congress have some of the lowest approval ratings in history. The question of whether anything can be accomplished through government has been answered for most people with a resounding “no”. The citizenry is on the verge of total fury. I wish I could say that most have abandoned the fleeting hollow satisfaction of choosing the “lesser of two evils”, but that would not be accurate.
The U.S. Department of Homeland security is working on a project called FAST, the Future Attribute Screening Technology. FAST will remotely monitor physiological and behavioural signals like elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language, and analyse these signals algorithmically for statistical aberrance in an attempt to identify people with criminal or terroristic intentions. It’s useful to briefly talk about a few of the practical problems that such a system would face.
Ten more years of low returns in the stock market. If you are one of the millions of baby boomers headed into retirement - start saving more and spending less because the stock market won't bail you out. Now that I have your attention I will explain why this is the likely future ahead for investors. In this past weekend's newsletter I wrote that “If you put all of your money into cash today and don’t look at the market for another decade – you will be better off..." I realize that this statement is equivalent to heresy where Wall Street is concerned but there is one simple reason behind my apparent madness - the power of "reversion". This is not a new concept by any means as witnessed by Bob Farrell's rule #1 - "Markets tend to return to the mean over time." However, the reality of what "reversion" means is grossly misunderstood by Wall Street, and the mainstream media, as witnessed by the many valuation calls that "stocks are now cheap because the market is now trading in line with its long term average."
In the terminal collapse of the Roman Empire, there was perhaps no greater burden to the average citizen than the extreme taxes they were forced to pay. The tax 'reforms' of Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century were so rigid and unwavering that many people were driven to starvation and bankruptcy. The state went so far as to chase around widows and children to collect taxes owed. By the 4th century, the Roman economy and tax structure were so dismal that many farmers abandoned their lands in order to receive public entitlements. At this point, the imperial government was spending the majority of the funds it collected on either the military or public entitlements. For a time, according to historian Joseph Tainter, "those who lived off the treasury were more numerous than those paying into it." Sound familiar?
The Fed and the Administration should be on their knees and giving thanks for the blessings they have received for the economy over the past 9 months. First, falling oil prices last summer gave individuals an effective $60 billion tax cut. Then during the winter where normally heaters are turned up to stave off the wintery blasts the balmy winter added roughly $30 billion to consumer's wallets due to decreased utility costs. Those impacts gave individuals more dollars to spend and when combined with seasonal adjustments it gave the illusion of a strongly recovering economy. With "Operation Twist" now rapidly coming to an end and the Fed apparently in a trap of rising inflation I am not sure what the next "support" for the economy will be. My expectation continues to be that the economy will continue to run at a sub-par growth rate though the end of 2012 and that we could see a recession by the end of 2012 or by mid-2013. Of course, that is assuming we are boosted by further rounds of artificial intervention by the Fed or Mother Nature.
The Federal government is supporting its dependents and its crony-capitalist Elites with borrowed money: $1.5 trillion every year, fully 40% of the Federal budget. It is in effect filling the gap between exploding costs and declining income, just like the middle class did until they ran out of collateral to leverage. The dwindling middle class, now at best perhaps 25% of the workforce, has been reduced to tax donkeys supporting those above and below who are dependent on Federal largesse. Fisher found that this cycle ends in transformational political upheaval. No wonder; even as the class paying most of the taxes shrinks and is pressured by higher costs, the class of dependents expands as the economy deteriorates and the super-wealthy Power Elites continue to control the levers of Central State power.