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.
I was approached recently by a member of our Sovereign Man community who filed the paperwork to relinquish US citizenship some time ago. Long story short, after an incomprehensibly long wait, the US government finally sent him a reply: Application DENIED. Absolutely shocking. That you even have to ‘apply’ to relinquish what you never signed up for is intellectually insulting. That you cannot do so freely, and immediately, is nothing short of totalitarian. It’s still an embryonic movement, though more and more US citizens are being driven to divorce their country. Last year nearly 1,600 people gave up US citizenship, up from 1,485 in 2010, 731 in 2009, and 226 in 2008. While some renunciants have philosophical misgivings about being American, most do it for tax reasons. There’s a growing number of expats who, despite living abroad for years, are still paying huge portions of their income to Uncle Sam.
Common sense suggests that if employment is rising, the stock market should follow as more jobs means more wages, sales and profits. We see this correlation in the overlay of the S&P 500 (SPX) and employment until the latest recession and stock market Bull run-up: this is clearly a jobless "recovery" yet the stock market has more than doubled. Is this decoupling of employment from the stock market "the new normal" or an aberration that's about to revert to historical correlation? To do that, the market would need to fall in half or the economy would need to add 10+ million jobs in short order. If we combine Peak Oil with Peak Credit, we get a household sector with stagnant disposable income burdened by servicing monumental debt loads. Here is a chart of household liabilities and wages/salaries, unadjusted for inflation. Household debt has completely outstripped income. These charts do not paint a picture of robust recovery, they sketch a grim picture of stagnant household incomes and rising costs for fuel and debt service.
H.L. Mencken was a renowned newspaper columnist for the Baltimore Sun from 1906 until 1948. His biting sarcasm seems to fit perfectly in today’s world. His acerbic satirical writings on government, democracy, politicians and the ignorant masses are as true today as they were then. I believe the reason his words hit home is because he was writing during the last Unraveling and Crisis periods in America. The similarities cannot be denied. There are no journalists of his stature working in the mainstream media today. His acerbic wit is nowhere to be found among the lightweight shills that parrot their corporate masters’ propaganda on a daily basis and unquestioningly report the fabrications spewed by our government. Mencken’s skepticism of all institutions is an unknown quality in the vapid world of present day journalism.
H.L. Mencken understood the false promises of democracy 80 years ago:
“Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses. It is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
We deserve to get it good and hard, and we will.
I don’t understand the furore around Obama’s secret service handlers being (ahem) secretly serviced by Colombian hookers. To writers like myself who specialise in salacious analogies, the incident was a gift. To the rest of the press, who don’t normally get to write about such matters, it was an excuse to shoot off pent-up sexual frustration. So I can understand the press pushing the story just the way Bill Clinton pushes expensive cigar cases (enthusiastically, by all accounts). The worry, apparently, is the potential to compromise the President’s security. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House committee that oversees the Secret Service, says the key question is whether the prostitutes could have accessed “any data or information that could have compromised the president of the United States or made an enemy force aware of the practices and procedures of the Secret Service.” But surely this applies to all sexual relationships, not strictly ones for money? Surely prostitutes are absolutely the safest kind of liaisons? After all, why would a foreign agent trying to sequester intelligence information try and charge the American agent for sex? If you were setting a honey trap, why would you create some barrier to entry, such as a fee? There’s playing hard to get, and then there’s playing easy to brush off, and that would be the latter.
Once again pundits are claiming that housing is "finally recovering." But they're overlooking three peaks: Peak Housing, Peak Financial Fraud, and Peak Suburbia, all of which suggest years of stagnation and decline, not "recovery." Once the belief that housing is the bedrock of middle class wealth fades, so too will the motivation to risk homeownership in an economy that puts a premium on mobility and frequent changes of careers and jobs. Only one aspect of housing hasn't yet peaked: property taxes. If the risks of homeownership weren't apparent before, they certainly are now as local governments jack up property taxes to indenture homeowners into tax donkeys.
Guest Post: Will Bond Investors And Savers Have To Hold Forced Government Loans At Some Point In The Future?Submitted by Tyler Durden on 04/25/2012 15:00 -0500
If central planners decide to circumvent the already manipulated bond market and enforce much lower interest rates by implementing forced loans, there would be a big uproar for some time in the market. However, the negative wealth effect on the private sector would be more foreseeable and stretched out over a longer period of time. This definitely would decrease uncertainty. In my opinion, this measure would actually help to break through the downward spiral and avoid the much more devastating course towards a restructuring event with its negative side effects.
I often wonder who is worse: George W. Bush — the man who turned a projected trillion dollar surplus into the greatest deficits in world history, who bailed out the profligate Wall Street algos and arbitrageurs, who proceeded with two needless, pointless and absurdly costly military occupations (even though he had initially campaigned on the promise of a humble foreign policy), who ignored Michael Scheuer’s warnings about al-Qaeda previous to 9/11, who signed the Constitution-trashing PATRIOT Act (etc etc ad infinitum) or his successor Barack Obama. The answer, by the way, is Richard Nixon. Nixonianism has been the corporate aristocracy’s crowning achievement. And to some extent, this period of free lunch economics was a banquet, even for middle class Americans. The masses were kept fat and happy. But now the game is up — like Nixon’s Presidency — its days are numbered.
Universities are today’s centers of connection. They are one of the last vestiges of American tribalism and community in an age of self isolation and artificial technological cultism. Adults do not meet face to face much anymore to share knowledge, or discuss the troubles of the day. The academic world provides such opportunity, but at a terrible price. To connect with the world, students must comply. To be taken seriously, they must adopt, consciously or unconsciously, the robes of the state. They must abandon the passions of rebellion and become indifferent to the truth. All actions and ideas must be embraced by the group, or cast aside. They must live a life of dependency, breeding a culture of fear, for that which others to keep for us, they can easily take away. How could anyone possibly sustain themselves on a diet of congealing fantasy, and personal inadequacy? The intellectual life bears other fruits as well. Where it lacks in substance, it makes up for in ego, proving that being educated is not necessarily the same as being intelligent. The following is a list of common character traits visible in the average intellectual idiot, a breed that poisons the American well, and is quickly eroding away any chance of Constitutional revival…
Leading neoconservative (read “closet Trotskyite“) commentator Charles Krauthammer’s latest Washington Post editorial pays homage to the glory days of NASA and the retirement of the space shuttle Discovery. Titled “Farewell, the New Frontier,” the piece evokes mental images of Uncle Sam losing his international prestige as President Obama scales down NASA’s space exploration endeavors. Contrary to Krauthammer, NASA has never represented America’s collective vision of frontier exploration. It has been just another bureaucratic black hole for Washington to throw dollars at in hopes of buying reelection. Because one of the main tenets of economics is considering the unseen, then it can be assumed that space exploration would very well be advanced far beyond what we see today if it was left completely out of the hands of the state. If Krauthammer truly wished the human race capable of traveling into the new frontier of the stars, he would welcome NASA cuts rather than lament. How ironic then is today's news of Planetary Resources as investor and avowed anarchist Doug Casey thoughtfully observes on the inefficiency of NASA: "We should have colonies on the moon by now, and more: We should be mining the asteroids and developing real estate on Mars."
Modern investing offers the promise that investors who "do their homework" and use data more intelligently than the herd can gain a valuable edge. But what if the underlying data available to the investing public is fundamentally flawed?
It's easy to expand the money supply and difficult to expand the actual production of real goods in the real world. Expanding the money supply and issuing debt that lacks collateral is just like printing quatloos on the desert island: you can print a million quatloos but that doesn't create a single additional coconut. If you print enough quatloos, then people will no longer accept them in exchange for coconuts. You will actually need a real coconut to exchange for fish. This is why Greek towns are reportedly reverting to barter, the exchange of real goods for other real goods. We can anticipate that silver and gold will soon enter the barter as means of exchange that can't be counterfeited or printed by wise-guys (central bankers).This is what happens when abstract representations, i.e. "money," vanish into thin air. Alternative systems of exchanging goods and services arise: actual goods are exchanged via barter, tangible concentrations of value that cannot be counterfeited such as gold and silver are used as a means of exchange, letters of credit or equivalent are traded and settled with tangible goods or gold/silver, and eventually, a means of exchange ("money") that is backed by tangible goods in the real world that can be trusted to actually represent the value being traded might enter the market. That which is phantom will vanish into thin air, while the real goods and services remain to be traded in the real world.
The thing about GDP, is that it doesn’t really measure wealth creation, or the size of the economy. It measures a derivative of that: money circulation. If Congress passed a law saying that everyone in America had to smoke meth (hey, if you can mandate the purchase of health insurance, why not mandate drug consumption in the name of increasing GDP?) and gamble all their disposable income on horse racing, GDP would almost certainly improve. And that’s growth, right? Except it isn’t. Real growth comes from innovation, productivity, imagination, and hard work. You can attempt to quantify it, but there is no easy catch-all number that will give you a quick and simple insight.
The White House announced it was getting into the commodities game in an effort to protect consumers from some of the geopolitical factors spilling over into the retail gasoline market. OPEC and the IEA both said in their monthly reports that market perceptions were behind higher energy prices, not physical shortages. High gasoline prices make for angry constituents. That means politicians, especially politicians fighting to keep their paychecks, start pointing their legislative guns at Wall Street almost as soon as the gavel strikes. Apart from the murky waters of economic nuance, however, President Obama said that, no matter what, American commuters need gasoline. Speculation aside, maybe that's the problem. Gasoline is a necessity and that's in part why the debate ensues. Without massive subsidies, gasoline is going to get more expensive no matter what the politicians say. And until commuters move beyond the carbon mindset, that ride to work will continue to be a rough one.
One scene from the movie Titanic depicts a lounge in one of the upper class quarters of the ship as it slowly sinks beneath the waves. Notwithstanding the vessel listing alarmingly, a motley band of toff revelers are determined to go out in the finest style. Some continue to play at cards with a fatalistic resolve while others determinedly quaff spirits direct from the bottle. Having considered for some time the most appropriate metaphor for the current market environment, we think this may be it: one may be doomed, but one can still party on. Having already hit the iceberg, one major problem we see is the common perspective for both investors and the asset management industry to view debt and equity as the entire universe of investor choices available. Having long exhausted the armory of conventional policies to keep the unsustainably indebted show on the road, increasingly desperate politicians are doing increasingly desperate things, be that gifting money to the IMF in a brazen display of fiscal denial that we can ill afford (US, UK) or simply stealing from other sovereigns (Argentina). The ironic triumph of the Keynesians means that, in trying to save the economy, our central bank may end up destroying it completely by means of the printing press; as a consequence, we now get to experience some of the full-on horror of the Japanese malaise.