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2012 – The year of living dangerously

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by Jim Quinn
of The Burning Platform
Posted on 8th January 2012 

http://www.theburningplatform.com/?p=27063

“In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party. The catalyst will unfold according to a basic Crisis dynamic that underlies all of these scenarios: An initial spark will trigger a chain reaction of unyielding responses and further emergencies. The core elements of these scenarios (debt, civic decay, global disorder) will matter more than the details, which the catalyst will juxtapose and connect in some unknowable way. If foreign societies are also entering a Fourth Turning, this could accelerate the chain reaction. At home and abroad, these events will reflect the tearing of the civic fabric at points of extreme vulnerability –  problem areas where America will have neglected, denied, or delayed needed action.” – Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning – 1997

IN DECEMBER 2010 I WROTE AN ARTICLE CALLED Will 2012 Be as Critical as 1860?, THAT PONDERED WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN WITH THE 2012 presidential election and the possible scenarios that might play out based on that election. Well, 2012 has arrived and every blogger and mainstream media pundit is making their predictions for 2012. The benefit of delaying my predictions until the first week of 2012 is that I’ve been able to read the wise ponderings of Mike Shedlock, Jesse, Karl Denninger, and some other brilliant truth seeking analysts regarding what might happen during 2012. The passage above from Strauss & Howe was written fifteen years ago and captured the essence of what has happened since 2007 and what will drive all the events over the next decade. Predicting specific events is a futile human endeavour. The world is so complex and individual human beings so impulsive and driven by emotion, that the possible number of particular outcomes is almost infinite.

But, as Strauss and Howe point out, the core elements that created this Crisis and the reaction of generational cohorts to the implications of debt, civic decay and global disorder will drive all the events that will occur in 2012 and for as far as the eye can see. Linear thinkers in mega-corporations, mainstream media and Washington D.C. focus on retaining the status quo, their power and their wealth. They believe an economic recovery can be manufactured through monetary manipulation and Keynesian borrowing and spending. They are blind to the fact that history is cyclical, not linear. In order to have an understanding of what could happen in the coming year, it is essential to keep the big picture in focus. As we enter the fifth year of this twenty year Crisis period, there is absolutely no chance that 2012 will see an improvement in our economy, political atmosphere or world situation. Fourth Turnings never de-intensify. They exhaust themselves after years of chaos, conflict and turmoil. I can guarantee you that 2012 will see increased mayhem, riots, violent protests, recessions, bear markets, and a presidential election that will confound the establishment. All the episodes which will occur in 2012 will have at their core one of the three elements described by Strauss & Howe in 1997: Debt, Civic Decay, or Global Disorder.

Debt – On the Road to Serfdom

The world is awash in debt. Everyone is focused on the PIIGS with their debt to GDP ratios exceeding the Rogoff & Reinhart’s 90% point of no return. But, the supposedly fiscally responsible countries like Germany, France, U.K., and the U.S. have already breached the 90% level. Japan is off the charts, with debt exceeding 200% of GDP. These figures are just for the official government debt. If countries were required to report their debt like a corporation, their unfunded entitlement promises to future generations are four to six times more than their official government debt.

Any critical thinking person can look at the chart above and realize that creating more debt out of thin air to solve a debt problem is foolish, dangerous, and self serving to only bankers and politicians. The debt crisis took decades of terrible choices and bogus promises to produce. The world is now in the midst of a debt driven catastrophe. At best, the excessive levels of sovereign debt will slow economic growth to zero or below in 2012. At worst, interest rates will soar as counties attempt to rollover their debt and rolling defaults across Europe will plunge the continent into a depression. The largest banks in Europe are leveraged 40 to 1, therefore a 3% reduction in their capital will cause bankruptcy. Once you pass 90% debt to GDP, your fate is sealed.

“Those who remain unconvinced that rising debt levels pose a risk to growth should ask themselves why, historically, levels of debt of more than 90 percent of GDP are relatively rare and those exceeding 120 percent are extremely rare. Is it because generations of politicians failed to realize that they could have kept spending without risk? Or, more likely, is it because at some point, even advanced economies hit a ceiling where the pressure of rising borrowing costs forces policy makers to increase tax rates and cut government spending, sometimes precipitously, and sometimes in conjunction with inflation and financial repression (which is also a tax)?”Rogoff & Reinhart

The ECB doubling their balance sheet and funnelling trillions to European banks will not solve anything. The truth that no one wants to acknowledge is the standard of living for every person in Europe, the United States and Japan will decline. The choice is whether the decline happens rapidly by accepting debt default and restructuring or methodically through central bank created inflation that devours the wealth of the middle class. Debt default would result in rich bankers losing vast sums of wealth and politicians accepting the consequences of their false promises. Bankers and politicians will choose inflation. They believe they can control the levers of inflation, but they have proven to be incompetent, hubristic, and myopic. The European Union will not survive 2012 in its current form. Countries are already preparing for the dissolution. Politicians and bankers will lie and print until the day they pull the plug on the doomed Euro experiment.

The false storyline of debt being paid down in the United States continues to be propagated by the mainstream press and decried by Paul Krugman. The age of austerity storyline gets full play on a daily basis. Total credit market debt in 2000 was $27 trillion. It skyrocket to $42 trillion by 2005 as George Bush and Alan Greenspan encouraged delusional Americans to defeat terrorism by leasing SUVs and live the American dream by putting zero down on a $600,000 McMansion, financing it with a negative amortization no doc loan. Paul Krugman got his wish as a housing bubble replaced the dotcom bubble. Debt accumulation went into hyper-speed in 2006 and 2007 as Wall Street sharks conducted a fraudulent feeding frenzy by peddling their derivatives of mass destruction around the globe. By the end of 2007, total credit market debt reached $51 trillion.

In a world inhabited by sincere sane leaders, willing to level with the citizens and disposed to allow financial institutions that took world crushing risks to fail through an orderly bankruptcy process, debt would have been written off and a sharp short contraction would have occurred. The stockholders, bondholders and executives of the Wall Street banks would have taken the losses they deserved. Instead Wall Street used their undue influence, wealth and power to force their politician puppets to funnel $5 trillion to the bankers that created the crisis while dumping the debt on taxpayers and unborn generations. The Wall Street controlled Federal Reserve provided risk free funding and took toxic mortgage assets off their balance sheets. The result is total credit market debt higher today than it was at the peak of the financial crisis in March 2009.


Our leaders have done the exact opposite of what needed to be done to address this debt crisis. The country is adding $3.7 billion per day to the National Debt. With the debt at $15.2 trillion, we have now surpassed the 100% to GDP mark. The National Debt will be $16.5 trillion when the next president takes office in January 2013. Ben Bernanke has been able to keep short term interest rates near zero and the non-existent U.S. economic growth and European disaster has resulted in keeping long-term rates near record lows. Despite these historic low rates, interest on the National Debt totalled $454 billion in 2011, an all-time high. The effective interest rate was approximately 3%. If rates stay at current levels, interest will be between $400 and $500 billion in 2012. Each 1% increase in rates would cost American taxpayers an additional $150 billion. A rapid increase in rates to the 7% level would ratchet interest expense above $1 trillion and destroy the last remaining vestiges of Bernanke’s credibility. It can’t possibly happen in 2012. Right? The world has total confidence in pieces of paper being produced at a rate of $3.7 billion per day.

Confidence in Ben Bernanke, Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress is all that stands between continued stability and complete chaos. What could go wrong? Debt related issues that will likely rear their head in 2012 are as follows:

  • A debt saturated society cannot grow. As debt servicing grows by the day, the economy losses steam. The excessive and increasing debt levels will lead to a renewed recession in 2012 as clearly detailed by ECRI, John Hussman and Hoisington Investment Management.

“Here’s what ECRI’s recession call really says: if you think this is a bad economy, you haven’t seen anything yet. And that has profound implications for both Main Street and Wall Street.” – ECRI 

At present, we observe agreement across a broad ensemble of models, even restricting data to indicators available since 1950 (broader data since 1970 imply virtual certainty of recession). The uniformity of recessionary evidence we observe today has never been seen except during or just prior to other historical recessions.-  John Hussman 

Negative economic growth will probably be registered in the U.S. during the fourth quarter of 2011, and in subsequent quarters in 2012. Though partially caused by monetary and fiscal actions and excessive indebtedness, this contraction has been further aggravated by three current cyclical developments: a) declining productivity, b) elevated inventory investment, and c) contracting real wage income. In summary, the case for an impending recession rests not only on cyclical precursors evident in productivity, real wages, and inventory investment, but also on the disfunctionality of monetary and fiscal policy. – Van Hoisington 

  • The onrushing recession will send housing down for the count. With 2.2 million homes already in the foreclosure process and another 13 million homes with negative or near negative equity, the recession will push more people over the edge. As foreclosures rise a self reinforcing loop will develop. Home prices will fall as banks dump houses at lower prices, pushing millions more into a negative equity position. Home prices will fall another 5% to 10% in 2012, with a couple years to go before bottoming.
  • The recession will result in companies laying off more workers. It won’t be as dramatic as 2008-2009 because companies have already shed 6 million jobs. The working age population will increase by 1.7 million, the number of people employed will go up by 1 million, but the official unemployment rate will drop to 7% as the BLS reveals that 10 million people decided to relax and leave the workforce. Surely I jest. The government manipulated unemployment rate will rise above 9%, while the real rate will surpass 25%.
  • The American people rationally increased their savings rate to 6.2% in the 2nd Quarter of 2009. When you are over-indebted and the country heads into recession, spending less and saving more is a sane option. Consumer expenditures accounted for 69% of GDP in 2007, prior to the economic collapse. The “recovery” of 2010-2011 has been driven by Ben’s zero interest rate policy, the resumption of easy credit peddling by the Wall Street banks, and consumers convinced that going further into hock to attain the American dream is rational. Consumer spending as a percentage of GDP has actually risen to 71% and the savings rate has plunged to 3.6%. The 20% drop in gas prices since April bottomed in December. This decline temporarily boosted consumer spending, but prices are on the rise again. With the State and local governments reducing spending, do the Wall Street Ivy League economists really believe consumers will increase their consumption to 73% of GDP and reduce their savings rate to 1%? If you open your local newspaper you will see the master plan. Car dealers are offering 0% financing with nothing down for 60 months. The GMAC/Ditech/Ally Bank zombie lives as subprime auto loans are back. The “strong” auto sales are a debt financed illusion. Ashley Furniture is offering 0% financing for 50 months with no payments through Wells Fargo Bank. When the Federal Reserve provides the Wall Street banks with 0% funding, banks are willing to take big risks knowing that Uncle Ben and the naive American taxpayer will be there to bail them out when it blows up again.
  • With recession a certainty as fiscal stimulus wears off, home prices fall, employment stagnates, and consumer spending grinds to a halt, what will happen to the stock market? The Wall Street shills paraded on CNBC and interviewed by the multi-millionaire talking head twits assure you that stocks are undervalued and the market will surely be up 10% to 15% by 2013. It’s a mortal lock, just as it has been for the last twelve years, with the S&P 500 at the same level as January 1999. The fact is the stock market drops 30% on average during a recession. The talking heads declare that corporate profits are at record levels and will continue higher. Not bloody likely. Corporate profit margins are at an all-time peak about 50% above their historical norms. Profits always revert to their mean. These profits are not sustainable as they were generated by firing millions of workers, zero interest rates for banks, fraudulent accounting by the banks, and trillions in handouts from the middle class taxpayers to corporate America.

In a true free market excess profits will draw more competitors and profits will fall due to competition. When corporate profits exceed the mean by such a large amount, you can conclude that crony capitalism has replaced the free market. Government bureaucrats have been picking the winners (Wall Street, War Industry, Big Media, Big Healthcare) and the American people are the losers. Corporate oligarchs prefer no competition so they can reap obscene risk free profits and reward themselves with king-like compensation. Mean reversion will eventually be a bitch. Real S&P earnings have reached the 2007 historic peak. To believe they will soar higher as we enter a recession takes the same kind of faith shown by Americans buying a $600,000 McMansion in Stockton with no money down in 2005. The result will be the same. Do you ever wonder how corporations are doing so well while the average American sinks further into debt, despair and poverty?

The brilliant John Hussman captures the gist of an investor’s dilemma in his latest article:

“With 10-year Treasury yields below 2%, 30-year yields below 3%, corporate bond yields below 4%, and S&P 500 projected 10-year total returns below 5%, we presently have one of the worst menus of prospective return that long-term investors have ever faced. The outcome of this situation will not be surprisingly pleasant for any sustained period of time, but promises to be difficult, volatile, and unrewarding. The proper response is to accept risk in proportion to the compensation available for taking that risk. Presently, that compensation is very thin. This will change, and much better opportunities to accept risk will emerge. The key is for investors to avoid the allure of excessive short-term speculation in a market that promises – bends to its knees, stares straight into investors’ eyes, and promises – to treat them terribly over the long-term.”


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U.S. Corp and the impending IMF merger

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by Robert Denner
of Daily Economic Update
Posted December 1, 2011

BEEN LOTS OF TALK AROUND LATELY REGARDING THE COLLAPSE OF THE U.S. DOLLAR AND WHAT THAT WOULD MEAN FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE WORLD. There has also been a lot of talk about the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States of America and how unhappy the people of the US are getting with this largely unknown organization.

These two forces are converging together in what could be a very serious and detrimental way as it relates to the average US citizen. This article will rely heavily on flawed analogies to help the lay person understand the inner workings of both the IMF and the Federal Reserve Bank. This is not to be taken as an academic piece and I would ask that it not be judged as such. This is meant to help those people that have recently woken up to the reality that their country has been hi-jacked and those that are desperate to get up to speed as quickly as possible. So let’s jump right into the thick of it shall we? First we need to start with what I hope are simple lessons so that you can take what I am about to teach you and apply it to the real world.

There is one thing that bankers and computer people love to do and that is to use big scary acronyms to scare off the simple folk. So here is your first lesson.

IMF and the SDR

So right off the bat we are using acronyms that mean absolutely NOTHING to the lay person and yet that is an actual sentence believe it or not… IMF stands for the International Monetary Fund. The SDR is short for Special Drawing Rights and is the currency of the IMF. The International Monetary Fund is a private bank that is used to help sovereign nations engage in international commerce. Just like if you owned a company and you used bank A, and your supplier used Bank B, the IMF would be the bank that both banks A and B used to transfer payments and credits back and forth to each other. To Company A and B (using Bank A and B) it would be seamless.

But the IMF does a whole lot more for the global economy. They are the creditor of last resort for a lot of countries. For if you want to engage in international commerce in the free world (meaning the world now) you must be a part of the IMF system. Should a country that is part of this system become over leveraged because of mismanagement and debt accumulation, the IMF stands ready to come to the rescue. To understand how this relationship has worked in the past (and the present); I MUST go into some history. I will keep it brief I promise.

To understand how the global monetary/commercial world works you have to go back to the end of World War II. Following the war the United States was alone as a major industrial power. The rest of the industrial countries were in shambles. The United States was also nearly alone as a producer of oil. It is this later point that needs to be highlighted.

The United States used its vast oil reserves and coupled it with a highly trained industrial labor force and put it to work in its vast expanse of industrial capacity to re-build the rest of the world. It is this fact that is at the very center of our current monetary system some 60 years later. So I will start with my first analogy…

The US Corp could be seen as a huge company like General Motors. Following WWII US Corp was the only company left with the capacity to make things and it had the working capital and energy to do what it wanted. US Corp went out into the world and started to acquire other businesses. First was Japan Corp which US Corp had beaten into a pulp during the war. US Corp decided that it was in its own best interest to build Japan Corp back up but it needed to make sure that it never again could threaten US Corp the way it did in WWII.  Japan Corp used its own currency called the YEN and US Corp obviously used the Dollar. So to make this all work, US Corp had to make sure that the workers at Japan Corp didn’t feel like the last of their country was being taken from them. To keep them vested in the viability of their own country it was very important to let them keep their own currency and their own political structure, albeit greatly modified under the surface. We allowed Japan Corp to keep their figurehead CEO (the Emperor) and we installed a new board of directors (Democratic institutions). We linked the Bank of Japan to US Corp’s bank the Federal Reserve Bank through a new institution called the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

If we were to compare this to General Motors this would be like GM buying another company and bringing it under the umbrella of the GM brand. So in this case Japan is like Pontiac and they are given free rein to run their subsidiary the way they see fit, SO LONG as they abide by the parent companies rules.

This setup worked wonderfully and within a decade Japan Corp was back on its feet and was supplying cheap labor and products for US Corp and with every single barrel of oil Japan Corp bought on the international market it further linked them with our monetary system.  To keep the Japanese citizens from feeling that it was the US Corp in charge of everything we came up with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Of course these institutions were funded initially by the United States and Great Britain and as such they were just pseudo US institutions. But it worked and the Japanese subsidiary of US Corp gladly bought oil and products from the United States in its own currency (the Yen) but it was linked via the IMF to the US Dollar. For you see US Corp linked everything that the industrial world needed to the US Dollar. All gold/oil/silver/food/etc were priced first in US Dollars and depending upon the relative “strength” of your currency to the US Dollar, this would dictate how much of your currency it would take to purchase a barrel of oil or an ounce of gold. This gave US Corp a huge advantage in the world as we produced almost everything anyways. We had most of the world’s oil supply and a very large portion of the food supply. We were the largest producer of the big complex things the world needed to rebuild. We allowed the smaller subsidiaries to produce the little stuff we needed or wanted. Japan Corp was great at the later, supplying us with small radios and other cool electronic gadgets.

US Corp built a company with dozens and dozens of subsidiaries, each one of them bringing something to the table either large or small. And as the world re-built, other countries wanted to get in on the good times and they voluntarily sold themselves to US Corp. Other countries were very reluctant to join our big happy company. Those countries fell into two groups. Either they were affiliated with Russia Corp or they wanted to stay neutral. But in a world that was moving fast towards globalization it became apparent that each country would have to choose a side lest they be shut out of the global market. For remember that the only way to gain access to US Corp’s vast array of markets and supplies is to be a part of the IMF/World Bank. It was the only way to convert your currency to other currencies (like the US Dollar to buy OIL!!).

I will end this history lesson there as I could get sucked in for hours explaining how US Corp and Russia Corp went to economic(and sometimes real) war with each other and how Russia Corp tried to have it both ways by linking themselves partially to the IMF to gain access to US Corps vast supplies and labor.

I will leave that to YOU to go out and study on your own as it is a story to rival any fictional book you have ever read. The important thing to take away here is that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are institutions that were created by the United States and Great Britain. It is a global system that allows countries using different currencies to exchange their goods and services with each other almost seamlessly. Remember also that the system was setup INITIALLY to allow US Corp to control the world’s most important supplies. Things like FOOD, OIL, COMMODITIES (gold,silver,etc) and the rest. At the time this system was created it was the United States that was supplying the lion’s share of these items. But as the decades have come and gone, these items have increasingly come from other parts of the world.  And a good portion of these countries are ones that were FORCED into our system either out of necessity or by direct manipulation of their country by forces outside their borders(meaning the US and the IMF).

CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN

This next part of our story is centered on how the US has maintained its spot at the top of the economic order even in the face of massive budget deficits and seemingly unending debt loads. The title of this section is called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, as I give a nod to a book of the same name written by a man named John Perkins. Mr. Perkins is a trained economists and his specialty was international finance. His job was to go out into the world and sell foreign leaders on US Corp and to convince them to get on board with our system. Or more importantly, it was his job to make sure that they were forever caught up in our system and that they did not attempt to leave our company.

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The Fed wages its war on gold on behalf of fraudulent paper money

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by Dave in Denver
Posted June 17, 2011

http://truthingold.blogspot.com

Question:   If you were advising the Federal Reserve, what would you say are the unsolved economic problems of the day?
Milton Friedman:  One unsolved economic problem of the day is how to get rid of the Federal Reserve. –January 1996 interview on NPR

RON PAUL HAS BEEN AGGRESSIVELY SEEKING AN OFFICIAL, INDEPENDENT audit of the gold that is supposedly being held at Ft. Knox on behalf of all U.S. citizens.  Such an audit has not taken place since Eisenhower was the President? What gives there?  In the face of mounting criticism and citizen requests for this audit, why does the Treasury ignore this issue?  What does it have to hide?

At this point, anyone who looks at the Treasury financial statements is placing their “full faith” in the belief that the Government is honestly reporting its numbers. Does anyone really believe that the economic numbers the Government publishes on a weekly basis? Everyone believe that the Government is telling truth about why we’re spending trillions on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya?

The Fed has been spending millions to fight all of the recent Freedom Of Information Act requests, which have been filed so that we can see what the Fed is doing secretly with our money – especially now that most of what Fed does has a guarantee on it by the Treasury. Most notably for me is the GATA request that we get to see what kinds of transactions the Fed has been in engaging in with OUR gold. It is highly likely that the 8100 tonne book entry on the Treasury balance sheet is just another electronic entry on a piece of paper. How about we get to take a look at the actual physical gold that is supposedly represented by that electronic entry? How about we get to see if that gold has any legal encrumbrances attached to it like Federal Reserve gold swaps and leasing transactions?

An audit needs to be done and it needs to be done under the full, transparent scrutiny of all U.S. citizens who would like to watch it happen. And of even more immediate concern, at least to me, is the drain on physical gold and silver occurring at the Comex. It’s kind of spooky the way unencumbered physical silver is being, and has been, “sucked” out of the system (Comex, SLV) over the past couple months. As much as I want to see Ron Paul force an open audit of Ft. Knox, I’d love to see an open audit of the Comex. I believe the Comex problem is the Achilles Heel of this whole mess.

It wouldn’t take much to stage a run on the Comex. And when that occurs, if it turns out that the Comex is unable to make deliveries of actual physical metal and instead changes its rules and defers to cash settlement of contracts, that’s when all hell will break loose. I would then expect that GLD and SLV will head south quickly in price while the global spot price of gold and silver head for the moon. The slight inversion in silver futures will go nearly verticle and the dollar index will go into a serious tail-spin. But how about we just start with a simple audit of Ft. Knox?

Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men’s protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it becomes, marked: ‘Account overdrawn.’  (famous speech by Francisco D’Anconia in “Atlas Shrugged”)

“We are on the verge of a Great, Great Depression”

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by George Washington
Posted originally June 1, 2011

THE NEWS THAT FREQUENT CNBC GUEST Peter Yastrow of Yastrow Origer (and formerly with DT Trading) told CNBC that “We’re on the verge of a great, great depression. The [Federal Reserve] knows” is going viral today. But this is not news to anyone who has been paying attention. As I pointed out Tuesday, billion dollar fund managers agree: the government never fixed the underlying economic problems, so we’ll have another crash. I provided details last month: As noted in January, the housing slump is worse than during the Great Depression.

As CNN Money points out today: Wal-Mart’s core shoppers are running out of money much faster than a year ago due to rising gasoline prices, and the retail giant is worried, CEO Mike Duke said Wednesday. “We’re seeing core consumers under a lot of pressure,” Duke said at an event in New York. “There’s no doubt that rising fuel prices are having an impact.”

Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in. Lately, they’re “running out of money” at a faster clip, he said. “Purchases are really dropping off by the end of the month even more than last year,” Duke said. “This end-of-month [purchases] cycle is growing to be a concern.

And – in case you still think that the 29% of Americans who think we’re in a depression are unduly pessimistic – take a look at what I wrote last December. The following experts have – at some point during the last two years – said that the economic crisis could be worse than the Great Depression:

States and Cities in Worst Shape since the Great Depression

States and cities are in dire financial straits, and many may default in 2011. California is issuing IOUs for only the second time since the Great Depression. Things haven’t been this bad for state and local governments since the 30s. Loan Loss Rate Higher than During the Great Depression

In October 2009, I reported: In May, analyst Mike Mayo predicted that the bank loan loss rate would be higher than during the Great Depression. In a new report, Moody’s has just confirmed (as summarized by Zero Hedge): The most recent rate of bank charge offs, which hit $45 billion in the past quarter, and have now reached a total of $116 billion, is at 3.4%, which is substantially higher than the 2.25% hit in 1932, before peaking at at 3.4% rate by 1934.

Here’s a chart summarizing the findings:

Indeed, top economists such as Anna Schwartz, James Galbraith, Nouriel Roubini and others have pointed out that while banks faced a liquidity crisis during the Great Depression, today they are wholly insolvent. See this, this, this and this. Insolvency is much more severe than a shortage of liquidity.

Unemployment at or near Depression Levels

USA Today reports today: So many Americans have been jobless for so long that the government is changing how it records long-term unemployment. Citing what it calls “an unprecedented rise” in long-term unemployment, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless.

The change is a sign that bureau officials “are afraid that a cap of two years may be ‘understating the true average duration’ — but they won’t know by how much until they raise the upper limit,” says Linda Barrington, an economist who directs the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

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Our economic future – From best to worst case

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by Doug Casey of Casey Research
Posted originally June 7, 2011

THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF UNCERTAINTY ABOUT WHAT THE FUTURE OF THE U.S. ECONOMY MAY LOOK LIKE – so I decided to take a stab at what’s likely to happen over the next 20 years. That’s enough time for a child to grow up and mature, and it’s long enough for major trends to develop and make themselves felt.

I’ll confine myself to areas that are, as the benighted Rumsfeld might have observed, “known unknowns.” I don’t want to deal with possibilities of the deus ex machina sort. So we’ll rule out natural events like a super-volcano eruption, an asteroid strike, a new ice age, global warming, and the like. Although all these things absolutely will occur sometime in the future, the timing is very uncertain – at least from the perspective of one human lifespan. It’s pointless dealing with geological time and astronomical probability here. And, more important, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about such things.

So let’s limit ourselves to the possibilities presented by human action. They’re plenty weird and scary, and unpredictable enough.

THE MARKET FOR PROGNOSTICATION

People are all ears for predictions, whether from psychics or from “experts,” despite the repeated experience that they’re almost always worthless, often misleading and more than rarely the exact opposite of what happens.

Most often, the predictors go afoul by underrating human ingenuity or extrapolating current trends too far. Let me give you a rundown of the state of things during the last century, at 20-year intervals. If you didn’t know it’s what actually happened, you’d find it hard to believe.

1911— The entire world is at peace. Stability, freedom and prosperity prevail almost everywhere. Almost every country in Europe is ruled by a king or queen. Western civilization has spread to nearly every corner of the world and is received with appreciation. Stunning breakthroughs are being made in science and technology. There’s no sign of a gigantic world war about to come out of nowhere to rip apart the political and cultural map of Europe and bankrupt everybody. Who imagined that a dictatorial communist regime would arise in Russia?

1931— It’s early in a disastrous worldwide depression. Attention is on economic troubles, not on the virtually unthought-of possibility that in less than 10 years a new world war would be under way against Nazism and a resurgent Germany.

1951— Except for Vietnam, all that remains of the colonies the West had established in the 19th century are quiescent. Nobody guessed almost all would either be independent, or on their way, in 10 years. China has joined Russia – and many other countries – as totally collectivist. Who imagined that Germany and Japan, although literally leveled, would be perhaps the best investments of the century? Who guessed that the U.S. was already at its peak relative to the rest of the world?

1971— Communist and overtly socialist countries all over the world seem to be in ascendance, soon to be buoyed further by a decade of rising commodity prices. The U.S. and the West are entering a deep malaise. Little significance is attached to rumblings from the Islamic world.

1991— Communism has collapsed as an ideology, the USSR has disappeared, and China has radically reformed. Islam is increasingly in the news.

2011—The world financial/economic crisis is four years old, but things are still holding together. Islamic terrorism and collapse of old regimes in the Arab world dominate the news. China is viewed as the world’s new powerhouse.

BAD AND WORSE

Regrettably, I’m not much of a linguist. But I do pick up interesting semantic trivia. In Spanish they don’t say “in the future,” as we do in English, which implies a definite outcome. Instead they say “en un futuro” – in a future – which implies many possible outcomes. It’s a better way of assessing reality, I think.
Here are three 20-year futures to consider. There are, obviously, many, many more – but I think these encompass the three most realistic broad possibilities.

• BEST CASE – FACTS GET FACED

Realizing what a disaster the complete destruction of their currencies would be, most governments decide to endure the pain of allowing interest rates to rise and limiting increases in the money supply. Poorly run corporations and banks are left to fail. Talk of abolishing the Federal Reserve, and using a commodity for money, becomes serious and widespread.

Shaken, the U.S. ends its profligate ways, in part because it lacks the means to continue, and in part because everyone but collectivist ideologues has actually learned something from the brutal ‘10s and ‘20s.

Amidst massive protests, the government closes much of its counterproductive apparatus, eliminates many taxes, and lets 30% of its employees go. It also, albeit reluctantly, liberalizes its regulation of the economy because it has become impossible to deny that the U.S. has been falling behind in all areas.

Although there is a resurgence of libertarian thought – reminiscent of the Reagan-Thatcher era – simple practicality is mainly responsible for forcing the government’s hand. For one thing, it can’t afford the bureaucracy needed to enforce detailed interference. For another, entrepreneurs are increasingly just doing what they please, partly from necessity and partly from a growing sense of righteousness. Interest rates go to 25%, to compensate for high levels of inflation. That’s high enough to make it worthwhile for people to save, and the capital base starts growing. The stock market has collapsed to its lowest level in living experience (in real terms), but the values available encourage people to become investors. Business is restructured on a sound, debt-free basis, with little speculation.

The U.S. radically cuts its military spending and pulls almost all troops out of their foreign bases and wars. The War on Drugs comes to an end, and the crime rate in both the U.S. and Mexico plummets.

The government solves most of its overhanging financial problems with a seriously devalued – but not hyperinflated – dollar. The Social Security deficit is eliminated by abstaining from benefit increases and by inflating away much of what had been promised before. Most Americans suffer a severe drop in their standard of living, as they’re forced into new patterns of production and consumption. A generation of college students find that their degrees in sociology, political science, economics, English lit, Black studies, gender studies and underwater basket weaving are of no real value.

When it’s all over, the tough times that started in ’07 prove to have been no more than a cyclical bump in the road, like all the other recessions since WW2, just much bigger.

A rough and memorable ride, but it ends with a return to prosperity.

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The Economic Death Spiral has been triggered

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by Gordon T. Long
Posted originally May 27, 2011 
This posting has been abbreviated slightly

For nearly 30 years we have had two Global Strategies working in a symbiotic fashion that has created a virtuous economic growth spiral. Unfortunately, the economic underpinnings were flawed and as a consequence, the virtuous cycle has ended.  It is now in the process of reversing and becoming a vicious downward economic spiral.

One of the strategies is the Asian Mercantile Strategy.  The other is the US Dollar Reserve Currency Strategy. These two strategies have worked in harmony because they fed off each other, each reinforcing the other. However, today the realities of debt saturation have brought the virtuous spiral to an end.

One of the two global strategies enabled the Asian Tigers to emerge and grow to the extent that they are now the manufacturing and potentially future economic engine of the world. The other allowed the US to live far beyond its means with massive fiscal deficits, chronic trade imbalances and more recently, current account imbalances. The US during this period has gone from being the richest country on the face of the globe to the biggest debtor nation in the world. First we need to explore each strategy, how they worked symbiotically, what has changed and then why the virtuous cycle is now accelerating into a vicious downward spiral.

ASIAN MERCANTILE STRATEGY

The Asian Mercantile Strategy started with the emergence of Japan in the early 1980s, expanded with the Asian Tigers in the 90s and then strategically dominated with China in the first decade of this century. Initially, Japan’s products were poor quality and limited to cheap consumer products. Japan as a nation had neither the raw materials, capital markets, nor domestic consumption market to compete with the giant size of the USA. To compensate for its disadvantages, Japan strategically targeted its manufacturing resources for the US market.  By doing this, the resource poor island nation took the first step in becoming an export economy – an economy centered on growth through exports versus an economy like the US, where an excessive 70% of GDP is dependent on domestic consumption.

The strategy began to work as Japan took full advantage of its labor differential that was critical in the low end consumer product segment, which it initially targeted. Gradually, as capital availability expanded, Japan broadened its manufacturing scope, moving into higher levels of consumption products requiring higher levels of quality and achieving brand recognition. Success soon became a problem as the Yen began to strengthen. To combat this the Japanese implemented the second critical component of what became the Asian Mercantile Strategy template. It began to manipulate its currency by aggressively intervening in the forex market to keep the yen weak.

Further success forced Japan to move to a more aggressive forex strategy to maintain a currency advantage. It was strategically decided that Japan’s large and growing foreign reserves were to be re-invested back into the US. By buying US Agency and US Treasury debt instruments it kept the dollar strong relative to the Yen. The more successful Japan became, the more critical this strategy became. In the 80s Japan dominated global expansion as it brought US automotive and consumer electronics’ manufacturing to its knees.

By the early 90s the Japanese labor advantage was quickly being lost to the Asian Tigers because the Yen versus the Asian Tiger currencies was too strong. The Asian Tigers were following the Japanese model. The Asian Crisis in 1997 re-enforced to all Asian players the importance of holding large US dollar denominated reserves. This further accelerated and reinforced the strategy of purchasing US Treasury and Agency debt. With China’s acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO),  China emerged on the scene in full force. Armed with the lessons of the last twenty years, China took the Asian Mercantile Strategy to another level in its ongoing evolution.

The results were one of the largest and fastest transfers of industrial power ever to occur in history.  In ten years, China assumed the role of the world’s undisputed industrial powerhouse in the world.

The virtuous cycle further accelerated as Asia became more dominant because its reserves, reinvested back in the US, began to have a larger and larger impact. The more Asia bought US Treasury and Agency debt, the lower US interest rates were forced, allowing Americans to finance more and more consumption. The more Asia bought US securities, the stronger the US dollar was against Asian currencies, and therefore the cheaper Asian products were relative to US manufactured products. It was a self reinforcing Virtuous Cycle. The result was a staggering 46,000 factories transferred from the US to Asia over the same ten year period. The transfer set the stage for chronic unemployment and public funding problems, but it was temporarily hidden by equally massive increases in debt spending.

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Can’t blame economic policy on Osama

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by Nomi Prins
Originally posted May 5, 2011

When William Shakespeare penned the words, “All the world’s a stage” in As You Like It, it was centuries before tense photos of tense leaders would show tense concern over tense military operations.

What transpired around the killing, or killing announcement, of Osama bin Laden has been astounding. Whether you believe that bin Laden was “taken out” by this NAVY Seal operation, after nearly a decade, two wars, an over 81% increase in the military budget, and thousands of deaths, following the tragic loss of life on 9/11, or whether you believe he was dead and iced years ago and strategically used as a sign of unflappable leadership, is irrelevant. The surrounding uproar was theatre of the extravagant, no matter how you slice it.

But, theatre was invented for distraction, in culture and in politics. So while all the Osama drama was unfolding, the Treasury Department issued another plea for raising the debt ceiling, aka supporting its pro-bank policy. It went something like this:  We need to borrow more to pay social security obligations and not default on our debt, so other countries won’t question our ability to manage an economy  (as if that hasn’t already happened) and we won’t have to pay more to borrow more. If we don’t – you know what’ll happen – yep, another financial crisis.

The actual quote was: “The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments.”

Though technically correct, omitting the fact that our leaders chose to float the financial system on such an unprecedented scale with no obvious Main Street benefits – hence the massive and quick debt increase – continues to show an aversion to reality.

Flashback five years. George W. Bush’s second Treasury Secretary, John Snow, plead the same thing. (He wasn’t unique, of course, Congress has acted at Treasury Secretary request to raise the debt ceiling 78 times since 1960, 49 times under Republican presidents, 29 times under Democrats.) Snow threatened he was being forced to cut payments to civil servants, among other things, but didn’t mention the real reason for the debt hike requirement, like the Iraq war or the tax cuts that stifled revenue collection. He had used similar arguments at the end of 2004, at time when the debt ceiling was about half what it is today.

Raising debt ceilings is a bi-partisan institution. The show is always the same. The Treasury Secretary begs Congress. Congress debates than agrees. No one questions the real reasons we pursued the excess borrowing.

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