Beyond the Cusp

January 3, 2014

Enough with the Peace Process Already

There has been a rumor around the office that some people might be getting tired of endless repetition of the same basic material just from a slightly more oblique angle covering on the failures that are the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process and the potential damage Secretary of State and his boss, President Obama, are planning to do to Israel with full knowledge and vile intent. That possibly being true, and our own recognition that we may have exhausted the subject for maybe a number of hours, maybe even a day or two, so don’t say we never heed suggestions. So, without much further ado, on we go to today’s subject.

 

First up, let’s tackle the reputed economic recovery in the United States. We have been told that the housing market has begun to return to a healthier outlook as more houses are selling. Prices of homes for resale have still not returned to the inflated prices of early 2008 but they are moving from their low points. The Christmas sales were still less than hoped but still showed some signs for hope. Unemployment is still a disaster as there is now an entire class of young people who are probably permanently unemployed with little or no hope of reentering the workforce. There have been more jobs available to replace the positions lost during the bust which started in 2008. The difficulty is that these new job opportunities are either part time or low paying service sector positions and some are offered only as the employee acting as a sub-contractor thus freeing the employer from any healthcare requirements which will result from Obamacare going forward. The real sign of a recovery that almost every report relies upon is the records being set by Wall Street. So, what is the truth about the economic recovery and should we feel that perhaps the worst of the economic downturn is over.

 

First up, we should address the increasing home prices. The reality is whether the increasing prices of housing is simply responding to inflation because of the weak dollar or are houses actually accruing real equity. There is an easy way to compute whether or not houses are accruing equity or simply responding to the weakness of the dollar. Choose some commodity which has proven value other than gold, silver or other precious metals. My particular favorite is a top of the line Mercedes; but Porches, Bentleys or even gemstones also work well. You find how many of whatever metric you have chosen if you sell your house and spend all of the proceeds on that item, Mercedes, two carrot diamonds, Porsche 911 GT3 or whatever item you chose. Then allow a period of time to pass and repeat the procedure with the new price your house will sell for say after a year or two. If you are able to buy more of the same model but the New Year’s model, not the two year old model as it has to be new car to new car comparison. My bet is that most items you will discover that you will not be able to purchase any more of your control item than you had at the earlier price. The same test can be used to rate stocks or anything else that one uses for investments for the future. Much of what is currently appearing to be gained equity and profits is really simply the result of a devaluing dollar. But even if this is true, the fact that housing sales are increasing is something to be glad to see and that is very true.

 

The real question is what the prospects are going forward. With the appointment of another follower of the principles of Keynesian economics to head the Federal Reserve we can expect that Janet Yellen will fully support the continuation of President Obama’s stimulus policies trying to utilize Federal Government spending as the best way to invest in the economy. One might think that the past seven years of Presidents Bush and Obama stimulus spending with no real economic recovery to show for what has resulted in almost one trillion dollars per month added to the debt that at least a few would have figured out something was not working and the policy might have been flawed. The debt has risen to dangerous levels and as soon as a real recovery should begin the rising interest rates will make the debt payments untenable. There have been estimates that should the interest rates reach five percent the payments on the debt would approach a minimum of one third of the Federal budget. That should be a sobering truth that should worry any economist who desires to be honest and considers their predictions to have any realism. The real problem would be if the economy began to show signs of runaway inflation, then the Federal Reserve would need to consider some way in which they could reduce the speed of the increasing economic engines in order to corral inflation. The quickest and easiest way available to the Federal Reserve to slow runaway inflation is to raise interest rates. This is where the Federal Government runs into a problem as increasing interest rates will soon make the debt payments unmanageable. The Federal Government could influence the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates at the lower rates but only if they are willing to hike taxes significantly. Either through higher interest rates or seriously higher taxes are the sole solutions to runaway inflation as it is necessary to remove available levels of funds in order to curb inflation. Inflation is often the result when there is more cash available in the market which can occur when government increases spending in order to stimulate the economy. The problem during this economic period of lethargy has been that despite huge injections of cash into the system, there has been only a slow recovery. Eventually the economy has to respond to the available cash which currently is sitting in many of the major banks, the same banks whose top officials make up the Federal Reserve Board. Once the banks see that they can make gains investing their money by loaning as the interest rates increase the funds sitting in the banks will be loaned and thus enter the market. This inflow of additional funds into the economy will cause inflation, and the amount of funds currently sitting in banks could pose a huge influx of available funds which would give velocity to great volumes of monies thus pushing inflation. Things could become interesting as never before in history has such a reserve of available funds been resting in banks not circulating but with a potential to almost quadruple the amount of funds currently in circulation. That will result in rapid inflation and a perceived economic emergency which will require a miracle to solve without forcing a default on the debt.

 

Another problem we can talk about that is not part of the Middle East is the expanding influence which Russia is gathering. Russian President Putin appears to be steadily putting the Warsaw Pact back together under a different name. The current victim is the Ukraine which had been negotiating with the European Union. This caused Russian President Putin great amounts of consternation. In an attempt to ease his discomfort, Putin threatened the Ukraine to cut off all trade including any petroleum and natural gas sales and flow in or out of the Ukraine unless they rejected the trade agreement they had worked on for more than a year with the European Union and instead signed a trade partnership with Russia and basically gave Russia reserved status and sole trade partner. Putin’s threat worked and this has been a repeat occurrence of late. The people of the Ukraine have been protesting in the thousands to the point that they have closed down the central areas of the capital, Kiev. The leadership of the protests has requested assistance from the European Union and the United States. They have listed the questionable and outright illegal financial transactions on line hoping that the Western powers would assist their protests by freezing these funds of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Where expecting the European Union to stand up against Putin is a fool’s game, the United States in normal times would be a reliable friend who could place some pressures on President Putin preventing his bullying the neighboring nations into strictly Russian oriented trade relations. In the past the United States had, somewhat foolishly, gone to the furthest corners of the planet in order to foster democracy with varying levels of disaster. The Ukraine is actually one place where democracy might have had a decent chance of succeeding but, alas, the United States is sitting this decade under President Obama (OK, only eight years) on the sidelines refusing to act in any conflict, situation or even golden opportunity. We are so sorry Ukraine as you will now face the same rejection from the Obama Administration which the Green Revolution leadership and the hopes of the thousands of Iranians which included businessmen for the first time ever in numbers who also hoped for assistance against the Ayatollahs from President Obama who refused to even discuss their plight, it did not serve his agenda of fundamentally transforming the United States from a beacon of hope into a dark recess of silence in the face of any challenge in the wide world. President Obama not only sat emotionless while the hopes in Iran were snuffed out violently, and is doing a repeat performance on the hopes of the people in the Ukraine, but also turned steady and solid former allies of the United States into snubbed and insulted nations wondering why their friend had turned so cold. The American people have not turned cold, only the resident of the White House has forsaken America’s friends. Unfortunately, so many believed the hype and were deprived of a truthful press as much of the liberal press decided that supporting the greatest domestic realignment and permanent change of government responsibilities completely disregarding almost every Constitutional limitation on the Federal Government rather than report anything that might have hurt the chosen one from reelection. That only required a complete ignorance of all things foreign policy and also ignoring the known disasters coming down the pike due to Obamacare. The foreign policy attitude of President Obama was made evident very early, like within the first few months, with his treatments of one of the United States longest and strongest allies, Britain, by sending back the present from the British in the form of a bust of Winston Churchill, giving presents which were completely inappropriate such as recordings of his own speeches to the Queen and video tapes which were unplayable on European video players to the Prime Minister. But what’s a few snubs between friends.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

January 22, 2013

When Will the United States Budget Crash?

The dirty little secret in the halls of Congress and the spacious rooms of the White House is that the United States budget has already gone over the theoretical fiscal cliff and all are simply waiting for the crash that is coming when it hits the rocks at the bottom. All the fuss over whether or not a budget is made and how many billions of dollars they can save by raising funding of departments by less than they theoretically might have raised them had the economy and everything else been robust is all noise without substance. The honest truth is the United States spending problem went critical during the first term of President George W. Bush and was simply piling on more debt in his second term. The unbelievable spending which occurred during President Barack Obama’s first term in the White House only served to speed the train towards the end of the tracks and the great dive into the canyon beyond. Even if President Obama had simply continued with the increases as the government suffered under President George W. Bush we would be facing the same problem. All the unparalleled spending which President Barack Obama has done has simply increased the train’s speed so that we will crash a little further out into the canyons and hit the bottom simply going somewhat faster. So, the important questions that need to be asked are first, when will we hit the end of the tracks; second, what will be some of the early signs that all is lost; third, what will be the sign that the end is nigh; and fourth, what can we do to avoid total ruin; and lastly, what will happen to the world when the collapse comes?

Let us take each question in turn. The first is when will we hit the end of the tracks? Technically speaking, we have already hit the end of solid ground and the tracks we are running on are suspended over the canyon with only air between the train and the long drop. As for what is keeping us suspended in the air, mostly forward momentum, heavy rust on the tracks, and we are in that position the coyote gets when he goes off the cliff chasing the roadrunner and he waves as he pauses suspended in midair just before the perilous drop to a puff of desert sand or splash of water when he hits the bottom. What is keeping us up is a false situation where interest rates are being unnaturally held low and money is being invented electronically just in time to avoid defaults. There is nothing right now between the United States and most of the nations of the European Union and the final crash of their collective economies. The difference between the United State and Greece is one of degree and not one of inevitable ends.

Second, what will be some of the early signs that all is lost? The very first signs will be those countries that have a salvageable economy and comparatively sound fiscal policies will begin to place distance between themselves and the countries that are doomed to fail. Their initial move will be to remove any assets they have in the countries they are concerned and hold doubts of their fiscal futures and then they will attempt to call in any debts and get whatever payments they are able before the economy of the failing countries completely collapse and their currency worthless. If any of these nations are partnered in the European Union and are using the Euro as their currency, they will begin to print their original currency notes and coins and keep them in preparation for exchanging their currency for the Euros upon its failure for their citizens and only their citizens. Another step the healthier countries are likely to take somewhat further in front of the coming problems is to cash in any currencies of countries with suspect fiscal situations for Gold or in payment for commodities and solid assets such as lumber, gold, silver, other building materials and anything that will retain its value. There might even be a selling off of any realestate holding of the presumed stricken nations. You would see actions like that of Germany recently where they demanded their gold held in two foreign countries be returned with all possible haste. The two countries from which Germany demanded their gold be returned were France and the United States. This move would make one conclude that Germany has suspicions about the continued value of the Euro and the American dollar.

Third, what will be the sign that the end is nigh? This sign is actually rather strange as most will interpret this as the end of the difficulties, but it will be a temporary reprieve unless handled with great finesse and care. The end will actually be signaled by an improvement in the economy with rising employment and the appearance that things are finally going to improve. When this begins the leadership and those who monitor and adjust the controls of the economy and such things as the money supply and interest rates will immediately need to address the fourth question, namely what can we do to avoid total ruin? When the economy begins to pick up steam there is going to have to be mechanisms utilized to draw back much of the monies which were used to finance government spending during the lean periods. All the monies which were almost magically invented by raising the debt ceiling or printing and selling bonds to the Federal Reserve who bought them with electronically produced monies which in a more difficult time would have actually needed to be printed but in the electronic age we simply invent it on the ledgers and then spend it. It actually works in exactly the same manner as actually printing the bills and placing them into circulation. Currently, the vast amount of electronically injected monies put into circulation through the Federal Reserve buying new government equities with this new money is largely sitting in financial institutions not being lent or utilized on any real manner. Money lacking what is called velocity does not cause inflation or have much of an effect on the economy. Eventually, when the economy starts to pick up steam there will be more of a demand to take out loans to meet the rising demand for goods and services. Once the money begins to be lent and spent, then it has velocity and as there is a much greater amount of money available than existed when we entered the downturn in the economy, it has a deleterious effect on prices. As per the laws of supply and demand, having an oversupply of money drives up prices. That in turn will drive up the demand for higher wages which are possible due to the inflated money supply. This could potentially start a rapid spiral which is referred to as hyper-inflation which is what drove the Weimar Republic into insolvency which led to the rise of the Nazis who promised to repair the monetary insolvency caused by the hyper-inflation. In order to control the inflation and keep it from driving the economy into a ravenous feeding beast with prices raising almost hourly the people responsible for fiscal policies need to draw as much of the invented monies back out of the economy as quickly as they can without upsetting the recovery. The two most utilized methods are either to increase taxes or to increase interest rates. This is where the problem comes in for any country which has significant debt; they cannot survive rising interest rates. This is the position the United States has reached along with numerous European Union members. If your interest payments are $500,000,000.00 when the interest rate is a very low rate between 1% and 3%, you are fine and can manage your debt as long as the interest rates remain at that level. But when the economy picks up steam and the excess monies begin to have velocity, you likely will have to raise interest rates in order to prevent runaway inflation, especially the huge amount that has been produced by many Western countries. When that interest rate climbs to 5% to 8% your interest payment rapidly increases to upwards of over one-trillion dollars. Should the interest rate triple or worse, get many multiples higher, then the interest on the debt reaches the point where it becomes un-payable and your economy collapses. That is what is approaching if things are not handled very delicately and with great finesse. Does anybody have faith that the politicians in their state, county, city or country have the wherewithal to handle anything deftly and with finesse grounded in reason, logic, and self-control? Neither do I.

Lastly, what will happen to the world when the collapse comes? Well, for examples of what the end looks like, all we need do is look back at history for similar events. There was the depression of the 1930s which followed the free-running economic over-inflated 1920s which pushed at least Germany beyond solvency and into a case of hyper-inflation which was one of the main triggers for World War II. Shaving the currency led to the failure of the Roman coins which brought on an extended period of failed economy in much of Europe. There have been numerous civil wars triggered by the financial collapse of the currency and thus the economy of numerous countries and societies. The most usual result of financial collapses is either war or governmental collapse into chaos and anarchy resulting in violent lawlessness. Whatever comes after hyper-inflation, it will be very unpleasant and many will die from malnutrition or disease. The only consolation I can offer is that it is very possible if this next economic challenge can be managed and the other side is reached, it will be because of a transformation coming to much of the world’s societies which will relatively quickly even reach and liberate everybody on the planet. There is a distinct possibility that a new age is coming in the near future which will be a revolution that will make the industrial revolution look like a small tick upward in the development of mankind and our societies. All that will be required is sufficient bravery from sufficient numbers of communities and those who will initially control the mechanisms initially that will bring on this new age to allow it to attain its highest of possibilities and capabilities. There is great hope.

Beyond the Cusp

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