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Sun

11

Nov

2007

Oops - When Shit Happens
Sunday, 11 November 2007 20:37
by Stephen P. Pizzo

We are experiencing among our clients an awakening that the United States is in big trouble," said Erik Nielsen, chief Europe economist at Goldman Sachs.

What triggers the the ups and downs of a nation's economy? Are the "up" periods a sign that  government, industry and bankers are doing a good job putting sound policies in place and being good stewards of the nation's finances?

Well, those in charge during the good times sure don't miss an opportunity to claim just that kind of credit. 

Then what about "down" times, like the ones we are just now heading into? When the nation's economy slips into recession, or worse, the same folks who during the good times couldn't take enough credit for it, have a different message: "Well, you know, shit happens."

I used to work for a guy like that. When things were going well he was all about "what a great job we're doing." When things went terribly wrong though he wasn't interested in finding out why. Then the message was, "Now, now Steve, it's not about blame."

I never bought it. (And, BTW, the company can now be viewed in the files of the federal bankruptcy court, for which no one was to blame, of course.) Personally I always figured that credit and blame are opposite sides of  the same coin. That you can't have one and while being immune from the other. 

So, in the coming months you are going to be hearing a lot of "well shit happens" excuses out the current administration as the economy slumps toward — who knows what. But understand, shit does not just happen when it comes to economic policies and their repercussions.   In the current case anyone with half a brain could have seen it coming.

How do I know? Because someone with half a brain did see it coming — me. Let me be clear, I am not the sharpest pencil in the box — never have been. And that's not false modesty either. And I have the old report cards to prove it. (I have one enduring memory of my high school algebra teacher, Father Andre, staying after class to try to help me understand algebra 101. Twenty minutes later he was lightly thumping his forehead against the blackboard muttering, "Leave, just leave, please, go, now....")

I digress. Despite being saddled which such a cognative handicap, way back in December 2002 even I could see where Bush's Reaganomics redux was heading, and I can prove that too.  I wrote the following in an article for the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle:

"The jury is still out on the Bush tax cuts, but signs are not good. As with Reagan's tax cuts, less money is flowing into the federal treasury, new revenues have not materialized and defense spending has soared. In less than two years, the $5.6 trillion tax surplus forecast by the Congressional Budget Office in 2000 has vanished. The national Platinum Card is back in use. ....On the deregulatory front, those 1994 Contract With America chickens came home to roost with a vengeance beginning in December 2001 with Enron's collapse. Enron was followed in short order by dozens of other marquee U.S. companies....Once again, loosened federal oversight — rather than sparking innovation, investment and growth — enabled an orgy of self-dealing, insider abuse and other skullduggery.

One might think such a dismal batting average would sober up even the most rabid fiscal jihadist. On the contrary — even though a recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows that two-thirds of the country thinks the money from the now-vanished federal surplus should have been used to help save Medicare and Social Security, not subsidize a trillion-dollar tax cut — conservatives see their historic mid-term victory last month as a mandate to finish the job.

What about the expensive failures of the past? Conservatives say the only reason things went badly was that liberals gummed up the works, first by snookering George H.W. Bush into breaking his no-new-taxes pledge (he raised them in 1990), and then by aiding and abetting Clinton during his eight-year reign.

Diehard conservatives don't give up. This time, they say, they'll get it right. (Full 2002 Article).

And so it came to pass. George W. Bush and his neo-con co-conspirators put Reaganomics on steroids. Their tax cuts, totally nearly $2 trillion, reversed the flow of capital. Instead of "trickling down," to water the once richly productive fields of America's middle class, enormous sump pumps sucked capital away to top off the reservoirs of the wealthy, healthy and well-connected.

Ah, but wait, there's more. Then, like medieval monarchs of 12th century Christendom, they reached into the national treasury for hundreds of billions more to fund bloody wars against Islamic nations far, far from home.  And when that money ran out they mortgaged their kingdom's future to fight on.

Had they simply stuck with the whole crony capitalism thing the economy would have eventually weakened from blood loss and toxic levels of corruption. And it would have slipped into recession. But to throw a war of choice in on top of that, well, that's a lot of "shit happening," even for the US of A. Now we are heading for something worse than just recession and inflation (stagflation.) Just where we're headed is anyone's guess. Only the direction is known, and it's down.

If the US economy were a patient here is how their chart would read between appointments.

A Comparison of Currencies and Commodities from the beginning of the Bush administration with values as of 11/7/07


If you don't already understand, all those numbers tell the same story. Oil is not reaching for $100 a barrel because oil is worth anything close to that. It's because the US dollar is falling in value and oil producers, while slippery little bastards, are not stupid. They aren't about to let the US buy their oil with cheaper and cheaper dollars. So they are demanding more bucks for a barrel. Eventually they will do as China is about to do, detach the value of their products and currencies from the value of the US dollar. When that process is complete the US dollar will find itself

The other currencies are a reflection of the same thing.

Gold is more complicated. Gold prices are a measure of two things at once: the value of the dollar and fear. When gold goes up so fast and so far it's because some of the smartest financial minds in the world see a storm coming. The higher gold goes the lower their financial barometer must be reading.

If the numbers in the table above reflected instead the 7th year of a Democratic administration, what do you think those big-talking, arrogant, father-knows-best GOP types would be saying right now? Do you think they'd be just shrugging it off with a, "well, you know, stuff happens?"

I don't think so. Stuff did happen though, and lots of it. And we don't need DNA analysis to know whose stuff it is that's about to hit the fan.

Duck and cover my friends.

 
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