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The Boomers are Out of Time – And Out of Money

Written by Subject: Economy - Economics USA
Clowns to the left of us…jokers to the right…
The Simpleton’s Analysis:
Consumers cut back. The economy sank.
Now, government must take action. It must help people out and take up the slack.
The downturn took $12 trillion off Americans’ net worth. The feds have pledged about $12 trillion to fix the problem.
But wait, where does government get any money?
Hey, they borrow it, just like consumers did. And besides, it’s ultimately the same money – taxpayers’ money. So what’s the big diff?
The big diff is the subject of today’s Daily Reckoning.
The first big diff is that the feds don’t spend your money the way you would. Private citizens spend money they don’t have on things they want but don’t need. The feds spend money that doesn’t belong to them on things that the rightful owners don’t even want.
Wait a minute. Markets were closed yesterday. With no figures to report, we should talk about something important. What’s important about macroeconomics? Nothing. It’s 95% claptrap. The other 5% is pure fraud.
At least as practiced by the leading macroeconomists of our time – such as Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. It’s just a show-off sport…the idea is to impress the world with some fancy data-heavy formula…win the Nobel Prize and save the world. That way, you get what all men crave…money and power. Why do men (and women) want money and power? Aww, c’mon…we explained it already. Because it improves their chances of survival and procreation. In a DNA study, for example, they found that Genghis Khan, today, has something like 6 million male descendants. Is that success or what?
The great Khans of today are no longer the steppe warriors on horseback. They’re basketball players, rock ‘n’ roll stars, actors, and hedge fund managers…and, oh yes, occasionally – economists.
The link between economic theory and procreation is probably very weak; but that doesn’t stop economists from wanting to strut around and show off. And the way for an economist to show off is to get himself appointed to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors…or to the central bank…or get a professorial post at Princeton…etc. etc. This you do by producing tomes, formulae and hypotheses. And, don’t forget to write a piece for The Wall Street Journal from time to time.
Another important hint: your work has to suggest that you can manipulate the business cycle, control the credit cycle, or generally make things turn out the way people want.
If you are a Daily Reckoning-type economist, you can forget fame and fortune completely. Who wants to hear from a macroeconomist who tells people to leave well enough alone…and to let the forces of natural economics sort out their own problems? No one…at least no one who is running for public office. Instead, they want someone who will promise to “Save the World.”
Save the world from what? Why…from the damage done by other economists!
Two generations of American economists thought the way to bring prosperity was to encourage consumption. On the face of it, the idea is absurd. Classical economists…and Daily Reckoning commentators…laugh at the idea. You don’t really get rich by consuming; you get rich by saving and investing.
But they had their charts and graphs…their theories and their jobs teaching economics at prestigious universities. Naturally, they had the feds’ ears too – since every politician wants to promise more consumption. The feds favored home ownership, for example…even by people who were bad credit risks. They set up Fannie and Freddie to make it easy for people to buy houses. They even passed a law requiring banks to lend to people who weren’t likely to pay them back; that was the origin of the sub-prime mortgage market!
They kept interest rates low, too, so people could borrow at affordable rates. And they inflated the currency, so consumers would want to spend their money rather than save it. They also opened the world to free trade, so Americans could buy more, cheaper stuff made by foreigners. For 50 years, they cultivated consumption and let production go to seed.
And now…wouldn’t you know it…Americans have over-consumed. Personal expenditures per capital rose 25% between 2003-2005. Personal debt soared to over $13 trillion…about $124,000 per household. Total debt/GDP tripled since 1980.
And now, it’s payback time. The private sector has cut back. Consumers need to under-consume to make up for the over-consumption of the bubble years. Savings rates are rising. Spending is falling (see below)…
And so what do the simpletons do? Private citizens are unwilling to consume…so they push the government to consume their money for them!
Gold futures tapped the $1,000-an-ounce mark in early morning trading, a level the precious metal hadn’t reached since February.
“As long as the Federal Reserve and the US government take actions that debase the dollar, the dollar price of gold will rise,” says’s James Turk. “Similarly, as long as the Bank of England and the UK government take actions that debase the pound, the Sterling price of silver will rise. It is a certainty, just like night follows day.
“Years from now we will look back at today’s action with amazement at how low the price of gold and silver were, just like I can today look back to my college years when gold was only $35 and an ounce of silver could be had for 46 pence. It is a distant memory – and those prices will never again be seen. Eventually a three-digit dollar gold price and single-digit Sterling silver will never again be seen, as long as those currencies continue to be mismanaged and continue on the path to the fiat currency graveyard.
“…the dollar and pound are being debased, and in the absence of any policy advocating sound money in the US and the UK, inevitably gold will hurdle $1,000 and silver will clear £10.”
“Frugality is the new normal,” says an Associated Press report. One study suggests that consumer will spend 14% less – even AFTER the recession is over.
Boomers are out of time. Out of money. And they’ll be out of luck unless they trim expenses and begin saving.
They’ve figured it out. Personal spending has fallen in 4 of the last 6 quarters. It hasn’t done that since 1947 – when they first began tracking it.
Consumers’ net worth has taken a big hit – down $13 trillion, from $62 trillion to $50 trillion.
And so, the simpletons think the government has to rush in where fools foundered…that is, they rush in with more money.
But where do the feds get any money? They have to borrow it…or print it. There’s a big difference between federal borrowing and private borrowing. When the private sector borrows the risk is that people won’t be able to pay back their loans. That is a risk that lenders live with. They know the risk; they factor it into their decision-making. Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes – such as when economists mislead them with a lot of gibberish numbers – they’re wrong. And when they’re wrong, borrowers default…and lenders lose money.
The feds, on the other hand, can’t default. At least, not when their debts are calibrated in money they control. But there’s the risk right there. And it is a different kind of risk. It’s the risk that the feds may choose to pay back the loan in much cheaper currency. Or merely make a mistake that results in much cheaper currency.
Imagine a private borrower who could print up a few extra bills in his basement to pay his monthly mortgage. He may not do so…perhaps his sense of honor would prevent him. Or maybe he would fear that he wouldn’t be allowed to borrow again. But if his back were to the wall, there is little doubt that he’d soon be in the print shop.
The feds are in the print shop already. They’re printing up more dollars intentionally – to try to get inflation rates up…and to finance federal borrowing. It will be a miraculous thing if their new dollars don’t eventually cause inflation. But the macroeconomists who run the print shop tell us not to worry. They’ve got it all under control. They’re already talking about when and how to withdraw the dollars they so helpfully provided during the crisis period.
The simpletons – who had no idea that the crisis would come…and then thought it could be easily contained…and then mistook it for a monetary, banking crisis…and then judged it over before it had really started…
…these same simpletons still do not understand that the problem is not a lack of money, it’s a surplus of debt…
…they now reassure us that they know just how much money to put into the system…and just when to take it out.
If you believe them…you might want to stay in stocks and US bonds. If not, you should head for cover.
The country is being run “by a gang of clueless bozos,” says Lee Iacocca, in his new book.
Until tomorrow,
Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning
The Boomers are Out of Time-And Out of Money was originally published in the Daily Reckoning on 9/9/2009