By Doug Casey
Casey Research ~ Gold Seek
In an interview with Louis James, the inimitable Doug Casey throws cold water on those celebrating the economic recovery.
[Skype rings: It’s Doug Casey, calling from Cafayate, Argentina. He sounds tired, but pleased with himself.
Doug: Lobo, get out your mower; it’s time to cut down some green shoots again, and debunk a bit of the so-called recovery.
Louis: Ah. I have to say, Doug, the so-called recovery is looking more than “so-called” to a lot of smart folks. Even our own Terry Coxon says the recovery is real, albeit weak.
Doug: Terry’s probably looking at it by the numbers, some of which are reported to be improving. But let’s come back to the numbers later and start with fundamentals. The first order of business, as usual, is a definition: a depression is a period of time in which the average standard of living declines significantly. I believe that’s what we’re seeing now, whatever the numbers produced by the politicians may seem to tell us.
L: I was just shopping for food and noticed that the bargain bread was on sale at two for $5. My gas costs almost as much per gallon. That’s got to hurt a lot of people, especially on the lower income rungs. I don’t need to ask; a member of my family just got a job that pays $12 per hour – about three times what I made working for the university food service back when I was in college – and it’s not enough to cover his rent and basic bills. If his wife gets similar work, they’ll make ends meet, but woe unto them if anyone in their family crashes a car or requires serious medical treatment.
Doug: That’s just what I mean. Actually, the trend towards both partners in a marriage having to work really started in the early ’70s – after Nixon cut all links between the dollar and gold in August of 1971. Before then, in the “Leave It to Beaver” era, the average family got by quite well with only the husband working. If he got sick or lost his job, the wife was a financial backup system. Now, if something happens to either one, the family is screwed.
I think, from a very long-term perspective, historians will one day see the ’60s as the peak of American prosperity – certainly relative to the rest of the world… but perhaps even in absolute terms, even taking continued advances in technology into account. Maybe the ’59 Cadillac was the bell ringing at the top of that civilizational market.
My friend Frank Trotter, president of EverBank, was just telling me that the net worth of the median US citizen is only $6,000. That’s the median, meaning that half of the people have less than that. Most people don’t even have enough stashed away to buy the cheapest new car without going into debt. It used to be that people bought cars out of savings, with cash. Now they have to finance them over at least five years… or lease them – which means they never ever have even that trivial asset, but a liability in the form of a lease.
The bulk of the 49 percent below this guy don’t even have that – with the concentration of wealth among the top one percent, most of those below average have seriously negative net worth, at least compared to their earning capacity. In other words, the US, Europe, and other so-called First-World countries are in a wealth-liquidation cycle that will be as profound as it will be protracted.
By that I mean that people are on average consuming more than they produce. That can only be done by living out of capital – consuming savings – or accumulating debt. For a time, this may drive corporate earnings up, and give this dead-man-walking economy the appearance of returning health, but it’s essentially, necessarily, and absolutely unsustainable. This is an illusion of recovery we’re seeing – the result of our Wrong-Way Corrigan politicians continuing to encourage people to do the exact opposite of what they should do.
L: Which is?
Doug: Save. People shouldn’t be getting new cars, new TVs, and new clothes. They should be cutting expenses to the bone.
The Obama administration, just like the Baby Bush administration before it – there really is no great difference between the Evil Party and the Stupid Party – and its minions in the US and its cronies around the world, stubbornly stick to the bankrupt idea that economic growth is driven by consumption. This is confusing cause and effect. Healthy consumption follows profitable production in excess of consumption, resulting in savings – accumulated capital – that can either be spent without harm or invested in future growth.
Consumption doesn’t cause an economy to grow at all. To paraphrase: “It’s productivity that creates wealth, stupid!”
L: Policies aimed at encouraging consumption, instead of increasing production, are what turned the savings rate negative in the US and resulted in the huge sovereign debt issues we’re seeing in supposedly rich countries…
Doug: Well, the governments themselves have spent way more than they had or ever will have, and that’s par for the course when you believe spending is a virtue. However, it’s the false signals government interference sends to the market that caused the huge malinvestments that only began to go into liquidation in 2008. That has to do with another definition of a depression: It’s a period of time when distortions and malinvestments in the economy are liquidated.
Unfortunately, that process has barely even started. In fact, since the bailouts started in 2008, these things have gotten much worse. If the government had gone cold turkey back then, cut its spending by at least 50% for openers, and encouraged the public to do the same, the depression would already be over, and we’d be on our way to real prosperity. But they did just the opposite. So we haven’t yet entered the real meat grinder…
L: Those false signals the government sends to the market being artificially low interest rates?
Doug: Yes, and Helicopter Ben’s foolish leadership in the wholesale printing of trillions of currency units all around the world – I don’t really want to call dollars, euros, yen, and so forth money anymore. When individuals and corporations get those currency units, they think they’re wealthier than they really are and consume accordingly. Worse, those currency units flow first to the state – which feeds it power – and favored corporations, which get to spend it at old values. It’s very corrupting. There is also an ongoing regulatory onslaught – the government has to show it’s “doing something” – which makes it much harder for entrepreneurs to produce.
In addition, keeping interest rates low encourages borrowing and discourages saving – just the opposite of what’s needed. I don’t believe in any state intervention in the economy whatsoever, but in the crisis of the early 1980s, then-Fed Chairman Paul Volcker headed off a depression and set the stage for a strong recovery by keeping rates very high – on the order of 15-18%. They can’t do that now, of course, because with the acknowledged government debt at $16 trillion, those kind of rates would mean $2.5 trillion in annual interest alone – more than the government takes in taxes.
At this point, there’s no way out. And there’s much more tinkering with the system ahead, at the hands of fools who remain convinced they know what they’re doing, regardless of how abject their past failures have been.
L: And yet, the interventions seem to be working. The “orderly default” in Greece seems to have saved the Eurozone for now, and critically important employment figures in the US show definite signs of improvement.
Doug: Perhaps, but let’s take a closer look. I advocate the Greek government defaulting, overtly and immediately, on 100% of its debt, for several reasons. First, it would punish those who lent it money to do all the stupid and destructive things it’s done. Second, it would ensure that the Greek government wouldn’t be able to borrow again for a very long time. Third, it would liberate young and yet unborn Greeks, who are being turned into serfs by all that debt. It would also mean that most European banks would fail. Tough luck for those who relied on them. When new banks are established, it will serve as a lesson to people to be more careful about where they put their capital.
Anyway, it would be much less of a catastrophe than the way we’re currently heading.
Here in the US, the twelve-month fiscal deficit is still over $1.2 trillion, an extreme situation that is gutting the value of the dollar, because it’s mostly financed by the Fed buying US debt. It’s temporarily expanded the eye of the storm we’re in, but it’s done nothing to dissipate the storm itself. Their easy-money policies may have bought them a little more time, but they will only make it worse when we do exit the eye of the storm.
There’s a third definition of a depression that I use: a depression is the end phenomenon of an inflation-caused business cycle. Inflation is the sole cause of business cycles, and inflation is caused by governments and their central banks printing money. The government – the state – is 100% responsible for society’s economic problems. But it arrogantly represents itself as the cure. And people believe it. There’s no hope until the psychology of the average person changes.