More War! The Road to Armageddon

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts

[Paul Craig Roberts was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, was published by CounterPunch/AK Press. This article is from the Summer 2011 issue of the Trends Journal, a publication of Gerald Celente’s Trends Research Institute.]

As the second decade of the 21st century began, the US economy had not recovered from the Great Recession that began in December 2007.

The economy’s failure to recover was despite the largest fiscal and monetary stimulus in the country’s history. There was a $700 billion bank bailout, a $700 billion stimulus program, a couple of trillion in “quantitative easing,” that is, in debt monetization or the printing of money to finance the government’s expenditures. In addition the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet had expanded by trillions of dollars as the Fed purchased troubled mortgage bonds and derivatives in its effort to keep the financial system solvent and functioning. According to the Government Accountability Office’s audit of the Federal Reserve released by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Federal Reserve provided secret loans to US and foreign banks totaling $16.1 trillion, a sum larger than US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Despite the enormous fiscal and monetary stimulus, the economy remained dead in the water.

In 2011 the deficit in the federal government’s annual expenditures was 43 percent of the budget. In other words, the US government had to borrow, or the Fed had to monetize, 43 percent of federal expenditures during fiscal year 2011. Despite this unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus, the economy did not recover.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the economy’s decline was temporarily halted by federal subsidies for car and home purchases. The $8,000 housing subsidy helped newlyweds purchase starter homes as the subsidy was a big chunk of the down payment in a depressed housing market. The car purchase subsidy moved future demand into the present. When these subsidies expired, the economy’s life support was turned off.

Problems with the statistical reporting of unemployment, inflation, and GDP disguised the worsening economy. Seasonal adjustments used to smooth the data over the course of the year were not designed for prolonged recession. Neither was the “birth-death” model used by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to estimate non-reported jobs from new start-up companies and losses from companies that have gone out of business. The birth-death model was designed for a growing economy and during downturns overestimates the number of new jobs created.

The “substitution effect” used in the consumer price index (CPI) underestimates inflation by assuming that consumers substitute cheaper foods for those that rise in price. For example, if the price of New York strip steak rises, this does not show up in the CPI, because of the assumption that people shift their purchases to a less expensive cut such as round steak.

Cooking the Books

The widely used “core inflation” measure does not include food or energy. Core inflation is a useful measure for those who want to put an optimistic spin on the outlook.

By underestimating inflation, the government can overestimate real GDP growth, thus creating a fictional rosy outlook. Similarly, by using the employment measure known as U.3, the government underestimates unemployment.

The “headline” unemployment rate, the one emphasized by the media and the financial press, stood at 9.2 percent in June, 2011. But this rate does not include any discouraged workers. A discouraged worker is a person who has ceased looking for a job, because there are no jobs to be found. A discouraged worker is not considered to be in the work force and is not counted among the U.3 unemployed. The federal government knows that this is phony and has a U.6 measure of unemployment that counts the short-term discouraged. This measure, seldom reported by the media, stood at 16.2 percent in June, 2011.

Statistician John Williams (shadowstats.com) continues to count also the long-term discouraged workers according to the way it was officially done in 1980. In June, 2011, this full measure of the US unemployment rate was 22.7 percent.

In other words, by 2011 between one-fifth and one-fourth of the US work force were without jobs.

As 2011 progressed, the United States faced three simultaneous economic crises. One crisis arose from the loss of US jobs, GDP, consumer income, and tax base caused by corporations off-shoring their production for the US market. Instead of making their products at home with American labor and providing Americans with jobs and states and localities with tax revenues, US corporations provided countries such as China, India, and Indonesia with GDP, jobs, consumer income and a tax base. This practice meant that economic stimulus was unable to revive the US economy as Americans cannot be called back to work jobs that have been moved abroad.

Another crisis was the financial crisis resulting from deregulation, fraud, and greed. Securitization of mortgages meant that issuers of mortgages no longer had any incentive to ascertain the credit worthiness of the borrower, because the issuers sold the mortgages to third parties who combined the mortgages with others and sold them to investors.

As mortgages were issued for fees, the more mortgages issued, the higher the income from fees. In order to collect fee income, some issuers faked credit reports for borrowers. With the housing market booming, many people took mortgages in order to make money on the resale of the properties. With housing prices rising rapidly, down payments and credit worthiness became concerns of the past. The financial crisis was made worse by the ability of investment banks to get around capital requirements and, thereby, leverage their equity by incurring enormous debt. When all the bubbles burst, the house of cards collapsed.

Economic Armageddon

The third crisis was the $1.5+ trillion annual federal budget deficits, which were too large to be financed without the Federal Reserve buying the Treasury’s new debt issues. Known as monetizing debt, the Federal Reserve purchased the Treasury’s bills, notes, and bonds by creating a checking account, which the Treasury would then draw upon to pay the government’s bills. The outpouring of Treasury debt raised concerns about the dollar’s exchange value and role as reserve currency, and it raised fears of inflation. Gold and silver prices rose as the dollar declined in foreign exchange markets.

Any one of these crises was serious. All together, they implied economic Armageddon.

There was no obvious way out, but even if one could be found, the government was focused elsewhere — on wars.

In addition to ongoing military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the US and NATO began military operations against Libya on March 19, 2011. As with the existing wars, the real purpose of the aggression against Libya was not acknowledged, but it became clear that the war’s purpose was to evict China from its oil investments in eastern Libya. Unlike the previous Arab protests, the Libyan rebellion was an armed uprising in which some saw the CIA’s hand.

The Libyan war upped the risk, because although hiding behind the veil of Arab protest, the US was actually confronting China. Similarly, in the US-supported armed rebellion in Syria, Washington’s target was the Russian naval base at Tartus. Overthrowing the Assad government in Syria and installing a US friendly regime would put paid to Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean.

By hiding its purposes behind Arab protests in Libya and Syria that it might have initiated, Washington avoided face-to-face conflicts with China and Russia, but nevertheless the two powers understood that Washington was striking at their interests. This elevated the recklessness of Washington’s aggressive policies by initiating confrontation with two nuclear powers, one of which held financial power over the US as America’s largest foreign creditor.

China’s oil investments in Angola and Nigeria were another target. To counter China’s economic penetration of Africa, the US created the American African Command in the closing years of the first decade of the 21st century. Disturbed by China’s rise, the US undertook to prevent China from having independent sources of energy. The great game that in the past has always led to war is being played out once again.

September 11, 2001, provided Washington with a new “threat” to replace the Soviet threat, which had expired in 1991. Despite the absence of the Soviet threat, the military/security budget had been kept alive for a decade. September 11, 2001, injected rapid growth into the military/security budget. A decade later the budget stood at approximately $1.1 trillion annually, or approximately 70 percent of the federal deficit which was crippling the dollar and threatening the US Treasury’s credit rating.

Focused on Middle Eastern wars, Washington was losing the war for the US economy.

As the expectation of economic recovery evaporated over the course of 2011, the need for war became more imperative.

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Bernanke Glum on Growth–But No stimulus Hints

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Bigg (Reuters) –

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Tuesday acknowledged the economy has slowed but offered no hint the U.S. central bank is considering any more stimulus to accelerate growth.

He also warned members of Congress who might be planning aggressive budget cuts that they have the potential to derail the recovery if cuts in government spending take hold too soon.

A recent spate of weak economic data, capped by Friday’s report showing anemic job creation last month, had renewed speculation the Fed might again come to the economy’s aid.

Bernanke gave no such indication but did say the recovery was fragile enough to warrant keeping in place the extraordinary monetary support the Fed has already provided.

Speaking to a banking conference, the Fed chairman said that while he expects the economy to strengthen in the second half of the year, the job market bears close monitoring.

“The economy is still producing at levels well below its potential,” he said. “Consequently, accommodative monetary policies are still needed.”

Richard Gilhooly, an interest rate strategist at TD Securities in New York, called the speech “pretty downbeat.”

“It means that the Fed’s on hold for longer,” he said.

Stocks closed lower after Bernanke’s sober assessment, while longer-term bonds erased losses.

Bernanke repeated his view that a spike in U.S. inflation, while worrisome, should prove fleeting as commodity prices moderate. In addition, weak wage growth and stable inflation expectations should help keep prices down, he said.

On the budget, Bernanke repeated his call for a long-term plan for a sustainable fiscal path but warned politicians against massive short-term cuts in spending.
“A sharp fiscal consolidation focused on the very near term could be self-defeating if it were to undercut the still-fragile recovery,” he said.

“By taking decisions today that lead to fiscal consolidation over a longer horizon, policymakers can avoid a sudden fiscal contraction that could put the recovery at risk,” he said.

All Tapped Out

The central bank has already slashed overnight interest rates to near zero and purchased more than $2 trillion in government bonds to pull the economy from a deep recession and spur a recovery.

With the central bank’s balance sheet already bloated, officials have suggested there would be a high bar for any further Fed easing. The Fed’s current $600 billion round of government bond buying, known as QE2, is due to end this month.

Sharp criticism in the wake of QE2 is one factor likely to make policymakers reluctant to push the limits of unconventional policy.

“QE3 is still not an option right now, more because of the political ramifications,” said Kathy Lien, director of currency research at GFT in New York. “We need to see much more significant deterioration in the economy and consistent weakness in non-farm payrolls before that can happen.”

In a Reuters poll of U.S. primary dealer banks conducted after the employment data, analysts saw only a 10 percent chance for more government bond purchases by the Fed. They also pushed back the timing of an eventual rate hike further into 2012.

Hurdles to better economic health have emerged overseas as well. Europe is struggling with a debt crisis, while Japan still reels from the effects of the earthquake and tsunami.

In emerging markets, China is trying to rein in red-hot growth to prevent inflation.

Fed policymakers have admitted to being surprised by how weak the economy appears, but none have yet called for more stimulus.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans, a noted policy dove, said he was not yet ready to support a third round of so-called quantitative easing. His counterpart in Atlanta, Dennis Lockhart, also said the economy was not weak enough to warrant further support.

While Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren told CNBC on Monday the economy’s weakness might delay the timing of an eventual monetary tightening, the head of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, Richard Fisher, said the Fed may have already done too much.

Evans and Fisher have a policy vote on the Fed this year while Rosengren and Lockhart do not.

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The Fiat Currency Disease

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Courtesy James Turk

Yesterday the Federal Reserve completed the latest meeting of its Federal Open Market Committee.  It re-affirmed its plan to purchase by the end of the year some $1.8 trillion – yes, $1.8 trillion – of US government paper, comprising of agency debt, agency mortgage-backed securities and US Treasuries.  That’s nearly $6,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

While $1.8 trillion is a gargantuan amount of money, the actual amount is of secondary importance to the essential, piercing question.  Namely, where is this $1.8 trillion going to come from?

The answer is not pretty.  These dollars will come from the same place that all other dollars are created these days, namely, out of thin air.  Here’s how Mr. Bernanke explained this monetary sleight-of-hand before he was appointed as chairman of the Federal Reserve.  “The U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.”

Like most central banker statements, this one is based on half-truths. How can there possibly be “essentially no cost” to creating all these dollars?  We=2 0all know that there is no free lunch in the real world, so there must be some significant cost to creating so many dollars, right?

Please read Mr. Bernanke’s statement again. There may be essentially no cost to the US government, but here is what he doesn’t tell you. There is a very real and huge cost to everyone who ends up holding these dollars that were created ‘out of thin air’.  It is the cost of inflation; it is the onerous cost burden arising from the reality that the purchasing power of the dollar is being continuously eroded. And the more dollars that are created beyond the need for dollars in normal commerce, the worst the inflation becomes. The $1.8 trillion the Federal Reserve will soon be creating should cause those remaining deflationists still arguing their point of view to recognize that they are looking down the wrong road.

They argue that deflation is inevitable because credit is contracting.  However, contracting credit is not deflation. Rather, contracting credit causes wealth destruction, but does not necessarily cause deflation in a fiat currency world.

Deflation arises when the quantity of dollars contracts, as it did when credit contracted in the Great Depression.  But the quantity of dollars is not contracting today.  It continues to grow, regardless what measure one uses, M1, M2 or M3 (which John Williams of http://www.shadowstats.com estimates to have grown +7.3% over the past 12 months).

What’s more, the trillions of dollars created out of thin air for various bailout schemes as well as this latest $1.8 trillion planned purchase by the Federal Reserve will make sure that the quantity of dollars continues to grow.  The result will be that the purchasing power of the dollar will continue to be inflated away.

It has become increasingly apparent that the US dollar has caught the fiat currency disease, where too many units of account are created.  This disease is fatal, and hundreds of fiat currencies buried in the fiat currency graveyard throughout history have succumbed to it.

By creating too many units of account out of thin air, the Federal Reserve has sealed the dollar’s inflationary fate.  Own gold and/or silver to protect yourself and your family from this inevitable outcome.

Since 1987 Mr. Turk has written the Freemarket Gold & Money Report, an investment newsletter that publishes twenty issues annually. He is the author of The Illusions of Prosperity (1985), SOCIAL SECURITY Lies, Myths and Reality (1992) and several monographs on money and banking.

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The American Empire Is Bankrupt

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Chris Hedges

This week marks the end of the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. It marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back. And what is to come will be very, very painful.

Barack Obama, and the criminal class on Wall Street, aided by a corporate media that continues to peddle fatuous gossip and trash talk as news while we endure the greatest economic crisis in our history, may have fooled us, but the rest of the world knows we are bankrupt. And these nations are damned if they are going to continue to prop up an inflated dollar and sustain the massive federal budget deficits, swollen to over $2 trillion, which fund America’s imperial expansion in Eurasia and our system of casino capitalism. They have us by the throat. They are about to squeeze.

There are meetings being held Monday and Tuesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia, (formerly Sverdlovsk) among Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The United States, which asked to attend, was denied admittance. Watch what happens there carefully. The gathering is, in the words of economist Michael Hudson, “the most important meeting of the 21st century so far.”

It is the first formal step by our major trading partners to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. If they succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value, the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket, interest rates will climb and jobs will hemorrhage at a rate that will make the last few months look like boom times. State and federal services will be reduced or shut down for lack of funds. The United States will begin to resemble the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe. Obama, endowed by many with the qualities of a savior, will suddenly look pitiful, inept and weak. And the rage that has kindled a handful of shootings and hate crimes in the past few weeks will engulf vast segments of a disenfranchised and bewildered working and middle class. The people of this class will demand vengeance, radical change, order and moral renewal, which an array of proto-fascists, from the Christian right to the goons who disseminate hate talk on Fox News, will assure the country they will impose.

I called Hudson, who has an article in Monday’s Financial Times called The Yekaterinburg Turning Point: De-Dollarization and the Ending of America’s Financial-Military Hegemony. “Yekaterinburg,” Hudson writes, “may become known not only as the death place of the czars but of the American empire as well.” His article is worth reading, along with John Lanchester’s disturbing exposé of the world’s banking system, titled “It’s Finished,” which appeared in the May 28 issue of the London Review of Books.

“This means the end of the dollar,” Hudson told me. “It means China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran are forming an official financial and military area to get America out of Eurasia. The balance-of-payments deficit is mainly military in nature. Half of America’s discretionary spending is military. The deficit ends up in the hands of foreign banks, central banks. They don’t have any choice but to recycle the money to buy U.S. government debt. The Asian countries have been financing their own military encirclement. They have been forced to accept dollars that have no chance of being repaid. They are paying for America’s military aggression against them. They want to get rid of this.”

China, as Hudson points out, has already struck bilateral trade deals with Brazil and Malaysia to denominate their trade in China’s yuan rather than the dollar, pound or euro. Russia promises to begin trading in the ruble and local currencies. The governor of China’s central bank has openly called for the abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency, suggesting in its place the use of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. What the new system will be remains unclear, but the flight from the dollar has clearly begun. The goal, in the words of the Russian president, is to build a “multipolar world order” which will break the economic and, by extension, military domination by the United States. China is frantically spending its dollar reserves to buy factories and property around the globe so it can unload its U.S. currency. This is why Aluminum Corp. of China made so many major concessions in the failed attempt to salvage its $19.5 billion alliance with the Rio Tinto mining concern in Australia. It desperately needs to shed its dollars.

“China is trying to get rid of all the dollars they can in a trash-for-resource deal,” Hudson said. “They will give the dollars to countries willing to sell off their resources since America refuses to sell any of its high-tech industries, even Unocal, to the yellow peril. It realizes these dollars are going to be worthless pretty quickly.”

The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America’s military domination. Our military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion, before we add on things like nuclear research. The next closest national military budget is China’s, at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

There are three categories of the balance-of-payment deficits. America imports more than it exports. This is trade. Wall Street and American corporations buy up foreign companies. This is capital movement. The third and most important balance-of-payment deficit for the past 50 years has been Pentagon spending abroad. It is primarily military spending that has been responsible for the balance-of-payments deficit for the last five decades. Look at table five in the Balance of Payments Report, published in the Survey of Current Business quarterly, and check under military spending. There you can see the deficit.

To fund our permanent war economy, we have been flooding the world with dollars. The foreign recipients turn the dollars over to their central banks for local currency. The central banks then have a problem. If a central bank does not spend the money in the United States then the exchange rate against the dollar will go up. This will penalize exporters. This has allowed America to print money without restraint to buy imports and foreign companies, fund our military expansion and ensure that foreign nations like China continue to buy our treasury bonds. This cycle appears now to be over. Once the dollar cannot flood central banks and no one buys our treasury bonds, our empire collapses. The profligate spending on the military, some $1 trillion when everything is counted, will be unsustainable.

“We will have to finance our own military spending,” Hudson warned, “and the only way to do this will be to sharply cut back wage rates. The class war is back in business. Wall Street understands that. This is why it had Bush and Obama give it $10 trillion in a huge rip-off so it can have enough money to survive.”

The desperate effort to borrow our way out of financial collapse has promoted a level of state intervention unseen since World War II. It has also led us into uncharted territory.

“We have in effect had to declare war to get us out of the hole created by our economic system,” Lanchester wrote in the London Review of Books. “There is no model or precedent for this, and no way to argue that it’s all right really, because under such-and-such a model of capitalism … there is no such model. It isn’t supposed to work like this, and there is no road-map for what’s happened.”

The cost of daily living, from buying food to getting medical care, will become difficult for all but a few as the dollar plunges. States and cities will see their pension funds drained and finally shut down. The government will be forced to sell off infrastructure, including roads and transport, to private corporations. We will be increasingly charged by privatized utilities—think Enron—for what was once regulated and subsidized. Commercial and private real estate will be worth less than half its current value. The negative equity that already plagues 25 percent of American homes will expand to include nearly all property owners. It will be difficult to borrow and impossible to sell real estate unless we accept massive losses. There will be block after block of empty stores and boarded-up houses. Foreclosures will be epidemic. There will be long lines at soup kitchens and many, many homeless. Our corporate-controlled media, already banal and trivial, will work overtime to anesthetize us with useless gossip, spectacles, sex, gratuitous violence, fear and tawdry junk politics. America will be composed of a large dispossessed underclass and a tiny empowered oligarchy that will run a ruthless and brutal system of neo-feudalism from secure compounds. Those who resist will be silenced, many by force. We will pay a terrible price, and we will pay this price soon, for the gross malfeasance of our power elite. 

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