Year in Review… last depressing post of 2011

December 31, 2010
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Readers –  Thanks for a great year of contributions to environmental, health and safety concerns.
Believe it or not, I am a solid optimist that whole heartily believes “There is nothing wrong in America that can not be fixed by what is right in America” yet this post could be a little depressing for a few so be warned.
The rule has always been “Hope for the Best and Plan for the Worst”. 
And the only way to plan is to know where the starting point begins.
Here it goes…Enjoy!
As ESPN puts it, “only bad news counts as news.”
2010-2011 trends pointing to where we have been and where we are going.
No one wants to call it the Great Depression so I coined it “Peak prosperity” Yep I stated it here first. For two decades we were warned of problems with peak oil, social security, middle east oil wars, energy crisis and our jobs moving overseas.
How did we plan for it? By racking up debt for our great grandchildren like drunken college students with their parents credit card.
  The Gold Report, Year End Wrap-Up – 2010

As the world sinks deeper into what he calls the Greater Depression, Casey Research Chairman Doug Casey sees default on the U.S. national debt as inevitable—albeit probably in the guise of currency destruction. He anticipates further contraction in real estate, particularly on the commercial front. As long as stocks remain overpriced, he’ll shy away from equities—except perhaps in favored sectors, such as gold. In fact, in this exclusive interview with The Gold Report, Doug posits that gold juniors might “go up by an order of magnitude or more, even while most other stocks are going down.” HTML clipboardand The DOW Still Hasn’t Made It Past Y2K  I recognize that an outright default is most unlikely, but…debt will be defaulted on one way or another. The trouble is they’re almost certainly going to default on it through inflation, by destroying the currency, which is much worse than defaulting on it overtly. That’s because inflation will wipe out the relatively few people who are prudent in this country, those who are actually saving money. Because they generally save in the form of dollars, they’re going to wipe them out financially. It’s just horrible. Runaway inflation will reward the profligates who are in debt—people who’ve been living above their means. And punish the producers who’ve been saving and trying to build capital. That’s in addition to the fact it will destroy millions of productive enterprises. A runaway inflation is the worst thing that can happen to a society, short of a major war. They just should default on it honestly, as it were. Continue reading “Doug Casey”

2011: The Year Cities Go Bust?

As the Guardian noted last week:HTML clipboard

More than 100 American cities could go bust next year as the debt crisis that has taken down banks and countries threatens next to spark a municipal meltdown, a leading analyst has warned. Meredith Whitney, the US research analyst who correctly predicted the global credit crunch, described local and state debt as the biggest problem facing the US economy, and one that could derail its recovery. “Next to housing this is the single most important issue in the US and certainly the biggest threat to the US economy,” Whitney told the CBS 60 Minutes programme on Sunday night. “There’s not a doubt on my mind that you will see a spate of municipal bond defaults. You can see fifty to a hundred sizeable defaults – more. This will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of defaults.” ( read 60 minute the transcript) US states have spent nearly half a trillion dollars more than they have collected in taxes, and face a $1tn hole in their pension funds …

Of course, if the cities and states had actually funded their pensions and other obligations during the good times, or at least made more realistic investment projections, they wouldn’t be in such a big hole now. See this.  
Rise of the rich and poor in America Largest increase in food prices, homeless, food stamps and energy costs…
The Last Two Years Have Been The Best Ever For Goldman, JPMorgan, Citi And Bank Of America (BAC, JPM, GS, MS, C)
USA Today: So many Americans have been jobless for so long that the government is changing how it records long-term unemployment.
Citing what it calls “an unprecedented rise” in long-term unemployment, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless.
The Shattered American Dream: Unemployed Workers Lose Ground, Hope, and Faith in their Futures

A new survey of unemployed American workers documents dramatic erosion in the quality of life for millions of Americans. Their financial reserves are exhausted, their job prospects nil, their family relations stressed and their belief in government’s ability to help them is negligible. They feel hopeless and powerless, unable to see their way out of the Great Recession that has claimed 8.5 million jobs.

The following chart from Calculated Risk shows that this is not a normal spike in unemployment:
Food Stamps Replace Soup Kitchens 1 out of every 7 Americans now rely on food stamps. While we don’t see soup kitchens, it may only be because so many Americans are receiving food stamps. Indeed, despite the dramatic photographs we’ve all seen of the 1930s, the 43 million Americans relying on food stamps to get by may actually be much greater than the number who relied on soup kitchens during the Great Depression.  
Inequality Worse than During the Great Depression From washingtonsblog Inequality is worse than it’s been since 1917:

Specifically, economics professors Saez (UC Berkeley) and Piketty (Paris School of Economics) show that the percentage of wealth held by the richest 1% of Americans peaked in 1928 and 2007 – right before each crash: Figure 1 As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote in June: 

Krugman says that he used to dismiss talk that inequality contributed to crises, but then we reached Great Depression-era levels of inequality in 2007 and promptly had a crisis, so now he takes it a bit more seriously…
Rise of the usurmountable and conflict
Given the above facts, it would seem that the government hasn’t been doing much. But the scary thing is that the government has done more than during the Great Depression, but the economy is still stuck a pit. Specifically, many economists credit World War II with getting us out of the Depression. (I disagree, but that’s another story). This time, we’ve been at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan far longer than we were in World War II. But our economy is still stuck in a rut. Moreover, the amount spent in emergency bailouts, loans and subsidies during this financial crisis arguably dwarfs the amount which the government spent during the New Deal. For example, Casey Research wrote in 2008:

Paulson and Bernanke have embarked on the largest bailout program ever conceived …. a program which so far will cost taxpayers $8.5 trillion.

So how does $8.5 trillion dollars compare with the cost of some of the major conflicts and programs initiated by the US government since its inception? To try and grasp the enormity of this figure, let’s look at some other financial commitments undertaken by our government in the past: HTML clipboard As illustrated above, one can see that in today’s dollar, we have already committed to spending levels that surpass the cumulative cost of all of the major wars and government initiatives since the American Revolution. HTML clipboard Balance Budget Recently, the Congressional Research Service estimated the cost of all of the major wars our country has fought in 2008 dollars.
The chart above shows that the entire cost of WWII over four to five years was less than half the current pledges made by Paulson and Bernanke in the last three months! In spite of years of conflict, the Vietnam and the Iraq wars have each cost less than the bailout package that was approved by Congress in two weeks. The Civil War that devastated our country had a total price tag (for both the Union and Confederacy) of $60.4 billion, while the Revolutionary War was fought for a mere $1.8 billion. In its fifty or so years of existence, NASA has only managed to spend $885 billion – a figure which got us to the moon and beyond. The New Deal had a price tag of only $500 billion. The Marshall Plan that enabled the reconstruction of Europe following WWII for $13 billion, comes out to approximately $125 billion in 2008 dollars. The cost of fixing the S&L crisis was $235 billion.
 CNBC confirms that the New Deal cost about $500 billion (and the S&L crisis cost around $256 billion) in inflation adjusted dollars. So even though the government’s spending on the “war” on the economic crisis dwarfs the amount spent on the New Deal, our economy is still stuck in the mud. Given that the government has done so much, but we are still mired in a situation which in many ways is comparable to the Great Depression, it is not a very radical statement to say that the government is doing the wrong things to address the downturn. I hope that the economy recovers. But the above comparisons are worrisome, indeed.  

Opppss I almost for got… The China Syndrome
China passed USA in pollution and energy needs…GDP soon

This will bring an unstoppable amount of energy & environmental needs as they prepare for War ‘In Every Strategic Direction’ and China’s navy gets bigger, but why? The Guardian – China alone ‘could bring world to brink of climate calamity’ David Sandalow, assistant secretary of state for energy, said the continuation of business as usual in China would result in a 2.7C rise in global temperatures by 2050 even if every other country slashed greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.

But even with the shift to renewables, clean car technology and ecologically friendly urban planning, China’s overall emissions are not expected to drop for many years. The most optimistic scenario suggests 2020 may be a peak, but the majority of scholars and government officials do not think carbon consumption in China will fall until at least 2030.

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