Published on The Economic Collapse on March 8, 2017
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A Third Of All U.S. Shopping Malls Are Projected To Close As ‘Space Available’ Signs Go Up All Over America
If you didn’t know better, you might be tempted to think that “Space Available” was the hottest new retail chain in the entire country. As you will see below, it is being projected that about a third of all shopping malls in the United States will soon close, and we just recently learned that the number of “distressed retailers” is the highest that it has been since the last recession. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can possibly believe that the U.S. economy is in “good shape” after looking at the retail industry. In my recent article about the ongoing “retail apocalypse“, I discussed the fact that Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s have all announced that they are closing dozens of stores in 2017, and you can find a pretty comprehensive list of 19 U.S. retailers that are “on the brink of bankruptcy” right here. Needless to say, quite a bloodbath is going on out there right now.
But I didn’t realize how truly horrific things were for the retail industry until I came across an article about mall closings on Time Magazine’s website…
About one-third of malls in the U.S. will shut their doors in the coming years, retail analyst Jan Kniffen told CNBC Thursday. His prediction comes in the wake of Macy’s reporting its worst consecutive same-store sales decline since the financial crisis.
Macy’s and its fellow retailers in American malls are challenged by an oversupply of retail space as customers migrate toward online shopping, as well as fast fashion retailers like H&M and off-price stores such as T.J. Maxx. As a result, about 400 of the country’s 1,100 enclosed malls will fail in the upcoming years. Of those that remain, he predicts that about 250 will thrive and the rest will continue to struggle.
Can you imagine what this country is going to look like if that actually happens?
Shopping malls all over the United States are literally becoming “ghost towns”, and many that have already closed have stayed empty for years and years.
The process usually starts when a shopping mall starts losing anchor stores. That is why it is so alarming that Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s are planning to shut down so many locations in 2017. According to one recent report, 310 shopping malls in America are in imminent danger of losing an anchor store…
Dozens of malls have closed in the last 10 years, and many more are at risk of shutting down as retailers like Macy’s, JCPenney, and Sears — also known as anchor stores — shutter hundreds of stores to staunch the bleeding from falling sales.
The commercial-real-estate firm CoStar estimates that nearly a quarter of malls in the US, or roughly 310 of the nation’s 1,300 shopping malls, are at high risk of losing an anchor store.
Once the anchor stores start going, traffic falls off dramatically for the other stores and they start leaving too.
Four years ago in “The Beginning Of The End” I warned that empty storefronts would soon litter the national landscape, and now that is precisely what is happening.
Now that the Christmas season is over, some retailers that have been around for decades have suddenly decided that it is time to file for bankruptcy. Sadly, one of those retailers is HHGregg…
HHGregg Inc., the 61-year-old seller of appliances and electronics, is moving closer to Chapter 11 after announcing a store-closing plan, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The filing may come as soon as next week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t public. Bloomberg previously reported that HHGregg might file for bankruptcy in March if it couldn’t reach an out-of-court solution.
Another retailer that was once riding high but is now dealing with bankruptcy is BCBG…
BCBG, the California-based fashion retailer that had acquired fashion design firm Herve Leger in 1998, and that once had more than 570 boutiques globally, including 175 in the US, and whose cocktail dresses and handbags were shown off by celebrities, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday.
It is buckling under $459 million of debt. It has 4,800 employees. Layoffs have already started. More layoffs and other cost cuts are planned, according to court documents, cited by Bloomberg. It started closing 120 of its stores in January. It wants to sell itself at a court-supervised auction. If that fails, it wants to negotiate a debt-for-equity swap with junior lenders owed $289 million.
If the U.S. economy was actually doing as well as the stock market says that it should be doing, all of these retail chains would not be closing stores and going bankrupt.
But of course the truth is that the stock market has become completely disconnected from economic reality.
We live at a time when middle class consumers are tapped out. According to one recent survey, 57 percent of all Americans do not even have enough money in the bank to write a $500 check for an unexpected expense.
And people are falling out of the middle class at a staggering pace. The number of homeless people in New York City recently set a brand new record high, and city authorities plan to construct 90 new homeless shelters within the next five years.
On the west coast we are also seeing a dramatic rise in homelessness. The following comes from an article by Dan Lyman…
Citizen journalists have captured stunning images and video of homeless encampments that are spiraling out of control in the shadows of Disneyland and Anaheim Stadium in California.
The tent city has recently sprung up along the Santa Ana riverbed, near a busy convergence of three major California highways known as the “Orange Crush,” at the border of Anaheim and Santa Ana, the latter a “sanctuary city.”
Homeless activists estimate that as many as 1,000 people are camped in the region.
You can see some video footage of this homeless encampment on YouTube right here…
Incredibly, the Federal Reserve is almost certainly going to raise interest rates at their next meeting even though the U.S. economy is faltering so badly. That only makes sense if they are trying to make Donald Trump look as bad as possible.
Even though this giant bubble of false economic stability that we are currently enjoying has lasted far longer than it should have, the truth is that nothing has changed about the long-term economic outlook at all.
America is still heading for “economic Armageddon”, and the retail industry is a huge red flag that is warning us that our day of reckoning is approaching more rapidly than many had anticipated.
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Published on The Daily Impact on September 12, 2016
When an oil well like Deepwater Horizon explodes, the images are unforgettable. When the entire industry starts to collapse, it’s hard to see and to remember.
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In a recent essay I proposed the existence of a new human subspecies – homo sapiens ephemera — that is smart (thus sapiens) but severely afflicted by attention deficit disorder and long-term memory loss. Thus ephemera may understand, for example, the connection between a burning fuse at his feet and an imminent explosion, but almost immediately forgets it, goes on to something else, and is surprised by the blast. Nowhere is this behavior more evident than in the U.S. oil patch, whose collapse, predicted here and elsewhere for years, is now described by none other than Moody’s Investors Service, quoted in Bloomberg News as “catastrophic” and perhaps “the worst bust of any industry this century.”
Does anybody remember the Savings and Loan debacle? The Enron (“smartest guys in the room”) implosion? The Dot-Com collapse? And the Sub-Prime Mortgages that Ate the World? After each of these episodes, Ephemera slapped his slanted forehead and said, “Boy, that was dumb. But nobody could have seen it coming.” Put on your protective headgear, because it’s happening again.
When they came to you, Ephemera, and asked you to invest gazillions of dollars up front in the New American Oil Revolution, they talked about energy independence! and America, Number One! and everything back the way it was in 1950! But the burning fuse at your feet was about fracking wells that cost ten times that of a conventional oil well and play out nearly ten times faster, about exploding trains and polluted water and earthquakes, in a market that would soon devalue the product by 50%.
Of course you gave them the money. You bought their stock, you bought their bonds, you bought their junk bonds. You lent them money, and when they couldn’t pay it back you lent them more to roll over the debt, which almost immediately became enormous because every one of those expensive wells had to be replaced every three years. You let them convert your secured debt to unsecured debt, or to watered down stock, or to fairy dust. Now, according to Moody’s, there has finally been an explosion. Who could have seen that coming?
Moody’s reports that twice as many oil and gas companies have gone bankrupt so far this year than did so in all of last year. Investors affected by these failures have seen an average 21 percent return. No, that’s not return on their investment, it’s return of their investment; they lost 80 per cent of their money. And those were secured lenders; junk-bond holders got back 6 cents for every dollar they invested.
Yet the fuse burns on. In the Bakken fracking field in North Dakota, for example, where no oil company has made any money, even when oil was priced at over $100 a barrel, where the total accumulated debt of the players is north of $30 billion, where production has been declining for over a year with oil prices below $50 and well below the cost of production — the zombie companies, almost all of them technically insolvent, continue to borrow operating money through such creative pitches as “distressed exchanges.”
The fuse burns faster, smokes even more, and doesn’t have much farther to go. What’s that? Hillary sneezed? Tell me more…..
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Published on The Daily Impact on February 19, 2016
(* that is, the 99 per cent.)
I was there when a furniture-store owner I’ll call Chuck introduced, to a certain British-ruled, sub-tropical, behind-the-times island, the concept of hire-purchase — or, in American, rent-to-own. He started selling furniture on credit, for a small down payment and a contract to repay the balance at an astronomical interest rate. His policy scandalized everyone on the island who was rich enough not to need credit for such purposes; and was insanely popular with everyone else.
The establishment railed against what he was doing as somehow immoral, even illegal. Some legislators tried to declare it, and ban it, as “usury” (a quaint, antique sin, now regarded as about as serious as not eating fish on Friday). They decried hire purchase as a practice that would corrupt the moral fiber of poor people, which they seemed to think was somehow improved by not having furniture. They did not feel, however, that the large mortgages they held on their villas had in any way corrupted them.
Despite their disdain, the lower classes got their tables and chairs and Chuck got very rich indeed and was soon a welcome guest in the homes of the island’s rich and famous.
It was hard to follow or to credit the arguments against selling products on credit. Indeed, the upper classes — on the island as elsewhere in the world — soon abandoned all compunctions about selling on credit when they realized that selling things to people who could not afford them made them and their bankers, obscenely rich.
Since the innocent days of yesteryear, when having a mortgage was embarrassing, borrowing money was evidence of a character flaw and declaring bankruptcy was the secular equivalent of eternal damnation, debt in America has become a vast cancerous growth that now threatens the very life of its host. Let’s set aside for now the scary dimensions of public debt (now $19 trillion and rising) and corporate debt (over $14 trillion and rising) , and focus just on the debt of individual Americans (now over $12 trillion).
Total individual debt is almost back to where it was in late 2008 when the Great Recession began. For five years after the last crash it declined, not because people were paying their debts but because foreclosures and bankruptcies were obliterating them. Since 2013 overall debt has been increasing again, but changing in nature.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s latest consumer credit report, about 70% of individual debt is for housing (mortgages and revolving debt), and about 10% each for auto loans, student loans and credit-card debt (when you include the “other” category with with credit-card debt). Until the onset of the last recession, each of these categories increased in tandem. Since the recession, two of the categories of debt — housing and credit-card — have been steadily decreasing. The other two have been skyrocketing — student loans without pause and auto loans since 2011.
The characteristics and trends of debt are markedly different among people under 40, and over 40, years of age. In the past 12 years, the aggregate debt of those under 40 has fallen by 12%, while that of their elders has risen by 169%.
The components of debt are markedly different as well. The average 30-year-old has seen his mortgage debt decline by $8,000 (because he can’t afford a house, which is bad news for the economy); his credit-card debt reduced by $1,000 (because he’s wising up about that) and his auto-loan balance down by $300 (because young people are losing their lust for cars). He’d be in really good shape if it wasn’t for the $7,000 increase in his student-loan debt.
Meanwhile, the average senior is in worse shape than ever before. Her mortgage debt has increased by $11,000, her car-loan balance by $1,000 and — incredibly — the average student loan balance for people over 65 is up $850 per capita. That’s a nearly 900% increase in 12 years.
With the debt of young people declining because they can’t afford to buy anything, and the debt of elderly people increasing as they approach the end of their earning years and thus the ability to pay their debts, debt has become both an enormous threat to the welfare of families and a huge drag on the economy.
Remember the old fogeys on the island who accused my friend Chuck of doing something immoral when he enticed people to buy things they could not afford with a promise instead of cash? They sounded silly then. They don’t sound so silly now.
Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.
Published on The Economic Collapse on January 18, 2016
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Last time around it was subprime mortgages, but this time it is oil that is playing a starring role in a global financial crisis. Since the start of 2015, 42 North American oil companies have filed for bankruptcy, 130,000 good paying energy jobs have been lost in the United States, and at this point 50 percent of all energy junk bonds are “distressed” according to Standard & Poor’s. As you will see below, some of the big banks have a tremendous amount of loan exposure to the energy industry, and now they are bracing for big losses. And the longer the price of oil stays this low, the worse the carnage is going to get.
Today, the price of oil has been hovering around 29 dollars a barrel, and over the past 18 months the price of oil has fallen by more than 70 percent. This is something that has many U.S. consumers very excited. The average price of a gallon of gasoline nationally is just $1.89 at the moment, and on Monday it was selling for as low as 46 cents a gallon at one station in Michigan.
But this oil crash is nothing to cheer about as far as the big banks are concerned. During the boom years, those banks gave out billions upon billions of dollars in loans to fund exceedingly expensive drilling projects all over the world.
Now those firms are dropping like flies, and the big banks could potentially be facing absolutely catastrophic losses. The following examples come from CNN…
For instance, Wells Fargo (WFC) is sitting on more than $17 billion in loans to the oil and gas sector. The bank is setting aside $1.2 billion in reserves to cover losses because of the “continued deterioration within the energy sector.”
JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is setting aside an extra $124 million to cover potential losses in its oil and gas loans. It warned that figure could rise to $750 million if oil prices unexpectedly stay at their current $30 level for the next 18 months.
Citigroup is another bank that also has a tremendous amount of exposure…
Citigroup (C) built up loan loss reserves in the energy space by $300 million. The bank said the move reflects its view that “oil prices are likely to remain low for a longer period of time.”
If oil stays around $30 a barrel, Citi is bracing for about $600 million of energy credit losses in the first half of 2016. Citi said that figure could double to $1.2 billion if oil dropped to $25 a barrel and stayed there.
For the moment, these big banks are telling the public that the damage can be contained.
But didn’t they tell us the same thing about subprime mortgages in 2008?
We are already seeing bank stocks start to slide precipitously. People are beginning to realize that these banks are dangerously exposed to a lot of really bad deals.
If the price of oil were to shoot back up above 50 dollars in very short order, the damage would probably be manageable. Unfortunately, that does not appear likely to happen. In fact, now that sanctions have been lifted on Iran, the Iranians are planning to flood the world with massive amounts of oil that they have been storing in tankers at sea…
Iran has been carefully planning for its return from the economic penalty box by hoarding tons of oil in tankers at sea.
Now that the U.S. and European Union have lifted some sanctions on Iran, the OPEC country can begin selling its massive stockpile of oil.
The sale of this seaborne oil will allow Iran to get an immediate financial boost before it ramps up production. The onslaught of Iranian oil is coming at a terrible time for the global oil markets, which are already drowning in an epic supply glut.
Just the other day, I explained that some of the biggest banks in the world are now projecting that the price of oil could soon fall much, much lower.
Morgan Stanley says that it could go as low as 20 dollars a barrel, the Royal Bank of Scotland says that it could go as low as 16 dollars a barrel, and Standard Chartered says that it could go as low as 10 dollars a barrel.
But the truth is that the price of oil does not need to go down one penny more to have a catastrophic impact on global financial markets. If it just stays right here, we will see an endless parade of layoffs, energy company bankruptcies and debt defaults. Without any change, junk bonds will continue to crash and financial institutions will continue to go down like dominoes.
We are already experiencing a major disaster. Things are already so bad that some forms of low quality crude oil are literally selling for next to nothing. The following comes from Bloomberg…
Oil is so plentiful and cheap in the U.S. that at least one buyer says it would pay almost nothing to take a certain type of low-quality crude.
Flint Hills Resources LLC, the refining arm of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch’s industrial empire, said it offered to pay $1.50 a barrel Friday for North Dakota Sour, a high-sulfur grade of crude, according to a corrected list of prices posted on its website Monday. It had previously posted a price of -$0.50. The crude is down from $13.50 a barrel a year ago and $47.60 in January 2014.
While the near-zero price is due to the lack of pipeline capacity for a particular variety of ultra low quality crude, it underscores how dire things are in the U.S. oil patch.
A chart that I saw posted on Zero Hedge earlier today can help put all of this into perspective. Whenever the price of oil falls really low relative to the price of gold, there is a major global crisis. Right now an ounce of gold will purchase more oil than ever before, and many believe that this indicates that a new great crisis is upon us…
The number of barrels of oil that a single ounce of gold can buy has never, ever been higher.
All over the planet, big banks are absolutely teeming with bad loans. And to be honest, the big banks in the U.S. are probably in better shape than some of the major banks in Europe and Asia. But once the dominoes start to fall, very few financial institutions are going to escape unscathed.
In the coming days I would expect to see more headlines like we just got out of Italy. Apparently, Italian banks are nearing full meltdown mode, and short selling has been temporarily banned. To me, it appears that we are just inches away from full-blown financial panic in Europe.
However, just like with the last financial crisis, you never quite know where the next “explosion” is going to happen next.
But one thing is for sure – the financial crisis that began during the second half of 2015 is raging out of control, and the pain that we have seen so far is just the beginning.
There is a special species of idiot at large in the financial media space who believe absolutely in the desperate and tragic public relations bullshit that this society churns out to convince itself that the techno-industrial high life can continue indefinitely, despite the mandates of reality — in particular, the fairy tales about oil: we’re cruising to energy independence… the shale oil “miracle” will keep us driving to WalMart forever… our wells doth overflow as if this were Saudi America… don’t worry, be happy…!
Such a true believer is John Mauldin, the investment hustler and writer of the newsletter Thoughts From the Frontline, who called me out for obloquy in his latest edition. After dissing me, he said:
“I have written for years that Peak Oil is nonsense. Longtime readers know that I’m a believer in ever-accelerating technological transformation, but I have to admit I did not see the exponential transformation of the drilling business as it is currently unfolding. The changes are truly breathtaking and have gone largely unnoticed.”
Mauldin is going to be very disappointed when he discovers that the vaunted efficiencies in shale drilling and fracking he’s hyping will only accelerate the depletion of wells which, at best, produce a few hundred barrels of oil a day, and only for the first year, after which they deplete by at least half that rate, and after four years are little better than “stripper” wells. The PR shills at Cambridge Energy Research (Dan Yergin’s propaganda mill for the oil industry) must have pumped a five-gallon jug of Kool-Aid down poor John’s craw. He believes every whopper they spin out — e.g. that “Right now, some US shale operators can break even at $10/barrel.”
The truth is the shale oil industry couldn’t make a profit at $100/barrel. The drilling and fracking boom that began around 2005 was paid for with high-risk, high-yield junk bond financing and other sketchy, poorly collateralized financing. Most of the earnings in the early years of shale oil came from flipping land leases to greater fools. Now that the price of oil has fallen by more than 50 percent in the past year, the prospect dims for that junk financing to be repaid. Since that was “bottom-of-the-barrel” financing, the odds are that the shale producers will have a very hard time finding more borrowed money to keep up the relentless pace of drilling needed to stay ahead of the short depletion rates. They are also running out “sweet spots” that are worth drilling.
We will look back on the shale oil frenzy of 2005 to 2015 as a very interesting industrial stunt borne of desperation. It gave a floundering industry something to do with all its equipment and its trained personnel, and it gave wishful hucksters something to wish for, but it never penciled-out economically. Shale oil production turned down in 2015 and the money will not be there to get the production back to where it was before the price crash. Ever.
Some additional uncomfortable truths should temper the manic fantasies of hypsters like Mauldin. One is that we are no longer in the cheap oil age. All the new oil available now is expensive oil — whether it’s Bakken shale or deep water or arctic oil — and it costs too much for our techno-industrial society to run on. That is why the world financial system is imploding: we can’t borrow enough money from the future to keep this game going, and we can’t pay back the money we’ve already borrowed. We have to get another game going, one consistent with contraction and with much lower energy use. But that is not an acceptable option to the people running things. They are determined to keep the current matrix of rackets going at all costs, and the certain result will be very messy collapse of economies and governments.
Industrial economies face a fatal predicament: Oil above $75/barrel crushes economies; under $75/barrel it crushes oil companies. We’ve oscillated back and forth between those conditions since 2005. The net effect in the USA is that the middle class is rapidly going broke. All the financial shenanigans aimed at propping up Wall Street and Potemkin stock markets was carried out at the expense of the middle class, now deprived of jobs, incomes, vocations, stability, and prospects. They may already be at the point where they can’t afford oil at any price. That “energy deflation” dynamic, in the words of Steve Ludlum at the Economic Undertow blog, is a self-reinforcing feedback loop that beats a path straight to epochal paradigm shift: get smaller, get local, get real, or get out.
The hypsters and hucksters won’t believe this until it jumps up and bites them on the lips. These are the same idiots who believe we are going to continue Happy Motoring by other means — self-driving, all-electric cars — and who think there is some reason for human beings to travel to other planets when we haven’t even demonstrated that we can plausibly continue life on this one.
As I averred last week, America is at the bottom of a self-knowledge low cycle in which we are incapable of constructing a coherent story about what is happening to us. The techno-industrial fiesta was such a special experience that we can’t believe it might be coming to an end. So, one option is to believe stories that have no basis in reality. As Tom McGuane wrote some forty years ago: “Life in the old USA gizzard had changed and only a clown could fail to notice. So being a clown was a possibility.”
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.
Off the keyboard of Yanis Varoufakis
Published on Yanis Varoufakis Blog on August 17, 2015
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The Third Greek MoU is now enshrined in Greek Law. Written in troika-speak it is almost impossible to decypher by those not speaking this unappetising language. Click here for the complete MoU text annotated liberally by yours truly – in pdf form. It is best read in conjunction with my annotated version of the EuroSummit Agreement of 12th July.
My question to Christine Lagarde, Eurogroup 25th June 2015 – as narrated by Landon Thomas in the NYT
During the 25th June 2015 Eurogroup, the institutions presented me, in the form of an effective utlimatum, with a comprehensive staff level agreement and funding plan (which I considered financially non-viable). It was the deal that Prime Minister Tsipras decided, on the following day, to put to the Greek people in the form of the now infamous referendum. During that Eurogroup meeting, I posed a question to Christine Lagarde: “Is it the view of the IMF that Greece’s debt is sustainable under the proposed agreement?” Ms Lagarde, when her turn came to speak, tried to skrt the issue but, in the end, conceded that Greece’s public debt “had to be looked at again”. At that point, the Eurogroup President Dijsselbloem interrupted the proceedings and addressed me with the express threat that, if the Greek government insisted on discussing a debt restructure, there would be no deal. I shall have a lot more to say on this and related matters in due course. For now, here is how Landon Thomas Jr narrates this story in his recent NYT piece.
For Landon’s complete article click here. Relevant extracts are copied below
In January of this year, the anti-austerity party of Alexis Tspiras came to power. By April, negotiations over debt repayment had stalled, the government was hemorrhaging cash, and the economy was at a standstill.
On Easter Sunday, Yanis Varoufakis, who had become Greece’s finance minister, flew to Washington to meet with Mr. Thomsen and Christine Lagarde, who became the I.M.F.’s chief in late 2013, and threatened to stop payment on more than a billion dollars in loans that were soon coming due.
Relations between fund officials and the Greeks had reached their nadir. Mr. Tsipras said that the fund had “criminal responsibility” for the crisis, and Mr. Varoufakis was telling people that Mr. Thomsen’s work in Greece would go down in history as the I.M.F.’s greatest failure.
Yet having run the numbers, the fund now accepted the central argument being made by Mr. Varoufakis: Greece was bankrupt and needed debt relief from Europe to survive.
The fund was also feeling the pressure from the non-European members of its board who questioned the huge commitment to Greece (currently about $15 billion) relative to the small size of its economy.
Ms. Lagarde and David Lipton, her top deputy, became more insistent, pressing European nations that economic reforms alone were not enough and that a debt restructuring would be needed as well.
In late April, Mr. Thomsen took up the issue once more at a critical meeting of European finance ministers in Riga, Latvia.
Two months later, Ms. Lagarde found herself at the Brussels meeting of European finance ministers, with the country’s future in the eurozone hanging in the balance.
The Europeans were pressuring Mr. Varoufakis to agree to an austerity-loaded debt deal that he was resisting.
I have a question for Christine, he said. Can the I.M.F. formally state in this meeting that this proposal we are being asked to sign will make the Greek debt sustainable?
She could not. And when Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister and lead negotiator for Europe, cut off all discussion of debt relief, the die was cast.
Back at I.M.F. headquarters in Washington, the decision was unanimous: It would go public with its assessment that Greece’s debt situation was hopeless.
‘Old Wine in a New Bottle’
The 19 countries of the euro area make up the I.M.F.’s largest shareholder base, but as the world’s financial watchdog, the fund also represents 169 other nations.
If the I.M.F. wants to be seen as an international, as opposed to a European, monetary fund, it must prove that it can speak with an independent voice. And if that means arguing that Europe, its senior partner in these talks, needs to take a loss on its loans — well, so be it.
Many have commended the fund for going public with its views. But the release of its debt reports has not yet had any practical effect.
The latest bailout is heavy on austerity measures like privatization of power companies and seaports, reduced pensions and tax increases in shipping and tourism, and says nothing about debt relief.
“This is old wine in a new bottle,” said Meghan E. Greene, chief economist at Manulife in Boston. “I see very little chance that the bailout will succeed — it’s too much like the other ones.”
Would it have made a difference if the fund had officially broken with Europe in the spring, when it began to conclude that the Greek debt had become unmanageable?
Probably not, says Susan Schadler, a former I.M.F. economist and author of a widely read paper on the fund’s Greece saga.
But she argues that by not forcing creditors to take a loss back in 2010, the pain has been borne almost exclusively by the Greeks themselves, and not by bond investors.
“The fund should have pushed for a restructuring then,” she said. “That, after all, is its job — to assess the risks and say whether or not the debt is sustainable.”
Aired on the Doomstead Diner on May 6, 2015
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…Radio Shack itself filed for Bankruptcy a couple of months ago, and as of today I read the carcass has now been acquired by Sprint for pennies on the dollar. They acquired 1435 Retail Locations now to be rebranded as Sprint stores hawking their wireless communication products. I don;t know if the Radio Shack store here in the Mat Valley is one of the ones they will keep open or not since the total number of locations was around 4000, so it's less than half. I'll have to cruise over there tomorrow and check. Even if they are still open, will they still be selling batteries for my 3-4 year old Samsung Galaxy Mega in a year or two? Will Sprint still be in bizness or acquired by ATT? WTF Knows?
On other fronts, you have your EV Carz, notably the Chevy Volt which GM announced it is discontinuing in its current form through the summer minimum, to be replaced by an All New & Improved Volt which will come out in 2016 I believe, along with a new all Electric Bolt. All electric as opposed to Volts, which are hybrids that have a small ICE engine that recharges a smaller battery pack than the all electrics have to have on board…
For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!
First published at The Daily Impact March 11, 2015
The setup continues of the double train wreck that will decimate the U.S. economy this year; the switches have been thrown to prevent either train from leaving the track, and the engines are accelerating. It doesn’t take much perspective, now, to see both trains, closing fast.
[Note: The Crash of 2015 is not expected to be the collapse of the global industrial economy, which will take a little longer. Just another lurch downward of the shatteredTitanic, further unsettling those passengers who do not believe in icebergs.]
The end of the first quarter of 2014 will mark the end of the beginning of this disaster. Train Number One, the fracking oil industry, has only enough fuel on board to go a few more miles — it’s accelerating nevertheless, to impress its passengers — but that’s okay because impact will occur just before the engine quits. Train Number Two, the stock market, which for years has been speeding along the edge of a cliff, burning seemingly endless supplies of cheap money, has nowhere to go but down.
For Train Number One, fracking, the beginning of the beginning was last year’s plunge in crude oil prices. That led to massive and spreading layoffs, a stark decline in the number of rigs fracking for oil, but no reduction in production. The reason: every producer in the fracking patch is up to its eyeballs in debt because each of these 10-million-dollar wells is only good for a couple of years of good production.
So what has March brought us from the patch, as the trains roll on?
- On Monday (March 9), Houston-based oil and gas company BPZ filed for bankruptcy, one day before defaulting on a $60 million payment due to bondholders.
- On Sunday (March 8) Dune Energy of Houston went into bankruptcy after its sale to another company fell through because of — wait for it — lack of financing.
- On Monday (March 2) American Eagle Energy Corporation of Colorado announced that it would not be able to make a $9.8 million interest payment due on a bond issue of $175 million. The interesting thing is, it would have been the very first interest payment on the bonds, which were issued just seven months ago. American Eagle shares have lost 96 per cent of their value; you can snap them up for 20 cents apiece.
- Whiting Petroleum, one of the larger operators in North Dakota’s Bakken play, and occupier of one of the sweetest of the sweet spots in that field, has put itself up for sale as a last resort to avoid bankruptcy. Sure, it had an operating profit of $1.8 billion last year, but to stay on the well-replacement treadmill it had to spend $2.9 billion. Nearly six billion dollars in debt, the company has an apparent net worth (total equity – total debt) of about 65 million.
- The U.S. Energy Information Agency, a longtime cheerleader for the oil “revolution,” predicts that April will see only a tiny increase — the slightest in four years — in U.S. production, because of the 41% decline since December in the number of oil rigs at work. Doesn’t take a crystal ball to see a flatline, or a decline, in May.
How are things going on Train Number Two, the stock market? For a full, hair-igniting analysis read David Stockman’s essay, “Six Years Of Bull Market Bull.” Have the Pepto Bismol handy.
Suffice it to say here in summary that price-earning ratios remain swollen and inflamed, volatility remains violent, and leveraging is still malevolent. Or to put it in non-technical terms: the overwhelming majority of real businesses and real people are suffering and losing ground, while the stock market and the government estimates of “growth” magically levitate into the ether. This is what goeth before a fall.
Thus endeth the beginning. The middle of the end starts April one, when banks review the value of the assets on which they have given credit, and when all kinds of bonds and interest payments will be due.
Hear the rails humming? The trains are coming.
Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.
Off the keyboard of John Ward
Published on The Slog on February 26, 2015
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Yanis Varoufakis was caught in the headlights last Friday: he should stop denying it
The anti-‘deal’ leaks from the ECB, Berlin, the IMF and Brussels have been in full flow since Tuesday evening. It’s all terribly predictable: a clever process of suggesting that – purely out the goodness of their hearts – Troika2 is going to cut Greece some slack….even though T2 has – to tot up the list to date – ‘grave doubts’, ‘major reservations’, ‘worries about the lack of detail’, and ‘concerns about achievability’. There is slack rope, and there is enough rope to hang oneself.
The stench of hypocrisy in all this is vomit-inducing: Greece is being set up to fail, and in the meantime the ECB will continue its covert policy of creating bank cash-flow problems…ensuring that Syriza comes across as a Skid Row lush dependent upon never-ending welfare.
From Yanis Varoufakis, the Master of Game Theory, there has been little since the sign-off beyond rationalisation. In an interview with the Irish Times’s Damian Mac Con Uladh today, Mr Varoufakis gives us:
“Good compromises don’t always satisfy everyone, and leave in a sense everyone somewhat dissatisfied. But the mandate from our party, our government and my prime minister was very straightforward. To get a deal done. So, compromise. The question is if we have compromised our basic principle. And the answer is a big, fat no….Our mandate was to struggle against this black and white, this either/or, and to create a third way….It’s a triumph for democracy and marks the end of automated austerity….Anything is better than confining us to an austerity hole where we shrink every day.”
Compare and contrast that entirely reasonable attitude with this BBC interview on February 3rd:
“”Europe in its infinite wisdom decided to deal with this bankruptcy by loading the largest loan in human history on the weakest of shoulders… What we’ve been having ever since is a kind of fiscal waterboarding that has turned this nation into a debt colony….[the Troika is] a committee built on rotten foundations…Greek democracy has chosen to stop going gently into the night. Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light….We are going to destroy the basis upon which they have built for decade after decade a system, a network that viciously sucks the energy and the economic power from everybody else in society.”
I’m being ironic: I vastly prefer the second (earlier) Varoufakis to the new relaunch. Today’s Irish Times interview shows Damian Mac Con Uladh giving Yanis an unbelievable easy ride on the subject of a fat, hairy mammoth in the room: the now well-documented way in which the Greek Finance Minister was ambushed by the Euromafia at 4.30 pm last Friday.
I recognise perfectly well that I’m breaking from the optimist pack, but then I do understand the sociopathy of that Mafia better than most Greeks. To be blunt, I think Varoufakis underestimated it; and last Friday, the breathtaking, bullying illegality of their input caught him napping.
I do not believe Syriza has bought time, I think it has sold principles. I’m sure Yanis knows all the tricks of Game Theory, but this is not a game. He is dealing with (as are we all sooner or later) a nasty and yet hopelessly splintered EU oligarchy of far greater venom than any existing in Greece. The division on the opposing side is what he missed.
It’s easy to define, and even easier to evidence: the Germans are fed up of the French, and losing faith in the Americans. That’s a very serious split, because the man with the most unaccountable power in the eurozone is Mario Draghi….who works for Wall Street. The French, meanwhile, bitterly resent the idea that a nasty piece of work like Wolfgang Schäuble will be eyeballing them during March…and if and when FiskalUnion ever comes to pass, telling them what they can and can’t spend 24/7. The idea that Paris has the remotest desire to acquiesce in that arrangement is ridiculous. Apart from anything else, it would hand millions of votes to both Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage.
On top of that we have a general trend in Southern Europe towards euroscepticism: the continuing growth of Podemos in Spain, and europhobic Berlusconi attitudes in Italy. These can only be encouraged by a flat refusal by Greece to deal with the idiots who caused the problem in the first place.
This is the perspective from Syriza that I find flawed: the much bigger picture. Last week, Varoufakis focused on it, and then lost the plot on Friday. He was a refusenik, but now he’s a pragmatist.
The post I wrote earlier this week laying out the story behind this was taken down by the Blue Meanies. I am therefore eternally grateful to the half-dozen Sloggers who still had it open and used page capture to return the piece to its rightful owner. It is reproduced below for anyone who missed it first time around.
GREECE CRISIS OPINION: TROIKA RISES FROM THE DEAD AS DRAGHI LEADS THE CHARGE, AND VAROUFAKIS EMPLOYS BRAVE FACE
Conflicting rumours surround the Syriza reform programme approval process tonight, but whatever emerges from this farcical trading of angels on a pinhead, I’m increasingly concerned as details of the
humiliation process programme ‘deal’ accepted by Yanis Varoufakis last Friday come to light. I don’t actually think the five-point italic hand-tying target codicils matter a damn to be honest, because they’re all unachievable anyway.
Far more relevant is what EC behaviour has been found acceptable to the Greek Government.
Did you know, for instance, that both the Gang of Four revisions, the Friday ambush, and the ELA threats/leaks to Greek banks were driven by Draghi?
Did you know that – in a direct sideswipe at rehiring Ministerial cleaners – there is a blanket ban under the agreement on any more public sector hiring?
Did you know that, just to rub in really hard that how they think the Greeks shit on their shoes, eurogroup told Varoufakis Friday that they were “handing over the judgement process to the organisation formally known as the Troika” – Draghi’s exact words. This was a direct hit on Syriza’s refusal to deal with the Troika. “Eurogroup will leave the details to this institution, who will present their view to eurogroup” he added.
Varafoukakis told CNN this evening that it was eurogroup who wanted more time to think, not the Troika. That is very, very economical with the truth – and not how other Syriza officials see it. The Troika has made it clear to eurogroup there are things they don’t like. As Naked Capitalism reported yesterday, ‘The Greek government is required to submit a list of reforms to the Troika by the end of day Monday. If it is not approved, the Eurogroup will meet on Tuesday.’
Guess what? Earlier this evening, Greek Channel NERIT announced that the eurogroup has asked Greece to submit a revised reforms list for its meeting Tuesday morning. The Guardian carries the same story.
I’m sorry, but at the minute Yanis Varoufakis isn’t coming out of this very well. For now, I support him to the hilt: but he is either going to resist the EC/ECB/creditors Troika or he isn’t. I know perfectly well that there are many among Athenian opinion-leaders who disagree with me about this. So perhaps – to illustrate the point – I might be allowed to relate an infamous Churchillian anecdote.
In the mid 1920s, WSC found himself seated next to a lady of liberal leanings at supper. Glad to have this arch anti-Communist to herself, the socialite took him to task about strike breaking, dissembling newspaper articles about the working class, and several other genuinely unpleasant dimensions of Churchill’s curate’s egg of a personality.
As ever when in the presence of what he regarded as uppity suffragettes, Winston was cutting and dismissive, telling the woman she should stick to worrying about her children and suitable marriages for her daughters – while remaining grateful for the fact that Britain had unwisely given her the vote.
“Mr Churchill,” said the shocked supper companion, “If I were married to you, I would put poison in your wine”.
“Madam,” Churchill lisped, “if I were married to you, I would drink it”.
Think of this as the “Drop dead” period of Syriza/EU insult exchanging immediately following the election.
Back in 1927, this not entirely auspicious exchange rapidly deteriorated, such that by the time pudding arrived, the lady concerned had reached the end of whatever short tether she possessed.
“Mr Churchill,” she said loudly, “You are the last person in the world I would ever marry”.
“Madam,” WSC responded, “A small part of marriage involves procreation in the bedroom. In order to show you what my real intentions are, under what circumstance would you consent to sleep with me?” The mortified woman hesitated, and then replied.
“There is no amount of money on Earth that would so persuade me”.
“Not even,” asked Winston, “£10 million?”. She laughed out loud.
“Don’t be ridiculous, that’s more than the Poor Relief budget. No woman is worth that”.
“Very well then,” said the future war leader, “Shall we say £500?”
“That is an insult,” she responded, “what do you take me for – a common prostitute?”
“Madam,” said Winston Churchill, “We have already established your profession. At this stage, we are merely haggling about the price”.
Fast forward to 2015: that’s what has been going on since Friday afternoon between Syriza and the Troika.
I don’t buy the “lose the battle, win the war” argument. While the Troika, Wall Street, US economic colonisation, EU fascism and banking sociopathy are indeed the enemy, this is a peace time exchange, not all-out war – yet. A strategic retreat is one thing: preparedness to cling to the driftwood of credibility is merely appeasement.
I’m now informed – in the last twenty minutes by a well-placed Syriza source – that fully eight Greek Cabinet members are opposed to acceptance of the deal. For myself, I feel cheated and made to look stupid by the hidden facts and cynical spin that followed Friday’s little re-enactment of the 1938 Munich crisis. But my feelings don’t matter a jot: let The Slog’s Saturday post stand as a testament to rushed judgement. More to the point is the reality that an opportunity to call the Troika bluff has been blown.
If Yanis Varoufakis wants to regain his dignity – and keep Syriza together – he needs to think very carefully about what Prime Minister Tsipras should be asked to accept tomorrow…and then sell to his Party. For what will it benefit a man if he buys time, yet sells his soul?
First published at The Daily Impact January 9, 2015
With oil prices at about half what they were six months ago, the most vulnerable players in the oil business, the frackers who brought about the new American Oil Revolution, are imploding. If you think that’s just their end of the boat sinking, no worries here, think again. They are, or were, the last best hope of continuing the oil bonanza, and they’re done. As soon as that fact is so obvious that even Faux News has to admit it (this may take a few months), it will dawn on us all that the very same thing is happening to the deep water drillers, the Arctic drillers and the tar sands wringers.
It would have happened at any oil price. The slump has merely brought it on sooner, and will force us to face — this year! — the reality that we will never again have quite enough cheap oil. That’s the meaning of the Crash of 2015. Now, about the schedule: Here’s what’s happened, what’s happening and what’s about to happen.
Old News (Since January 1)
WBH Energy files for bankruptcy protection. American Eagle Energy suspends all drilling operations. US Steel to close two plants making steel pipe for oil drillers, laying off 750. Dallas Federal Reserve Bank sees job losses of 250,000 in eight states.
New News (Last couple of days)
Resolute Energy, operating in Texas, Utah and Wyoming, has just borrowed $150 million from the “alternative” investment group Highbridge Capital at an effective interest rate (after fees, guarantees and other legerdemain) of as much as 25%. That is not a typo – twenty five per cent interest. It would be bad enough if Resolute had to borrow to keep on drilling, but this loan was taken for the sole purpose of avoiding default on previous debt (which, if negotiated more than six months ago in the prevailing market, probably cost around six per cent).
Sanchez Energy, after having announced a reduction in its capital spending plans in November, announced a second cut that brings its capital budget down to half what it was expected to be. This was one of several such announcements from around the world as the oil companies try to preserve cash by not spending as much on developing new wells.
Laricina Energy, operating in the Canadian tar sands with $1.3 billion in equity financing (from stock sales) and $150 million in four-year notes,is in default on the notes and needs another $350 million to do what it’s doing. Next step: probably liquidation.
News About to Happen
Any notion that this is all a temporary supply/demand correction in the oil business, and only the oil business, of a kind that we’ve seen many times before and that will right itself shortly, can most kindly be described as delusional. Here’s why.
These operators cannot simply shut down their wells and sit on their hands waiting for prices to go back up, because they are up to their eyeballs in debt, much of which has to be rolled over every few months, or they go out of existence. That is why they will pump oil until they are carried off in nets, because that’s the only way they can get any money. (That also explains why Saudi Arabia will not cut production to boost prices; that would cost the Saudis more than selling at low prices.)
The total amount of debt being carried by the fracking industry right now is double the amount of debt that was involved in subprime mortgages in 2008. The discovery that the 2008 debt was based on fictional assets and nonexistent ability to pay brought the economy of the world to its knees. If you believe that the current bubble will not do the same thing when the cost of credit triples (see Resolute Energy, above), the underlying assets vaporize (for example, the future value of a deposit of oil that cannot be recovered at a profit), taking with them into the ether the imaginary money that has been propping the whole industry up — if you believe the results will not be similar, I have some junk bonds to sell you.
Much of the money used to buy the junk bonds and provide the leveraged loans (meaning loans that no one in their right mind would ever grant given the security offered and the demonstrated ability to repay) has itself been borrowed. When the bottom floor of this house of cards collapses, it is not going to leave untouched the top floors. Imaginary money can buy stuff only when it is in motion. When the music stops, you discover that there aren’t any chairs to find safety in. None.
Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.
Aired on the Doomstead Diner on January 7, 2015
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…Back in 2012 when we opened the Diner for Bizness, one of the major Collapse stories of the day was the implosion of the Greek economy, the subsequent and continuing Bailouts by the IMF, and endless discussion across the blogosphereof whether the Greeks would Default, exit or be booted out from the Euro monetary union, etcetera.
3 years later here, after any number of rounds of bailouts (I have lost count), once again the Greeks are BACK in the Newz, since it looks increasingly likely that Alex Tsipras, Head of the Greek Syriza pretty far left party will wrest control from the quisling New Democracy Partyof Antonis Samaras which has followed the diktats of the hated “memorandum” forcing what is referred to in Newzspeak as “Austerity” down the throat of the Greek Population, Linda Lovelace style…
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Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn
Published on The Burning Platform on November 9, 2014
Discuss this article at the History Table inside the Diner
In Part One of this article I discussed the similarities between the Roman Empire and the American Empire at a high level. In this article I’ll delve into some specific similarities and rhymes between the fall of the Roman Empire and our modern day empire of debt, decay and decline. I’ll address our expansive level of bread and circuses and how defects in our human nature lead to people willingly sacrificing their liberty for promises of safety and security. All empires decline due to the same human failings and ours is no exception. If anything, ours will be far more spectacular and rapid due to our extreme level of hubris, arrogance, willful ignorance and warlike preference for dealing with foreign powers.
It seems there were a few visionary thinkers in the late 1950s who foresaw the dire course our former Republic was setting. Their writings were a prophecy and a warning. There was still time to change course and avoid the pitfalls that led to the Roman Empire collapse. In Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley warned against allowing a few amoral men using propaganda, scientific advancements, technology, brainwashing, and economics to control and manipulate a willfully ignorant populace into a dystopian dictatorship. The Soviet and Chinese dictatorships of the late 1950s are long gone, but Huxley foresaw how modern propaganda techniques would be used by the state to drown the masses in a sea of triviality, irrelevance, and consumerism.
“In their propaganda today’s dictators rely for the most part on repetition, suppression and rationalization — the repetition of catchwords which they wish to be accepted as true, the suppression of facts which they wish to be ignored, the arousal and rationalization of passions which may be used in the interests of the Party or the State. As the art and science of manipulation come to be better understood, the dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine these techniques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrelevance the rational propaganda essential to the maintenance of individual liberty and the survival of democratic institutions.”
Another man of vision was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. As someone who understood the military industrial complex and the world of politics and power, he knew the danger of allowing the arms industry to dictate the foreign policy of the country. Maintaining a military empire bankrupted Rome and it is bankrupting the American empire. Eisenhower’s warning was unheeded.
“We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”
When I was researching the similarities between the fall of the Roman Empire and our American Empire fall in progress, I stumbled across an essay written in 1956 by Ben Moreell called Of Bread and Circuses.
Toxic Bread, iGadgets, Circuses, & Zoloft
“The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease. The moral decay of the people was not caused by the doles and the games. These merely provided a measure of their degradation. Things that were originally good had become perverted and, as Shakespeare reminds us, ‘Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.’” – Ben Moreell – 1956 – Of Bread and Circuses
There is nothing inherently evil about food, iPhones, professional sports, television, computers, music or medicine. Human beings need food to sustain them, entertainment to provide relaxation and diversion from their daily labors, and medicine to alleviate illness and prolong their lives. Only when the people allow themselves to be lured into servitude by malevolent purveyors of bread and circuses does the perversion of seemingly harmless things begin to fester and overwhelm a nation with the fetid stench of decay and decadence. The moral degeneration of the American populace, like the Roman people before them, happened slowly over time as they sold their liberty, freedom, and self-respect for full bellies, an endless array of modern day distractions, and promises from their highly educated rulers they would be taken care of and protected from all threats to their well-being, whether foreign, domestic, physical, mental, or social.
It did not happen all at once. It happened gradually over time. We allowed the weaker facets of our human nature to succumb to the pleasurable promises of a minority of power seeking manipulative men who always attempt to control and influence the majority because they believe they are wiser and deserving of riches, glory and supremacy. The greediest, most arrogant, ambitious and well educated amongst us tend to rise to the top in all societies. As Ben Franklin stated, only a virtuous people can keep sociopaths from gaining control of our political, economic and financial systems and perverting a republic built upon a foundation of free markets, liberty, and self-sufficiency.
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”– Benjamin Franklin
Historian Tacitus noted, as Rome became more and more corrupt, the number of laws grew rapidly. The Roman aristocracy, through corruption and thievery achieved lofty status in Roman society. Senators and wealthy knights engaged in extensive practices of conspicuous consumption, creating palatial town houses and monumental “art villas” to demonstrate their high rank in society. The peasants sank into poverty, while being satiated with bread and circuses. And it was all done legally, just as it is being done legally today by our beloved aristocracy and their minions.
“The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” – Tacitus – The Annals of Imperial Rome
Has the proliferation of laws, rules, and regulations over the last century made us freer, safer and less corrupt?
The virtue of the American people has dissipated rapidly over the last century through their willful ignorance, laziness, apathy, vanity, greed and covetousness, while the true ruling power has consciously and intelligently manipulated the masses without them being aware they were being molded, controlled, dominated and influenced by Ivy League educated men of no conscious, empathy, or sense of decency. The paragraph below, written in 1928 by Edward Bernays, reveals the true nature of our “democracy” and our real masters:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” – Edward Bernays – Propaganda
Bernays and his disciples believed the American citizenry nothing more than a herd of irrational animals that needed to be led by enlightened despots like him and other highly educated wealthy men who knew what was best in a democratic society. The term propaganda developed negative connotations after some Germans used it so effectively during the 1930s, so modern American despots changed the term to public relations. It’s all about the message. As media tools have become more technologically advanced and the study of human psychology perfected, the members of the invisible government have achieved their goal of governing, molding, and pulling the wires that control the public mind in a way that enriches them and their benefactors while satisfying the base needs of the masses and keeping them distracted with trivialities, technological wonders, and a myriad of bogeyman threats. These men have contempt for the common man. They have contempt for the U.S. Constitution. They have contempt for free markets. And they have control of our country.
Needs, Wants & Desires
The concept of bread and circuses ties closely to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. The ruling class realizes the masses must be kept fed, clothed and housed or revolution would ensue. The human needs documented by Maslow were satisfied or not satisfied by humans prior to the 20th century. Once the ruling class gained control of the monetary system through their jurisdiction over the Federal Reserve and the fiscal system through their manipulation of taxes and spending, they were able to bribe the masses with their own money. The rise of the welfare state has not reduced poverty or boosted the standard of living of the poor. It has enslaved tens of millions at the basic human needs level. Once those in power had successfully bribed the masses with bread (SNAP), shelter (subsidized housing), subsistence (unemployment compensation & welfare), security (Social Security) and safety (Medicare, Medicaid), it was only necessary to keep them distracted with circuses to efficiently teach them to love their servitude.
“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.” – Aldous Huxley – Brave New World
The invisible governing authorities don’t want the masses to actually satisfy their psychological and self-fulfillment needs. The last thing they want is an educated, aware, critical thinking, independent, courageous, self-reliant, civic minded populace questioning the motivations of their keepers. This is where the corporate fascists who control the mass media propaganda machine and the sickcare industrial complex have combined forces to create a painless concentration camp of prisoners enjoying their servitude and happy to sacrifice their liberty for perceived safety. An uneducated, obese, sickly, depressed, overly-medicated populace is not a threat to the ruling class. They have been conditioned and pharmacologically sedated to such an extent the governing class feels indestructible, displaying arrogance and hubris in dangerous doses.
“There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it.” – Aldous Huxley
The concept of voluntary servitude has been a constant theme across the ages as most people want to be led, told what to do, and will not question or contest those in authority. Liberty and freedom require effort, sacrifice, honor and a people with a strong moral character. The Roman people succumbed to tyranny by abandoning their liberty to despots for a full belly and grand spectacles. The American people have succumbed to modern day banker, billionaire and politician oligarchs for a belly full of toxic corporate processed food, cable HDTV with 600 stations, iGadgets, a never ending supply of cheap Chinese produced crap at big box retail stores, Facebook, Twitter, 24 hour drive thru Dunkin Donuts joints, and an endless array of professional sporting events, all paid for with an infinite supply of cheap consumer debt from the Wall Street fraud machine. We live in a warfare/welfare surveillance state built on a foundation of debt, consumerism, and delusion, with no tears. We’ve learned to love our servitude.
French philosopher Etienne de La Boetie captured the degradation of the once noble Roman people five centuries ago, and his words ring true today as the American people have foolishly relinquished their liberty to a corporate aristocracy that has bankrupted the nation, debased the currency, pillaged the middle class and set in motion an irreversible decline of the empire.
“Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else.
The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, ‘Long live the King!’ The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them.” – Etienne de La Boétie – Discourse on Voluntary Servitude – 1548
We are fools to not realize the governing authorities who benevolently distribute bread and entitlements to the masses have already taken the money at gunpoint from the people, while syphoning off their cut, favoring their courtesans and taking away our liberties and freedoms. H.L. Mencken, who could match de La Boetie in contempt for the ignorant masses and corrupt politicians, understood our democracy was destined for the trash heap of history.
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” – H.L. Mencken – Notes on Democracy
In Part Three of this article I will address how the creation of the Federal Reserve has led to a century of currency debasement, mindless consumption and endless warfare, while impoverishing the masses and setting in motion the dynamics of empire collapse.
Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn
Published on The Burning Platform on September 13, 2014
Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner
“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”
― Mark Twain
I never believe government manufactured numbers. They will always be adjusted, massaged, and manipulated to achieve a happy ending for the propagandists attempting to control and fleece the sheep. Yesterday, the government produced retail sales numbers for August that were weak and the corporate MSM propaganda machine immediately threw up bold headlines declaring how strong these numbers were. Positive stories were published on the interwebs and Wall Street hack economists were rolled out on CNBC, where the bubble headed bimbos and prostitutes for the status quo like Jim Cramer and Steve Liesman declared the recovery gaining strength. Woo Hoo.
If everyone else is whipping out that credit card, why aren’t you? Credit card debt has reached a new post recession high. They tell me consumer confidence is soaring. Forget about the 92 million working age Americans supposedly not in the labor force. Forget about real household income hovering at 1999 levels. Forget about median household net worth still 30% lower than 2007. Forget about what you see with your own two eyes in malls, strip centers and office parks as you motor around our suburban sprawl empire of debt. Those Store Closing, Space Available, and For Lease signs mean nothing.
I didn’t get a chance to peruse the commerce department drivel until this morning. They put out unadjusted data and adjusted data. Shockingly, the adjusted data is always rosier than the unadjusted data. I wonder why? I can understand the rationale for adjusting month to month data due to holidays and calendar events. But I still don’t trust the adjustments. There should not be a major difference when comparing year over year data. The adjusted data should reflect the same relationship to the unadjusted data on a year over year basis. Well guess what? It appears our friendly government drones may be pumping the current data to give the appearance of recovery. Here are my observations after taking a look at the government propaganda report:
- The unadjusted retail sales were only 3.2% higher than last August. Considering government reported inflation of 2%, that is a pretty shitty result. But have no fear. The “ADJUSTED” retail sales for August were 5.0% higher than last August. WTF? Guess which number gets reported to the sheep?
- Hysterically, your government drones consider lending deadbeats $40,000 for seven years with no money down to drive away with a GM deathtrap SUV as a retail sale. The billions in subprime auto loans led to an 8.8% YoY surge in “ADJUSTED” auto sales. It seems the unadjusted number only went up 5.3%.
- When you back out the Federal Reserve/Wall Street pumped auto sales, which will ultimately result in billions of written off bad debt (you’ll pick up the tab), unadjusted retail sales were only 2.7% higher than last August. With real inflation of 5% or more, real retail sales are negative on a year over year basis.
- Despite financing deals of 4 years with no interest, furniture and electronics retail sales were flat versus last August. If there really is a housing recovery and 2.1 million more Americans are employed versus last August how could these discretionary sales be flat, and negative on an inflation adjusted basis?
- Grocery store sales were up only 2.1% over last year. Even the government is reporting 2.7% food inflation in the last year. We all know it is closer to 10%, so people are actually reducing the amount of food they are buying. That is a sure sign of an economic recovery.
- Clothing store sales were flat and department store sales were negative versus last August. So much for the back to school storyline. I do believe August is back to school time. The Sears and JC Penney Bataan Death March trudges toward bankruptcy.
- What did surge was sales at restaurants and bars. They soared by 6.8% versus last August. We already know Darden, Yum Brands and McDonalds have reported dreadful results, so either the government is lying, soaring food prices are being passed on to customers, or people are so depressed by this awesome economic recovery they are drinking themselves into a stupor.
As a side note on the accuracy of this government data, in a previous role at IKEA, when I was a much younger man, I was responsible for filling out the monthly government retail surveys for the Census Bureau. The government drones collecting this data do not check it. They do not require proof that it is right. It is self reported by retailers across the country. Filling out this crap for the government was about as low on my priority list as whale shit. If I was really busy, I’d make the numbers up, scribble them on the form and put it in the mail. The numbers the government are accumulating are crap. And then they massage the crap. And then they publish the crap as if it means something. It’s nothing but crap.
When you see the headlines touting strong retail sales, you need to consider what you are actually seeing in the real world. RadioShack will be filing for bankruptcy within months. Wet Seal will follow. Sears is about two years from a bankruptcy filing. JC Penney’s turnaround is a sham. They continue to lose hundreds of millions every quarter and will be filing for bankruptcy within the next couple years. Target and Wal-Mart continue to post awful sales results and have stopped expanding. And as you drive around in your leased BMW, you see more Space Available signs than operating outlets in every strip center in America.
My anecdotal proof of this relentless slow motion retail trainwreck is twofold. We received our second 30% off discount coupon from Kohl’s in the last three weeks. We are so indifferent to these constant offers that we didn’t even use the first one. I have to wear dress clothes to work every day, so I went over to Kohl’s this morning when they opened at 8:00 am to get some dress shirts and pants.
The parking lot was an oasis of empty spots and there were maybe 5 customers in the entire store. I went to the mens’ section and was shocked to see about two dozen 60% to 80% off racks. There are usually two or three racks. The store was overflowing with summer merchandise. Summer is over. The store should have been overflowing with Fall merchandise. They are clearly in the midst of an inventory disaster. I found excellent dress shirts on the 70% off rack. Everything I bought was at least 50% off, even before my 30% coupon and another $10 menswear coupon.
I live in a relatively upscale suburban area and still this Kohl’s is an absolute disaster. Their gross margin is going to be hammered. Profits are going to implode. Kohl’s has always been a favorite retailer of the middle class. Decent quality at reasonable prices. Their comp store sales were between positive 5% and 15% for years, until the 2008 financial collapse. Their struggles since then coincide with the decline of middle class incomes and the fake jobs recovery. The fact that they are spiraling downward flies in the face of the propaganda being spewed by the government and media.There is no recovery for the average American.
My second data point happened on Thursday. An accident on the Turnpike forced me to take Lincoln Drive and Germantown Pike home from work (1 hour and 55 minutes of agony). I hadn’t taken this route in about six months. Germantown Pike winds through the Chestnut Hill section of Philly. This is an artsy fartsy area with boutique retail, chic outlets, and fancy restaurants. The upper middle class frequents the area. The retail stores were always open, occupied and busy.
Not anymore. I saw dozens of empty storefronts, Space Available, and For Lease signs. The open stores had no customers. The trendy eating establishments had few patrons. Even the yuppie latte drinking areas are beginning to crumble. Every office park I passed had Space Available signs in front. The amount of vacant retail and office space in this country is too vast to comprehend and is being under-reported by the real estate whores whose job it is to rent space. Ignoring the facts and the truth doesn’t change the facts and the truth.
Do you believe the government and the corporate media, or do you believe your own two eyes?
You can ignore the government reported happy talk. When retailers and restaurants report their actual sales and profits, the truth shall be revealed. It will set you free.
Off the microphone of RE
Aired on the Doomstead Diner on July 13, 2014
Discuss this Rant at the Podcast Table inside the Diner
…Back today to real Diner MEAT, the Economic Kabuki ongoing across the globe as the Jokers & Clowns in charge scramble to keep all their Balls in the Air here, rather than being strung up by them. Even Master Juggler Ray Jason could not keep so many Testicles in the air at the same time.
The latest Testicle to come crashing to earth is in Portugal, Banco Espirito Santo is now on the rocks since its parent company defaulted on some debt payments. Espirito Santo translates to Spirit of the Saint, and these folks can only hope that Jesus drops down from Heaven and multiplies the Deposits in their bank like Fishies and Loaves of Bread….
For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!
Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn
Published on The Burning Platform on May 25, 2014
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The definition of death rattle is a sound often produced by someone who is near death when fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulate in the throat and upper chest. The person can’t swallow and emits a deepening wheezing sound as they gasp for breath. This can go on for two or three days before death relieves them of their misery. The American retail industry is emitting an unmistakable wheezing sound as a long slow painful death approaches.
It was exactly four months ago when I wrote THE RETAIL DEATH RATTLE. Here are a few terse anecdotes from that article:
The absolute collapse in retail visitor counts is the warning siren that this country is about to collide with the reality Americans have run out of time, money, jobs, and illusions. The exponential growth model, built upon a never ending flow of consumer credit and an endless supply of cheap fuel, has reached its limit of growth. The titans of Wall Street and their puppets in Washington D.C. have wrung every drop of faux wealth from the dying middle class. There are nothing left but withering carcasses and bleached bones.
Once the Wall Street created fraud collapsed and the waves of delusion subsided, retailers have been revealed to be swimming naked. Their relentless expansion, based on exponential growth, cannibalized itself, new store construction ground to a halt, sales and profits have declined, and the inevitable closing of thousands of stores has begun.
The implications of this long and winding road to ruin are far reaching. Store closings so far have only been a ripple compared to the tsunami coming to right size the industry for a future of declining spending. Over the next five to ten years, tens of thousands of stores will be shuttered. Companies like JC Penney, Sears and Radio Shack will go bankrupt and become historical footnotes. Considering retail employment is lower today than it was in 2002 before the massive retail expansion, the future will see in excess of 1 million retail workers lose their jobs. Bernanke and the Feds have allowed real estate mall owners to roll over non-performing loans and pretend they are generating enough rental income to cover their loan obligations. As more stores go dark, this little game of extend and pretend will come to an end.
Retail store results for the 1st quarter of 2014 have been rolling in over the last week. It seems the hideous government reported retail sales results over the last six months are being confirmed by the dying bricks and mortar mega-chains. In case you missed the corporate mainstream media not reporting the facts and doing their usual positive spin, here are the absolutely dreadful headlines:
Wal-Mart Profit Plunges By $220 Million as US Store Traffic Declines by 1.4%
Target Profit Plunges by $80 Million, 16% Lower Than 2013, as Store Traffic Declines by 2.3%
Sears Loses $358 Million in First Quarter as Comparable Store Sales at Sears Plunge by 7.8% and Sales at Kmart Plunge by 5.1%
JC Penney Thrilled With Loss of Only $358 Million For the Quarter
Kohl’s Operating Income Plunges by 17% as Comparable Sales Decline by 3.4%
Costco Profit Declines by $84 Million as Comp Store Sales Only Increase by 2%
Staples Profit Plunges by 44% as Sales Collapse and Closing Hundreds of Stores
Gap Income Drops 22% as Same Store Sales Fall
American Eagle Profits Tumble 86%, Will Close 150 Stores
Aeropostale Losses $77 Million as Sales Collapse by 12%
Best Buy Sales Decline by $300 Million as Margins Decline and Comparable Store Sales Decline by 1.3%
Macy’s Profit Flat as Comparable Store Sales decline by 1.4%
Dollar General Profit Plummets by 40% as Comp Store Sales Decline by 3.8%
Urban Outfitters Earnings Collapse by 20% as Sales Stagnate
McDonalds Earnings Fall by $66 Million as US Comp Sales Fall by 1.7%
Darden Profit Collapses by 30% as Same Restaurant Sales Plunge by 5.6% and Company Selling Red Lobster
TJX Misses Earnings Expectations as Sales & Earnings Flat
Dick’s Misses Earnings Expectations as Golf Store Sales Plummet
Home Depot Misses Earnings Expectations as Customer Traffic Only Rises by 2.2%
Lowes Misses Earnings Expectations as Customer Traffic was Flat
Of course, those headlines were never reported. I went to each earnings report and gathered the info that should have been reported by the CNBC bimbos and hacks. Anything you heard surely had a Wall Street spin attached, like the standard BETTER THAN EXPECTED. I love that one. At the start of the quarter the Wall Street shysters post earnings expectations. As the quarter progresses, the company whispers the bad news to Wall Street and the earnings expectations are lowered. Then the company beats the lowered earnings expectation by a penny and the Wall Street scum hail it as a great achievement. The muppets must be sacrificed to sustain the Wall Street bonus pool. Wall Street investment bank geniuses rated JC Penney a buy from $85 per share in 2007 all the way down to $5 a share in 2013. No more needs to be said about Wall Street “analysis”.
It seems even the lowered expectation scam hasn’t worked this time. U.S. retailer profits have missed lowered expectations by the most in 13 years. They generally “beat” expectations by 3% when the game is being played properly. They’ve missed expectations in the 1st quarter by 3.2%, the worst miss since the fourth quarter of 2000. If my memory serves me right, I believe the economy entered recession shortly thereafter. The brilliant Ivy League trained Wall Street MBAs, earning high six digit salaries on Wall Street, predicted a 13% increase in retailer profits for the first quarter. A monkey with a magic 8 ball could do a better job than these Wall Street big swinging dicks.
The highly compensated flunkies who sit in the corner CEO office of the mega-retail chains trotted out the usual drivel about cold and snowy winter weather and looking forward to tremendous success over the remainder of the year. How do these excuse machine CEO’s explain the success of many high end retailers during the first quarter? Doesn’t weather impact stores that cater to the .01%? The continued unrelenting decline in profits of retailers, dependent upon the working class, couldn’t have anything to do with this chart? It seems only the oligarchs have made much progress over the last four decades.
Retail CEO gurus all think they have a master plan to revive sales. I’ll let you in on a secret. They don’t really have a plan. They have no idea why they experienced tremendous success from 2000 through 2007, and why their businesses have not revived since the 2008 financial collapse. Retail CEOs are not the sharpest tools in the shed. They were born on third base and thought they hit a triple. Now they are stranded there, with no hope of getting home. They should be figuring out how to position themselves for the multi-year contraction in sales, but their egos and hubris will keep them from taking the actions necessary to keep their companies afloat in the next decade. Bankruptcy awaits. The front line workers will be shit canned and the CEO will get a golden parachute. It’s the American way.
The secret to retail success before 2007 was: create or copy a successful concept; get Wall Street financing and go public ASAP; source all your inventory from Far East slave labor factories; hire thousands of minimum wage level workers to process transactions; build hundreds of new stores every year to cover up the fact the existing stores had deteriorating performance; convince millions of gullible dupes to buy cheap Chinese shit they didn’t need with money they didn’t have; and pretend this didn’t solely rely upon cheap easy debt pumped into the veins of American consumers by the Federal Reserve and their Wall Street bank owners. The financial crisis in 2008 revealed everyone was swimming naked, when the tide of easy credit subsided.
The pundits, politicians and delusional retail CEOs continue to await the revival of retail sales as if reality doesn’t exist. The 1 million retail stores, 109,000 shopping centers, and nearly 15 billion square feet of retail space for an aging, increasingly impoverished, and savings poor populace might be a tad too much and will require a slight downsizing – say 3 or 4 billion square feet. Considering the debt fueled frenzy from 2000 through 2008 added 2.7 billion square feet to our suburban sprawl concrete landscape, a divestiture of that foolish investment will be the floor. If you think there are a lot of SPACE AVAILABLE signs dotting the countryside, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The mega-chains have already halted all expansion. That was the first step. The weaker players like Radio Shack, Sears, Family Dollar, Coldwater Creek, Staples, Barnes & Noble, Blockbuster and dozens of others are already closing stores by the hundreds. Thousands more will follow.
This isn’t some doom and gloom prediction based on nothing but my opinion. This is the inevitable result of demographic certainties, unequivocal data, and the consequences of a retailer herd mentality and lemming like behavior of consumers. The open and shut case for further shuttering of 3 to 4 billion square feet of retail is as follows:
- There is 47 square feet of retail space per person in America. This is 8 times as much as any other country on earth. This is up from 38 square feet in 2005; 30 square feet in 2000; 19 square feet in 1990; and 4 square feet in 1960. If we just revert to 2005 levels, 3 billion square feet would need to go dark. Does that sound outrageous?
- Annual consumer expenditures by those over 65 years old drop by 40% from their highest spending years from 45 to 54 years old. The number of Americans turning 65 will increase by 10,000 per day for the next 16 years. There were 35 million Americans over 65 in 2000, accounting for 12% of the total population. By 2030 there will be 70 million Americans over 65, accounting for 20% of the total population. Do you think that bodes well for retailers?
- Half of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 have no retirement savings. The other half has accumulated $52,000 or less. It seems the debt financed consumer product orgy of the last two decades has left most people nearly penniless. More than 50% of workers aged 25 to 44 report they have less than $10,000 of total savings.
- The lack of retirement and general savings is reflected in the historically low personal savings rate of a miniscule 3.8%. Before the materialistic frenzy of the last couple decades, rational Americans used to save 10% or more of their personal income. With virtually no savings as they approach their retirement years and an already extremely low savings rate, do retail CEOs really see a spending revival on the horizon?
- If you thought the savings rate was so low because consumers are flush with cash and so optimistic about their job prospects they are unconcerned about the need to save for a rainy day, you would be wrong. It has been raining for the last 14 years. Real median household income is 7.5% lower today than it was in 2001. Retailers added 2.7 billion square feet of retail space as real household income fell. Sounds rational.
- This decline in household income may have something to do with the labor participation rate plummeting to the lowest level since 1978. There are 247.4 million working age Americans and only 145.7 million of them employed (19 million part-time; 9 million self-employed; 20 million employed by the government). There are 92 million Americans, who according to the government have willingly left the workforce, up by 13.3 million since 2007 when over 146 million Americans were employed. You’d have to be a brainless twit to believe the unemployment rate is really 6.3% today. Retail sales would be booming if the unemployment rate was really that low.
- With a 16.5% increase in working age Americans since 2000 and only a 6.5% increase in employed Americans, along with declining real household income, an inquisitive person might wonder how retail sales were able to grow from $3.3 trillion in 2000 to $5.1 trillion in 2013 – a 55% increase. You need to look no further than your friendly Too Big To Trust Wall Street banks for the answer. In the olden days of the 1970s and early 1980s Americans put 10% to 20% down to buy a house and then systematically built up equity by making their monthly payments. The Ivy League financial engineers created “exotic” (toxic) mortgage products requiring no money down, no principal payments, and no proof you could make a payment, in their control fraud scheme to fleece the American sheeple. Their propaganda machine convinced millions more to use their homes as an ATM, because home prices never drop. Just ask Ben Bernanke. Even after the Bernanke/Blackrock fake housing recovery (actual mortgage originations now at 1978 levels) household real estate percent equity is barely above 50%, well below the 70% levels before the Wall Street induced debt debacle. With the housing market about to head south again, the home equity ATM will have an Out of Order sign on it.
- We hear the endless drivel from disingenuous Keynesian nitwits about government and consumer austerity being the cause of our stagnating economy. My definition of austerity would be an actual reduction in spending and debt accumulation. It seems during this time of austerity total credit market debt has RISEN from $53.5 trillion in 2009 to $59 trillion today. Not exactly austere, as the Federal government adds $2.2 billion PER DAY to the national debt, saddling future generations with the bill for our inability to confront reality. The American consumer has not retrenched, as the CNBC bimbos and bozos would have you believe. Consumer credit reached an all-time high of $3.14 trillion in March, up from $2.52 trillion in 2010. That doesn’t sound too austere to me. Of course, this increase is solely due to Obamanomics and Bernanke’s $3 trillion gift to his Wall Street owners. The doling out of $645 billion to subprime college “students” and subprime auto “buyers” since 2010 accounts for more than 100% of the increase. The losses on these asinine loans will be epic. Credit card debt has actually fallen as people realize it is their last lifeline. They are using credit cards to pay income taxes, real estate taxes, higher energy costs, higher food costs, and the other necessities of life.
The entire engineered “recovery” since 2009 has been nothing but a Federal Reserve/U.S. Treasury conceived, debt manufactured scam. These highly educated lackeys for the establishment have been tasked with keeping the U.S. Titanic afloat until the oligarchs can safely depart on the lifeboats with all the ship’s jewels safely stowed in their pockets. There has been no housing recovery. There has been no jobs recovery. There has been no auto sales recovery. Giving a vehicle to someone with a 580 credit score with a 0% seven year loan is not a sale. It’s a repossession in waiting. The government supplied student loans are going to functional illiterates who are majoring in texting, facebooking and twittering. Do you think these indebted University of Phoenix dropouts living in their parents’ basements are going to spur a housing and retail sales recovery? This Keynesian “solution” was designed to produce the appearance of recovery, convince the masses to resume their debt based consumption, and add more treasure into the vaults of the Wall Street banks.
The master plan has failed miserably in reviving the economy. Savings, capital investment, and debt reduction are the necessary ingredients for a sustained healthy economic system. Debt based personal consumption of cheap foreign produced baubles & gadgets, $1 trillion government deficits to sustain the warfare/welfare state, along with a corrupt political and rigged financial system are the explosive concoction which will blow our economic system sky high. Facts can be ignored. Media propaganda can convince the willfully ignorant to remain so. The Federal Reserve can buy every Treasury bond issued to fund an out of control government. But eventually reality will shatter the delusions of millions as the debt based Ponzi scheme will run out of dupes and collapse in a flaming heap.
The inevitable shuttering of at least 3 billion square feet of retail space is a certainty. The aging demographics of the U.S. population, dire economic situation of both young and old, and sheer lunacy of the retail expansion since 2000, guarantee a future of ghost malls, decaying weed infested empty parking lots, retailer bankruptcies, real estate developer bankruptcies, massive loan losses for the banking industry, and the loss of millions of retail jobs. Since I always look for a silver lining in a black cloud, I predict a bright future for the SPACE AVAILABLE and GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign making companies.
Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn
Published on The Burning Platform on January 20, 2012
Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner
“I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they don’t want, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.” ― Emile Gauvreau
If ever a chart provided unequivocal proof the economic recovery storyline is a fraud, the one below is the smoking gun. November and December retail sales account for 20% to 40% of annual retail sales for most retailers. The number of visits to retail stores has plummeted by 50% since 2010. Please note this was during a supposed economic recovery. Also note consumer spending accounts for 70% of GDP. Also note credit card debt outstanding is 7% lower than its level in 2010 and 16% below its peak in 2008. Retailers like J.C. Penney, Best Buy, Sears, Radio Shack and Barnes & Noble continue to report appalling sales and profit results, along with listings of store closings. Even the heavyweights like Wal-Mart and Target continue to report negative comp store sales. How can the government and mainstream media be reporting an economic recovery when the industry that accounts for 70% of GDP is in free fall? The answer is that 99% of America has not had an economic recovery. Only Bernanke’s 1% owner class have benefited from his QE/ZIRP induced stock market levitation.
The entire economic recovery storyline is a sham built upon easy money funneled by the Fed to the Too Big To Trust Wall Street banks so they can use their HFT supercomputers to drive the stock market higher, buy up the millions of homes they foreclosed upon to artificially drive up home prices, and generate profits through rigging commodity, currency, and bond markets, while reducing loan loss reserves because they are free to value their toxic assets at anything they please – compliments of the spineless nerds at the FASB. GDP has been artificially propped up by the Federal government through the magic of EBT cards, SSDI for the depressed and downtrodden, never ending extensions of unemployment benefits, billions in student loans to University of Phoenix prodigies, and subprime auto loans to deadbeats from the Government Motors financing arm – Ally Financial (85% owned by you the taxpayer). The country is being kept afloat on an ocean of debt and delusional belief in the power of central bankers to steer this ship through a sea of icebergs just below the surface.
The absolute collapse in retail visitor counts is the warning siren that this country is about to collide with the reality Americans have run out of time, money, jobs, and illusions. The most amazingly delusional aspect to the chart above is retailers continued to add 44 million square feet in 2013 to the almost 15 billion existing square feet of retail space in the U.S. That is approximately 47 square feet of retail space for every person in America. Retail CEOs are not the brightest bulbs in the sale bin, as exhibited by the CEO of Target and his gross malfeasance in protecting his customers’ personal financial information. Of course, the 44 million square feet added in 2013 is down 85% from the annual increases from 2000 through 2008. The exponential growth model, built upon a never ending flow of consumer credit and an endless supply of cheap fuel, has reached its limit of growth. The titans of Wall Street and their puppets in Washington D.C. have wrung every drop of faux wealth from the dying middle class. There are nothing left but withering carcasses and bleached bones.
The impact of this retail death spiral will be vast and far reaching. A few factoids will help you understand the coming calamity:
- There are approximately 109,500 shopping centers in the United States ranging in size from the small convenience centers to the large super-regional malls.
- There are in excess of 1 million retail establishments in the United States occupying 15 billion square feet of space and generating over $4.4 trillion of annual sales. This includes 8,700 department stores, 160,000 clothing & accessory stores, and 8,600 game stores.
- U.S. shopping-center retail sales total more than $2.26 trillion, accounting for over half of all retail sales.
- The U.S. shopping-center industry directly employed over 12 million people in 2010 and indirectly generated another 5.6 million jobs in support industries. Collectively, the industry accounted for 12.7% of total U.S. employment.
- Total retail employment in 2012 totaled 14.9 million, lower than the 15.1 million employed in 2002.
- For every 100 individuals directly employed at a U.S. regional shopping center, an additional 20 to 30 jobs are supported in the community due to multiplier effects.
The collapse in foot traffic to the 109,500 shopping centers that crisscross our suburban sprawl paradise of plenty is irreversible. No amount of marketing propaganda, 50% off sales, or hot new iGadgets is going to spur a dramatic turnaround. Quarter after quarter there will be more announcements of store closings. Macys just announced the closing of 5 stores and firing of 2,500 retail workers. JC Penney just announced the closing of 33 stores and firing of 2,000 retail workers. Announcements are imminent from Sears, Radio Shack and a slew of other retailers who are beginning to see the writing on the wall. The vacancy rate will be rising in strip malls, power malls and regional malls, with the largest growing sector being ghost malls. Before long it will appear that SPACE AVAILABLE is the fastest growing retailer in America.
The reason this death spiral cannot be reversed is simply a matter of arithmetic and demographics. While arrogant hubristic retail CEOs of public big box mega-retailers added 2.7 billion retail square feet to our already over saturated market, real median household income flat lined. The advancement in retail spending was attributable solely to the $1.1 trillion increase (68%) in consumer debt and the trillion dollars of home equity extracted from castles in the sky, that later crashed down to earth. Once the Wall Street created fraud collapsed and the waves of delusion subsided, retailers have been revealed to be swimming naked. Their relentless expansion, based on exponential growth, cannibalized itself, new store construction ground to a halt, sales and profits have declined, and the inevitable closing of thousands of stores has begun. With real median household income 8% lower than it was in 2008, the collapse in retail traffic is a rational reaction by the impoverished 99%. Americans are using their credit cards to pay their real estate taxes, income taxes, and monthly utilities, since their income is lower, and their living expenses rise relentlessly, thanks to Bernanke and his Fed created inflation.
The media mouthpieces for the establishment gloss over the fact average gasoline prices in 2013 were the second highest in history. The highest average price was in 2012 and the 3rd highest average price was in 2011. These prices are 150% higher than prices in the early 2000′s. This might not matter to the likes of Jamie Dimon and Jon Corzine, but for a middle class family with two parents working and making 7.5% less than they made in 2000, it has a dramatic impact on discretionary income. The fact oil prices have risen from $25 per barrel in 2003 to $100 per barrel today has not only impacted gas prices, but utility costs, food costs, and the price of any product that needs to be transported to your local Wally World. The outrageous rise in tuition prices has been aided and abetted by the Federal government and their doling out of loans so diploma mills like the University of Phoenix can bilk clueless dupes into thinking they are on their way to an exciting new career, while leaving them jobless in their parents’ basement with a loan payment for life.
The laughable jobs recovery touted by Obama, his sycophantic minions, paid off economist shills, and the discredited corporate legacy media can be viewed appropriately in the following two charts, that reveal the false storyline being peddled to the techno-narcissistic iGadget distracted masses. There are 247 million working age Americans between the ages of 18 and 64. Only 145 million of these people are employed. Of these employed, 19 million are working part-time and 9 million are self- employed. Another 20 million are employed by the government, producing nothing and being sustained by the few remaining producers with their tax dollars. The labor participation rate is the lowest it has been since women entered the workforce in large numbers during the 1980′s. We are back to levels seen during the booming Carter years. Those peddling the drivel about retiring Baby Boomers causing the decline in the labor participation rate are either math challenged or willfully ignorant because they are being paid to be so. Once you turn 65 you are no longer counted in the work force. The percentage of those over 55 in the workforce has risen dramatically to an all-time high, as the Me Generation never saved for retirement or saw their retirement savings obliterated in the Wall Street created 2008 financial implosion.
To understand the absolute idiocy of retail CEOs across the land one must parse the employment data back to 2000. In the year 2000 the working age population of the U.S. was 213 million and 136.9 million of them were working, a record level of 64.4% of the population. There were 70 million working age Americans not in the labor force. Fourteen years later the number of working age Americans is 247 million and only 144.6 million are working. The working age population has risen by 16% and the number of employed has risen by only 5.6%. That’s quite a success story. Of course, even though median household income is 7.5% lower than it was in 2000, the government expects you to believe that 22 million Americans voluntarily left the labor force because they no longer needed a job. While the number of employed grew by 5.6% over fourteen years, the number of people who left the workforce grew by 31.1%. Over this same time frame the mega-retailers that dominate the landscape added almost 3 billion square feet of selling space, a 25% increase. A critical thinking individual might wonder how this could possibly end well for the retail genius CEOs in glistening corporate office towers from coast to coast.
This entire materialistic orgy of consumerism has been sustained solely with debt peddled by the Wall Street banking syndicate. The average American consumer met their Waterloo in 2008. Bernanke’s mission was to save bankers, billionaires and politicians. It was not to save the working middle class. You’ve been sacrificed at the altar of the .1%. The 0% interest rates were for Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein. Your credit card interest rate remained between 13% and 21%. So, while you struggle to pay bills with your declining real income, the Wall Street bankers are again generating record profits and paying themselves record bonuses. Profits are so good, they can afford to pay tens of billions in fines for their criminal acts, and still be left with billions to divvy up among their non-prosecuted criminal executives.
Bernanke and his financial elite owners have been able to rig the markets to give the appearance of normalcy, but they cannot rig the demographic time bomb that will cause the death and destruction of our illusory retail paradigm. Demographics cannot be manipulated or altered by the government or mass media. The best they can do is ignore or lie about the facts. The life cycle of a human being is utterly predictable, along with their habits across time. Those under 25 years old have very little income, therefore they have very little spending. Once a job is attained and income levels rise, spending rises along with the increased income. As the person enters old age their income declines and spending on stuff declines rapidly. The media may be ignoring the fact that annual expenditures drop by 40% for those over 65 years old from the peak spending years of 45 to 54, but it doesn’t change the fact. They also cannot change the fact that 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day for the next sixteen years. They also can’t change the fact the average Baby Boomer has less than $50,000 saved for retirement and is up to their grey eye brows in debt.
With over 15% of all 25 to 34 year olds living in their parents’ basement and those under 25 saddled with billions in student loan debt, the traditional increase in income and spending is DOA for the millennial generation. The hardest hit demographic on the job front during the 2008 through 2014 ongoing recession has been the 45 to 54 year olds in their peak earning and spending years. Combine these demographic developments and you’ve got a perfect storm for over-built retailers and their egotistical CEOs.
The media continues to peddle the storyline of on-line sales saving the ancient bricks and mortar retailers. Again, the talking head pundits are willfully ignoring basic math. On-line sales account for 6% of total retail sales. If a dying behemoth like JC Penney announces a 20% decline in same store sales and a 20% increase in on-line sales, their total change is still negative 17.6%. And they are still left with 1,100 decaying stores, 100,000 employees, lease payments, debt payments, maintenance costs, utility costs, inventory costs, and pension costs. Their future is so bright they gotta wear a toe tag.
The decades of mal-investment in retail stores was enabled by Greenspan, Bernanke, and their Federal Reserve brethren. Their easy money policies enabled Americans to live far beyond their true means through credit card debt, auto debt, mortgage debt, and home equity debt. This false illusion of wealth and foolish spending led mega-retailers to ignore facts and spread like locusts across the suburban countryside. The debt fueled orgy has run out of steam. All that is left is the largest mountain of debt in human history, a gutted and debt laden former middle class, and thousands of empty stores in future decaying ghost malls haunting the highways and byways of suburbia.
The implications of this long and winding road to ruin are far reaching. Store closings so far have only been a ripple compared to the tsunami coming to right size the industry for a future of declining spending. Over the next five to ten years, tens of thousands of stores will be shuttered. Companies like JC Penney, Sears and Radio Shack will go bankrupt and become historical footnotes. Considering retail employment is lower today than it was in 2002 before the massive retail expansion, the future will see in excess of 1 million retail workers lose their jobs. Bernanke and the Feds have allowed real estate mall owners to roll over non-performing loans and pretend they are generating enough rental income to cover their loan obligations. As more stores go dark, this little game of extend and pretend will come to an end. Real estate developers will be going belly-up and the banking sector will be taking huge losses again. I’m sure the remaining taxpayers will gladly bailout Wall Street again. The facts are not debatable. They can be ignored by the politicians, Ivy League economists, media talking heads, and the willfully ignorant masses, but they do not cease to exist.
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley
Off the Keyboard of Jim Quinn
Published on The Burning Platform on July 23, 2013
Discuss this article at the Economics table inside the Diner
“Years ago, it meant something to be crazy. Now everyone’s crazy.” – Charles Manson
“In America, the criminally insane rule and the rest of us, or the vast majority of the rest of us, either do not care, do not know, or are distracted and properly brainwashed into acquiescence.” – Kurt Nimmo
I have to admit to being baffled by the aptitude of the Wall Street and K Street financial elite to keep their Ponzi scheme growing. I consider myself to be a rational, sane human being who understands math and bases his assessments upon facts and a sensible appraisal of the relevant information obtained from trustworthy sources. Of course, finding trustworthy sources is difficult when you live in a corrupt, crony-capitalist, fascist state, controlled by banking, corporate and military interests who retain absolute control over the mainstream media and governmental propaganda agencies. Those seeking truth must pursue it through the alternative media and seeking out unbiased critical thinkers who relentlessly abide by what the facts expose. This is no time for wishful thinking, delusions and fantasies. In the end, the facts are all that matter. As Heinlein noted decades ago, the future is uncertain so facts are essential in navigating a course that doesn’t lead you to ruin upon the shoals of ignorance.
“What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the un-guessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!” ― Robert A. Heinlein
Facts are treasonous and dangerous in an empire of lies, fraud and propaganda. It is maddening to watch the country spiral downward, driven to ruin by a psychotic predator class, while the plebs choose to remain willfully ignorant of reality and distracted by their lust for cheap Chinese crap and addicted to the cult of techno-narcissism. We are a country running on heaping doses of cognitive dissonance and normalcy bias, an irrational belief in our national exceptionalism, an absurd trust in the same banking class that destroyed the finances of the country, and a delusionary belief that with just another trillion dollars of debt we’ll be back on the exponential growth track. The American empire has been built on a foundation of cheap easily accessible oil, cheap easily accessible credit, the most powerful military machine in human history, and the purposeful transformation of citizens into consumers through the use of relentless media propaganda and a persistent decades long dumbing down of the masses through the government education system.
This national insanity is not a new phenomenon. Friedrich Nietzsche observed the same spectacle in the 19th century.
“In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”
The “solutions” imposed by the supposed brightest financial Ivy League educated minds and corrupt bought off political class upon people of the United States since the Wall Street created 2008 worldwide financial collapse are insane and designed to only further enrich the crony capitalists and their banker brethren. The maniacs are ruling the asylum. John Lennon saw the writing on the wall forty five years ago.
“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives…. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends … and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.” – John Lennon, Interview BBC-TV (June 22, 1968)
The world is most certainly ruled by a small group of extremely wealthy evil men who desire ever more treasure, supremacy and control, but the vast majority of Americans have stood idly by mesmerized by their iGadgets and believing buying shit they don’t need with money they don’t have is the path to happiness and prosperity, while their wealth, liberty and self-respect were stolen by the financial elite. Our idiot culture, that celebrates reality TV morons, low IQ millionaires playing children’s sports, egomaniacal Hollywood hacks, self-promoting Wall Street financers, and self-serving corrupt ideologue politicians, has been degenerating for decades.
“We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.” – Carl Bernstein -1992
The examples of our national insanity are almost too vast to document, but any critical assessment of what we’ve done over the last one hundred years reveals the idiocracy that has engulfed our collapsing empire.
The Madness of Crowds
“In reading The History of Nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities, their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.” – Charles MacKay – Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
We have become a nation that seamlessly goes mad every five years in pursuit of some new delusionary fantasy sold to us by the ruling class, only to see those dreams shattered like a wooden ship on the reef of reality. You can never underestimate the power of human stupidity. Ben Bernanke and his Federal Reserve cronies have printed $2.6 trillion of new money out of thin air since September 2008 in order to prop up their Wall Street owners, who had engineered the largest control fraud (mortgage debt/housing bubble) in world history, recklessly gambled in their ravenous appetite for sordid profits, and drove their firms into insolvency. It took the Federal Reserve 95 years to accumulate a balance sheet of $900 billion of safe U.S. Treasuries.
They have insanely quadrupled their balance sheet in the last 5 years by accumulating toxic mortgage debt from Wall Street banks and purchasing the majority of new Treasury debt being issued to fund the Federal government’s insane trillion dollar annual deficits. Bernanke, the corporate media, government apparatchiks, and captured political class act as if this is normal, when it is clearly the act of a desperate ruling class in its final death throes. Bernanke has leveraged his balance sheet 60 to 1. Lehman and Bear Stearns were leveraged 30 to 1 when they collapsed. The 100 basis point move in rates over the space of two months has resulted in Bernanke losing $200 billion and effectively wiping out his $55 billion of capital.
Of course, in a corrupt regime accounting fraud is encouraged and applauded by the status quo. Just as the spineless accountants on the FASB buckled to threats from Bernanke and Paulson in early 2009 and reversed the requirement that assets be marked to market so the felonious Wall Street banks could fraudulently hide their insolvency, the Federal Reserve has decided their losses don’t matter. The Federal Reserve classifies their losses as an asset. Don’t you wish you could classify your 401k losses and your home value losses as an asset? The tapering bullshit storyline is just another attempt to distract the masses from focusing on the fact that Bernanke will never stop expanding his balance sheet because if he stops the financial system will collapse in a catastrophic implosion. The Ponzi scheme will continue until loss of faith leads to a scramble away from the U.S. dollar.
Since the infamous creation of the Federal Reserve by a secretive cabal of bankers and politicians in 1913, the ultimate destination of the American empire was set. Every fiat currency in world history has collapsed. Our entire system has been based on infinite exponential growth. The fallacy of American exceptionalism has been built on an underpinning of pure stupid luck and the issuance of more and more debt. The American empire grew to epic proportions due to the discovery of cheap easily accessible oil in the late 19th century and the physical and economic destruction of Europe, Russia and Japan during World War II. The accumulation of debt was fairly moderate during the glory years after World War II, but began to accelerate after the fateful year of 1971 when U.S. oil production peaked and Tricky Dick Nixon removed the last vestiges of restraint from central bankers and politicians by closing the gold window. With the shackles removed from the wrists of corruptible knaves and shysters, America’s future depended upon the wisdom, honesty and financial acumen of Washington politicians and Wall Street financers. Once the citizens realized they could vote for more bread and circuses, our ultimate demise was set in motion. A nation that had produced real annual growth of 4% during the 1950’s and 1960’s has seen a steady decline for the last four decades.
The term pushing on a string describes the Quantitative Easing (literally money printing) and Keynesian debt financed pork spending efforts of our increasingly frantic owners. The insanity of what we’ve done since 1971 is almost too crazy to comprehend. In the first 182 years of our existence the leaders we elected to steward the nation accumulated $400 billion of national debt. By 1981, unleashed from any semblance of spending control, the politicians and bankers had added another $600 billion of debt, a 150% increase in 10 years. By 1991 our beloved leaders had added another $2.6 trillion of debt, another 160% increase in 10 years. By 2001 another $2.2 trillion had been accumulated, only a 60% increase due to the end of the Cold War and a one-time tax surge from the Dot.com stock bubble. Bush’s worldwide War on Terror, expansion of the police state, tax rebate stimulus idiocy, and expansion of the welfare state (Medicare Part D) drove the national debt up by another $2.2 trillion in just eight years, a 40% increase.
The insane amassing of debt since 2008 has put a final nail in the coffin of the ridiculous Keynesian theory, as the Federal government has increased annual spending by 35% over the last five years and the economy is still moribund. Our fearless leaders have driven the national debt from $7.8 trillion to $16.7 trillion in less than five years, a 110% increase. The country continues to add $2 to $3 billion of debt per day. Consider how insane it is that we now accumulate more debt in half a year than we did cumulatively over the first 182 years of our existence as a country. And our elected, or should I say selected, leaders, cheer on the intellectually bankrupt academics like Bernanke whose only solution to every crisis is to print moar and then lie to the American people about his true purpose, act as if annually spending $1 trillion more than we collect while knowing there are over $200 trillion of unfunded promises to fulfill is a reasonable and realistic way to manage the national finances. Any sane person knows our current path will lead to ruin. When you need to issue new debt in order to honor old debt, the end is in sight.
The multitude of insane responses to a financial crisis created by a few greedy psychopathic bankers will be looked upon by historians with contempt and scorn. Future generations will wonder “What were they thinking?” Trillions in wealth were vaporized due to the actions of a small secretive league of highly educated, egocentric psychopaths whose warped sense of morality led them to pillage the wealth of the nation through fraudulent financial products, bribing regulatory agencies, stabbing clients and competitors in the back, and peddling lies, propaganda and misinformation to the public through their captured media mouthpieces. Not only haven’t any predator bankers been thrown in jail, but these villains have grown their parasitic entities to enormous proportions while paying themselves obscene billion dollar bonuses. Jon Corzine stole $1.2 billion directly from the accounts of his customers to cover his gambling losses and he remains free to laze about in one of his five gated mansions. The largest banks on earth have been caught red handed forging mortgage documents, rigging LIBOR, front running the muppets with non-public economic information, insider dealing, and using their HFT supercomputers to manipulate the markets at their whim. Government spy agencies regularly use the U.S. Constitution like toilet paper while accumulating electronic dossiers on every citizen in the country. The rule of law does not exist for the ruling class.
Only in a world gone insane would we be celebrating Wall Street generating all-time high profits through the use of accounting fraud and Bernanke filling their coffers with trillions of interest free money while bilking senior citizens out of $400 billion per year of interest income through his dastardly ZIRP “save a Wall Street banker” scheme. Bernanke has stolen close to $2 trillion from the bank accounts of little old ladies since 2008 and given it to Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfien and the rest of the Wall Street scumbags. While Wall Street and the crony capitalist mega-corporations report record profits, Main Street is left with 5 million less full-time jobs than they had in 2007 and a real unemployment rate exceeding 20%. While the government has insanely reported a recovering economy since mid-2009, the food stamp rolls have grown from 33 million to 47 million. The ruling class cheers the record highs in the stock market that overwhelmingly benefit the top .1% because they are the .1%. Meanwhile, the average schmuck out in the hinterlands is paying double the price they were paying for gas in 2009 and their everyday living costs are rising by greater than 5% annually. Luckily for the financial elite, the average American would rather watch Honey Boo Boo than try to understand the evilness of Federal Reserve created inflation. The economic recovery storyline is obliterated by the fact that real household income is still 9% below its 2008 peak and amazingly 8% below its 2000 level.
Since the 2009 low, the household net worth of the wealthiest 7% has grown by 28%, while the other 93% have seen their net worth decline by a further 4%. The profits accrue to those who run the show, buy the politicians, write the laws, command the media propaganda machine and control the currency. As a sane person in this insane world I’m flabbergasted that there is virtually no outrage at the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity. Americans have earned the moniker – ignorant masses. Bread and circuses have won the day in our declining empire. The oligarchs thank you.
The blame doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the evil men running the show. They have only done what we allowed them to do. From top to bottom our society has hopped on the crazy train. The lack of national morality, sense of civic duty, inter-generational responsibility, and willful ignorance regarding sensible financial policies has led us to a tipping point. Decades of feckless self-serving political leadership making entitlement promises they could never honor to win votes, combined with a parasitic financial class peddling debt to millions of witless, narcissistic, math challenged, materialistic morons, has left the country in debt up to its eyeballs with no escape other than cataclysmic default. Michael Lewis documents the bleeding out of our society in his recent book:
“The people who had the power in the society, and were charged with saving it from itself, had instead bled the society to death. The problem with police officers and firefighters isn’t a public sector problem; it isn’t a problem with government; it’s a problem with the entire society. It’s what happened on Wall Street in the run-up to the subprime crisis. It’s a problem of taking what they can, just because they can, without regard to the larger social consequences. It’s not just a coincidence that the debts of cities and states spun out of control at the same time as the debts of individual Americans. Alone in a dark room with a pile of money, Americans knew exactly what they wanted to do, from the top of the society to the bottom. They’d been conditioned to grab as much as they could, without thinking about the long-term consequences. Afterward, the people on Wall Street would privately bemoan the low morals of the American people who walked away from their subprime loans, and the American people would express outrage at the Wall Street people who paid themselves a fortune to design the bad loans.” – Michael Lewis – Boomerang
The insanity of our debt accumulation in relation to our pathetic economic growth is clearly evident to even an Ivy League educated economist or a bubble headed CNBC anchorwoman. Since 1971 nominal GDP has grown by a factor of 14. Over this same time frame total credit market debt (household, corporate, government) has grown by a factor of 32. Real GDP (even using the fraudulent BLS manipulated CPI) has only expanded by a factor of 3.5 since 1971. The exponential growth model is clearly failing, with debt going hyperbolic, while GDP has stagnated.
Since 2007 real GDP has gone up $500 billion while total credit market debt has gone up by $6 trillion. Only an insane society would allow itself to be convinced by the perpetrators of the financial crimes that collapsed our economic system that accelerating the level of debt in our system will resolve the dilemma of Too Big to Trust banker insolvency. Transferring the immense losses of greedy sham capitalist gambling addicts from their insolvent balance sheets onto the balance sheets of the taxpayer has allowed the criminals to retain and expand their wealth, while sovereign states shift the pain and suffering onto the backs of the sinking middle class. This is a worldwide phenomenon perpetuated by central bankers at the behest of their crony capitalist co-conspirators. They call it capitalism when the scams, dodges and swindles work and the profits accrue to the schemers. When the gamblers and extreme risk addicts roll craps they use their crony capitalist connections, bought with blood money, to socialize their losses. The game is rigged and your owners don’t care about your hopes and dreams or your children’s future. They care about their own wealth and lifestyles of luxury. When the richest 300 people in the world have a greater net worth than the poorest 3 billion people on earth, a sane person realizes a chaotic end of the existing social order beckons.
“All over the world people borrowed vast sums of money they could never repay. The honest toting up, and taking, of the losses is being delayed. There’s a reason for this. The bad debts are owed, largely, to big banks. The big banks (even bigger than they were at the start of this crisis) and the people who own them enjoy a wildly disproportionate amount of political influence. And so, even now, five years into this mess, we remain at the mercy of the failed financial institutions that sit at the center of our capitalism. Geithner & Bernanke, along with their European counterparts, are doing everything in their power to prevent banks from failing. But the effect of this new financial order is bizarre: capitalism for everyone but the capitalists. Ordinary workers remain fully exposed to the increasingly harsh collisions in the marketplace while the highest paid financial elites ride protected by a passenger airbag.” – Michael Lewis – Boomerang
Clearly we’ve entered the final phase of our debt financed orgy of narcissistic materialism and self-absorbed avarice. The unsustainability of our course is a fact. Our society has gone mad en-masse but we are only recovering our sanity one by one. The global financial system is insolvent. A fractional reserve fiat money based system requires continuous growth or it collapses. The global banking system is overleveraged and real global growth is stagnant. Central bankers are not smart men. They have one response to every crisis – print!!! Bernanke and his fellow banker cronies are printing at hyper-speed in order to prop up the terminally ill mega-banks. Bernanke feigns confusion at the fact that his QE to infinity and ZIRP have only benefitted his banker puppet masters and the richest .1%, while further impoverishing senior citizen savers and the working middle class.
The anger at the true Wall Street malefactors manifested itself in the Tea Party movement and Occupy Wall Street movement, but both efforts were quickly hijacked by neo-con right wingers and socialist left wingers for their own ideological purposes. The existing social order continues to hold the reins of power, but their grip is growing precarious. The anger, dismay and resentment in the country simmer beneath the surface. The average person senses that all is not well, but most absurdly continue to believe the lies and propaganda spewed at them on a daily basis by the ruling class and their corporate media pawns. When the next shoe drops and billions of stock market and housing wealth are wiped out again, the national anger will sweep away the corrupt social order in a torrent of blood and retribution. Innocent and guilty alike will suffer the consequences. Michael Lewis is somewhat perplexed by the lack of outrage and violence so far.
“A lot has happened. And yet, given the provocation, it’s amazing how little has happened. No one on Wall Street has been shot, or even jailed – and the existing social order has not been seriously challenged. There’s a reason for this, too. The anger arising from the financial crisis finds no natural channel. In another era – an era before catastrophic experiments with radical socialism and nationalism – we would be watching market capitalism being displaced by something far uglier. But today there is no natural place for anger to flow, and so the anger flows haphazardly, like raindrops down a windowpane. The only political ideology that anger benefits these days is anarchy. From the point of view of those who enjoy political stability, it’s a stroke of luck that anarchists have no natural talent for organizing themselves. But how long will it take them to learn?” – Michael Lewis – Boomerang
Staying sane in a society gone mad is not easy. Millions of people believe themselves to be sane, but they have really just adapted to an insane society, so they appear sane within the warped paradigm of that insane society. The truly sane people appear to be insane in an insane society. It’s enough to drive a man crazy. The immense forces of normalcy bias and social inertia have led millions to refuse to understand the mathematical certainty of the coming collapse. The worldwide banking system is like a great white shark that needs to keep moving or it dies. Exponential growth and continuous credit expansion have been the essential ingredients to expanding the American empire, but the growth has stopped, while the debt keeps growing. Infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. As natural resources deplete and become more expensive to obtain, while the planet’s population continues to grow, the fractional reserve banking system and the nation states who continue to pile up trillions in debt will suddenly suffer a catastrophic collapse. We are in the end stages of a confidence game. Your government will not give you warning. We need to come to our senses one by one, until there are enough sane people to tip the scales in our favor. I’ve concluded that I live in a dishonest, insane, intolerable world and consider it my duty to spread discontent among those I can reach. I’m a dangerous man in the eyes of our corporate fascist surveillance state. So be it.
“The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is apt to spread discontent among those who are.” – H.L. Mencken
In Part 2 of this article I will attempt to figure out why mass insanity has gripped the world and ponder what might happen when sanity returns.
Off the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
Published on Clusterfuck Nation on July 22, 2013
Discuss this article at the Detroit Table inside the Diner
I was in Detroit in 1990 — not my first time — poking around to get a deeper feel for the place so I could write a chapter about it in The Geography of Nowhere. At mid-day, I was driving on one of the great avenues that radiates out of the old Beaux Arts fan of streets that emanates from the Grand Circus at the heart of downtown — Woodward or Cass or Gratiot, I forget. It was a six or eight laner, and everything along both sides was either some kind of
social service installation or vacant. There was no traffic, by which I mean not merely a smooth flow of cars, but no other cars whatsoever. For at least a mile, my rent-a-car was the only vehicle on the street. Finally I saw another car up ahead, in my lane, coming straight at me. It continued bearing down on me, until the last 100 feet or so when it veered around me with an indignant blare of the horn. It was only about then that I noticed a sign indicating that I was on a one-way street. Downtown Detroit was so empty that I could drive a good mile the wrong way without knowing it.
Detroit’s decline and fall was long and gruesome. Back then, just outside the downtown of 1920s skyscrapers, there were whole neighborhoods of formerly magnificent old mansions in the most amazing states of dilapidation, with sagging porches, chimneys tilting at impossible angles, and whole exterior walls missing to reveal eerie dollhouse-like vignettes of rooms painted different colors, formerly lived in. These were built by the wealthy magnates of the Great Lakes frontier — the timber and copper kings, manufacturers of paint, coal stoves, etc — before the car industry was even a gleam in Henry Ford’s flinty eye. Over the 1990s they were all torched in the annual Halloween ritual called Devil’s Night. The next time I came back to Detroit, there were wildflower meadows where those ruined mansions had been. In a mere century, all that grandeur had arisen and been erased.
The grandest ruin of Detroit is the much-photographed main train station, with its attached office tower. The old neo-classical hulk had been neglected for so many decades that mature ailanthus trees were growing out of the parapets. I was back in downtown Detroit, around Cadillac Square, in the1990s shooting some “walk-and-talk” for a documentary at rush hour on a weekday evening and it was like the night of the living dead there. The old Hudson’s department store was dark and empty and the Statler Hotel had plywood sheets over every window. (It was demolished in 2005.) We were the only humans in the vicinity at 5:30 pm.
It’s fitting that Detroit is the first great American city to officially bite the dust, because it produced the means of America’s suicidal destruction: the automobile. Of course you could argue that the motorcar was an inevitable product of the industrial era — and I would not bother to enlist a mob of post-doc philosophy professors to debate that — but the choices we made about what to do with the automobile is another matter. What we chose was to let our great cities go to hell and move outside them in a car-dependent utopia tricked out as a simulacrum of “country living.” The entire experiment of suburbia can, of course, be construed as historically inevitable, too, but is also destined to be abandoned — and sooner than most Americans realize.
Finally, what we’ll be left with is a tremendous continental-sized vista of waste and desolation, the end product of this technological thrill ride called Modernity. It’s hard to find redemption in this story, unless it’s a world made by hand, with all its implications for a return to human-ness.
What happened to Detroit will come to all the other great American metroplexes in time, but perhaps not in the same way. So-called urban experts like Ed Glaeser at Harvard (The Triumph of the City), and other exalted idiots just don’t get it. These cities attained a scale of operation that just can’t be sustained beyond the twilight of cheap fossil fuels. They will all contract massively — some of them, such as Phoenix and Las Vegas will disappear altogether. The lucky ones will reconstitute themselves at much smaller scale around their old harbors or riverfronts. The ones burdened with too many grandiose mega-structures (New York, Chicago) will choke to death on the liabilities they represent. The reason for this can be found in the basic equations around the cost and supply of energy resources and the consequent impairments of capital formation. In short, neither the affordable energy nor the money will be there to run things as we’re used to running them. The voodoo economists of the Ivy League, the White House, the Federal Reserve, and The New York Times are utterly clueless about how this works.
Other idiots want to dedicate the ruins of Detroit, and places like it, to “urban farming.” This represents yet another layer of misunderstanding of how the world works. Detroit and most other cities occupy important geographical sites (in this case a river between two Great lakes). Some kind of urban human settlement will continue to occupy that site in the future. It will just be smaller, less complex, and almost certainly less hideous than the disgraceful tangle of freeways, casinos, 7-Eleven shops, and rotting bungalows that remains on-the-ground there now. Farming is what happens outside the urban settlement (though gardening is another matter). There’s plenty of room in the rest of Michigan for farming.
By the way, the vast donut of prosperous suburbs around the ruins of Detroit are not long for this world either. Their wealth will prove to be just as transitory as the wealth embodied by those bygone inner mansion neighborhoods of the pre-1900 Detroit, and the detritus will be harder to clean up there because it is spread so far and wide. That particular lesson remains to be learned all over the rest of the USA, but with crude oil at $108-a-barrel this morning, a smack upside America’s thick-boned head is probably not far from landing.
How the legal aspects of Detroit’s bankruptcy get worked out will just be a sideshow outside the main tent of greater industrial era collapse and the practical demographic alterations of everyday life we can look forward to.
Off the keyboard of Michael Snyder
Published on Economic Collapse on July 20, 2013
Discuss this article at the Detroit Destruction Table inside the Diner
It is so sad to watch one of America’s greatest cities die a horrible death. Once upon a time, the city of Detroit was a teeming metropolis of 1.8 million people and it had the highest per capita income in the United States. Now it is a rotting, decaying hellhole of about 700,000 people that the rest of the world makes jokes about. On Thursday, we learned that the decision had been made for the city of Detroit to formally file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. It was going to be the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States by far, but on Friday it was stopped at least temporarily by an Ingham County judge. She ruled that Detroit’s bankruptcy filing violates the Michigan Constitution because it would result in reduced pension payments for retired workers. She also stated that Detroit’s bankruptcy filing was “also not honoring the (United States) president, who took (Detroit’s auto companies) out of bankruptcy“, and she ordered that a copy of her judgment be sent to Barack Obama. How “honoring the president” has anything to do with the bankruptcy of Detroit is a bit of a mystery, but what that judge has done is ensured that there will be months of legal wrangling ahead over Detroit’s money woes. It will be very interesting to see how all of this plays out. But one thing is for sure – the city of Detroit is flat broke. One of the greatest cities in the history of the world is just a shell of its former self. The following are 25 facts about the fall of Detroit that will leave you shaking your head…
1) At this point, the city of Detroit owes money to more than 100,000 creditors.
2) Detroit is facing $20 billion in debt and unfunded liabilities. That breaks down to more than $25,000 per resident.
3) Back in 1960, the city of Detroit actually had the highest per-capita income in the entire nation.
5) Between December 2000 and December 2010, 48 percent of the manufacturing jobs in the state of Michigan were lost.
6) There are lots of houses available for sale in Detroit right now for $500 or less.
7) At this point, there are approximately 78,000 abandoned homes in the city.
8) About one-third of Detroit’s 140 square miles is either vacant or derelict.
9) An astounding 47 percent of the residents of the city of Detroit are functionally illiterate.
10) Less than half of the residents of Detroit over the age of 16 are working at this point.
11) If you can believe it, 60 percent of all children in the city of Detroit are living in poverty.
12) Detroit was once the fourth-largest city in the United States, but over the past 60 years the population of Detroit has fallen by 63 percent.
13) The city of Detroit is now very heavily dependent on the tax revenue it pulls in from the casinos in the city. Right now, Detroit is bringing in about 11 million dollars a month in tax revenue from the casinos.
14) There are 70 “Superfund” hazardous waste sites in Detroit.
15) 40 percent of the street lights do not work.
16) Only about a third of the ambulances are running.
17) Some ambulances in the city of Detroit have been used for so long that they have more than 250,000 miles on them.
18) Two-thirds of the parks in the city of Detroit have been permanently closed down since 2008.
19) The size of the police force in Detroit has been cut by about 40 percent over the past decade.
20) When you call the police in Detroit, it takes them an average of 58 minutes to respond.
21) Due to budget cutbacks, most police stations in Detroit are now closed to the public for 16 hours a day.
22) The violent crime rate in Detroit is five times higher than the national average.
23) The murder rate in Detroit is 11 times higher than it is in New York City.
24) Today, police solve less than 10 percent of the crimes that are committed in Detroit.
25) Crime has gotten so bad in Detroit that even the police are telling people to “enter Detroit at your own risk“.
It is easy to point fingers and mock Detroit, but the truth is that the rest of America is going down the exact same path that Detroit has gone down.
Detroit just got there first.
All over this country, there are hundreds of state and local governments that are also on the verge of financial ruin…
“Everyone will say, ‘Oh well, it’s Detroit. I thought it was already in bankruptcy,’ ” said Michigan State University economist Eric Scorsone. “But Detroit is not unique. It’s the same in Chicago and New York and San Diego and San Jose. It’s a lot of major cities in this country. They may not be as extreme as Detroit, but a lot of them face the same problems.”
A while back, Meredith Whitney was highly criticized for predicting that there would be a huge wave of municipal defaults in this country. When it didn’t happen, the critics let her have it mercilessly.
But Meredith Whitney was not wrong.
She was just early.
Detroit is only just the beginning. When the next major financial crisis strikes, we are going to see a wave of municipal bankruptcies unlike anything we have ever seen before.
And of course the biggest debt problem of all in this country is the U.S. government. We are going to pay a great price for piling up nearly 17 trillion dollars of debt and over 200 trillion dollars of unfunded liabilities.
All over the nation, our economic infrastructure is being gutted, debt levels are exploding and poverty is spreading. We are consuming far more wealth than we are producing, and our share of global GDP has been declining dramatically.
We have been living way above our means for so long that we think it is “normal”, but an extremely painful “adjustment” is coming and most Americans are not going to know how to handle it.
So don’t laugh at Detroit. The economic pain that Detroit is experiencing will be coming to your area of the country soon enough.
Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia
Published on Economic Undertow on July 19, 2013
Discuss this article at the Detroit Destruction Table inside the Diner
The Maxwell Fisher house on Woodward Avenue, in the style of H. H. Richardson; two doors South from Mack Avenue in Detroit near the end of the nineteenth century, (photo, Burton Historical Collection, University of Michigan/Detroit Public Library).
Very little is known about Mr. Fisher other than he was a prosperous merchant or professional of some kind. He does not appear to be related to the Fisher brothers or their ‘Body by Fisher’ branch of General Motors.
This is the entry parlor of Mr. Fishers’ house, (click on for big): it could be a stage set for ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’.
Elegant clutter was the fashion in the late- nineteenth century Victorian period. The combination of precision machinery and high levels of craftsmanship resulted in large amounts of expensive doodads to fill the parlors of the well-to-do in Detroit and elsewhere. Note the gas-lamp overhead fitted with electric bulbs and the free-standing electric light fixture to the right, the figure holding the pole. The woodwork in this room would be difficult- if not impossible to reproduce today due to the absence of skilled craftsmen … and because the chestnut seen here is largely unavailable, the trees wiped out by a fungus from 1910 onward.
Mr. Fisher previously occupied a house on Woodward Avenue near the corner of Duffield Street:
Unknown photographer, Burton Historical Collection of Detroit Public Library. According to the 1880 Detroit city directory, Fisher’s address was 375 Woodward Avenue. Whether he lived here for a time before moving uptown or his business was in this house is unknown. After 1900, the middle reaches of Woodward Avenue began to change, with mansions replaced with cheap retail and commercial buildings. Note the hulking concrete box on the right. When this photograph was taken, around 1910, Fisher’s building had been converted to a rooming house called ‘The Berkley’, with various small businesses on the lower floors.
The really big story isn’t that Detroit has declared bankruptcy, it’s been bankrupt for decades.
Detroit Goes Bankrupt, the Largest City to Do So in U.S.DETROIT — Detroit, the cradle of America’s automobile industry and once the nation’s fourth-most-populous city, has filed for bankruptcy, an official said Thursday afternoon, the largest American city ever to take such a course.The decision to turn to the federal courts, which required approval from both the emergency manager assigned to oversee the troubled city and from Gov. Rick Snyder, is also the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in American history in terms of debt.Not everyone agrees how much Detroit owes, but Kevyn D. Orr, the emergency manager who was appointed by Mr. Snyder to resolve the city’s financial problems, has said the debt is likely to be $18 billion and perhaps as much as $20 billion.
The problem is nobody can figure out why … or what happens next? Careful! The cognitive dissonance can leave you with whiplash, (NY Times):
Last Car Plant Brings Detroit Hope and CashBill VlasicDETROIT — There is a section of Detroit’s east side that sums up the city’s decline, a grim landscape of boarded-up stores, abandoned homes and empty lots that stretch all the way to the river.And in the middle of it stands one of the most modern and successful auto plants in the world.
Hard to see one car factory giving much hope to anyone other than Fiat.
Everyone knows Detroit is a hell hole, a grim landscape of boarded-up stores, abandoned homes and empty lots … albeit with one good car factory. It’s also a hell hole with soon-to-be excellent highways:
I-94 Expansion: Controversial SEMCOG Vote Passes, Will Widen Freeway Through DetroitA proposed freeway widening that would cut through Detroit’s most up-and-coming neighborhood had residents and transit activists howling for alternatives — with little recourse.SEMCOG, a regional governance board encompassing seven counties across Southeast Michigan, met Thursday afternoon to approve the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan. That vision will ultimately allocate $36 billion in funds over 25 years to the area’s roads, freeways, highways, buses and proposed light rail, including extensive work on I-94 and I-75. The plan was passed, despite impassioned public comment begging for alternatives, and a motion to temporarily remove the most controversial aspects of the transit plan.The SEMCOG transportation plan being voted on Thursday would allocate around $2.7 billion for the I-94 expansion between I-96 and Connor, and $1.3 billion for the I-75 widening. The project could stretch over the next decade and be done in pieces as funding becomes available, the Detroit News reports.
You might think the battles over urban freeways were won long ago but you would be wrong. The US highway enterprise is a gigantic, mindless robot that nobody knows how to turn off! The Federal Department of Transportation funds the bulk of the cost of ‘improvements’ with the state and localities picking up the generally modest balances. The US government has unlimited borrowing capacity and — thanks to the Federal Reserve and generalized deflation — can borrow at the lowest possible cost. As a consequence, hundreds of millions of good dollars are set to be thrown after bad … good dollars squandered every year for ten years on useless freeways that could certainly be spent more productively elsewhere within the city.
Feed the cars, starve the public: after fifty-years, citizens in Michigan still don’t understand that freeways and automobiles are what bankrupted Detroit in the first place and are set to ruin the state … along with the rest of the country. People refuse to grasp what is plain and obvious under their noses: that freeways must be paid for with loans, the cars must be paid for with loans as well … the loans themselves must be paid for with still more loans! There are no returns from the use of the cars or the freeways, new loans must be obtained in order to roll over the old ones as they come due. Debt burdens are modest in the beginning of the borrowing cycle but the steady increase of debt needed to roll-over and service maturing debts over decades leaves obligations that are monstrous at the end.
In Detroit, more loans cannot be had; stupendous debts are beyond what Detroit can ever hope to repay. This is the end, the city is bankrupt. Blame is fixed on the unemployed, the racial- and otherwise victims of city disintegration, on government workers; their salaries, healthcare and pension costs. The real cause are the billions wasted on unproductive cars and highways beginning in the early 20th century.
The freeways, autos and cheap gasoline enabled the emptying out of the Detroit in the first place, just as they did in other areas of the country. The beneficiaries were a limited handful real estate developers and bankers; the ordinary citizens and their grandchildren were — and are — saddled with repayment obligations that stretch on into the far-distant future. These are obligations that cannot possibly be met by anything other than more loans … more debt.
– Margaret Thatcher
Thatcher fails to mention what other people’s money is spent on … non-remunerative waste … and why the spending process ends in failure. Like the decor in Maxwell M. Fisher’s foyer, there is really no purpose to any of it except to fill space and waste time.
Where 375 Woodward likely used to be, (click on for big). Note that Detroit streets were re-numbered in 1921. The I-75 freeway due to be remodeled is in a gigantic trench that cuts off downtown Detroit from the rest of the city.
Debts are one reason for Detroit bankruptcy, another is the city’s relentless and expanding ugliness. There are other places in the United States that are like this … highway interchanges in fallen neighborhoods … there are few to the same scale or degree. Here is a setting for homicide, no kindness or mercy here, only danger and decay … a place that must be sped through as rapidly as possible in a steel box, from nowhere to nowhere else. Only a vendor on the corner and a handful of fleeing pedestrians add a bit of humanity.
The freeway under Woodward Avenue: a monstrous, anti-human space, fit only for contractor dollars and machines. Like much else in post-war Detroit, everything here was bankrupt as soon as it was built.
A collective failure of imagination: here is where Maxwell M. Fisher’s Richardsonesque mansion used to stand. Like much of the rest of Detroit, the buildings were swept away leaving parking lots and junk. These places have nothing to offer now or in any conceivable future … because Detroit lacks a palpable future, it repels investment … a reason why the city is bankrupt.
The bankruptcy business is not confined to Detroit, The Wheels Are Coming Off the Whole of Southern Europe, (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard):
None of Euroland’s key actors seems willing to admit that the current strategy is untenable. They hope to paper over the cracks until the German elections in September, as if that is going to make any difference.
All of Europe is made up of different versions of Detroit, the South is bankrupt … the North is rapidly catching up.
A leaked report from the European Commission confirms that Greece will miss its austerity targets yet again by a wide margin. It alleges that Greece lacks the “willingness and capacity” to collect taxes. In fact, Athens is missing targets because the economy is still in freefall and that is because of austerity overkill. The Greek think-tank IOBE expects GDP to fall 5pc this year. It has told journalists privately that the final figure may be -7pc. The Greek stabilization is a mirage.
Greece is bankrupted by its automobile fleet which does not earn the country a penny, instead, the fleet must be subsidized with massive amounts of euro-denominated debts that cannot possibly be repaid. Greece can no longer borrow, it must beg or cajole from other bankrupt countries. The country cannot roll its debts, it holds its creditors hostage while its citizens live in deepening poverty. This is so that Greece’s (remaining) drivers can continue to be subsidized.
Italy’s slow crisis is again flaring up. Its debt trajectory has punched through the danger line over the past two years. The country’s €2.1 trillion (£1.8 trillion) debt – 129pc of GDP – may already be beyond the point of no return for a country without its own currency.Standard & Poor’s did not say this outright when it downgraded the country to near-junk BBB on Tuesday. But if you read between the lines, it is close to saying the game is up for Italy.
Like Greece, Italy is bankrupted by its automobile fleet as well as by its domestic auto manufacturers, which cannot produce value for their customers. Customers aping Detroit and going broke leaves fewer remaining to buy cars; overcapacity leads to failure.
Indeed. The International Monetary Fund has just slashed its growth forecast for Italy this year to -1.8pc. The accumulated fall in Italian output since 2007 will reach 10pc. This is a depression. Yet how is the country supposed to get out of this trap with its currency overvalued by 20pc to 30pc within EMU?
If Italy depreciates any euro-replacement it would find itself unable to import fuel; conservation by monetary means.
Spain’s crisis has a new twist. The ruling Partido Popular is caught in a slush-fund scandal of such gravity that it cannot plausibly brazen out the allegations any longer, let alone rally the nation behind another year of scorched-earth cuts. El Mundo says a “pre-revolutionary” mood is taking hold.
Spain is bankrupted by its massive, non-earning automobile fleet just like Greece and Italy. The Spanish people borrowed billions in order to create their version of Detroit in Spain and are now stuck with the bill. Government corruption is the Victorian clutter in the Spanish parlor.
A magistrate has obtained the original “smoking gun” alleging that Premier Mariano Rajoy accepted illegal payments as a minister. The Left is calling for his head but so are members of the Consejo General del Poder Judicial, the justice watchdog.Like Greece before it, Portugal is chasing its tail in a downward spiral. Economic contraction of 3pc a year is eroding the tax base, causing Lisbon to miss deficit targets. A new working paper by the Bank of Portugal explains why it has gone wrong. The fiscal multiplier is “twice as large as normal”, or 2.0, in small open economies during crisis times.
The Portuguese have a choice; to jettison the non-remunerative cars or to jettison themselves. Like all the others they choose to keep the cars and put themselves through the wringer. Meanwhile, the country continues to unravel; the cars will ultimately go, anyway.
What is new is that Vitor Gaspar, the high priest of Portugal’s shock therapy, has thrown in the towel. He blames the fainthearted for refusing to slash with greater vigour. Needless to say, he still refuses to accept that a strategy of wage cuts and deflation in a country with total debt of 370pc of GDP was always likely to fail.
The austerity plan preserves the automobiles by sacrificing everything else. Look @ Detroit, the model for the rest of the world! Detroit’s citizens are robbed while billions are spent on roads and useless car factories. At some point, a vulnerable bit of (fuel) infrastructure will break and the autos will be stranded.
The Portuguese press is already reporting that the European Commission is working secretly on a second bail-out, an admission that the wheels are coming off the original €78bn EU-IMF troika rescue.This is a political minefield. Any fresh rescue would require a vote in the German Bundestag, certain to demand ferocious conditions if this occurs before the elections.
Whatever fuel is not used by the Portuguese can be guzzled by the Germans.
Do they violate this pledge, and shatter market confidence? Or do they admit for the first time that taxpayers will have to foot the bill for holding EMU together? All rescue packages have been loans so far. German, Dutch, Finnish and other creditor parliaments have never yet had to crystallize a single euro in losses.
At some point the Europeans must admit for the first time that the bill for holding the automobile-first regime together is unaffordable …
All this is happening just as tapering talk by the Fed sends shock waves through credit markets, pushing up borrowing costs by 70 basis points across Europe. Spanish 10-year yields are back to 4.8pc. These are higher than they look, since Spain is already in deflation once tax distortions are stripped out. Real interest rates are soaring.By doing nothing to offset this, the ECB is allowing “passive tightening” to occur. Mario Draghi’s attempt to talk down yields with his new policy of forward guidance is spitting in the wind. The ECB needs to turn on the monetary spigot full blast – like the Bank of Japan – to head off a slide into deflation trap and enveloping disaster by next year. This is not going to happen.
The monetary spigot is not succeeding in Japan, it cannot succeed because nothing real is created, because the spigot cannot offer crude oil @ $20 per barrel to keep brand-new Grand Cherokees on brand-new roads. Turning on the spigot requires collateral that no longer exists. The ECB is trapped along with the rest of the European establishment. It’s only collateral is a bunch of used cars and waste …
The monetary spigot supported Germany for a little while but that country is also bankrupt for the same reason as Greece, (Wolf Richter):
Blinded By Optimism, German Economy Now Below Stall SpeedThe financial crisis was brutal for Germany, but the recovery was steep, and in 2011, the gloating started. They called it the German “success recipe,” a system that was somehow superior to any other. It would keep the economy growing even as Eurozone mayhem was breaking out all around. That optimism has endured, and stocks have hit new highs in May, but the German economy has diverged sharply from that scenario.… the Eurozone bought 36.6% of Germany’s exports and the non-euro area 20.0%. While periphery countries have been struggling for years, with demand collapsing in some, it’s France that Germany is most worried about. It buys about 10% of Germany’s exports, more than any other country, but it’s slithering deeper into a full-blown economic crisis with unemployment at record highs, with the auto industry – a key export sector for Germany – in a death spiral, and with consumer demand flagging. Even exports to the rest of the world skidded 1.6%. It was the worse May decline since 2009.
France becomes bankrupt which dooms Germany. Exported automobiles never provided value for the customers, both exporters and customers have become little versions of Detroit.
Success can never ‘come from nothing’, what is gained by tycoons is lost elsewhere. What is lost is capital, once gone it is gone forever, what is ‘gained’ is debt … money being the (worthless) residue of destroyed capital.
What happens after bankruptcy? Highest-order wishful thinking suggests that more of the same processes that brought Detroit to ruin will bring Detroit and the rest out of it! Since this cannot possibly succeed, the outcome is an endless, grinding bankruptcy process that remains in place until the various little version of Detroit run completely out of gas.