Getting Better?

I’ve got to admit it’s getting better…
A little better all the time.

– The Beatles

Another Monday…another week… Are we getting better?

And what will this week bring? More evidence that things are improving?

On Friday we got word that consumer sales had fallen in May…from the month before. That is, they didn’t get better; they got worse.

It was no big deal except that the there’s supposed to be a recovery. And May was important. Because the major stimulus efforts are coming to an end. Economists wanted to see how the economy would hold up without the government holding it up.

Well, it didn’t hold up very well.

If the government gives you money to buy a house or to trash your car, well…if there’s enough money in it you go along with the gag.

But what kind of economy is it where the government gives you money to buy things? It’s a phony…a fraud…an imposter…

..the government is impersonating a successful economy.

And where do the feds get any money in the first place? One way or another they have to get it from you and other citizens/investors/taxpayers – the same people who didn’t want to buy the thing in the first place…

There is no question that many of the numbers were getting a bit better since the big blow up in ’07-’09. Unemployment was still getting worse, but not as fast as it had been. Housing prices seem to have stabilized after a big drop. And consumer spending had been gradually recovering.

The big question was whether the numbers would continue to improve as the feds’ stimulus programs tapered off. Was all that spending really stimulating the real economy…or just simulating one?

We got a preliminary answer on Friday.

Numbers are notoriously dishonest and unreliable. The 5 is obviously crooked. An 8 just takes you round in circles. And the zero? It claims to be nothing at all. But if it is nothing, why have a symbol to represent it? Something funny about it.

Numbers tell one story one month and another the next. One month the economy is in decline; the next it’s growing.

Remember, too, that the numbers are controlled by goons working for the Federal government. Can you trust ’em? We don’t.

We don’t trust any numbers. Not even the ones we made up ourselves.

But getting back to the markets, George Soros says they are ‘eerily’ similar to those during the lead up to the Great Depression. At first, of course, people didn’t know what to make of it. The US had the strongest economy in the world. It had surpassed Britain as the world’s biggest economy before the turn of the century. By 1929, the US had the world’s biggest trade surplus…its tallest building…its most profitable businesses and fastest-growing wages.

Imagine what it must have been like at the turn of the century. You get off the boat in New York. Your mouth drops open. There was not a single commercial building in the Old World that rose above 6 or 7 storeys. And here were hundreds of buildings up 20 storeys…30 storeys…reaching up so high, they called them ‘sky-scrapers’…

..People were building railroads and bridges…and new ‘auto- mobiles’…and electrifying the cities…

..and there just seemed to be no end.

This was the place to make your fortune! Everybody was talking business. Everybody was getting rich. And some were getting super rich.

It must have been like China today!

Then, when the US market cracked in 1929, people thought it just a temporary set back. They couldn’t understand or believe that the economy that had been such a great success for so many years could suddenly lose traction and begin slipping backward. They thought it was improving… They thought it was getting better…

Did you read those comments we quoted last Thursday?

Take another look. They show you how hard it is to realize when things have turned a corner…when they’re NOT getting better any more….

“While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed through the worst – and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There has been no significant bank or industrial failure. That danger, too, is safely behind us.” – Herbert Hoover, President of the United States, May 1, 1930

“…by May or June the spring recovery forecast in our letters of last December and November should clearly be apparent…” – Harvard Economic Society (HES) May 17, 1930

“Gentleman, you have come sixty days too late. The depression is over.” – Herbert Hoover, responding to a delegation requesting a public works program to help speed the recovery, June 1930

“…irregular and conflicting movements of business should soon give way to a sustained recovery…” – HES June 28, 1930

“…the present depression has about spent its force…” – HES, Aug 30, 1930

“We are now near the end of the declining phase of the depression.” – HES Nov 15, 1930

“Stabilization at [present] levels is clearly possible.” – HES Oct 31, 1931

“All safe deposit boxes in banks or financial institutions have been sealed…and may only be opened in the presence of an agent of the IRS.” – President F.D. Roosevelt, 1933

If we had more time, we’d find quotes from the current era too. Right now, we can only remember a couple of lines from Henry Paulson. When the “subprime” mortgage debacle began, he said it was “contained.” And then, when it became obvious that it wasn’t contained at all, he told the public that he couldn’t imagine any “scenario in which the public would be called upon to bail out Wall Street.” Practically the next day, Lehman Bros. went broke and the biggest taxpayer-financed bailout in history began.

And now, these same people tell us that the economy is improving…that it is getting better. And they’ve got the numbers to prove it!

And more thoughts…

So, what is going on in Japan?

The government has gotten by for the last 20 years by borrowing from its own citizens. It now has the biggest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world.

As the private sector de-leveraged the public sector borrowed and spent – the same thing that is happening in America today. And maybe Richard Koo is right. Maybe this did prevent a deeper recession in Japan. Unemployment never rose over 5%. And the economy never actually suffered sustained negative growth levels.

But so what? Investors still lost 3/4 of their money. And now Japan’s prime minister has a warning. All those savers who put their money in Japanese government bonds for the last 20 years may soon wish they had bought gold.

From Yahoo! Finance:

Japan PM warns of Greece-like debt crisis

Japan’s new prime minister warned Friday that his country could face a financial mess like the one that has crippled Greece if it did not deal urgently with its swelling national debt.

While Japan is on firmer financial footing than Greece because most of its debt is held domestically, Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s blunt talk appeared designed to push forward his agenda, which may involve raising taxes.

Speaking in his first address to Parliament after taking office Tuesday, Kan said Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, cannot continue to let government debt swell while state finances are under pressure from an aging and declining population.

“It is difficult to sustain a policy that relies too heavily on issuing debt. As we have seen with the financial confusion in the European community stemming from Greece, our finances could collapse if trust in national bonds is lost and growing national debt is left alone,” he said.

Japan has the largest public debt among industrialized nations at 218.6 percent of its gross domestic product in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund.

*** We’re on our way down to Florida. More and more of our friends are moving to the Sunshine State. The reason: taxes. State and local levies together add about 10 percentage points to your tax rate in Maryland. Not worth worrying about if you don’t have much income. But high earners have figured out that they can save a substantial amount of money by expatriating, within the US. That is, all you have to do is to leave the Old Line State and they can knock about 20% off their total tax bill.

Our ancestors have been in Maryland for 300 years. But there’s a time to put an end to everything. Besides, it’s not the same state we knew as a child.

Today, Maryland is a prosperous place – largely because it is a parasite on the rest of the nation. Last year, taxpayers sent about $2 trillion to the Washington DC metropolitan area. Investors lent it about $1.6 trillion more. And much of this money sticks around. The capitol beltway is crowded with big, expensive cars. Restaurants are packed. Housing prices are higher than in the rest of the nation. So are salaries.

Maryland has become a fat leech.


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and Money.
Bill Bonner

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3 Comments on "Getting Better?"

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Whatever happens, the Bonner articles are always entertaining and thought-provoking.

I’m not yet convinced I must head for the hills, but I might anyway. Time to grow some apples and rhubarb …

We are reaching the point where the reality of the situation can no longer be denied. The cracks in the western world economies are growing and becoming increasingly visible to all. The fundamentally flawed nature of the credit driven society is showing and growing, and just like the Deepwater Horizon, will be a disaster that can’t be contained or avoided. Politicians would have us all believe we’re on the road to recovery by quoting statistics manipulated to provide optimum public confidence, but just like the boy who cried wolf, most people (hopefully) now know just how much bulldust and rhetoric… Read more »
I was wondering if that announcement by the new Japanese PM in comparing Japan’s situation to Greece – despite being sovereign in their own currency (unlike Greece), being able to set its own interest rate (unlike Greece), and having a flexible exhnage rate (unlike Greece) – will change your outlook for the trade of the decade? It seems he wants to get Japan out of recession by encouraging consumers to spend less. It also seems evident (based on their past experiences of this) that increasing taxes now will just prolong the recession – yet another lost decade!? What do you… Read more »
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