How Have We Let Things Get So Bad?

Serena Williams’ tantrum at the US Open was an embarrassment.

If it was one of my daughters who carried on like that, they would have been told by me, in no uncertain terms, to take a good hard look at themselves. Grow up and show some respect for yourself, your family, the officials and the game that’s been so good to you.

But judging by the noise coming from the empty vessels on social media, my views are not universally held. There is a bubble out there. One that’s inhabited by (a growing band of) people who see the world through an entirely different lens…blame others, play the victim, avoid personal responsibility and the world owes you a living.

Imagine if Margaret Court had acted that way in her day?

Boy oh boy, behaviour of that kind would never have been tolerated…let alone championed by a chorus line of ‘virtue signallers’.

And just to balance the scales. For the record, I have no time for Nick Kyrgios or Bernard Tomic. Their ‘on and off’ court antics make them an embarrassment to Australian sport.

Another Australian embarrassment is being played out in the arena of the Banking Royal Commission.

In the era when Margaret Court and Rod Laver where doing us proud on the international stage, our banks were regarded as the pillars of society. The bank manager was a well-respected member of the community…invited along to all social events.

Back in those days, when you went to see the bank manager, you dressed in your ‘Sunday best’.

These pillars are now being pilloried…subjects of scorn and ridicule…and rightly so.

Ripping off dead people. Skimming from superannuation accounts. Denying legitimate insurance claims. Flogging worthless products to the unsuspecting.

The word ‘greed’ is too mild to describe the actions of our once-trusted institutions.

Rapacious. Mercenary. Mean spirited.

These words come closer to describing the culture that’s infected our financial institutions.

Be it in sport or commerce or personal lives, there’s been a gradual deterioration in society values…those older than me, the generation that tipped a hat to a stranger, would say, ‘there’s been a decay’.

Personal responsibility. Humility. Respect. Manners. Chivalry. Tolerance of another opinion.

These qualities, unfortunately, are becoming the exception rather than rule in society.

When you witness or experience them, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Hope springs eternal that all is not lost.

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How have things drifted so far off course?


It’s said that ‘money is the root of all evil’.

I disagree.

Money, in itself, is just colourful paper with numbers on it.

Throw money on the floor and your pet will just walk by it…there’s absolutely no value in it for them.

It’s the human response to money that’s the root of good or evil.

Never before in history has there been so much money on offer to bring out the good and bad in human nature.

Tennis players — people who hit rubber balls over a net — are paid tens of millions of dollars.

Is what they do really worth that money?

You may recall Tomic saying ‘I just count my money, that’s all I do. I count my millions.’

Such arrogance.

Talentless egotistical social media ‘stars’ — you know who I’m talking about — make it on the celebrity rich lists. Why? Because people with too much time on their hands afford them an adulation they do not warrant. Therefore, TV networks dish out millions to buy the rights to syndicate this banal ‘entertainment’ to an audience that needs to get a life.

Bankers — in charge of institutions peddling products to the gullible — take home seven and eight figure ‘bonuses’ for their less-than-honourable efforts.

These are but some of the examples of people being too richly rewarded for adding too little value.

And, good luck to them. That’s the system we’ve created and they’re smart enough to be getting their slice of the global debt pie.

It’s no coincidence that sporting stars and social media celebs are paid millions of dollars for product endorsements at a time when consumer credit is at an all-time high.

If consumers suddenly decided to live within their means, you can be assured the endorsement income would dry up.

Insurance call centres pressure people into signing up for products they don’t need with money they don’t have. How do they sign them up over the phone?

‘Can I please have your credit card details?’ 

Thanks to fractional banking, obscene bonuses are paid to bankers for the simple act of converting one dollar of savings into ten dollars of debt. Nice work if you can get it.

The following chart is of the total debt in the US.

The US debt experience is illustrative of what’s transpired across the Western World over the past 50 years.

Graph from Federal Reserve regarding US Debt

Source: Federal Reserve Economic Data

[Click to open in a new window]

Back in the 1960’s — when Margaret Court graciously dominated world tennis — total US debt was a touch over US$1 trillion.

Today, the figure is just shy of US$70 trillion.

Granted, some of that 70-fold increase can be explained away by population growth and inflation.

However, the majority is due to banks being unleashed from the Gold Standard followed by a three-decade long reduction in interest rates.

Official estimates put the global debt pile around US$250 trillion.

This figure does NOT include the debts lurking in the shadow banking system…the unknown unknowns.

Global debt — official and unofficial — could be anywhere north of US$300 trillion.

Global GDP is about US$80 trillion…which means global debt to GDP could be in the range of 375%.

This is beyond madness.

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Will Debt Ever Be Repaid?

Debt is money we have NOT earned.

Global debt is a pile of promissory notes that are (in theory) going to be serviced and paid off with future earnings.

But with earnings stagnating, there’s a massive question mark over whether some of this debt will ever be repaid.

When defaults start to occur in sufficient numbers, that’s when the next credit crisis is likely going to hit…and hit hard.

The sound of popping bubbles won’t just be coming from overly-inflated asset prices finding their pin.

Those who live in the bubble world of inflated self-worth and an over-estimation of their contribution to society, may find they return to earth with a very heavy thud.

The more I see of our society adopting, accepting and justifying these entitlements and ‘airs and graces’, the more convinced I am that we’re closer to the tipping point.

The next Great Depression, whenever it arrives, as I believe it must, will have many repercussions.

One of those, I hope, will be the return of gratitude, humility and the acceptance of personal responsibility.


Vern Gowdie,
Editor, The Gowdie Letter

Vern Gowdie has been involved in financial planning since 1986. In 1999, Personal Investor magazine ranked Vern as one of Australia’s Top 50 financial planners. His previous firm, Gowdie Financial Planning was recognized in 2004, 2005, 2006 & 2007, by Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) magazine as one of the top five financial planning firms in Australia. He has been writing his 'Big Picture' column for regional newspapers since 2005 and has been a commentator on financial matters for Prime Radio talkback. His contrarian views often place him at odds with the financial planning profession. Vern is is Founder and Chairman of the Gowdie Family Wealth advisory service, a monthly newsletter with a clear aim: to help you build and protect wealth for future generations of your family. He is also editor of The Gowdie Letter, which aims to help you protect and grow your wealth during the great credit contraction. To have Vern’s enlightening market critique and commentary delivered straight to your inbox, take out a free subscription to Markets and Money here. Official websites and financial eletters Vern writes for:

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