Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How things have changed

How life changes...

The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.
The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.
Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed.
The grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Be responsible for yourself!

The ant works hard in the withering heat and the rain all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.
The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while he is cold and starving.
CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper and everybody cries when they sing, 'It's Not Easy Being Green.'

ACORN stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house where the news stations film the group singing, "We shall overcome." Then Rev. .Jeremiah Wright has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

President Obama condemns the ant and blames President Bush, President Reagan, Christopher Columbus, and the Pope for the grasshopper's plight. Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid exclaim in an
interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity & Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer.
The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bug and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government Czar Green and given to the grasshopper.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper and his free-loading friends finishing up the last bits of the ant's food while the government house he is in, which, as you recall, just happens to be the ant's old house, crumbles around them because the grasshopper doesn't maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow, never to be seen again.
The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident, and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the ramshackle, once prosperous and once peaceful, neighborhood.

The entire Nation collapses bringing the rest of the free world with it.
MORAL OF THE STORY: We're fucked!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Detroit's socialist nightmare is America's future


Thursday, October 29, 2009
From Porter Stansberry in the S&A Digest:

One of the most important things to remember about socialism – or coercion of any kind – is it fails eventually because human beings have an innate desire for liberty and a strong need for personal property rights. In fact, the origins of government lie in the need of agricultural communities to protect themselves from violence and theft. So it is particularly ironic that in more recent times, it is government itself that has more frequently played the role of bandit. When you start taxing people at extreme rates to pay for socialist "benefits," when you start telling them which schools their children must attend, when you start giving jobs away to people based on race instead of ability... you quash human freedom, which bogs down productivity... and if continued for long enough, leads to social collapse.

I find it perplexing that only 20 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the West continues to implement laws that mimic all of the failed policies of our former "communist" foes. In fact, our current president won the election by promising to "spread the wealth around." But... truth be told... we don't have to look to Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union to find a society destroyed by coercion, socialism, and the overreaching power of the State. We could just look at Detroit...

In 1961, the last Republican mayor of Detroit lost his re-election bid to a young, intelligent Democrat, with the overwhelming support of newly organized black voters. His name was Jerome Cavanagh. The incumbent was widely considered to be corrupt (and later served 10 years in prison for tax evasion). Cavanagh, a white man, pandered to poor underclass black voters. He marched with Martin Luther King down the streets of Detroit in 1963. (Of course, marching with King was the right thing to do... It's just Cavanagh's motives were political not moral.) He instated aggressive affirmative action policies at City Hall. And most critically, he greatly expanded the role of the government in Detroit, taking advantage of President Lyndon Johnson's "Model Cities Program" – the first great experiment in centralized urban planning.

Mayor Cavanagh was the only elected official to serve on Johnson's task force. And Detroit received widespread acclaim for its leadership in the program, which attempted to turn a nine-square-mile section of the city (with 134,000 inhabitants) into a "model city." More than $400 million was spent trying to turn inner cities into shining new monuments to government planning. In short, the feds and Democratic city mayors were soon telling people where to live, what to build, and what businesses to open or close. In return, the people received cash, training, education, and health care.

The Model Cities program was a disaster for Detroit. But it did accomplish its real goal: The creation of a state-supported, Democratic political power base. The program also resulted in much higher taxes – which were easy to pitch to poor voters who didn't have to pay them. Cavanagh pushed a new income tax through the state legislature and a "commuter tax" on city workers.

Unfortunately, as with all socialist programs, lots of folks simply don't like being told what to do. Lots of folks don't like being plundered by the government. They don't like losing their jobs because of their race.

In Detroit, they didn't like paying new, large taxes to fund a largely black and Democratic political hegemony. And so, in 1966, more than 22,000 middle- and upper-class residents moved out of the city.

But what about the poor? As my friend Doug Casey likes to say, in the War on Poverty, the poor lost the most. In July 1967, police attempted to break up a late-night party in the middle of the new "Model City." The scene turned into the worst race riot of the 1960s. The violence killed more than 40 people and left more than 5,000 people homeless. One of the first stores to be looted was the black-owned pharmacy. The largest black-owned clothing store in the city was also burned to the ground. Cavanagh did nothing to stop the riots, fearing a large police presence would make matters worse. Five days later, Johnson sent in two divisions of paratroopers to put down the insurrection. Over the next 18 months, an additional 140,000 upper- and middle-class residents – almost all of them white – left the city.

And so, you might rightfully ask... after five years of centralized planning, higher taxes, and a fleeing population, what did the government decide to do with its grand experiment, its "Model City"? You'll never guess....

Seeing it had accomplished nothing but failure, the government endeavored to do still more. The Model City program was expanded and enlarged by 1974's Community Development Block Grant Program. Here again, politicians would decide which groups (and even individuals) would receive state funds for various "renewal" schemes. Later, Big Business was brought into the fold. In exchange for various concessions, the Big Three automakers "gave" $488 million to the city for use in still more redevelopment schemes in the mid-1990s.

What happened? Even with all of their power and all of the money, centralized planners couldn't succeed with any of their plans. Nearly all of the upper and middle class left Detroit. The poor fled, too. The Model City area lost 63% of its population and 45% of its housing units from the inception of the program through 1990.

Even today, the crisis continues. At a recent auction of nearly 9,000 seized homes and lots, less than one-fifth of the available properties sold, even with bidding starting at $500. You literally can't give away most of the "Model City" areas today. The properties put up for sale last week represented an area the size of New York's Central Park. Total vacant land in Detroit now occupies an area the size of Boston – Detroit properties in foreclosure have more than tripled since 2007.

Every single mayor of Detroit since 1961 has been a Democrat. Every single mayor of Detroit since 1974 has been black. Detroit has been a major recipient of every major social program since the early 1960s and has received hundreds of billions of dollars in government grants, loans, and programs. We now have a black, Democrat president, who is promising to do to America as a whole what his political mentors have done to Detroit.

Those of you with a Democratic political affiliation may think what I've written above is biased or false. You may think what you like. But there is no way to argue that what the government has done to Detroit is anything but a horrendous crime. You may think what I've written above is merely a political analysis. Perhaps so, but politicians drive macroeconomic policy. And macroeconomic policy determines key financial metrics, like the trade-weighted value of a currency and key interest rates.

The likelihood America will become a giant Detroit is growing – rapidly. Politicians now control the banking sector, most of the manufacturing sector (including autos), a large amount of media, and are threatening to take over health care and the production of electricity (via cap and trade rules). These are the biggest threats to wealth in the history of our country. And these threats are causing the world's most accomplished and wealthy investors to actively short sell the United States – something that is unprecedented in my experience.

The bankruptcy of the United States is now certain


From Porter Stansberry in the S&A Digest:

It's one of those numbers that's so unbelievable you have to actually think about it for a while... Within the next 12 months, the U.S. Treasury will have to refinance $2 trillion in short-term debt. And that's not counting any additional deficit spending, which is estimated to be around $1.5 trillion. Put the two numbers together. Then ask yourself, how in the world can the Treasury borrow $3.5 trillion in only one year? That's an amount equal to nearly 30% of our entire GDP. And we're the world's biggest economy. Where will the money come from?

How did we end up with so much short-term debt? Like most entities that have far too much debt - whether subprime borrowers, GM, Fannie, or GE - the U.S. Treasury has tried to minimize its interest burden by borrowing for short durations and then "rolling over" the loans when they come due. As they say on Wall Street, "a rolling debt collects no moss." What they mean is, as long as you can extend the debt, you have no problem. Unfortunately, that leads folks to take on ever greater amounts of debt… at ever shorter durations… at ever lower interest rates. Sooner or later, the creditors wake up and ask themselves: What are the chances I will ever actually be repaid? And that's when the trouble starts. Interest rates go up dramatically. Funding costs soar. The party is over. Bankruptcy is next.

When governments go bankrupt it's called "a default." Currency speculators figured out how to accurately predict when a country would default. Two well-known economists - Alan Greenspan and Pablo Guidotti - published the secret formula in a 1999 academic paper. That's why the formula is called the Greenspan-Guidotti rule. The rule states: To avoid a default, countries should maintain hard currency reserves equal to at least 100% of their short-term foreign debt maturities. The world's largest money management firm, PIMCO, explains the rule this way: "The minimum benchmark of reserves equal to at least 100% of short-term external debt is known as the Greenspan-Guidotti rule. Greenspan-Guidotti is perhaps the single concept of reserve adequacy that has the most adherents and empirical support."

The principle behind the rule is simple. If you can't pay off all of your foreign debts in the next 12 months, you're a terrible credit risk. Speculators are going to target your bonds and your currency, making it impossible to refinance your debts. A default is assured.

So how does America rank on the Greenspan-Guidotti scale? It's a guaranteed default. The U.S. holds gold, oil, and foreign currency in reserve. The U.S. has 8,133.5 metric tonnes of gold (it is the world's largest holder). That's 16,267,000 pounds. At current dollar values, it's worth around $300 billion. The U.S. strategic petroleum reserve shows a current total position of 725 million barrels. At current dollar prices, that's roughly $58 billion worth of oil. And according to the IMF, the U.S. has $136 billion in foreign currency reserves. So altogether... that's around $500 billion of reserves. Our short-term foreign debts are far bigger.

According to the U.S. Treasury, $2 trillion worth of debt will mature in the next 12 months. So looking only at short-term debt, we know the Treasury will have to finance at least $2 trillion worth of maturing debt in the next 12 months. That might not cause a crisis if we were still funding our national debt internally. But since 1985, we've been a net debtor to the world. Today, foreigners own 44% of all our debts, which means we owe foreign creditors at least $880 billion in the next 12 months - an amount far larger than our reserves.

Keep in mind, this only covers our existing debts. The Office of Management and Budget is predicting a $1.5 trillion budget deficit over the next year. That puts our total funding requirements on the order of $3.5 trillion over the next 12 months.

So… where will the money come from? Total domestic savings in the U.S. are only around $600 billion annually. Even if we all put every penny of our savings into U.S. Treasury debt, we're still going to come up nearly $3 trillion short. That's an annual funding requirement equal to roughly 40% of GDP. Where is the money going to come from? From our foreign creditors? Not according to Greenspan-Guidotti. And not according to the Indian or the Russian central bank, which have stopped buying Treasury bills and begun to buy enormous amounts of gold. The Indians bought 200 metric tonnes this month. Sources in Russia say the central bank there will double its gold reserves.

So where will the money come from? The printing press. The Federal Reserve has already monetized nearly $2 trillion worth of Treasury debt and mortgage debt. This weakens the value of the dollar and devalues our existing Treasury bonds. Sooner or later, our creditors will face a stark choice: Hold our bonds and continue to see the value diminish slowly, or try to escape to gold and see the value of their U.S. bonds plummet.

One thing they're not going to do is buy more of our debt. Which central banks will abandon the dollar next? Brazil, Korea, and Chile. These are the three largest central banks that own the least amount of gold. None own even 1% of their total reserves in gold.

I examined these issues in much greater detail in the most recent issue of my newsletter, Porter Stansberry's Investment Advisory, which we published last Friday. Coincidentally, the New York Times repeated our warnings - nearly word for word - in its paper today. (They didn't mention Greenspan-Guidotti, however... It's a real secret of international speculators.)

Crux Note: The S&A Digest comes free with a subscription to Porter Stansberry's Investment Advisory. Porter says his latest issue is the most important he's ever written. If you don't act right now to protect yourself from the dollar, he thinks the odds are very high you'll be wiped out over the next 12 months. To learn more, click here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

America, have you forgotten history?

Budget Hero