James Strodes at the American Spectator has dour predictions for the state of the US economy in years to come. True, deficits are piling up, spending is out of control, and we’re still losing jobs, but is it really that bad? Strodes seems to think so.
CONSIDER JUST A FEW of the economic bellwethers one hears about on the evening news as proof that the crisis has been stabilized and recovery is imminent. Stock prices are up, true. But trading volume is way down and that is because retail investors—citizens making real investment choices— are on the sidelines. The price rises that swell the Dow Jones Industrial and other indices reflect almost pure speculation by Wall Street’s investment houses that are soggy with Washington’s cash injections. Just as Cash for Clunkers inflated Detroit’s hopes last summer, so the share price recovery is more of a sign of a new bubble inflating than it is of real value returning to share market prices.
The same for housing prices, only more so. It was headline news recently that house prices in “some” areas of the country had stopped declining quite as fast, while in some fewer areas there were even tiny increases in prices of houses sold, if not much increase in the volume. Yet there are uncounted hundreds of thousands of vacant houses, condominiums, and commercial office space for which there is no rational prospect of a buyer during 2010 or perhaps ever.
It will get worse. Of the 47.4 million home mortgages in place today, nearly 10.7 million are “underwater,” that is, the money owed on the loan is greater than the value of the house. And that’s not counting the 2.3 million other mortgages that are “near-negative equity.” Most of these latter will face sharply higher upward ratcheting of their interest rates in 2010 and 2011 and that will automatically plunge those debts below the surface.
In Nevada already the amount of mortgages outstanding is estimated at $132.6 billion against property worth $116.7 billion, a loan-to-value ratio of 116 percent. Even another slight decline in prices in areas such as California (loan-to-value ratio of 72 percent), Arizona (91 percent), or Florida (87 percent) will swamp Washington’s promised next round of mortgage subsidy relief. The government’s own rescue agencies, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA, are dead in the water, and the government’s bank deposit insurance agency, the FDIC, says it has no more reserves to offset the coming next round of failing banks.
EVEN WHEN WASHINGTON ADMITS to a worrying 10-plus percent unemployment rate the real numbers are so far from reality as to be laughable. The recent headlined dip in the jobless rate turns out to have been caused by more than 50,000 already jobless people simply giving up and dropping out of the workforce. This has the statistically absurd result that the percentage of people deemed to be unsuccessfully seeking work is judged to have improved. When labor data is closely parsed for the measure known as “U-6,” which includes people forced to work part-time, those “discouraged” from seeking jobs, and those “marginally attached,” the rate trends above 17 percent.
But even that fails to accurately gauge the cold reality of the hopelessness facing folks at either end of the workforce demographic—the very young (where unemployment is trending above 60 percent) and those 55 and older who are forced back into job quests because their nest eggs vanished in the storm. Two-thirds of the job losses across the country have happened to the very blue-collar workers the Democratic Party has claimed for its own. For those Americans who still have hourly-wage jobs, their employment week would be the envy of a Frenchman—33 hours, on average. Sectors such as manufacturing, construction, and even retailing continue to shed workers; the only consistent gains over the last two years have been, no surprise, in government employment.
The policy response of all Western governments is to follow the failed Japanese model of trying to inflate one’s way out of a downdraft, pumping up another bubble. The theory is that if interest rates are forced low enough, and the money supply increased enough, and the government ramps up deficit spending to redistribute more wealth from the supposed rich to the supposed poor, a “multiplier effect” of economic growth will be sparked by consumers buying more, businesses investing more, and more jobs being created with prosperity spreading and growing. But if interest rates are already at zero, and the value of the dollar has been halved by doubling the supply of it, and the debt service burden of government spending is already suffocating the capital markets, how can one expect consumers to buy more (to buy more of what?), or businesses to invest more (for a new machine to do what?), much less to hire old workers back when the jobs they used to have are vanished, not to some Third World haven, but just vanished?
No one in Washington can say with a straight face just what the U.S. gross domestic product is except that we have been pushed back at least a decade and will probably be more than a decade in just getting back to where we were in 2006 (when GDP rose by an anemic 2.7 percent) just before the bubble burst the next year. Meanwhile new bubbles are forming all around us, in the commodity markets, in Hong Kong real estate, in the troubling data coming out of China and other Asian economies, all just waiting to buckle. Can you say Dubai? Greece?
A lengthy article, but worth reading. I hope thinks can be turned around before they get this bad, but we’ll see.