RUNNING OUT OF FINANCIAL ROADThere’s an expression: Kicking the can down the road; defined in-use:If you kick the can down the road, you delay a decision in hopes that the problem or issue will go away or somebody else will make the decision later.Few things more beautifully exemplify the application of this phrase than its applicability to government finances.THE STARK FACTSFrom the website US Debt Clock, we’re pushing $20 Trillion in debt. Think about that for a second. Put it in scale: a million is a one with six zeros after it (106); a billion has nine zeroes (109)… a trillion, twelve zeroes (1012). This is just the US government’s debt; not states, not cities, just the feds. And are there any world governments not in debt, and with aggregate amounts that likely dwarf the amount of wealth in the world? Consider this report: Global debt reaches US$ 217 trillion.Now throw in America’s unfunded liabilities (which I suspect, but do not know, are not included in the above world debt figure; they’re definitely not included in the US debt figure). These are monies the US government has to pay that it has no clearly-identified way of funding which, by the way, would be illegal for a private entity – it’s good to be the King, isn’t it? Depending on which estimate you read, and I’ve heard it as being anywhere from $60 T to $123 T, possibly higher… much higher… even with the smallest number this is an amount of money that doesn’t exist in the US to pay it off; it dwarfs the recognized debt. Doubtless other governments have similar, off-the-books, issues – if true, that $217 T figure, above, is terrifyingly optimistic:“[W]e will have to deal, one way or another, with the largest twin bubbles in the history of the world: global debt, especially government debt, and the even larger bubble of government promises. We are talking about debt and unfunded promises to the tune of multiple hundreds of trillions of dollars – vastly larger than global GDP.”And while this article, Global debt hits all-time high of $152 trillion as IMF warns of world-wide economic stagnation, shows a lower global debt figure, contemplate 217 vs. 152. That’s a disparity of over $50 trillion in estimates of the global debt, which shows that nobody really knows what it is with any accuracy.I speculate that even if we strip-mined the planet down to the Moho, this could not be repaid.PIGPILE!But wait, there’s more! Roads and bridges are necessary infrastructure, are a multi-trillion dollar budget item and, like with all such public projects, this number is doubtless conservative; again, this is just in the US. How about the water infrastructure, or electrical? For example (links in original, bolding added):
One trillion dollars to upgrade older water pipes? And that's only the most urgent and immediate need? How many more trillions will be required to fix non-urgent, non-immediate problems? When you put that sort of money together with the sums bandied about to repair other elements of our infrastructure, plus that needed to upgrade and secure our electric grid . . . the figures become even more mind-boggling. We could be looking at multiple trillions of dollars over the next couple of decades - and that's just to fix the most serious problems
And leave us not forget the pension crisis; Illinois’ impending collapse because of public pension commitments is just the first domino wobbling. From states all the way down to individual cities, e.g., New York City, politicians have promised taxpayer monies in return for public union votes and election help… counting on the fact that the can will be far enough down the road so they can safely retire before the bill comes due. And again, doubtless other nations have similar issues.
Who will be asked to pay for these commitments by politicians long out of office? Whether at the federal, state, or municipal level, it’s you.. through more borrowing to “prime the pump” that will need to be repaid (and never works), forgiving loans (someone has to eat the losses), bailouts (paid for by more borrowing), inflation from running the presses, or higher taxes, or higher prices as companies get tapped to pay more taxes – it’s you. Get up, go to the bathroom, look in the mirror. You.WHAT CAN’T GO ON FOREVER, WON’TNational, and even state, governments are spending at rates that put drunken sailors to shame. The answer is obvious – stop spending:"Obviously, the federal government will not be able to balance the books no matterhow greedily it taxes us unless it reduces spending, which will entail drastic reductions in its size and scope. The alternative is inevitable economic collapse, because if something cannot go on forever, it won't."But they can’t do that though some want to try. That would alienate those who vote for a living, like this charmer, causing trouble in Thomas Sowell’s “Number 2” (two thoughts added in ):"No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians [and, in parallel without the re-election concerns, career bureaucrats] are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems -- of which getting elected and re-elected [or protecting their power turf] are No. 1 and No. 2. Whatever is No. 3 is far behind".I would argue No. 3 is to leverage their positions gained by Numbers 1 and 2 to feather their nests as fast and lavishly as possible. Just look at Barackus Rex, now living a life so extravagant even his fellow Leftists are scandalized (silly liberal, did you really believe that “spread the wealth around” BS?). And et tu, man-of-the-people Bernie Sanders? And of course, the above are pikers compared to Her Corruptness, Shrillary.The Constitution, The People, and long-term national interests are not even on the gold-silver-bronze podium of politician and bureaucrat priorities, but fall into the “also ran” category.WHAT’S HOLDING IT UP?In one of the sci-fi short stories by Larry Niven about known space – forgive me as I don’t recall which one – there was a story of a ship that normally had three legs for stability while on the ground; tripods being stable by definition. In the story one leg had been damaged; it was not touching the ground and the ship’s computer compensated by spinning the ship’s gyroscopes faster and faster. Close to the end of the story, the capability of the ship to compensate for the instability maxed out, and the entire ship toppled and crashed. Just before that happened, the good guy asks the bad guy – whose ship it was – a question: “What’s holding your ship up?”I fear the world, not just the US, is nearing that point financially (on the video, at 1:15, quote: “…the economy, according to the CBO, shuts down in 2027…”).The above image is from here; so I’m far from alone in seeing this. And from This is fiscally obscene (link in original text):
“The brutal reality is, we're teetering on the edge of national bankruptcy. Yes, I know, the federal government can simply 'print money' to pay off the national debt if it wishes; but that will also cause so much inflation as to render our currency meaningless. Think Weimar Germany.”
Ultimately, it will collapse (bolding in original); it cannot NOT collapse:A world in which "we do these things because they're easy" has one end-state: collapse. Believing that debt has no consequence, that the status quo is permanent, that all the promises based on soaring debt can be paid--it's all an appealing fantasy, magical thinking at its most enchanting. Believe these fantasies at your own risk.DESPERATE MEASURESI have no doubt that people who are really watching and not deluding themselves with fantasies of some magical growth formula turning this around are getting desperate. Desperate people do desperate things. Even unethical things. Even illegal things. Consider this excerpt from a 2012 essay about Wisconsin (bolding added):Wisconsin, a posterchild for the national and international trends of democratically elected governments to feed upon their own to sustain the ideal of achieving the universally secure life, had found over the last ten years the supposed promise of guaranteeing security to all had become an unholy burden. Locked into having to produce a balanced budget by a constitution written years earlier by a more fiscally responsible and mature citizenry, increasingly unethical fiscal tricks were required to assure the entitled their unfettered cut of the budget. Multiple elevations in the tax rate for both individuals and businesses eventually proved insufficient to feed the multi-billion dollar requirements of entitlements and the democrat Governor Doyle did the only rational thing felt he could given the inseparable link of the entitled to the health and power of his party – he stole. First hundreds of millions from the transportation funds exclusively set aside through energy taxes to maintain the transportation system, and then from health care professionals and patients through the state’s malpractice fund. When that didn’t prove to be enough, he took what he could from a one time subsidy from the federal government’s stimulus funds, and retired, leaving the whole stinking pile for the next governor to deal with. The election of 2010 between Scott Walker, a fiscal realist, and Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee, who promoted a further expansion of unsupportable tax mechanisms, was Wisconsin’s first dip into the cold water of fiscal reality and stunned every one with electorate’s decision to go with the adult in the room, and promote Walker to Governor.Governor Scott Walker made progress on that and the parasites fought him tooth-and-nail; I predict that as soon as he’s gone from office, they’ll revert (as they will at the federal level if the Democrats get back in the driver’s seat). It wasn’t enough. It can never be enough. We cannot tax our way out of this. As British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, sooner or later you run out of other peoples’ money.As the cracks start, there will be other desperate measures to keep stability going. One thing bandied about has been to federalize 401k plans; essentially, they’d seize the entire private retirement wealth of American workers and hand out IOU slips in return. Officially denied, and scorned by the Left as paranoia, there are trillions of dollars of retirement wealth in private hands; just the sort of thing to keep the American ship from crashing for another few years… assuming the world doesn’t drag us down anyway.The last time I brought it up online, someone actually replied “So what if they do? Your account will be backed by the full faith and credit of the US government; you don’t trust them?” When I replied that I did not, I was… swallow and put your drink down… is that drink down?... excoriated by a screaming-militant Leftist for not being patriotic.Another sign of desperation will be a renewed push to go to a cashless society – one in which no transaction or income, at any level, will go untaxed.A VORLON PROVERBMultiple people around the Conservative blogosphere have opined and commented on what to do. Certainly, having cash and other trade goods on hand is a good idea; another column with other advice thoughts here. Being prepared with food and water is a good idea too – even if you have, say, a month on hand you’re better prepared than most (the conventional wisdom I’ve read is that 90-120 days of survival will be needed before things get stabilized after a crash). Guns and ammo to hold what you’ve got. A joke I saw goes like this:I asked my financial advisor what he’s buying. He replied “Canned goods, guns, and ammo.”Speaking of, financial people and other well-off folks really are prepping:Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.Ideas about prepping in myriad flavors abound; seek out those far more knowledgeable about it than I. But there’s one basic point…The Vorlons were an ancient alien species from the TV show Babylon 5 (fantastic show!). They had several proverbs, and one applies perfectly to the amount of road that’s left. The crash, it’s coming… and it can’t be stopped.Prepare yourself.