Thursday, March 11, 2010

Doug Casey: Surviving Financial Apocalypse Now

Doug Casey on Surviving Financial Apocalypse Now
Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator article link
March 11, 2010 LewRockwell

... L: Most people feel that they should do right by their friends – government's don't have friends, and most see their citizens as being property, like cattle, that require the state's permission to do anything. Inflating the currency isn't a crime in their view, just a tool for controlling the dumb masses. But it's really taxation without representation.

Doug: Sadly so. And since the institution of government is based on force, on compulsion, they feel they have every right to do what they want. They sanitize all types of criminality by saying it's in "the national interest" or some such poppycock.

L: Okay… but these currencies have worked for a very long time. Why are you right about this and the rest of the world wrong? Why is it inevitable that government currencies will fail?

Doug: [Chuckles] Because governments are not living persons who care and can be motivated to do the right thing. They are collections of individuals – politicians and bureaucrats, not exactly the most desirable types – who pursue their own interests. Regardless of the rhetoric, their interests coincide with the public good only on occasion, like a broken clock being right twice a day. Even in the most enlightened times – even in the best of times – governments have huge incentives to spend more than they take in. These are not the best of times; the population has been trained for generations to expect subsidies and freebies as their due, without regard to who pays or how they will be paid.

I'll give you an example. When I was on the Phil Donahue Show, the day before the national elections in 1980, I was making the same philosophical points I am now. I explained how they, the taxpayers, would pay for all the goodies – like Social Security and unemployment compensation – that they wanted. A middle-aged guy in the audience asked: "Well, why can't the government pay for these things?" And the rest of the audience roared approval.

It was then that I first realized that resistance was futile and the situation was basically hopeless. And that someone who can seem perfectly sensible when he's discussing sports, or the weather, or the state of the roads, was likely to be a moron when it came to economics. And that when he became part of a crowd, it was even worse: he might transform into an imbecile or even an idiot.

Anyway, the dollar has existed for many years, even though it's degraded over time – first with the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913, then with the repudiation of domestic gold redeemability in 1933, then with the repudiation of international redeemability in 1971. Even though the government has created trillions of new ones, the dollar is still thought of as some kind of a cosmic standard. In point of fact, it's no better than the Argentine peso and will have the same fate.

These IOUs have a quite ephemeral reality and are far too easy to create – there's literally no limit at this point. We don't even have to actually print them anymore, they're created by computer strokes – so it's unrealistic to expect fiscal restraint on the part of any government over time. It's just too tempting to spend money to make people feel richer than they really are, buying votes.

L: Looking at the deficits and national debt, it certainly seems so.

Doug: The national debt – when was the last time you heard any average person worry about the national debt? Americans have become so used to carrying huge loads of debt around – right out of college with student loans – that it doesn't even occur to them that there could be any reason for concern over the national debt. It's an abstraction, like the number of light years to the Andromeda Galaxy.

People used to at least pay attention, though most would say, "It's not a problem, we owe it to ourselves." But that was always a delusion. Some people, organized in a club called the government, borrowed it from some other people. But now it's even more dangerous, because the U.S. government owes it mostly to foreigners: the Chinese, the Japanese, the Taiwanese, and so forth. Americans, who at least theoretically have some interest in keeping the U.S. government straight, are tapped out. So it's gone to borrow from other societies. And they won't like it if they are left holding a bunch of worthless IOUs at the end of this experiment.

As the world political situation continues to deteriorate towards something I think will vaguely resemble World War III, the chances are excellent that a U.S. government at the end of its financial rope will default, likely by radically devaluing its dollar. They're way past thinking in millions. They don't even think in billions anymore; they're up to trillions. Soon Obama will have to ask the buffoon he appointed as a science advisor what comes after trillions. Those nice foreigners who gave Americans physical wealth in exchange for pieces of paper are going to find that, indeed, all they got was a bunch of paper. Maybe not even that, but just ledger entries representing pieces of paper.

It's not just the Chinese and Japanese governments that are going to be unhappy. But hundreds of millions of individuals around the world – in places from Russia to the Congo, to Mexico, to Thailand – that have a trillion of the things under their mattresses, because they justifiably don't trust their own government's paper, are going to be even more unhappy with the U.S.

This is big trouble. It's not just another economic downturn when scores of millions find their life savings go "poof." What we're looking at is a cataclysm at some point soon. I hate to sound inflammatory, but I think the situation is much, much more explosive than it appears on the surface, much worse than you see on the TV news. ...

... Doug: There's a titanic battle right now between the forces of inflation and deflation. When a big corporation like General Motors, or Fannie or Freddie, defaults on its debt, hundreds of billions of dollars disappear. Assets people thought they had and could have been converted into cash disappear. That's deflationary. In a sound banking system, in which money is a commodity like gold, money can't disappear. It can change ownership, but it can't disappear. But in our current system, it can dry up and blow away as easily as it can be created.

One major problem that stems from this is that some people benefit from government money creation and some don't. Who gets to spend it first, when it's most valued, and who gets stuck holding the Old Maid card when it vanishes? It's usually the little guy – the middle-class guy – who gets hurt when this happens. And in the U.S., the middle class is contracting. The financial gyrations we're going through are destroying the middle class, which naïvely believes that traditional American values still hold sway and that their government is honest. The lower class has long since lost any values, and the upper class is way too cynical and self-interested to really care. Most middle-class people will end up joining one or the other of these two classes, and that'll be a moral disaster for the country.

America used to be a place where class wasn't really important, and you could move between classes easily – not at all like Europe or the Orient. But as the middle class gets squeezed, we're likely to get class warfare between those on top and those on the bottom.

L: One way to look at the inflation/deflation debate is that even if we do in fact have financial asset destruction – a kind of deflation – on a scale necessary to outdo the truly phenomenal amounts of money creation the U.S. and other governments are engaged in, the implied destruction is just as bad as hyperinflation. The number of banks and other financial institutions that would fail – and with so many people having 401Ks and online brokerage accounts, the number of people whose savings and pension plans would be wiped out – would be truly cataclysmic. That's what it would take to balance the wanton inflation of the money supply we now see in progress. If that's the cure, it, too, is deadly.

Doug: I think that's fair to say. Either way, it's going to be really serious. As I pointed out a few minutes ago, when you have runaway inflation in a place like Zimbabwe, where most people are living on a subsistence level, people with gardens and chickens will get hurt, but they'll still get by. It's not the same when the world's wealthiest and most advanced economies are falling apart. Americans are going to see a serious drop in their standard of living, which they are completely unprepared for, and it's going to be a disaster. They don't have gardens and chickens to tide them over. There's no way around it.

L: Which brings us back to why. I mean, I'm sure many people can see the picture you've painted, but why is it inevitable?

Doug: Because the U.S. government and others like it are between a rock and a hard place. It is simply not a politically acceptable option to step back and let the market correct the gross misallocations and distortions the government has imposed on the economy. They must "do something" – even if they know full well it's the wrong thing. And "doing something" means spending without raising taxes too much, because they know too much of that will slam the coffin on the economy they are trying to resuscitate. Spending on "stimuli" to "fix" the economy – direct spending on bribes to voters, like extending unemployment "benefits" to years and offering them "free" health care, etc… the way things are structured, the government must spend. Not spending is unthinkable.

There are only two ways to pay for that. They can borrow, which they can only do if they raise interest rates enough to make their bonds attractive, and that, too, would pull the plug on what you so colorfully called the "iron lung economy." And they can print money, which they can do with some impunity, hoping the bill won't come due until some other poor fool is in office – but that destroys the dollar sooner or later.

Everything we've seen shows that they are doing what is predictable for politicians, since they can appear to be "doing something" with the consequences left to the future: they are destroying the dollar.

The U.S. government is going to be running trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. Again, they can't borrow it while keeping interest rates low, so they are going to sell their bonds to themselves, which is to say the Federal Reserve, and inflation is going to explode. There simply is no painless choice, and it's very close to being totally out of control. ... (article continues)

Doug Casey is a best-selling author and chairman of Casey Research, LLC., publishers of Casey’s International Speculator.
Copyright © 2010 Casey and Associates

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