Economy

Finally Warren Buffett said what I’ve been harping on about for two years. In his NYT op-ed piece titled “The Greenback Effect” he admited that the government is setting us up for massive inflation and destruction of the US Dollar.

This fiscal year, though, the deficit will rise to about 13 percent of G.D.P., more than twice the non-wartime record. In dollars, that equates to a staggering $1.8 trillion.

During this fiscal year, [our net debt] will increase more than one percentage point per month, climbing to about 56 percent of G.D.P. from 41 percent. Admittedly, other countries, like Japan and Italy, have far higher ratios and no one can know the precise level of net debt to G.D.P. at which the United States will lose its reputation for financial integrity. But a few more years like this one and we will find out.

The US debt is currently financed by foreigners. Foreigners who have excess Dollars because we used to import everything from them. Three years ago during the height of the housing boom, consumers refinanced their homes every year and bought stuff they couldn’t afford, most of it imported from these same foreign countries. Indeed, consumer spending was 75% of our GDP. But with the collapse in housing, what has happend to consumer spending at the retail level?

Monthly US Retail Sales Total YoY

Retail spending has dropped off a cliff. Click on the image to go to retailsails.com which is has a lot of indepth information about the dismal level of retail sales.

And with the decline in spending, imports decline and in turn the ability of foreigners to finance our deficit spending. As they decide they no longer want to buy US treasuries at 3.5% but instead would like to buy stock in undervalued companies, real estate or maybe gold, the Federal Reserve is going to have to work overtime to print all the money it needs to fund the government spending. Buffett projects that the Treasury will need to finance at least $900 billion this way!

With government expenditures now running 185 percent of receipts, truly major changes in both taxes and outlays will be required.

Legislators will correctly perceive that either raising taxes or cutting expenditures will threaten their re-election. To avoid this fate, they can opt for high rates of inflation, which never require a recorded vote and cannot be attributed to a specific action that any elected official takes. In fact, John Maynard Keynes long ago laid out a road map for political survival amid an economic disaster of just this sort: “By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens…. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”

I forget who said it but inflation is essentially taxation without representation!

Rampant inflation will cause the Dollar to lose its purchasing power against foreign currencies and precious metals like gold and silver which have been stores of value for 5,000 years. Unlike paper money, gold and silver are not subject to the human greed of rulers and maintain their value since their supply cannot be increased exponentially.

Buffett knows that the reputation of the Almighty Dollar is at risk.

Congress must end the rise in the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio and keep our growth in obligations in line with our growth in resources.

Unchecked carbon emissions will likely cause icebergs to melt. Unchecked greenback emissions will certainly cause the purchasing power of currency to melt. The dollar’s destiny lies with Congress.

Will Congress do the right thing or just do what’s easy and keeps them in office? Buffett is betting on the later and has slowly been converting his hoard of of billions of dollars in to foreign currencies like the Brazilian real.

At least I’m sure I did the right now when I started buying gold at $495/ounce!

Here’s an interesting article in the Washington Post. I’m not sure I agree that Medical Insurers should be applauded for growing their profits 400%+ over the past few years but the fact remains that business profitability remains the core of a strongth economy. In fact, the only way we can get out of this current economy mess is through incentivising small businesses. Until they’re encouraged to grow and prosper, the economic engine will not kick-start. Unfortunately, it seems that Obama is only interested pork stimulus that only seem to stimulate one part of the economy at the expense of another (read the we buy ugly houses post) .  But I digress.  We definitely do need a public health plan but taxing small business owners to get it doesn’t seem right. But check out the article and form your own opinions.

Profits We Should Cheer
By Stephen L. Carter
Thursday, July 30, 2009

A specter is haunting America: the specter of profit. We have become fearful that somewhere, somehow, an evil corporation has found a way to make lots of money.
Flash back three years. In 2006, Exxon Mobil announced the highest profit in the history of American corporate enterprise. Politicians and pundits stumbled over each other to call for an investigation and for some sort of confiscatory tax on the money the company earned. Profit, it seemed, was an evil, but large profit was even worse.
Today, the debate on the overhaul of the health-care system sparks a shiver of deja vu. The leitmotif of the conversation about the coming shape of health insurance is that the villain is the system of private insurance. “For-profit” firms come under constant attack from activists and members of Congress.

Thus, a recent news release from the AFL-CIO began with this evidently alarming fact: “Profits at 10 of the country’s largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007.” Even had the figures been correct — they weren’t — we are seeing the same circus. Profit is the enemy. America could be made pure, if only profit could be purged.

This attitude was wrong in 2006. It is wrong now. High profits are excellent news. When corporate earnings reach record levels, we should be celebrating. The only way a firm can make money is to sell people what they want at a price they are willing to pay. If a firm makes lots of money, lots of people are getting what they want.
To the country, profit is a benefit. Record profit means record taxes paid. But put that aside. When profits are high, firms are able to reinvest, expand and hire. And profits accrue to the benefit of those who own stocks: overwhelmingly, pension funds and mutual funds. In other words, high corporate profits today signal better retirements tomorrow.

Another reason to celebrate profit is the incentive it creates. When profits can be made, entrepreneurs provide more of needed goods and services. Consider an example common to the first-year contracts course in every law school: Suppose that the state of Quinnipiac suffers a devastating hurricane. Power is out over thousands of square miles. An entrepreneur from another state, seeing the problem, buys a few dozen portable generators at $500 each, rents a truck and drives them to Quinnipiac, where he posts them for sale at $2,000 each — a 300 percent markup.

Based on recent experience, it is likely the media will respond with fury and the attorney general of Quinnipiac will open an investigation into price-gouging. The result? When the next hurricane arrives, the entrepreneur will stay put, and three dozen homeowners who were willing to pay for power will not have it. There will be fewer portable generators in Quinnipiac than there would have been if the seller were left alone.

When political anger over profit reduces the willingness of investors to take risks, the nation suffers. According to news reports, one reason the Obama administration has had so much trouble finding buyers for the toxic assets it hopes to remove from financial institutions’ balance sheets is a concern by financiers that should they go along with the plan and make rather than lose money, they will be hauled before Congress to explain themselves.
And although it is easy to be dismayed by excess, trying to regulate profit makes things worse. Capital flows to places where returns are highest. The more exercised our political leaders become when profits rise, the more investment capital will remain abroad.

The search for profit has dangers. There are few legal ways to enhance profits other than cost-cutting, improving efficiency or innovating. This can lead to wondrous inventions — the iPod, say — but it can also create serious dislocations, as when companies close plants and lay off workers. Remedying those human costs is part of what most of us want government to do. What we must avoid, however, is making the remedy so severe that profitability becomes impossible.

Consider the bills in Congress that seek to limit the freedom of federally aided automakers to close dealerships or to build the cars that buyers want. Preserving local jobs and building greener cars are admirable objectives, but a firm that is forced to sacrifice profitability to attain them is unlikely to be competitive over the long haul. Indeed, one reason the “public option” health insurance program under debate may turn out to be more expensive than advocates suggest is that here, unlike in Europe, we are unlikely to put up with government restrictions on what sorts of care will be available, especially for seniors. A board of experts might decide to limit access to hip replacements, for instance, but there is little chance Congress will let them get away with it.

Private insurers, by contrast, will cut whatever they can. This puts them at constant war with regulators and patients, but beneath this tension is a certain useful discipline. We want health care to be cheaper, and the for-profit health-care industry has every incentive to make it so. Supporters of the public option tout Medicare’s cost advantages over private insurance, but those are largely obtained by setting below-market reimbursement rates for medical services (meaning that private patients subsidize Medicare patients). Moreover, the costs of compliance with the hundreds of pages of Medicare regulations are also transferred to the providers, and thus, again, to private patients.

I have no problem with a system in which private patients subsidize public patients. I do not even mind calling it a tax. Those who have good jobs should be helping out, and carping about it is uncharitable, especially now. But an expanded public option will be possible only if the for-profit sector remains vibrant and strong — and profitable. Thus, we should all await, with grateful anticipation, the day when American firms again begin to earn the highest profits in history.

Stephen L. Carter, a Yale law professor, is most recently the author of “Jericho’s Fall.”

cheap home for saleSource: Miz Duke

As everyone knows the only thing wrong with America right now, is the lagging economy. If we could only boost our economy and increase our GDP we’d be able to unleash prosperity on everyone.  So building on the resounding success of its “cash for clunkers” program, the Obama administration just announced a cash for junkers or “we buy ugly houses” program. Since the median home price is about 10 times that of a median priced car, the government will offer 10 times the rebate for the purchase of a new home.  Other than that, the “cash for junkers” program is identical to the preceding program:

  • If you “trade-in” your old home, you’ll get $35,000 towards the purchase of a brand new one
  • If you had a jumbo-mortgage or your house was over 5,000 square feet, you qualify for $45,000
  • You must have owned the home for at least 1 year to prevent misuse of these funds
  • The “trade-in” house must be bulldozed and the debris shipped off to China
  • If your house is worth more than the rebate amount, you’re out of luck!

The government has earmarked $20 billion for this program and it estimates that the sales of 500,000 homes will cannibalized this year from future sales numbers. Wait, did I say cannibalize? My apologies, I meant to say that the demand for 500,000 new homes would be created.  The total effect will be to boost the economy by $100 billion dollars or nearly 0.7%! Since the destruction of the existing houses doesn’t count in GDP numbers it’s a net positive result!

The GDP is a number that calculates the amount of services and goods produces without the effects of taxation, so the negative effect of an extra $20 Billion burden on the taxpayers (or their unborn grandchildren) isn’t a part of the calculation either. So you see, it’s a win-win situation for everyone!

What’s that? Who do I mean by everyone? I mean the administration and the small sub-section of the population who own sub-$35,000 homes who are able to go out and get $125,000 mortgages. Now I’m not sure whether these are low-income families or rich slumlords, but that discussion is merely an academic argument.

Not only that, but demolishing the existing homes would help reduce the old inventory thats casting a dark shadow over the entire real estate industry.  So this we buy ugly houses program would really help the economy’s green shoots sprout in to a young sapling.  What’s that you say? We need job and income growth to actually boost the economy. No, that was the old economy.  This time it’s different!

I just finished reading John Mauldin’s weekly newsletter. He has a very interesting graph that I’m reproducing below.

5-trillion-in-sovereign-debt-issuance

This year there’s an expected $5.3 Trillion dollars in new sovereign debt issuance!  He asks a great question – where is this money going to come from? Most of this money is going to bank bailouts and increased government spending.  The resulting decrease in imports and increase in government spending will of course make our GDP look rosier than it actually is. So there’s a good chance we’ll hear news reports of the economy improving even though there’s absolutely no improvement whatsoever!

So even though I’m concerned that the US is printing money hand over fist, it seems everyone is just doing the same thing. Unfortunately, we’re “winning”.   I still think we’ll see hyperinflation during this cycle and even though the USD may not weaken against foreign currencies, it should depreciate against real assets like gold and silver, and towards the tail-end of the cycle maybe real estate too.  I strongly doubt we’ll see any sort of quick recovery any time soon.  And if you want to read an entertaining article on why you should short the US, proceed on to Ahlgren Multiverse.

Had dinner last night with an old family friend at a fancy restaurant. One of the topics that came up for discussion was the stock market and whether the recent rally was sustainable. While I didn’t have any concrete information about the numbers, I felt that the rally in the face of declining quarterly revenues, growing unemployment, increased savings and what could be a permanent drop in consumption didn’t make any sense to me.

But today I read an email from Joan Mauldin.  He always provides great information and sure enough, he had the very data I was looking for. I’ve omitted some of the information for the sake of brevity (and its still pretty long!).

Rising Unemployment and Inflation

When the employment numbers come out, my usual routine is to go the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and peruse the actual tables (www.bls.gov). I was rather surprised to see that the actual number of people employed in the US rose by 120,000. That has certainly not been the trend for a rather long time.

So, are things back on track? Is the recession just about over? Is that a green shoot? I don’t think so.
First, there are actually two surveys done by the BLS. One is the household survey, where they call up a fixed number of homes each month and ask about the employment situation in the household and then take that data and extrapolate it for the economy as a whole. So, while the number of employed rose, the number of unemployed rose a lot faster, by 563,000 to 13.7 million. In addition, there are 2.1 million who are “marginally attached” to the workforce. These individuals wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

According to the survey, headline unemployment rose 0.4% to 8.9%, the highest level since 1983. But if you count those who are working part-time but want full-time work, as well as the “marginally attached,” the unemployment rate (called the U-6 rate) is an ugly 15.8%.

For whatever reason, the markets were happy that the headline number of the other BLS survey, the establishment survey of lost jobs, was “only” 539,000, down from a negatively revised 699,000 in March. At least, the thinking was, the numbers were not getting worse, though it is hard for me to be encouraged by half a million lost jobs. That may not be the worst of it, however, since 66,000 jobs were temporary workers hired for the 2010 census, and the BLS estimated that the birth-death ratio added 226,000 jobs as a result of new business creation. Really? This will mean that there will likely be a major revision downward at some future point. The number will likely be well over 600,000 in the final analysis.

Further, it is likely that we will see at least another 1.0-1.5 million lost jobs over the rest of the year, taking unemployment very close to 10%. As an aside, the Treasury used an unemployment rate of 9.5% in their stress test of the banks, which suggests the test was not all that stressful. And, showing further weakness, there were 66,000 fewer temporary jobs. If there was really a nascent recovery, you would see a rise in temporary workers.

Average wages rose by a mere 3.2% on an annual basis, and by just 0.1% for the month, and the average work week was at an all-time record low of 33.2 hours. In nearly any inflation scenario, rising wages play an important part. This suggests that inflation is not in our near future.

I kind of agree on the inflation part. It may not be in our near future. But it is definitely on the horizon. The Federal Reserve has expanded the base money in existence 100% in the past year by lending it to banks. Right now the banks are keeping it as their reserves in the Fed and the Fed is encouraging this by paying them interest on it. But they will slowly lower the interest rate paid to banks to encourage them to lend this money out. Due to fractional reserve lending, this money lent out will be several times more than the money the Fed gave the banks and the money supply will probably increase 100% too. This has to cause inflation, but it will hopefully be controlled and not like Zimbabwe’s 100,000% inflation per year! Although, one of the reasons the US can get away with this is the Dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency. Still, I’m bullish on the long-term prices of gold.

While Wal-Mart and other low-cost retailer sales are up, Saks and other high-end retailers are down by as much as 30%. There is a new frugality in vogue. Consumer spending is going to fall, and when it does find that new level it is going to grow more slowly than in the past.

That is why the recovery is going to be a long slow Muddle Through. This recession will end, as all recessions eventually do. We will see a positive number, maybe as early as the 4th quarter. Employment should turn back up, albeit slowly, after that.

Typically, in a recession jobs are lost because sales slow and production is not needed. When sales recover, so do jobs.

But we are permanently destroying jobs in this recession, all up and down the food chain and in numerous industries. There will be fewer cars made, for a long time. Less demand for financial service jobs. Housing construction will be a long time recovering, well into 2011 or 2012. And less construction means fewer jobs.

Where Will the Jobs Come From?

Going forward, there are simply going to be fewer jobs to make “stuff,” as we consume less. We can’t rely on many of the old jobs and industries to come back in short order, as has been the case in the past. In order for new jobs to be created, we are going to have to create new businesses and expand current ones.

The vast majority of new job creation in the US is by small businesses and entrepreneurs. Yet today small business faces a tough environment. Banks have tighter lending policies. Venture capital is tough to find. Competition in a shrinking economy is brutal.

And the Obama administration wants to raise taxes on small businesses by raising taxes on the “rich.” 75% of those rich he targets are small businesses who need capital in order to grow, but are having trouble getting it from banks.

Sure, entrepreneurs will do what they have to do, and higher marginal tax rates will typically not keep them from working as hard as possible to make their businesses successful. If the tax rates of the large majority of businessmen and women go back to the pre-Bush level, it will not make us close our businesses, but it will cut down on the capital we have available to expand. It will slow down economic growth and hinder job creation. There is just no getting around that fact.

There is a reason that high-tax states have higher unemployment rates and lower job growth. Taxes have consequences for economic growth.

The sad reality is that it is going to take a long time to get back to acceptable employment levels in the US. It now takes an average of over 21 weeks to find a new job, a new record. Stories from friends in the financial services business are particularly difficult, as there are many very highly qualified people for every job that comes available. And it is not going to get better any time soon.

How could we add 120,000 new jobs while unemployment is going up? Because the number of people looking for jobs is growing far faster, as more and more young people come into the market place and couples now find they both must look for a job. And that is a trend that is going to continue.

So many bullish analysts talk about the second derivative of growth, by which they mean that we are slowing our descent into recession. But it is not the second derivative that is important. What is important is that the first derivative, actual growth, return. Until that time, unemployment will continue to rise, which is going to put pressure on incomes and consumer spending, and thus corporate profits.

Profits in the first quarter, with nearly 90% of companies reporting, are down over 50% from last year and are 18% less than estimates. Yes, inventories are down, but so is final demand from consumers and businesses. There is a reason that GM and Chrysler are shutting down for two months this summer. That will percolate throughout the economy.

As the realization that the economy is not due for a robust recovery sinks in, I think the chances for another serious bear market test of the stock market lows will become increasingly high. As David Rosenberg said in his final memo from Merrill Lynch (and good luck to him in his new position, where I hope we all still get to read his very solid analysis!), if a few weeks ago someone had said you could sell all your stocks 40% higher, most of you would have hit that bid.

Now that price has in fact been bid. Do you want to gamble on a renewed bull run in the face of a continually shrinking economy? I suggest you give it some serious thought, or at least put in some very real stop-loss protection.

Whether or not you believe that the rally is short-lived, definitely check out a restaurant in the Century City Mall called RockSugar. I highly recommend it.

Here’s a reprint from an article that appeared in the Financial Times today by one of my favorite author’s Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I first mentioned Taleb in the post Its Official: Hell Freezes Over. If you are unfamiliar with his work, definitely check out Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets. It’s one of those life-enriching books (in a geeky sort of way).

Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Published: April 7 2009 20:02

1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest.

2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.

3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus. The economics establishment (universities, regulators, central bankers, government officials, various organisations staffed with economists) lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system. It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in the ability of such experts to get us out of this mess. Instead, find the smart people whose hands are clean.

4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show “profits” while claiming to be “conservative”. Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.

5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. The complex economy is already a form of leverage: the leverage of efficiency. Such systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy; adding debt produces wild and dangerous gyrations and leaves no room for error. Capitalism cannot avoid fads and bubbles: equity bubbles (as in 2000) have proved to be mild; debt bubbles are vicious.

6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning. Complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it. Citizens must be protected from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.

7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”. Cascading rumours are a product of complex systems. Governments cannot stop the rumours. Simply, we need to be in a position to shrug off rumours, be robust in the face of them.

8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains. Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one. We need rehab.

9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement. Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as storehouses of value: they do not harbour the certainties that normal citizens require. Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).

10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. Finally, this crisis cannot be fixed with makeshift repairs, no more than a boat with a rotten hull can be fixed with ad-hoc patches. We need to rebuild the hull with new (stronger) materials; we will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into Capitalism 2.0 by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, shutting down the “Nobel” in economics, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here, and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties.

Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage. A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks and companies are born and die every day without making the news.

In other words, a place more resistant to black swans.

The writer is a veteran trader, a distinguished professor at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute and the author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Tim Geithner is just another Wall Street lackey. His plan to bail out the bank through taxpayer-guaranteed private buyouts of toxic assets is yet another stupid idea. Called the “Public-Private Investment Program”, its going to spend between $500 Billion and $1 Trillion on toxic purchases (euphemistically called “assets”).

Ceny Uygur from The Young Turks, does a great job at explaining the latest plan and why it is terrible for the American taxpayer.



Which idea is dumber?

Buying $300 Billion of Treasuries or up to $1 Trillion in Toxic Assets?

I got this email from Randy Johnson, author of the best book I’ve ever read on the topic of real estate mortages. If you own a home or are thinking of ever buying a home, you need to get How to Save Thousands of Dollars on Your Home Mortgage. It’ll probably be the best $12 you’ve ever spent. Buy it. Even if you have an MBA in finance from a top tier school. 😉

Up until about 30 years ago the American people always funded most of our own national debt. We went into World War II with a national debt of less than $100 billion, maybe $500 billion dollars adjusted for inflation. We came out of the war with about $300 billion, a piddling amount by today’s number as today the National Debt stands at about $11 trillion.

When we embarked on WWII, how did we finance the expenditures necessary to build all those battleships, airplanes, and tanks and pay for the soldiers and sailors to man them? We sure as heck didn’t sell Government Bonds to the Germans and the Japanese. Europe that wasn’t under Nazi control was worse off than we were. We financed the war ourselves.

Ordinary Americans put the money they saved into Savings Bonds, and that is what financed the war effort. But, to be truthful, we were on a wartime economy and, as I here put on my old-timer hat, it was a lot different world than young people are willing to acknowledge today. Can you imagine your teen- ager’s reaction to having the whole family being rationed four gallons of gas per week?

Consumerism came in a distant second place to building war materiel. And there was rationing. We only got limited access to gasoline, tires, and metals, all of which had a higher military priority than civilian use. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationing

Even food was rationed. Remember the old economic trade-off “guns versus butter.” It was real. Butter was rationed which mean that the civilian population turned to margarine, and not the “I can’t believe it’s not butter” type. This was a white globule of hydrogenated vegetable fat. It came in a bag with a little yellow button that you broke and then kneaded into the mixture to make it look like butter. The problem was that it still tasted a lot like hydrogenated vegetable oil. Each family got a little bit of beef and a little bacon every week. And we saved bacon fat and it was used in the manufacture of explosives.

It was time for Rosie the Riveter as the overwhelming majority of American men and women supported the war effort. We all looked at the sacrifices we made as small in comparison to the millions of soldiers, sailors and marines who were risking their lives to win the war on the battlefield.

What did kids do? For openers we saved paper and took to what we would refer to today as recycling centers. We cut out both ends of “tin cans,” stomped them flat and saved them to turn into collection centers to be made into steel to help the war effort.

But we all helped financially too. We had little coupon books and when we saved a nickel or a dime, we bought stamps that went into books. I forget the numbers but it seems to me that if you saved $37.50, you took it to the bank or Post Office and traded it for a War Bond with a value of $50 some years hence. The $12.50 was interest.

As to marketing of the War Bonds, I have a dim recollection of Bing Crosby singing a song Buy Bonds. We didn’t need much encouragement. We all wanted to win the war.

All of which brings me to 2009. I don’t see much difference between 1942 and 2009. We are in the middle of a crisis that to my mind is every bit as dangerous to American families as was World War II. No, except for Iraq and Afghanistan, no one is shooting at our troops, but economic events are very serious, perhaps even more so than in 1942. Back then we had the most important economy in the world, and while we are still the leader in GDP, citizens of other countries are much more effective in their ability to compete successfully for Americans’ jobs.

Ever since 1946 we have had a society based upon consumption. We used to save and then buy. But for the last 45 years or so our consumption has been financed by the extension of great gobs of credit. We used to balance the Federal budget and much of the debt stayed at home, but recently the debt was ultimately bought by someone in China or Japan or Europe. I think China holds over $1 trillion of our bonds.

Frankly, I do not believe that it is healthy to depend upon the largess of others to finance that debt any more than families who depend on someone else to finance their excess consumption. Quite bluntly, the counter-parties may not want to continue to do so. The sooner we wean ourselves from the teat of foreign largess, the better off this country will be.

We need to adopt a mentality that is based upon a higher national savings rate, which has indeed spiked in the last few months. But my feeling is that it may be more a knee-jerk, fear-based reaction to the crisis that rather than a newly found sense of financial responsibility.

What better way to restore America’s fiscal health and the American family’s financial well being than to have American citizens finance the necessary increase in the national debt. We can’t do it a nickel and dime at a time, inflation being what it is, but we can sure have teenagers save a few dollars every week, and when they get $37.50 then go buy a $50 Series EE Savings Bond. Who would you rather have a buy that bond, your kid or some Chinese government official?

You see what I mean. I want to get along with China and I hope that they continue to be our trading partner, but I would rather have us keep our debt between the American Government and the American citizens.

What would happen if we all adopted a policy of buying T-bills? What if our Government tried MARKETING the concept? Heck, we can sell almost anything fattening to our citizens. Why don’t we try marketing something that is good for them, and the rest of us too. I think that if Madison Avenue got involved in this project, they could instill a lot of Patriotic Pride into buying T-Bonds.

As to buying the Bonds or Bills themselves, you can buy them through your stockbroker or it can actually be done online at http://www.savingsbond s.gov/indiv/myaccount/myaccount_treasurydirect.htm

Seriously, as a measure of your Patriotic commitment, why not go online right now, open an account, and buy some T-bills. I did it and I can tell you it really feels good, better than a trip to the mall.

A lot of people think Jim Rogers is an alarmist with strange ideas. However, he is a very rich alarmist who sold his Manhattan home at the peak and moved to Asia.

Check out this great video where he explains the mistakes of the 30s which he sees repeated again now.

One of my favorite books is Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Road Trip, which chronicles his road trip around the world. I strongly recommend it.

Check out Part 2 of the interview:

Part 3:

About 4 months ago, I protest against the government bail-out of the auto industry. I said they were inefficient operations that were being driven out of business by the Auto Workers Union and they’d be back asking for more money pretty soon.

Well, it looks like the time to ask for more money has arrived! GM just announced it would need another $16.6 Billion if economic conditions continued to worsen, in addition to the $13.4 Billion it has already recieved.  Of course economic conditions are going to worsen. GM’s statement that it may achieve profitability in 2 years and might be able to pay off its loans by 2017 sounds completely bogus to me.

GM claims it will be out of money by March. That means it spent the $13.4 Billion it recieved in December in just 3 months, or nearly $4.5 Billion every month! The company claimed that if it had to file Chapter 11, the cost to the government could reach $100 Billion, so in fact, pay them $16.6 Billion is actually a good deal.

When are we going to pull the plug on this loser?

Many people say that the economy can’t withstand the shock from the loss of nearly 1,000,000 jobs that the auto-industry provides. But the US lost nearly 600,000 jobs in January. Why aren’t we bailing out all those people too? Who decides which jobs get preferential treatment and which ones get axed? Does it help if the CEOs have friends in Congress? Or the Federal Reserve?  (We know Ben Bernanke bailed out his old friends at Goldman Sachs while letting Lehman fail).

With the government spending all this money on things that don’t affect me, I can only think of one thing.

Where’s my bail out?