11 Long-Term Trends That Are Absolutely Destroying The U.S. Economy

The U.S. economy is being slowly but surely destroyed and many Americans have no idea that it is happening.  That is at least partially due to the fact that most financial news is entirely focused on the short-term.  Whenever a key economic statistic goes up the financial markets surge and analysts rejoice.  Whenever a key economic statistic goes down the financial markets decline and analysts speak of the potential for a “double-dip” recession.  You could literally get whiplash as you watch the financial ping pong ball bounce back and forth between good news and bad news.  But focusing on short-term statistics is not the correct way to analyze the U.S. economy.  It is the long-term trends that reveal the truth.  The reality is that there are certain underlying foundational problems that are destroying the U.S. economy a little bit more every single day.

11 of those foundational problems are discussed below.  They are undeniable and they are constantly getting worse.  If they are not corrected (and there is no indication that they will be) they will destroy not only our economy but also our entire way of life.  The sad truth is that it would be hard to understate just how desperate the situation is for the U.S. economy. 

Long-Term Trend #1: The Deindustrialization Of America

The United States is being deindustrialized at a pace that is almost impossible to believe.  But now that millions upon millions of people have lost their jobs, more Americans than ever are starting to wake up and believe it.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 69 percent of Americans now believe that free trade agreements have cost America jobs.  Ten years ago the majority of Americans had great faith in the new “global economy” that we were all being merged into, but now the tide has turned.

So why have Americans lost faith in “free trade”?

Well, it turns out that the current system is neither “free trade” nor “fair trade”.  Many other nations impose extremely high tariffs on U.S. goods and put up ridiculous barriers to American products and yet the United States has generally let everyone else openly manipulate currency rates and flood our shores with whatever cheap products they want.

The results have been disastrous.  Jobs and factories have been leaving the United States at a blinding pace.

The United States has lost approximately 42,400 factories since 2001.  An economy without a manufacturing base does not have a bright long-term future.  Yet our politicians have allowed our manufacturing base to be systematically dismantled.

As of the end of 2009, less than 12 million Americans worked in manufacturing.  The last time that less than 12 million Americans were employed in manufacturing was in 1941.

How is the United States supposed to have a bright economic future if it consumes everything in sight and yet makes very little?

Something needs to be done.

In 1959, manufacturing represented 28 percent of all U.S. economic output.  In 2008, it represented only 11.5 percent and it continues to fall.

Needless to say, millions of blue collar workers now find themselves unable to find jobs.  Today, 28% of all U.S. households have at least one person that is looking for a full-time job and there is no sign that things are going to improve much any time soon.

Long-Term Trend #2: The Exploding U.S. Trade Deficit

Each month, tens of billions more dollars go out of the United States than come into it.  In other words, every single month the United States gets poorer.

Recently, the U.S. trade deficit has been coming in at around 40 to 50 billion dollars a month.  About half of that is with communist China.

Between 2000 and 2009, America’s trade deficit with China increased nearly 300 percent.

Sadly, things are getting even worse.

As of the end of July, the U.S. trade deficit with China had risen 18 percent compared to the same time period a year ago.

There is a reason why China has been able to loan the U.S. government nearly a trillion dollars.  They have literally been bleeding us dry.

The United States spends approximately $3.90 on Chinese goods for every $1 that the Chinese spend on goods from the United States.

Does that sound like “fair trade” to you?

According to a new study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, if the U.S. trade deficit with China continues to increase at its current rate, the U.S. economy will lose over half a million jobs this year alone.

Half a million jobs in just one year?

And that doesn’t even take into account the trade deficit that we have with all the other nations around the world.

We have literally built China into a superpower.

One prominent economist is now projecting that the Chinese economy will be three times larger than the U.S. economy by the year 2040.

But it isn’t just China that is a problem.

Since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994, 300,000 U.S. farms have gone out of business.

Globalism has forced U.S. workers to directly compete with the cheapest labor in the world for jobs.  That is not good for American workers and it is not good for America.

Long-Term Trend #3: The Shrinking Middle Class

As jobs continue to flee the United States and as wages continue to be depressed, America’s middle class is shrinking at an alarming rate.

According to a poll taken in 2009, 61 percent of Americans “always or usually” live paycheck to paycheck.  That was up substantially from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.

Unfortunately, a growing number of Americans have found it impossible to make it from month to month without direct financial assistance from the federal government.

41 million Americans are now on food stamps.  One out of every six Americans is now enrolled in at least one anti-poverty program run by the federal government.  Economic pain is everywhere.

Tens of millions of Americans now live in poverty.  The U.S. Census Bureau says that 43.6 million Americans are now living in poverty and according to them that is the highest number of poor Americans that they have ever recorded in 51 years of record-keeping.

Long-Term Trend #4: The Growing Size Of The U.S. Government

No matter whether it is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House, the size of the U.S. government has continued to grow by leaps and bounds in recent years.

This is a tremendous drain on the U.S. economy.  The government produces very little value for the economy and yet costs a colossal amount to maintain.

In addition, multiplying government regulations have caused the United States to be a very difficult environment to operate a business in. 

The Federal Register is the main source of regulations for U.S. government agencies.  In 1936, the number of pages in the Federal Register was about 2,600.  Today, the Federal Register is over 80,000 pages long.

Long-Term Trend #5: The Constantly Growing U.S. National Debt

The United States has accumulated the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the world and every single month it gets worse.

According to an official U.S. Treasury Department report to Congress, the U.S. national debt will top $13.6 trillion this year and will climb to an estimated $19.6 trillion by 2015.

Do we really want to pass on a 20 trillion dollar debt to our children and grandchildren?

But the truth is that the situation is actually a lot worse than that.

If the U.S. government was forced to use GAAP accounting principles (like all publicly-traded corporations must), the U.S. government budget deficit would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 trillion to $5 trillion each and every year.

Needless to say, that is not anywhere close to sustainable.  We are literally destroying our economic future with all of this debt.

Long-Term Trend #6: The Ongoing Devaluation Of The U.S. Dollar

The Federal Reserve constantly destroys the value of the U.S. dollar.  Since the Federal Reserve was created in 1913, the U.S. dollar has lost over 95 percent of its purchasing power.

An item that cost $20.00 in 1970 would cost you $112.35 today.  An item that cost $20.00 in 1913 would cost you $440.33 today.

Inflation is like a hidden tax.  The value of the dollars you are holding right now will decline a little bit more each and every month. 

And now that the Federal Reserve is threatening to unleash another round of quantitative easing, it appears that the value of our dollars will soon be declining even more rapidly.

Long-Term Trend #7: The Derivatives Bubble

The one thing that the “Wall Street reform bill” should have done was that it should have done something about the horrific abuses in the derivatives markets.  Instead, the Wall Street reform bill did next to nothing about derivatives and instead imposed hundreds of other useless regulations on Wall Street.

Most Americans don’t even know what derivatives are.  Basically, they are side bets.  They have no underlying value of their own.  But today derivatives have taken center stage on Wall Street.  Our financial markets have become a gigantic casino.

The total value of all derivatives worldwide is estimated to be somewhere between 600 trillion and 1.5 quadrillion dollars.  And thanks to the U.S. Congress, the derivatives bubble is still growing.

It would be hard to understate the danger that the derivatives bubble represents.  The danger from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet once called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”.  

When the derivatives bubble finally pops, there will not be enough money in the entire world to fix it.

Long-Term Trend #8: The Health Care Industry

The United States health care system is completely and totally broken.  It has become a gigantic money making machine for health insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations and greedy lawyers.

Americans pay more for health care than anyone else in the world and yet they get shockingly little in return.

Health care expenses are the number one reason why people file for personal bankrupty in the United States.  Surprisingly, most of those who get bankrupted by health care expenses actually have health insurance.

The health insurance system in the United States is a complete and total mess.  Health insurance premiums are busting the budgets of tens of millions of American families and yet they are getting ready to go up yet once again. 

Already, large numbers of health insurance companies across the United States have announced that they plan to increase health insurance premiums in response to the new health care law.

But do health insurance companies actually need more money?  Even as the rest of the U.S. economy deeply struggles, America’s health insurance companies increased their profits by 56 percent in 2009.

At least someone is doing well in this economy.

The truth is that the U.S. health care system needs to be totally and completely reinvented.  The system we had before did not work.  Barack Obama’s new health care system will be far worse.  Meanwhile, the health care industry is literally choking the life out of the U.S. economy.

Long-Term Trend #9: Financial Power Is Becoming Concentrated In Fewer And Fewer Hands

Once upon a time, the United States had a very diverse financial system.  But today financial power is becoming concentrated in fewer and fewer hands with each passing year.

More U.S. banks fail every single week.  In fact, the number of bank failures is on pace to far surpass the total of 140 U.S. banks that failed last year.

There are now nearly 900 banks (well over 10 percent of all U.S. banks) on the FDIC list of problem banks.

Meanwhile, the “too big to fail” banks continue to pick up market share.  The “big four” U.S. banks (Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo) had approximately 22 percent of all deposits in FDIC-insured institutions back in 2000.  As of June 30th of last year that figure was up to 39 percent.

Putting an increasing amount of financial power into the hands of just a few elite banks is a recipe for disaster any way you want to cut it.

Long-Term Trend #10: Rampant Corruption On Wall Street

Our financial system has become an absolute cesspool of corruption.  In the past I have written extensively about all of the corruption that Goldman Sachs has been involved in, but they are far from alone.

In fact, it seems like new stories of financial corruption emerge almost daily now.

For example, just recently Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage have all suspended foreclosures in many U.S. states due to serious concerns about foreclosure procedures.

But there is a lot of corruption that is a lot worse than that.  The rampant manipulation of the gold and silver markets was completely blown open by an industry insider earlier this year, but the U.S. government had to be publicly shamed before they would even agree to look into it. 

The truth is that corruption on Wall Street has become so common that it is almost impossible to keep up with it all.  It seems like no matter what stone you turn over on Wall Street these days you find yet more corruption.

But if the core of our financial system is so incredibly corrupt, how long will it be before it collapses in on itself?

Long-Term Trend #11: The Growing Retirement Crisis That Threatens To Bankrupt America

The Baby Boomers may end up bankrupting America after all.  A retirement tsunami is coming that threatens to drown our nation in a sea of red ink.

The truth is that Americans have not been preparing for retirement on their own.  One shocking new study indicates that Americans are $6.6 trillion short of what they need to retire comfortably.

In fact, approximately half of all workers in the United States have less than $2000 saved up for retirement.

So what about corporate pension plans?

Are they in good shape?

No.

One recent study found that America’s 100 largest corporate pension plans were underfunded by $217 billion as of the end of 2008.

But sadly, the pension plans run by U.S. state governments are in even worse shape.

Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Chicago and Joshua D. Rauh of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management recently calculated the combined pension liability of all 50 U.S. states.  What they found was that the 50 states are collectively facing $5.17 trillion in pension obligations, but they only have $1.94 trillion set aside in state pension funds.  That means that collectively, the 50 U.S. state governments are 3.2 trillion dollars short of what they need to meet their pension obligations.

But the biggest mess of all may be the U.S. Social Security system.

The sad reality is that anyone that has studied it closely knows that it is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme, and the scam has just about run its course.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Social Security system will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes in 2010.  That was not supposed to happen until at least 2016.

Oops.

But things get really hairy when you start looking down the road.

The present value of projected scheduled benefits surpasses earmarked revenues for entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare by about 46 trillion dollars over the next 75 years.

Ouch.

It is time to face facts people.

We are in deep, deep, deep trouble.

An increasing number of Americans are starting to realize this.  They may not always know the specifics of what is going wrong, but more people than ever realize that something is broken.  According to one recent survey, 63 percent of Americans believe that the United States is on the wrong track.

And we are very much on the wrong track.  We have squandered the great wealth that our parents and grandparents left us and we are wrecking the greatest economic machine that the world has ever seen.

If we do not get our act together, someday people will look back and will curse this generation for how incredibly stupid we were.

The Horrific Derivatives Bubble That Could One Day Destroy The Entire World Financial System

Today there is a horrific derivatives bubble that threatens to destroy not only the U.S. economy but the entire world financial system as well, but unfortunately the vast majority of people do not understand it.  When you say the word “derivatives” to most Americans, they have no idea what you are talking about.  In fact, even most members of the U.S. Congress don’t really seem to understand them.  But you don’t have to get into all the technicalities to understand the bigger picture.  Basically, derivatives are financial instruments whose value depends upon or is derived from the price of something else.  A derivative has no underlying value of its own.  It is essentially a side bet.  Originally, derivatives were mostly used to hedge risk and to offset the possibility of taking losses.  But today it has gone way, way beyond that.  Today the world financial system has become a gigantic casino where insanely large bets are made on anything and everything that you can possibly imagine. 

The derivatives market is almost entirely unregulated and in recent years it has ballooned to such enormous proportions that it is almost hard to believe.  Today, the worldwide derivatives market is approximately 20 times the size of the entire global economy.

Because derivatives are so unregulated, nobody knows for certain exactly what the total value of all the derivatives worldwide is, but low estimates put it around 600 trillion dollars and high estimates put it at around 1.5 quadrillion dollars. 

Do you know how large one quadrillion is?

Counting at one dollar per second, it would take 32 million years to count to one quadrillion.

If you want to attempt it, you might want to get started right now.

To put that in perspective, the gross domestic product of the United States is only about 14 trillion dollars.

In fact, the total market cap of all major global stock markets is only about 30 trillion dollars.

So when you are talking about 1.5 quadrillion dollars, you are talking about an amount of money that is almost inconceivable.

So what is going to happen when this insanely large derivatives bubble pops?

Well, the truth is that the danger that we face from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet has called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”.

Unfortunately, he is not exaggerating.

It would be hard to understate the financial devastation that we could potentially be facing. 

A number of years back, French President Jacques Chirac referred to derivatives as “financial AIDS”.

The reality is that when this bubble pops there won’t be enough money in the entire world to fix it.

But ignorance is bliss, and most people simply do not understand these complex financial instruments enough to be worried about them.

Unfortunately, just because most of us do not understand the danger does not mean that the danger has been eliminated.

In a recent column, Dr. Jerome Corsi of WorldNetDaily noted that even many institutional investors have gotten sucked into investing in derivatives without even understanding the incredible risk they were facing….

A key problem with derivatives is that in the attempt to reduce costs or prevent losses, institutional investors typically accepted complex risks that carried little-understood liabilities widely disproportionate to any potential savings the derivatives contract may have initially obtained.

The hedge-fund and derivatives markets are so highly complex and technical that even many top economists and investment-banking professionals don’t fully understand them.

Moreover, both the hedge-fund and the derivatives markets are almost totally unregulated, either by the U.S. government or by any other government worldwide.

Most Americans don’t realize it, but derivatives played a major role in the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Do you remember how AIG was constantly in the news for a while there?

Well, they weren’t in financial trouble because they had written a bunch of bad insurance policies.

What had happened is that a subsidiary of AIG had lost more than $18 billion on Credit Default Swaps (derivatives) it had written, and additional losses from derivatives were on the way which could have caused the complete collapse of the insurance giant.

So the U.S. government stepped in and bailed them out – all at U.S. taxpayer expense of course.

But the AIG incident was actually quite small compared to what could be coming.  The derivatives market has become so monolithic that even a relatively minor imbalance in the global economy could set off a chain reaction that would have devastating consequences. 

In his recent article on derivatives, Webster Tarpley described the central role that derivatives now play in our financial system….

Far from being some arcane or marginal activity, financial derivatives have come to represent the principal business of the financier oligarchy in Wall Street, the City of London, Frankfurt, and other money centers. A concerted effort has been made by politicians and the news media to hide and camouflage the central role played by derivative speculation in the economic disasters of recent years. Journalists and public relations types have done everything possible to avoid even mentioning derivatives, coining phrases like “toxic assets,” “exotic instruments,” and – most notably – “troubled assets,” as in Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP, aka the monstrous $800 billion bailout of Wall Street speculators which was enacted in October 2008 with the support of Bush, Henry Paulson, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the Obama Democrats.

But wasn’t the financial reform law that Congress just passed supposed to fix all this?

Well, the truth is that you simply cannot “fix” a 1.5 quadrillion dollar problem, but yes, the financial reform law was supposed to put some new restrictions on derivatives.

And initially, there were some somewhat significant reforms contained in the bill.  But after the vast horde of Wall Street lobbyists in Washington got done doing their thing, the derivatives reforms were almost completely and totally neutered.

So the rampant casino gambling continues and everybody on Wall Street is happy.

For now.

One day some event will happen which will cause a sudden shift in world financial markets and trillions of dollars of losses in derivatives will create a tsunami that will bring the entire house of cards down.

All of the money in the world will not be enough to bail out the financial system when that day arrives.

The truth is that we should have never allowed world financial markets to become a giant casino. 

But we did.

Soon enough we will all pay the price, and when that disastrous day comes, most Americans will still not understand what is happening.

“Things Are Never Going To Get THAT Bad”

Our recent article, “20 Things You Will Need To Survive When The Economy Collapses And The Next Great Depression Begins“, has drawn some intense criticism from those who believe that the U.S. economy is so strong that it could never completely and totally collapse.  In fact, this blog is being accused of officially going off the deep end.  Why?  It’s not because we are pointing out that the economy is bad.  After all, according to a recent Pew Research national poll, 88 percent of Americans rate national economic conditions as only fair or poor.  No, rather it is because we are projecting the eventual complete and total collapse of the U.S. economy.  There still seems to be a belief among a large number of Americans “that things are never going to get THAT bad”.  But they are going to get that bad.  It’s just that most people do not realize it yet.

But while times are still good (and what we are experiencing now is rip-roaring prosperity compared to what is coming), large numbers of people are going to continue to live in denial.  In fact, those who try to warn people about what is coming are going to be accused of “fear-mongering”.  One recent commenter even accused us of totally going off the deep end like many of the Y2K alarmists did….

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“Ok – you’ve officially fallen off the deep end. This blog went from legitimate economic concerns to grand fear mongering. This is the same as Y2K all over again. I have friends who still have bunkers and thousands of dollars of expired canned food and you’re suggesting they go do it again…”

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First of all, it was completely and totally obvious that Y2K was going to be a non-event to anyone with a bit of common sense.  There was simply no way that a “computer glitch” that was foreseeable years ahead of time was going to cause the collapse of society.

What is happening with the U.S. economy now is completely different.  We have built an entire economic system on ever-increasing amounts of debt and paper money, and anyone with half a brain should be able to see that such a system is not sustainable in the long-term.  The collapse of the economy is inevitable due to the way that it was constructed.

As for having “thousands of dollars of expired canned food”, that would not be a problem if you rotated the food that you have stored.  You eat the old stuff first and you replace it with new food that you have purchased.

But the commenter above was not the only one to accuse us of trying to scare people….

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“How does the economic collapse lead to a complete halt to all economic activity? More people may be poorer, but they will still have some money to motivate others to produce for a market. The natural disaster scenario seems more plausible for this type of warning. More and more foreclosures don’t. This posting is a bit much for me, seems just some much scaremongering.”

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The commenter is right about one thing – a few bad economic statistics are not enough to run out and start preparing for the collapse of society.  After all, the American economy has always recovered no matter what happened before.  If we made it through the Great Depression, we can make it through this, right?

Well, the truth is that there are some fundamental differences between what is happening now and what happened during the Great Depression.

During the Great Depression, most Americans were not up to their eyeballs in credit card debt, car payments, student loans and mortgage debt.

During the Great Depression, most Americans either owned their land or had a great deal of equity in their land.  As we wrote about recently, today that is not the case.  Equity as a percentage of home value in the United States has been hitting all-time record lows.

During the Great Depression, most Americans were not dependent on giant corporations to feed and supply us.  Back then, the majority of Americans knew how to live off the land and grew at least some of their own food.  Today that is most definitely not the case.

During the Great Depression, America still had the greatest manufacturing base in the entire world.  Today we have “offshored” our once great manufacturing base, and we have become a fat, spoiled society that consumes everything in sight but manufactures very little.

During the Great Depression, America did not have a colossal trade deficit.  Today we have got the biggest trade deficit in the history of the world.

During the Great Depression, the wealth of Americans was not being sucked dry by dozens of different kinds of taxes.  Today we are being taxed in so many various ways that many Americans actually end up spending over half their incomes just in taxes.

During the Great Depression, the U.S. government had debt, but it was not threatening to collapse the entire global economy.  Today the U.S. government has piled up the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the world.

During the Great Depression, derivatives were not even an issue.  Today, we have created a derivatives bubble that is now well beyond a quadrillion dollars.

Just think about that.

Over 1,000,000,000,000,000 dollars.

Counting at one dollar per second, it would take 32 million years to count to one quadrillion.

In fact, renowned investor Warren Buffett has warned that derivatives are “financial weapons of mass destruction” that could bring down the entire world economic system.

And he is right.

When derivatives collapse, there is not enough money in the world to fix the mess that will be created.  All of the governments in the world working together would not be able to print money fast enough to even make a dent in the colossal wave of red ink that would be created.

The truth is that the U.S. economy (and the world economy for that matter) is teetering on top of a giant pyramid of debt and paper that is on the verge of coming down like a house of cards.

But if you do not want to believe this blog, perhaps you will listen to some of the top financial experts in the world who are also warning that a complete and total economic collapse is coming.

For example, Gerald Celente, the CEO of Trends Research Institute, is forecasting that we are going to see a devastating economic collapse by the year 2012.  It would be easy to dismiss him, except for the fact that he has a sterling track record of forecasts going back 3 decades, and he has appeared on almost all of the major news networks who have no problem relying on him as a source.  What Celente says is on the way for America is absolutely bone chilling….

But if you don’t want to listen to Celente, perhaps you will listen to Peter Schiff, the president of Euro Pacific Capital.  He accurately predicted the recent financial crisis, and he is also forecasting that a depression is on the way.  Schiff is convinced that we need to allow the current “Ponzi economy” to collapse so that something more substantial can arise from the ashes….

Jim Rogers is another financial expert that is forecasting a major economic collapse.  Jim Rogers was a co-founder of the Quantum Fund, and is a college professor, author, economic commentator, and creator of the Rogers International Commodities Index.  He says that civil unrest is on the way and that now is a good time to take up farming if you want to make it through what is coming….

The truth is that the vast majority of Americans have no idea just how vulnerable the U.S. economic system is.  A new Gallup poll has found that 44 percent of Americans believe that they could barely go a month before experiencing severe economic hardship if they lost their jobs.

How long could you go if you suddenly lost your job?

Right now the U.S. economy is being kept afloat by unprecedented U.S. government intervention and spending, but we all know that the U.S. government cannot keep spending money like it is water forever without very serious economic consequences.  To give you an idea of how desperate things have become, just check out the following graphic about the U.S. national debt that was featured in the Chicago Tribune….

Anyone who believes that such a tidal wave of red ink is sustainable please raise your hand.

The truth is that the U.S. economy is caught in a death spiral.

Already there are some areas of the United States that are literally dying.

For those who do not believe this fact, the following is a challenge for you….

Head down to Detroit and buy one of those houses that are on sale for less than a thousand dollars (in fact there have even been reports of some houses selling for a single dollar in Detroit), and try to live there for a month.

You will quickly learn what it is like to live in an area that is literally dying economically.

When people are hungry and they can’t get jobs they get desperate.

So far this year in Detroit, car thefts are up 83%, robberies are up 50%, burglaries are up 20% and property destruction is up 42%.

What is happening in Detroit is a preview of what is soon going to happen all over America.

So doubt it all you want, but all the doubting in the world is not going to stop what is coming.  The U.S. economy is dying so you better start getting ready.

The Prep Room