The Beginning Of The End
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The Retail Apocalypse Accelerates: Collapsing Holiday Sales Are A Signal That A Recession Is Coming

Retail Apocalypse - Photo by Justin CozartRetail sales during the four day Thanksgiving weekend were down a whopping 11 percent from last year.  This is a “make or break” time of the year for many retailers, and if things don’t turn around during the coming weeks we could see a tsunami of store closings in January and February.  As you read this article, there is already more than a billion square feet of retail space sitting empty in the United States.  Many have described the ongoing collapse of the retail industry as an “apocalypse”, and this apocalypse appears to be accelerating.  Yes, the shift to online retailers is a significant factor, but as you will see below even online retailers struggled over the holiday weekend.  The sad truth of the matter is that U.S. consumers are tapped out and are drowning in debt at this point, so they simply do not have as much money to spend as they once did.

According to the National Retail Federation, 5.2 percent fewer Americans shopped online or at retail stores over the past weekend.  Those that did shop spent an average of 6.4 percent less money than consumers did last year.

So if less people shopped, and they spent less money on average, that means that total retail sales must have been way down.

And indeed they were.  As the New York Times has reported, total retail sales were down an astounding 11 percent…

Sales, both in stores and online, from Thanksgiving through the weekend were estimated to have dropped 11 percent, to $50.9 billion, from $57.4 billion last year, according to preliminary survey results released Sunday by the National Retail Federation. Sales fell despite many stores’ opening earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day.

And though many retailers offered the same aggressive discounts online as they did in their stores, the web failed to attract more shoppers or spending over the four-day holiday weekend than it did last year, the group said. The average person who shopped over the weekend spent $159.55 at online retailers, down 10.2 percent from last year.

No wonder there was less violence on Black Friday this year.

Traffic at retailers was way down.

Of course some analysts are trying to put a positive spin on all of this.  For example, the CEO of the National Retail Federation says that this could actually be a sign that the economy is improving

As the WSJ reports, NRF’s CEO Matt Shay attributed the drop to a combination of factors, including the fact that retailers moved promotions earlier this year in attempt to get people out sooner and avoid what happened last year when people didn’t finish their shopping because of bad weather.

Also did we mention the NRF is perpetually cheery and always desperate to put a metric ton of lipstick on a pig? Well, hold on to your hats folks:

He also attributed the declines to better online offerings and an improving economy where “people don’t feel the same psychological need to rush out and get the great deal that weekend, particularly if they expected to be more deals,” he said.

And of course the sprint vs marathon comparisons, such as this one: “The holiday season and the weekend are a marathon not a sprint,” NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on a conference call. Odd how that metaphor is never used when the (seasonally-adjusted) sprint beats the marathoners.

So there you have it: a 11% collapse in retail spending has just been spun as super bullish for the US economy, whereby US consumers aren’t spending because the economy is simply too strong, and the only reason they don’t spend is because they will spend much more later. Or something.

The retail industry is absolutely brutal at this point.  It is flooded with very large competitors that are chasing fewer and fewer disposable dollars.

In order to thrive, retailers need financially healthy consumers.  But over time, U.S. consumers have been getting deeper and deeper into debt.  The chart posted below shows that consumer credit in the United States has doubled since the year 2000…

Consumer Credit 2014

Meanwhile, the long-term trend for real median household income since the year 2000 has been down…

Real Median Household Income 2014

In order for Americans to spend money, they have to make money first.

Unfortunately, the quality of our jobs continues to plummet.

As I have written about previously, 50 percent of all American workers currently make less than $28,031 a year at their jobs.  And here are some more numbers from a report that the Social Security Administration recently released…

-39 percent of American workers made less than $20,000 last year

-52 percent of American workers made less than $30,000 last year

-63 percent of American workers made less than $40,000 last year

-72 percent of American workers made less than $50,000 last year

So in order for a typical American family to bring in $50,000 a year or more both parents usually have to work.

Sometimes they both have to work more than one job.

And with the cost of living constantly rising, family budgets are being squeezed more than ever.  That is why families have less money to spend at retail stores these days.  For even more on the current financial condition of American families, please see my previous article entitled “Are You Better Off This Thanksgiving Than You Were Last Thanksgiving?

It is time for retailers in America to face the fact that economic conditions have fundamentally changed.  U.S. consumers simply are not in as good shape as they used to be.

In addition, online retailers are going to continue to steal sales from traditional retail locations.  This means that more stores are going to close and more retail space is going to be abandoned.

As I mentioned above, more than a billion square feet of retail space is aleady sitting vacant in the United States.  And retail consultant Howard Davidowitz is projecting that up to half of all shopping malls in the U.S. may shut down within the next couple of decades

Within 15 to 20 years, retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America’s shopping malls to fail. He predicts that only upscale shopping centers with anchors like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus will survive.

In the years ahead, it is going to become normal to see boarded up strip malls and abandoned shopping centers all over the country.

The golden age of retail is over, and now most retailers will have to work incredibly hard to survive the apocalypse that is unfolding right before our eyes.

21 Ways To End The Phrase ‘Americans Are So Broke…’

Coins - Public DomainDid you know that 77 million Americans have unpaid debts that are “in collections” and that Congress is actually thinking about letting post offices offer payday loans?  We live in a country where almost everyone is drowning in debt and where most people are either flat broke or very close to flat broke.  Years ago, “your Mama is so broke” jokes were all the rage, and at the rate we are going they could make a big comeback.  Some of my favorites were “your Mama is so broke she went to McDonald’s and put a milkshake on layaway” and “your Mama is so broke your family ate cereal with a fork to save milk”.  Unfortunately, the facts that I am about to share with you are not funny at all.  In fact, they are quite sobering.  Yes, things are going fairly well for the elitists that live in the good areas of New York City, Washington D.C. and San Francisco right now, but most of the country is deeply struggling as our economic fundamentals continue to crumble.  Please share these numbers with as many people as you can, because we need people to understand that there has not been an “economic recovery” for most of America.  In fact, in many ways things just continue to get even worse.  The following are 21 ways to end the phrase “Americans are so broke”…

1. Americans are so broke that about a third of them have debt collectors on their heels.  One recent study discovered that more than one out of every three adults in the United States has an unpaid debt that is “in collections“.  That is a total of 77 million people.  In other words, the debt collection business in America is absolutely booming.

2. Americans are so broke that Congress is now actually considering allowing post offices to provide payday loans and check cashing services.

3. Americans are so broke that they are keeping their vehicles longer than ever.  The average age of vehicles on America’s roads recently set a new all-time high of 11.4 years.

4. Americans are so broke that car dealers are having to go to extreme lengths to get new customers.  Last year, one out of every four auto loans in the United States was made to someone with subprime credit.

5. Americans are so broke that 52 percent of them cannot even afford the homes that they are living in right now.

6. Americans are so broke that they are falling farther behind on their student loans than ever.  The total amount of student loan debt in the U.S. has now reached a whopping 1.2 trillion dollars, and approximately seven million Americans are in default on their student loans at this point.

7. Young Americans are so broke that half of all college graduates are still relying on their parents financially when they are two years out of school.

8. Young Americans are so broke that only 36 percent of American adults under the age of 35 currently own a home.  That is the lowest level that has ever been recorded.

9. Americans are so broke that many of them can’t even afford to shop at Wal-Mart and dollar stores anymore

Discount stores are slowly dying.

Yesterday, Dollar Tree announced it would buy Family Dollar, a chain that is in the process of closing hundreds of stores and firing workers.

Other discount stores have been struggling as well, writes Heidi Moore at The Guardian. Fashion discounter Loehmann’s filed for bankruptcy, while Wal-Mart’s sales have declined for the past five quarters.

“There’s just not enough money deployed by American families to keep all the discount chains in business,” Moore writes.

10. Americans are so broke that they are running up record levels of debt.  Overall, U.S. households are 11.68 trillion dollars in debt right now.

11. Americans are so broke that the wealth of the “typical American household” has fallen by 36 percent over the past decade.

12. Americans are so broke that one out of every four part-time workers in America is living below the poverty line.

13. Americans are so broke that more than 37 million Americans are now being served by food pantries and soup kitchens.

14. Americans are so broke that there are 49 million Americans that are dealing with food insecurity.

15. Americans are so broke that the number of people on food stamps has increased by about 14 million while Obama has been in the White House.  Ten years ago, the number of women in the U.S. that had jobs outnumbered the number of women in the U.S. on food stamps by more than a 2 to 1 margin.  But now the number of women in the U.S. on food stamps actually exceeds the number of women that have jobs.

16. Americans are so broke that the U.S. government has had to spend an astounding 3.7 trillion dollars on welfare programs over the past five years.

17. Americans are so broke that more than 20 percent of all children in the U.S. are living in poverty.

18. Americans are so broke that we have a record number of kids sleeping in the streets.  In fact, we have more than a million public school children that are homeless at this point.

19. Americans are so broke that 76 percent of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

20. Americans are so broke that 26 percent of Americans have absolutely no emergency savings whatsoever.

21. Americans are so broke that approximately two-thirds of all Americans do not have enough money saved up to cover six months of expenses if an emergency arose.

If things are this bad now, during the so-called “economic recovery”, how bad will things get during the next major economic downturn?

Unfortunately, most Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security.  The financial crisis of 2008 seems like ancient history to most of them now, and most people appear to believe that our leaders have “fixed” whatever was wrong the last time.

Of course that is not the case at all.  In fact, our long-term problems have just continued to grow since then.

The truth is that what we are experiencing right now is about as good as things are going to get for the U.S. economy.  When the next crisis arrives, all of the numbers in the list above are going to rapidly get a lot worse.

So enjoy the rest of this “bubble” while you still can.  It certainly will not last for too much longer.

22 Facts About The Coming Demographic Tsunami That Could Destroy Our Economy All By Itself

TsunamiToday, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers will retire.  This is going to happen day after day, month after month, year after year until 2030.  It is the greatest demographic tsunami in the history of the United States, and we are woefully unprepared for it.  We have made financial promises to the Baby Boomers worth tens of trillions of dollars that we simply are not going to be able to keep.  Even if we didn’t have all of the other massive economic problems that we are currently dealing with, this retirement crisis would be enough to destroy our economy all by itself.  During the first half of this century, the number of senior citizens in the United States is being projected to more than double.  As a nation, we are already drowning in debt.  So where in the world are we going to get the money to take care of all of these elderly people?

The Baby Boomer generation is so massive that it has fundamentally changed America with each stage that it has gone through.  When the Baby Boomers were young, sales of diapers and toys absolutely skyrocketed.  When they became young adults, they pioneered social changes that permanently altered our society.  Much of the time, these changes were for the worse.

According to the New York Post, overall household spending peaks when we reach the age of 46.  And guess what year the peak of the Baby Boom generation reached that age?…

People tend, for instance, to buy houses at about the same age — age 31 or so. Around age 53 is when people tend to buy their luxury cars — after the kids have finished college, before old age sets in. Demographics can even tell us when your household spending on potato chips is likely to peak — when the head of it is about 42.

Ultimately the size of the US economy is simply the total of what we’re all spending. Overall household spending hits a high when we’re about 46. So the peak of the Baby Boom (1961) plus 46 suggests that a high point in the US economy should be about 2007, with a long, slow decline to follow for years to come.

And according to that same article, the Congressional Budget Office is also projecting that an aging population will lead to diminished economic growth in the years ahead…

Lost in the discussion of this week’s Congressional Budget Office report (which said 2.5 million fewer Americans would be working because of Obamacare) was its prediction that aging will be a major drag on growth: “Beyond 2017,” said the report, “CBO expects that economic growth will diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen over the past several decades [due in large part to] slower growth in the labor force because of the aging of the population.”

So we have a problem.  Our population is rapidly aging, and an immense amount of economic resources is going to be required to care for them all.

Unfortunately, this is happening at a time when our economy is steadily declining.

The following are some of the hard numbers about the demographic tsunami which is now beginning to overtake us…

1. Right now, there are somewhere around 40 million senior citizens in the United States.  By 2050 that number is projected to skyrocket to 89 million.

2. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 46 percent of all American workers have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, and 29 percent of all American workers have less than $1,000 saved for retirement.

3. One poll discovered that 26 percent of all Americans in the 46 to 64-year-old age bracket have no personal savings whatsoever.

4. According to a survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, “60 percent of American workers said the total value of their savings and investments is less than $25,000″.

5. 67 percent of all American workers believe that they “are a little or a lot behind schedule on saving for retirement”.

6. A study conducted by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found that American workers are $6.6 trillion short of what they need to retire comfortably.

7. Back in 1991, half of all American workers planned to retire before they reached the age of 65.  Today, that number has declined to 23 percent.

8. According to one recent survey, 70 percent of all American workers expect to continue working once they are “retired”.

9. A poll conducted by CESI Debt Solutions found that 56 percent of American retirees still had outstanding debts when they retired.

10. A study by a law professor at the University of Michigan found that Americans that are 55 years of age or older now account for 20 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States.  Back in 2001, they only accounted for 12 percent of all bankruptcies.

11. Today, only 10 percent of private companies in the U.S. provide guaranteed lifelong pensions for their employees.

12. According to Northwestern University Professor John Rauh, the total amount of unfunded pension and healthcare obligations for retirees that state and local governments across the United States have accumulated is 4.4 trillion dollars.

13. Right now, the American people spend approximately 2.8 trillion dollars on health care, and it is being projected that due to our aging population health care spending will rise to an astounding 4.5 trillion dollars in 2019.

14. Incredibly, the United States spends more on health care than China, Japan, Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia combined.

15. If the U.S. health care system was a country, it would be the 6th largest economy on the entire planet.

16. When Medicare was first established, we were told that it would cost about $12 billion a year by the time 1990 rolled around.  Instead, the federal government ended up spending $110 billion on the program in 1990, and the federal government spent approximately $600 billion on the program in 2013.

17. It is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.

18. At this point, Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years.  That comes to approximately $328,404 for every single household in the United States.

19. In 1945, there were 42 workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.  Today, that number has fallen to 2.5 workers, and if you eliminate all government workers, that leaves only 1.6 private sector workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.

20. Right now, there are approximately 63 million Americans collecting Social Security benefits.  By 2035, that number is projected to soar to an astounding 91 million.

21. Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.

22. The U.S. government is facing a total of 222 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities during the years ahead.  Social Security and Medicare make up the bulk of that.

So where are we going to get the money?

That is a very good question.

The generations following the Baby Boomers are going to have to try to figure out a way to navigate this crisis.  The bright future that they were supposed to have has been destroyed by our foolishness and our reckless accumulation of debt.

But do they actually deserve a “bright future”?  Perhaps they deserve to spend their years slaving away to support previous generations during their golden years.  Young people today tend to be extremely greedy, self-centered and lacking in compassion.  They start blogs with titles such as “Selfies With Homeless People“.  Here is one example from that blog…

Selfies With Homeless People

Of course not all young people are like that.  Some are shining examples of what young Americans should be.

Unfortunately, those that are on the right path are a relatively small minority.

In the end, it is our choices that define us, and ultimately America may get exactly what it deserves.

The Stock Market In Japan Is COLLAPSING

Stock Market Collapse In JapanDid you see what just happened in Japan?  The stock market of the 3rd largest economy on the planet is imploding.  On Tuesday, the Nikkei fell by more than 610 points.  If that sounds like a lot, that is because it is.  The largest one day stock market decline in U.S. history is only 777 points.  So far, the Dow is only down about 1000 points during this “correction”, but the Nikkei is down more than 2,300 points.  The Nikkei has dropped more than 14 percent since the peak of the market, and many analysts believe that this is only just the beginning.  Those that have been waiting for a full-blown stock market collapse may be about to get their wish.  Japan is absolutely drowning in debt, their central bank is printing money like crazy and the Japanese population is aging rapidly.  As far as economic fundamentals go, there is very little good news as far as Japan is concerned.  So will an Asian financial collapse precede the next great financial crisis in the United States?  That is what some have been predicting, and it starting to look increasingly likely.

What happened to the Nikkei early on Tuesday was absolutely breathtaking.  The following is how Bloomberg described the carnage…

At the end of January 2013, Japanese stocks trailed only Portugal for the biggest rally among developed markets. Now the Nikkei 225 Stock Average is leading declines, slumping 8.5 percent last month and today capping a 14 percent drop from its Dec. 30 peak.

Losses snowballed in Tokyo during a global retreat that has erased $2.9 trillion from equity values worldwide this year amid signs of slower growth in China and stimulus cuts by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

As Bloomberg noted, much of the blame for the financial problems that we are seeing all over the planet right now is being placed on the Federal Reserve.

The Fed created this bubble by pumping trillions of fresh dollars into the global financial system, and now they are bursting this bubble by starting to cut off the flow of easy money.

This is something that I warned would happen when the Fed decided to taper, and now RBS is warning of a “market bloodbath” unless the Federal Reserve immediately stops tapering.

Most Americans simply do not realize that our financial markets no longer resemble a free market system.  Instead, they are highly manipulated and distorted by the central banks, and the trillions of dollars of “hot money” that the Fed has poured into the global financial system has infected virtually every financial market on Earth

On Wall Street they call it “hot money”—that seemingly endless flow of cash that goes to the most profitable country du jour—but in the real economy it’s gone cold.

That hot money has come mostly in the form of a low-yielding U.S. dollar, which investors have borrowed en masse to fund investments in other higher-yielding currencies across the globe. The so-called carry trade has helped fuel an investment bonanza across the world that has boosted risk assets thanks primarily to the U.S. Federal Reserve‘s easy-money policy.

But with the Fed tiptoeing away from what initially was an $85 billion-a-month infusion of liquidity, investors are beginning to prepare themselves for a world of rising rates in which the endless cash flow to emerging market economies begins to ebb, then cease.

We never fixed any of the fundamental problems that caused the last financial crisis.  Instead, the Fed seemed to think that the solution to any problem was just to create more money.

It was an incredibly stupid approach, and now our fundamental problems are worse than ever as Marc Faber recently noted

“Total credit as a percent of the global economy is now 30 percent higher than it was at the start of the economic crisis in 2007, we have had rapidly escalating household debt especially in emerging economies and resource economies like Canada and Australia and we have come to a point where household debt has become burdensome on the system—that is, where an economic slowdown follows.”

So what comes next?

Well, unless the Fed or other central banks intervene, we are probably going to have even more carnage.

At least that is what Dennis Gartman, the editor and publisher of “The Gartman Letter”, told CNBC on Tuesday

“I just think you’re going to have a very severe, very substantive and really quite ugly correction that will probably make a lot of people wail and gnash their teeth before it’s done.”

Other analysts share his pessimism.  According to Doug Short, the vice president of research at Advisor Perspectives, the U.S. stock market “still looks 67% overvalued“.

Most sobering of all is what Richard Russell is saying.  In his 60 years of writing about financial issues, he has never been “so filled with foreboding regarding what lies ahead”

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about the way things are going.  Frankly, I’m truly scared for myself, my family and the nation.  I have the sinking feeling that the stock market is on the edge of a crash.  If that happens, investor sentiment will turn quickly bearish.  And the bear market will start feeding on itself.  Ironically, the recent action occurred in the face of almost insane bullishness on the part of the crowd and on the part of investors.

Obviously smart heads and institutional money managers know that the US is semi dead in the water.  And all the talk about an improving economy is just wishes and hopes.  Bernanke’s dream of a flourishing new economy, improving without the need of the Fed’s help, is an idle dream.

I’ve been writing about the stock market for over 60 years and I can’t remember a time when I was so filled with foreboding regarding what lies ahead.  The primary trend of the market, like the tide of the ocean, is irresistible, and waits for no man.  What scares me the most in this current situation is that I see no clear island of safety.

You can read the rest of his very disturbing remarks right here.

U.S. stocks may not totally crash this week, this month or even this year, but without a doubt a day of reckoning is coming.  As a society, our total consumer, business and government debt is now equivalent to approximately 345 percent of GDP.

The only way that the game can continue is to keep pumping up the debt bubble even more.

Once the debt bubble stops expanding, it will start collapsing very rapidly.

Those that foolishly still have lots of money in the stock market better hope that the Federal Reserve decides to intervene in a major way very soon.

Because if they don’t, there is a very good chance that we could indeed have a “market bloodbath” on our hands.

Quantitative Easing Worked For The Weimar Republic For A Little While Too

Wheelbarrow of MoneyThere is a reason why every fiat currency in the history of the world has eventually failed.  At some point, those issuing fiat currencies always find themselves giving in to the temptation to wildly print more money.  Sometimes, the motivation for doing this is good.  When an economy is really struggling, those that have been entrusted with the management of that economy can easily fall for the lie that things would be better if people just had “more money”.  Today, the Federal Reserve finds itself faced with a scenario that is very similar to what the Weimar Republic was facing nearly 100 years ago.  Like the Weimar Republic, the U.S. economy is also struggling and like the Weimar Republic, the U.S. government is absolutely drowning in debt.  Unfortunately, the Federal Reserve has decided to adopt the same solution that the Weimar Republic chose.  The Federal Reserve is recklessly printing money out of thin air, and in the short-term some positive things have come out of it.  But quantitative easing worked for the Weimar Republic for a little while too.  At first, more money caused economic activity to increase and unemployment was low.  But all of that money printing destroyed faith in German currency and in the German financial system and ultimately Germany experienced an economic meltdown that the world is still talking about today.  This is the path that the Federal Reserve is taking America down, but most Americans have absolutely no idea what is happening.

It is really easy to start printing money, but it is incredibly hard to stop.  Like any addict, the Fed is promising that they can quit at any time, but this month they refused to even start tapering their money printing a little bit.  The behavior of the Fed is so shameful that even CNBC is comparing it to a drug addict at this point…

The danger with addictions is they tend to become increasingly compulsive. That might be one moral of this week’s events.

A few days ago, expectations were sky-high that the Federal Reserve was about to reduce its current $85 billion monthly bond purchases. But then the Fed blinked, partly because it is worried that markets have already over-reacted to the mere thought of a policy shift.

Faced with a choice of curbing the addiction or providing more hits of the QE drug, in other words, it chose the latter.

So why won’t the Fed cut back on the reckless money printing?

Well, as Peter Schiff recently noted, Fed officials seem to be convinced that any “tapering” could result in the bursting of the massive financial bubbles that they have created…

The Fed understands, as the market seems not to, that the current “recovery” could not survive without continuation of massive monetary stimulus. Mainstream economists have mistaken the symptoms of the Fed’s monetary expansion, most notably rising stock and real estate prices, as signs of real and sustainable growth. But the current asset price bubbles have nothing to do with the real economy. To the contrary, they are setting up for a painful correction that will likely be worse than the one we experienced five years ago.

As I have written about previously, the Federal Reserve is usually very careful not to do anything which will hurt the short-term interests of the financial markets and the big banks.

But at this point the Fed is caught in a trap.  If it continues to pump, the financial bubbles that it has created will get even worse.  If it stops, those bubbles will burst.  But as Doug Kass noted recently, it is inevitable that these financial bubbles will burst at some point one way or another…

“Getting in was easy. Getting out—not so much. The Fed is trapped and can’t end tapering or else the bond and stock markets will blow up. The longer this continues the bigger the inevitable burst.”

In essence, we can have disaster now or disaster later.

But most Americans don’t care much about what is happening on Wall Street.  They just want economic conditions to get better for them and for those around them.  And to this day, the mainstream media continues to sell quantitative easing to the American people as an “economic stimulus” program by the Federal Reserve.

So has quantitative easing actually been good for the U.S. economy?

Not really.

For example, while the Fed has been recklessly printing money out of thin air, household incomes have actually been going down for five years in a row

Real Median Household Income

What about employment?

Don’t more Americans have jobs now?

Actually, that is not the case at all.  Posted below is a chart that shows how the percentage of working age Americans with a job has changed since the year 2000.  As you can see, the employment to population ratio fell from about 63 percent before the last recession down to underneath 59 percent at the end of 2009 and it has stayed there ever since

Employment-Population Ratio 2013

So where is the “employment recovery”?

Can you point it out to me?  Because I have been staring at this chart for a long time and I still can’t find it.

So if quantitative easing has not been good for average Americans, who has it been good for?

The wealthy, of course.

Just check out what billionaire hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller told CNBC about quantitative easing the other day…

This is fantastic for every rich person,” he said Thursday, a day after the Fed’s stunning decision to delay tightening its monetary policy. “This is the biggest redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich ever.

“Who owns assets—the rich, the billionaires. You think Warren Buffett hates this stuff? You think I hate this stuff? I had a very good day yesterday.”

Druckenmiller, whose net worth is estimated at more than $2 billion, said that the implication of the Fed’s policy is that the rich will spend their wealth and create jobs—essentially betting on “trickle-down economics.”

“I mean, maybe this trickle-down monetary policy that gives money to billionaires and hopefully we go spend it is going to work,” he said. “But it hasn’t worked for five years.”

Sadly, Druckenmiller is exactly correct.

Since the end of the last recession, the Dow has been on an unprecedented tear…

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Of course these stock prices have nothing to do with economic reality at this point, but for the moment those that are making giant piles of cash on Wall Street don’t really care.

Sadly, what very few people seem to understand is that what the Fed is doing is going to absolutely destroy confidence in our currency and in our financial system in the long-term.  Yeah, many investors have been raking in huge gobs of cash right now, but in the long run this is going to be bad for everybody.

We have now entered a money printing spiral from which there is no easy exit.  According to Graham Summers, the Fed has “crossed the Rubicon” and we are now “in the End Game”…

If tapering even $10-15 billion per month from $85 billion month QE programs would damage the economy, then we’re all up you know what creek without a paddle.

Put it this way… here we are, five years after 2008, and the Fed is stating point blank that the economy would absolutely collapse if it spent any less than $85 billion per month. This admission has proven just how long ago we crossed the Rubicon. We’re already in the End Game. Period.

Most Americans don’t really understand what quantitative easing is, and most don’t really try to understand it because “quantitative easing” sounds very complicated.

But it really isn’t that complicated.

The Federal Reserve is creating gigantic mountains of money out of thin air every month, and the Fed is using all of that newly created money to buy government debt and mortgage-backed securities.  Over the past several years, the value of the financial securities that the Fed has accumulated is greater than the total amount of publicly held debt that the U.S. government accumulated from the presidency of George Washington though the end of the presidency of Bill Clinton

The same day that the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee announced last week that the Fed would continue to buy $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and $45 billion in U.S. Treasury securities per month, the Fed also released its latest weekly accounting sheet indicating that it had already accumulated more Treasuries and MBS than the total value of the publicly held U.S. government debt amassed by all U.S. presidents from George Washington though Bill Clinton.

To say that this is a desperate move by the Fed would be a massive understatement.  We have never seen anything like this before in U.S. history.

And look at what all of this wild money printing has done to our money supply…

M1 Money Supply

In many ways, the chart above is reminiscent of what the Weimar Republic did during the early years of their hyperinflationary spiral…

Hyperinflation Weimar Republic

Just like the Weimar Republic, our money supply is beginning to grow at an exponential pace.

So far, complete and total disaster has not struck, so most people think that everything must be okay.

But it is not.

In a previous article, I included an outstanding illustration from Simon Black that I think would be extremely helpful here as well…

Let’s say you’re at a party in a small apartment that’s about 500 square feet in size. Then suddenly, at 11pm, a pipe bursts, starting a trickle into the living room.

Aside from the petty annoyance, would you feel like you were in danger? Probably not. This is a linear problem– the rate at which the water is leaking is more or less constant, so the guests can keep partying through the night without worry.

But let’s assume that it’s an exponential leak.

At first, there’s just one drop of water. But each minute, the rate doubles. So by 11:01pm, there’s 2 drops. By 11:02, 4 drops. And so forth.

By 11:27pm, there’s only six inches of standing water. Yet by 11:31pm, just four minutes later, the entire room is under nearly 8 feet of water. And the party’s over.

For nearly half an hour, it all seemed safe and manageable. People had all the time in the world to leave, right up until the bitter end. 11:27, 11:28, 11:29. Then it all went from benign to deadly in a matter of minutes.

Are you starting to get the picture?

What the Federal Reserve is doing is systematically destroying the U.S. dollar, and the rest of the world is starting to take notice.

Why should they continue to lend us trillions of dollars at super low interest rates when we are exploding the size of our money supply?

It is simply not rational for other nations to continue to lend us money at less than 3 percent a year when the real rate of inflation is somewhere around 8 to 10 percent and reckless money printing by the Fed threatens to greatly accelerate the devaluation of our currency.

When QE first started, the added demand for U.S. government debt by the Federal Reserve helped drive long-term interest rates down to record low levels.

But in the long-term, the only rational response by all other buyers of U.S. government debt will be to demand a much higher rate of return because of the rapid devaluation of U.S. currency.

So QE drives down long-term interest rates in the short-term, but in the long-term the only rational direction for long-term interest rates to go is much, much higher and in recent months we have already started to see this.

The only way that the Fed can stop this is by increasing the amount of quantitative easing.

Right now, the Fed is buying roughly half a trillion dollars worth of U.S. Treasuries a year, but the U.S. government issues close to a trillion dollars of new debt and must roll over about 3 trillion dollars of existing debt each year.

If the Federal Reserve eventually decides to buy all of the debt, then interest rates won’t be a major problem.  But if the Fed goes that far our financial system would be regarded as a total joke by the remainder of the globe and we would reach hyperinflation much more rapidly.

If the Federal Reserve stops buying debt completely, the financial bubbles that they have created will burst and we will rapidly be facing a financial crisis even worse than what we experienced back in 2008.

But almost whatever the Fed does at this point, the rest of the world will probably continue to start to move away from the U.S. dollar as the de facto reserve currency of the planet.  This move is just beginning, but it is going to have major implications for us in the years ahead.  This is a topic that I will be addressing extensively in future articles.

Most of the debate about quantitative easing has focused on the impact that it will have on the U.S. economy in the short-term.

That is a huge mistake.

Of much greatest importance is what quantitative easing means for the long-term.

The rest of the world is losing confidence in the U.S. dollar and in U.S. debt because of the reckless money printing that the Fed has been doing.

But we desperately need the rest of the world to use “the petrodollar” and to lend us the money that we need to pay our bills.

As the rest of the planet starts to reject the U.S. dollar and starts to demand a much higher rate of return to lend us money, the U.S. economy is going to experience a tremendous amount of pain.

It is hard to put into words how foolish the Federal Reserve has been.  The Fed is systematically destroying what was once the strongest financial system in the world, and in the end we are all going to pay the price.

Debt Levels Are Skyrocketing To Extremely Dangerous Levels – How Long Can This Possibly Keep Going?

SkyrocketingNever before has the world faced such a serious debt crisis.  Yes, in the past there have certainly been nations that have gotten into trouble with debt, but we have never had a situation where virtually all of the major powers around the globe were all drowning in debt at the same time.  And what makes this crisis even more unprecedented is that everyone on the planet is using fiat currency that is backed up by nothing.  It is all just a bunch of paper and data points that people have faith in.  Right now, confidence in this system is being shaken as debt levels skyrocket to extremely dangerous levels.  Many are openly wondering how much longer this can possibly go on.

Just consider what is going on over in Europe right now.  Even the countries that have supposedly “tried austerity” continue to rack up debt at a mind blowing pace.  New numbers that have just been released show that government debt to GDP ratios for some of the most financially troubled nations in Europe are absolutely soaring

  • Euroarea: 92.2%, up from 88.2% a year ago
  • Greece: 160.5%, up from 136.5% a year ago
  • Italy: 130.3%; up from 123.8% a year ago
  • Portugal: 127.2%, up from 112.3% a year ago
  • Ireland: 125.1%, up from 106.8% a year ago
  • Spain: 88.2%, up from 73.0% a year ago
  • Netherlands: 72.0%, up from 66.7% a year ago

Meanwhile, the debt to GDP ratio in Japan is now well past the 200% mark and continues to march upward with no apparent end in sight.  The following is from a recent MSN article

In Japan, the good news is that the nation’s budget for the fiscal year, which started on April 1, will see the government raise a higher percentage of spending from tax revenue than at any other time in the past four years. The bad news is that the government will still cover 46.3% of its spending from borrowing. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that Japan’s budget deficit for 2013 amounted to 10.3% of gross domestic product.

In China, the big problem is the absolutely stunning growth of private domestic debt.  According to a recent World Bank report, the total amount of credit in China has risen from 9 trillion dollars in 2008 to 23 trillion dollars today.

That increase is roughly equivalent to the entire U.S. commercial banking system.

According to financial journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the ratio of private domestic debt to GDP in China is now wildly out of control…

The 160pc debt ratio for China is based on a conservative measure of credit. Fitch says it is 200pc if you count all offshore vehicles, trusts, letters of credit etc.

This morning China Securities Journal – an arm of the regulators – said it may really be 221pc.

Well, what about the United States?

As I noted the other day, our ratio of federal government debt to GDP has shot up like a rocket since 2008…

National Debt As A Percentage Of GDP

At this point, the U.S. already has more government debt per capita than Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Spain.  It is a giant mess, and yet our politicians continue to recklessly spend more money.

And of course state and local governments all over the nation are drowning in debt too.  The bankruptcy of Detroit is forcing people to come to grips with how bad things really are.  Sadly, as Meredith Whitney explained the other day, there are going to be a lot more municipal bankruptcies coming down the pipeline…

As jarring as the reality may be to accept, Detroit’s decision last week to declare bankruptcy should not be regarded as a one-off in the US municipal market – which is what the bond-peddlers are now telling their clients. The aftershocks of the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history will be staggering, and Detroit will set important precedents.

Municipal bankruptcies have historically been rare for a number of reasons – including the states’ determination to preserve their credit ratings, their access to cheap funding and the stigma of bankruptcy. But, these days, things are very different in the world of municipal finance.

At the root of the problem is the incentive system that elected officials used to face. For decades, across the US, local leaders ran up tabs for future taxpayers; they promised pensions and other benefits for public employees that have strong legal protection. That has been a great source of patronage for elected officials: they can promise all sorts of future perks to loyal supporters (state and local workers) with very little accountability on the delivery of those promises.

And of course the overall debt level in the United States continues to grow much, much faster than our overall economy is growing.

The greatest debt bubble in the history of the planet is still expanding.

How long will it be before it bursts?

That is a very good question.  For now, our “leaders” appear to just be trying to keep the party going for as long as possible.  They know that if they suddenly change course hard times will hit almost immediately.  For example, just check out what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress last week

With the economy still facing risks, especially from government spending cuts, Bernanke told a congressional panel on Wednesday the Fed is still planning to trim its quantitative easing stimulus, if growth continues at a steady pace.

But expectations that the Fed was poised to start tightening monetary policy, which have sent interest rates jumping and sparked turmoil in global markets, were unwarranted, he stressed.

“I don’t think the Fed can get interest rates up very much, because the economy is weak, inflation rates are low,” Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee.

“If we were to tighten policy, the economy would tank.”

Nobody wants the economy to “tank”, but the truth is that the more debt that we run up, the larger our long-term economic problems become.

And a growing percentage of Americans realize that something has seriously gone wrong.  According to a recent Pew Research survey, 44% of all Americans believe that an economic recovery is still “a long way off“.

Unfortunately, the reality of the matter is that we are already living in the “economic recovery”.

This is about as good as it is going to get.

The truth is that the real storm has not even hit yet.  When the debt bubble finally bursts, we are going to see economic chaos in this country unlike anything that we have ever experienced before.

I hope that you are getting ready.

Rotting, Decaying And Bankrupt – If You Want To See The Future Of America Just Look At Detroit

The Future Of The United States - Photo by Albert DuceEventually the money runs out.  Much of America was shocked when the city of Detroit defaulted on a $39.7 million debt payment and announced that it was suspending payments on $2.5 billion of unsecured debt, but those who visit my site on a regular basis were probably not too surprised.  Anyone with half a brain and a calculator could see this coming from a mile away.  But people kept foolishly lending money to the city of Detroit, and now many of them are going to get hit really hard.  Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has submitted a proposal that would pay unsecured creditors about 10 cents on the dollar.  Similar haircuts would be made to underfunded pension and health benefits for retirees.  Orr is hoping that the creditors and the unions that he will be negotiating with will accept this package, but he concedes that there is still a “50-50 chance” that the city of Detroit will be forced to formally file for bankruptcy.  But what Detroit is facing is not really that unique.  In fact, Detroit is a perfect example of what the future of America is going to look like.  We live in a nation that is rotting, decaying, drowning in debt and racing toward insolvency.  Already there are dozens of other cities across the nation that are poverty-ridden, crime-infested hellholes just like Detroit is, and hundreds of other communities are rapidly heading in that direction.  So don’t look down on Detroit.  They just got there before the rest of us.

The following are some facts about Detroit that are absolutely mind-blowing…

1 – Detroit was once the fourth-largest city in the United States, and in 1960 Detroit had the highest per-capita income in the entire nation.

2 – Over the past 60 years, the population of Detroit has fallen by 63 percent.

3 – At this point, approximately 40 percent of all the streetlights in the city don’t work.

4 – Some ambulances in the city of Detroit have been used for so long that they have more than 250,000 miles on them.

5 – 210 of the 317 public parks in the city of Detroit have been permanently closed down.

6 – According to the New York Times, there are now approximately 70,000 abandoned buildings in Detroit.

7 – Approximately one-third of Detroit’s 140 square miles is either vacant or derelict.

8Less than half of the residents of Detroit over the age of 16 are working at this point.

9 – If you can believe it, 60 percent of all children in the city of Detroit are living in poverty.

10 – According to one very shocking report, 47 percent of the residents of Detroit are functionally illiterate.

11 – Today, police solve less than 10 percent of the crimes that are committed in Detroit.

12 – Ten years ago, there were approximately 5,000 police officers in the city of Detroit.  Today, there are only about 2,500 and another 100 are scheduled to be eliminated from the force soon.

13 – Due to budget cutbacks, most police stations in Detroit are now closed to the public for 16 hours a day.

14 – The murder rate in Detroit is 11 times higher than it is in New York City.

15 – Crime has gotten so bad in Detroit that even the police are telling people to “enter Detroit at your own risk“.

16 – Right now, the city of Detroit is facing $20 billion in debt and unfunded liabilities.  That breaks down to more than $25,000 per resident.

As Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr noted last week, it took a very long time for Detroit to get into this condition…

“What the average Detroiter needs to understand is that where we are right now is a culmination of years and years and years of kicking the can down the road,” said Orr, adding that his proposal should not be seen as a “hostile act” but as a step in the right direction.

Does that sound familiar?

It should.

U.S. politicians have also been kicking the can down the road for “years and years and years”.

But eventually you can’t kick the can down the road anymore.

Sometimes it is helpful to step back and look at what we have done to ourselves over the past several decades.

For example, back in 1980 the U.S. national debt was less than one trillion dollars.  Today, it is rapidly approaching 17 trillion dollars.

And our debt binge has greatly accelerated under Barack Obama.

During Barack Obama’s first term, the federal government accumulated more debt than it did under the first 42 U.S presidents combined.

Isn’t that insane?

In fact, if you started paying off just the new debt that the U.S. has accumulated during the Obama administration at the rate of one dollar per second, it would take more than 184,000 years to pay it off.

The following are a lot more facts about our exploding national debt from one of my previous articles entitled “55 Facts About The Debt And U.S. Government Finances That Every American Voter Should Know“…

#1 While Barack Obama has been president, the U.S. government has spent about 11 dollars for every 7 dollars of revenue that it has actually brought in.

#2 During the fiscal year that just ended, the U.S. government took in 2.449 trillion dollars but it spent 3.538 trillion dollars.

#3 During fiscal year 2011, over a trillion dollars of government money was spent on 83 different welfare programs, and those numbers do not even include Social Security or Medicare.

#4 Over the past four years, welfare spending has increased by 32 percent.  In inflation-adjusted dollars, spending on those programs has risen by 378 percent over the past 30 years.  At this point, more than 100 million Americans are enrolled in at least one welfare program run by the federal government.  Once again, these figures do not even include Social Security or Medicare.

#5 Over the past year, the number of Americans getting a free cell phone from the federal government has grown by 43 percent.  Now more than 16 million Americans are enjoying what has come to be known as an “Obamaphone”.

#6 When Barack Obama first entered the White House, about 32 million Americans were on food stamps.  Now, 47 million Americans are on food stamps.  And this has happened during what Obama refers to as “an economic recovery”.

#7 The U.S. government recently spent 27 million dollars on pottery classes in Morocco.

#8 The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently spent $300,000 to encourage Americans to eat caviar at a time when more families than ever are having a really hard time just trying to put any food on the table at all.

#9 During 2012, the National Science Foundation spent $516,000 to support the creation of a video game called “Prom Week”, which apparently simulates “all the social interactions of the event.

#10 The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the largest snack food maker in the world (PepsiCo Inc.) a total of 1.3 million dollars in corporate welfare that was used to help build “a Greek yogurt factory in New York.

#11 The National Science Foundation recently gave researchers at Purdue University $350,000.  They used part of that money to help fund a study that discovered that if golfers imagine that a hole is bigger it will help them with their putting.

#12 If you can believe it, $10,000 from the federal government was actually used to purchase talking urinal cakes up in Michigan.

#13 The National Science Foundation recently gave a whopping $697,177 to a New York City-based theater company to produce a musical about climate change.

#14 The National Institutes of Health recently gave $666,905 to a group of researchers that is studying the benefits of watching reruns on television.

#15 The National Science Foundation has given 1.2 million dollars to a team of “scientists” that is spending part of that money on a study that is seeking to determine whether elderly Americans would benefit from playing World of Warcraft or not.

#16 The National Institutes of Health recently gave $548,731 to a team of researchers that concluded that those that drink heavily in their thirties also tend to feel more immature.

#17 The National Science Foundation recently spent $30,000 on a study to determine if “gaydar” actually exists.  This is the conclusion that the researchers reached at the end of the study…

“Gaydar is indeed real and… its accuracy is driven by sensitivity to individual facial features”

#18 Back in 2011, the National Institutes of Health spent $592,527 on a study that sought to figure out once and for all why chimpanzees throw poop.

#19 The U.S. government spends more on the military than China, Russia, Japan, India, and the rest of NATO combined.  In fact, the United States accounts for 41.0% of all military spending on the planet.  China is next with only 8.2%.

#20 In a previous article, I noted that close to 500,000 federal employees now make at least $100,000 a year.

#21 In 2006, only 12 percent of all federal workers made $100,000 or more per year.  Now, approximately 22 percent of all federal workers do.

#22 If you can believe it, there are 77,000 federal workers that make more than the governors of their own states do.

#23 During 2010, the average federal employee in the Washington D.C. area received total compensation worth more than $126,000.

#24 The U.S. Department of Defense had just nine civilians earning $170,000 or more back in 2005.  When Barack Obama became president, the U.S. Department of Defense had 214 civilians earning $170,000 or more.  By June 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense had 994 civilians earning $170,000 or more.

#25 During 2010, compensation for federal employees came to a grand total of approximately 447 billion dollars.

#26 If you can believe it, close to 15,000 retired federal employees are currently collecting federal pensions for life worth at least $100,000 annually.  That list includes such names as Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Trent Lott, Dick Gephardt and Dick Cheney.

#27 During 2010, the federal government spent $33,387 on the hair care needs of U.S. Senators.

#28 During 2010, U.S. Senators pulled $72,370 out of the “Senate Restaurant Fund”.

#29 During 2010, an average of $4,005,900 of U.S. taxpayer money was spent on “personal” and “office” expenses per Senator.

#30 In 2013, 3.7 million dollars will be spent to support the lavish lifestyles of former presidents such as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

#31 During 2011, the federal government spent a total of 1.4 BILLION dollars just on the Obamas.

#32 When you combine all federal government spending, all state government spending and all local government spending, it comes to approximately 41 percent of U.S. GDP.  But don’t worry, all of our politicians insist that this is not socialism.

#33 As I have written about previously, less than 30 percent of all Americans lived in a home where at least one person received financial assistance from the federal government back in 1983.  Today, that number is sitting at an all-time high of 49 percent.

#34 Back in 1990, the federal government accounted for just 32 percent of all health care spending in America.  This year, it is being projected that the federal government will account for more than 50 percent of all health care spending in the United States.

#35 The number of Americans on Medicaid soared from 34 million in 2000 to 54 million in 2011, and it is being projected that Obamacare will add 16 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.

#36 In one of my previous articles, I discussed how it is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.

#37 If you can believe it, Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years.  That comes to approximately $328,404 for each and every household in the United States.

#38 In the United States today, more than 61 million Americans receive some form of Social Security benefits.  By 2035, that number is projected to soar to a whopping 91 million.

#39 Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.

#40 When Barack Obama first took office, the U.S. national debt was about 10.6 trillion dollars.  Now it is about 16.7 trillion dollars.  That is an increase of 6.1 trillion dollars in a little more than 4 years.

#41 The federal government has now run a budget deficit of more than a trillion dollars for four years in a row.

#42 If right this moment you went out and started spending one dollar every single second, it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend one trillion dollars.

#43 If you were alive when Jesus Christ was born and you spent one million dollars every single day since that point, you still would not have spent one trillion dollars by now.

#44 Some suggest that “taxing the rich” is the answer.  Well, if Bill Gates gave every single penny of his entire fortune to the U.S. government, it would only cover the U.S. budget deficit for 15 days.

#45 If the federal government used GAAP accounting standards like publicly traded corporations do, the real federal budget deficit for 2011 would have been 5 trillion dollars instead of 1.3 trillion dollars.

#46 The United States already has more government debt per capita than Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Spain does.

#47 At this point, the United States government is responsible for more than a third of all the government debt in the entire world.

#48 The amount of U.S. government debt held by foreigners is about 5 times larger than it was just a decade ago.

#49 Between 2007 and 2010, U.S. GDP grew by only 4.26%, but the U.S. national debt soared by 61% during that same time period.

#50 The U.S. national debt is now more than 37 times larger than it was when Richard Nixon took us off the gold standard.

#51 The U.S. national debt is now more than 5000 times larger than it was when the Federal Reserve was first created.

#52 The U.S. national debt jumped more on the very first day of fiscal year 2013 than it did from 1776 to 1941 combined.

#53 Historically, the interest rate on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has averaged 6.68 percent.  If the average interest rate on U.S. government debt rose to that level today, the U.S. government would find itself spending more than a trillion dollars per year just on interest on the national debt.

#54 A recently revised IMF policy paper entitled “An Analysis of U.S. Fiscal and Generational Imbalances: Who Will Pay and How?” projects that U.S. government debt will rise to about 400 percent of GDP by the year 2050.

#55 Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff is warning that the U.S. government is facing a gigantic tsunami of unfunded liabilities in the coming years that we are counting on our children and our grandchildren to pay.  Kotlikoff speaks of a “fiscal gap” which he defines as “the present value difference between projected future spending and revenue”.  His calculations have led him to the conclusion that the federal government is facing a fiscal gap of 222 trillion dollars in the years ahead.

Please share this article with as many people as you can.  We are in the process of committing national financial suicide and time is rapidly running out to do anything about it.

Just like Detroit, a day is rapidly approaching when America will not be able to kick the can down the road anymore.

Sadly, our politicians don’t seem inclined to do anything about it and most of the population seems to think that our exploding national debt is not a significant problem.

By the time it becomes clear how wrong they were, it will be far too late to do anything about it.

America’s Roads Have Been Turned Into A Revenue Generating Surveillance Grid

Traffic Stop - Photo by DarkKomodoWhat do speed traps, parking tickets, toll roads, speed cameras and red light cameras all have in common?  They are all major revenue sources for state and local governments.  All over America today there are state and local governments that are drowning in debt.  Many have chosen to use “traffic enforcement” as a way to raise desperately needed revenue.  According to the National Motorist Association, issuing speeding tickets raises somewhere between 4.5 billion and 6 billion dollars in the United States each year.  And the average price of a speeding ticket just keeps going up.  Today, the national average is about $150, but in many jurisdictions it is far higher.  For example, more than 16 million traffic tickets are issued in the state of California each year, and the average fine is approximately $250.  If you are wealthy that may not be much of a problem, but if you are a family that is barely scraping by every month that can be a major financial setback.  Meanwhile, America’s roads are also being systematically transformed into a surveillance grid.  The number of cameras watching our roads is absolutely exploding, and automated license plate readers are capturing hundreds of millions of data points on all of us.  As you drive down the highway, a police vehicle coming up behind you can instantly read your license plate and pull up a whole host of information about you.  This happened to me a few years ago.  I had pulled on to a very crowded highway in Virginia and within less than a minute a cop car had scanned me and was pulling me over because one of my stickers had expired.  But these automated license plate readers are being used for far more than just traffic enforcement now.  For example, officials in Washington D.C. are now using automated license plate readers to track the movements of every single vehicle that enters the city.  They know when you enter Washington, and they know when you leave.  So where is all of this headed?  Do we really want to live in a “Big Brother” society where the government constantly tracks all of our movements?

Back in the old days, the highways of America were great examples to the rest of the world of the tremendous liberties and freedoms that we enjoyed.  Americans loved to hop into their vehicles and take a drive.  But now government is sucking all of the fun out of driving.  The control freak bureaucrats that dominate our political system have figured out that giant piles of money can be raised by turning our roads into revenue raising tools.

At this point things have gotten so bad that even some police officers are admitting what is going on.  Just check out what a few of them told Car and Driver

The president of a state police union isn’t pretending it doesn’t happen. James Tignanelli, president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan union, says, “When elected officials say, ‘We need more money,’ they can’t look to the department of public works to raise revenues, so where do they find it? Police departments.

“A lot of police chiefs will tell you the goal is to have nobody speeding through their community, but heaven forbid if it should actually happen—they’d be out of money,” Tignanelli says.

Police Chief Michael Reaves of Utica, Michigan, says the role of law enforcement has changed over the years. “When I first started in this job 30 years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement, but if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues,” he says. “That’s just the reality nowadays.”

And as the economy has gone downhill, many jurisdictions have massively jacked up traffic fines.  According to the Los Angeles Times, various traffic fines in the Los Angeles area are far higher than they once were…

If you’re caught running a red light in Los Angeles, be prepared to shell out $446, up from $271 eight years ago. Make a rolling right turn at a stoplight and the ticket comes to $381 — more than double what it cost in 2008.

And of course the cost to the driver does not end with the ticket.  Your car insurance will likely go up as well.  In fact, one study found that a driver that just gets one speeding ticket will pay an additional 20 percent for car insurance for the next three to six years.

That can add up to a lot of money.

But politicians just keep wanting to find a way to issue even more tickets.  One of the hottest trends all over the country is to automate the issuing of traffic tickets by installing cameras.  According to USA Today, this has become a huge growth industry…

Sales of the cameras have nearly quadrupled since companies moved to digital and wireless technology in the mid-2000s. The number of local contracts for cameras was up to 689 last year, from 155 in 2005, according to industry data complied by market leader American Traffic Solutions (ATS).

And these automated traffic cameras can raise an enormous amount of cash.  Just check out what has been happening in Washington D.C.

The speeding and traffic light cameras have become more lucrative as their number in the District has increased. Combined, they issued tickets valued at $24.4 million in 2007. That figure more than doubled by 2010, to $50.9 million, and it reached $84.9 million in the last fiscal year.

But as annoying as those traffic cameras are, automated license plate readers are perhaps even more insidious.

The amount of data that these automated license plate readers are capturing is astounding.  The following is from a recent article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Photographing a single license plate one time on a public city street may not seem problematic, but when that data is put into a database, combined with other scans of that same plate on other city streets, and stored forever, it can become very revealing. Information about your location over time can show not only where you live and work, but your political and religious beliefs, your social and sexual habits, your visits to the doctor, and your associations with others. And, according to recent research reported in Nature, it’s possible to identify 95% of individuals with as few as four randomly selected geospatial datapoints (location + time), making location data the ultimate biometric identifier.

Our license plates have essentially become “our papers” which the government can read whenever it would like without even asking for our permission.

According to L.A. Weekly, local police agencies in the L.A. area have captured more than 160 million data points on private citizens using these automated license plate readers…

L.A. Weekly has learned that more than two dozen law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County are using hundreds of these “automatic license plate recognition” devices (LPRs) — units about the size of a paperback book, usually mounted atop police cruisers — to devour data on every car that catches their electronic eye.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department are two of the biggest gatherers of automatic license plate recognition information. Local police agencies have logged more than 160 million data points — a massive database of the movements of millions of drivers in Southern California.

Each data point represents a car and its exact whereabouts at a given time. Police have already conducted, on average, some 22 scans for every one of the 7,014,131 vehicles registered in L.A. County.

As the use of these devices becomes more widespread and they become even more sophisticated, eventually the government will know where almost all of us are and what almost all of us are doing at all times.

The following is a brief except from a Washington Post article that detailed how automated license plate readers are now being used to create a “dragnet” that will track the movements of all vehicles from the time that they enter Washington D.C. to the time that they leave…

More than 250 cameras in the District and its suburbs scan license plates in real time, helping police pinpoint stolen cars and fleeing killers. But the program quietly has expanded beyond what anyone had imagined even a few years ago.

With virtually no public debate, police agencies have begun storing the information from the cameras, building databases that document the travels of millions of vehicles.

Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the District, which has more than one plate-reader per square mile, the highest concentration in the nation. Police in the Washington suburbs have dozens of them as well, and local agencies plan to add many more in coming months, creating a comprehensive dragnet that will include all the approaches into the District.

This is just the beginning.

For now, as long as you carefully obey all traffic laws and you don’t work in a major city like Washington D.C., the changes that are happening probably do not affect you too much.

But the key is to see where all of this is going.  Our roads are slowly but surely being transformed into a revenue generating control grid.  And this is just yet another example of how government feels the need to constantly watch, monitor, track and regulate everything that we do.

Does anyone else feel like the life is slowly being choked out of our society, or am I alone?

Traffic Stop Photo By Jeff Dean

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