The Beginning Of The End
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If This Keeps Up, They Will Have To Start Putting Armed Guards On Food Trucks

Food Truck - Public DomainThe basic necessities in life just keep getting more expensive.  On Tuesday, Hershey announced that the price of all of their chocolate bars is going to go up by about 8 percent.  That is particularly distressing to me, because I am known to love chocolate.  But if it was just chocolate that was becoming significantly more expensive perhaps that would be okay.  Last month, it was coffee.  J.M. Smucker, one of the largest coffee producers in the United States, announced that it planned to raise coffee prices by about 9 percent.  And Starbucks has announced a bunch of price increases across the board on their coffee products.  Of course we could all survive without chocolate and coffee, but as you will see below just about every food category is becoming more expensive.  If this keeps up, could we eventually see armed guards in grocery stores and on food trucks?

On Wednesday, Robert Wenzel of the Economic Policy Journal shared some new data that has just been released by the federal government about food inflation over the past year.  Without a doubt, these numbers are quite startling…

According to the latest data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, year-over-year gains in some food products at the producer level have been truly spectacular.

Eggs for fresh use are up 33.9%.

Pork is up 28%.

Processed turkeys are up 20.4%.

Dairy products are up 10.7%.

Fresh and dry vegetables are up 8.4%.

Fresh fruits and melons are up 7.5%.

Unfortunately, paychecks for most American families are not going up at similar rates.

What that means is more pain when we make our trips to the grocery store.  Things have gotten so bad that even the mainstream media is running stories about this.  For example, this excerpt comes from a recent CNBC article

“I try to do all my local errands in one day and go up to the mall,” said Helon Rapfogel of New Jersey. “I used to go maybe twice or three times a week, and now I just go one day a week, if that much. And I try to consolidate things.”

Rapfogel said that higher costs for food and gas are hitting her overall budget.

“You sacrifice things. Like not doing an ice cream run during the week with the kids. [That could] hurt the local retailers, and we don’t want to do that … but we may have to,” she said.

At the grocery store, meat, dairy and fruit prices are all up substantially. People are even paying more for lattes at their local coffee shops. And it’s not just food—gas prices have jumped sharply on geopolitical unrest, and at the moment there’s no relief in sight.

So why is all of this happening?

Well, the truth is that a lot of factors have combined to produce something of a perfect storm.

First of all, we should talk about Federal Reserve money printing.  Since the last financial crisis, the Fed has been on an unprecedented money printing spree.  This has dramatically pushed up the prices of stocks, commodities and just about everything else.  It was naive to think that we wouldn’t eventually see substantial food inflation as well.  Just look at what “quantitative easing” has done to M1 since the last recession…

M1 Money Supply 2014

When you have more dollars chasing roughly the same amount of goods and services of course prices are going to go up.

It is just basic economics.

But according to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, there is absolutely no reason to be concerned.  The following is a video of her telling the press her view on inflation that I shared in a previous article

But crazy Fed money printing is not the only reason why food prices are going up.

The endless drought in the western half of the country is severely hurting food production as well.  The size of the U.S. cattle herd has shrunk for seven years in a row, and it is now the smallest that it has been since 1951.  And the drought is hitting the state of California particularly hard, and considering the fact that it produces nearly half of all of our fresh produce that is more than a little bit alarming.  Yes, we are more technologically advanced that we used to be, but we are not advanced enough to overcome an epic multi-year drought in half the nation.

In addition, we are also dealing with the worst pork virus to ever hit the United States right now.  Porcine epidemic diarrhea has already wiped out about 10 percent of the pig population in the U.S., and approximately 100,000 more are dying each week.  As you saw above, pork prices are already up 28 percent over the past 12 months, and if a solution is not found to this virus the price increases are going to get much worse.

Down in Florida, citrus growers are facing a horrific outbreak of citrus greening disease.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that orange production in the U.S. will be down 18 percent compared to last year, and it is expected that this will be the worst crop in close to 30 years.

Another plague known as the TR4 fungus has hit banana production.  According to CNBC, this horrible fungus may eventually completely wipe out the variety of bananas that we eat today…

Banana lovers take note: The world’s supply of the fruit is under attack from a fungus strain that could wipe out the popular variety that Americans eat.

“It’s a very serious situation,” said Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida who in 1989 originally discovered a strain of Panama disease, called TR4, that may be growing into a serious threat to U.S. supplies of the fruit and Latin American producers.

“There’s nothing at this point that really keeps the fungus from spreading,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

While there are nearly 1,000 varieties of bananas, the most popular is the Cavendish, which accounts for 45 percent of the fruit’s global crop—and the one Americans mostly find in their supermarkets.

For decades, Americans have been able to go to the grocery stores and fill up their carts with massive amounts of very inexpensive food.

But just because it has been that way for so many years does not mean that it will be that way in the future.

Right now, there are 49 million Americans that are dealing with food insecurity, and that number will only get worse as food prices go even higher.

It is getting to the point where it is not too hard to imagine desperate people holding up food trucks and robbing grocery stores in order to feed themselves and their families.

Let us hope that we don’t see anything like that any time soon, but we are moving in that direction.

Just a few years ago, the notion that we could ever see armed guards on food trucks or in grocery stores in the United States was absolutely unthinkable.

But now, it is not so crazy.

So what do you think?  Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…

Rise Of The Droids: Will Robots Eventually Steal All Of Our Jobs?

Rise Of The Droids: Will Robots Eventually Steal All Of Our Jobs? - Photo by stephen bowlerWill a robot take your job?  We have entered a period in human history when technology is advancing at an exponential rate.  In some ways, this has been a great blessing for humanity.  For example, I am absolutely blown away by all of the things that my little iPod can do.  But on the other hand, all of this technology is eliminating millions upon millions of high paying jobs.  In the past, I have written extensively about how millions of American jobs have been sent to the other side of the world, but now we may be moving into a time when workers all over the planet will be steadily losing jobs to super-efficient robots.  For employers, robots provide a lot of advantages to human workers.  Robots never complain, they never get tired, they never need vacation, they never show up late, they never waste time of Facebook, they don’t need any health benefits and there are a whole lot of rules, regulations and taxes that you must deal with when you hire a human worker.  In the past, robots were exceedingly expensive, and that limited their usefulness in the workplace, but as you will see later in this article that is rapidly changing.  As robots continue to become even more advanced and even less expensive, will there eventually come a point where the “human worker” is virtually obsolete?

Of course I can hear the objections already.  Many of you will insist that even though automation has always eliminated jobs in the past, it has also always created new jobs that were even better.  For instance, once upon a time most of the U.S. population worked on farms, but thanks to automation now hardly any of us do.

But what happens when we get to the point where super-intelligent robots are more efficient at everything?

What will be left for “human workers” to do?

And if human workers are no longer needed for most tasks, what will their role in society be?

Personally, I still complain about self-service check-in kiosks at airports and self-checkout lanes at supermarkets, but most people seem to have accepted them.  There are even many bank branches now that don’t have any humans in them at all.  The number of jobs where a human worker is absolutely “required” is dwindling all the time.

And a lot of the jobs that are disappearing thanks to advances in technology are fairly high paying jobs.  In fact, one recent study of employment data from 20 countries discovered that “almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000.”

As I mentioned earlier, in the past robots were simply far too expensive to perform most tasks.  So human workers had an advantage.

But that advantage is disappearing right in front of our eyes.  For example, one company has produced a new robot called “Baxter” that only costs $22,000.  The following is from an article about Baxter in the MIT Technology Review

Baxter was conceived by Rodney Brooks, the Australian roboticist and artificial-intelligence expert who left MIT to build a $22,000 humanoid robot that can easily be programmed to do simple jobs that have never been automated before.

Eventually, the goal is to produce versions of Baxter that will perform tasks even more cheaply than Chinese workers do…

Brooks’s company, Rethink Robotics, says the robot will spark a “renaissance” in American manufacturing by helping small companies compete against low-wage offshore labor. Baxter will do that by accelerating a trend of factory efficiency that’s eliminated more jobs in the U.S. than overseas competition has. Of the approximately 5.8 million manufacturing jobs the U.S. lost between 2000 and 2010, according to McKinsey Global Institute, two-thirds were lost because of higher productivity and only 20 percent moved to places like China, Mexico, or Thailand.

The ultimate goal is for robots like Baxter to take over more complex tasks, such as fitting together parts on an electronics assembly line. “A couple more ticks of Moore’s Law and you’ve got automation that works more cheaply than Chinese labor does,” Andrew McAfee, an MIT researcher, predicted last year at a conference in Tucson, Arizona, where Baxter was discussed.

So it won’t just be American workers that will be displaced by robots – it will literally be workers all over the planet.

In the future, when you call someone for customer service you probably won’t be talking to someone in India.  Instead, you will probably be talking to a robot.  In fact, this transition is already starting to happen…

IPsoft is a young company started by Chetan Dube, a former mathematics professor at New York University. He reckons that artificial intelligence can take over most of the routine information-technology and business-process tasks currently performed by workers in offshore locations. “The last decade was about replacing labour with cheaper labour,” says Mr Dube. “The coming decade will be about replacing cheaper labour with autonomics.”

IPsoft’s Eliza, a “virtual service-desk employee” that learns on the job and can reply to e-mail, answer phone calls and hold conversations, is being tested by several multinationals. At one American media giant she is answering 62,000 calls a month from the firm’s information-technology staff. She is able to solve two out of three of the problems without human help. At IPsoft’s media-industry customer Eliza has replaced India’s Tata Consulting Services.

Even some of the largest companies in China are starting to make the transition from human workers to robots.  The following is from a recent TechCrunch article

Foxconn has been planning to buy 1 million robots to replace human workers and it looks like that change, albeit gradual, is about to start.

The company is allegedly paying $25,000 per robot – about three times a worker’s average salary – and they will replace humans in assembly tasks. The plans have been in place for a while – I spoke to Foxconn reps about this a year ago – and it makes perfect sense. Humans are messy, they want more money, and having a half-a-million of them in one factory is a recipe for unrest. But what happens after the halls are clear of careful young men and women and instead full of whirring robots?

So what will the world look like as robots begin to replace humans in just about every industry that you can imagine?

A recent Wired article described what this transition might look like…

First, machines will consolidate their gains in already-automated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no humans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will feature a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots, starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and eventually getting to toilets. The highway legs of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs.

All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don’t call it that. Witness one piece of software by Narrative Science (profiled in issue 20.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games’ stats or generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.

I don’t know about you, but the phrase “robot takeover” is not exactly comforting.

Perhaps I just watch too many movies.

In any event, as technology advances there will eventually be very few jobs that robots cannot perform.  In fact, you might be surprised to learn some of the things that robots are already doing.  The following is from a recent Yahoo News article

Google and Toyota are rolling out cars that can drive themselves. The Pentagon deploys robots to find roadside explosives in Afghanistan and wages war from the air with drone aircraft. North Carolina State University this month introduced a high-tech library where robots — “bookBots” — retrieve books when students request them, instead of humans. The library’s 1.5 million books are no longer displayed on shelves; they’re kept in 18,000 metal bins that require one-ninth the space.

So what will the 3.1 million Americans that drive trucks do for a living once robots are driving all of our trucks?

What will the 573,000 Americans that drive buses do for a living once robots are driving all of our buses?

And eventually even our skies may be filled with robotic drones that are busy performing one task or another.  Just check out what a recent Time Magazine article had to say about the emerging drone industry…

But the drone industry is ramping up for a big landgrab the moment the regulatory environment starts to relax. At last year’s Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) trade show in Las Vegas, more than 500 companies pitched drones for filming crowds and tornados and surveying agricultural fields, power lines, coalfields, construction sites, gas spills and archaeological digs. A Palo Alto, Calif., start-up called Matternet wants to establish a network of drones that will transport small, urgent packages, like those for medicine.

In other countries civilian drone populations are already booming. Aerial video is a major application. A U.K. company called Skypower makes the eight-rotored Cinipro drone, which can carry a cinema-quality movie camera. In Costa Rica they’re used to study volcanoes. In Japan drones dust crops and track schools of tuna; emergency workers used one to survey the damage at Fukushima. A nature preserve in Kenya ran a crowdsourced fundraising drive to buy drones to watch over the last few northern white rhinos. Ironically, while the U.S. has been the leader in sending drones overseas, it’s lagging behind when it comes to deploying them on its own turf.

Unfortunately, many people will not understand what I am really trying to get at in this article.

They will just say something like this: “Well, they are going to need someone to build all of those robots.”

Even if that is true, they won’t need hundreds of millions of us to build them.

No, the truth is that when human workers become “obsolete”, those that dominate society with technology will look at the rest of us as “useless eaters” that are not contributing anything to society at all.

Already, there are many economists that are warning that advancements in technology are steadily reducing “the natural employment rate”.

And we are already seeing this happen in the United States.  As I wrote about the other day, the percentage of the labor force that is employed has declined every single year since 2006…

2006: 63.1

2007: 63.0

2008: 62.2

2009: 59.3

2010: 58.5

2011: 58.4

In January, only 57.9 percent of the civilian labor force was employed.

Of course there are certainly a lot of factors involved in why those numbers are declining, but without a doubt technology is playing a role.

So what do we do with all of the workers that are being displaced?

Are we just going to put everybody on food stamps?

Will the gap between the rich and the poor grow even larger than it is today?

Will most people eventually become dependent on the government in order to survive?

We are moving into uncharted territory, and nobody is quite sure what comes next.

As time goes by, robots will even start to look more like us.  In fact, this is already starting to happen.  Just check out the following description of a “bionic man” that has been created from a recent article in the Guardian

He cuts a dashing figure, this gentleman: nearly seven feet tall, and possessed of a pair of striking brown eyes. With a fondness for Ralph Lauren, middle-class rap and sharing a drink with friends, Rex is, in many ways, an unexceptional chap.

Except that he is, in fact, a real-world bionic man. Housed within a frame of state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs is a functional heart-lung system, complete with artificial blood pumping through a network of pulsating modified-polymer arteries. He has a bionic spleen to clean the blood, and an artificial pancreas to keep his blood sugar on the level. Behind the deep brown irises are a pair of retinal implants, giving him a vista of the crowds of curious humans who meet his gaze.

He even has a degree of artificial intelligence: talk to him, and he’ll listen (through his cochlear implants), before using a speech generator to respond.

As robots become more like us, will we eventually become more like them?

Will we be told that we must “merge with the machines” in order to keep up and be useful in society?

As we rapidly approach the “technological singularity” that futurist Ray Kurzweil and others have talked about, will humans increasingly seek to “enhance” themselves with technology in an attempt to “get an edge”?

What will happen to those of us that refuse to “merge with the machines” and that refuse to “enhance ourselves” with technology?

Will we be outcasts?

Those are some important questions.  Feel free to share your thoughts on those questions by posting a comment below…

Terminator - Photo by tenaciousme

Feeding The Homeless BANNED In Major Cities All Over America

What would you do if you came across someone on the street that had not had anything to eat for several days?  Would you give that person some food?  Well, the next time you get that impulse you might want to check if it is still legal to feed the homeless where you live.  Sadly, feeding the homeless has been banned in major cities all over America.  Other cities that have not banned it outright have put so many requirements on those that want to feed the homeless (acquiring expensive permits, taking food preparation courses, etc.) that feeding the homeless has become “out of reach” for most average people.  Some cities are doing these things because they are concerned about the “health risks” of the food being distributed by ordinary “do-gooders”.  Other cities are passing these laws because they do not want homeless people congregating in city centers where they know that they will be fed.  But at a time when poverty and government dependence are soaring to unprecedented levels, is it really a good idea to ban people from helping those that are hurting?

This is just another example that shows that our country is being taken over by control freaks.  There seems to be this idea out there that it is the job of the government to take care of everyone and that nobody else should even try.

But do we really want to have a nation where you have to get the permission of the government before you do good to your fellow man?

It isn’t as if the government has “rescued” these homeless people.  Homeless shelters all over the nation are turning people away each night because they have no more room.  There are many homeless people that are lucky just to make it through each night alive during the winter.

Sometimes a well-timed sandwich or a cup of warm soup can make a world of difference for a homeless person.  But many U.S. cities have decided that feeding the homeless is such a threat that they had better devote law enforcement resources to making sure that it doesn’t happen.

This is so twisted.  In America today, you need a “permit” to do almost anything.  We are supposed to be a land of liberty and freedom, but these days government bureaucrats have turned our rights into “privileges” that they can revoke at any time.

The following are some of the major U.S. cities that have attempted to ban feeding the homeless….

Philadelphia

Mayor Nutter recently banned feeding homeless people in many parts of Philadelphia where homeless people are known to congregate….

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has announced a ban on the feeding of large numbers of homeless and hungry people at sites on and near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Mayor Nutter is imposing the ban on all outdoor feedings of large numbers of people on city parkland, including Love Park and the Ben Franklin Parkway, where it is not uncommon for outreach groups to offer free food.

Nutter says the feedings lack both sanitary conditions and dignity.

Orlando

Last June, a group of activists down in Orlando, Florida were arrested by police for feeding the homeless in defiance of a city ordinance….

Over the past week, twelve members of food activist group Food Not Bombs have been arrested in Orlando for giving free food to groups of homeless people in a downtown park. They were acting in defiance of a controversial city ordinance that mandates permits for groups distributing food to large groups in parks within two miles of City Hall. Each group is allowed only two permits per park per year; Food Not Bombs has already exceeded their limit. They set up their meatless buffet in Lake Eola knowing that they would likely be arrested as a result.

Houston

Down in Houston, a group of Christians was recently banned from distributing food to the homeless, and they were told that they probably would not be granted a permit to do so in the future even if they applied for one….

Bobby and Amanda Herring spent more than a year providing food to homeless people in downtown Houston every day. They fed them, left behind no trash and doled out warm meals peacefully without a single crime being committed, Bobby Herring said.

That ended two weeks ago when the city shut down their “Feed a Friend” effort for lack of a permit. And city officials say the couple most likely will not be able to obtain one.

“We don’t really know what they want, we just think that they don’t want us down there feeding people,” said Bobby Herring, a Christian rapper who goes by the stage name Tre9.

Dallas

Dallas has also adopted a law which greatly restricts the ability of individuals and ministries to feed the homeless….

A Dallas-area ministry is suing the city over a food ordinance that restricts the group from giving meals to the homeless.

Courts dismissed Dallas’ request for a summary judgment last week, saying the case, brought up by pastor Don Hart (in video above) may indeed be a violation of free exercise of religion, as protected by the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the blog Religion Clause reported.

In the court filing, the ministry leaders argue that their Christian faith requires them to share meals with the homeless (Jesus did!) and that the requirement that even churches and charities provide toilets, sinks, trained staff and consent of the city keeps them from doing so.

Las Vegas

A few years ago, Las Vegas became the first major U.S. city to specifically pass a law banning the feeding of homeless people….

Las Vegas, whose homeless population has doubled in the past decade to about 12,000 people in and around the city, joins several other cities across the country that have adopted or considered ordinances limiting the distribution of charitable meals in parks. Most have restricted the time and place of such handouts, hoping to discourage homeless people from congregating and, in the view of officials, ruining efforts to beautify downtowns and neighborhoods.

But the Las Vegas ordinance is believed to be the first to explicitly make it an offense to feed “the indigent.”

That law has since been blocked by a federal judge, and since then many U.S. cities have been very careful not to mention “the indigent” or “the homeless” by name in the laws they pass that are intended to ban feeding the homeless.

New York City

New York City has banned all food donations to government-run homeless shelters because the bureaucrats there are concerned that the donated food will not be “nutritious” enough.

Yes, this is really true.

The following is from a recent Fox News article….

The Bloomberg administration is now taking the term “food police” to new depths, blocking food donations to all government-run facilities that serve the city’s homeless.

In conjunction with a mayoral task force and the Health Department, the Department of Homeless Services recently started enforcing new nutritional rules for food served at city shelters. Since DHS can’t assess the nutritional content of donated food, shelters have to turn away good Samaritans.

Can you believe that?

The bureaucrats are officially out of control.

In America today, it seems like almost everything is illegal.

One church down in Louisiana was recently ordered to stop giving out water because it did not have a government permit.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure am going to give a cup of cold water to someone if they need it whether I have a permit or not.

It is as if common sense has totally gone out the window in this nation.

Over in New Hampshire, a woman is being sued for planting flowers in her own front yard.

This is the kind of thing that makes me glad that I have moved to a much more rural location.  People in the country tend to be much more relaxed.

Sadly, those that love to micro-manage others continue to get the upper hand in America.  Back in January, 40,000 new laws went into effect all over America.  The politicians continue to hit us with wave after wave of regulations and laws with no end in sight.

All of this is making America a very unpleasant place in which to live.

Is Germany Actually Preparing To Leave The Euro?

For a long time, most analysts have believed that if someone was going to leave the euro, it would be a weak nation such as Greece or Portugal.  But the truth is that financially troubled nations such as Greece and Portugal don’t want to leave the euro.  The leaders of those nations understand that if they leave the euro their economies will totally collapse and nobody will be there to bail them out.  And at this point there really is not a formal mechanism which would enable other members of the eurozone to kick financially troubled nations such as Greece or Portugal out of the euro.  But there is one possibility that is becoming increasingly likely that could actually cause the break up of the euro.  Germany could leave the euro.  Yes, it might actually happen.  Germany is faced with a very difficult problem right now.  It is looking at a future where it will be essentially forced to bail out most of the rest of the nations in the eurozone for many years to come, and those bailouts will be extremely expensive.  Meanwhile, the mood in much of the rest of Europe is becoming decidedly anti-German.  In Greece, Angela Merkel and the German government are being openly portrayed as Nazis.  Financially troubled nations such as Greece want German bailout money, but they are getting sick and tired of the requirements that Germany is imposing upon them in order to get that money.  Increasingly, other nations in Europe are simply ignoring what Germany is asking them to do or are openly defying Germany.  In the end, Germany will need to decide whether it is worth it to continue to pour billions upon billions of euros into countries that don’t appreciate it and that are not doing what Germany has asked them to do.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party recently approved a resolution that would allow a country to leave the euro without leaving the European Union.

Many thought that the resolution was aimed at countries like Greece or Portugal, but the truth is that this resolution may be setting the stage for a German exit from the euro.

The following is an excerpt from that resolution….

“Should a member [of the euro zone] be unable or unwilling to permanently obey the rules connected to the common currency he will be able to voluntarily–according to the rules of the Lisbon Treaty for leaving the European Union–leave the euro zone without leaving the European Union. He would receive the same status as those member states that do not have the euro.”

So was that paragraph written for Greece?

Or was it written for Germany?

That is a very interesting question.

What is clear is that the status quo cannot last much longer.

Voters in Germany are definitely not in the mood to give any more bailout money to other nations in Europe, but if Germany is going to continue to stay in the eurozone many more bailouts will be required in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Germany is rapidly losing control over the rest of the eurozone….

*Greece has implemented some of the austerity measures that have been required of it, but many others have not been implemented.  In a few weeks there will be a national election, and parties that are opposed to the austerity measures are surging in the polls.  It is likely that the new government will be much less friendly toward Germany.

*The Spanish government is already defying the budgetary requirements that the EU is trying to impose upon it.  Spain is definitely going to miss the debt targets mandated by the EU, and the Spanish government has absolutely no plans of making more reductions to government spending.

*The upcoming election in France could be absolutely crucial.  Nicolas Sarkozy is not doing well in the polls and the new French government could totally wreck the recent fiscal agreement that the members of the eurozone recently agreed to.

The following is how Graham Summers recently summarized the current situation in France….

We should also take Schäuble’s statements in the context of Angela Merkel’s recent backing of Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election campaign in France against hardened socialist François Hollande, who wants to engage in a rampant socialist mission to lower France’s retirement age, cut tax breaks to the wealthy, and break the recent new EU fiscal requirements Germany convinced 17 members of the EU to agree to.

Obviously Germany has been trying very hard to keep the eurozone together.  But the German government also believes that if it is going to be bailing everyone out that it should also be able to set the rules.

So what happens if the rest of Europe tells Germany to stick their rules where the sun doesn’t shine?

Well, Germany would be forced to make a very difficult decision, and Germany appears to making plans for that eventuality.

For example, Germany recently reinstated its Special Financial Market Stabilization Funds.  This money would be used to bail out German banks in the event of a break up of the euro.  The following is from a recent article by Graham Summers….

In short, Germany has given the SoFFIN:

  1. €400 billion to be used as guarantees for German banks.
  2. €80 billion to be used for the recapitalization of German banks
  3. Legislation that would permit German banks to dump their euro-zone government bonds if needed.

That is correct. Any German bank, if it so chooses, will have the option to dump its EU sovereign bonds into the SoFFIN during a Crisis.

In simple terms, Germany has put a €480 billion firewall around its banks. It can literally pull out of the Euro any time it wants to.

If the rest of Europe continues to defy Germany, then at some point Germany may decide to simply pick up the ball and go home.

Germany is the strongest economy in the eurozone by far, and if Germany were to pull out the euro would absolutely collapse.  Whatever currency Germany decided to issue would be extremely valuable.  Such an event would actually have some tremendous side benefits for Germany.

Right now, the German national debt is denominated in euros.

If Germany left the euro, the value of euros would plummet and would likely keep declining as the rest of the eurozone fell apart financially and Germany would be able to pay back its debt in rapidly appreciating “marks” or whatever other currency it decided to issue.

All other debts in Germany would also be denominated in euros and would also be repaid with a much stronger currency.

Are you starting to get the picture?

Yes, Germany would likely have to bail out German banks if it left the euro, but leaving the euro could also prove to be a tremendous windfall for Germany.

If Germany chooses to say in the euro, it is going to be faced with extremely expensive bailouts of other countries for as far as the eye can see.

How expensive?

The following is from a New York Times article….

Bernard Connolly, a persistent critic of Europe, estimates it would cost Germany, as the main surplus-generating country in the euro area, about 7 percent of its annual gross domestic product over several years to transfer sufficient funds to bail out Europe’s debt-burdened countries, including France.

That amount, he has argued, would far surpass the huge reparations bill foisted upon Germany by the victorious powers after World War I, the final payment of which Germany made in 2010.

If Germany leaves the euro, that does not mean that the dream of a single currency is dead.  Germany could just let the rest of the eurozone collapse and then invite them to join the new German currency eventually after all the carnage is over.

At that point, Germany would have all the leverage and Germany would be able to dictate all the rules.

What is clear is that the status quo in Europe is becoming extremely unacceptable in Germany.  The Germans do not intend to give endless bailouts to other nations that do not appreciate them and that do not intend to follow the rules.

At some point Germany may actually decide to walk, and there are lots of whispers that Germany has been steadily preparing for that day.

For example, there are persistent rumors that Germany has ordered printing plates for the printing of new German marks.  Philippa Malmgren, a former economic adviser to President George W. Bush, says that she believes that this is already happening….

“I think they have already got the printing machines going and are bringing out the old deutschmarks they have left over from when the euro was introduced.”

Increasingly, it really is looking as if Germany is actually preparing to leave the euro.

If Germany did leave the euro, the consequences for the rest of Europe would be catastrophic.

The euro would rapidly drop to all-time lows.

The global financial system would be thrown in chaos.

Countries such as Greece would lose their major source of bailout money and would be forced to default.

The recession in Europe would likely deepen into a devastating economic depression.

So there would be a lot of downside.

But Germany would fare much better than most of the rest of Europe, and in the end Germany would be left holding most of the cards.

Keep a close eye on the upcoming European elections and the evolving political situation in Europe.

If things don’t go well for Germany, at some point Germany may just get fed up and walk away from the euro.

Stranger things have happened.

How To Prepare For The Difficult Years Ahead

How should people prepare for the difficult years that are coming?  I get asked about that a lot.  Once people really examine the facts, it is not too hard to convince them that an economic collapse is coming.  But once they accept that reality, most of them want to know what they can do to prepare themselves and their families for the hard times that are ahead.  Well, the truth is that it does not have to be complicated.  Many of the things discussed throughout this article are things that most of us should be doing anyway.  Now is not the time to be splurging on luxuries or expensive vacations.  Now is not the time to be going into large amounts of debt.  Instead, we all need to get back to the basics and we all need to do what we can to become more independent of the system.  Just remember what happened back in 2008.  Millions of Americans lost their jobs and millions of Americans lost their homes.  Now experts all over the globe are warning that another great financial crisis that could be just as bad as 2008 (or even worse) is coming.  Those that don’t take the time to prepare this time are not going to have any excuse.

But there is also a lot of sensationalism out there.  There are some people out there that claim that the economy is going to collapse all at once and that we are going to go from where we are now to some type of a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” society almost overnight.

Well, that is just not going to happen.  We are not going to wake up next week in a world where we are all fighting each other with sharp pointed sticks.

Just like anything else, an economic collapse takes time.  I like to describe what is happening using an analogy from the beach.  When you build a mighty sand castle, it is not totally destroyed by the first wave that comes along, right?

Well, it is the same thing with the U.S. economy.  It was the greatest economic machine that the world has ever seen, and it is most definitely in decline.  But there are stages to that decline.

The “wave” that came along in 2008 did a huge amount of damage.  Our economy has not recovered from that.

Now another wave is coming.  But that will not be the end.  There will be other waves after that.

Eventually, this thing is coming all the way down.  Someday America will be such a horror show that it will be hard to believe that it is the same place that many of us grew up in.

But in the short-term, we are going to be facing a major league recession and millions of Americans will lose their jobs.  It won’t be the end of the world, but for some people it may feel like it.

So when you are talking about “how to prepare”, the truth is that it depends on what kind of time frame you are talking about.

In the long-term, a lot of the things that even the hardcore survivalists are doing will not be nearly enough.

In the short-term, there are things that all of us can do to weather the coming storm….

Get Out Of Debt

The global financial system is headed for a massive crisis.  Just like in 2008, a lot of people are going to lose their jobs and a lot of people are going to lose their homes.

In such an environment, it makes sense to travel as “lightly” as possible.

That means getting rid of debt.

Some forms of debt are worse than others.  Mortgage debt is not that bad.  We all need somewhere to live, and not all of us can run out and immediately pay off our mortgages.

But there are other forms of debt that are absolutely toxic.  A good example of this is credit card debt.  There are very few things that are as good at bleeding your finances as credit card debt is.  For example, according to the credit card repayment calculator, if you have a $6000 balance on a credit card with a 20 percent interest rate and only pay the minimum payment each time, it will take you 54 years to pay off that credit card.

During those 54 years you will pay $26,168 in interest rate charges on that credit card balance in addition to the $6000 in principal that you are required to pay back.  That is before any fees or penalties are even calculated.

But a lot of Americans still have not learned to stay away from credit card debt.  In fact, one out of every seven Americans has at least 10 credit cards.

Ouch.

The truth is that in future years there is a good chance that you may be facing a situation where you are not making as much income, so you want to try to start reducing your expenses right now.  Getting out of debt will help you to do this.

Save Money

A shockingly high number of American families are operating without any kind of financial cushion whatsoever….

-According to a Harris Interactive survey taken in 2010, 77 percent of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

-According to one recent survey, one out of every three Americans would not be able to make a mortgage or rent payment next month if they suddenly lost their current job.

This is one reason why so many Americans have lost their homes and why so many Americans have fallen below the poverty level in recent years.  They simply had no cushion.

Last year, 2.6 million more Americans dropped into poverty.  That was the largest increase that we have seen since the U.S. government began keeping statistics on this back in 1959.

Don’t let this happen to you.  At a minimum, everyone out there should have a cushion that will cover at least 6 months worth of expenses.  Preferably, you should have a cushion that will last you at least a year.

Yes, I know that is a tall order.  But you would be amazed at how much money the average American family wastes in a typical month.  Almost all of us have areas where we can cut back.

Trust me, in the middle of a major recession you will be really glad that you are sitting on a pile of savings.

Get Independent Of The System

What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow?

Would you have any other income?

How long would it be before you lost your home?

Those are very important questions.

The truth is that the system is failing and so we all need to work hard to become more independent of the system.

So what does that mean?

Well, instead of relying on someone else to employ you indefinitely, you can start up a business in your spare time.  Yes, it will cut into your television time, but if someday you lose your job you will be extremely happy that you still have some income coming in.

Another way of becoming more independent is to start a garden.

Yes, you can run down the street and buy giant piles of cheap food right now, but that will not be the case forever.

Store Food And Focus On The Essentials

I might get into a little trouble for saying this, but the truth is that there is not going to be a major famine in America in 2012.

However, that does not mean that you should not be storing food and other essentials.

In the old days, our grandparents always saved up food.  It was just a natural thing for them to do.  This was especially the case if they lived through the Great Depression.

When hard times come, you will be glad that you have food stored up.  Plus, food is never going to be cheaper than it is today.  Having food stored up is a great hedge against the rising food prices that we will see in the future.

No, we are not going to see hyperinflation by the end of the year like many of the sensationalists are warning.  But someday you will be really glad that you stored up food for yourself and your family.

We live in a world that is becoming more unstable with each passing month.  You never know when the next natural disaster, pandemic, war or national emergency will strike.

It only makes sense to store food and other basic essentials that you will need in the future.

In a previous article entitled “20 Things You Will Need To Survive When The Economy Collapses And The Next Great Depression Begins”, I listed 20 of the things that you would need in the event of a major disaster, a national emergency or a total economic collapse.  These are things that you are going to want to make sure that you have ready right now, because after the crisis begins it may be too late to prepare….

#1) Storable Food

#2) Clean Water

#3) Shelter

#4) Warm Clothing

#5) An Axe

#6) Lighters Or Matches

#7) Hiking Boots Or Comfortable Shoes

#8) A Flashlight And/Or Lantern

#9) A Radio

#10) Communication Equipment

#11) A Swiss Army Knife

#12) Personal Hygiene Items

#13) A First Aid Kit And Other Medical Supplies

#14) Extra Gasoline (But Be Very Careful How You Store It)

#15) A Sewing Kit

#16) Self-Defense Equipment

#17) A Compass

#18) A Hiking Backpack

#19) A Community

#20) A Backup Plan

In the comments to that article, the readers suggested the following additional items….

A K-Bar Fighting Knife

Salt

Extra Batteries

Medicine

A Camp Stove

Propane

Pet Food

Heirloom Seeds

Tools

An LED Headlamp

Candles

Clorox

Calcium Hypochlorite

Ziplock Bags

Maps Of Your Area

Binoculars

Sleeping Bags

Rifle For Hunting

Extra Socks

Gloves

Gold And Silver Coins For Bartering

Once again, a lot of these things are not going to be needed right away.  The economy is going to go through a lot more ups and downs before it totally dies.

In the short-term, keep an eye on the European debt crisis, the Japanese debt crisis and the U.S. debt crisis.  There are a lot of similarities between what happened back in 2008 and what is happening now.

And what happened following the crisis of 2008?

Unemployment shot through the roof.

So be prepared for that.

Make a plan for how you and your family will survive if you end up unemployed.

Also, when it comes to “how to prepare”, there is one aspect that is often overlooked.

During the difficult years ahead, we are all going to have to be mentally and spiritually tough.

It won’t matter how good your physical and financial preparations are if you are cowardly and paralyzed by fear.

The times that are coming are going to test all of our hearts.

Some people are going to make it and some people aren’t.

Some people will become so consumed with fear that they will give up completely.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Prepare your heart, soul, mind and body right now for what is coming.  For those that are cowardly the years ahead will be a total nightmare, but for those that overcome the fear the years ahead have the potential to be a great adventure.


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