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The Worst Economic Numbers In More Than A Year

With everything else that is going on in the world, a lot of people have failed to notice that we are seeing some of the worst economic numbers that we have seen in more than a year.  For example, it was announced on Thursday that initial claims for unemployment benefits have hit their highest level in a year and a half.  Hopefully this is just a temporary blip in the data, because initial unemployment claims tend to have a very strong correlation with the overall performance of the economy.  We also continue to see poverty statistics rise.  According to government statistics released earlier this month, the number of Americans living in poverty and the number of Americans on food stamps are both at all-time record highs.  Meanwhile, the Dow and the S&P 500 are both down more than 5 percent since the election and the U.S. government rolled up 22 billion dollars more debt in October 2012 than it did in October 2011.  The unfortunate truth is that things are not getting better.  The U.S. economy continues to become weaker and more unstable, and there are a whole lot of reasons to be very pessimistic about our economic situation as we move into the winter months.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the troubling economic numbers that have been released in recent days…

Initial Claims For Unemployment Benefits

The optimism that many analysts had about jobs is rapidly dissipating.  Over the past few weeks there has been a huge wave of companies announcing layoffs.  Just check out this article and this article.

But now we are actually seeing a significant rise in the number of American workers applying for unemployment benefits.  Initial claims for unemployment benefits soared to 439,000 for the week ending November 10th.  This is the highest level that we have seen in more than a year.  The last time initial claims were this high was April 2011.  It is interesting to note that the largest numbers of new unemployment claims came from the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Record Food Stamp Numbers

In dozens of articles I have carefully documented the steady rise of poverty in America and the steady decline of the middle class.

Even though our politicians insist that we are in the middle of an “economic recovery”, the number of Americans dependent on the government for their very survival just continues to keep going up.

A few days ago, the latest food stamp numbers were released.  It turns out that the number of Americans on food stamps increased by 420,947 from July to August.  That was the largest one month increase that we have seen in a year.  At this point, an all-time record 47.1 million Americans are enrolled in the food stamp program.  What would that look like if all of those people had to actually stand outside in bread lines like in the old days?

Stunning Stock Market Declines

A few days ago, I wrote about how many wealthy Americans are dumping stocks and other financial assets in anticipation of the looming “fiscal cliff”.

Well, if things get much worse we may soon have a “market crash” on our hands.

The Dow and the S&P 500 are both down by more than 5 percent since the election and many are wondering if things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Shares of Apple are down by 25 percent since late September.  Some analysts are actually using the term “panic selling” to describe what is happening to the stock.

Slowing Economic Activity

All over America there are indications that economic activity is starting to slow down.  Is Superstorm Sandy responsible for this, or are there other factors at work?

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, economic activity appears to be contracting in areas that were hit particularly hard by Superstorm Sandy…

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s general economic index was minus 5.2 this month after minus 6.2 in October. Readings of less than zero signal contraction in New York, northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut.

Things appear to be slowing down in the mid-Atlantic region as well.  According to CNBC, manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region has contracted much faster than analysts were projecting…

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index slumped to -10.7 from 5.7 the month before. The fall was much steeper than economists’ expectations for slippage to a reading of 2.0, according to a Reuters poll.

Any reading above zero indicates expansion in the region’s manufacturing. The survey covers factories in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware.

New Poverty Numbers

More American families are falling out of the middle class every single day.

New numbers that were just released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the number of Americans living in poverty rose to a new all-time record of 49.7 million last year.

Once upon a time, people would have laughed at you if you suggested that someday 50 million Americans would be living in poverty.

But here we are.

Soaring Government Debt

Anyone that follows my columns on a regular basis knows that government debt is one of my major pet peeves.

Well, despite all of the “budget deals” that have been made between the Republicans and the Democrats, the amount of debt that we are accumulating just continues to balloon in size.

The federal budget deficit for October 2012 was 120 billion dollars.  That was a huge increase over the October 2011 federal budget deficit of 98 billion dollars.

How long can we possibly continue to do this?

Things In Europe Are Getting Worse Too

In case you had not noticed, the economic situation in Europe continues to unravel as well.  The eurozone is officially in a recession once again, and unemployment in the eurozone is at an all-time record high.  Violent protests and rioting happen on an almost daily basis over in Europe now.  The largest economy on the planet continues to implode right in front of our eyes, and this is another factor that will continue to drag down the U.S. economy.

So is there anyone out there that actually still believes that things are “getting better”?

The brief period of economic stability that we have been experiencing is rapidly coming to an end.  The “recovery” turned out to be extremely disappointing, and now the next major downturn is almost here.

What If We Adopted A System Where The Banks Did Not Create Our Money?

What if there was a financial system that would eliminate the need for the federal government to go into debt, that would eliminate the need for the Federal Reserve, that would end the practice of fractional reserve banking and that would dethrone the big banks?  Would you be in favor of such a system?  A surprising new IMF research paper entitled “The Chicago Plan Revisited” by Jaromir Benes and Michael Kumhof is making waves in economic circles all over the globe.  The paper suggests that the world would be much better off if we adopted a system where the banks did not create our money.  So instead of a system where more money is only created when more debt is created, we would have a system of debt-free money that is created directly by national governments.  There have been others that have suggested such a system before, but to have an IMF research paper actually recommend that such a system be adopted is a very big deal.  At the moment, the world is experiencing the biggest debt crisis in human history, and this proposal is being described as a “radical solution” that could potentially remedy some of our largest financial problems.  Unfortunately, apologists for the current system are already viciously attacking this new IMF paper, and of course the big banks would throw a major fit if such a system was ever to be seriously contemplated.  That is why it is imperative that we educate people about how money really works.  Our current system is in the process of collapsing and we desperately need to transition to a new one.

One of the fundamental problems with our current financial system is that it is based on debt.  Just take a look at the United States.  The way our system works today, the vast majority of all money is “created” either when we borrow money or the government borrows money.  Therefore, the creation of more money creates more debt.  Under such a system, it should not be surprising that the total amount of debt in the United States is more than 30 times larger than it was just 40 years ago.

We don’t have to do things this way.  There is a better alternative.  National governments can directly issue debt-free currency into circulation.  The following is a brief excerpt from the IMF report

At the height of the Great Depression a number of leading U.S. economists advanced a proposal for monetary reform that became known as the Chicago Plan. It envisaged the separation of the monetary and credit functions of the banking system, by requiring 100% reserve backing for deposits. Irving Fisher (1936) claimed the following advantages for this plan: (1) Much better control of a major source of business cycle fluctuations, sudden increases and contractions of bank credit and of the supply of bank-created money. (2) Complete elimination of bank runs. (3) Dramatic reduction of the (net) public debt. (4) Dramatic reduction of private debt, as money creation no longer requires simultaneous debt creation. We study these claims by embedding a comprehensive and carefully calibrated model of the banking system in a DSGE model of the U.S. economy. We find support for all four of Fisher’s claims.

Why should banks be allowed to create money?

That is a very good question.

Why should sovereign governments ever have to borrow money from anyone?

That is another very good question.

Our current system is designed to enrich the bankers and get everyone else into debt.

And is that not exactly what has happened?

Taking the creation of money away from the bankers would have some tremendous advantages.  A recent article by renowned financial journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard described some of these benefits…

One could slash private debt by 100pc of GDP, boost growth, stabilize prices, and dethrone bankers all at the same time. It could be done cleanly and painlessly, by legislative command, far more quickly than anybody imagined.

The conjuring trick is to replace our system of private bank-created money — roughly 97pc of the money supply — with state-created money. We return to the historical norm, before Charles II placed control of the money supply in private hands with the English Free Coinage Act of 1666.

Specifically, it means an assault on “fractional reserve banking”. If lenders are forced to put up 100pc reserve backing for deposits, they lose the exorbitant privilege of creating money out of thin air.

The nation regains sovereign control over the money supply. There are no more banks runs, and fewer boom-bust credit cycles.

So why don’t we go to such a system immediately?

Well, the transition to such a system would undoubtedly be a major shock to the global financial system, and most people try to avoid significant short-term pain even if there are tremendous long-term benefits.

More importantly, however, is that the bankers have a tremendous amount of power in our society today, and they would move heaven and earth to keep a debt-free monetary system from ever being implemented.

You see, the influence of the bankers is not just limited to the big banks.  Our largest financial institutions (and the people who own them) also have large ownership stakes in the vast majority of the big Fortune 500 corporations.  In essence, the big banks are at the very pinnacle of “the establishment” in the United States and in almost every other major country in the western world.

And the vast majority of all political campaigns are funded by “the establishment”.  It takes an enormous amount of money to win campaigns these days, and most politicians are extremely hesitant to bite the hands of those that feed them.

So don’t expect any changes to happen overnight.

One proposal that has actually been put forward in Congress is to cancel all of the government debt that the Federal Reserve is currently holding.  Right now, the Fed is holding more than 1.6 trillion dollars of U.S. government debt…

That would seem to make a lot of sense.  That would immediately wipe more than 1.6 trillion dollars from the U.S. national debt without any real harm being done.

But “the establishment” would be horrified if such a thing happened, so I wouldn’t anticipate it happening any time soon.

Hopefully we can get the American people (along with people all over the globe) educated about these things so that we can start to get millions of people pushing for change.

A debt-free monetary system is superior to a debt-based monetary system in so many ways.

For example, if the U.S. government directly spent debt-free money into circulation, it could conceivably never need to borrow a single dollar ever again.  If the government wanted to spend more money than it brought in, it would simply print it up and spend it.

Of course the big danger with that would be inflation.  That is why it would be imperative for there to be a hard cap on what the government could spend.  For example, you could set the cap on spending by the federal government at 20 percent of GDP.  That way we would never end up looking like the Weimar Republic.

And the current federal debt could be paid down a little at a time using newly created debt-free dollars.  This would have to be done slowly to keep inflation under control, but it could be done.

That way we would not hand a 16 trillion dollar debt to our children and our grandchildren.  We created this mess so we should clean it up.

Theoretically you could also do away with the federal income tax if you wanted to.  Personally, I would like to see the federal government be funded to a large degree by tariffs on foreign goods.  That would also have the side benefit of bringing millions of jobs back into the United States.

Our system of income tax collection is just so incredibly inefficient.  It costs us mind boggling amounts of time and money.  Just consider the following stats from one of my previous articles

1 – The U.S. tax code is now 3.8 million words long.  If you took all of William Shakespeare’s works and collected them together, the entire collection would only be about 900,000 words long.

2 – According to the National Taxpayers Union, U.S. taxpayers spend more than 7.6 billion hours complying with federal tax requirements.  Imagine what our society would look like if all that time was spent on more economically profitable activities.

3 – 75 years ago, the instructions for Form 1040 were two pages long.  Today, they are 189 pages long.

4 – There have been 4,428 changes to the tax code over the last decade.  It is incredibly costly to change tax software, tax manuals and tax instruction booklets for all of those changes.

5 – According to the National Taxpayers Union, the IRS currently has 1,999 different publications, forms, and instruction sheets that you can download from the IRS website.

6 – Our tax system has become so complicated that it is almost impossible to file your taxes correctly.  For example, back in 1998 Money Magazine had 46 different tax professionals complete a tax return for a hypothetical household.  All 46 of them came up with a different result.

7 – In 2009, PC World had five of the most popular tax preparation software websites prepare a tax return for a hypothetical household.  All five of them came up with a different result.

8 – The IRS spends $2.45 for every $100 that it collects in taxes.

For long stretches of our history the United States did not have any income tax, and during those times we thrived.  It is entirely conceivable that we could return to such a system.

At this point, the wealthy have become absolute masters at hiding their wealth from taxation.  According to the IMF, a total of 18 trillion dollars is currently being hidden in offshore banks.  What we are doing right now produces very inequitable results and it is not working.

In many ways, inflation would be a much fairer “tax” than the income tax because inflation taxes each dollar equally.  Nobody would be able to cheat the system.

But if people really love the IRS and the federal income tax, we could keep them under a debt-free money system.  I just happen to think that the IRS and the federal income tax are both really bad ideas that have never served the interests of the American people.

In any event, hopefully you can see that there is a much broader range of solutions to our problems than the two major political parties have been presenting to us.

We do not have to allow the banks to create our money.

The federal government does not have to go into more debt.

We don’t actually need the Federal Reserve.

There are alternatives to the federal income tax and the IRS.

Yes, it is very true that no system would be perfect.  But clearly the path that we are on is only going to lead to disaster.  U.S. government finances are a complete and total nightmare, and this mountain of debt that we have accumulated is going to absolutely destroy us if we allow it to.

So somebody out there should be proposing a fundamental change in direction for our financial system.

Unfortunately, our politicians are just proposing more of the same, and we all know where that is going to lead.

Is America The Most Materialistic Society In The History Of The World?

When it comes to materialism, has any nation ever surpassed what we are seeing in the United States right now?  We define our lives by how much stuff we have, to a large degree our personal and business relationships are defined by how much money we make, and even most of the important dates on our calendar are all about materialism.  Just think about it.  We throw outrageous birthday parties for our kids and we shower them with gifts.  Most of our “holidays” have become highly materialistic, and the biggest holiday of all in our society, Christmas, is an absolute orgy of materialism.  We make lists of the “wealthiest Americans” and we glorify their achievements.  We spend most of our time either making money or spending it.  Even the phrase “the American Dream” reveals how materialistic we are.  When most people are asked what “the American Dream” is, they start talking about a house, a car, vacations, retirement, sending your kids to college, etc.  The American Dream has become all about money and stuff.  Sadly, no matter how big our homes are and no matter how many shiny new toys we accumulate, we never seem to be happy.  We always want more, and we always seem to be willing to go into more debt to get it.  We are the most materialistic society in the history of the world, and our endless greed is going to end up swallowing us alive.

When it comes to materialism in America, there are outrageous examples all around us, but one of my favorite examples is the “Rich Kids of Instagram“.  It is a Tumblr blog of photos from Instagram of young Americans showing off how they are enjoying the vast wealth of their parents.  The following is how the Washington Post describes the blog….

The controversial new Tumblr is a collection of snapshots from the photo-sharing site that depicts the children of wealth and privilege — summering in the Hamptons, lounging on yachts and posing by their luxury cars.

One does a back-flip out of a helicopter near St. Tropez. Others snap pictures of their restaurant bills — allegedly paying thousands of dollars for lobster, champagne and high-end liquor.

In the warm patina of the Instagram, the youngsters appear to be living over-the-top lifestyles — and enjoying every moment.

“Our everyday is better than your best day,” reads one caption, a bit tauntingly. And, “Do you have a horse in your backyard? Didn’t think so.”

But just because you have a horse on your property does that make your life better than the rest of our lives?

Of course not.

Wealth does not equal happiness.

Unfortunately, however, most Americans have totally bought into this lie.

Most Americans believe that more money equals a better life.

In response to “the Rich Kids of Instagram”, the Huffington Post recently put together a piece entitled “the Rich Cats of Instagram” that features photos of cats as they “model upscale accessories, lounge with bottles of champagne, sail on yachts and ponder life while relaxing atop piles of money.”

Of course a lot of those pictures are quite funny, but they also reveal a deep truth about our society.

We have spent our lives chasing after the almighty dollar thinking that it will make us happy.  Study after study has shown that we tend to link wealth and happiness.  The following is from a recent NBC News article about one of those studies….

Many parents already know older children can be materialistic. Some tweens not only want the latest games and clothes, but also think owning these things will bring them happiness, friends and popularity. And marketers are eager to get them to buy: Tweens spend $28 billion a year, not including the more than $200 billion their parents spend on them, according to market research company C+R Research.

But even though we have an incredibly high standard of living compared to most of the rest of the world, are most of us actually happy?

No way.  In fact, Americans take more anti-depressants than anyone else on the planet.

It is really easy to get caught up in materialism though.  Let me share an example from my own life.

Several months ago our old truck completely died.  Instead of pouring thousands of more dollars into fixing it, we decided that we would get another used truck.

So the other day I stopped by a dealership while my wife was grabbing some things from Home Depot.  The salesperson started showing me some of the used trucks on the lot, but after a while I suggested that he show me some of the new trucks that were sitting on the other side of the lot.

Before I knew it, I was sitting in the most expensive truck on the lot and he was showing me all of the cool features it had.

And I have to admit – for a few moments there I was really enamored with that truck.  It was the coolest truck that I had ever seen in my life.

Of course my wife and I don’t need a truck like that.  We only need to haul stuff around a few times a month.  And we certainly do not need the amount of debt that it would take to buy such a truck.

But for a few moments there I really wanted it.  The pull of materialism can be very strong.

So would that truck have “changed my life” or brought me lasting happiness?

Of course not.

It would have brought some thrills for the first couple of days, but after a while it would just be sitting in the garage taking up space just like any other truck would.

So did I end up buying a truck?

Not yet.  But we need one soon.  My wife has been without a truck for quite a few months now and she is getting impatient.

But whether we get a nice used truck or a used truck that has one foot in the grave, it really isn’t going to change our lives much.

In the end, our lives should not be defined by what we own or by how much money we have in the bank.

But how do we refer to ourselves in this day and age?

The American people are called “consumers” and the truth is that we consume far more than anyone else on the globe does.

Just look at our eating habits.  Of all the major industrialized nations, America is the most obese.

The next time you go into a store, take note of how many people are overweight.

It has not always been this way.  Back in 1962, only 13 percent of all Americans were obese.

But now overeating is a national sport.  At this point, approximately 36 percent of all Americans are obese, and it is being projected that number will rise to 42 percent by 2030.

While we are gorging ourselves with food, what else do we like to do?

That’s right – we love to watch television.  In fact, the average American watches 28 hours of television every single week.

We have become completely and totally addicted to entertainment, and we have become trained to be constantly “plugged in” to something.

Our lives have become all about constantly feeding our greed and our selfishness.  In fact, that is a major reason for the breakdown of the family in America.  We tend to view marriage as a temporary condition that can be quickly discarded when it no longer makes us happy.

Sadly, the United States has the highest divorce rate in the world by a very wide margin at this point.

In addition, more Americans than ever are putting off marriage these days.  Young Americans are being told that “an education” and “a career” are more important.  According to the Pew Research Center, only 51 percent of all American adults are currently married.  Back in 1960, 72 percent of all adults in America were married.

As a result of these factors, we are an incredibly lonely nation.  Today, the United States has the highest percentage of one person households on the entire globe.

In order to fill the void, the American people turn to things that will numb the pain.  American use more legal drugs than anyone else on the planet and they also use more illegal drugs than anyone else on the planet.

We have more “stuff” than any other society in the history of the world has ever had, but it has not made us happy.

And how did we pay for all of this?

We paid for a lot of this with debt.  In fact, we have accumulated the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the world.

During my lifetime, the debt of the U.S. government has gotten more than 30 times larger.  For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “27 Things That Every American Should Know About The National Debt“.

But the federal government is not the only one with a debt problem.  The truth is that our entire society is absolutely drowning in debt.

Over the past 50 years, the total amount of debt in the U.S. has grown from less than a trillion dollars to nearly 55 trillion dollars….

We have used massive amounts of debt in an attempt to feed our endless greed and materialism and we have gotten ourselves into a whole lot of trouble.

This is one of the reasons why I write.  I want people to understand how bad things have really gotten.

Thanks to our foolishness, our economy has been declining, it is going to continue to decline, and a massive economic collapse is coming.

Some people believe that this is a message of “doom and gloom”, but that is not the case at all.

Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that somehow everything is going to be just fine is not going to do anyone any good.

Instead, I believe that warning people about the coming economic collapse is a message of hope.

There is hope in understanding what is happening, developing a plan to deal with it, and preparing yourself and your family for the storm that is coming.

It is the people that are ignoring all of the warnings that are going to be in real trouble.

Millions upon millions of people will be absolutely blindsided by what is coming.  Many will give in to total despair once they realize that their prosperity is gone and they have done nothing to prepare for what they are now facing.

My hope is that the information that I write about will be shocking enough that it will wake people up and motivate them to get prepared so that they can handle the incredibly challenging years that are ahead.

And the truth is that our lives should not be about our money and our stuff anyway.

Your possessions are just temporary.  None of them are going to last forever and you certainly cannot take them with you when you die.

Even though our economy has had some rough times, we still have a higher standard of living than 99 percent of the humans that have ever lived on this planet have had.

You would think that would be enough for us.

But it isn’t.  We have hoarded our wealth and we have lived in luxury and self-indulgence.

When our debt-fueled prosperity disappears, most Americans are not going to know how to handle it.

Most Americans will believe that their lives are “over” at that point.

But those that are not caught up in materialism and that have prepared for what is ahead will understand that the next chapters of their lives can be the greatest chapters of all.

Things Are Getting Worse: Median Household Income Has Fallen 4 Years In A Row

New numbers that have just been released show that things are getting worse for American families.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income declined to $50,054 in 2011.  That is a 1.5 percent decline from the previous year, and median household income has now fallen for 4 years in a row.  In fact, after adjusting for inflation median household income has not been this low since 1995.  These new numbers once again confirm what so many of us have been talking about for so long – American families are steadily getting poorer.  Incomes are going down and the cost of living just keeps going up.  This dynamic is squeezing more Americans out of the middle class every single month.  Others just keep going into more debt in an attempt to maintain their previous lifestyles.  As Americans, we really don’t like to hear that things are getting worse and that we are in decline, but unfortunately that is exactly what is happening.  Our economy does not produce nearly enough jobs for everyone anymore, the proportion of low wage jobs in our economy continues to grow, and the middle class is shrinking at an alarming rate.  Our politicians can deliver speeches about how great we all are until the cows come home, but it isn’t going to change the reality of our situation.  If we want different results we have got to start taking different actions.

When you take the median household income of $50,054 and divide it up over 12 months, it comes to about $4000 a month.

About half of all American households are making more than that and about half of all American households are making less than that.

So can an average family of four people make it on just $4000 a month?

Well, first of all you have got to take out taxes.  After accounting for all forms of taxation you will be lucky if you have $3000 remaining.

With that $3000, you have to pay for all of the following.

*Housing

*Power

*Water

*Food

*Phone

*Internet

*At Least One Vehicle

*Gasoline

*Vehicle Repairs

*Car Insurance

*Health Insurance

*Dental Bills

*Home Or Rental Insurance

*Life Insurance

*Student Loan Debt Payments

*Credit Card Payments

*Furniture

*Clothing

*Pets

*Entertainment (although it is hard to imagine any money will be left for that)

Have I left anything out?

The truth is that $3000 does not go as far as it used to.

No wonder American families are feeling so stretched financially these days.

Most families can’t even afford to think about retirement or investments because most of them are just trying to figure out a way to survive from month to month.

Unfortunately, economic conditions for middle income Americans continue to deteriorate.  Being in the middle class in America is like playing a perverse game of musical chairs.  More chairs are constantly being pulled out of the game and the middle class just continues to shrivel up.

The following are some more statistics that show that things are getting worse….

-In 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance.  Today, only 55.1 percent are covered by employment-based health insurance.

-Health insurance premiums rose faster than the overall rate of inflation in 2011 and that is happening once again in 2012.  In fact, it is been happening for a very long time.

-In the United States today, there are close to 10 million households that do not have a single bank account.  That number has increased by about a million since 2009.

-Back in 1962, the wealthiest one percent of all Americans had 125 times the net worth of the median household.  Today, the wealthiest one percent of all Americans has 288 times the net worth of the median household.

-Back in 2007, 19.2 percent of all American families had a net worth of zero or less than zero.  By 2010, that figure had soared to 32.5 percent.

-According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 32 percent of all Americans now identify themselves as “lower class”.  In 2008, that figure was only at 25 percent.

-As I have written about previously, 61 percent of all Americans were “middle income” back in 1971 according to the Pew Research Center.  Today, only 51 percent of all Americans are “middle income”.

-62 percent of all middle class Americans say that they have had to reduce household spending over the past year.

-Electricity bills in the United States have risen faster than the overall rate of inflation for five years in a row.

-There are now 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing.  That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.

-According to the Federal Reserve, the median net worth of American families dropped “from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010“.

-Sadly, 60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58 percent of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.

-At this point, less than 25 percent of all jobs in the United States are “good jobs”, and that number continues to shrink.

-The percentage of working age Americans that are employed is smaller now than it was two years ago.

-The number of Americans that are financially dependent on the government is sitting at an all-time record, and it just keeps going up.

-If the labor force participation rate was the same today as it was back when Barack Obama first took office, the unemployment rate in the United States would be 11.2 percent.

That last statistic deserves some special attention.

If the exact same percentage of Americans were considered to be “in the work force” today as when Barack Obama became president, the unemployment rate in this country would be well over 11 percent.

But the federal government has pretended that millions upon millions of Americans have “left the work force” over the past few years and that allows them to tell the fib that the unemployment rate has actually declined to 8.1 percent.

Of course we all know that is a bunch of nonsense.  About the same percentage of Americans want a job today as was the case back in 2008.

But 8.1 percent looks way better than 11.2 percent does.

What makes all of this even more distressing is that this is the recovery.

Things are not going to be getting much better than this.  We are rapidly approaching the next wave of the economic collapse and all of the numbers posted above are going to be getting a lot worse.

So even though things may be tight for your family right now, you should enjoy these times while you still have them.

Someday we will look back on these years as “the good old days”.

Kicking The Can Down The Road

Has Europe finally been saved this time?  Has this latest “breakthrough” solved the European debt crisis?  Of course not, and you should know better by now.  European leaders have held 18 summits since the beginning of the debt crisis.  After most of the preceding summits, global financial markets responded with joy because European leaders had reached “a deal” which would supposedly solve the crisis.  But a few weeks after each summit it would become clear that nothing had been solved and that the financial crisis had actually gotten even worse than before.  How many times do they expect us to fall for the same sorry routine?  Nothing in Europe has been solved.  You can’t solve a debt problem with more debt.  European leaders are just kicking the can down the road.  More debt will relieve some of the short-term pressure, but in a few weeks it will be apparent that the underlying problems in Europe continue to grow.  Unfortunately, there is not an unlimited amount of EU bailout money, so once all of these “financial bullets” have been fired European leaders are going to find that kicking the can down the road will not be so easy anymore.  The truth is that the financial crisis in Europe has not been cancelled – it has just been put off for a few weeks or a few months.

Do you solve the problems of a credit card addict by giving that person another credit card?  Of course not.  You may delay the short-term financial problems of the credit card addict by giving that person another credit card, but in the process you make the long-term problems even worse.

Well, that is essentially what is happening in Europe.  European governments and the European financial system have become ridiculously dependent on debt.  By giving European debt junkies another “hit” or two it may relieve a bit of short-term suffering but it doesn’t solve anything.

Just think about it.

Did the first bailout package solve the problems in Greece?

No.

Did the second bailout package solve the problems in Greece?

No.

Today, the Greek financial system is a complete and total mess, and Greek politicians are saying that a third bailout package may be necessary.

Many are claiming that Italy and Spain have been “saved” by this new deal, but that is a joke.

Yes, the ability to inject bailout funds directly into troubled banks is going to keep some of them going for a little while.  But the deal also calls for a new governing body to be established that will supervise those banks.  Will that governing body be established in time to even provide the short-term help that is needed?

Yes, spending bailout funds to buy up Spanish debt and Italian debt will artificially suppress bond yields for a time.

We have seen this before.

But what happened?

After the bond buying program was over, bond yields started spiking again.

So do the Europeans plan to suppress bond yields forever?

Of course not.  There is not enough bailout money to do that.

Let’s review the equation that I have shared in previous articles….

Brutal austerity + toxic levels of government debt + rising bond yields + a lack of confidence in the financial system + banks that are massively overleveraged + a massive credit crunch = A financial implosion of historic proportions

Have any of those elements been removed?

No.

Bond yields will be suppressed for a period of time, but that will not last forever, and all of the other underlying issues are still there.

Meanwhile, the rest of Europe continues to follow the Greek economy into economic depression.

The Spanish economy shrunk again in the second quarter of 2012, and austerity in that nation has barely even begun.

As a recent CNBC article detailed, the big spending cuts are still coming….

The conservatives, who inherited from the outgoing Socialists one of the euro zone’s highest public deficits, at 8.9 percent of GDP in 2011, have said they will shrink the shortfall to 5.3 percent this year and 3 percent in 2013.

Austerity has absolutely shredded the Greek economy, and we are starting to see that same pattern be repeated all over Europe.

When you spend far more money than you bring in for decades, eventually you have to go through a very painful adjustment.  What is going on in Greece should be a lesson for all of us.  Debt allows you to live above your means, but the consequences of going into way too much debt can be absolutely horrific.

More debt can delay the consequences of a debt problem but it cannot solve a debt problem.  The following is what Jim Rogers told CNBC on Friday….

“Just because now you have a way to get them (the banks) to borrow even more money, this is not solving the problem, this is making the problem worse,” Rogers said on Friday.

“People need to stop spending money they don’t have. The solution to too much debt is not more debt. All this little agreement does is give them (banks) a chance to have even more debt for a while longer,” he added.

But if you just went by the headlines in most of the newspapers around the world you would think that European leaders had discovered the cure for cancer or something.

Sadly, the truth is that they are simply choosing to fire off a few of the “financial bullets” that they still have left as a recent Washington Post article described….

The European bailout funds don’t have unlimited resources. If they throw $125 billion at Spain’s banks and another couple hundred billion toward Italy, pretty soon they’ll be running low. The only entity with unlimited euros is the European Central Bank. And right now, there’s no talk of using the ECB to provide bailouts. Which means that this latest move might have just forestalled the crisis, rather than ending it permanently.

So what comes next?

Bruce Krasting believes that the “half-life of this bailout will be measured in weeks”.  The following is his summary of what he sees coming next in Europe….

If I’m right, after a few weeks things turn south again in the capital markets. Then what?

More LTRO. No – there is no more collateral. All of the swill loans have already been hocked.

Cut ECB % rate. Doesn’t matter. It won’t change conditions in Italian or Spanish funding markets one bit.

A spending plan of <1% of GDP. That won’t put a dent in the recession that is building.

Brussels buys more sovereign bonds to avoid a catastrophe of Italian 10-year exceeding 7% (capitulation). Sorry. There are “wise men” in Germany who will simply not allow this to happen in the scale that is required.

The ECB goes Defcon 1 and launches a E2T QE program. No – same answer as above.

– Merkel does a 180 and embraces Euro bonds. No chance in hell.

The US or China are going to start buying EU bonds? Lunacy – not happening.

-The IMF will come to the rescue? No way – the IMF does not have the resources to solve anyone’s problems.

In other words, kicking the can down the road is going to get quite a bit harder after the current “sugar high” wears off.

Europe is still headed for the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression (at least) and European leaders seem powerless to stop it.

Of course the United States is also facing a crisis of too much debt and a great day of reckoning is on the way for this country as well.

So yes, the global economy is still heading for collapse and there is still a multitude of reasons to be extremely concerned about the second half of 2012.

What is your opinion about all of this?

Do you think that European leaders will be able to keep kicking the can down the road?

Please feel free to post a comment with your opinion below….

Too Much Debt: Our Biggest Economic Problem

What is the biggest economic problem that the United States is facing?  Very simply, our biggest problem is that we have way too much debt.  Over the past 30 years, household debt, corporate debt and government debt have all grown much faster than our GDP has.  But no nation on earth has ever been able to expand debt much faster than national output indefinitely.  All debt bubbles eventually burst.  Right now, we are living in the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world.  All of this debt has fueled a “false prosperity” which has enabled many Americans to live like kings and queens.  But no nation (or household) can pile on more debt forever.  At some point the weight of the debt becomes just too great.  It is amazing that the United States has been able to pile up as much debt as it has.  Over the years, many authors have predicted that U.S. government finances would collapse long before the U.S. national debt ever got to this level.  So the mountain of debt that we have accumulated is quite an “achievement” if you want to look at it that way.  But the clock is ticking on this debt bubble and when it collapses we will say “bye bye” to our vastly inflated standard of living and we will discover that we have destroyed the economy for all future generations of Americans.

Household Debt

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.  When most Americans think of the “debt problem” in this country, they think of the debt of the federal government.

But that is not the only debt bubble that we are facing.

Thirty years ago, household debt in the United States was approaching the 2 trillion dollar mark.  Today, it is sitting at about 13 trillion dollars….

We have been trained to pay for everything with debt.

We pay for our homes with debt, and mortgage debt as a percentage of GDP has more than tripled since 1955.

We pay for our cars with debt, and at this point about 70 percent of all auto purchases in the United States involve an auto loan.

We pay for higher education with debt, and the total amount of student loan debt in America recently surpassed the one trillion dollar mark.

Wherever we go we pay with plastic.

If you want a heated cat bed and a cute little cat sweater for your little kitty just put it on your Visa or Mastercard.

Amazingly, consumer debt in America has risen by a whopping 1700% since 1971, and if you can believe it, 46% of all Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month.

We are absolutely addicted to debt and we do not know how to stop.

State And Local Government Debt

Our state and local governments are also addicted to debt.

30 years ago, state and local government debt was approaching the 400 million dollar mark.  Today, state and local government debt is hovering around the 3 trillion dollar mark….

In the United States today, we don’t just have one “government debt problem” – the truth is that we have hundreds of them.  All over the country, state and local governments are facing bankruptcy because of too much debt.

For example, according to Fox News the city of Stockton, California is right on the verge of declaring bankruptcy.  In fact, an announcement could come as early as this week….

Stockton, Calif., is set to declare bankruptcy as early as this week, according to local officials, a move that would make it one of the largest U.S. cities ever to file for reorganization. 

On Monday, a state-required mediation with creditors to find a fiscal solution is scheduled to expire. Stockton’s City Council is then slated to meet Tuesday to decide whether to adopt a budget for operating in bankruptcy, a move widely considered the last step before the city formally submits a Chapter 9 petition to federal bankruptcy court. 

Federal Government Debt

Of course the biggest offender of all is the federal government.  30 years ago, Ronald Reagan was running around proclaiming what a nightmare it was that the U.S. national debt was reaching the one trillion dollar mark.

Well, now we are about to blast through the 16 trillion dollar mark with no end in sight….

Running up debt at a much faster rate than our GDP is rising is a recipe for national financial suicide.  Our politicians continue to steal about 150 million dollars an hour from future generations and everybody just acts like this is perfectly normal.

We are going down the same path that Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain have gone.

In fact, we already have more government debt per capita than all of those nations do.

Both political parties have been doing this to us, and it just keeps getting worse and worse.

Incredibly, the national debt has grown more under Obama in less than 4 years than it did under George W. Bush during his entire 8 year term.

Since Barack Obama entered the White House, we have accumulated more than five trillion dollars of additional debt.

We are on the road to national financial oblivion, and most Americans don’t seem to care.

Debt From Sea To Shining Sea

Now let’s add up all the debt in the country.  When you total up all household debt, business debt and government debt, it comes to more than 300% of our GDP….

In fact, if current trends continue we will hit 400% of GDP before too long.

As you can see from the chart, there was a little “hiccup” during the last recession, but now the debt bubble is growing again.

So how high can it go before the entire system collapses?

Total credit market debt owed is roughly 10 times larger than it was about 30 years ago.

How in the world did we accumulate 10 times more debt in just 30 years?

If we do that again in the next 30 years, our total debt will be more than 500 trillion dollars in the 2040s.

Unfortunately, that is the way that debt spirals work.  They either have to keep expanding or they collapse.

So will the U.S. debt spiral continue to expand?

Or will we soon see a collapse?

Sadly, this exact same thing is happening all over the world.  The government debt to GDP ratio in Japan (the third largest economy in the world) blew past the 200% mark quite a while ago, and almost every country in the EU is absolutely drowning in debt.

The world has never faced anything quite like this.  There is way, way too much debt in the world, but the only way we can continue to enjoy this level of prosperity under the current system is to pile up a lot more debt.

The western world is like a debt addict in a deep state of denial.  Some debt addicts end up with dozens of credit card accounts.  They will keep opening more accounts as long as someone will let them.  Most debt addicts actually believe that they will be able to get out of the hole at some point, but most never do.

Most Americans still believe that we are experiencing “temporary” economic problems that will eventually go away.  Most Americans still believe that even greater prosperity is still ahead.

Sadly, what the mainstream media and the two major political parties are telling them is a bunch of lies.

We have enjoyed the greatest prosperity that we will ever see in the United States, and when the debt bubble bursts there is going to be an immense amount of pain.

That is a very painful truth, but it is better to come to grips with it now than be blindsided by it later.

Why New York Times Economist Paul Krugman Is Partly Right But Mostly Wrong

In recent days, New York Times economist Paul Krugman has been doing a whole bunch of interviews in which he has declared that the solution to our economic problems is very easy.  Krugman says that all we need to do to get the global economy going again is for the governments of the world to start spending a lot more money.  Krugman believes that austerity is only going to cause the economies of the industrialized world to slow down even further and therefore he says that it is the wrong approach.  And you know what?  Krugman is partly right about all of this.  The false prosperity that the United States and Europe have been enjoying has been fueled by unprecedented amounts of debt, and in order to maintain that level of false prosperity we are going to need even larger amounts of debt.  But there are several reasons why Krugman is mostly wrong.  First of all, we have not seen any real “austerity” yet.  Even though there have been some significant spending cuts and tax increases over in Europe, the truth is that nearly every European government is still piling up more debt at a frightening pace.  Here in the United States, the federal government continues to spend more than a trillion dollars a year more than it brings in.  If the United States were to go to a balanced federal budget, that would be austerity.  What we have now is wild spending by the federal government beyond anything that John Maynard Keynes ever dreamed of.  Secondly, Krugman focuses all of his attention on making things more comfortable for all of us in the short-term without even mentioning what we might be doing to future generations.  Yes, more government debt would give us a short-term economic boost, but it would also make the long-term financial problems that we are passing on to our children even worse.

It is important to understand that Paul Krugman is a hardcore Keynesian.  He believes that national governments can solve most economic problems simply by spending more money.  His prescription for the U.S. economy in 2012 was summarized in a recent Rolling Stone article….

The basic issue, says Krugman, is a lack of demand. American consumers and businesses, aren’t spending enough, and efforts to get them to open their wallets have gone nowhere. Krugman’s solution: The federal government needs to step in and spend. A lot. On debt relief for struggling homeowners; on infrastructure projects; on aid to states and localities; on safety-net programs. Call it “stimulus” if you like. Call it Keynesian economics, after the great economic thinker (and Krugman idol) John Maynard Keynes, who first championed the idea that government has an essential role in saving the free market from its own excesses.

So is Krugman right?

Would the U.S. economy improve if the federal government borrowed and spent an extra half a trillion dollars this year for example?

Yes, it would.

But it would also get us half a trillion dollars closer to bankruptcy as a nation.

Krugman claims that “austerity” has failed, but the truth is that we have not even seen any real “austerity” yet.

When a government spends more than it brings in, that is not real austerity.

People talk about the “austerity” that we have seen in places such as Greece and Spain, but the truth is that both nations are still piling up huge amounts of new debt.

So let’s not pretend that the western world is serious about austerity.

The goal for most European nations at this point is to get their debts down to “sustainable” levels.

But for economists such as Krugman, this is a very bad idea.  Krugman insists that cutting government spending during a recession is a very stupid thing to do.  The following is from one of his recent articles in the New York Times….

For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should — by spending more to offset falling private demand — but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets.

Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the “austerians” insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! “Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank — a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. Or as I put it way back when, the idea was that the confidence fairy would come in and reward policy makers for their fiscal virtue.

Yes, Krugman is correct that government austerity measures will only make a recession worse.

Just look at what has happened in Greece.  Wave after wave of austerity measures has pushed Greece into an economic depression.  If you want to see what austerity has done to the unemployment rate in Greece, just check out this chart.

As other nations across Europe have taken measures to get debt under control, we have seen similar economic results all across the continent.

The overall unemployment rate in the eurozone has hit 10.9 percent which is a new all-time high, and youth unemployment rates throughout Europe are absolutely skyrocketing.

Right now there are already 12 countries in Europe that are officially in a recession, and in many European nations manufacturing activity is slowing down dramatically.

So, yes, austerity is not helping short-term economic conditions in Europe.

But what are the nations of the western world supposed to do?

According to Krugman, they are supposed to run up gigantic amounts of new debt indefinitely.

And that is what the United States is doing right now.  But at some point the clock strikes midnight and all of a sudden you have become the “next Greece”.

U.S. government debt is already rising much, much faster than U.S. GDP is.

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

Today, the U.S. national debt is equivalent to 101.5 percent of U.S. GDP.

But Paul Krugman does not consider this to be a major problem.

The Obama administration is currently stealing approximately 150 million dollars from our children and our grandchildren every single hour to finance our reckless spending, but for Paul Krugman that is not nearly good enough.

To Krugman, the only thing that is important is what is happening right now.  Apparently the future can be thrown into the toilet as far as he is concerned.

The founder of PIMCO, Bill Gross, told CNBC on Tuesday that the U.S. government is likely to be hit with another credit rating downgrade this year if something is not done about our exploding debt.

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

But Krugman insists that the solution to our economic problems is even more debt and even more spending.

In a previous article, I detailed how we are doomed if the U.S. government keeps spending money wildly like this and we are doomed if the U.S. governments stops spending money wildly like this.

If we keep running trillion dollar deficits every year, at some point our financial system will collapse, the U.S. dollar will fail, and we will essentially be facing national bankruptcy.

But if the federal government stops borrowing and spending money like this, our debt-fueled prosperity will rapidly disappear, unemployment will shoot well up into double digits, and we will soon have mass rioting in major U.S. cities.

The truth is that we have already been following Paul Krugman’s economic prescription for the nation for decades.  Our 15 trillion dollar party has funded a standard of living unlike anything the world has ever seen, but the party is coming to an end.

The Federal Reserve is trying to keep the party going by buying up huge amounts of government debt.  The Fed actually purchased approximately 61 percent of all government debt issued by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2011.

It is a shell game that cannot go on for too much longer.

The national debt crisis can be delayed for a while, but at some point the house of cards is going to come crashing down on top of us all.

If Paul Krugman wanted to talk about real solutions he could talk about shutting down the Federal Reserve and he could talk about going to an entirely debt-free currency.

But we all know that is not going to happen, don’t we?

As I have written about before, the Federal Reserve was designed to be a perpetual government debt machine.  The system was designed to have the amount of money and the amount of government debt constantly expand.

And it has been working quite well in that regard.  At this point, the U.S. national debt is more than 5000 times larger than it was when the Federal Reserve was first created.

But Paul Krugman is not going to talk about the real issues.  Instead, he is just going to keep running around declaring that more government spending and more government debt will solve all of our problems.

It is a very big lie, but millions of people are going to believe it.

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