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

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

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

Long-Term Trend #1: The Deindustrialization Of America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something needs to be done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, things are getting even worse.

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

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

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

Does that sound like “fair trade” to you?

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

Half a million jobs in just one year?

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

We have literally built China into a superpower.

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

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

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

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

Long-Term Trend #3: The Shrinking Middle Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long-Term Trend #7: The Derivatives Bubble

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

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

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

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

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

Long-Term Trend #8: The Health Care Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least someone is doing well in this economy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what about corporate pension plans?

Are they in good shape?

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops.

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

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

Ouch.

It is time to face facts people.

We are in deep, deep, deep trouble.

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

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

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

What Does The Financial Reform Bill Do Other Than Being Completely And Utterly Worthless?

Is it possible to write a 2,300 page piece of legislation that accomplishes next to nothing and is pretty much completely and utterly worthless?  The answer is yes.  Barack Obama has been trumpeting the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill as the “biggest rewrite of Wall Street rules since the Great Depression”, but the truth is that after the Wall Street lobbyists got done carving it up, the bill that was left was so watered down and so toothless that it essentially accomplishes nothing except creating even more government bureaucracy and even more mind-numbing paperwork.  The bill is so riddled with loopholes for the big banks that it is basically the legislative equivalent of Swiss cheese.  The Democrats in the Senate were ecstatic when they announced that they had secured the 60 votes needed to pass this legislation, but when they are asked about what the financial reform bill will do, most of them are left stammering for some kind of cohesive response.  The sad truth is that most of them probably don’t understand the bill and none of them will probably ever read the entire thing.

So will the financial reform bill do any good at all?

Well, yes.

A very, very small amount.

Essentially, it is kind of like going over to the Pacific Ocean and scooping out a couple of cups of water.

That is about how much good this bill is going to do.

But U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is making this sound like this is some kind of history-changing legislation….

“We’re cleaning up Wall Street.”

Oh really?

Charles Geisst, professor of finance at Manhattan College recently had the following to say about this absolutely toothless bill….

Like health-care reform, this bill is being drawn up to grab headlines but its details betray it as nothing more than a slap on the wrist for Wall Street. It is true that Wall Street can commit grand theft and apparently get off with nothing more than community service.

The truth is that most of us never expected the U.S. government to truly take on Wall Street.  The relationship between the two is just way too cozy for that to happen.

So does the financial reform bill actually accomplish anything?

Yes.

Let’s take a look at the “sweeping changes” contained in the bill….

*Federal regulators will receive more authority to monitor everything from mortgages to complex derivatives.  (Oh goody!  Just what we needed – more federal regulation!  As if federal agencies have ever been very good at regulating the financial industry…) 

*Financial firms will be required to reduce the debt they take on and to hold more capital in reserve.  (This will make financial firms marginally more stable, but the truth is that the big banks are so good at accounting tricks that this will not really make much of a difference.  When a big firm is going to fail a few extra bucks in reserve is NOT going to make a difference.) 

*The U.S. government will be given extensive power to seize collapsing financial firms.  Federal regulators would keep collapsing firms operating long enough to prevent a massive panic and would slowly sell off its pieces.  (This does not eliminate “too big to fail” – instead it enshrines “too big to fail” into law permanently.  The bill institutes “orderly procedures” for exactly how to proceed when the U.S. government steps in and takes over failing financial firms.  Just what we need – more socialism!)

*The financial reform bill creates a new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection at the Federal Reserve that is supposed to help prevent abusive lending by mortgage and credit card companies.  (Wait a second – this bill gives the Federal Reserve more power?  Who came up with that grand idea?  Yeah, let’s give the fox more power to guard the hen house.  The truth is that the Federal Reserve is one of the core problems with our economic system as we have written about previously.)  

*Some rather toothless regulations will be placed on the derivatives markets, hedge funds and credit rating agencies.  (A big emphasis on “toothless”.)

So what does this legislation not do?

-It does not eliminate “too big to fail”.  The truth is that the biggest banks and financial institutions have been systematically gobbling up a bigger and bigger share of the market and this legislation does nothing to change that.  Anthony Sanders, a professor of finance in the School of Management at George Mason University, says that this bill essentially does nothing about the “too big to fail” problem….

“As far as I can see the ‘too big to fail’ problem is still in place.”

In fact, this legislation may cause even more consolidation in the financial industry, because small firms are going to have an especially difficult time complying with all of the new rules, regulations and paperwork created by this bill.

-The financial reform bill does nothing about the horrific bubble in the derivatives market.  Originally it was believed that some tough regulations were going to be imposed on derivatives trading, but the Wall Street lobbyists were all over those provisions like rabid dogs. 

So now there is loophole after loophole in the bill and the “derivatives problem” still ominously hangs over Wall Street.  Not that there is any way to fix it. 

Nobody actually knows the true total value of all the derivatives in the world, but estimates place it at somewhere between 600 trillion dollars and 1.5 quadrillion dollars.

When the derivatives bubble pops, and it will, there won’t be enough money in the entire world to fix it.

-The financial reform bill does nothing about mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  They remain financial black holes that the U.S. government will be forced to pour hundreds of billions (if not trillions) of dollars into.

-A proposal to conduct yearly comprehensive audits of the Federal Reserve was left out of the financial reform bill.  Instead, a very, very, very limited one-time audit of a few of the transactions that the Federal Reserve conducted during the height of the financial crisis was included. 

What we really need is a true audit of the Fed.  The Federal Reserve has never been the subject of a true, comprehensive audit since it was created in 1913.  Considering the fact that the Federal Reserve issues our currency, controls our banking system, sets our interest rates and is basically the core of the U.S. economy, you would think that the American people should have the right to see what is going on over there.

But Ben Bernanke and the rest of the folks over at the Fed fought against the comprehensive audit proposal with everything that they had.  They seemed extremely alarmed that the American people might actually get to take a look inside their books.

The truth is that unless something is done about the Federal Reserve, no true “financial reform” is really going to take place.

But the U.S. Congress could have done at least some good with this bill.

Instead, they have given us a 2,300 page mess that is pretty much completely and utterly worthless.

So what do you think about the “financial reform” bill.  Feel free to leave a comment with your opinion….

What Do You Believe Is America’s Biggest Economic Problem?

Today there are literally dozens of major threats to the U.S. economy.  Each one of these threats alone could cause a major economic implosion.  The Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the derivatives bubble, the housing crisis, the exploding U.S. national debt and the burgeoning European debt crisis all threaten to push the struggling U.S. economy over the edge.  But which one is America’s biggest economic problem?  Below, 16 of America’s greatest economic threats are listed in no particular order.  The goal of this article is to hear what all of you readers believe is the worst crisis the U.S. economy is facing.  If you would like to vote, please choose one of the 16 economic problems listed below (or nominate one of your own) and leave a comment explaining your choice….

#1) The Gulf Of Mexico Oil Spill – The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is already the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.  Is it also about to become the worst economic disaster in U.S. history?   

#2) The Derivatives Bubble – The total value of all derivatives worldwide is estimated to be well over a quadrillion dollars.  In fact, the danger from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet has called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”.  Will the derivatives bubble end up being the major cause of the next depression?

#3) The Housing Crash – Last month, sales of new homes in the United States dropped to the lowest level ever recorded.  Also, the number of U.S. home foreclosures set a record for the second consecutive month in May.  Very few Americans are buying houses right now.  The subprime mortgage crisis brought the U.S. financial system to the brink of ruin in 2007 and 2008.  Is it about to happen again?

#4) The Federal Reserve – Instead of printing and issuing their own currency, the U.S. government actually has to go into more debt before any new currency is created.  But the problem is that the money to pay the interest on that debt is not created at that time, so in order to pay that interest the U.S. government will need to create even more currency in the future.  That means going into even more debt.  Thus the U.S. government is caught in an endless debt spiral that has now become impossible to escape.  By basing our economy on mountains of debt and paper money that is backed by nothing, have we essentially guaranteed that our economic system will totally fail someday?     

#5) The European Sovereign Debt Crisis – Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and a number of other European nations are in real danger of actually defaulting on their debts.  If a wave of national defaults starts sweeping the globe, will it end up wiping out the U.S. economy as well?

#6) The Growing Welfare State – For the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.  More than 1 in 5 American children now live below the poverty line.  Nearly 51 million Americans received $672 billion in Social Security benefits in 2009.  How many people can the U.S. government possibly support financially before it finally collapses under the weight?

#7) Illegal Immigration– There are an estimated 30 million illegal immigrants now living in the United States.  Not only is this a very serious economic burden, but it is a huge national security issue as well.  Federal agents and local law enforcement officials along the border are now openly telling the media that they are outgunned, outmanned and are increasingly being shot at by the Mexican drug cartels that are openly conducting military operations inside the United States.  There is now significant Latin American gang activity in almost every large and mid-size city in the United States.  Meanwhile, Barack Obama continues to leave the border wide open.  

#8) Corruption On Wall Street– The corrupton in the financial system that has been revealed in 2010 has been absolutely mind blowing.  Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Lehman Brothers and Wachovia are all being investigated by the government at this point.  The rampant manipulation of the gold and silver markets was completely blown open by an industry insider, and the U.S. government has finally been convinced to take a look at it.  It seems like the more the layers are peeled back, the more corruption we find in the financial community.  So how long can the U.S. financial system survive when corruption is seemingly everywhere? 

#9) War In The Middle East – The U.S. government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars fighting the war in Iraq.  The U.S. government has spent over 247 billion dollars on the war in Afghanistan, and yet June 2010 has now become the deadliest month of the Afghan war for coalition troops.  Now there is a very real possibility that war could erupt with Iran.  How long can the U.S. government continue to afford to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into wars in the Middle East?  Not only that, but if a war with Iran cuts off the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, what would that do to our economic system that is so highly dependent on oil?

#10) Barack Obama’s Health Care “Reform” – Barack Obama’s pet project is actually the biggest tax increase in U.S. history, it is going to cause the premature retirement of thousands upon thousands of American doctors, and it is going to drive health insurance premiums through the roof.  Health insurance companies are going to do very well (they actually helped write the bill), but the rest of us are going to be absolutely crushed by this brutal legislation.  So what will happen when the U.S. healthcare system implodes?

#11) Barack Obama’s “Cap And Trade” Carbon Tax Scheme– Rather than focusing all of his attention on fixing the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, Barack Obama has been busy playing golf and figuring out how he can use this crisis as an opportunity to get his “cap and trade” carbon tax scheme pushed through the U.S. Congress.  But will Barack Obama’s obsession with “global warming” end up totally wrecking the U.S. economy?

#12) Globalism – Most American workers had no idea that free trade would mean that they would suddenly be competing for jobs against workers in the Philippines and Malaysia.  Today, corporations often find themselves having to choose whether to build a factory in the United States or in the third world.  But in the third world workers often earn less than 10% of what American workers earn, corporations are often not required to provide any benefits to workers, and there are usually hardly any oppressive government regulations.  How can American workers compete against that?

#13) The Moral Decline Of America – An economy stops working efficiently when people stop feeling safe and when they stop trusting one another.  As greed, selfishness, lust, pride, theft and violence continue to explode, how much longer will the U.S. economy be able to function normally?

#14) Genetic Modification – Scientists around the globe have now produced “monster salmon” which grow three times as fast as normal salmon, corn that has been genetically modified to have a pesticide grow inside the corn kernel, cats that glow in the dark and goats that produce spider silk.  Is it possible that all of this genetic modification could unleash an environmental hell that could destroy not only the economy but also our entire society?

#15) Unemployment – Tens of millions of Americans are out of work and nearly a million people have lost their unemployment benefits because the U.S. Senate has once again failed to pass a bill that would extend those benefits.  In some areas of the United States unemployment has been pushing up towards depression-era levels.  For example, a while back the mayor of Detroit said that the real unemployment rate in his city is somewhere around 50 percent.  So is the biggest problem that the U.S. economy is facing the fact that so many millions of willing American workers simply cannot find work?

#16) The U.S. National Debt – As of June 1st,  the U.S. National Debt was $13,050,826,460,886.  According to a U.S. Treasury Department report to Congress, the U.S. national debt will top $13.6 trillion this year and climb to an estimated $19.6 trillion by 2015.  The total of all government, corporate and consumer debt in the United States is now about 360 percent of GDP.  The United States has piled up the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the world.  So how long will it be before this mountain of debt collapses?

So of the 16 economic problems listed above, which one do you believe is the biggest threat to the U.S. economy?

Please feel free to leave a comment with your vote….

The Unbelievably Rampant Corruption On Wall Street

In order for a financial system to be able to function properly, it is absolutely essential that the general population has faith in it.  After all, who is going to want to invest in the stock market or entrust their money to big financial institutions if there is not at least the perception of honesty and fairness in the financial marketplace?  For decades, the American people did have faith in Wall Street.  But now that faith is being shattered by a string of recent revelations.  It seems as though the rampant corruption on Wall Street is seeping up almost everywhere now.  In fact, some of the things that have come out recently have been absolutely jaw-dropping.  The truth is that the corruption on Wall Street is much deeper and much more systemic than most of us ever dared to imagine.  As the general public digests these recent scandals, it is going to result in a tremendous loss of faith in the U.S. financial system.  Once faith in a financial system is lost, it can take years or even decades to get back.  So how is the U.S. financial system supposed to work properly when large numbers of people simply do not believe in it anymore?

Just consider some of the recent revelations of Wall Street corruption that have come out recently….

*Bloomberg is reporting that a massive network of big banks and financial institutions have been involved in blatant bid-rigging fraud that cost taxpayers across the U.S. billions of dollars.  The U.S. Justice Department is charging that financial advisers to municipalities colluded with Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia and 11 other banks in a conspiracy to rig bids on municipal financial instruments.  Apparently what was going on was that it was decided in advance who would win the auctions of guaranteed investment contracts, which public entities purchase with the proceeds from municipal bond sales, and then other intentionally losing bids were submitted in order to make the process look competitive.  The U.S. Justice Department claims that this fraud has been industry-wide and has been going on for years.  In fact, at least four financial professionals have already pleaded guilty in this case.

*An industry insider has come forward with “smoking gun” evidence that some of the biggest banks have been openly and blatantly manipulating the price of gold and silver.  For a time it looked like the federal government was just going to ignore all of this fraud, but after substantial public uproar some action is indeed being taken.  In fact, it has been reported that federal agents have launched parallel criminal and civil probes of JPMorgan Chase and its trading activity in the precious metals markets.

*Goldman Sachs is getting most of the press about fraud in the mortgage-backed securities market these days.  Of course Goldman is strenuously denying that it “bet against its clients” when it changed its position in the housing market in 2007.  But we all know the truth at this point.  The truth is that Goldman Sachs clearly bet against its clients and was involved in a whole lot of things that were even worse than that.  Many did not think the U.S. government would dare go after Goldman, but that is what we are starting to see.  U.S. federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into whether Goldman Sachs or its employees committed securities fraud in connection with its trading of mortgage-backed securities, and it will be very interesting to see if anything comes of that investigation.

*But not everyone is being held accountable for their actions.  The guy who helped bring down AIG is going to get off scott-free and is going to be able to keep the millions in profits that he made in the process.

*Entire U.S. cities have been victims of this rampant Wall Street fraud.  In fact, it is now being alleged that the biggest banks on Wall Street are ripping off some of the largest American cities with the same kind of predatory deals that brought down the financial system in Greece.

*The really sad thing is that fraud is very, very lucrative.  Executives at many of the big banks that received large amounts of money during the Wall Street bailouts are being lavished with record bonuses as millions of other average Americans continue to suffer economically.  Even the CEOs of bailed-out regional banks are getting big raises.  It must be really nice to be them.

So does all of this make you more likely or less likely to invest in the stock market?

Do you think that the American people can see all of this and still believe that the financial system is “fair” and “honest”?

The truth is that Wall Street is full of rip-off artists and fraudsters who don’t even try to hide their greed anymore.

It is as if a thousand junior Gordon Gekkos have been unleashed and they are all trying to be masters of the universe at any cost.

But what they are doing is ripping the heart out of the U.S. financial system.

If people lose faith in the system the system will ultimately fail.

A financial system that allows open fraud and manipulation is operating on borrowed time.

So will the rampant corruption on Wall Street now be cleaned up?

Only time will tell.

But one thing is for certain.

The American people will be watching.

SILVER MART

 

Another Way That The Federal Reserve Makes Massive Gobs Of Money For The Big Banks

When most people discuss how the Federal Reserve benefits the big banks, they usually only focus on the ways that the Federal Reserve directly brings in income.  But there is so much more to it than that.  The truth is that the Federal Reserve is used in a whole variety of ways to indirectly assist the big banks in making huge gobs of money.  One of the ways this is currently being accomplished is through the U.S. Treasury carry trade.

So how does this carry trade work?

Well, it basically has three steps and it works something like this….

#1) Mr. Big Bank goes over to the Federal Reserve and says, “Hey Mr. Federal Reserve – please loan me a big bag of cash for next to nothing.”  Of course, the Federal Reserve is more than happy to loan it to him.

#2) Mr. Big Bank then invests the same big bag of cash into U.S. Tresuries which have a much higher interest rate than what Mr. Big Bank just borrowed at.  To give  you an idea, 10-year U.S. Treasuries are earning around 3 and a half percent right now.

#3) Mr. Big Bank sits back and enjoys the huge amount of risk-free cash which comes pouring in.

This little three step procedure helped enable four of the biggest U.S. banks (Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup) to have a “perfect quarter” during the first quarter of 2010.  What that means is that these four banks had zero days of trading losses in the first quarter.

Wouldn’t you like to have a perfect batting average?

Don’t you wish you could pitch a perfect game every time?

Well, it certainly helps when you are being subsidized by the Federal Reserve as Bloomberg recently explained….

The trading results, which helped the banks report higher quarterly profit than analysts estimated even as unemployment stagnated at a 27-year high, came with a big assist from the Federal Reserve. The U.S. central bank helped lenders by holding short-term borrowing costs near zero, giving them a chance to profit by carrying even 10-year government notes that yielded an average of 3.70 percent last quarter.

Doesn’t it just seem like whenever we turn around the Federal Reserve is doing something new to “help out” the big banks?

This is just getting ridiculous.

Remember all of that talk about how the U.S. government had to help out Wall Street so that they could help out Main Street?

Well, a ton of money did get injected into the banking system.

In fact, the Federal Reserve pumped hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking system since the beginning of the financial crisis.  This has caused the U.S. monetary base to explode….

So did the big banks use all of that money to help out Main Street?

No.

In fact, business lending by the big banks has been falling precipitously.

So what have the big banks been doing with all of that money?

Buying U.S. government debt of course….

So instead of making loans to American businesses who desperately needed it, most of this new money has gone to pump up yet another bubble.  This time the bubble is in U.S. Treasuries.  Asia Times recently described how this trillion-dollar carry trade in U.S. government securities is setting up a very dangerous situation….

Remarkably, the most aggressive buyers of US government debt during the past several months have been global banks domiciled in London and the Cayman Islands. They borrow at 20 basis points (a fifth of a percentage point) and buy Treasury securities paying 1% to 3%, depending on maturity.

This is the famous “carry trade”, by which banks or hedge funds borrow short-term at a very low rate and lend medium- or long-term at a higher rate. This works as long as short-term rates remain extremely low. The moment that borrowing costs begin to rise, the trillion-dollar carry trade in US government securities will collapse.

But as long as the gravy train of the U.S. Treasury carry trade continues, why should the big banks make risky loans to American businesses and consumers when increasing numbers of them are turning out to be deadbeats anyway?

That is a good question.

Meanwhile, we have this sick situation where the Federal Reserve subsidizes the big banks and enables them to buy up a big chunk of the debt the U.S. government is constantly churning out.

Our national banking resources are increasingly being turned away from building up our once great system of free enterprise, and instead are being devoted to servicing the never ending spiral of government debt and funny money that we have created.

But a bunch of folks down on Wall Street are getting exceedingly rich from this little game, so they certainly aren’t going to complain about it.  And as long as the vast majority of Americans continue to stay in the dark about all of this, the bouncing ball will just continue to keep rolling.

The Economic Recovery Is Moving Along Quite Well – For The Boys Down On Wall Street

If you are part of the Wall Street establishment, the economic recovery is moving along quite well.  Many of the biggest firms on Wall Street just handed out record-setting bonuses, the Stock Market has been moving up steadily and the DOW is back up to around 11,000.  Profits at the top banks have been quite impressive lately.  Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo combined for first quarter profits of $13.4 billion – the most in almost three years.  Yes, life is quite good down on Wall Street these days.  People are still buying fast cars, big yachts and homes in the Hamptons.  It is almost as if “the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression” didn’t even happen.  Things are quickly getting back to “normal” for the banking elite and to many it seems like there are a lot more smiles down on Wall Street than there have been in a long, long time.

Bank of America’s chief executive officer, Brian T. Moynihan, is being quoted by Reuters as saying that “the worst of the credit cycle is clearly behind us” and that the economic growth we are experiencing is “real”.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon is quoted as saying that the U.S. economy may be poised for “a strong recovery”.

And why wouldn’t they say these things?  Profits are up.  Their stock portfolios are up.  They are getting record bonuses.  They know that if anything does go wrong again that their friends in Washington D.C. will bail them out because they are “too big to fail”.

But for tens of millions of other Americans, the economy seems like it is getting worse than ever.  It is hard to explain the gut-wrenching agony that many highly-educated and highly-qualified American workers are going through as they send out hundreds of resumes only to get no response.  Or the absolute frustration of only being able to get a very low paying retail job and realizing that it will not even be able to pay the mortgage – much less support an entire family.  Or the soul-crushing despair of working two or three jobs and still not being able to pay the bills at the end of the month.

But these are the daily realities that millions of Americans must face now.  The truth is that there are not nearly enough jobs for everyone.  The number of unemployed Americans per job opening hit 5.5 in February.  It is like we are all caught in some bizarre game of musical chairs, and the losers end up destitute and out in the street.

Even many of those who can get jobs find themselves in bad situations.  Gallup’s underemployment measure hit 20.0% on March 15th.  That was up from 19.7% two weeks earlier and 19.5% at the start of the year.  A lot of very educated, very qualified people find themselves slaving away at jobs that high school students are qualified for.

But the ones being hurt the worst by this unemployment epidemic are the poor.  Check out the following chart.  At the end of 2009, the unemployment rate for those at the top end of the income scale in the United States was about 3%.  For those at the bottom of the income scale, the unemployment rate was about 30%….

It isn’t the boys down on Wall Street that are losing their homes and their jobs.

No, they are “too big to fail”.

It is millions of ordinary Americans that are losing their homes and their jobs.

And things keep getting worse.

According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings were reported on 367,056 properties in the month of March.  This was an increase of almost 19 percent from February, and it was the highest monthly total since RealtyTrac began issuing its report in January 2005.

Not only that, but RealtyTrac projects that there will be a total of 4.5 million home foreclosures by the end 2010.  If you figure that there are approximately 4 people per household, that is another 18 million people that will be facing the pain of a foreclosure filing.

For many Americans, losing their home to foreclosure is just too much.  For example, one man in Ohio actually decided to bulldoze his own home rather than let the bank take it in foreclosure proceedings.

Because of the extreme economic conditions, millions of Americans are in severe pain and are becoming increasingly desperate.  In some of the most depressed areas, crime is absolutely spiralling out of control.  So far this year in Detroit, car thefts are up 83%, robberies are up 50%, burglaries are up 20% and property destruction is up 42%.

Adding to all of this economic despair is the fact that food and gas prices are starting to shoot up.

In some areas of the United States, people are already paying as much as $3.50 for a gallon of gasoline, and many experts are now predicting that gasoline could hit $4.00 a gallon by the end of 2010.

Not only that, but wholesale food prices rose 2.4% in March, matching the biggest gain in 26 years.

So while the economic recovery is buzzing along quite well down on Wall Street, the reality is that for millions of other Americans things are really hard.  In fact, not even the smaller banks are experiencing much of a recovery.  The FDIC’s list of problem banks just hit a 17-year high.

No, the main beneficiaries of this “economic recovery” are the boys over on Wall Street.  They should enjoy it while it lasts, because even harder economic times are on the way, and the reality is that none of us will be able to completely escape the economic pain that is coming.

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