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The scary real U.S. government debt ... Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff says U.S. government debt is not $13.5-trillion (U.S.), which is 60 percent of current gross domestic product, as global investors and American taxpayers think, but rather 14-fold higher: $200-trillion – 840 per cent of current GDP. "Let's get real," Prof. Kotlikoff says. "The U.S. is bankrupt." Writing in the September issue of Finance and Development, a journal of the International Monetary Fund, Prof. Kotlikoff says the IMF itself has quietly confirmed that the U.S. is in terrible fiscal trouble – far worse than the Washington-based lender of last resort has previously acknowledged. "The U.S. fiscal gap is huge," the IMF asserted in a June report. "Closing the fiscal gap requires a permanent annual fiscal adjustment equal to about 14 percent of U.S. GDP." This sum is equal to all current U.S. federal taxes combined. The consequences of the IMF's fiscal fix, a doubling of federal taxes in perpetuity, would be appalling – and possibly worse than appalling. – Globe and Mail (Canada)
Dominant Social Theme: What? That can't be. Let's not talk about it.
Free-Market Analysis: These numbers cited by Laurence Kotlikoff have been all over the Internet for a while now but have not been much reported by the mainstream press. No surprise there, but we are a bit shocked that the Globe and Mail chose to pick them up. Was it a slow news day? The story itself has been around since August.
Because the Globe and Mail has covered it, so shall we. Here is our question: Given these numbers, how can banks and institutions purchase US fixed income securities, let alone the dollar? What sense does it make? These large institutions, with fiduciary responsibility, are basically buying a bankrupt product. And it is not just the US. The entire Western world (maybe with the exception of Germany) is pretty much either flat broke or worse than broke.
For us, this shows as much as anything else how controlled the system really is. It's just a fiction and has little resemblance to reality. Institutions are said to flee to the "safe-haven" of the US dollar when they are nervous. But as Kotlikoff shows, the safe-haven is nothing of the sort. When one adds up all of the various commitments that the US has made abroad and at home (to its own citizens) the debt begins to add up to the monstrous, impossible number Kotlikoff arrives at.
So we ask: Can't bond buyers at large institutions add? How are they comfortable buying the bonds of a bankrupt entity? And why has it taken until 2010 for a mainstream economics professor to measure the "real debt" of the US and speak out about it? Heck we've known this for years now – and so have you! If the Western monetary system were a person, it would long ago have been declared clinically insane and shipped off to an asylum. What is worse is the conspiracy of silence about the "real" US debt, which we have to assume parallels at least partially the debt of other Western nations. The whole of the West is busted, pretty much – and the "austerity" plans being put in place are just more window-dressing, albeit of a very nasty sort.
Of course there are several ways out of this dilemma. Probably the easiest one is inflation verging on hyperinflation. If the US prints enough dollars-from-nothing (as Bernanke seems intent on doing) perhaps the dollar will lose so much value that the growing debt will be partially erased. Of course this basically debases the goods and services that people currently count on. The services will remain as a kind of legal fiction – funded but not worth anything.
Another more controversial way to get rid of the "real" debt would simply be for the US to devalue or to announce that it was not going to honor current accumulated debts. Of course this would do nothing to reduce further debt burdens (though it would certainly anger debt-holders) – and this is why Professor Kotlikoff predicts that many of the promises made by the US to its citizens will not be met. The article excerpted above informs of us following:
He opposes further stimulus spending because it will simply increase the debt. But he does suggest reforms that would help – most of which would require a significant withering away of the state. He proposes that the government give every person an annual voucher for health care, provided that the total cost not exceed 10 percent of GDP. (U.S. health care now consumes 16 percent of GDP.) He suggests the replacement of all current federal taxes with a single consumption tax of 18 per cent. He calls for government-sponsored personal retirement accounts, with the government making contributions only for the poor, the unemployed and people with disabilities.
The solutions offered by Kotlikoff would surely revamp the social contract that the US has with its citizens. But this is what is taking place in Europe as well. It turns out that the welfare state is a mathematical impossibility. Ludwig von Mises was correct. Those that practice socialism eventually bankrupt themselves.
Of course throughout most of the 20th century, von Mises (and the Austrians generally) were ignored by mainstream Western economics. Keynesian economics, monetarist economics, econometrics and even supply-side economics all got a broad hearing and received various levels of approbation from various social strata. But free-market economics was given short shrift. Except for the von Mises Institute, there were few supporters for its stiff dose of truth-telling. But look at where that has left the US and the West.
The 20th century as we have often noted was a true Dreamtime. People were convinced by the dominant social themes of the power elite that government was going to take care of them. As the century wound down the claims became more extravagant. Government workers especially won the right to stop working and collect pensions after only 20 or 25 years, and retirements became bigger and more gaudy as public sector unions pressed for more and more benefits.
But this was only part of it. In America, especially, people were led to believe that if they saved and "invested" in the stock market, they could do very well for themselves. They were led (promoted) to believe (as the Chinese believe today) that real estate was a good "investment" and that prices, while uneven, would always head upwards sooner or later. It seemed to make sense, after all, given that the demographics were fairly inexorable. Baby boomers would continue to bid up securities and commodities because there were so many of them. The Dow, one popular financial guru wrote, was surely going to 20,000 and even 40,000 in a fairly short period of time.
In the late 20th century, the power elite driven US financial/media complex was in its heyday. There were hundreds of magazines and dozens of TV programs all focused on explaining how to "invest" and where money should be placed for maximum advantage. The game was on. Millions of pages were printed explaining what mutual funds were "hot" and what companies were high flyers. NONE of this information, for the most part, ever mentioned real money – gold or silver – or predicted that gold would rise fourfold in the 2000s.
And now? Silence has begun to descend upon the hyperactive financial-media complex. Some of the most prominent business and investment magazines have either gone of out of business or been sold for a nominal dollar-and-debt. Baby boomers (and European pensioners) who until recently looked at their balance sheets and believed that their financial goals had been achieved are starting to realize that much of what they counted on is increasingly ephemeral.
Their housing valuations are impressive, but now banks will not necessarily lend against home equity and their domiciles are increasingly illiquid. Their stock portfolios were heavily damaged and somehow the current stock market rises have not helped replenish the equity. Their pensions – from large corporate employers or from the state itself – seemed solid, and yet Europe is finding out that those pensions can be rewritten and are not so certain after all.
What was the point of it all? Some people became teachers and put up with the increasingly ludicrous rules imposed by unions and the political correctness demanded by peers. Others became police officers and kept silent while their brethren-in-blue became increasingly cynical and violent. Still others worked for the state and turned a blind eye to the corruption and payoffs that went on all around them. People worked in non-profits and soon realized that much of the money that was supposed to go to needy clients never got there. People worked in finance and accounting and soon realized that most of their efforts involved increasingly useless record-keeping for an ever-expanding authoritarian state.
We could go on, and indeed we have mentioned all this before. Every part of Western regulatory democracy in the 20th century was a kind of Dreamtime. The elites spun magical fantasies that people, not knowing any better, inhaled ecstatically. People like to believe that life is certain and that social structures can guarantee wealth. But they cannot. Only human action can provide one with any certainty – and then only if one has accumulated gold and silver during one's lifetime.
Ironically, it has not, perhaps, turned out much better for Western elites. This tiny group of people puffed up by arrogance and secret internal narratives launched promotion after promotion during the 20th century. The idea was to frighten the middle class especially into giving up wealth and power to a specially created superstructure of global bodies that had been created as appropriate repositories.
But in the 21st century, even the Western elites have not fared so well. The Internet has stripped them of their anonymity and revealed their promotional machinations. The economic crisis, which they intended to use to create a one-world government, has become a problem as well, causing people to turn to the Internet to see what has gone wrong. The education that takes place every day is eroding the elite's hold on government, economics, military power and, most importantly, on the minds and psyches of the once easily-controlled masses.
Kotlikoff seems to believe that once people understand what has happened to them – once they wake up from Dreamtime – they will be amenable in some sense to a rational re-ordering of their deflating dreams. We think this is not necessarily an accurate perception. What he apparently expects is that people will patiently rebuild a system that has essentially served as a coffin for their hopes and goals. His idea is that a civil society will restructure its methodologies to deliver what is real and good and necessary.
But Western Dreamtime was never about delivering anything. It was about fooling the masses and the middle classes, draining them of wealth and power in order to create a One-World Order. The system, fully perverted early in the 20th century, was not set up to deliver anything; it was set up to extract something – most unfortunately the authenticity that people are capable of bringing to their lives and work. Once people realize just how badly they have been misled, we think a growing number will want to reject what we have called "regulatory democracy" outright. Thus, we think large-scale social cohesion will be harder to come by; and authoritarian solutions levied by a desperate power elite likely won't work either.
We have predicted – and continue to predict – a gradual entropy could overcome the rigid structures of modern nation-states, and larger political entities may begin to fracture into smaller ones. Gold and silver may come into circulation not via any economic or political mandate but simply because precious metals have historically been the money of choice absent government mandates against their circulation. People may pursue more entrepreneurial vocations; the family farm may return; the international corporation may fall on hard times.
All this depends on how badly Dreamtime is fractured by the coming realities and how angry people get about the wasting of their assets and opportunities. No, we don't know what is coming next, but if the Western elites cannot control society through its promotional schemes – due to an increasing lack of credibility – the ramifications are both significant and severe. People who have woken up (whether they wished to or not) will eventually begin to discover what it is to lead lives of significance and human action. Some may not enjoy it.