Posts Tagged ‘collapse’

What kind of person are you?

2011/10/27

Do you think of labor in a factory to be a resource, or an asset?  Do you believe that it should be ‘every man for himself!’ or do you believe in community being worth investing in?  A pure capitalist would view labor as a resource, to be exploited to the utmost.  A civic minded person believes that the community is valuable, and well worth investing in.  Pure capitalism is self-destructive, as we have witnessed, because all of the wealth ends up in the hands of a few, and the economy comes to a halt, because no one can buy anything.

Part of the reason that the government has grown so large is because the community has had to band together to deal with the consequences of our capitalist society, which aims to use people up and throw them away.  If employers took care of their employees as if they were an asset, an investment in training, experience, and knowledge accumulated over time on the job, than government would not be needed to redistribute the wealth through taxation.  Health care, retirement, housing, all would be affordable, and available to all.

Every one wants a bigger slice of the pie.  Even though the pie is not getting larger, and there are more people wanting a slice.  Taking some from somebody else to have more for yourself is called greed.  Greed has betrayed capitalism in the United States, pushed rational thinking aside, and driven us right over the edge.  Instead of investing in the future, to assure that the future is the one that we desire, we have been enticed to spend everything, and more, right now.  In return, our jobs have been outsourced overseas, our taxes are buying less and less services, and everything is horribly expensive.

Only huge, economy-wide growth, on a scale never seen before, can pull us out of an economic implosion.  Asset deflation is likely to set in, as prices drop, values decrease, and people have no money to spend.  Deflation scares the wealthy more than anything else, because it steals away their wealth even through locked vault doors.   To avoid another Great Depression, a new set of rules are needed.

Investment has got to be with the intent of value increasing over the long term, not in order to pay today’s bills.  Cash dividends to stock holders is the single most damaging policy of all modern business practices.  It robs the future to allow luxury for a time, and corrupts the process of management.  Stock should increase in value, and be split, to reward its owners, as the company becomes more and more valuable.  But that can’t happen when the profits are being funneled into cash to pay to stockholders.

 

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We want to inquire about your greed.

2010/05/05

Congress can never be said to avoid taking action, because every crisis and major decision sees some form of commission, committee, or dog and pony show created do provide guidance.  The congress itself is too busy running for re-election to actually study the issues, so they delegate someone else to do it.  This tactic is especially popular when unpopular decisions are needed, because the legislator can always say that they just followed the recommendations of the body which was responsible for that action.  This is, of course, out and out denial of the congress members duty to take responsibility for their actions.

Responsibility is what the commission that sparked this diatribe is investigating;  who can get the credit for the American economy collapsing around the remainder of Wall Street.  Somewhere, there has got to be a person or persons whose decisions were instrumental in causing tho worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, or so the thinking goes, apparently.  The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission is charged with establishing just what caused the best party the rich had enjoyed in centuries to come so suddenly to an end.

But, over and over again, executives state they were following sound business practices, and that it was unstoppable market forces which overwhelmed them.  They had no responsibility for all the bad things that happened.  We should not be surprised, because it would take some too dim of wit to survive on Wall Street to stand before a commission and say, “We were greedy, and got in over our heads.”  Which is what the whole crisis amounted to; greed distorting the judgment of everyone from home owners to heads of multinational banks.

How ‘sound’ is a business practice which is based on the market continuing an unprecedented surge, or the willingness of others to loan money?  It sounded great when the money was rolling, but people were so busy putting it in their pockets that they didn’t set any aside for an overcast day.  The smallest disturbance could threaten multi-billion dollar companies with extinction, it worked out, as dominoes fell one right after another, until the whole thing went right off a cliff.  How can you expect to see a cliff when you are driving 100 miles per hour?  The profit taking was so supercharged that no one even considered easing up on the gas a little.

Well, it was nice while it lasted, and some people made a lot of money, but most of us ended up with less.  Is it our money that those people got?

Republicans just say “No”

2010/04/20

The new strategy of the Republican party is to just say “No”.  No to anything that represents progress, because the Democrats are in control.  The Republicans are willing to sacrifice the working of government in order to take back control of that government.  To what end to they seek control?  To stop any attempt at new regulation of the financial sector, to stop implementation of the first attempt at health care reform.  To allow unbridled access to America’s parks and national forests for resource extraction.  To insure that the rich get richer, and that middle class folks are set with an even greater burden.

Our economy is still suffering the effects of the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression.  Evidence is mounting that this was not simply a bursting of a bubble, but an orchestrated, planned destruction of wealth, in order that wealth could be consolidated by a select few.  Most people lost money in the Great Recession, but some people made money.  Lots of money.  The government was forced to take unprecedented actions to keep the entire economy of the world from collapsing.  The Republican administration under George Bush took those steps, reluctantly, yes, but with no alternative which would not lead to complete economic meltdown.

Now, those same Republicans are trying to blame the Obama administration for what their president did.  They cry “No more bailouts,” yet what do they offer as a means of preventing the same situation from happening again?  Obstructionism, denial, and misrepresentation.  It was the Republicans who took this nation to war, violating the most basic of all rules, that against attacking someone who has not attacked you.  The Republican party has allowed flagrant violations of safety laws in the coal mining industry, sought ways to evade the Clean Water Act, and saddled our efforts to explore the Solar System with an unworkable program.

What kind of person will deny any effort to accomplish something merely to make themselves look good?  A Republican will.  Republicans see no problems with the health care system in the United States, even though the costs of providing health care to state workers is bankrupting the states, and growing numbers of Americans have no access to health care beyond the local Emergency Room.

The Republicans want you to believe that they are protecting the core values of the United States.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  What they seek is further license to steal, to degrade, and to swindle.  Democrats opposed Republican legislation because they disagreed with it.  Republicans oppose Democratic legislation because it is Democratic legislation, even if they agree with it.  They are willing to allow the financial sector to take another stab at destroying America, just so that the government that oversees that destruction will be Republican.

When did the bubble start? In the 1960’s?!

2010/04/07

There is a lot of loose talk going around right now about ‘bubbles’, the housing bubble, the bubble economy, the credit bubble, I almost feel like I am watching the Lawrence Welk show.  Contrary to popular belief, the economy was deeply into bubbles long before anyone had even coined the term.  It really started in the 1960’s, when consumer spending began to fall of, due to the fact that the consumers had spent all of their savings, and now were cutting back on purchasing stuff that they really didn’t need.

This was a crisis for the money barons of America, because they were dependent upon a certain level of consumption in order to go on accumulating wealth at the rate they believed was essential, as well as their right.  Instead of reshaping the economy to depend on production of advanced goods, or space exploration equipment, or high speed trains, the powers that be decided to maintain the economy in the form it was in, and encourage spending by making credit more easily available.

Through judicious advertising, the American people were gradually brainwashed from their old belief that credit was a tool of the devil into thinking of credit as wonderful thing, which they would have to pay for some day.  Credit cards appeared, only they were the mark of high society, because those folks couldn’t be bothered to carry cash, don’t you know.  Of course, everyone wanted one, and, within about 10 years, just about everyone had one.  Or two. Or three.

Consumer spending actually rose, as people were more than happy to spend what they had not yet earned on something which they almost certainly could live without.  Our lifestyles were profoundly influenced by television, which carefully showed us the kind of world that we thought we wanted to live in.  But what we were being taught was that we needed to consume in order for us to be valid persons.  Spending was our way of assuaging our anxiety over our popularity, which we just knew was based upon what kind of car we drove, where we lived, and our income.

A historic change in attitudes was orchestrated by the makers of water heaters, shampoo, and personal hygiene products to convince people that bathing every single day was not only normal, but essential.  The single greatest luxury in the world, bar none, which many, many people have never even experienced, much less enjoyed very often, and Americans zip right through one every morning.  If you don’t smell like something that comes out of a bottle, or some kind of soap, you are a heathen, a barbarian, an uncouth lout, who will never get laid, promoted, or married.

So what if we are forcing our bodies to manufacture immense quantities of oil, we are consuming!  So what if our truck only gets 12 miles to the gallon on the highway, we are consuming!  The solutions to many of our problems do not require whole new technologies, like wind, and solar.  They are desirable in and of themselves, but we could slash our consumption of energy by nearly half, if we were to change our lifestyles, suffer some minor costs to our business, and accept that it is not our god-given right to be able to go anywhere we choose at the drop of a hat.

But the ones in control of things want us to go on believing that deserve all of these luxuries, and that we can pay for them somehow.  Even as they watch the tidal wave of payments coming due beginning in 2012, they ignore any thought of changing the basic tenants of our economy, our financial system.  There is no ‘tomorrow’ in most people’s way of accounting, just today.  Other cultures may have 5 year plans, we have 5 minute plans, subject to change if some kind of profit is to be made.

Well, here is something that you can plan on;  economic upheaval, turmoil, rapid, uncontrolled change, unemployment, hunger, homelessness, and bankruptcy.  The bubble is just about to burst, the shell game is finally going to end, and America will crash, because we are so greedy we cannot cope with any change which threatens our way of life.  Instead of allowing some change, a gradual turning away from dependence on consumer spending towards some other engine for the economy, our leaders have dutifully avoided dealing with the fundamental rot in the financial system.  They even agreed to remove the very regulations which were written to prevent the kind of situation we are in.

But nature always seeks a balance, even in unnatural systems, such as our method of compensating people for their work.  The lopsided distribution of wealth is a result not of  value honestly created by hard work, but by the manipulation of numbers in machines.  The people who know how to create real value by working with their hands, applying their craft, will still be comfortable.  Those who know nothing except trading, wealth management, and investment banking will be panhandling, because the wealth will be gone.

We have managed to spend everything that we are going to make for the next several years, if we don’t lose our jobs, which means that we are not going to be able to spend money on things that we can live without, like transportation in our own car, new clothes, and food.  Backyard lawns are likely to be turned into gardens, and community plots may become common.  All bubbles burst, and this one is absolutely huge, because it was planned this way.  Kind of.  Almost.  Would you believe, ‘allowed  to happen with foreknowledge of the consequences’?  Some people have made an awful lot of money in the last 50 years.  But most of us have just been going further and further into the hole, digging merrily.

2010/03/07

What happens when government shirks its responsibilities?  If the US government had decided not to play a part in opening up the American west, how long would the process have taken?  Without some kind of assistance, the railroad companies would not have been willing to risk millions of dollars to build a railroad from St. Louis to San Francisco.  Without government involvement, aviation would still be primitive, limited to short hops with few passengers.

One of the primary purposes of government is do that which the private sector can’t, or won’t do, when the results would be very beneficial.  The interstate highway system could never have been built by the private sector alone, because of the high cost.  Many people in rural areas would still be living without electricity if the Rural Electrification Act of 1915 had never been enacted.

Investors are constantly seeking ways to make more money.  Without leadership from government investment, they will put their money into whatever seems to offer the best returns.  Thus, we had a period where money was invested into financial derivatives, real estate, and leveraged buyouts.  Several trillion dollars of investor money poured into making more money, but the investments were not sound, and over 1 trillion dollars disappeared because of that.

It is my belief that the government refused to invest in what should have been the most rewarding technology we have ever discovered, choosing instead to focus on weapons technology and extending American influence into energy-rich parts of the world.  Without clear leadership from the government, investment capital was thrown at any idea which might possibly pay off.

Now, we are seeing the consequences of that lack of leadership.  The American economy is collapsing, our industries are moving overseas, and debt is choking growth.  America is creating very few things that the rest of the world wants, and is forced to sell off land and infrastructure to purchase what we do not produce here.

It didn’t have to be like this.  In the 1970’s and ’80’s, the US could have been creating the infrastructure of the next industrial revolution.  We had the know-how and resources to pave the way for wealth creation on a scale that dwarfs anything that has gone before.  Instead of using the most advanced technology in the world to open up the next frontier, we choose to squander it.  We could have been building space stations, more advanced versions of the space shuttle, and exploring the Moon.  We could have been learning to process materials in zero gravity, creating products which can not be made here on Earth.

Had we taken the path into space, investment would have followed.  Private space stations would have been built, private expeditions to the Moon launched, and real wealth would have been created.  Investors would be putting their money into new industrial techniques, new transportation systems.  Products would be available that would revolutionize life on Earth.  Right now, we have no idea what can be done out there, just as no one could have conceived that aviation would completely alter the world.

So, instead of creating new wealth, investors are chasing imaginary wealth, wealth which evaporates overnight.  Instead of building the next generation of spacecraft, which would be in use for generations, we are retiring the only working spacecraft that we have.  Instead of expanding our world, we are watching it shrink.

Enjoy what you have, because you won’t be getting any more

2010/03/05

The rich folks have won.  They have all the money now, so the rest of us can’t play anymore.  No matter what we do, we will not get any further ahead.  Indeed, many of us will sink even further, in spite of working as hard as we can.  Health care is going to become impossible to get, no one will loan us more money, because we already owe more than we can pay back, and new jobs are not going to appear.

When the 5 percent of the population that used to control 95 percent of the wealth refused to share even a 100th of 1 percent of that wealth, they made it impossible for those without any wealth to gain more.  Greed has destroyed the game, making it impossible to continue.  We might as well walk away.

Let’s see some real financial regulation!

2010/02/02

President Obama’s push to reform the financial system is causing disquiet in many executive offices.  Yet he has not proposed any serious changes in the way that business will be done, instead merely expressing a desire to create a source of funds which would be used to bail out big banks that get in trouble, as well as seeking some form of protection from predatory lending for the average consumer.

No one has suggested taking steps to stop the underlying problem with the financial system, which is the selling of debt to investors.  What used to be standard practice was never regulated, because there was no need.  Banks traditionally carried the loans that they originated to maturity, even 20 year mortgages.  There was no law saying that they had to, it was just the business model.

Bet greed changed things around, and banks discovered that they were able to sell those loans to other banks, which then packaged vast numbers of those loans into single investment vehicles, the infamous ‘collateralized debt obligation.’  Add the ratings agencies willingness to give these vehicles AAA ratings, and a whole new realm opened up.  Gone are the days when the bank that wrote the mortgage was there to keep an eye on the borrower, or when a borrower could call the bank to talk about altering some aspect of their mortgage.

Mr. Obama also wants to stop the credit card companies from engaging in loan shark behavior, but his proposals do not address the penalties which banks can impose when a creditor is late with a payment, or goes over their credit limit.  Nor does his proposal prevent credit cards from being issued to people who are likely to get behind on their payments.  This has been a source of great revenue for credit card companies, at least on paper, because they can impose fees which, when combined, exceed the amount of the monthly payment whenever a creditor slips up.  These fees can add up very quickly, so that a person with a 500 dollar credit limit is suddenly 1200 dollars in the hole over a credit card.

The credit card company counts that 1200 dollars as real money, which increases their net worth, irregardless of the ability of the creditor to pay.  This can lead a person to file bankruptcy over credit card debt, which hinders their ability to rent an apartment, get a job, or even to travel, while the credit card company is faced with charging off substantial amounts of money it had been treating as already in its pocket.  Instead of increasing consumption, the credit card company has hurt the prospects of consumption growing.

The business leaders of this nation have got to stop trying to increase consumption by handing out easy credit, and banks have got to stop trying to grow their profits by selling debt over and over again.  Investors need to be putting their money into ventures which will create real, concrete growth, not numbers in accounts which can disappear overnight.

The estimated value of debt

2010/01/29

This financial crisis we have just started dealing with is not a surprise, nor was it unexpected.  And it isn’t over.  We are dealing with the consequences of our actions, the paybacks for the greed we all have been guilty of.  Sure, we believed that our homes were appreciating at astronomical rates, and why, of course we took our banker at face value when he said that it would wise to take out a home equity loan.  We wanted to have that money to play with.  We wanted to buy a nicer car to commute to work with, that boat that was on sale, or put in a pool.  Could we afford to do these things without borrowing money?  Not no.  Hell no.  We shoveled debt onto our heads like we were digging foxholes under fire.

What has all this economic activity created, all the money that we spent bought?  And how could so much of it just evaporate overnight?  People think about credit, but what about debt?  How many people think about the fact that most of the wealth that has been created in the last 20 years or so has been nothing more than numbers in computers, based upon the value of debt.  The more people owe you, the richer that you are.  People invest in debt, banks sell it, and nobody seems to want to pay it off.  What a wonderful concept; buy today what you cannot pay for until tomorrow, if you are lucky.

Did anyone figure in the effect of laying off millions of the highest paid consumers on the planet?  Is it really growth when you take jobs away from one group of people and give them to a different group?  Or is that just financial manipulation, to create wealth by cutting costs.  What happens when the cost that you cut is the buyer of your product?

Real wealth does not evaporate, it does not diminish in value, it is durable, and serves all the people.  Real wealth is roads, bridges, fiber optic cables, transmission lines.  How much real wealth has been created in the United States in the last 20 years?  And it is not creating new wealth to repair old roads, it is investing in what you already have.  So, we built a lot of buildings, but were they needed, or were they funding for a developer?

On every level, Americans have chosen to ignore the future, to resist real change, to accept that they were no better than anybody else.  Other people could ride trains and busses, we were going to drive.    So what if our new building doesn’t have any insulation.?  It is cheaper that way.  And the whole time, we have been insisting that everything is worth more.  Not because of any discernable reason, but just because we said so.

We have invested in trying to be wealthy enough to not have to work, not in making our futures better.  Now, we are paying for sitting on our butts.  We don’t create anything of value anymore, and we can’t even govern ourselves without borrowing money to do it.  Instead of spending money to develop the technologies needed to make a future possible, we have invested in moving production from America to some overseas country.  But we have not invested in giving Americans anything to do.  Normally, economic growth means that the leading countries improve their technology, and move from building one kind of product to one which is more complex, advanced, or somehow beyond the abilities of other producers.  Displacement happens as new industries replace old ones, and people have to learn new skills.

We veered off from advancing our technology, because it would have required a long-term investment, tying up our money for decades.  And we wanted to keep our technology to ourselves, so that no one else could use it against us.  In the 1960’s, during the administration of Richard Nixon, it was decided that the United States would not invest substantial resources into outer space.  The Apollo program would be cut, and no other manned exploration would be funded.  The military was going to handle space exploration, and only for the purpose of defense.

Since that time, the United States has spent more on cosmetics every year than has been spent on developing space manufacturing, mining, and processing.  Typical budgets for manned space exploration have amounted to a few brief missions every year, and nothing else.  The US would not have built a space station except because of pressure from its allies to contribute to one.

It is almost like we are committing suicide by starvation.  We give away all of our food, and do nothing to find more.  The world is fighting over a pie, each person wanting a bigger slice, and more people wanting slices all the time.  We need true growth, growth that results in wealth that will not evaporate.  The Earth is being used up, corrupted in our quest for wealth, while everything that we could possibly need exists somewhere in our Solar System.

Americans should be building space ships, working on space stations, or the Moon, doing work that produces tremendous value, so that they could bring home enough money to buy cars from Japan without having to borrow the money from China.  General Motors would be the worlds leading producer of launch vehicles, and Ford would be making deep space probes.  But we chose to be wealthy instead.

Scott P. Holman

2009/01/29

The view from debtor’s prison.

2010/01/18

Debt.  Credit.  Lenders and losers.  Somehow, the world economy has morphed from saving to buy to borrowing to buy.  Lending has been so lucrative that banks have made credit a normal way of doing business.  It wasn’t that long ago that state and local governments only borrowed money by selling bonds, companies sold stock to raise money, and individuals only borrowed from friends.  The one exception was the mortgage used to buy a home.

Partly as a result of banks desire to be able to loan out their money faster, we have seen the world economy severely damaged by excess credit.  Banks which wrote mortgages used to hold those loans themselves, having to wait until they were paid off before the money could be loaned out again.  Then, someone had the brilliant idea of having the banks sell the mortgages to another investor, so that the bank could then turn around and lend the money out again.

Back in the 1960’s, many consumers had used up their savings, and they began to stop spending on unnecessary things.  In order to keep consumption up, a new financial instrument was created:  the credit card.  At first only available to those with the ability to pay off the balance each month, credit cards gradually found their way into the wallets of nearly every American.  Paying off the balance each month was no longer necessary, and often discouraged, as the lenders made more money on revolving balances.

Corporations climbed on board the credit train when they found selling stock inadequate to provide short term liquidity, such as making payroll.  They even began lending money to each other for short periods of time, creating what is known as commercial paper.  State governments saw this, and decided that borrowing to cover expenses while waiting for tax receipts to come in was a sound practice.

In less than 50 years, borrowing had changed from a dirty word to the accepted way of life.  Credit was widely available, to almost anyone, for a fee.  Saving became old fashioned, and consumption was getting higher all the time.  Bankers even encouraged people to borrow against the equity that they had built up in their home, so that the bankers could make even more money.  Its citizens too broke to lend it money, the federal government turned to other nations to borrow the money used to pay for weapons, wars, and welfare.

Now, we are waiting for consumer spending to resume to dig the economy out of the hole we are in.  The government is borrowing nearly as much money as the country makes each year, trying to keep the wheels turning.  Home owners are walking away from mortgages which are for much more than the homes are worth.  Bankruptcies and bank failures are happening faster and faster.  But everyone wants to believe that things will get back to the way that they were.

No where do you hear respected economists and academics calling for the tightening of credit, or for learning to live without it.  Credit has become so fundamental to our economy that people can’t imagine a world without it.  We had better start, because credit is not going to be easy to get for a long time.  How can a bank loan out money when it doesn’t know how much it has?  Many banks are carrying packages of mortgages which, if put on the market today, are worth about 25 cents on the dollar.  Writing off the value of those collateralized debt obligations, as they are known, would wipe out the bank, so they are holding on to them.  In the mean time, the solvency of the bank is questionable.

As the tidal wave of foreclosures engulfs us, those packages of mortgages are going to lose even more value, making credit even tighter.  The federal government has to borrow money to pay the holders of Treasury bills and notes when those instruments come due, which means that it is insolvent, surviving on the good will of China.  Many of the states are facing running out of money, and not being able to borrow more.

Welcome to Debtor’s Prison.

Going down the drain.

2009/05/29

The way that we live, the processes that make our lives possible, the nature of the work that we do, how we school our children, all of these in the midst of upheaval.  We have discovered that we are using energy in ways that are foolish and unsustainable.  The very fabric of our society is being changed by forces far removed from our homes.

In order to keep things affordable in times of inflation, quality has been sacrificed over and over again.  Many homes today will not last as long as the mortgage taken out to have them built.  Cars have become complex machines which are usually wrecks by the time that they are paid for.  Easy credit has been the sole reason for the economic growth of the last decade or longer,  and easy credit has come to an end.  Wealth measured in numbers in computers is still disappering rapidly, while bridges and schools are still there.

Underground houses, high speed rail systems, education tailored to the individual, given to the individual at that person’s pace.  The ending of using drinking water to flush toilets with, the end of giant sewage treatment plants, the end of driving everywhere, the end of flying everywhere, the end of supertankers, the end of newspapers.

We have managed to avoid drastic change for so long that we have lost all control over change, and now we are likely to change drastically, chaotically.  Our culture, our very dietary habits, were altered profoundly by the Industrial Revolution.  Now we are dealing with the fallout of sacrificing the family to the factory.  In a culture where the term ‘murder-suicide’ has become common usage, we have to hope for some kind of change.