Posts Tagged ‘debt’

Debt is destroying America

2016/09/04

Debt is denying a whole generation of jobs, places to stay, and self-respect.  Debt is consuming the money supply, creating little liquidity in a bubble-like environment.  There is nothing to flip anymore, there are no safe investments, living off of your investments is just not going to work now, and retirement is a nightmare.

But we are all still the same people that we were ten, fifteen years ago, so what has changed?  Debt.  No matter how you look at it, we are all in debt, no matter what our supposed worth.  But it is all just numbers in machines, it is not anything real, tangible.  Debt is not a place to live, nor is it key to a good job.  Debt is what holds us to the grindstone, wearing away our humanity.

Debt is destroying the American economy, poisoning innovation, stifling education.  We should all be helping each other out, sharing what we have.  When I have something extra, or unused, or rusting away, someone else can use it, maybe even keep it, because I know that when I need one again, one will be there for me.

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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.

 

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?

The future by default?

2010/05/02

Attention is focused on Greece right now, as efforts to prevent the country from collapsing into bankruptcy rise to a crescendo.  Such a bankruptcy might bring about a cascade of additional implosions, if investors shun sovereign debt from Portugal, Spain, and Ireland.   Iceland is already in bankruptcy, the result of wheeling and dealing by two Icelandic banks.  The United States is running unprecedented deficits, which are only partly a result of the economic crisis.  The only country which seems to have its economic house in order is China, which has been financing the American economy for nearly 10 years.

Why is it so difficult for countries to live within their means?  How can governments expect to borrow money endlessly, without ever having to pay back the loans that keep them afloat?  Is it fear of losing power that drives officials to promise what cannot be afforded?  The consequences of continuing the path that we are on are growing steadily more dire, yet no one seems to be suggesting that we change our course.  World trade stands in jeopardy, because who will sell goods to a bankrupt country?

The people of Greece have been living an illusion, fostered by governments which were willing to extend every possible luxury to stay in power.  Civil service workers could not be fired, most workers received 14 months of pay every year, and retirement benefits exceeded the income made while working.  But Greece is only the tip of the iceberg.  Nearly every developed country coddles their people, sheltering them from the true costs of living.  Budget deficits have become standard operating procedure around the world, not just in the U.S.

Even amidst widespread unemployment, some people are gaining more wealth.  Are we all being hoodwinked so that a few can continue to rake in the dough?  It seems like it.  Consumer spending has been the engine that keeps the world economy growing, yet consumers have been borrowing to spend.  If consumption were to decline to sustainable levels, who would suffer the most?  The people who have to put up with a 10-year-old car, or the car companies?  If we were forced to buy shoes that could be repaired, instead of spending nearly a week’s wages on disposable shoes, wouldn’t we be better off?  Probably, but the industrialists who have been getting rich selling us shoes over and over again would not be.

Most people have not seen their income increase for nearly ten years, yet the wealthiest people have been getting wealthier the whole time.  Consumer debt is at unprecedented levels, while income growth is ground to a halt.  If taxes are raised enough to pay the costs of government, consumers would be unable to consume.  Instead of raising taxes, governments have resorted to borrowing to meet their costs, trying to keep consumption going.  But it cannot go on.  Consumption is going to decline, tax revenues will follow suit, and then governments will be forced to default on their debt.

We are all headed for the poorhouse, because some people have been getting rich while the rest of us are just scraping by.  Wages have not even come close to growing in proportion to productivity.  Instead of paying shareholders cash bonuses, corporations should be paying their workers wages that reflect the value of the work that they do.  Then consumers would have the money to pay higher taxes and still be able to buy new goods.  But greed has blinded the boards of corporations, and the wealth that the workers create goes to people who do nothing to help create it.

American workers are so productive that they could be paid full-time wages for working half days, allowing full employment.  But that would mean that the wealthy would not get wealthier as fast.  So, the workers are earning what they did when they were much less productive, and unemployment is widespread.  Workers who cannot work don’t buy things that they don’t desperately need, which means that consumption declines, and tax revenues diminish.

We could have avoided all of this pain, but doing so would have cut into the profits that a small number of individuals have enjoyed.  As a result, all of us, wealthy and poor, are going to suffer.  Maybe we can get it right next time.  If there is a next time.

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.

No cred!

2010/03/18

Imagine a world without credit.  If you want something, you have to pay cash for it, whether it be a dress, a television, a car, or a house.  As you might imagine, the pace of home sales would slow down somewhat.  Auto sales might take a hit, too.

Well, this is where we are headed.  The force of Greed has managed to screw up the credit system so badly that credit is about to disappear.  You see, you can make money by lending people money, and Greed has pushed that to the point where we borrow money to do everything.  Everything! States borrow money to make payroll until taxes come in.  Companies borrow money instead of selling stock.  Business people borrow money so that they can stock their shelves without having to pay for all the merchandise themselves.

This system was created by greedy people who wanted the everyday person to buy more stuff, from refrigerators to houses,  because they would be able to profit from the sales.  Credit became easier and easier to get, until a mere signature would secure a loan.  Greed got so intent on making money that it lost it all, because it kept lending the same dollars out over and over again, until somebody couldn’t pay them back.  All of a sudden, the people who had deposited their money in to some kind of investment, because the investments paid more than the interest on bank accounts would, those people watched their money disappear.

And money is still disappearing, as loans come due that cannot be paid.  The government is borrowing huge sums of money, to try to get people wealthy enough to spend again, but the people are too far in debt to be able to spend any money that is given them without defaulting.  Just before the economy fell in the toilet, a large number of companies decided that the cheap money swirling around everywhere was just too good of a thing to pass up on, so they borrowed a whole bunch of money.  Those loans are coming due in a couple of years, and the companies are not likely to be able to pay them back.

All of which means that you might as well pay off your credit card, cut it up, and learn to live without, so that the shock won’t be so bad when things really collapse.  Learn how to make things that you need, like clothing, furniture, food.  Put money into some kind of saving account, even though it doesn’t pay very much interest.  If the Federal Deposit Insurance Company cannot insure that your money is safe, than things are already in free fall.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that credit used to be very hard to get, generally only given when some kind of solid collateral could be held, such as a house.  Borrow money to buy a car?  Forget it, you might wreck the car the first week you own it.  Borrow money to go on vacation?  No way, you might not come back.  That was the way the world was, until Greed got in the act.

Because of Greed, we are going to go back to that kind of world again, it looks like.

Making money

2010/03/10

Your credit card company charges you for a late payment.  Your bank charges you for an overdraft.  A payday loan company charges you for borrowing money.  These are all examples of wealth creation.  The money that you are charged does not exist until the charge is made, and then it becomes numbers in computers.

This is the kind of wealth creation that the financial services sector performs.  This is the kind of wealth that evaporates overnight.  It used to be that banks made money by lending money that had been deposited with them to people who were going to build a company up, or to governments that were going to build bridges and roads.  That is how America grew into a large and wealthy nation.

But the pace of growth wasn’t enough to satisfy some greedy people.  They wanted to get rich faster.  So new methods of making money were developed, like bank fees, credit card charges, and payday loans.  Using these new practices, wealth was created at much faster rates.  But is it real wealth, or just an illusion.  The bank claims that you have the money it is charging you for the overdraft.  The credit card company believes that you will come up with the money to cover the late payment fee.  The payday loan company is certain to get your next paycheck.

But this money doesn’t actually exist until you earn it.  By calling debt real money, we have grown our economy tremendously in the last few decades.  However, we have not earned that money yet.  By claiming that the money I am owed makes me worth more, I can convince someone else to loan me money.  And so the velocity of money increases.  But what real value has been created?  What has been built, or paid for?

Nothing.  And that is why we are in such a bind right now.  Most of what is being called wealth is merely numbers in computers.  There is no bridge, or road, or building, or house, or airplane, or anything else, to back up the numbers in the computers.  It is a house of cards, a shell game.  We can claim that we are wealthy even when everything that we earn for the next year is already spoken for.

Building a better beast

2010/02/22

The United States economy is a sick puppy right now, reeling after over 1 trillion dollars evaporated.  The driving force of the economy in the past, consumer spending, has fallen drastically, as the middle class has been forced to live within its means.  Credit is almost impossible to get, and has become more expensive.  The declining value of homes has made the home equity loan a thing of the past.  Unemployment is scaring people into paying off credit cards, and building up savings.  Federal stimulus money has kept states from laying large numbers of employees, but the money is running out.

Maybe we ought to think about spending some of our money making the country more efficient.  This would reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources, as well as cutting the emissions of greenhouse gases.  Money would be freed up from energy costs, which could be used to increase spending.  Consider:  Many commercial buildings have no insulation.  That is right.  None.  The average home more than 20 years old is seriously lacking in insulation, and often leaks air copiously.

Putting people to work right now is difficult, because plans have to be drawn up and approved, bids taken, and contracts let.  But retrofitting homes and businesses could commence within weeks, if done properly.  Although President Obama talked about a program such as this a few months ago, little has been said regarding it recently.  Could it be that energy companies don’t want to see consumption reduced?  Could it be that Congress doesn’t like giving money to the average American, although they have provided plenty to the big banks and two of the car companies?

Perhaps we could couple improved efficiency with greater reliance on solar and wind power.  Low interest loans for solar panels and wind farms would probably increase the numbers in use considerably.  We are falling behind the rest of the world in the use of renewable energy, especially in the field of solar.  Building and installing solar panels would employ many people if we were to make a national push to utilize them.

Buses are a good way to save energy, and many parts of America have very few.  Building buses financed by federal loans to local transit operators would create employment in the parts of the country which have been hit so hard by the fall in auto sales.  People who ride buses save money which they can use to take their cars out for recreation, whereas people who drive to work often cannot afford Sunday drives.

There are ways to put people to work, right now, doing things that we would benefit from for years and years.  Some seem socialistic, but saving our society seems a worthy enterprise to me.  If we are going to keep borrowing money from China, at least we ought to do something worthwhile with it.

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.