Thursday, July 16, 2009

washington's dilemma: this isn't a recession, it's a collapse

SeekingAlpha | Washington is bluffing that it will not bail out California, and every other state suffering from collapsed revenues and massive job losses. If cuts in police and schools don’t force DC off from its current position, then the math will. Because in many states the aggregate revenue losses and looming cuts to state payrolls will largely render the intended effects of federal stimulus as moot. Frankly, unless Washington prints money and bails out every state that needs capital, including California, federal power will decline amidst this severe economic recession, and the process of a soft American devolution will begin. If you think this idea is outrageous, then you’ve still not come to terms with a core reality of our current situation: the structure of this financial crisis is wholly different than any in our post-war era. This isn’t a recession. This is collapse.

In Recession vs. Collapse

The internal composition of the US economic and financial system when it hit 2007/8 was very different than in previous recessions, even the severe recession of 1980/82. It’s this internal composition that’s now determinative, to the outcome. The sawdust of debt, and the monetization of assets rather than the production of goods, continually came to define the internal composition of the system. The economy cannot, therefore, express the same kind of resilience it has done so often, since WW2.

This is the core problem of this collapse and why the prospect for recovery is dim. Americans can’t actually rebuild the savings that the banking system needs to escape from the current mess. Individually, Americans are trapped by debt and cannot spend. In The Seigniorage Curse, I explain that one of the primary mechanisms for the hollowing out of the American economy over many years was the dollar advantage, which at first was earned. And then, came to be un-earned. By the time the US reached the 21st century, our primary manufactured product was debt, and dollars. Is it any wonder that once that system collapsed, that we quickly gave up 100% of the phantom job growth that had been sitting on top of the debt bubble? The current level of employment in the United States has now published in March, this blog explained that in a normal recession existing savings are used to support government debt issuance and that those who remain employed increase their savings to also support government debt issuance. Neither phenomenon is at work today. Yes, the savings rate has soared in the US. But this has not resulted in any actual accrued savings. Because private sector debt came to define the internal structure of the US system, savings currently is little more than debt service. Also, bank purchases of US Treasuries are really just a result of the circularity of monetization. It’s just money from the FED being recycled into Treasuries. There is no privately driven growth of bank deposits, in the aggregate. Americans as a class are broke. What the savings rate more accurately measures is a collapse of consumer spending.returned to the levels of June 2000. Enough said.