A Difficult but not Impossible Transition
There can be no denying the long history of greatness for America. Whether it be the election to its highest office of a leader who not only flung a long-shut door wide open, but ripped it off its hinges, or an American jetliner crew who safely crash lands a plane onto a frigid New York river, we are reminded of America's greatness every day.
The rock star Bono, lead singer of the Irish band U2, once remarked that an appeal to the greatness of America, more than anything else, gets Americans to stand up and listen; that the idea of greatness might be hardwired into America. The Nineteenth century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville added a qualification, when he wrote following an 1831 visit that "the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."
America's economic faults have been chronicled on our pages and others in great detail for many years. Ever since the generation that endured the great depression, there had been no subsequent era that had dispensed commensurate pain or hardship; instead, generations that followed rode a long wave of prosperity that many believed to be a birthright. If market psychology is a product of environment, then the relative calm over the years helped to soften people up, as it were, inspiring a false sense of security for investors -- both domestic and foreign -- of US assets.
Environments are not static but swing back and forth in waves that can last many years, hitting extremes on either end of the spectrum. The US hit a prosperity extreme -- if measured by stock and real estate values -- this past decade even though Americans' real wages have stagnated for years. Columnist Paul Craig Roberts and others like Lou Dobbs have shown repeatedly how the off shoring of American jobs to low cost foreign countries has contributed greatly to this, as it increased US unemployment and those with jobs were not demanding pay increases.
Consequently, the steadily rising costs for life's necessities, with no commensurate rise in real wages, meant the shortfall had to plugged by debt - the same debt that today is crippling the nation. A prosperity wave built on a foundation of debt can, as we have all learned, come crashing down at any time, as ever-increasing debt levels are simply unsustainable. Debt must be repaid, preferably by way of an income stream derived from production and other investments. Conversely, borrowing to consume provides no income stream, and in fact only strains existing ones, by increasing monthly service payments.
If free market forces provided opportunities for the manufacturing of products in China at one-tenth the cost of the US, those same forces were most certainly not evident in the foreign exchange markets. With that arbitrage legally available, however, profit-seeking enterprises, encouraged by the Wall Street champions of free-market principles, naturally looked to China and other low cost centers for the benefit of their shareholders.
The only problem is that these free-market cheerleaders acted like wolves in sheep's clothing. They need to shed the veil of hypocrisy and come clean. Rather than picking and choosing, they should embrace free market principles as a whole, and be just as adamant that exchange rates be free to adjust as necessary; if exchange rates were truly allowed to be set by the free market, it would undoubtedly slow if not reverse the off shoring trend that has so hurt the American worker (China should not be scapegoated in that respect, as the fixing of exchange rates to the US dollar is a much larger issue than most realize.)
The way forward is one where with the necessary changes, particularly in the foreign exchange market, investment in the US becomes attractive again, and jobs return, narrowing the trade deficit. This will also help reduce the budget deficit since fewer Americans would be looking to government for financial assistance. The size of government must also be cut, reducing government expenditures, which would eventually allow for tax rates to fall, spurring supply-side economic activity.
Tax rates that are currently very attractive, such as the 15% rate on qualified dividends, must be made permanent. This would encourage investment in America's finest companies, and provide income for retirees with a built in inflation hedge. This may also alleviate some of the pressure on government that is surely around the corner with respect to entitlement programs.
But what we are most likely to get is more of the same. Apparently we "reward" the teenager who crashed mom's car by giving him the keys to our Mercedes. More spending in search of a temporary stimulus, to be financed by additional debt or money printing, while maintaining the status quo, will only make matters worse in the long run. Akin to a punch to the face dislodging a pinched nerve of the neck, the pinched nerve probably returns, and you may have a broken nose to tend to as well.
It is our belief the economy will get worse in the short to intermediate term, and as such we must protect our purchasing power from the inevitable dollar decline that will be forced upon the market at some point. The way we do that is by owning gold and silver, the only real money that is no one else's liability. The framers of the US Constitution understood this all too well.
Finally, we have been accused of publishing commentary detrimental to the well being of the US. Let us be clear that there is no doubt in our mind that the American spirit and ingenuity that built this nation into a great nation will persevere and pull this nation out of its current travails. Getting from here to there won't be easy, however, and we should look to ways that won't prolong the pain. All we can do, along with others of like mind, is not be afraid to speak the truth as we believe it to be, in the hope the message reaches Washington D.C. and President Obama.