Thursday, 21 January 2010

Locality and the Coming Crash

Whoever controls the currency, controls the people.

Therefore Regional Currencies return POWER to the people.

The only real revolutions begin when a nation reclaims control over its own currency and devolves power down to local people, so as to ensure forever the ending of the dominion of banks and bankers, corporations and politicians.


How Can Localities Cope if the Dollar Crashes?

A “run on the dollar,” or any currency, for that matter, takes place when the currency is losing its value. This happens when a country’s debt becomes so great that there is danger of a major default–that is, large scale or even national bankruptcy. At that point, people whose wealth is in that currency, or in relatively liquid assets denominated in the currency, try to get rid of them as fast as they can. Today, that includes foreign countries like China or Russia that are holding large quantities of U.S. government bonds.

The U.S. currently is at risk. We see it in personal and business bankruptcies and foreclosures. One result can be a high rate of inflation in certain products like food or gasoline, even while asset prices, as with homes and stocks, are going down. The question is now whether the “recovery” that is underway can be sustained or will there be another crash like there was in late 2008 to early 2009.

Forecasters are projecting this recovery to last until June 2010 but are foreseeing slippage at that point. Investors at this time are still putting money into the stock market and getting out of dollars. By June, the U.S. government had better come up with a strategy for real economic growth–which means jobs–or we will likely see the “double-dip” recession many have predicted. Personally I see no way growth can be sustained unless the national debt burden shrinks. This can only be done through an orderly process of debt forgiveness, a resurgence of economic production, or a default that could be catastrophic.

Is there any way people and localities can protect themselves? The best way, in my opinion, is to put our resources, including our time and labor, into producing something of value in the real physical economy. Since most people’s largest asset is their homes, home maintenance and repair might work. It won’t make you rich, but it could put food on the table.

Speaking of food, growing it is another option. In many locations, there is a greater demand for locally-produced food than there are producers to meet that demand. In a couple of months it will be time to start planting this year’s garden. People could get together as a community and make plans for gardens big enough to sell the surplus at local outdoor markets. Buying and selling products at the local level can also become an economic engine to fuel the creation of a local currency.

A strategy of local food production can also address the problem that the era of cheap food in the U.S. is coming to an end. This is happening partly because a large portion of food prices consists of the cost of the fossil fuels used in growing, harvesting, and transporting the food to market. Gasoline prices are on the rise again. This will take food prices upward as well.

Local farming, by contrast, places food production close to the end consumer. Personal health also benefits from higher quality food and from getting outdoors and becoming more physically active.

As the national economy gets worse, it’s time for people to roll up their sleeves and get to work doing for themselves what big finance, big oil, and big government can no longer do.


Local Currencies, Not Washington Post Platitudes, the Key to Economic Recovery

Steven Pearlstein, business columnist for the Washington Post, published a column on January 6 entitled, “Recession Over? Not Unless We Make a Major Shift.” The problem is that the “major shift” Pearlstein writes about won’t solve the problem even if it takes place.

So is the recession ending? The professional cheerleaders from Wall Street think so, now that the Dow-Jones has surged past 10,500. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is also cautiously optimistic as the Fed begins to dismantle some of the emergency bailout programs it had implemented to help save the financial system from total collapse after the meltdown of 2008.

How did the apparent turnaround come to pass? Pearlstein notes: “My best guess is that the current upswings in economic output, confidence and financial asset prices are largely a reflection of the extraordinary fiscal and monetary juice provided by Treasury and the Federal Reserve, along with the natural rebound that occurs after a collapse in consumer and business spending like that which occurred in the first half of 2009.”

There is in fact a consensus among commentators that it’s been government money that has made the difference. But the government money has all come from borrowing. It’s why the national debt rose from about $9.5 trillion to almost $12 trillion in a little more than a year. Interest on the debt now approaches $400 billion a year.

But the debt can’t continue growing at such a rate. President Barack Obama has already said that with the emergency behind us the federal deficit must start to come down. The reason Congress is about to pass such a terribly flawed health care bill is that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will reduce federal health care costs by forcing millions of uninsured people into the private insurance system, cutting back on Medicare, and imposing a five percent tax surcharge on the wealthy.

So what is the economic engine that will keep the economy on track? Pearlstein dismisses all four of the most likely possibilities.

He says that consumer spending, with unemployment staying high, will not come back, writing, “It’s hard to see how American consumers can again become the engines of the U.S. or global economies.”

On more government spending, he says, “that’s also hard to imagine. State and local governments, in fact, are still cutting back spending in response to falling tax revenue, and there’s no political consensus for running up bigger federal deficits than we are running now.”

Another possible source of growth is new investment, but the economy is already built to overcapacity in many sectors, “including excess hotel rooms, airplanes, office buildings, shopping malls, cargo ships, aluminum smelters and the like.” Regarding another housing boom, forget it. Pearlstein writes, “…with 5 million vacant apartments and another wave of home foreclosures on the horizon, don’t count on the housing sector to lead the way out of this recession.”

Finally, there is trade. But even though the U.S. trade deficit has come down, its persistence “reflects a fundamental reality not likely to change anytime soon: We no longer produce much of what we like to consume, and cannot make up the difference with exports because of trade barriers and an overvalued currency.”

So what is left?

Here Pearlstein returns to a focus on investment by noting that American consumers have started to save again and that during the downturn businesses saved money by living with aging production equipment, physical plant, and computer systems. He comes out in favor of tax breaks for business to encourage investment, along with new government expenditures for infrastructure such as “basic research, clean-energy development and expanded public higher education.” These things, he says, will create new jobs which in turn should lead to more consumer purchasing power.

The trouble is, Pearlstein already dismissed the investment and public expenditure alternatives earlier in his analysis as being insufficient. More government debt could also lead to high levels of inflation and further devaluation of the dollar. Inflation caused by government and central bank “printing of money” kills enterprise at every level.

Pearlstein fails even to mention the severe constriction of bank lending to businesses that has made conditions much worse for the small business sector where half of all start-ups already fail within a year. Business giants can take refuge in their cash reserves, but even they cannot grow if consumers can’t buy more of their products.

Pearlstein’s prescriptions are mainly platitudes. Let’s be frank: without small business and the revitalization of local and regional economies, a real recovery cannot take place, and an unemployment rate that has terrorized the middle class with loss of jobs, incomes, savings, and health care cannot be overcome.

What is the answer then? It’s one that Pearlstein and the Washington Post, being in the mainstream of economic commentary, dare not mention: it’s local currency systems that alone can fill the gap left by the collapse of public finance due to debt and the failure of the banking system to function at all levels of the economy and not just for the benefit of the super-rich global capitalists.

If the federal government announced that it would begin to accept local currencies in payment of taxes, and state and local governments did the same, we would see an economic miracle that would astound the world.


Nation-Building Should Begin At Home

I have been writing for the last two years or so that the strategy of the Federal Reserve has been to engineer a “soft landing” from the horrendous financial bubbles that were created during the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush. Since President Obama came to power in January 2009, his administration has been partners with the Federal Reserve in trying to do this.

It’s nonsense for anyone to say that the crash of 2008 had not been foreseen. A number of analysts, myself included, were predicting a crash by mid-2007. Actually, it was apparent that a serious decline would take place by the end of 2005 when the U.S. economy was still dependent on housing for half its growth over a year after the Federal Reserve had begun to raise interest rates. By early 2008 the economy was officially in a recession, though I actually dated it to December 2006 when the money supply measured by M1 became stagnant. That meant that consumer spending wasn’t even keeping up with inflation.

Now, over the last year, the recession has begun to bottom out due to the huge quantities of credit injected by the Federal Reserve into the failed banking system and by the relatively undersized economic stimulus asked for by President Obama and approved by Congress. A “recovery” has been declared, with stock prices making up for about half their previous losses, even though the official (and understated) unemployment rate is not likely to fall below 9.5-10 percent for the foreseeable future.

The current uptick has been projected by some analysts to continue through May-June 2010, when we will be in danger of another downturn that could be quite serious. Obviously the Democrats will be doing what they can to bolster confidence, at least until the 2010 Congressional elections.

The Republicans, with the victory of their candidate Scott Brown in the race for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts, are jubilant, even though they have absolutely nothing to offer as an alternative. How soon we forget that it was Republican policies, starting with Reaganomics and ending with the George W. Bush catastrophe, that has been the prelude to where we are today.

The prognosis for the U.S. economy is dim. From a larger perspective, we are at the end of the era of Keynesian economics, when the government thought all it had to do was run up more debt to stimulate the economy. When you add to that a generation of outsourcing of manufacturing jobs abroad, completely irresponsible and out-of-control behavior by the financial industry, and the cancerous growth of the military-intelligence-industrial complex and their pet wars, you have all the signs of an empire in precipitous decline.

For those who are habitually against everything the government does, I’d like to say that there are actually a few caring and intelligent people in authority these days who don’t want to see the total collapse of the U.S. as a nation, an economy, and a society. The U.S. remains the world’s largest consumer economy and the dollar the predominant currency. But the rest of the world has caught up. The Anglo-American Empire is seeing the sunset, and the choice now to be made is whether it will end peacefully or in a bang.

We can all hope for a peaceable conclusion, though it will take patience and hard work for the U.S. even to become a functioning economy on the same level as the rest of the world’s developed nations. So we can hope that the “soft landing” will work. But we still have a gigantic debt load to deal with, amounting to $60 trillion from all sources–business, government, and consumer.

We also have a gutted manufacturing sector, the huge overhead of a bloated financial industry (and their obscene bonuses), bankrupt governments at all levels, and way too many people with no real work to do like lawyers, health insurance executives, national security analysts, financial and educational bureaucrats, etc.

The short and simple answer is that we have to rebuild our economy, and our lives, from the bottom-up. We have to relearn how to do manual work like what we have mainly been asking immigrants to do for the last couple of decades. We should rebuild our local farming sector and get rid of bloated monstrosities like Monsanto. We should launch a major assault on the automobile culture and begin to revitalize cities and towns so that people can bike or walk to work or take public transportation.

It will not be easy to do these things. It may not even be possible. We have forgotten how to work because we have wanted our money to “work for us.” But that money, which only ever existed on paper, is gone. Our population is aging and not too healthy, making care of the sick and dying the only growth industry. And the young people who come out of our schools have few practical skills with which to earn a living. This must change too.

And what of investment capital? Loans are harder than ever to get. The small business sector, which could be an economic engine, is in dismal shape with lack of credit, high costs, and weakened markets for their products. Half of all new small businesses fail within one to two years of start-up.

Some say that a nation armed to the teeth and under this much pressure is likely to start a really big war out of frustration and not knowing what else to do. In other words, roll the dice. But World War II ended a long time ago. Since then, except for Vietnam, we have had our way bullying small nations. But that era has ended too. We won’t be able to do to China, Russia, and India what we did to Iraq and are trying to do to Afghanistan.

World War III would be a really bad choice. What we should do instead is take a positive attitude and sit down together and figure out ways to work our way out of this mess. But it will take a heap of humility, leadership, and willingness to face the pain of starting over again. But it could also be an adventure. After all, nation-building should begin at home.

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Anonymous said...

Interesting and thought / action provoking article

Interesting co-incidence that I have been thinking along the line of local food production , co-operation and sharing and sale with ideas and may be setting up up my own business and offering initiatives for existing local / national small holders and allotments .. and setting up a local market for the excess produce as well as sharing resources and abilities


''People could get together as a community and make plans for gardens big enough to sell the surplus at local outdoor markets. Buying and selling products at the local level can also become an economic engine to fuel the creation of a local currency.''

Mark Herpel said...

Local currency, as in Berkshares or theplenty (NC) compliment and work alongside the national currency. The 'community currencies' don't replace the dollar and a crash is not required before local money can bring back some measure of independence and economic growth to a region. Start keeping your local dollar in the local area...start your own local currency system. This month in Community Currency Magazine we will provide readers with tons of 'how to' material, case studies and more. Learn how easy it is to get started.


King of the Paupers said...

"Whoever controls the currency, controls the people. Therefore Regional Currencies return POWER to the people."
Jct: A global UNILETS time-based currency would return POWER to the people everywhere.

Adrian said...

I wonder if local farmers could organise shoots, sell or give the produce, pigeon, rabbits, ducks, canada goose etc to local butchers.
Along with any Veg the farmer or the locals produce.
These could be made up into casseroles and served in local pubs in slow cookers.
Thus helping bring trade into local pubs.
The one factor that needs taking into consideration though is the fact that the economic downturn and the attack on pubs is all by design.
If a policy is adopted that starts to reverse this downturn, the those who instigated the down turn will put barriers in the way.
Health & Safety on shoots or on the meat for example.

The purpose of the down turn is to bring us to our knees so that the state has total power over our lives.
This is why the Soviets killed off their farmers, they produced food so were independant of the state.
Communism is about ABSOLUTE Control of people using water, food, fuel, money, work.
They've destroyed our fishing, done a good job on our farming.
These are all good ideas but they intend to bring us to our knees.
Anything which counters that will in turn be countered by some new regulation.