The Perfect Economic Storm
Some may recall the epic sea adventure, The Perfect Storm, which found fame as a novel and later as a movie. The plot developed around a fishing boat captain and his five man crew. The crew of the Andrea Gail had struck upon some bad financial times as the sea refused to give up a profitable catch of fish. The skipper convinced his team that he could bring in the illusive bounty and they agreed to follow the unlucky captain on another expedition.
The captain brought his boat and crew far out into the ocean certain that he would find the treasure trove of fish. After a few failed attempts, he went further out to sea until he finally located and caught the mother load. The jubilation was palpable until fickle fate intervened via a broken ice machine. The commander was forced to choose between a safe route home which would result in the spoiling of his bonanza, and a more direct path through treacherous waters in which a known storm was brewing. The captain convinced his reluctant mates that he could safely deliver the ship, crew and catch to the home port via the precarious route. But, the storm worsened and a combination of meteorological events created the environment for the storm of the century. The end result was the death and destruction of the crew and the Andrea Gail. Nature claimed victory over the captain who was so obsessed with his own objectives that he failed to see the damage he would inflict on those who followed him. It is a story with a tragic, but meaningful ending. Tragic in that all who participated in the precarious plan are forever lost! Meaningful in the sense we can all learn the lesson of following those whose vision is clouded by factors we know are against our best interests. It is a message that serves as a warning to all Americans today!
Currently, there is massive perfect storm brewing in the United States. This tempest is far greater than that which caused the demise of the blinded fishing crew. At stake in our present encounter are the lives of hundreds of millions and the continuity of the good ship, America. We are entering dangerous seas which threaten to destroy us. This is not just a 100 year storm. Rather, it is a catastrophic squall that appears only once in a civilization and defies conventional remedy because it is a product of unchartered waters. The only similarity to the ill fated Andrea Gail is the assurances we receive from our leaders. Our leaders, like the obstinate sea captain, claim that all is well and we will be delivered to a safe harbor if we trust in their direction and approve of their decisions.
In perusing the news of the past month, the factors which play into this economic perfect storm become evident. The housing crisis continues to intensify as foreclosures, short sales and rising inventories attest to a failing market place. New revelations in the mortgage fiasco indicate large financial firms are threatened by a liquidity emergency even as the Federal Reserve pours hundreds of billions of dollars into the ailing companies in an effort to resuscitate them. In a single day, Bear Sterns, an 85 year old brokerage giant saw its stock fall from $70.00 to $2.00 despite a FED bailout of some 30 billion dollars. Prior to that Countrywide Mortgages, the nation’s largest lender was bought up by Bank of America to avoid a pending bankruptcy. No one knows or cares to comment as to how many other companies may be caught up in this fiscal crisis.
The stock market has been on a wild roller coaster ride as values rise and fall on the pronouncements of the Federal Reserve. In an effort to avoid a fiscal melt down in the United States, which threatened as a result of falling prices on foreign stock exchanges, the FED reduced a key interest rate 2 times in 8 days. The reprieve was short lived as the effects of the lowered interest rates failed to stop an eventual decline of the United States stock markets. Soon after, the foreign markets reacted with more declines, and the FED intervened with still lower interest rates. Again, the stock markets of the world reacted with increasing stock prices which were ultimately discounted by a skeptical business community. Later, the FED committed to lower rates and/or to print money to whatever extent might be required for the continued stability of America’s financial system. To date, the FED actions have been successful in averting a financial Armageddon, but it is important to understand the relatively short term effects of the new money and the reduced interest rates. It is somewhat disconcerting to note that the ability of the Fed to influence economic conditions is clearly diminishing.
And if all this is not sufficient to stoke your fires, let me mention the unmentionable. The government is not talking about it and the FED is blatantly ignoring it, but you and I know of the devastating toll it is taking on our household budgets. The unspoken malady is none other than inflation. Gas prices are rising rapidly, along with food, clothing, energy and something called commodities. Commodities are the base resources from which other products are manufactured. Crude oil, grains, livestock products and many base metals are experiencing sharp price increases. This is very scary as these commodities represent the benchmark for the future prices of just about all household goods. In other words, future inflation is assured as a result of the increases in commodity prices. I know you’ve heard enough, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the future inflationary implications of the Fed’s current monetary policy. Be aware that you can not continue to exponentially increase the money supply without ultimately introducing the inflationary pressures that come from overproducing dollars. In this environment, the prospect of hyperinflation becomes a very real possibility.
If you are not in a revolutionary frenzy by now, then this one should set you off! The world community is losing its faith and commitment in the American dollar. It seems as the FED produces more dollars, the relative value of existing dollars decline. The world reacts by devaluing the dollar thereby making American imports more expensive. One might think that this would be good for American producers who would fill the void, but they would be sadly disappointed. It seems our government and corporate businesses have done such a great job of de-industrializing America that we no longer have the capability to meet the needs of our own country. We are no longer self sufficient as we are dependent on foreigners for our clothes, our shoes our household goods, our oil and oh yes, for the dollars that pay for our national debt. Soon, we may have to add the first amendment to our Declaration of Independence so as we can properly identify the foreign countries that make our existence possible!
As all this is happening, our leaders continue to insist that the fundamentals of our economy are solid. Our eloquent President dismisses our current fiscal problems as “a little rough patch”. But take heart, his discerning vision spotted the problem early and just sit tight until your $600.00 cure all arrives. This dog bone is billed by our great leader as the panacea for all things gone wrong in our economy.
By now, you must be sick of all this. You are either really turned on or completely turned off. If the switch is turned on, you are now obligated to do something about it. Get further educated on the problems, and when you are comfortable, take action to reverse the negative trends before it is too late. We can no longer afford the luxury of complacency. If you are turned off or consider this information as a downer, cast your eyes to the sea, rent a boat and join the crew of the Andrea Gail at the bottom of the Atlantic. Your fate is that of the devoted, benign and confused follower who refuses to act in your own self interest.
This article is a brief summary of many of the issues that are making America an impotent force in the world. My novel, “The Road to the Third World” offers a more detailed expression of America’s fragile existence. The book is fictitious, but the plots and characters bring to life the potential for calamity if we continue to ignore the evident signs of decline!