By Paul Craig Roberts
In a recent column, “Can The World Survive Washington’s Hubris,” I promised to examine whether the US economy will collapse before Washington in its pursuit of world hegemony brings us into military confrontation with Russia and China. This is likely to be an ongoing subject on this site, so this column will not be the final word.
To corral China and Russia (and Iran) is a massive undertaking for a country that is financially busted. With wars and bankster bailouts, Bush and Obama have doubled the US national debt while failing to address the disintegration of the US economy and rising hardships of US citizens.
The charts below are courtesy of www.shadowstats.com
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in 2011 was only 1 million more than in 2002. As it takes about 150,000 new jobs each month to stay even with population growth, that leaves a decade long job deficit of 15 million jobs.
The US unemployment and inflation rates are far higher than reported. In previous columns I have explained, based on statistician John Williams’ work (shadowstats.com), the reasons that the government’s headline numbers are serious understatements. The headline (U3) unemployment rate of 8.2% counts no discouraged workers who have given up on finding a job. The government has a second unemployment rate (U6), seldom reported, which includes short-term discouraged workers. That rate is 15%. When the long-term discouraged workers are added in, the current US unemployment rate is 22%, a number closer to the unemployment rate of the Great Depression than to the unemployment rates of postwar recessions.
Currently, the substitution-based rate of inflation is about 2%. However, when inflation is measured as the actual cost of living, the rate of inflation is 5%.
The Misery Index is the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates. The level of the current Misery Index depends on whether the new rigged measures are used, which understate the misery, or the former methodology that accurately measures it.
Prior to the November 1980 election, the Misery Index hit 22%, which was one reason for Reagan’s victory over President Carter. Today if we use previous methodology, the Misery Index stands at 27%. But if we use the new rigged methodology, the Misery Index is 10%.
The understatement of inflation serves to boost Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is calculated in current dollars. To be able to determine whether GDP rose because of price rises or because of increases in real output, GDP is deflated by the CPI. The higher the inflation rate, the less the growth in real output and vice versa. When the substitution based methodology is used to measure inflation, the US economy experienced real growth in the 21st century except for the sharp dip during 2008-2010. However, if the cost-of-living based methodology is used, except for a short period during 2004, the US economy has experienced no real growth since 2000.
In the chart above,the lower measure (blue) of real GDP is deflated with the inflation methodology that measured cost-of-living. The higher GDP measure (red) deflates GDP with the new substitution based methodology.
The lack of employment and real GDP growth go together with the decline in real household median income. The growth in consumer debt substituted for the lack of income growth and kept the economy going until consumers exhausted their ability to take on more debt. With the consumer dead in the water, the outlook for economic recovery is poor.
The Fed’s debt monetization, or a drop in the exchange value of the dollar as other countries move away from its use to settle their balance of payments, could set off inflation that would take interest rates out of the Fed’s control. As interest rates rise, bond prices fall.
In other words, bonds are now the bubble that real estate, stocks, and derivatives were. When this bubble pops, Americans will take another big hit to their remaining wealth.
It makes no sense to invest in long-term bonds at negative interest rates when the federal government is piling up debt that the Federal Reserve is monetizing and when other countries are moving away from the flood of dollars. The potential for a rising rate of inflation is high from debt monetization and from a drop in the dollar’s exchange value. Yet, bond fund portfolio managers have to follow the herd into longer term maturities or see their performance relative to their peers drop to the bottom of the rankings.
Some individual investors and foreign central banks, anticipating the dollar’s loss of value, are accumulating gold and silver bullion. Realizing the danger to the dollar and its policy from the rapid rise in the price of bullion during 2011, the Federal Reserve has arranged offsetting action. When the demand for physical bullion drives up the price, short sales of bullion in the paper market are used to drive the price back down.
On July 4 the China Daily reported: “Japanese politicians and prominent academics from China and Japan urged Tokyo on Tuesday to abandon its outdated foreign policy of leaning on the West and accept China as a key partner as important as the United States. The Tokyo Consensus, a joint statement issued at the end of the Beijing-Tokyo Forum, also called on both countries to expand trade and promote a free-trade agreement for China, Japan and South Korea.”
This means that Japan is in play.
The Chinese government, more intelligent than Washington, is responding to Washington’s military threats by enticing away Washington’s two key Asian allies. As the Chinese economy is now as large as the US and on far firmer footing, and as Japan now has more trade with China than with the US, the enticement is appealing. Moreover, China is next door, and Washington is distant and drowning in its hubris.
A government, whose military was unable with the help of the UK to occupy Iraq after eight years and was forced to end the conflict by putting the “insurgents” on the US military payroll and to pay them to stop killing American troops, and a government whose military has been unable to subdue a few thousand lightly armed Taliban after 11 years, is over the top when it organizes war against Iran, Russia, and China.
The only prospect Washington has of prevailing in such an undertaking is first use of nuclear weapons, of catching its demonized opponents off guard by nuking them out of the blue. In other words, by the elimination of life on earth.
Is this Washington’s program revealed by the neoconservative warmonger, Bill Kristol, who had no shame to ask publicly: “What’s the good of nuclear weapons if you can’t use them?”
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments.