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Commentary on The Capital Markets
2015-07-07 06:00 by Karl Denninger
in Monetary , 1481 references
 

I have often commented about innumeracy among the American people, but nowhere do I find it more-distressing than among those who are of sound mind and reasonable (or better) education.

There really isn't any point in having any sort of debate on government reform, monetary reform or anything of the sort with those who deny arithmetic.  It is a complete waste of time to discuss that which cannot work and if your answers do not comport with arithmetic they cannot work.

When it comes to government spending it's quite simple: Government cannot spend, in nominal dollars, more than it taxes.  It does not matter one bit whether the money that government is using is theirs (that is, they're a "currency issuer") or whether the money is issued as debt or by pure fiat -- that is, debt-free.

The reason is as I've put forward for years now -- pretty much since I started writing this column, and which I spent a lot of ink on in LeverageTwo compound (exponential) functions will always diverge from one another.  If the smaller, that is the component of the larger, is growing faster than the whole it will eventually consume the entirety.

There are no exceptions to this, ever, because this is a fact of arithmetic just as 2 + 2 = 4.

Since a sub-part (e.g. government) can never exceed the whole (the entire GDP of the nation) yet the progression of growth of government spending that exceeds that of output (both in nominal terms) must inevitably do so there is no way such a path can succeed.

Ever.

Every single person who claims to have a high-school diploma knows this because you all learned it in school.

Our Congress refuses to face this -- both parties, not just one.  I have been told that deficit spending will not be stopped -- by Republican leaders, back in 2011 during the "debt ceiling" talks.

Since July 1st of 2011 to March 31st of this year total federal debt has increased by 26.6%.

Since July 1st of 2011 to March 31st of this year GDP has increased by 14.4%.

Federal Debt is increasing at a rate approximately twice that of economic output and this is beginning two years after the end of the "Great Recession"!

It is mathematically impossible to continue doing this; continuation of this policy will fiscally destroy the nation with mathematical certainty.

Yet despite this fact, and that you cannot argue with arithmetic, neither political party will stop it.

It does not matter whether you issue the currency as "debt" or not.  If you "print" the money then the destruction in real purchasing power happens just as it does if you issue as debt-backed currency.  This impairs economic growth in exactly the same way.

There is, in fact, a greater push-back in the form of compounding interest in that said interest also consumes more and more of your funds if you issue debt-backed currency.  It can be argued that this is a positive in that it (should) act as an inhibitor of bad government behavior, even though we have seen that it is entirely ineffective in the present tense.

However, if the government does not deficit spend, that is, if it does not take on debt then there is no impact on government sustainability irrespective of the monetary form.

There are plenty of reasons to like debt-free currency.  Philosophically if someone is going to get to the benefit of currency issuance it should be we the people through the government, not private banks.

But -- and this is key -- that debate is utterly immaterial until and unless deficit spending ceases and advancing it as an "answer" to debt-laden nations who are and continue to deficit spend is utter nonsense.  

Such debate on monetary form is irrelevant here, it is irrelevant in Greece, it is irrelevant everywhere that deficit spending (whether formally or simply through the expansion of debt) is taking place because if you do not stop advancing government spending in excess of economic output expansion your nation and its economic system are mathematically certain to fail.

America has one advantage over Greece and most of the rest of the EU: We have a piece of our federal, state and local government budgets we can whack off without destroying our economy.  We need only enforce existing laws. The answer is found in putting an end to medically-related monopolies and restraint of trade and were we to do it we'd be able to remove roughly $800 billion a year from federal spending alone.

The problem is that we have to take that step and stop the deficit spending now -- while we still can.

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... you're likely to either be eating out of a dumpster in your old age or be (literally) eaten.

If you currently have counted more than 65 revolutions around the sun in your life then you may avoid this, but only through the most-macabre of means: you'll die of something else first.

Let me explain: If you're between 40 - 65 you have somewhere between 20 and 45 years remaining on this planet, statistically speaking.  Oh sure, some of you will do better, some worse, but those are the numbers.

This means you must manage at least 20 years without things going to hell if you're on the older end, and 45 years if you're on the younger.  What are the odds?

Well, the US Government (backed by the Fed) in what has been and continues to be described as a "recovery" destroyed about 6.3% of the value of the currency last year alone.  That is the value of every dollar that exists in currency and credit (that's a stunning $59 trillion dollars folks!) was impaired by 6.3%.

To put this in perspective and real dollar terms that is $3.7 trillion dollars of value destruction or approximately every penny the federal government spent.

Looked at another way the Federal Government emitted $1.08 trillion to cause that currency destruction but the reality of arithmetic turned the harm done from $1.08 trillion to $3.7 trillion, a multiplication of 3.43x!

Now let's look out 20 years.  Let's presume that this year, which the CBO and other policy people say will in time be considered a good year, is equaled every year for the next 20.  That is, we have no more bad years (of which the CBO says we will have many, starting in another 2 or 3 and continuing thereon forever!)

I'm being very optimistic in this projection, in other words.

That $59 trillion is going to have a real value of $17.3 trillion in today's dollars 20 years from now; it will have had roughly 70% of its real value literally burned to ash.

With the remaining value we will try to pay Social Security and Medicare benefits, just to name two, without which about half of the population is literally without funds -- or medical care.

Do I need to tell you how much is left in 45 years?  Ok, I will: $3.78 trillion.

Yeah.

If you want to know why the American consumer (that is, the common man) has watched everything go "poof" in front of them since roughly 1980, this is the reason.  Contrary to the protests raised by various people in government that "we're not really in deficit trouble" and similar nonsense this is the arithmetic that cannot be evaded; math isn't a topic of debate, it just is.

Will I be ok when this happens personally?  Maybe.  But if not that's all right; I had a pretty decent run, and if the reality of the situation is that between my attempts over the last number of years to get people to wake the **** up and put a stop to this crap fail and I also fail to find a way to remain in reasonable comfort as my time on this planet (probably another 35 years, more or less) draws to a close I have no quarrel with the fact that I've had a good run and due to that failure to change trajectory my time has expired.

How do you feel about this?  More the point, whether you're rich, poor or somewhere in the middle unless you're ridiculously rich (as in, "have billions") having six percent of your wealth today in real terms left 45 years out means you will be eating out of a dumpster and living under a freeway overpass -- which will likely be crumbling around you in a vista something akin to "Fury Road"!

Oh, I know, you'll call me a "downer" and say that "we've always found a way", "technology will save us" or "the markets will go up monstrously and thus you'll outrun it."

Uh huh.  The markets have not outrun it from 1980 to today.  They have papered over it with more and more debt, but eventually that debt has to be paid and in the meantime it has to be serviced.  That servicing cost eats more and more of the productive output of society until it exceeds income at which point all of that hidden value destruction is revealed.

2000 and 2007 were a small piece of the overall economy and market detonating in this fashion.

Small!

Yeah, I know, housing was a big deal.  No argument.  It was much larger than the tech wreck as a percentage of the economy.

But as a percentage of the whole neither was all that large.  Fixed residential investment in 2007, that is housing, the year before it all went to hell totaled $688 billion out of $14.478 billion in GDP or 4.8% of the total.

Got that folks?  Less than 5% of the entire economy blew up everything, threatened to destroy the entire US economy and every large bank (according to Bernanke, Paulson .et.al.), caused the S&P 500 collapsing from 1576 to 660 (a loss of about 60%) and was only "arrested" by a literal doubling of federal debt and allowing banks to lie about the value of what they held, a lie that continues today.

Today, one dollar in five, or four times that much in percentage terms is spent on health care throughout the United States in a monopolist, rigged system that is more unstable by several orders of magnitude and more dependent on federal intervention and tampering with the value of our currency and credit than the housing market was!  The solution to said problem is right in front of us yet nobody will even discuss it at the political level, say much less introduce a bill.  State governments, for their part, will (if pressed) tell you there is literally no agency that does or will take up even blatant behavior that ought to be considered a criminal violation of consumer protection statutes if it occurred in the medical sector.

Medicine isn't the only place this problem exists, but it's the most-critical to resolve simply due to its size as a percentage of the economy.

I don't know how much time we have before ordinary people -- or for that matter just traders -- figure this out at a critical mass level.  I have no idea if it will come before or after the majority of the nation is scavenging dumpsters for something to eat.

But I do know the math tells me a meltdown at a scale four to five times greater than any we've seen in this nation's economic history, including 1929 and 2008, is inevitable unless we stop this and with every day that passes the amount of accumulated damage that there is no way to evade grows at an ever-increasing, indeed exponential, rate.

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Gee, yet no solutions.....

Billionaire investor Stan Druckenmiller said an aging population will present a “massive, massive problem” for the U.S. in 15 years.

“The young people are not going to be talking about cutting back,” Druckenmiller said Wednesday night in New York at an event hosted by Addepar, a technology company that provides software to financial advisers, fund managers and family offices. “There will be nothing to cut back.”

Druckenmiller, 61, has argued for several years that the mushrooming costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will bankrupt the nation’s youth and eventually result in a crisis worse than the financial meltdown of 2008. The government will have to reduce payments to the elderly, he said at the event.

Nope.

How do you do that when the elderly can outvote the younger people?

Further, will you stop including Social Security in this description of the problem?  It's not the problem, and that Stan, like so many others, continue to include it tells me that something is very wrong with what is being propounded -- probably that he knows damn well where the problem is and thus how to address it but doesn't want to put that on the table.

It's really not complicated folks: Medicare and Medicaid are the problem, all of it.

Let's take the numbers right out of the MTS for last fiscal year.

Medicare tax receipts, last fiscal year and all-in, were $224 billion.  That's it.  Medicaid received zero since there's no tax associated with it.

But between Medicare and Medicaid last year $1,187 BILLION was spent, resulting in a deficit between spending and tax receipts of nearly a trillion dollars.  In fact last fiscal year the US Federal Debt increased by $1,085 billion which means that essentially all of the actual deficit was due to this disparity.

You got that folks?  The entire reason that we have a budget deficit -- all of it -- is that we are spending $963 billion more than we take in through taxes on Medicare and Medicaid.

THE ENTIRE PROBLEM LIES THERE, ALL OF IT.

Now to be fair, the Social Security system ran a $150 billion deficit last fiscal year too.  But $150 billion is chump change compared against $960 billion, and the latter is growing in payments far faster than receipts.

If you think you can effectively double the tax rate paid for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (that, I remind you, would mean that your actual tax rate for these programs would be 30% from dollar #1 for all wage dollars up to the FICA limit and then 15% for every dollar thereafter!) you're nuts.  That sort of tax increase would literally drive anyone in the middle income brackets and below into the poorhouse; it would be a doubling of the actual effective tax rate on those not making enough to pay federal income tax net of deductions and credits, for example, and would be a monstrous (30% or more) effective tax rate increase even on those with a $100,000 gross income!

That's simply not plausible to implement -- period.

Nor can you CUT Medicare and Medicaid expenditures by 80% (which you'd have to) except by getting rid of the need for both programs for everyone except those in abject poverty.

This means there's only one way to solve the problem: 

You must eliminate the need for Medicare and Medicaid for everyone that is not abjectly poor.

So how would you go about doing that?

What if you knew that scorpion antivenom that costs $30,000 a vial in Phoenix was $100 a vial in Mexico where it is made, just a few hundred miles south?  It is.

What if you knew that Sovaldi, the cure for Hepatitis C that costs nearly $90,000 for a course of treatment in the United States has a cost of approximately $1,000 in India and Bangladesh?  It does.

What if you knew that if you went to either Mexico or Bangladesh and bought 100 courses of treatment of either drug and brought it back into the United States to sell at a 100% mark-up, an act that (if replicated) would not only make you a nice profit but also instantly force down the price in the United States down to something reasonable, you would have your lawfully-purchased courses of treatment confiscated and you would almost-certainly be charged with a crime and imprisoned?  That's exactly what would happen.

What if you knew that an MRI that is often billed out at $3,000 in the United States can be purchased for cash for about $200, including the reading of the results by a qualified MD, in Japan?  This means that it is actually cost-effective for you to get on a plane, fly to Japan, have the test done and then fly back home as opposed to having it done at the MRI place around the corner! That too is true.

What if you knew that surgeries performed in an open competitive market were often available, even here in the United States, for 20% -- that is one-fifth -- of the price charged in other places just a few miles away?  Oklahoma Surgery Center anyone?

What if you knew that people are routinely billed hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a "consultation" that consists of a doctor who you never met and had not consented to treating you sticking his head in your hospital room and saying "Hello!"?  This happens literally every single day in hospitals across this country.

What if you knew that people often cannot get a quote on a procedure before it is performed and even if they do hospitals and other medical centers will frequently bill for other things without consent, even when it could have been provided, and then demand payment?  Such a practice in virtually any other business, such as auto repair, air conditioning and heating work and similar is a criminal act under state consumer protection laws, incidentally.  That happens literally every single day in medical centers and hospitals as well.

What if you knew that people were being billed for procedures that never took place in hospitals, such as being billed for a "trauma team activation" when no life-critical trauma occurred and in fact no such activation or care was provided? Such an act in other businesses, such as billing you to replace an alternator in your car that wasn't actually replaced is and is prosecuted as a crimeThis has been documented to happen as well.

What if you knew that common off-patent medicines are often "reformulated" in their inactive ingredients (that is, the ones that don't treat the condition) and then the former product discontinued, sometimes under government pressure, resulting in cost increases of 200, 300, or even 500% and the disappearance of inexpensive OTC alternatives?  This happens all the time with Albuterol being one such particularly-outrageous example; Primatine Mist, the OTC alternative, was forced off the market and the price of the prescription alternative roughly tripled.

What if, in short, you knew that medical care and so-called "health insurance" in this country is effectively a cartel operation that, in virtually any other industry, would be considered racketeering and prosecuted with thousands of people going straight to prison, firms being broken up or closed and those gouged having their funds returned?

Well, there's a damn good argument that this industry is chock-full of exactly that sort of behavior by virtually everyone in it!

Now let's look at what has happened not in gross dollar terms but in terms of GDP.  Health care has gone from a low single-digit percentage of the economy (about 3-4%) to roughly 19% today.

We have a $17 trillion economy and of that $3.23 trillion, roughly, is health care, $1.2 trillion of that spending is by the government and virtually all of it spent in deficit by devaluation of everyone's purchasing power amounting to roughly 6% per year, compounded!

If we broke up those cartels and both Health Care and Health Insurance were returned to being a competitive market the share of the economy would shrink from $3.23 trillion to about $640 billion a year.

Now let's think this one through -- there are 330 million people, roughly, in the nation today.  At $640 billion total per-person expense on medical care would drop to approximately $2,000 per-person from the $10,000 per-person spent today.

Nearly all people can afford $2,000 per year; if the threshold for "affordability" is 10% of your income all-in, anyone who makes $20,000 a year or more could afford it where right now you need to make $100,000 to reach that threshold.

Further, with even the cost of catastrophic events dropping by 80% you would be able to buy catastrophic insurance for the few instances where you can't afford the out-of-pocket for a small amount of money -- and that comes out of this $2,000 per-person cost!  In other words it would be about as expensive as a basic automobile liability policy to have catastrophic health insurance -- about $75/month.

The screamfest about things like "birth control" are an intentional fraud by those advancing such arguments; you can buy, for cash, birth control pills for under 50 cents a day.  In many cases for drugs like this, along with common antibiotics, the co-pay is higher than the cash price for generics!

Resolving this situation would effectively allow the removal of Medicare and Medicaid from the federal budget even though it would not actually go away.  It would instead be limited in accessibility to those who are under the poverty line and between that restriction and cost reductions it would fall in expense by about 90% in the Federal Budget.

Simply restoring The Rule of Law to the medical and insurance industry  instantly and permanently ends the federal deficit and in doing so would result in a roughly 6% improvement in every citizens' purchasing power every single year thereafter, compoundedbecause the purchasing power destruction that inevitably and immediately is caused by deficit spending disappears.

That benefit goes to everyone, rich and poor alike and as a consequence will massively benefit the economy as a whole over time.

Who loses?  The medical and insurance company cartel members.  Yes, their income would decrease - - a lot.  And?  These people are a small minority of the population and more to the point the "service" funds they consumed could then be spent in the production and purchase of goods, which improves the net wealth of the nation instead of simply shifting money from one person to another, and furthermore the cessation of purchasing power destruction would be of benefit to everyone -- including them.

You've seen me spend a lot of digital ink on this issue over the last six or so years but not one person in a public policy role wants to engage in this debate.  None.  Not in the Republican Party, Democrat Party, Libertarian Party or otherwise.  I was damn near run out of town in the Libertarian party for insisting that the party stop endorsing and supporting candidates that refused to take this on and in fact lied about it in their campaigns.  When it became apparent that the party had zero intention of addressing this issue, the issue that will destroy us economically without question, I left the party.

You'd think if any of these political types had a counter-argument that made sense they'd be happy to take me on and demolish me publicly in said debate (after all, it would be great for them, right?) but it hasn't happened despite multiple offers on my part, and that of a few others, to engage on this point.  I have made repeated offers to do so and in fact have offered in the past (and you can count this posting as a further offer) to travel at my own expense to Washington DC or anywhere in the State of Florida to engage in said debate.

Even people attempting to solve the problem through example, such as the folks running the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, can't get a functional debate going with either public policy people or the heads of traditional hospitals and insurance companies.

We all know why this is the case but sticking your head in the sand will not stop what Stan (and I, along with others) have outlined from coming to pass.  That can only happen by taking this issue on and focusing political energy virtually anywhere else is a waste of time both because this is a certain destroyer of our economy if it is not halted and halting it will take time.

How much time do we have?  I don't know where the zero barrier is on this from a fiscal point of view and neither does anyone else, but that it exists and that markets never let you reach it are both a certainty.

Every day we delay as a nation and a people is one in which the odds of an "accident" in this regard go up, and once our feet go off this cliff there is simply no clean way back on solid ground.

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When in the course of human events it becomes evident that enslavement has not left the land, indeed, it has simply traveled underground via the mechanisms of finance leaving threadbare the claim that men are free when in fact no such thing is true;

We reassert that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights by their creator and that among them are the right life, liberty and pursuit (but not a guarantee of attainment) of happiness;

We reassert that in order to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed;

We reassert that whenever government becomes destructive to these ends it is both the right and duty of men and women to withdraw their consent from said government, enforcing a reorganization of same to address the abuses served upon the people;

We assert that liberty cannot exist in the absence of the right to obtain and accumulate wealth, including property, money and other assets, free of theft-by-devaluation through intentional government malfeasance;

We assert that no government nor any person has the right to impose a debt upon those not yet of the age of majority and in possession of the franchise or those not yet born, and no person against whom said debt is attempted to be laid has an obligation to pay or service said debt;

We assert that no act of government enacted by fraud is valid, and that any act imposing a cost upon the citizens or businesses of the nation without said funds being collected by contemporary taxes is inherently fraudulent and thus void ab-initio;

We further assert that allowing private institutions to practice effective counterfeiting of the currency is both the cause of myriad financial panics, market crashes and other disruptions throughout history and that it constitutes theft from the populace;

Therefore, we demand enactment of the following Amendment to the Constitution:

Section A:

Notwithstanding the provisions of the Constitution or Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, no entity, organ, authority or sub-unit of government in the United States or its possessions may issue or maintain debt except;

1. In anticipation of tax revenue to be collected within a 12 month period via tax anticipation notes, with each such issue binding the specific sequester of tax revenues so-anticipated;

2. During a time of declared war, the declaration of which contains a specific statement declaring and defining an existential threat to the continued existence of or liberty in the United States, and only to fund the specific and identifiable costs of said conflict with a maturity of no more than 10 (ten) years beyond the termination of hostilities;

Section B:

In order to facilitate the transition of the existing stock of debt by the United States government along with that of the States and localities in the United States, in conformance with this amendment existing maturities of debt may be rolled for a period of no more than 10 (ten) years, but no less than 10% (ten percent) of said debt outstanding on the date of ratification of this amendment may be so-extended in any given year.  This authority expires 10 (ten) years from the date of ratification and may not be extended except by further Amendment of the Constitution.

Section C:

All banks and other financial institutions shall operate under One Dollar of Capital with any breach thereof being defined as counterfeiting, punishable under 18 USC Section 472 as of February 10th, 2015 or any subsequent statute with liability for same being personal against all officers, directors and board members of any such organization if a corporation, and against the owners if a partnership or proprietorship.

Section D:

Notwithstanding the provisions of the Constitution or Section 4 of the 14th Amendment any borrowing not paid or refinanced under the authorities of this Amendment, or otherwise not in conformance thereof, is declared null and void.

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If you "diet" you will fail.  You will fail because you never changed anything in the long term, and as soon as you go back to what you were doing the same result will come.  What else can you reasonably expect?

If you have been reading the newspaper recently, you will have come across some startling new nutrition advice. A much hyped new study, conducted with just 150 participants, calls for us to “embrace fat”—even the saturated kind. The alleged benefits? Weight loss and, most incredibly, healthier hearts.

No kidding?  Well, he thinks it is kidding.

In the two centuries during which these diets have been promoted, there have been hundreds of studies comparing low-carb to low-fat diets. One would think that by now it would be clear which was superior if there really was a difference. But if you take all of these diet studies, and analyze the enormous body of data they produced, there is no proven difference between them as far as weight loss is concerned. In fact, another such analysis was published the day after the over-hyped low-carb study with this same conclusion.

If you're looking for a diet, that is, something faddish you can do that will produce result "X", you can find it whether it's straight starvation or something else.  Then there's this:

More to the point, however, is that this most recent study really did not actually prove that low-carb diets are superior. The low-fat diet in the study was not that low in fat, and the low-carb group ate significantly fewer calories.

Well duh.

See, people keep missing this -- it's a lifestyle choice, not a diet.

Do you eat fewer calories?  Yes.  You want to know why?  Because you're not hungry, that's why.

There's no magic to it.  When you're hungry if there is food available you'll eat, all things being equal.  Oh sure, you can apply extreme willpower to counteract that, but will you succeed?  Probably not at all, and almost-certainly not for long.

So what's the secret?  It's easy -- don't be hungry.

That's what low-carb does, you see.

Sugars and things that quickly convert to sugar produce a "high."  Ask any parent about their kid being jacked up on sugary things.  Well if you've all seen this why do you think it doesn't happen to you?

And what comes after that when you "come down"?  The crash, of course, and what do you want?  More of what made you high.

Is it really any more difficult to understand than that?

Nope.

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