Monday, March 2, 2009
I am handing out this letter to all of my neighbors. You are welcome to pass it onto yours.
I imagine that your 401(k), your house value, and your portfolio are all getting hammered.
Mine are too.
I imagine that you are furious at the government and banks for getting us into this mess.
I am also.
But the question is: what can we do about it?
To Be Able to Guess at Where We're Going, We Have to Understand Where We Are
As we all know, before we can figure out where we're going - let alone what we can do about it - we have to have an accurate picture of where we are now.
That makes sense, right?
Well, everyone knows that the economy is lousy right now. But (you may want to pour yourself a cup of coffee - or a drink - before you finish this letter) what you may or may not know is that we are already in a depression, according to:
- The head of the International Monetary Fund (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=a6aaWZ8ab8yU&refer=home)
- Merrill Lynch's chief economist for North America (http://base.googlehosted.com/base_media?q=hand-2050195680450736211&size=8)
- The former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission (http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2009/01/11/Expert_calling_it_a_US_depression/UPI-11211231704692/)
- Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz (http://www.prisonplanet.com/nobel-prize-winning-economist-crisis-as-bad-as-great-depression-or-worse.html)
- Leading investment advisors Ray Dalio (http://online.barrons.com/article/SB123396545910358867.html?mod=djemWR&page=sp) and Doug Casey (http://seekingalpha.com/article/122573-doug-casey-what-to-do-in-the-greater-depression)
- And many other experts
Moreover (I told you you might need a stiff drink), many top experts, including the following people, predict that this may actually be worse than the Great Depression:
- Former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker (http://www.cnbc.com/id/29304047)
- Former federal reserve governor Frederic Mishkin (http://www.cnbc.com/id/26850473)
- A Nobel economist (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/29104759#29104759)
- One of British prime minister Gordon Brown's most senior ministers and confidants (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/this-is-the-worst-recession-for-over-100-years-1605367.html)
- PhD economist Marc Faber (http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2009/01/some-cautionary-observations-from-marc.html)
- Billionaire investor George Soros (http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE51K0A920090221?sp=true)
- Former Goldman Sachs Chairman John Whitehead (http://www.reuters.com/article/Finance08/idUSTRE4AB7HT20081112)
- Leading investment advisor and author Nassim Taleb (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aWpKlQSOpvvI&refer=home)
- And many others
That Sucks . . . But What Does It Mean?
Okay, time for a stronger cup of coffee or a stronger drink . . .
Investor George Soros not only said that the current crisis was worse than the Depression, he also said that this is more like the break up of the Soviet Union (http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE51K0A920090221?sp=true).
What's he talking about?
Well, initially, you've heard that many states are having real financial trouble, and many have huge "budget shortfalls".
The truth is that the United States itself is pretty much insolvent:
- The St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank posted a paper in 2006 entitled "Is The United States Bankrupt?". The paper provides the following answer: "The United States is going broke" (http://www.research.stlouisfed.org/publications/review/06/07/Kotlikoff.pdf)
- People seem to think the government has money," said former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker. "The government doesn't have any money" (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/07/17/MN8Q11OT2M.DTL&tsp=1)
- PhD economist Marc Faber says the U.S. will go bankrupt (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&hs=JyD&q=%22marc+faber%22+bankrupt&btnG=Search)
- Respected economist John Williams says it already is (http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=88851)
Moreover, I was born in America, I've lived here my whole life, and I love this country.
However, just as the Soviet Union broke up, there are more and more indications that our nation will break up also.
For example, American military and intelligence leaders and many experts have warned of a break down in order in America (http://georgewashington2.blogspot.com/2009/02/growing-list-of-officials-and-experts.html).
And more and more states are passing "state sovereignty" legislation declaring their independence from the United States government (see http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=88218).
Even the Wall Street Journal recently covered the prediction from a high-level Russian academic that the U.S. would break up (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123051100709638419.html)
Indeed, an engineer who lived through the break up of the USSR goes around the country offering advice for Americans on how to weather the coming dissolution of the US (http://culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=325&Itemid=66).
Please rest assured that I wish that the economy quickly turns around, and that everything works out. But it sure doesn't look like that is going to happen.
So What Can We Do ... And Where Should We Start?
So what can we do to improve our situation?
Well, the experts who have looked at the best way to weather depressions and the break down in our society's systems recommend that people get together with their neighbors to work on ways to grow most of their own food (see http://georgewashington2.blogspot.com/2008/07/eat-cheaper-and-healthier-while-saving.html and http://georgewashington2.blogspot.com/2008/07/beating-high-energy-and-food-prices.html), to form local bartering mechanisms (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123482445928394833.html), to provide for neighborhood watch-type security, and to take other steps to increase our safety, security and comfort.
This letter is just a starting point for discussion, and not a definitive analysis or plan. I'm afraid that we're in for a bumpy ride, and so I'm reaching out to you to start talking about these admittedly unpleasant topics.
I don't have this all figured out. And together we're smarter than any one of us alone.
Do you want to start talking about it?
By the way, this crisis might have a silver lining in some ways. We've all been locked in our houses with our families and our tvs and computers. Sure, many of us go to our kids' sports competitions or superbowl parties or (for the ladies) mom's clubs or other social events. But we've largely lost the sense of local neighborhoods.
Maybe this will force us to re-form a stronger sense of community and meaning like our forefathers had. And maybe we can even have a little fun while we're doing it.