Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sliding toward Deflation

Think of the world as an engine designed and built to run in a certain way, and at a certain speed. The fuel of the engine is growth.  The chemistry of the fuel is debt. Then imagine one half of the world (the developed countries) running at full speed for 60 years, while the other half of the world (Asia, Africa, and South America) idling. Because our half of the world has been running full speed, we have used the most debt to power our engines, and the world economy has built itself around that fact. Now imagine that so much debt has been used to fuel the engine that it is almost depleted. Meanwhile the other half of the world is just warming up its engine and has plenty of potential debt to consume. What is the logical consequence? One falls while the other soars.

Now superimpose the unfolding China/Russia/BRIC economic order that is forming to reflect that reality. Let's call it the "New Club". Roughly designed to resemble the Soviet days of trading between countries to the exclusion of others, the New Club is rapidly building a new engine. One that attempts to capitalize on each countries strengths and satisfying each countries needs. If that sounds familiar consider Karl Marx's famous borrowed slogan " From each according to his ability, to each according to his need". Essentially, this is the new slogan of the New Club. China has the currency and the manpower. Russia has the natural resources, technology, and the know how. India has the population and science. South America has specific resources. Africa has population and need.

Together, these countries are forming a new world order. They have combined resources to create a new IMF that will compete with the old western IMF to loan money to areas like Africa and South America. They will control the debt that fires those engines. Russia, China and India (almost 50% of the world population) have entered into formal agreements to use their own currencies to pay for resources from each other. They are excluding the US dollar from their market place as an economic foundation. Making it obsolete. They are reaching deeply into Africa in fierce competition with the US to develop that continent as a place to do business. They are quickly becoming the savior for many South American countries who have tapped out their debt in the Old Club and need a rescue line.

Of course, when one grows the other dies, and the other would be the western world, or the "Old Club". Our ability to consume and pay debt has over reached its maximum. That is reflected in the over valued prices we pay for everything compared to what would be paid for the same object in the Club. In some European countries that has led to such things as inter-generational mortgages on homes. In the US it led to the "housing bubble" in 2008. The price we pay for fuel, compared to the actual price per barrel on the international market, is a good indicator of how skewed the economic reality is. While world oil prices plummet, prices at the pump don't. They stay artificially high. The same can be said for the stock markets. They are valued at more than their 2008 pre-crash worth, despite the indebtedness/under-performance of the corporations listed on them. In other words, there is a space between where they should be at in pure economic terms, and where they exist today. An artificial bubble. An artificial economy. Prices inflated to try and maintain our way of life, our government coffers, and our debt.

While there was only one game in town, that game of artificial economy could be maintained to one degree or another. There would be cyclical recessions to try and balance debt vs income vs prices from time to time, but the system could carry on. But, more dollars printed to maintain that growth created inflation in prices.Our system continued to grow fed on inflation rather than real economic wealth. We created a society based on the artificial. Now we are facing a New Club that, for the most part, will not. As the two realities start to compete the Old Club will lose market share for its products, and a glut will create deflation. 

As sales slide, and corporations within the Old Club try to adjust their production downward, each country's GDP begins to shrink - in other words deflate. That leads to serious consequences for an economic order built on growth fueled by debt. A good current example of this is Germany's recent slide. Germany is the economic engine of Europe, and as its GDP continues to fall so do the hopes of the rest of the continent. Another good example is long term bond costs. Muskrat Falls financing was secured for 50 years at less then 3% interest. Indicative that the banks understand what is coming. What else can explain that length of commitment for such a small return on investment. Perhaps one of the most clear examples of things to come is the Brazilian company Rio Tinto. While North American iron ore mines close, scale back or simply don't develop, Rio Tinto is increasing production by 25%. All these corporations compete on the international market, yet they have two starkly different approaches. Perhaps the key to understanding  this is one corporation is in a BRIC country, and a strong m,ember of the new club, while the others are stuck in the old. 

There are signs all around us if we choose to really see them. The world is changing - for the better for some, and the opposite for others. Reality, or deflation as a measure of it, is coming sooner rather than later. There is really no way for governments to prepare for it financially. Instead, and perhaps a very real indication of intent, police forces through out the western world have been armed like military organizations. Like the banks, our governments see the inevitable deflation of our economies, and understand the social chaos that must follow. At that point order will take precedence over rights. It will be a new world for the Old Club.   


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