Why the US is at the point of economic no return
The so-called 'fiscal cliff' is really a much-needed change of economic course.
If you took a sizeable pay cut and then continued living it up as you did on your old income, you'd be considered financially negligent — most probably delusional.
The US government, however, doesn’t think this scenario applies to itself. The US political system cannot deal with the obvious, which is, the country simply cannot continue to blow $1 trillion dollars a year more than it earns. Not forever.
The Republicans are as guilty for setting up the mess in the first place as the Democrats are for not dealing with it now.
Tax issue irrevelvant
A popular Democratic viewpoint sees Republican-initiated tax cuts as the primary cause of the current deficit misery, arguing that without them, the deficit would be smaller, reducing at a faster rate.
This argument makes perfect sense — if you think it's a good idea for government to suck up all private sector GDP into state control and collectivise as much of society's ambient resources as possible.
Otherwise, this point of view is shocking; the Bush tax cuts have existed for years after all, and government spending has not brought itself into line. It hasn’t even tried.
The US government has proved itself unable to live within its means. It has simply continued spending uncontrollably, without reference to its income.
What this means is that even if the Democrats get their tax rises, the money won’t fill the gap. The outgoings of the US state are simply not coupled with its income. The system won’t be reigned in.
Democrat or Republican, whichever side of the political divide you are on, it makes no difference. The US state, like many others in the developed world, and, for that matter in the developing and third world, will simply gobble up all resources and then some more.
It's a consequence of the process of a concentration of power that power structures naturally generate.
The so-called 'fiscal cliff' is nothing of the sort. If the US fell off it, government growth would be checked, perhaps reversed and in the short term there would be a pull back on money supply as public sector expenditure shrank. The UK and Germany would call it austerity. It would be a first step towards fiscal continence, a small move towards less horrific deficits.
Instead it has been named as something disastrous rather than a needed change in course. It underlines that the US is, in fact, past the point of economic no return.
While the developed world slowly sinks into the mire of unsustainable debt and deficits, there is no dialogue on shifting resources to the private sector by rebalancing the public. Instead, the dialogue is on how the overwhelming public sector can be funded by somehow extracting more golden tax eggs from the sickly golden geese of the private sector.
So what will check this trend? The US and Europe have locked down their bond markets, in effect making them no longer free. History teaches that in the long run you cannot buck the markets. So in the end, a market malfunction will signal the end of this era.
Developed world governments are sucking out the assets of their countries via “financial repression” to pay for their public sector and their trade deficits. This 'hollowing out' of an economy's productivity and wealth has an eventual end point.
When is the end point?
As the whole sorry mess revolves around the US, the question becomes, can Obama see out his four years before the roof collapses in on America’s dissipating, spendthrift ways?
It will be a close one.
Yet whether Obama wants to spend like a sailor or not, the American government will do it anyway. Really, it's just a case of when the world will stop giving out credit.
As such, the warning signals will come in the form of a sliding dollar and corresponding gold and oil rallies. This will precede a spike in US interest rates.
When you see these signs you'll know trouble is just over the horizon.
Clem Chambers (www.clemchambers.com) is CEO of the leading financial information and investors website ADVFNand author of books including A Beginner’s Guide to Value Investing and 101 Ways to Pick Stock Market Winners, both out now on the Kindle. His latest financial thriller The First Horseman is available for pre-order now. Follow Clem on Twitter: @ClemChambers