Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Too Big to Fail

We hear this phrase a lot, but when it comes to America it seems to be true.  Here in Lithuania I hear numerous reasons given why the Good Ship United States keeps chugging along, namely printing cash.  If that were the case, we would have seen runaway inflation like we did in Germany between the world wars or in Venezuela today.  No, the US keeps going because the Federal Reserve keeps pumping hard currency into the market.  To help cover the costs of the tax cut bill, the White House has borrowed an unprecedented trillion dollars from the Fed.  Of course, this is reflected in the national debt clock, which now stands at $21.5 trillion and counting.

Fortunately for the US, much of the national debt is domestically owned.  About one-third is foreign owned.  We are still controlling our own destiny, not China or Saudi Arabia or other countries that buy up public holdings.  The fact that they do is also a good thing, as they consider this to be a good investment.

I suppose you can say the US is "printing cash" in that some of this debt takes the form of treasury bills, notes and bonds, but this "money" is all backed by the Federal Reserve, and you will always get face value for this "currency."  But, this isn't the way it is usually described by economic pundits.  They prefer "truthful hyperbole," making it sound like a cryptocurrency subject to crash at any given moment.

Even when we have gone through hard times, as we did in the wake of the 2008 housing collapse and stock market crash, the Federal Reserve kept pumping hard currency through the economy so that it didn't come to a standstill.  The Bush and Obama administrations borrowed heavily from the Fed to save the banks and auto companies from bankruptcy, as they were "too big to fail."  Obama extended this liberal policy as much as he could to small businesses and individuals through his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as his stimulus package.  It wasn't enough and many persons found themselves scraping through those lean years just the same.  Nevertheless, the economy began to grow again by the third quarter of 2009, and has been growing ever since, with the GDP briefly dipping below zero in 2011 and again in 2014.

What makes the current borrowing hard to understand is that we are enjoying "boom" times according to our Hairpiece in Chief, the best economy in history he has tweeted.  Normally, one only borrows during lean times, so what gives?

Economists seem to think that last quarter's high GDP growth of 4.1% was an anomaly.  Our economy is slowing down after a sustained growth period of over 9 years.  The Dow peaked in January at 26,600 and has yet to regain the losses it suffered the following month.  It finally climbed back above 26,000 yesterday.  Surprised we didn't hear His Trumpness crow about it on twitter, as he did when it re-reached 25,000.

Basically, the markets are in a holding pattern, waiting to see what comes of these trade wars our dear President initiated.   There was some bounce yesterday when the US reached a tentative agreement with Mexico on a new trade deal, but it remains to be seen what Canada thinks of the new trade policies.  For all his bluster, this deal amounts to a little more than a few tweaks to NAFTA, but I guess as long as he can have it in his name it is seen as an "incredible deal."  The only problem is that there will be a new Mexican president in December and he might not be so amenable, and Trump hasn't exactly been on good terms with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.

The US economy will most likely weather the tempestuous fury of Donald Trump as it has all the other storms in our long history.  In the end, Trump mostly wants to put his imprimatur on everything, like one would scrawl one's signature all over the bathroom walls of a high school to show that he was there.  It's not like he is the one creating policy.  His Trumpness has negotiators trying to gain a little more leverage than the US had before so that he can feel good about himself and relate this mood to his devoted twitter followers.

We haven't had to deal with an ego as big as that of Donald Trump in the White House before, but the policies pretty much remain the same of any Republican president, resulting in a great debt burden that our ever growing economy somehow manages to cover.  Even with all the growth in Asian markets and the economic juggernaut that the European Union has become, the United States is still the largest economy in the world.

The biggest worry is that fewer persons are sharing in that economy.  Much of this capital is vested in wealthy families and corporations, namely the Walton family, while the rest of us fight over the scraps.  For a populist president, His Trumpness hasn't been very good when it comes to spreading the wealth.

Like it or not, the United States has become too big to fail.  It's huge market holds much of the global economy together and the dollar remains the preferred currency of exchange.  Donald Trump may shake things up, but it is doubtful he will bring this behemoth of an economy crashing down on us.  It may reach a point where our national debt becomes so bloated that the Federal Reserve is no longer able to cover all this excess borrowing, but until then we continue to sail along as we always have with the Good Ship United States rocking a bit at times.

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