Spending Cuts in the Age of De-Leveraging

Reddit

As we were saying yesterday, there are several schools of thought regarding the present economy.

  • We’re recovering… (Geithner, Summers, et al)
  • We’re not recovering…we’re headed into inflation (Faber, Stansberry, Casey)
  • We’re not recovering…we’re headed into hard-core deflation (Prechter, Shilling)

And then, there’s the solitary Daily Reckoning home-school view:

We’re not recovering…we’re headed into soft-core, Japanese-style deflation.

Who’s right?

You will recognize our point of view as the same thing we were saying 10 years ago. Of course, we changed our mind about it – more or less – once or twice in the intervening years. After the big build-up of debt in the mid-00s, we didn’t think the US could afford a long, soft, slow de-leveraging a la Japan. The Japanese had savings…and a positive trade balance. They could afford an order on-again, off-again recession…while their government squandered the savings of an entire generation.

But the US has a huge negative trade balance…and little in the way of savings. How could it survive a Japan-style slump?

Well, things evolve…and our views evolve with them… And in this case, they’ve evolved right back to where they were in the first place. Savings rates are going up. Most other governments – other than the USA – are making an effort to reduce their reliance on borrowing. This leaves enough money available to finance US deficits – not indefinitely, but perhaps for a year or two more…maybe even for 5 or 10 years.

Could we be wrong about this? You bet. Should you bet your future on it? No sirreee…

But we’re probably right…

The following item will seem like we’re changing the subject. Au contraire. It was reported in The Globe and Mail that the Irish have gone back to exporting what they export best – people.

You’ll recall that the late, much-regretted boom had completely transformed the Emerald Isle. All of a sudden, the Irish were the richest people in Europe (based on the value of their houses, mostly)…and hundreds of thousands of Poles and other immigrants were streaming into Ireland in order to find work.

Practically all the waitresses and barmaids in Dublin seemed to have an Eastern European accent. And there was even a Polish-language TV station. Can you believe it?

But then came the bust. Suddenly, the Irish had to come back down to the bog. The jobs disappeared. Housing prices fell (though not yet as much as you’d expect). And the immigrants began to go home.

Along with the immigrants were many native-born Irish too,

Yes, “The Irish Exodus” has resumed, reports The Globe and Mail.

“Hundreds of thousands of immigrants used to flock to Ireland, looking for work at the door of Europe’s strongest economy. But after two decades and a stunning collapse, Ireland is once again a nation of emigrants, seeking employment elsewhere to escape the sad reality at home.”

Oh well, it was bad while it lasted. Now, the Irish can give up property development and go back to poetry and alcohol. The country may not be as prosperous, but it will surely be prettier.

Seventy thousand people are expected to leave the island this year. By 2015, the total is expected to rise to 200,000, if unemployment trends continue.

Where are they going? Canada. New Zealand. Australia. No mention was made of the USA.

But what is most interesting to us is the story behind the story. Ireland is not only the European nation the farthest out to the West. It is also the one the farthest out in front in the fight against deficit spending. While others dilly-dallied, Ireland cut. It bailed out its big banks…and then had to protect its own credit. But despite deep cuts, the deficit remains stubbornly high. At 11% it is in line with the US, which hasn’t made any effort to cut at all.

What went wrong?

It appears that the neo-Keynesians Krugman and Wolf are right about at least one thing. Cutting government spending while the private sector is de-leveraging is a hard way to go. (In our opinion, it is the right way to go…but that’s another issue!)

What happens is that as the feds cut back it reduces income to the private sector, which is itself in cutback mode. This then causes tax revenues to fall – which increases the deficit…

You end up with a vicious cycle of cuts, deficits and more cuts…which doesn’t worry us…but the feds don’t like it. And the public doesn’t care for it much either. Better to wait until the private sector has finished de-leveraging, say most experts.

Of course, then you are only building up public sector debt – which will have to be repaid sometime. You are also wasting resources – forever – making people absolutely poorer than they otherwise would be.

But we’re going to let it slide, today.

The point we are reaching for is that de-leveraging isn’t easy. It’s like growing old. That’s not easy either. Still, it’s better than the alternative.

And as for which of the views is correct – recovery, inflation, hard deflation or soft deflation – we’ll just have to wait to find out.

And more thoughts…

We took two of our sons with us to Vancouver. It was a long, expensive trip. But the boys found some discount tickets and seemed sincerely interested in what we were doing there. You never know what will make an impression on teenaged boys. Maybe one would want to join the family business? Maybe one would take an interest in finance or economics…a fallback, in case they can’t find more respectable careers.

They got to meet our friends. They got to hear economists. Stock analysts. Commodity experts. Geologists. Stock promoters. Medical research scientists.

It was a good introduction to the world of investment…and to the strange world in which their father lives…

“Well, what do you think?” we asked them.

“I don’t know Dad,” said Henry, 19, “everybody is just guessing. Nobody knows anything. I think I’ll stick with medicine.”

“How about you, Edward?”

“I want to do something where I can earn a lot of money without really working very hard.”

“I’m not sure that is a good approach,” we replied.

But Edward voiced an interest in geology, following a class trip to New Mexico. So, we went to see Rick Rule, a geologist, for advice.

“Well, there are two types of geologist,” Rick explained. “There are the rock hounds, who just love rocks. And there are the alchemists, who turn rocks into money.

“And when there’s a real bull market in the mining sector they don’t even need rocks. All they have to do is claim to be looking for rocks and they can turn paper into money.”

“Sweet,” said Edward.

Regards,

Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
Reddit

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of
avatar
wpDiscuz
Letters will be edited for clarity, punctuation, spelling and length. Abusive or off-topic comments will not be posted. We will not post all comments.
If you would prefer to email the editor, you can do so by sending an email to letters@dailyreckoning.com.au