Friday, January 23, 2009

"For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

The ancient Biblical wisdom quoted above accurately portrays what the world can expect over the next few years.

Incurring long term debt to finance consumption, speculating on successive stock, then real estate bubbles and dependence on unsustainable health and old age entitlements all carry costs. There really is no such thing as a free lunch.

The United States has been on a binge of funny money, entitlements, easy credit and unsustainable consumption for almost 100 years. Now its time to pay the piper. How bad will it be?

When the stock market crashed in the early 30s, it required 14 years after the bottom to recoup the lost value. That is probably a reasonable estimate of the time required for America to recover from this financial hangover, once we reach the bottom.

When will that depth be reached? Hopefully in 2009, but possibly not until 2010 when Medicare goes "cash flow negative." Possibly not until 2017 when Social Security follows suit.

The only certainty is that however long it took to dig this hole, it will probably take that long to climb out.

The risk is that in the attempt to stop the current bleeding a new bubble is being created, a currency bubble. The Federal government together with the Federal Reserve are inflating the currency to incredible levels in the so far futile effort to sustain liquidity. If they go too far, pass some ill defined unknown tipping point, then it's possible that hyperinflation could result.

To appreciate what that might mean read a little history about Germany during the third decade of the 20th Century. The crises eventually led to the end of the fledgling German Republic, which was replaced by the Third Reich.

In other words, our current situation is bad but it could easily get worse.

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