The American lifestyle and economy depend on a vast number of implicit guarantees— systemic forms of entitlement that we implicitly feel are our birthright.
Chief among these implicit entitlements is the Federal Reserve can always “save the day”: the Fed has the tools to escape either an inflationary spiral or a deflationary collapse.
But there are no guarantees this is actually true. In either an inflationary spiral or deflationary collapse of self-reinforcing defaults, the Fed’s “save” would destroy the economy, which is now so fragile that any increase in interest rates (to rescue us from an inflationary spiral) would destroy our completely debt-dependent economy: were mortgage rates to climb back to historical averages, the housing bubble would immediately implode.
Hello negative wealth effect, as every homeowner watches their temporary (and illusory) “wealth” dissipate before their eyes.
It’s been 10 years since I devoted a week to the theme of The Rot Within(September 17, 2007). Back in 2007, I listed 16 systemic sources of rot in our society, politics and economy; none have been fixed. Instead, the gaping holes have been filled with Play-Do and hastily painted to create the illusion of shiny solidity.
We live in a simulacrum society in which the fading scent of the American Dream is more a collective memory kept alive for political purposes than a reality. Even more disturbing, the difference between a phantom prosperity (or in homage to the Blade Runner film series, shall we say a replicant prosperity?) and real prosperity has been blurred by layers of simulated signals of prosperity and subtexts that are carefully designed to harken back to a long-gone authentic prosperity.
This is the reality: the American Dream is now reserved for the top 0.5%, with some phantom shreds falling to the top 5% who are tasked with generating a credible illusion of prosperity for the bottom 95%. While questions about who is a replicant and who is real become increasingly difficult to answer in the films, the question about who still has access to the American Dream is starkly answered by this disturbing chart:
When the phantom wealth evaporates and risk assets go bidless, cash will once again be king, for the simple reason there will be so little of it.
Occasionally it’s a good idea to step away from the daily grind to consider the larger issues we all face–for example, the future of the money we earn and the bits we invest in something we hope holds or increases its value.
At present, cash is trash: cash earns almost no yield, and in some countries it now earns a negative interest rate, meaning it costs you to park your cash in a bank.
Even cash equivalents such as one-year Treasury bonds pay almost nothing.
U.S. Treasury bonds (10-year and 30-year) topped out above 15% in late 1981, and have traced a sawtooth pattern down ever since. The 10-year bond now yields 1.92% and the 30-year yields 2.51%.
Daily Treasury Yield Curve Rates.
Correspondent Mark G. recently asked a question that is on many minds: what might finally produce an end to the 34-year US Treasury Bond bull market? Here is Mark’s commentary on the question: