Showing posts with label shrinking middle class. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shrinking middle class. Show all posts

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Bad Moon A-Rising: America faces a looming real estate crisis

I see the bad moon a-risin'
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightnin'
I see bad times today

Americans live in a Panglossian environment, encouraged by our government to believe we live in the best of all possible worlds. Inflation? It's going down. The job market? Our economy is creating an astonishing number of new jobs. Our President? A paragon of wisdom.

Of course, we don't live in the best of all possible worlds. America is neck-deep in two terrible wars: Ukraine and Gaza, and those wars will eventually bite us on the national butt. Right now, these global disasters still seem far away. No reason to put off buying a new Land Rover.

Domestically, however, an economic calamity is looming, and it will soon come crashing down on us. I'm talking about the collapse of the domestic real estate market.

Driven by catastrophic weather events (hurricanes, wildfires, windstorms, and floods), the cost of homeowner's insurance has risen significantly, increasing the cost of owning a home.

Lenders require people with home mortgages to have adequate property insurance, typically added to the home borrower's monthly mortgage payment. Since most homeowners buy houses based on what they can afford in monthly payments, rising insurance costs will force many Americans to buy less expensive homes.

Interest rates on home mortgages are going up, too. The Biden administration and the Fed are doing their best to keep interest rates down until after the presidential election, but the days of 3 percent mortgages are over.

On the global stage, the BRIC countries are slowly undermining the American dollar's status as the world's reserve currency, and that process is well underway. Our government now spends a trillion dollars every 100 days in interest payments on the national debt, and that debt grows larger each month. Our growing debt has started to put pressure on interest rates, including the interest rate on home mortgages. 

All these trends are gathering into a perfect storm for homeownership. Who resides on the dirty side of this storm? 

Not the banks. When the real estate market collapses the next time, the feds will bail out the banks as they've done in the past, assuming the value of the U.S. dollar holds up through the crisis. 

No, the losers will be American middle-class homeowners. And when the next real estate crisis is over, the American middle class will be much smaller. 

You'll be goddamn lucky if you're still in it. In the meantime, I recommend listening to more Creedence.

Who stole the Dude's Creedence tapes?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A JP Morgan economist says U.S. is heading toward a "Weimar Republic Inflation Setup": What in the hell does that mean?

Earlier this month, published an essay by an unnamed JP Morgan economist who predicted that the national economy is headed toward runaway inflation.

According to this anonymous commentator, money in circulation is multiplying through various types of government handouts while "asset prices . . . [are] being propped up by central banks."  Thus, he reasons, it is just a matter of time "until inflation goes from 'subdued' to 'out of hand.'" Indeed, the economist predicts, "If central banks have no or a soft-washed inflation mandate we are headed toward a Weimar Republic style inflation setup."

That prediction sounds scary, but what in the hell does it mean?

I had only a hazy notion of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s when inflation in Germany got crazy out of control. I recall seeing photographs of people carrying German currency around in wheelbarrows. But what does the Weimar experience have to do with our national economy? I was clueless.

So I read some books on the German economy in the 1920s. The Weimar Republic, I learned, was created in 1919 after Germany lost the First World War. The German monarchy collapsed in November 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm fled to Holland, and a constitution was drafted in the Germany city of Weimar.

When World War I began, the German mark was valued at around 4.2 marks to the dollar.  When the war ended, the allies (France, Great Britain, and the United States) imposed harsh reparations on Germany, and the mark's value dropped to 7.4 to the dollar.

From November 1918 until the mark was finally abandoned in 1923, Germany was caught in a vicious inflationary spiral until the mark ultimately fell to 4.2 trillion marks to the dollar. In other words, it was worthless.

How did that happen? A multitude of factors were at work, but it seems that Germany's inflation during the early 1920s was mostly a result of carelessness, government subsidies to industry and state-owned railroads, and the government's effort to keep German workers employed and support a half-million war widows and 1.5 million disabled former soldiers.

In the end, German printing presses were running around the clock in a vain effort to supply paper currency that was deflating in value almost by the hour. Salaried workers and people living on pensions were driven into poverty, and hunger became widespread.

All this suffering and despair fueled radical political parties--Bolshevik-style communism, right-wing paramilitaries, and ultimately--the Nazis.  Hitler himself pointed out that Germans with billions of marks were starving.

Is the United States headed in that direction, as the unnamed JP Morgan economist predicts? Maybe.

Our accumulated national debt is now $25 trillion, and dozens of states and cities are running deficit budgets. A bill is currently working its way through Congress that would spew out $3 trillion, with part of this money going to prop up state and local governments. At the rate we are moving, the U.S. will see its national debt grow to $30 trillion within the next couple of years.

The federal government is also propping up the higher-education industry with student-loan money that has enabled colleges and universities to increase their tuition at twice the annual rate of inflation.  More than 45 million Americans are burdened by student loans that total $1.6 trillion.

Our spendthrift economy has enabled the U.S. to drop its unemployment rate to a historic low--last year it was only about 3 percent. If our government restores some fiscal discipline, that rate will inevitably rise. In the summer of 1923, when inflation was utterly out of control, the German unemployment rate was only 3.5 percent. Two months later, after the Reich restored fiscal discipline, unemployment rose to 23.4 percent.

Germany's inflation during the Weimar years destroyed the nation's middle class. The American middle class has been shrinking for the last 20 years, and many middle-income workers are losing ground.

I do not believe the United States can continue propping up more than 4,0000 colleges, universities, and trade schools with federal student-aid money. When all this comes crashing down, thousands of people with good jobs in the groves of academe will be out of work.

Small, liberal arts colleges are already closing at an accelerating rate, and regional public colleges are laying off staff and faculty.

When inflation breaks out in the U.S. economy, the wealthy and the financial speculators will do just fine. It is the middle class that will suffer, including a lot of people working in colleges and universities who now think they have bullet-proof job security.

The Weimar years: When German money was worthless


Ferguson, Adam. When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending, Devaluation, and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany. New York: Public Affairs Publishing (2010) (originally published in 1975).

Friedrich, Otto. Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s. Harper Perennial (1995) (originally published in 1972).

Taylor, Frederick. The Downfall of Money: Germany's Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class. New York: Bloomsbury Press (2013).