Author Archives: Editor of the Fabius Maximus website

About Editor of the Fabius Maximus website

Larry Kummer. See the authors page for more information about me, my co-authors,and the Fabius Maximus website.

NBER: rapidly rising household debt predicts recessions. See America’s future.

Summary: Perhaps the most important frontier in microeconomics is the effect of debt on growth, especially private sector debt (government debt has different dynamics). Many economists have attempted to integrate debt levels into mainstream theory (e.g., Hyman Minsky). While so far unsuccessful, research has produced many useful insights. Here is a new study with a powerful conclusion: “An analysis of business cycles in 30 mostly advanced economies finds that burgeoning household debt is a strong indicator of an impending economic downturn.”  {1st of 2 posts today.}

This is a follow-up to Fact & myth about the debt supercycle, a story of modern America.

Household debt vs GDP Growth

Look at the end of this article to see America’s ratio of household debt to GDP.

“Household Debt and Business Cycles Worldwide”

By Matt Nesvisky in the January 2016 Digest
of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Reposted with permission.

An increase in household debt in relation to a country’s GDP is, at least in the short to medium term, a strong predictor of a weakening economy, according to an analysis of data from 30 nations by Atif R. Mian, Amir Sufi, and Emil Verner. The researchers use slowing growth and rising unemployment as key indicators of weakening. They find that the household debt factor is a better predictor of downturns than the debt of non-financial firms.

In “Household Debt and Business Cycles Worldwide“, the researchers analyze databases from the Bank for International Settlements, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the last half-century. They find that a rise in household debt, largely produced by more readily available credit, is a valuable forecaster of a contracting economy, citing as a prime example the growth of household debt in the early to mid-2000s and the slowing of global growth in the latter part of that decade.

The researchers see lower credit spreads and increases in risky debt as primary factors driving the rise in household debt. The availability of cheap credit spurs borrowing to finance higher consumption. In particular, household spending as a share of income rises during household debt booms, as do total imports and the share of consumption goods in total imports.

The expansion in household debt is followed by a sharp slowdown in GDP, consumption, and investment growth. This slowdown is not anticipated by professional forecasters at the IMF and OECD, giving household debt the ability to predict growth forecast errors.

Continue reading

Why the Outer Party hates Trump & will waste this opportunity for reform

Summary: The reaction of our upper classes to the rise of Trump reveals much about 21st century America — a society divided by class, with blinkered elites, and an opportunity to unify and make reforms (which we’ll almost certainly squander). 2016 will be a big year for America, a bad one if we do not try to understand what is happening.

Trump as Hitler

We can only guess at the reaction to Trump by the bourgeois (who own America) and the Inner Party (their senior executives, having less power but are social similar). My guess: they’re probably unhappy that Trump is defeating their apparatchiks and co-opting their political machines. However, Trump is one of them — and a deal-maker. In the unlikely event Trump wins, I suspect they expect to ally with him.

More interesting is the reaction of those in the Outer Party, America’s professionals and managers. They are spitting with rage, so vituperative that discussions about Trump quickly veer from analytical to irrational. Trump has aroused them to an extent I’ve seldom seen — and with good reason.

Our elites are distant to the America people, images on TV and stories in the tabloids. But the Outer Party administers America’s bureaucratic regime, which has been losing legitimacy for decades (e.g., see Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions poll). The rise of Trump shows that this has brought forth a populist revolt (i.e., an attempt to change political authority). It’s a rebellion against them, the faces of the US political regime.

They respond with their most powerful tool: delegimization. People and movements have been destroyed as they use their institutions — the news media, academia, think tanks, etc. — to label reformers and rebels as “Communists”, “racists”, “sexists”, “deniers”, “he’s like Hitler” (applied to both Bush Jr. and Obama), etc. Plus they fire barrages of mockery and funny pictures.

But the regime’s loss of legitimacy renders these ineffective. Much of America no longer considers the upper classes to be our moral arbiters. Worse, to many Americans the upper classes’ hatred of Trump identifies him as their friend. “By their enemies you shall know them”.

The “chattering classes”, especially journalists and academics, are especially hostile to Trump (senior journalists and tenured university professors are of the upper class to the minimum wage – no benefit – no security workers who are so much of America). These are among the least popular of major American institutions. Gallup shows that only 24% of Americans have confidence in newspapers and 21% in TV news. Gallup does not ask about the public’s confidence in professors and universities, but they we have a clue — populist politicians often use them as targets of applause-lines…

Continue reading

Stratfor: Getting to the Root of France’s Muslim Dilemma

Summary:  Generations of immigration gave France cheap docile workers. Now comes the hangover as France struggles to integrate them, amidst concerns about rising Islamic fundamentalism and recruitment by jihadists.

Stratfor

Getting to the Root of France’s Muslim Dilemma

By Joe Parson. Stratfor, 24 January 2016

The jihadist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo signified the beginning of a new period of insecurity for France. Since those shots rang out a little over a year ago, France has been beset by threats, false alarms and more successful attacks. The latest of these, of course, took place in Paris itself, triggering the first nationwide state of emergency since 1961. Having been away for most of 2015, when I arrived back for the holidays I found the country had somehow changed. Disembarking at Charles de Gaulle airport’s oldest terminal, whimsically known as le Camembert for its roundness, I found the same futuristic, grimy moving walkways and familiar odor of the Paris metro. Much was the same, but then I noticed that the usual airport security was gone, replaced by military personnel patrolling with automatic rifles.

France’s security alert system, Plan Vigipirate, was developed in the late 1970s, updated once in the mid-1990s and twice more in the early 2000s. It reached its highest level of alert (scarlet) after the March 2012 Toulouse and Montauban attacks. In January 2015, however, authorities created a new, higher level to reflect the perceived current danger.

As I traveled through Paris and the rest of the country I saw these security measures in action on the city’s metro and on the country’s high-speed train, the Train à Grande Vitesse. Security checks have become much more common, and this has led to some delays. False alarms triggered by such things as suspicious packets of cookies on a Nantes tram or forgotten luggage have stopped trains across the country. Over the New Year holiday, the center of Paris was cordoned off and people were individually screened before being allowed to continue on foot. Even the Christmas market in Strasbourg, far from Paris, was blocked off to automobile traffic, and identification checks were mandatory.

Security measures in the wake of attacks have been made more complex — and politically volatile — by France’s sizeable Muslim population. French Muslims themselves, especially immigrants, have become the focus of a great deal of scrutiny over the past year. In 2010, 4.8 million Muslims lived in France, the second-largest population in the European Union and the largest in proportion to population: 7.5 percent. This has led many on the far right to call for policies specifically limiting Muslim immigration. Opinions, however, are mixed — a 2015 Pew Research poll found that only 24 percent of the country held unfavorable views of Muslims. Popular perception of Islam has played a moderating role in the government’s reaction while ensuring safety for all, including the French Muslim population.

Continue reading

The hawks’ weird story about Iran’s seizure of 2 US navy boats

Summary: Iran’s arrest of US sailors in their waters provides opportunity for our hawks to wave a fake bloody shirt, hoping to make the US public fear and despise Iran. That this daft jingoism is considered acceptable, even routine, fare in our newspapers shows how much we’ve adopted Imperial thinking — and abandoned common sense. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Iraq war becomes the Iran war

Today’s output from the war-monger industry:  “At the Pentagon, General Chaos is in Charge” by Ray Starmann at US Defense Watch (“News, Opinion and Analysis on US Defense issues and politics with a conservative viewpoint”), 26 January 2016 — Opening…

The surrender of two US Navy vessels of war and their crews to the Iranians without firing so much as a shot and the subsequent and sickening apology by the commanding officer, speaks volumes about the current fighting spirit, training and state of readiness of the US military in 2016.

The conduct of the US Navy officer in charge, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was nothing less than a complete and utter disgrace. No doubt the order to surrender came from the Pentagon; and at the Pentagon, General Chaos is in charge.

Typical of the one-sided news we receive, USA Today said {link added}:

“{A}n emerging consensus of U.S. legal experts believe the provocative act was a dangerous violation of international law that has so far gone without repercussions.

“The U.S. riverine boats had the right to pass expeditiously through Iran’s territorial waters under the right of innocent passage without being boarded and arrested so long as they weren’t engaged in a military operation such as spying. Pentagon officials have said the riverine boat crews mistakenly entered Iran’s waters in the Persian Gulf due to a “navigation error” while en route to a refueling.”

… “This should be very concerning for the Navy community,” said James Kraska, a maritime law expert at the U.S. Naval War College. “This says that U.S. vessels don’t have innocent passage and that their sovereign immunity is not respected.”

This is bizarrely biased. The US has attacked Iran — staging the first electronic Pearl Harbor —  a cyberattack that destroyed the infrastructure of another nation, without a declaration of war. The US, or its client state, Israel, has assassinated Iran’s scientists. US political and military leaders routinely advocate bombing Iran. We are past the point at which we can claim a presumption of innocence for military action in Iran’s waters.

Continue reading

Magnus: China’s leaders must choose: political power for them, or economic growth for China

Summary: Today’s post by A-team economist George Magnus discusses China’s economic challenges, especially the clash between its political and economic transitions. These are among the major unknowns affecting the future of China, that other pole of the world economy, {1st of 2 posts today.}

Globe and China Flag

Will, or can China put change before control?

By George Magnus, 29 January 2016
Reposted from his website with his generous permission

One of John McDonnell’s economic advisory team, David Blanchflower, recently wrote in the New Statesman, “The new Labour leaders are not economists and are going to have to learn fast. They will have to accept the realities of capitalism and modern markets, like it or not.” He makes a fine point, and on reading it, I immediately thought that it could equally be made about China.

The leadership is no longer new, and for them the realities of capitalism and markets are not the same: they are prepared to incorporate market mechanisms and go along with western capitalism only to the extent that they, a) do not compromise the interests and primacy of the Chinese Communist Party; b) help the Party further Chinese economic and political power;  c) bolster the competitiveness and efficiency of state institutions. What the leadership does not want is a central role for markets and prices in the determination of the ownership, allocation and distribution of resources.

This much, if you did not know it before, has become evident to global audience in the seemingly parochial world of finance.

On the one hand, China has taken the initiative to set up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank under the umbrella of what President Xi Jinping has called the One Belt, One Road project, or to you and me, a 21st century Silk Road by land and by sea; and most recently won the IMF’s backing to include the Yuan in the so-called Special Drawing Right, the IMF’s accounting unit. We could also point to other initiatives to encourage greater use of the Yuan in the settlement and invoicing of trade, the denomination of international bonds, and the composition of central bank currency swaps; and to encourage foreign capital to come into Chinese financial markets.

Continue reading

Here’s the latest news from Afghanistan. It’s a fire fed by our dollars.

Summary: The presidential candidates posture and bicker while the war in Afghanistan burns in its 15th year, consuming billions of US dollars while our infrastructure rots. Our ignorance is a choice because the government and NGO’s report the sad details. Here is an update. Nothing will change unless we make it an issue, and more broadly unless we re-take the reins in America. {Second of two posts today.}

  • Cumulative funding for Afghanistan reconstruction: aprox $113.1 billion.
  • Cost of the Apollo Program (1959-1973): aprox $109 billion in 2010 dollars.

Afghanistan war

The projects to occupy, develop, and restructure Iraq and Afghanistan are among the largest projects the United States has ever attempted. The expedition to Afghanistan, now in its fifteenth year, has been a series of thoroughly-documented failure. Yet we learn nothing and the project runs on while Afghanistan deteriorates.

The presidential candidates seldom mention it and show no interest why we have burnt so much money there while America’s vital infrastructure rots. Historians probably will consider it one of the clearest examples of the inability to learn from experience that so damages US political affairs.

Here is the latest, a 230 page compendium of failure — with some small, mostly exaggerated, success. Like its predecessors, it will have the effect of a pebble thrown into the sea.

SIGAR logo

Excerpt from The Quarterly Report to Congress, January 2016

This quarterly report focuses on the Afghan economy, but as the essay in Section 1, “Growing an Economy in Stony Ground,” concludes, developing Afghanistan’s economy may depend more on improving security, the business climate, and the educational system than on implementing specific economic programs. However, in this reporting period, Afghanistan proved even more dangerous than it was a year ago. The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001.

Vicious and repeated attacks in Kabul this quarter shook confidence in the national-unity government. A year after the Coalition handed responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), American and British forces were compelled on several occasions to support ANDSF troops in combat against the Taliban.

The lack of security has made it almost impossible for many U.S. and even some Afghan officials to get out to manage and inspect U.S.-funded reconstruction projects. This quarter the dangers of absent oversight were exposed when a task force appointed by President Ashraf Ghani reportedly found that millions of dollars were being embezzled while Afghanistan pays for numerous nonexistent “ghost” schools, “ghost” teachers, and “ghost” students

… Another performance audit this quarter found that despite U.S. training efforts, the Afghan National Army’s National Engineer Brigade is incapable of operating independently.

Continue reading

Hold the hysteria. The US economy is OK, so far.

Summary: The economy is slowing. We are probably not in a recession, let alone beginning the end times depression doomsters have so often predicted. On the other hand, continued slowing seems likely, and a little more and we will have a recession. Let’s look at some key indicators.  {First of two posts today.}

Economy

Contents

  1. Manufacturing; one piston of the US economy’s engine
  2. Transportation and trade
  3. The Bottom Line: US & world growth
  4. For More Information

 

(1)  Manufacturing; one piston of the US economy’s engine

Zero Hedge: “Durable Goods Devastation…Scream Recession

December’s Advance Report on Durable Goods  shows a continued slow decline, especially new orders. The monthly decline in December was large, but not unusually so for this volatile data. It doesn’t scream “recession”.

December 2016 Durable Good New Orders: MoM, SA

Nor does the year-over-year decline of 1.7% SA scream “recession”. It is not even unusual. New orders often decrease without a recession following; it has happened several times during this expansion. The data only goes back to 1993.

Continue reading