I have wide reading interests. One of my favorite writers is an economist/investment analyst named John Mauldin. I try to stay up on his email newsletter as much as possible. If you want some brain candy, I highly suggest you subscribe. Anyway, I thought this few paragraph excerpt from one of his emails was worth your reading. The world is going to significantly change, and it is my opinion that the average TV watching, sports-loving, debt is just part of life person is going to be in for changes that I don’t think they are ready for.
The first transformational theme that I see is the emerging failure of multiple major governments around the world to fulfill the promises they have made to their citizens. We have seen these failures at various times in recent years in “developed countries”; and while they may not have impacted the whole world, they were quite traumatic for the citizens involved. I’m thinking, for instance, of Canada and Sweden in the early ’90s. Both ran up enormous debts and had to restructure their social commitments. Talk to people who were involved in making those changes happen, and you can still see some 20 years later how painful that process was. When there are no good choices, someone has to make the hard ones.
I think similar challenges are already developing throughout Europe and in Japan and China, and will probably hit the United States by the end of this decade. While each country will deal with its own crisis differently, these crises are going to severely impact social structures and economies not just nationally but globally. Taken together, I think these emerging developments will be bigger in scope and impact than the credit crisis of 2008.
While each country’s crisis may seemingly have a different cause, the problems stem largely from the inability of governments to pay for promised retirement and health benefits while meeting all the other obligations of government. Whether that inability is due to demographic problems, fiscal irresponsibility, unduly high tax burdens, sclerotic labor laws, or a lack of growth due to bureaucratic restraints, the results will be the same. Debts are going to have to be “rationalized” (an economic euphemism for default), and promises are going to have to be painfully adjusted. The adjustments will not seem fair and will give rise to a great deal of societal Sturm und Drang, but at the end of the process I believe the world will be much better off. Going through the coming period is, however, going to be challenging.
“How did you go bankrupt?” asked Hemingway’s protagonist. “Gradually,” was the answer, “and then all at once.” European governments are going bankrupt gradually, and then we will have that infamous Bang! moment when it seems to happen all at once. Bond markets will rebel, interest rates will skyrocket, and governments will be unable to meet their obligations. Japan is trying to forestall their moment with the most breathtaking quantitative easing scheme in the history of the world, electing to devalue their currency as the primary way to cope. The US has a window of time in which it will still be possible to deal with its problems (and I am hopeful that we can), but without structural reform of our entitlement programs we will go the way of Europe and numerous other countries before us.
The actual path that any of the countries will take (with the exception of Japan, whose path is now clear) is open for boisterous debate, but the longer there is inaction, the more disastrous the remaining available choices will be. If you think the Greek problem is solved (or the Spanish or the Italian or the Portuguese one), you are not paying attention. Greece will clearly default again. The “solutions” have so far produced outright depressions in these countries. What happens when France and Germany are forced to reconcile their own internal and joint imbalances? The adjustment will change consumption patterns and seriously impact the flow of capital and the global flow of goods.
This breaking wave of economic changes will not be the end of the world, of course – one way or another we’ll survive. But how you, your family, and your businesses are positioned to deal with the crisis will have a great deal to do with the manner in which you survive. We are not just cogs in a vast machine turning to powers we cannot control. If we properly prepare, we can do more than merely “survive.” But achieving that means you’re going to have to rely more on your own resources and ingenuity and less on governments. If you find yourself in a position where you are dependent upon the government for your personal situation, you might not be happy. This is not something that is going to happen all of a sudden next week, but it is going to unfold through various stages in various countries; and given the global nature of commerce and finance, as the song says, “There is no place to run and no place to hide.” You will be for ced to adjust, either in a thoughtful and premeditated way or in a panicked and frustrated one. You choose.
Read the whole piece over at Mauldin Economics.