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US Facing Death by Debt

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The old regime of general economic stability and rising standards of living fueled by excessive credit are a thing of the past.

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What will happen when credit cannot grow exponentially? We already have our answers; it's been the reality for the past three years. Debts cannot be serviced, the weaker and more highly leveraged participants get clobbered first (Lehman, Greece, Las Vegas housing, etc.), and the dominoes topple from the outside in towards the center. Money is dumped in, but traction is weak. What begins as a temporary program of providing liquidity becomes a permanent program of printing money needed in order for the system to merely function.

Debt and Europe

The debt situation in Europe is fairly typical of the developed world and mirrors the debt chart of the US seen above. There's entirely too much debt, and most of the unserviceable amounts are concentrated in certain spots (i.e., PIIGS), while the amounts owed are concentrated in the German, French, and British banks.

This New York Times graphic did an excellent job of summing everything up:

(Source - click to view larger graphic at source)

Here is a slightly less-complicated image that expresses the same dynamic:

If everybody owes everybody else, then kicking the can down the road only works if there's more wealth, more growth, and sufficient economic activity down that road to service the past debts. If any one participant drops the baton in the debt relay race, the absurdity of the situation becomes unavoidable and the cause is lost.

When we hold this view, it is abundantly clear that adding more debt along the way only increases the burdens and is therefore ultimately counterproductive, although it does grant the gift of additional time to avoid facing the truth.

When all of the most indebted countries are stacked up, we see that all but Russia carry a total indebtedness greater than 100% of GDP and that nine are carrying debt levels higher than any that have ever been repaid historically.

(Source) Note: 260% debt-to-GDP is the all time record for repayment, accomplished by England between 1815 and 1900, but required both massive cuts in spending and an industrial revolution.

Without mincing words, the world does not face a crisis of liquidity, nor a crisis of insufficient debt, but one of entirely too much debt. That's the entire predicament in three words: too much debt.

More debt is only going to compound the predicament, yet that is what the world's central banks and political structures are busy manufacturing. More debt.

Of course, debt is only one component of the story; there are also liabilities to consider. The above chart merely graphs the legally defined debts involved. If we bother to add back in the liability components, which are pensions, social security and government medical plans, the predicament is seen to be three to six times larger:

Whereas the prior chart showed all debts incurred by all sectors of each nation, the above chart only displays government debt and liabilities. For reference, the red bars, above, are the amounts that you read about in the paper when commentators note that the US, for example, still has a debt-to-GDP ratio that is under 100%. It's a comforting tale, but not an accurate description of the situation.

Again, there are no historical examples of any country ever digging itself out from so deep a hole, and yet we find that the entire developed world has bravely pushed itself deep into unknown territory, seemingly without any serious discussions about whether or not this made sense.

Where We Are Now

So here we are, just a few weeks away from the end of the second round of quantitative easing (QE II) , with massive public debts and liabilities having only grown larger instead of shrinking during the Great Recession, everybody in nearly the same boat, and no clear plan for how all the sovereign debts will be funded from current productive cash flows (i.e., existing GDP).

This is why so many commentators, myself included, are convinced that more thin-air money printing is on the way. My thesis, laid out back in early March is that the Fed will stop QE II on schedule and that the financial markets will react exceptionally poorly to this loss of support. Commodities will tank first, then stocks, then bonds; from riskiest and most-leveraged to least.

It is time to face the music; the levels of indebtedness now require permanent support from thin-air money in order to avoid a deflationary collapse.

Editor's Note: Chris Martenson is an economic researcher and futurist specializing in energy and resource depletion.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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