Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke says that jobs and growth will pick up in the second half of the year.
But – according to over 5 million Google hits – Mr. Bernanke is not telling the truth.
President Obama says we’re not headed for a double-dip recession.
But CNN notes:
Forty-eight percent say that another Great Depression is likely to occur in the next year – the highest that figure has ever reached. The survey also indicates that just under half live in a household where someone has lost a job or are worried that unemployment may hit them in the near future.
According to the survey, more than eight in ten Americans say that the economy is in poor shape, a number that has stubbornly remained at that level since March.
(Before you take any solace in the fact that less than 50% believe we’ll have another depression, Gallup noted in April that more Americans think the country is in a Depression than think the economy is growing.)
How bad are things? And why aren’t they improving?
One more time … from the top.
Billion dollar fund managers agree: the government never fixed the underlying economic problems, so we’ll have another crash.
The housing slump is now officially worse than during the Great Depression, and still may get much worse.
Chronic unemployment is worse than during the Great Depression. And more people will be unemployed during this downturn than during the Great Depression. In addition – in contrast with the Great Depression – the loss of jobs now appears to be permanent.
For those lucky enough to have jobs, wages appear to have increased less over the past 10 years (when adjusted for inflation) than they did during a comparable 10-year period during the Great Depression.
As CNN Money points out, things are so bad that Wal-Mart’s CEO is worried that people won’t be able to afford their goods.
I wrote last December:
The following experts have – at some point during the last 2 years – said that the economic crisis could be worse than the Great Depression:
- Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke
- Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker
- Economics scholar and former Federal Reserve Governor Frederic Mishkin
- The head of the Bank of England Mervyn King
- Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz
- Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman
- Former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead
- Investment advisor, risk expert and “Black Swan” author Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Well-known PhD economist Marc Faber
- Morgan Stanley’s UK equity strategist Graham Secker
- Former chief credit officer at Fannie Mae Edward J. Pinto
- Billionaire investor George Soros
- Senior British minister Ed Balls
States and Cities In Worst Shape Since the Great Depression
States and cities are in dire financial straits, and many may default in 2011.
California is issuing IOUs for only the second time since the Great Depression.
Things haven’t been this bad for state and local governments since the 30s.
Loan Loss Rate Higher than During the Great Depression
In October 2009, I reported:
In May, analyst Mike Mayo predicted that the bank loan loss rate would be higher than during the Great Depression.
In a new report, Moody’s has just confirmed (as summarized by Zero Hedge):
The most recent rate of bank charge offs, which hit $45 billion in the past quarter, and have now reached a total of $116 billion, is at 3.4%, which is substantially higher than the 2.25% hit in 1932, before peaking at at 3.4% rate by 1934.
And see this.
Here’s a chart summarizing the findings:
(click here for full chart).
Indeed, top economists such as Anna Schwartz, James Galbraith, Nouriel Roubini and others have pointed out that while banks faced a liquidity crisis during the Great Depression, today they are wholly insolvent. See this, this, this and this. Insolvency is much more severe than a shortage of liquidity.
Food Stamps Replace Soup Kitchens
1 out of every 7 Americans now rely on food stamps.
While we don’t see soup kitchens, it may only be because so many Americans are receiving food stamps.
Indeed, despite the dramatic photographs we’ve all seen of the 1930s, the 43 million Americans relying on food stamps to get by may actually be much greater than the number who relied on soup kitchens during the Great Depression.
In addition, according to Chaz Valenza (a small business owner in New Jersey who earned his MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business) millions of Americans are heading to foodbanks for the first time in their lives.
The War Isn’t Working
Given the above facts, it would seem that the government hasn’t been doing much. But the scary thing is that the government has done more than during the Great Depression, but the economy is still stuck a pit.
The amount spent in emergency bailouts, loans and subsidies during this financial crisis arguably dwarfs the amount which the government spent during the New Deal.
For example, Casey Research wrote in 2008:
Paulson and Bernanke have embarked on the largest bailout program ever conceived …. a program which so far will cost taxpayers $8.5 trillion.
[The updated, exact number can be disputed. But as shown below, the exact number of trillions of dollars is not that important.]
So how does $8.5 trillion dollars compare with the cost of some of the major conflicts and programs initiated by the US government since its inception? To try and grasp the enormity of this figure, let’s look at some other financial commitments undertaken by our government in the past:
As illustrated above, one can see that in today’s dollar, we have already committed to spending levels that surpass the cumulative cost of all of the major wars and government initiatives since the American Revolution.
Recently, the Congressional Research Service estimated the cost of all of the major wars our country has fought in 2008 dollars. The chart above shows that the entire cost of WWII over four to five years was less than half the current pledges made by Paulson and Bernanke in the last three months!
In spite of years of conflict, the Vietnam and the Iraq wars have each cost less than the bailout package that was approved by Congress in two weeks. The Civil War that devastated our country had a total price tag (for both the Union and Confederacy) of $60.4 billion, while the Revolutionary War was fought for a mere $1.8 billion.
In its fifty or so years of existence, NASA has only managed to spend $885 billion – a figure which got us to the moon and beyond.
The New Deal had a price tag of only $500 billion. The Marshall Plan that enabled the reconstruction of Europe following WWII for $13 billion, comes out to approximately $125 billion in 2008 dollars. The cost of fixing the S&L crisis was $235 billion.
So even though the government’s spending on the “war” on the economic crisis dwarfs the amount spent on the New Deal, our economy is still stuck in the mud.
Why Haven’t Things Gotten Better for the Little Guy?
As I noted in April:
Instead of directly helping the American people, the government threw trillions at the giant banks (including foreign banks; and see this) . The big banks have – in turn – used a lot of that money to speculate in commodities, including food and other items which are now driving up the price of consumer necessities [as well as stocks]. Instead of using the money to hire Americans, they’re hiring abroad (and getting tax refunds from the government).
And as I wrote in December:
Government leaders make happy talk about how things are improving, but happy talk cannot fix the economy. [No wonder Americans don't believe Bernanke or Obama.]
Two fundamental causes of the Great Depression, and of our current economic problems, are fraud and inequality:
- Fraud was one of the main causes of the Depression, but nothing has been done to rein in fraud today
- Inequality was another major cause of downturns – including the Depression – but inequality is currently worse than during the Depression
There are, of course, other reasons the economy is still stuck in a ditch for most Americans, such as encouraging too much leverage, bailing out the big speculators, failing to break up the mammoth banks, and failing to spend wisely, where it will do some good. See this and this. But fraud and inequality were core causes of the Depression, and our failure to address them will only prolong our misery.