This story is posted over at theenergyreport.com.
It's a long interview with ShadowStats.com's John Williams.
What John envisions—and he's by no means looking to the far horizon—is a systemic collapse, a hyperinflationary great depression... and the cessation of normal commerce. This is a 10-15 minute read headlined "John Williams: Times That Try Our Souls"... and the link is http://www.theenergyreport.com/pub/na/7005. Or click on the heading above.
I expect an accelerating pace of downturn in the next couple of months. The numbers will turn sharply worse. Consensus estimates are already moving in that direction and most everything will follow. Industrial production is still up but retail sales have been falling. Payroll numbers have been flat when you take out the effects of the census hiring. Those employment numbers will turn down in the next month or two, providing an important indicator of renewed economic contraction.
So we'll see how it develops, but we're at that turning point. It is happening as we speak. At the end of July, we got an estimate of the second quarter GDP, where the pace of annualized growth slowed to 2.4%. The early GDP estimates are very heavily guessed at, so most of the time you don't know if you're getting a positive or a negative number. You get a margin of error of plus or minus 3% around the early reporting. That happens also to be about average growth.
Nevertheless, on a quarter-to quarter-basis, I think we'll see GDP down again in the third quarter.
The popular press will describe it as a double dip, but we never had a recovery. Actually, this is just a very protracted, very deep downturn that has had a pattern of falling off a cliff, bottoming out, having a little bit of bump due to stimulus and then turning down again. Sort of shaped like the path of a novice skier going down a jump for the first time. Speeding sharply down the hill, he goes up in the air and starts spinning wildly as he tries to figure out which end is up with his skis. Then he takes a pretty bad tumble. We're beginning to spin in the air.
Significantly they did not call an end to this recession. They said it was too early to call, but I think they had a pretty good sense of what was going to happen. So what we're seeing now just looks like an ongoing deep recession. The next down leg is going to be particularly painful and I'm afraid particularly protracted.
So consumer income is a key factor.
Absolutely. If you put in housing that's related to the consumer, that's three-quarters of the GDP. The average household is not staying ahead of inflation, and unless income grows faster than inflation, the economy won't grow faster than inflation—and that means that GDP is not growing. Income sustains consumption. When income grows, consumption grows. The only way to have sustainable long-term economic growth is to have healthy growth in income. You can buy some short-term economic growth, though, without growth in income, through debt expansion, which is what Greenspan tried.
Most of the growth we'd seen in the last decade prior to this downturn was due to debt expansion. The debt structures have pretty much been put through the wringer and consumers are not expanding credit, generally because it's not available to them. Absent debt expansion and/or significant growth in income, no way can the consumer expand personal consumption. You have to address employment, quality of jobs.
We no longer really have the option of expanding the debt and it's doubtful that even short-term stimulus will have much impact. Looking at this next leg down against that backdrop, what projections would you make about unemployment, housing prices, GDP as we look through the end of 2010 and into '11?
Unemployment will be a lot worse than most people expect. Housing will continue to suffer in terms of weak demand. But in this crazy, almost perverse circumstance, the renewed weakness to a large extent will help push us into higher inflation. Real estate tends to do better with higher inflation, but it's not going to be a happy circumstance for anyone.
The government is effectively bankrupt. Using GAAP accounting principles, the annual deficit is running in the range of $4 trillion to $5 trillion. That's beyond containment. The government can't cover it with taxes. They'd still be in deficit if they took 100% of personal income and corporate profits. They'd also still be in deficit if they cut every penny of government spending except for Social Security and Medicare. Washington lacks the will to slash its social programs severely, to change its approach to ever bigger government. The only option left going forward is for the government eventually to print the money for the obligations it cannot otherwise cover, which sets up a hyperinflation.
All of what I just described was already in place when the systemic solvency crisis broke. Before this crisis the government was effectively bankrupt. In response to the crisis, the government may have gone beyond what it had to do, but you err on the side of conservatism when you're trying to prevent a systemic collapse. That was a real risk. It still is. Irrespective of the politics of big government spending, quantitative easing, renewed bailing out of banks, whatever is involved, I'd argue that the government still will do whatever it takes to prevent a systemic collapse. That last series of actions had the effect of rapidly exploding the deficit. In just a year, we went from something under $500 billion in official reporting, on a cash basis as opposed to GAAP basis, to something close to $1.5 trillion.
What will plunge us into this abyss? And when?
I think the odds are extremely high that we'll see it break within the next year. I would put it six months to a year, outside.
We're getting extraordinary protestations from other central banks about the U.S. finances, its solvency, risk of the dollar.
As this breaks, it's going to be obvious that the U.S. is moving to debase its dollar. It'll have no option to do otherwise.
So what we end up with is a circumstance where the dollar is under heavy selling pressure. People will feel the squeeze on their inflation-adjusted income with much higher prices for gasoline and fuel oil.
The route to the monetary inflation will take hold from the Fed's direct monetization of Treasury debt.