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US midterms – deflation the risk so be afraid

Written By: - Date published: 8:59 pm, November 3rd, 2010 - 22 comments
Categories: Economy, referendum, us politics - Tags:

As predicted, the US midterms have not gone well for the Democrats, as they have lost control of the House of Representatives. But they retain a majority in the Senate, so some are predicting that the most likely outcome is a repeat of the gridlock of 1994, after a similar conservative revolt led by Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing media provided the opportunity for Clinton’s re-election in 1996.

Paul Krugman has a different take as the current US economic situation is very different from the mid-1990’s:

The economy, weighed down by the debt that households ran up during the Bush-era bubble, is in dire straits; deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present danger. And it’s not at all clear that the Fed has the tools to head off this danger. Right now we very much need active policies on the part of the federal government to get us out of our economic trap.

But we won’t get those policies if Republicans control the House. In fact, if they get their way, we’ll get the worst of both worlds: They’ll refuse to do anything to boost the economy now, claiming to be worried about the deficit, while simultaneously increasing long-run deficits with irresponsible tax cuts — cuts they have already announced won’t have to be offset with spending cuts.

So if the elections go as expected next week, here’s my advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

As a bonus this post from Rightways has the 10 worst ads in the campaign. More money was spent than ever before, a lot of it by faceless and nameless groups in the last stages of the election. We can expect the same here next year, particularly in the anti-MMP campaign. The current National Party  Bill still in select committee allows for completely unregulated television advertising. They won’t all be as bad as these.

lprent: I added a featured image from wikipedia. For interest here is the deflation/inflation history of the US since 1666.

22 comments on “US midterms – deflation the risk so be afraid”

  1. Nick K 1

    Obama has the right plan – fly 367 people to India and spend ~$200 million per day on an extravagant talkfest.

    Think of all the food that could be bought for poor Indians with that money.


  2. A 2

    That country is a political basket case, populated by idiots and beyond all hope of salvation.

  3. Herodotus 3

    Perhaps the Democrats lost the mid terms by not delivering on the hype of Obamas success.
    We have been accepting of some very shallow leaders without any vision just full of rhetoric and media spin. And this comment is applicable to the past Lab govt as much as the present Nat.
    As long as consumerism allows spending to be greater than income there is a day of reckoning. And we are here !!! And some desire for a planned economy ;-(
    So be very aware & fight the power & don’t believe the hype !!

  4. Colonial Viper 4

    The US is seriously screwed.

    Actually I take that back. After they have their first failed auction of Treasury bonds in modern history, they will be seriously screwed.

    China, dump your USD denominated reserves ASAP, because at this rate you are never getting your money back. Maybe you can exchange them with some fools for hard assets, like, I don’t know, dairy farms.

    And I agree with you Herod that Obama is largely to blame. Putting Bernanke, Summers and Geithner in charge of the economy, WTF that really looks like Washington business as usual, they helped sink the ship in the first place and now they are going to sink your Presidency.

  5. gobsmacked 5

    “I’m like Obama” (John Key, 2008).


    • Herodotus 5.1

      They were both a 2 term MP/congressman with a voting public open for change, they were accepted by swing voters and even Republicians/Lab voters were able to swing. The old ways have failed us. Neither has delivered the change required. And they were so much more eye candy that the alternatives mmm 😉
      I believe we the voter was wanting someone not instutionalised as are all the professional long term MP’s (disconnect with the public) and the old timers got us into this mess we are in now.

      • Lew 5.1.1

        Um, Obama was never a congresscritter; he was an Illinois state senator from 1997 to 2005 and a US senator from 2005-08. Obama didn’t inherit a public “open to change” as Key mostly did; he and his campaign built the “hope, change & unity” narrative more or less from scratch starting with his DNC keynote in 2004 (before he even had a nationwide platform of his own).

        You’re right, though — they both made claim to not being institutionalised, and to the fact that this would lead to a different sort of politics. Nobody who knows anything much about how politics in either country works really bought this, but it was a useful handle to grab hold of. And then they took office and the same old powerbrokers who’d previously run everything resumed running everything.


  6. Draco T Bastard 6

    The US economy is teetering on the brink of collapse and, from what I can make out, there’s not much that can be done to change that. They’re not producing any real wealth and they need to start doing so unfortunately every other country is doing exactly the same for exactly the same reasons. No country will be able to export their way back to “growth” but, if the politicians aren’t stupid and follow a different path, they may be able to get their economy back to actually supporting their people and their society (which is actually the whole point of the economy and not profits).

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      Yep. The moron US Government, under the sway of private interests, has taken on to the public balancesheet a huge amount of private, toxic debt.

      Private companies could fail, that debt defaulted on, and it would all be swept away in bankruptcy.

      But now you have a problem – the debt belongs to the US Govt and the US Govt cannot default under any circumstances.

      Can they carry the burden through or will they stumble and crash burning? Best case scenario for the US – 5 to 10 years of economic staganation as the system unleverages*.

      *Problem is the old banking players are already back in the game increasing systemic risk and leverage as fast as they can.

      • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1

        But now you have a problem – the debt belongs to the US Govt and the US Govt cannot default under any circumstances.

        Well, they can but it would have to be under fairly extreme circumstances. I’m sure that such circumstances aren’t that far in the future. Even now there’s pretty much no chance of the US Federal government paying off the debt.

        *Problem is the old banking players are already back in the game increasing systemic risk and leverage as fast as they can.

        And will cause another recession in the next few years (if the US comes out of recession enough to pull their unemployment down) as they game the system in the same ways that caused the economy to crash in the first place.

    • Gosman 6.2

      “They’re not producing any real wealth”

      Another monumentally wrong headed statement from the master DTB.

      Pray tell oh wise Draco, how are the garbled thoughts that are spilling out from your brain making their way through to the less enlightened of us?

      Do you think there might be some aspect of US involvement in that process?

      • Colonial Viper 6.2.1

        “They’re not producing any real wealth”

        Another monumentally wrong headed statement from the master DTB.

        DTB is spot on.

        A great US economy in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s based on industrial and technological innovation has long declined into ponzi capitalism. Wealth based on creating huge mountains of debt, wealth based on huge asset bubbles, wealth based on creating clever tradeable pieces of paper back and forth.

        And guess what. None of that was real wealth. And now the US have to give it all back, and it is going to take them years.

        Do you think there might be some aspect of US involvement in that process?

        The US knows exactly where these problems have come from and what they are. After all, they deliberately created the circumstances which have led their country to this point.

  7. Bored 7

    You would have to say from the graph that the cycle of inflation deflation when left to the market was pretty regular, the inflation post war highly unusual by historic standards. Keynesian economics might be a big influence, but it carries on for the neo lib years as well. seems to me that debt loading might require inflation to eat them away to extend the ability to raise more credit on the basis of payment from future growth. Both the neo lib and Keynes agenda requires growth, i think that we may see sanity now thrust upon us with an equally massive deflation.

  8. RedLogix 8

    Steven Keen has long predicted that deflation had to trump inflation, unless the Fed printed truly insane amounts of money (>$20T). Another good read from Keen detailing the underlying drivers of the US economy and the impact of debt.

    No-one can predict the details of the future, but Keen keeps getting the basics right. In particular he shows that printing money and giving it to the banks is futile…no-one wants to borrow more. The correct response is a debt jubilee… until we do that we’ll be locked into a debt averse, deflationary cycle as everyone deleverages.

    NZ has a Debt to GDP ratio of about 190% (total of govt, business and private debt), Aus is a bit more, the USA and UK closer to 300%. For NZ and Aus the long-term sustainable ratio is under 40%. To get back to this level the Western world needs to deleverage about (200-40) = 160% of GDP. Now even if we took a 5% hit on GDP each and every year (that’s massive) it would still take around 160/5 = 32 yrs to complete the process.

    That’s 20-30 years of stagnation. Think this impossible…think again; one word Japan.

    • Colonial Viper 8.1

      Was it you who has talked about Keen before? I followed it up and love his now (slightly dated but still excellent) podcasts. Good guy, wish we had someone like that speaking up in NZ.

      I think we go back to the old days. All debts are wiped from society every 10 years.

      And at least, debt moratoria now. All debt over $10,000 legally reduced in size by 90% immediately.

      • RedLogix 8.1.1

        Yes, I think Draco and I are both long-term Keen fans. As an engineering type myself, I find most conventional economics interesting on one level, but bafflingly opaque and unsatisfactory on another. In particular, the ne-liberal fundamentalist idea that market are always efficient because they always move towards an equilibrium is an a priori that makes no sense whatsoever.

        On the other hand Keen talks my language, because his fundamentals are the flow of money and the dynamics between the three major sectors of the economy… workers, businesses and banks.

        • Colonial Viper

          the ne-liberal fundamentalist idea that market are always efficient because they always move towards an equilibrium is an a priori that makes no sense whatsoever.

          It makes even less sense when you actually survey what a failure neo-liberalism has been for the many over the last 30 years. For the few, however, they have done very well out of the mess created.

          So for the powerful and the wealthy who still promulgate the model, it continues to make powerful rational economic sense. For everyone else, not one whit.

          • Bored

            I would suggest that the neo lib idea of market equilibriunm is demonstrated by the graph to be true on a very broad band…..i.e it hums like a radio frequency. Equilibrium needs to be redefined as something that does not stop in the middle.

            • Draco T Bastard

              Yeah, that’s what Keen does. His models show a cyclical system that’s never in balance except over the long term. Neo-libs seem to think that it’s always in balance.

  9. clandestino 9

    Deflation – or ‘falling prices’ – is being fought off by a desperate Fed running the printers on overdrive. If you look at that graph, you see prices have not been allowed to fall for 60 years, going against the US’ (and likely the worlds’) long term history. Fuelled by debt, this trend is unsustainable, but looks set to be dragged out to the detriment of us all.

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      Another US$600B created by the privately held Federal Reserve bank and given to the US Government to spend into the economy. Won’t make a whit of difference unfortunately, this liquidity trap they are in is mired by trillions worth of debt, some of it not worth the paper it is written on.

      Welcome to the USA’s lost decade.

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