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Is It Too Late?   June 16th, 2011
Can we fix our economic situation, or is it too late?       


More observations...

Yesterday I posted an article about the most predictable economic crisis in history in which the co-chairs of President Obama's deficit commission said they expect a full-fledged economic crisis to happen within two years unless we change course.

I've written about how, unlike after past recessions, housing will not drive the recovery.

I've observed on many occasions about the high probability that the Federal Reserve will continue printing money with QE3 (or some other name for printing money). I've written about the dangerous path of printing money and how difficult it is to stop once you've started, and how our money-printing and excessive spending may soon lead to a Greece-style debt crisis.

I've also noted that our current course of printing money is an effective default, something a Chinese rating agency affirmed months later.

We're aware of our $14.3 trillion national debt and anywhere from $60 to $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities--money that hasn't been accounted for in our national debt, but which we know we'll have to pay over the next generation.

And I've written about how our mismanagement of our finances has driven more and more countries to look for alternatives to the dollar which will eventually threaten the dollar's status as the world's reserve currency, something which will have major ramifications for America.

There is no shortage of bad news, and the numbers are nothing short of astronomical.

So last night I received an email from a reader that had a very relevant question:

Do you believe that, if the 2012 elections resulted in a Reaganesque Republican being elected the current developing crisis could be averted by much the same strategies, i.e., drastic tax cuts, spending cuts, monetary tightening and deregulation?

Or, do you think we have progressed too far down the road to ruin for such policies to effectively avert a painful economic crisis?

The question really amounts to: Is it too late?

My opinion is that it's not too late until we have a debt crisis or until the dollar is abandoned as the world's reserve currency.

Any time before one of those events happens, I think we can buy ourselves enough time if we actually implement a serious, credible plan of deficit and spending reduction. Doing so would convince the markets that we're serious about addressing our fiscal situation, create confidence, and I believe that would postpone the threat of a debt crisis long enough for us to actually execute our spending reductions.

But once a debt crisis occurs--or once it's clearly imminent--I think it will be too late for us to fix it on our own terms. The same is true if the dollar is abandoned as the world reserve currency (and I think both events would be essentially simultaneous... if the dollar loses its reserve currency status, we'll have a debt crisis. Or if we have a debt crisis, the dollar will lose its reserve currency status).

When Greece started making news in January 2010, markets knew Portugal's days were numbered. And Portugal knew the markets knew, so it attempted to take "preemptive" steps to head off a debt crisis. But it was too late. Despite preliminary efforts by Portugal to build confidence in the market, they had to request a bailout about 16 months later. The lesson is that we have to fix our problems before the markets are focused on them. There's still an opportunity for us to do that while the markets are still focused on the other side of the Atlantic.

Having said that, I don't think we can escape our economic situation without pain. Even the adjustments of the early 80's were painful, and our current situation is much worse than it was then. So we will have economic pain before we have a sustainable recovery. And the longer we wait, the more painful it will be.

I'm also not at all sure that we can make it to the 2012 elections on our current course without the economic crisis that experts are warning about, so it would be extremely dangerous to wait for the next president to address our problems.

Nevertheless, my answer to the question "Is it too late?" is that it's too late to fix our economic situation without pain, but it's not yet too late to save our country from economic ruin.

But the window of opportunity is closing.

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