Happy talk - explains our guru Michael Hudson is only happy for those on the receiving end of our hard-earned payouts. We don't really save. We pay down debt because our financial lives depend on it - more so now than at any prior time due to the "wreckage of the Greenspan bubble." So, if you think the Obama-Geithner plan is working to recreate your past happy times, you are sadly mistaken. The people at the bottom of the feeding-frenzy pyramid are just trying to regain lost ground through taking the losses that will only deteriorate into even heavier losses if not taken now.
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Happy-face media reporting of economic news is providing the usual upbeat spin on Friday's debt-deflation statistics. The Commerce Department's National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) for May show that U.S. “savings” are now absorbing 6.9 percent of income. I put the word “savings” in quotation marks because this 6.9% is not what most people think of as savings. It is not money in the bank to draw out on the “rainy day” when one is laid off as unemployment rates rise. The statistic means that 6.9% of national income is being earmarked to pay down debt – the highest saving rate in 15 years, up from actually negative rates (living on borrowed credit) just a few years ago. The only way in which these savings are “money in the bank” is that they are being paid by consumers to their banks and credit card companies. Income paid to reduce debt is not available for spending on goods and services. It therefore shrinks the economy, aggravating the depression. So why is the jump in “saving” good news? It certainly is a good idea for consumers to get out of debt. But the media are treating this diversion of income as if it were a sign of confidence that the recession may be ending and Mr. Obama's “stimulus” plan working. The Wall Street Journal reported that Social Security recipients of one-time government payments “seem unwilling to spend right away," while The New york Times wrote that “many people were putting that money away instead of spending it.” It is as if people can afford to save more. The reality is that most consumers have little real choice but to pay. Unable to borrow more as banks cut back credit lines, their “choice” is either to pay their mortgage and credit card bill each month, or lose their homes and see their credit ratings slashed, pushing up penalty interest rates near 20%! To avoid this fate, families are shifting to cheaper (and less nutritious) foods, eating out less (or at fast food restaurants), and cutting back vacation spending. It therefore seems contradictory to applaud these "saving” (that is, debt-repayment) statistics as an indication that the economy may emerge from depression in the next few months. While unemployment approaches the 10% rate and new layoffs are being announced every week, isn't the Obama administration taking a big risk in telling voters that its stimulus plan is working? What will people think this winter when markets continue to shrink? How thick is Mr. Obama's Teflon?So . . . there.
We are living in the wreckage of the Greenspan bubble
As recently as two years ago consumers were buying so many goods on credit that the domestic savings rate was zero. (Financing the U.S. Government's budget deficit with foreign central bank recycling of the dollar's balance-of-payments deficit actually produced a negative 2% savings rate.) During these Bubble Years savings by the wealthiest 10% of the population found their counterpart in the debt that the bottom 90% were running up. In effect, the wealthy were lending their surplus revenue to an increasingly indebted economy at large.
Today, homeowners no longer can re-finance their mortgages and compensate for their wage squeeze by borrowing against rising prices for their homes. Payback time has arrived – paying back bank loans, whose volume has been augmented to include accrued interest charges and penalties. New bank lending has hit a wall as banks are limiting their activity to raking in amortization and interest on existing mortgages, credit cards and personal loans.
Many families are able to remain financially afloat by running down their savings and cutting back their spending to try and avoid bankruptcy. This diversion of income to pay creditors explains why retail sales figures, auto sales and other commercial statistics are plunging vertically downward in almost a straight line, while unemployment rates soar toward the 10% level. The ability of most people to spend at past rates has hit a wall.