Are we headed for deflationary depression instead of hyperinflation?

At least one analyst thinks so.  According to financial advisor and author Dan Shaffer America and the rest of the world are currently at the beginning of a deflationary depression period.  He believes that we are presently seeing the beginning of this depression and it will last for many years to come.  Presumably overall prices will fall dramatically in this period according to Shaffer’s prediction.

He says that governments have borrowed huge amounts of money and this has driven up public debt dramatically.  We have had TARP and the stimulus package to name a few of these public spending programs but none of them have stimulated the economy.

We still have high unemployment and no sign of a real recovery.  According to an article posted online recently in Yahoo Finance the economy is sputtering.  Unemployment rose in May officially from 8.1% to 8.2%.  Far fewer jobs were created than were anticipated according to the article.

Shaffer points out that Chinese manufacturing is stalling and there is the European economic crisis.  Several countries in Europe have massive debt problems with Greece at the forefront but Spain, Italy and others are all in trouble too.  Manufacturing in Britain is shrinking at a fast pace and even France and Germany are showing a slowdown in the manufacturing sector according to the Yahoo Finance article.

Shaffer seems to indicate that all of this government spending has only served to pump more air into a series of bubbles.  We have already seen the housing bubble burst but their are others that are ready to burst he says.  There is the manufacturing bubble and the student loan bubble not to mention the overall consumer debt bubble.   He indicates that all of these bubbles must eventually burst when the air (government spending) is withdrawn as it inevitably must be.

In America the Fed has responded to this overall economic crisis by dropping interest rates to historic lows.  Interest rates are now lower than what they were even in the great depression and they are at the lowest level in history according to Dan Shaffer.  According to the Yahoo Finance article the Fed has bought $2.3 in bonds to help the recovery.  The Fed has also signaled that it will keep these interest rates low until late 2014 at least.

In the article they state that there is little more that the Fed can do as it has dropped interest rates as low as they can for the foreseeable future and it seems to have little effect.  The federal government too is in trouble too as it has borrowed and spent with TARP and the stimulus package around $2 trillion and this has not created growth in the economy.

So now the government is out of options.  They have borrowed, spent, and the fed has lowered the interest rate to zero.  What else can the government do?  We now have a $16 trillion public debt to show for these borrowing and spending policies and little economic recovery.  The spending has indeed left us with nothing but record large government debts.

I hear echoes of history here where FDR’s treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. said “we have tried spending money.  We have spent more than we have ever spent before and it does not work”.  He was speaking here of FDR’s new deal which he was a primary architect of.  The new deal policy was to borrow and spend money endlessly in an attempt to stimulate the economy but at the end of 8 years the unemployment rate was just as high as it was when FDR’s administration began spending money.

Today we have done almost exactly what was done in the 1930s with similar results.  You think we would learn from history that this massive borrowing and then spending does not lead to recovery but just to massive debt.  Now with the heavy debt load and the lack of recovery the American public naturally wants to put a brake on the spending.

A public demand has been building for the last few years that government spending be curtailed.  We have seen this with groups like the Tea Party and others that have demanded an end to this spending and a reduction of deficits.  Whether you agree with these groups or not their demand have reached the ears of Congress.

This is where Shaffer seems to believe that we will get into trouble.  He claimed recently on Fox business that this government spending does eventually find its way into the private sector.  When government spending is lowered in the near future he says this will result in less buying power for world markets.  This could result in deflationary pressures throughout the world as the bubbles burst.  Prices could then dramatically decline instead of increase.

He seemed to say that government spending has propped up the stock market although temporarily.  Now that the times have changed and people want to put the brakes on borrowing and spending this removal of the government money will result in severe economic problems because of a collapsing of prices.

The government has also tried printing money with QE1 and QE2 and there are calls to do a QE3.  I argued in a previous blog that this will only lead to massive inflation and that could lead to disaster.  This is what lead Germany to Hitler through the massive money printing and inflation of the Weimar republic.  The National Socialists (NAZIs) were just another political party with limited influence until the money printing inflation cycle drove the German economy to a terrible crisis.  This all made people turn to Hitler for a solution and we all got the holocaust of World War Two with 60 million dead.

I believe that Shaffer’s theory of a massive price reducing deflation instead of hyperinflation must be considered as a real possibility.  It is certainly another possible outcome of the current economic crisis.  Prices could dramatically fall when government spending is inevitably withdrawn.

Is it more likely that prices will collapse as government withdraws spending?  Are we headed into a deflationary downward spiral or is it more likely that massive inflation will occur as governments print more money?

We don’t know for sure.  Our debt situation and money printing policies are similar to the Weimar Republic of the 1920s but the argument for deflation is also compelling.  Will prices drop dramatically or will they inflate beyond all expectations?  Either way we appear to be headed for a crisis in the world.  We have been there before but the results were not good.  When economies collapse and order is gone people yearn for someone to restore order.  That person or persons could become a detriment to the whole world like Hitler was in the 1940s.

I am a San Diego bankruptcy attorney.  For further questions please visit my websites at www.farquharlaw.com or www.freshstartsandiego.com.  Or call my office for a free consultation or for any other advice about bankruptcy or debt at (619) 702-5015.   Call now for free credit report and analysis!  For a free e-book on “13 things to do to prepare for your bankruptcy filing” please e-mail me at farquharesq@yahoo.com.

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Should American states like California and Illinois file for bankruptcy? Turns out it can be done but with a cost!

A number of the states in the USA are completely broke with little chance of paying off their debts.  California is one that reportedly has a $500 billion unfunded pension liability problem.  $500 billion is obviously more than the citizens of the state of California can pay so some have talked about the possibility of a federal bailout.  I am personally against a bailout because it will only continue the problem of overspending and unfunded pension liabilities that California can’t afford.

Numerous other states have huge debt problem often related to their unfunded pension liabilities.  Hawaii, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, Oregon and New Jersey are among the small states mentioned.  California, Illinois, and New York are the large states with huge debt problems.  One article says as many as 46 states need bankruptcy.  According to reports I’ve read Utah seems to be the best financially managed state in the union and it has little debt.

For many states it was the housing collapse that resulted in a great reduction in tax revenues that started the slide.  For other like California the unfunded pension problem has been building for years.  For states like New Jersey and Nevada, who relied on gambling taxes, times are really tough as people have slowed down on gambling because of the slow economy. But most states that are in financial trouble seem to have some level of this same unfunded pension liability problem.  A state bankruptcy would allow the bankruptcy courts to throw out these pension contracts just like with a city if the law can be changed to allow states to go bankrupt.

As I wrote in a previous blog, states are sovereign entities and they thus cannot go bankrupt.  But there is a way for California and the other states to make it happen anyway.  Congress can pass a law allowing the individual states to declare bankruptcy but the states would have to petition the Congress for such a right.  Without the petition the law won’t change and states will be stuck with their debts.

Congress passed the law that originally created chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy seventy years ago during the great depression.  Chapter 9 allowed cities and counties to file for bankruptcy protection and 600 such entities have taken advantage of this law since it was passed in the 1930s.  Presumably Congress could now authorize a whole new chapter in the bankruptcy code.  We could call it “chapter 10.”  A chapter 10 would eliminate the barriers to states filing and eliminate the “sovereign entity” problem that still exists today.

Apparently Newt Gingrich is in favor of just such a law.  Ironically it is the republicans, who are not normally bankruptcy friendly, who seem to be more in favor of just such a law.  This appears to be because the republicans do not want any state to receive a federal bailout which would impose a tax on the whole country to pay for the worst fiscally managed states.  If  states like California, Illinois and the others would file bankruptcy then a federal bailout would be unnecessary.

With a bankruptcy these states can eliminate their debts such as the unfunded pension liabilities that have plagued cities.  With a bankruptcy the state can also save its assets.  In a chapter 9 bankruptcy the law is clear that the bankruptcy court cannot interfere with the city’s day-to-day activities and the cities can even borrow money during the bankruptcy.

In a chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy the court also cannot force the city to sell any of its assets like city land or buildings.  Presumably this would apply to states’ bankruptcies too.  A state could therefore keep all of its assets during and after the bankruptcy.  As I reported in a previous blog this is because of constitutional protections like separation of powers that prevent a court from interfering with any day-to-day functioning of a city because a city is a public entity.  A public political entity like a city (or a state) simply cannot be operated or directly interfered with by a bankruptcy court.  This is made clear on the federal courts website under chapter 9 bankruptcies.

A state could presumably enjoy these protections in a chapter 10 bankruptcy just like the cities can protect their assets under chapter 9.  Bankruptcy would mean for these states that they could continue to run their affairs as usual with no interference from the bankruptcy court and they would not have to sell any assets.  They could just cancel the debts of all kinds including these pension contracts that were negotiated with the unions.  They could renegotiate new contracts that the states could afford and that were on par with what people earn in the private sector.  Bankruptcy could indeed save the states from disaster and financial ruin.

But there is a price to pay for all of this.  State bond interest rates will have to  increase to reflect the new threat that a state can go bankrupt.  There is currently no such threat as states cannot now go bankrupt so state bonds are given a very good rating.  Since bond investors will now have to risk that the state can go bankrupt and wipe out their investment, the state will have to pay a higher interest rate to attract investors.  Presumably once the law is passed allowing states to go bankrupt then any state can declare bankruptcy as often as the law allows.

I would argue that if the states don’t get this debt problem under control then the bond rates could increase anyway as they would have a greater risk of defaulting on the bonds.  The bond issue can be dealt with so the effect of a bankruptcy on state bonds will be lessened.  Bonds could be given some kind of special preference for instance.  If the states can protect the bond holders position in the bankruptcy or reaffirm (agree to pay) the bond debts then the harm to the bond market could be minimized.  Then states could still find buyers for bonds in the future when they need a new road or bridge or airport.

My advice to the states with the most debt is to strongly consider the bankruptcy option.

I am a San Diego bankruptcy attorney.  Please visit my websites at www.farquharlaw.com or www.freshstartsandiego.com.  Or call me for free with any bankruptcy or debt related question you might have at (619) 702-5015.  Call now for a free credit report and analysis!

For a free e-book: “13 THINGS YOU SHOULD DO TO PREPARE FOR YOUR BANKRUPTCY FILING” please send a request by e-mail to: farquharesq@yahoo.com.