November 16, 2012

Either Way A Fiscal Cliff

Okay, so here's the dirtly little secret...

The "Fiscal Cliff" that everyone is supposedly working on to avert--is really unavoidable!

Yes, the Sequestration that was put in place that eliminates the broad-based tax cuts from a decade ago and reduces spending across military and domestic government spending--can be replaced by more surgical tax increases and spending cuts. 

But with a National Debt of more than $16 trillion dollars and one which has been trending up over a trillion dollars a year, we have gorged ourselves and spent beyond our means for too long--and the time to pay up is fast approaching.

For example, critical entitlement programs like social security and medicare are running out of funds and will not be able to cover benefits by 2033 and 2024, respectively.

What is even worse though is that the money you have been paying into "the system" from your payroll taxes for decades hasn't been put aside in trust for you, but has been spent on other things--sort of like robbing Peter to pay Paul. And now what?

At a time when national competitiveness is suffering, jobs are going overseas, test scores in science and math are trending down, and we have the lowest percentage of Americans working in 30 years, we are saying that we've essentially spent our last dime decades ago and have been doubling down with more and more borrowing--that we don't really know if we can ever pay back. 

While we would like to "grow" our way out, by having more people working, earning more, and paying more into the system, our growth projections of slightly more than 2% next year and a historical average from 1947-2012 of just 3.25%--this seems more than wishful thinking. 

More likely, as the percent of our national debt to GDP continues to rise and our national credit ratings are are at risk of falling, interest rates will start to rise first slowly and then faster to elevated levels to compensate for the increased borrowing risks, and we will see inflation rear it's ugly head--it is ugly because inflation will mean your savings are worth less or potentially even virtually worthless. 

This will make the $16+ trillion deficit also worth less, so we pay it back through inflation as Germany did with hyperinflation after WWI, and the essential wiping out of our personal savings. Viola, deficit paid down, but pay attention to at what personal costs! 

Unfortunately, the fiscal cliff is here and will happen whether spending is cut here or there and taxes go up on some or everyone. This is just the negotiation of how to spread the pain and spin the tale. 

And either way the fiscal cliff is going to hurt, because you have to cut spending and increase taxes leaving people with even less money in their shrinking pocketbooks, and if you don't, the credit agencies will continue cutting our national credit rating leading to higher interest rates on the debt and higher inflation--so either way, our creditors will get their pound of flesh. 

In the E.U. now, we are seeing the effects with countries from Greece to Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and more reeling from the impact, but this is only the beginning, because the lending spigot instead of being turned off, has been opened up further to kick the can down the road. But who will be the lender of last resort, when there is no one that can reliably pay it back?

In the end, you can't raises tax or cut your way out of decades of financial mismanagement, overnight. In the corporate sector, we say Chapter 11--what do you say for Western civilization? And what do we tell our children and grandchildren?

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)


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