How Globalism Destroys Jobs, Businesses And Wealth

American Dream
July 14, 2011

As most Americans stand around waiting for the U.S. economy to return to “normal”, there is a never ending parade of jobs, businesses and wealth heading out of the United States.  The jobs and businesses that are leaving are gone for good and will not be coming back.  This is causing unemployment to soar and government debt to skyrocket but our politicians are doing nothing about it.  Instead, politicians from both parties keep insisting that they will solve all of our problems if we will just give them our votes.

Meanwhile, American families continue to fill up their shopping carts with cheap plastic crap made on the other side of the world.  Globalism is slowly destroying the greatest economic machine that the world has ever seen and most Americans don’t even realize it.  Today, the U.S. government has surrendered massive amounts of economic sovereignty to global organizations such as the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank.  The United States has also entered into a whole host of very damaging “free trade agreements” such as NAFTA that are costing our economy huge numbers of jobs.  Our politicians always promised us that globalism would bring us to a new level of prosperity, but instead that “giant sucking sound” that you hear is the sound of the U.S. economy being hollowed out.

Our politicians and the talking heads in the mainstream media always seem to be puzzled as to why there seems to be such a lack of jobs in this country.

But it really is no great mystery.

Jeffrey Pfeffer recently wrote an article for Fortune in which he stated the following….

The U.S. seems to be shocked that its economy isn’t creating many jobs, and each monthly report on the unemployment rate and the number of new jobs somehow stimulates more handwringing. I’m not an economist, labor or otherwise, but simple observation suggests one significant contributor to the nation’s job crisis — for a long time, maybe even decades, we have been waging war on jobs and those who hold them.

That is exactly what the policies of the U.S. government have been doing for decades – they have been waging war on jobs.

Both political parties have been eagerly pushing us into a globalized economy.  Both political parties have told us not to worry as thousands of businesses, millions of jobs and trillions of dollars have left the country.

Well, so much damage has been done by this point that more Americans than ever are starting to wake up and realize that maybe globalism is not such a great thing after all.

Here is how globalism has destroyed our jobs, our businesses and our national wealth in 10 easy steps….

#1 Globalism has merged the U.S. economy with economies that allow slave labor wages.

The “minimum wage” became a whole lot less meaningful once we merged our economy with the economies of nations where it is legal to pay workers 50 cents an hour.

American workers have enjoyed all of the cheap products that have come flooding into our shores, but our politicians never told them that globalism would also mean that they would soon be directly competing for jobs with workers on the other side of the globe that are willing to work for 5 or 10 percent as much.

One big, global labor pool means that the standard of living of the hundreds of millions of workers on the other side of the world will come up slightly while the standard of living of American workers will come crashing down at a blinding pace.

Advocates of globalism never can seem to explain how U.S. workers are supposed to compete with teenage workers in Vietnam that often work seven days a week for as little as 6 cents an hour making promotional toys for big corporations.

#2 U.S. companies make bigger profits by sending jobs overseas.

If U.S. corporations can find a place where they can legally pay workers slave labor wages, what do you think they are going to do?

Corporations have a “duty to maximize shareholder wealth” and U.S. government policies actually have the effect of encouraging the offshoring of jobs.

This is even happening in industries that are on the cutting edge of new technology.

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, says that our advanced technology companies are creating far more jobs overseas than they are in the United States….

Some 250,000 Foxconn employees in southern China produce Apple’s products. Apple, meanwhile, has about 25,000 employees in the U.S. That means for every Apple worker in the U.S. there are 10 people in China working on iMacs, iPods, and iPhones. The same roughly 10-to-1 relationship holds for Dell, disk-drive maker Seagate Technology (STX), and other U.S. tech companies.

#3 Globalism has allowed foreign countries to dominate a whole host of industries that used to be dominated by the United States.

U.S. companies are having an incredibly difficult time competing against the low labor costs and the much less stringent business regulations found on the other side of the globe.

In May, the United States spent 50 billion dollars more on goods and services from the rest of the globe than they spent on goods and services from us.

This happens month after month after month.

Every month we get tens of billions of dollars poorer and the rest of the world gets tens of billions of dollars richer.

We are getting clobbered even in industries that we invented.

Do you remember when the United States was the dominant manufacturer of automobiles and trucks on the globe?  Well, in 2010 the U.S. ran a trade deficit in automobiles, trucks and parts of $110 billion.

In 2010, South Korea exported 12 times as many automobiles, trucks and parts to us as we exported to them.

How did this happen?

Well, there are a lot of reasons, but one big reason is that the business environment in the United States has become incredibly toxic.  Businesses in this country face a nightmarish web of rules and regulations and that is a big reason why so many businesses are choosing to leave this country.

In a recent article for Forbes, John Mariotti made a list of just a few of the bureaucracies that U.S. businesses must contend with on a daily basis….

#4 Jobs and manufacturing infrastructure are being lost at an astounding pace and they are not going to come back.

Jobs and manufacturing facilities are leaving this country at a blinding pace.  Nothing is being done to stop this from happening.  These jobs are not coming back and they are not being replaced.

Just consider the following statistics….

*The United States has lost a staggering 32 percent of its manufacturing jobs since the year 2000.

*Between December 2000 and December 2010, 38 percent of the manufacturing jobs in Ohio were lost, 42 percent of the manufacturing jobs in North Carolina were lost and 48 percent of the manufacturing jobs in Michigan were lost.

*The United States has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs per month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

*Since 2001, over 42,000 manufacturing facilities in the United States have been closed down.

So what are all of those workers doing today?

There are sitting at home trying to figure out what has happened to the once happy lives that they enjoyed.

Today, there are 6.3 million Americans that have been unemployed for more than 6 months.  That number has risen by more than 3.5 million in just the past two years.

Right now, it takes the average unemployed worker almost 40 weeks to find a new job.  There are not nearly enough jobs for everyone and the competition for the few job openings that are available is brutal.

Only 66.8% of American men had a job last year.  That was the lowest level that has ever been recorded in all of U.S. history.

We have millions upon millions of very hard working Americans that are sitting around hoping that someone will give them a job.

But labor costs about 10 percent as much on the other side of the world so that is where all the jobs are going.

#5 Workers without good jobs can’t buy houses or cars.

A huge factor in the housing crash has been the lack of good jobs.  There are now approximately 10 percent fewer middle class jobs than there were a decade ago.

As competition for jobs increases, wages are being depressed because employers know that they have all the power.

So working class American families are being squeezed like never before.

Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.  A nice home is becoming out of reach for a lot of Americans.

Meanwhile, the cost of food and the cost of gas continue to rise.

One recent survey found that 9 out of 10 U.S. workers do not expect their wages to keep up with soaring food prices and soaring gas prices over the next 12 months.

#6 If American workers don’t have jobs they aren’t paying taxes.

Most Americans have no idea how much our trade deficit contributes to our government debt problems.  When Americans are not working, they are not paying taxes to support our federal, state and local governments.

In the years since 1975, the United States had run a total trade deficit of 7.5 trillion dollars with the rest of the world.

That is money that could have gone to U.S. workers and U.S. businesses.  That is money that taxes could have been paid on.

Instead, our workers are sitting at home and our federal, state and local governments are starving for cash.

#7 Instead of receiving taxes, the government must pay out money to our unemployed workers instead.

We are going to support our unemployed workers one way or another.  Either we are going to give them good jobs or we are going to give them welfare payments.

During the recent economic downturn, millions of American workers have been receiving unemployment benefits for up to 99 weeks.  It has become soul-crushingly difficult to find a job in America today, and we have developed a whole new class of people that have become totally dependent on the government because they simply cannot find work.

Everywhere you look, government anti-poverty programs are exploding in size.

As 2007 began, there were 26 million Americans on food stamps.  Today, there are more than 44 million Americans on food stamps, which is a new all-time record.

#8 As jobs and businesses leave our shores, many of our once great manufacturing cities have been transformed into hellholes.

In a recent article entitled “American Hellholes“, I talked about the economic decay that we are seeing all over the United States….

All over the nation many of our greatest cities are being slowly but surely transformed into post-apocalyptic wastelands.  All over the mid-Atlantic, all along the Gulf coast, all throughout the “rust belt” and all over the entire state of California cities that once had incredibly vibrant economies are being turned into rotting, post-industrial hellholes. In many U.S. cities, the “real” rate of unemployment is over 30 percent. There are some communities that will start depressing you almost the moment that you drive into them. It is almost as if all of the hope has been sucked right out of those communities.  If you live in one of those American hellholes you know what I am talking about.  Sadly, it is not just a few cities that are becoming hellholes.  This is happening in the east, in the west, in the north and in the south.  America is literally being transformed right in front of our eyes.

#9 The United States ends up borrowing back most of the money that it sends overseas every single month.

Every month tens of billions of dollars of our national wealth gets transferred to foreign countries.  In order to make ends meet, our federal, state and local governments end up borrowing gigantic amounts of money from the countries that we have sent our wealth to.

So now we have a national debt that is well over 14 trillion dollars and we owe massive amounts of money to countries like China and Saudi Arabia.

But when we borrow money from other countries that makes us even poorer in the long run.  Debt is never the answer to anything.

#10 Foreign countries are using up some of the wealth that we send them every month to buy up our infrastructure.

Most Americans don’t realize that our state and local governments are selling off our infrastructure piece by piece.  Foreign governments are literally buying pieces of America with the money that we keep sending to them.  In a recent article entitled “Our Politicians Are Selling Off Pieces Of America To Foreign Investors – And Goldman Sachs Is Helping Them Do It“, I talked about this phenomenon….

State and local governments across the country that are drowning in debt and that are desperate for cash are increasingly turning to the “privatization” of public assets as the solution to their problems.  Pieces of infrastructure that taxpayers have already paid for such as highways, water treatment plants, libraries, parking meters, airports and power plants are being auctioned off to the highest bidder.  Most of the time what happens is that the state or local government receives a huge lump sum of cash up front for a long-term lease (usually 75 years or longer) and the foreign investors come in and soak as much revenue out of the piece of infrastructure that they possibly can.  The losers in these deals are almost always the taxpayers.  Pieces of America are literally being auctioned off just to help state and local governments minimize their debt problems for a year or two, but the consequences of these deals will be felt for decades.

Sadly, neither political party seems concerned about the effects of globalism at all.

In fact, both parties continue to push for even more globalism.

But large numbers of ordinary Americans are waking up.

According to a recent Washington Post poll, only 36 percent of Americans consider “the increasing interconnection of the global economy” to be a positive thing.  Back in 2001, 60 percent of Americans believed that the globalization of the economy was a positive thing.

So maybe there is a glimmer of hope.

But until fundamental changes are actually made, globalism will continue to destroy our jobs, our businesses and our national wealth.

“Unregulated Greed has Destroyed the Capitalist System”

Paul Craig Roberts

I write about major problems: the collapsing US economy, wars based on lies and deception, the police state based on “the war on terror” and other fabrications such as those orchestrated by corrupt police and prosecutors, who boost their performance reports by convicting the innocent, and so on. America is a very distressing place. The fact that so many Americans are taken in by the lies told by “their” government makes America all the more depressing.

Often, however, it is small annoyances that waste Americans’ time and drive up blood pressures. One of the worst things that ever happened to Americans was the breakup of the AT&T telephone monopoly. As Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury in 1981, if 150 percent of my time and energy had not been required to cure stagflation in the face of opposition from Wall Street and Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, I might have been able to prevent the destruction of the best communications service in the world, and one that was very inexpensive to customers.

The assistant attorney general in charge of the “anti-trust case” against AT&T called me to ask if Treasury had an interest in how the case was resolved. I went to Treasury Secretary Don Regan and told him that although my conservative and libertarian friends thought that the breakup of At&T was a great idea, their opinion was based entirely in ideology and that the practical effect would not be good for widows and orphans who had a blue chip stock to see them through life or for communications customers as deregulated communications would give the multiple communications corporations different interests than those of the customers. Under the regulated regime, AT&T was allowed a reasonable rate of return on its investment, and to stay out of trouble with regulators AT&T provided excellent and inexpensive service.

Secretary Regan reminded me of my memo to him detailing that Treasury was going to have a hard time getting President Reagan’s economic program, directed at curing the stagflation that had wrecked President Carter’s presidency, out of the Reagan administration. The budget director, David Stockman, and his chief economist, Larry Kudlow, had lined up against it following the wishes of Wall Street, and the White House Chief of Staff James Baker and his deputy Richard Darman were representatives of VP George H.W. Bush and did not want s substantial Reagan success that would again threaten the Republican Establishment’s hold over the party. Baker and Darman wanted to be sure that George H. W. Bush, and not Jack Kemp, succeeded Ronald Reagan, and that required a muted Reagan success that they could claim as theirs for moderating an “extremist” program.

I told Secretary Regan that if I had another deputy assistant secretary, I could reach a reasonable conclusion whether the breakup of AT&T was sensible. He replied that he was sure that was the case, but that once I had three deputies the headlines in the Washington Post and New York Times, Business Week, Newsweek, and so on, would be: “Supply-sider builds empire at Treasury.” He said it would sink me and that without me he could not get the President’s economic program out of the President’s administration. “Which do you want to do,” he asked, “save AT&T or cure stagflation?”

Curing stagflation gave America twenty more years. Ironically, the good times started to erode when Reagan’s other goal was accomplished and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1990. “The end of history” resulted in India and China opening their labor markets to American capitalists, who began producing offshore with foreign labor the products that they sold to Americans. The labor costs savings pushed up corporate profits, shareholders’ returns, and managerial bonuses. But it deprived Americans of middle class incomes and wrecked the balance of trade. The US income distribution and the trade deficit worsened.

Many progressives blame the worsening income distribution on the Reagan tax rate reductions, but the real cause is the offshoring of manufacturing, industrial, and professional service jobs, such as software engineering.

None of us in the Reagan administration foresaw jobs offshoring as the consequence of Soviet collapse. We had no idea that by bringing down the Soviet Union we would be bringing down America. During the Reagan years India was socialist and would not allow foreign corporations, had they been interested, to touch their labor force. China was communist and no foreign capital could enter the country.

However, once the Soviet Union was gone from the earth, the remaining socialist and communist regimes decided to go with the winners. They opened to Western corporations and sucked jobs out of the developed West.

But this is a different story. To get back to deregulation, nothing has worked for the consumer since deregulation. Deregulation permitted corporations to impose their costs of operation on customers without having to send them a bill. For example, corporations use voice recognition technology to keep customers from salaried customer representatives. I remember when a customer with a problem could call a utility company or bank and have the problem immediately corrected.

No more. There was an error in my phone bill today, which I had corrected without result on two previous occasions. As everyone knows by now, it takes 10-15 minutes, usually, to get a live person who can actually fix the problem. After listening to sales pitches for 12 minutes, I got a live person. Once the problem was understood, it was pronounced to be an upper level problem out of his hands. I waited another 10 minutes while he tried to reach a superior who had the code to fix the problem that the phone company had produced in my account. The entire time I listened to product advertisements.

How many times has this happened to you?

Whoever invented these artificial voice capabilities is the enemy of mankind. Whomever a customer calls–utilities, credit card companies, banks, whatever, the customer gets a voice machine. Some voice machines never tell the customer how to get a live person who can, on occasion, actually fix the problem.

In my opinion, the strategy behind the endless delays is to cause the customers to give up, slam the telephone down and play the higher incorrect bill as it is cheaper in time and frustration to correcting the problem and being billed in the correct amount. These ripoffs of the customer are produced by Wall Street pressures for higher earnings.

The frustrations, of course, multiply when one reaches an offshored service somewhere in the Third World. The incentive is to hang up and to pay the excessive bill so that phone, internet, or credit card services are not cut off

Had Don Regan and I known that the high speed Internet was in our future and that American corporations would use it to destroy the jobs traditionally filled by US university graduates, possibly we would have decided to save the regulated telephone monopoly and to deliver the economy over to stagflation.

The reason is that sooner or later something would have been done about stagflation, but nothing whatsoever has been done about offshoring. Saving the economy from offshoring would have been a greater achievement than saving the economy from stagflation. However, in my time stagflation, not offshoring, was the problem.

I regret that I did not have a crystal ball.

Deregulation proponents will say that the breakup of AT&T gave us cell phones and broadband, as if foreign regulated communication companies and state monopolies do not provide cell phone service or high speed Internet connections. I can remember attending corporate board meetings years ago at which the European members had digital cell phones with which they could call most anywhere on earth, while we Americans with our analogue cell phones could hardly connect down the street.

What deregulation did was to permit Wall Street to push the deregulated industries– phone service, airlines, trucking, and later Wall Street itself– to focus on profits and not on service. Profits were increased by curtailing service, by pushing up prices and by Wall Street creating fraudulent financial instruments, which the banksters used America’s reputation to market to the gullible at home and abroad.

Consider air travel. Admit it, if you are my age you hate it. The deterioration in service over my lifetime is phenomenal. Studies in favor of airline deregulation focused on short flights between A and B and concluded that small airlines serving high density areas were more efficient because they were not regulated. What was left out of the analysis is that regulated airlines served low density areas and permitted free stopovers. For example, if one was flying from the US to Athens, Greece, the traveler could stopover in London, Paris, and Rome without additional charges. Moreover, passengers were fed hot meals even in tourist class. In those halcyon days, it was even possible to travel more comfortably in tourist class than in first class, because flights were not scheduled in keeping with full capacity. Several rows of seats might be unoccupied. It was possible to push up the arm rests on three or four center aisle seats, lay down and go to sleep.

Perhaps the best benefit of regulated air travel for passengers was that airlines had spare airliners. If one airplane had mechanical problems that could not be fixed within a reasonable time, a standby airliner was rolled out to enable passengers to meet their connections and designations. With deregulation, customer service is not important. The bottom line has eliminated spare airliners.

With deregulated airlines, Wall Street calls the tune. If your flight has a mechanical problem, you are stuck where you are unless you have some sort of privileged status that can bump passengers from later fully booked flights. “Studies” that focus only on discounted ticket price omit major costs of deregulation and thereby wrongly conclude that deregulation has benefited the consumer.

When trucking was regulated, truckers would stop to provide roadside assistant to stranded travelers. Today, with deregulated trucking, every minute counts toward the bottom line. Not only do truckers no longer stop to aid stranded travelers, they travel at excessive speeds that endanger automobile drivers. Trucks have expanded in size, weight and speed. Trucks raise the stress level on interstate highway drivers and destroy, at taxpayers expense, the roads on which they travel.

Conservatives and especially libertarians romanticize “free market unregulated capitalism.” They regard it as the best of all economic orders. However, with deregulated capitalism, every decision is a bottom-line decision that screws everyone except the shareholders and management.

In America today there is no longer a connection between profits and the welfare of the people. Unregulated greed has destroyed the capitalist system, which now distributes excessive rewards to the few at the expense of the many.

If Marx and Lenin were alive today, the extraordinary greed with which Wall Street has infected capitalism would provide Marx and Lenin with a better case than they had in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Cycle of Debt Deflation

Before It’s News

One of the most famous quotations of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises is that “There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency involved.” In fact, the US economy is in a downward spiral of debt deflation despite the bold actions of the federal government and of the US Federal Reserve taken in response to the financial crisis that began in 2008 and the associated recession. Although the vicious circle of debt deflation is not widely recognized, precisely what von Mises described is happening before our eyes.

A variety of positive economic data has been reported in recent months. Retail sales rose 0.4% in April 2010 as consumer spending rose and the US gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a rate of 3%.  In May 2010, home sales rose to a five-month high and consumer confidence rose 17% (from 57.7 to 63.3). Industrial production rose 0.8% and durable goods orders rose 2.9%, more than had been forecast. However, the modest gains reported represent the continuing adaptation of economic activity at dramatically lower levels compared to the pre-recession period and most of the reported gains have been substantially manufactured by massive government deficit spending.

Despite the widely reported green shoots, in May, the unemployment rate rose to 9.9% while paychecks in the private sector shrank to historic lows as a percentage of personal income, and personal bankruptcies rose. Roughly 14% of US mortgages are delinquent or in foreclosure, credit card defaults are rising and consumer spending hit 7 month lows. To make matters worse, the reported increase in consumer credit, in fact, points to a further deterioration because consumers appear to be borrowing to service existing debt. Outside of the federal government, which is borrowing at record levels and expanding as a percentage of GDP, and outside of the bailed out financial sector, debt deflation has continued unabated since 2008.

Money Supply vs. Debt Service

A contraction of the broad money supply is taking place because the influx of money into the US economy, i.e., lending to consumers and non financial businesses, has fallen below the rate at which money is flowing out of general circulation as a function of debt service (interest and principle payments on existing debt), thus a net drain of money from the broad US economy is taking place. As a result, additional borrowing, as consumer spending falls, appears to be servicing existing debt in a pattern that is clearly unsustainable and that signals a further rise in debt defaults in coming months.
The estimate of the broad money supply (the Federal Reserve’s M3 monetary aggregate) is crashing and the Federal Reserve’s M1 Money Multiplier, a measure of how much new money is created through lending activity, fell off of a cliff in 2008, and remains practically flat-lined.
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
The contraction of the broad money supply points to a potential slowing of economic activity and indicates that consumers and non financial businesses will be less able to service existing debt. Despite easing somewhat in March 2010, credit card losses are expected to remain near 10% over the next year and mortgage delinquencies, are currently at a record highs, and these dismal predictions implicitly assume a stable or growing money supply.

A tsunami of eventual mortgage defaults seems to be building and loan modifications have been a failure thus far. There have been only a small number of permanent loan modifications (295,348) under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) in 2009, out of 3.3 million eligible (60 days delinquent) loans and more than half of modified loans default.

Mortgage Delinquencies and Foreclosures
Chart courtesy of Calculated Risk
Although it has been reported that American consumers are saving at a rate of 3.4%, the contraction of the broad money supply suggests savings liquidation. Given a contracting money supply, ongoing debt defaults and declining consumer spending, the increase in non-mortgage consumer loans indicates that consumers are borrowing where possible to consolidate debts, cover debt service, or borrowing to continue operating financially as their total debt grows, thus as they approach insolvency.
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
The increase in non-mortgage consumer loans has not prevented an overall decline in total household debt attributed to ongoing deleveraging by consumers. While deleveraging (paying down debt) has been interpreted as caution on the part of consumers, or as low consumer confidence, the decline in outstanding credit reflects a reduced ability to borrow, i.e., to service additional debt. This suggests that the recovery of the US economy may be illusory and that the economy is likely to contract further in coming months.
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Commercial borrowing has declined more sharply than household debt suggesting that the nominal return to growth estimated at 3% has not been matched by debt financed expansion in the private sector.
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
The broad US money supply is no longer being maintained or expanded by normal lending activity. If federal government deficit spending ($1.5 trillion annually), debt monetization and emergency actions by the Federal Reserve (totaling an estimated $1.5 trillion since 2008) to recapitalize banks are considered separately, there remains a net drain effect on the broad money supply. The scarcity of money hampers economic activity, i.e., money is less available for investment, and directly exacerbates debt defaults as consumers and businesses experience cash shortfalls, while at the same time being less able to borrow. Since unemployment is a key indicator of recession, then if the US economy were contracting, it would be evident in unemployment statistics.

Structural Unemployment

Unemployment and labor force data suggest that the US labor market is in a structural decline, i.e., millions of jobs have been and are being permanently eliminated, perhaps as a long term consequence of off-shoring, outsourcing to other countries and the ongoing de-industrialization of the United States. However, the immediate meaning of the term “structural” has to with the fact that jobs created or sustained during the unprecedented expansion of debt leading to the financial crisis that began in 2008, e.g., a substantial portion of service sector jobs created in the past two decades now appear not to be viable outside of a credit expansion.

Officially, the US unemployment rate rose to 9.9% in April 2010, which represents the percentage of workers claiming unemployment benefits. However, the total number of unemployed or underemployed persons, including so-called “discouraged workers” (Bureau of Labor Statistics U-6), rose to 17.1%Using the same methods that the BLS had used prior to the Clinton administration, U-6 would be approximately 22%, rather than the official 17.1% statistic.

U-6 Unemployment
With official U-6 unemployment of 17.1% and a workforce of 154.1 million there are roughly 26,197,000 people officially out of work. Using the pre-Clinton U-6 unemployment calculation of approximately 22%, there would be 33.9 million unemployed. If the average US household consists of 2.6 persons and if 33% of the unemployed are sole wage earners, then 55.5 million US citizens currently have no means of financial support (17.9% of the population).
Unemployment by Duration
Chart courtesy of Calculated Risk
While it has been reported that the labor force is shrinking, the characterization of workers permanently exiting the workforce by choice may be inaccurate. While a shrinking workforce could reflect demographic changes, the rate of change suggests that tens of millions of Americans are simply unemployed.
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Setting aside the question of whether or not those “not in the workforce” are, in fact, permanently unemployed, the workforce, as a percentage of the total US population, is currently at 1970s levels. Since many more households today depend on two incomes to meet their obligations, compared to the 1970s, a marked drop in the percentage of the population in the workforce points to a decline in the labor market more significant than official unemployment statistics suggest. What is more important, however, is that structural unemployment suggests structural government deficits, e.g., unemployment benefits, welfare, food stamps, etc. Since more than 2/3 of US GDP (roughly 70%) consists of consumer spending, a sustainable recovery from recession seems improbable if unemployment is worsening or if the labor force is in a structural decline, since that would imply unsustainable government deficits, whether or not they are masked by nominal GDP gains thanks to economic stimulus measures.

Government and GDP Growth

The US federal government is a growing portion of GDP, thus reported GDP growth is largely a byproduct of government deficit spending and stimulus measures, i.e., reported GDP growth is unsustainable. Total government spending at the local, state and federal levels accounts for as much as 45% of GDP, thus nominal gains would be expected when government deficit spending increases. According to some measures, reported gains in GDP are a byproduct of relatively new statistical methods and, using earlier methods of calculation, GDP remains negative.
Government borrowing and spending may have offset declines in the private sector but only to a degree and only temporarily. The resulting growth in US public debt has an eventual mathematical limit: insolvency. Of course, the actual limit to US borrowing remains unknown. The continuing solvency of the US depends on the ability and willingness of governments, banks and investors around the world to lend to the US, which in turn depends on the tolerance of lenders for the US government’s profligacy and money printing by the Federal Reserve, e.g., quantitative easing and exchanging new cash for worthless bank assets. US Treasury bond auctions will fail if lenders conclude that a sufficiently large portion of their investment will be diluted into oblivion by proverbial money printing. In that event, the US dollar will surely plummet, despite deflationary pressures within the domestic US economy, and the cost of foreign goods, e.g., oil, will rise causing high inflation or triggering hyperinflation.
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the federal budget deficit increased from 3.1% of GDP in 2007 to 9.2% in 2010.  Rather than being the result of one-time expenses, such as temporary stimulus measures, much of the deficit represents permanent increases in government spending, e.g., due to the growing number of federal employees. If increased government spending is removed, GDP appears to be declining significantly.
GDP Minus Government Deficit Spending
Chart courtesy of Karl Denninger
Of course, sustainability has more to do with total debt than with deficit spending because a deficit assumes that there is an underlying capacity to service additional debt.

Unsustainable Debt

While asset prices have declined, e.g., real estate and equities, debt levels have remained high due to the federal government’s policy of preserving bank balance sheets, which had ballooned prior to the financial crisis to the point that overall debt in the US economy reached unsustainable levels.
Total Debt to GDP
Chart courtesy of Karl Denninger
The absolute debt to GDP ratio of the US economy peaked in 2007 when debt levels exceeded the ability of the economy to service debt from income based on production, even at low interest rates. Although US GDP began to decline prior to the advent of the global financial crisis, debt coverage had been in decline approximately since the 1970s, coincidentally, around the time that the US dollar was decoupled from gold.
Declining Debt Coverage from 1971 on
Chart courtesy of Karl Denninger
Government deficit spending cannot correct the situation because, for every dollar of new borrowing, the gain in GDP is negligible and some have argued that the US economy has passed the point of “debt saturation.”
Debt Saturation
Chart courtesy of Nathan A. Martin
In a growing economy, additional debt can result in a net gain in GDP because the money supply grows and economic activity is stimulated by transactions that flow through the economy as a result. The debt saturation hypothesis is that, as debt levels rise, additional debt has less impact on GDP until a point is reached where new debt causes GDP to decline, i.e., the capacity of the economy to service debt has been exceeded and, not only is it impossible for the economy to grow at a rate sufficient to service existing debt (since interest compounds), but economic activity actually declines further as a function of additional debt.

A Downward Spiral

The process of debt deflation is straightforward. New lending at levels that would maintain or expand the broad money supply is impossible for two reasons: (1) asset values and incomes have fallen and millions remain unemployed; and (2) debt levels remain excessive compared to GDP, i.e., real economic activity (outside of the government and financial services industry) cannot service additional debt. The inability to lend, actually the result of prior excess lending, results in a net drain of money from the economy. The drain effect, in turn, leads to further defaults as cash strapped consumers and businesses fail to service existing debt, and as debt defaults impact bank balance sheets, putting a damper on new lending and completing the cycle of debt deflation.

Keynesian economic policies, i.e., government deficit spending, are irrelevant vis-à-vis excessive debt levels in the economy and bailing out banks is not a solution since it cannot stop the deterioration of their balance sheets. The process is self-perpetuating and cannot be stopped by any government or monetary policy because it is not a matter of policy, but rather one of mathematics.

Since the presence of excess debt (beyond what can be supported by a stable GDP, or by sustainable GDP growth) impacts the broad money supply, efforts to preserve bank balance sheets, i.e., to keep otherwise bad loans on the books of banks at full value, will ultimately cause bank balance sheets to deteriorate more than they would have otherwise. The fact that US banks issued trillions in bad loans cannot be corrected by changing accounting rules, nor can the consequences be avoided by government deficit spending or by unlimited bailouts, and the problem cannot be papered over by dropping freshly printed money from helicopters flying over Wall Street. The major problems facing the US economy today—a tsunami or debt defaults, structural unemployment, massive government budget deficits, a contraction of the broad money supply outside of the federal government and the financial system, and a lack of sustainable growth—cannot be addressed as long as excess debt levels are maintained. As von Mises clearly understood, sound economic conditions cannot be restored unless and until the excess debt, which resulted from a boom brought about by credit expansion, is purged from the system. The alternative, and the current policy of the United States, is a downward spiral into a bottomless economic abyss.