Mar 042012
 March 4, 2012  Posted by at 4:31 am Finance

Stockman.jpgIn case you were still thinking that we at TAE are alone in our view of the financial and economic system, how about Ronald Reagan's Budget Director from '81-'85, and the man behind the biggest tax cut in US history, agreeing point for point with TAE on where we stand – on the edge of an abyss far worse than Lehman's – and where you should hold your money – cash if you have little to spare, plus short term bonds if you have some more, and gold if you're so loaded (like Stockman is) that you can hang on to it long enough -.


Bernard Condon writes for Associated Press: (Photo by Kathy Willens).


He was an architect of one of the biggest tax cuts in U.S. history. He spent much of his career after politics using borrowed money to take over companies. He targeted the riskiest ones that most investors shunned — car-parts makers, textile mills.


That is one image of David Stockman, the former White House budget director who, after resigning in protest over deficit spending, made a fortune in corporate buyouts.


But spend time with him and you discover this former wunderkind of the Reagan revolution is many other things now — an advocate for higher taxes, a critic of the work that made him rich and a scared investor who doesn’t own a single stock for fear of another financial crisis.


Stockman suggests you’d be a fool to hold anything but cash now, and maybe a few bars of gold. He thinks the Federal Reserve’s efforts to ease the pain from the collapse of our “national leveraged buyout” — his term for decades of reckless, debt-fueled spending by government, families and companies — is pumping stock and bond markets to dangerous heights.


Known for his grasp of budgetary minutiae, first as a Michigan congressman and then as Reagan’s budget director, Stockman still dazzles with his command of numbers. Ask him about jobs, and he’ll spit out government estimates for non-farm payrolls down to the tenth of a decimal point. Prod him again and, as from a grim pinata, more figures spill out: personal consumption expenditures, credit market debt and the clunky sounding but all-important non-residential fixed investment.


Stockman may seem as exciting as an insurance actuary, but he knows how to tell a good story. And the punch line to this one is gripping. He says the numbers for the U.S. don’t add up to anything but a painful, slow-growing future.


Now 65 and gray, but still wearing his trademark owlish glasses, Stockman took time from writing his book about the financial collapse, “The Triumph of Crony Capitalism,” to talk to The Associated Press at his book-lined home in Greenwich, Conn.


Within reach was Dickens’ “Hard Times” — two copies.


Below are excerpts, edited for clarity.


Q: Why are you so down on the U.S. economy?


A: It’s become super-saturated with debt.


Typically the private and public sectors would borrow $1.50 or $1.60 each year for every $1 of GDP growth. That was the golden constant. It had been at that ratio for 100 years save for some minor squiggles during the bottom of the Depression. By the time we got to the mid-’90s, we were borrowing $3 for every $1 of GDP growth. And by the time we got to the peak in 2006 or 2007, we were actually taking on $6 of new debt to grind out $1 of new GDP.


People were taking $25,000, $50,000 out of their home for the fourth refinancing. That’s what was keeping the economy going, creating jobs in restaurants, creating jobs in retail, creating jobs as gardeners, creating jobs as Pilates instructors that were not supportable with organic earnings and income.


It wasn’t sustainable. It wasn’t real consumption or real income. It was bubble economics.


So even the 1.6 percent (annual GDP growth in the past decade) is overstating what’s really going on in our economy.


Q: How fast can the U.S. economy grow?


A: People would say the standard is 3, 3.5 percent. I don’t even know if we could grow at 1 or 2 percent. When you have to stop borrowing at these tremendous rates, the rate of GDP expansion stops as well.


Q: But the unemployment rate is falling and companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 are making more money than ever.


A: That’s very short-term. Look at the data that really counts. The 131.7 million (jobs in November) was first achieved in February 2000. That number has gone nowhere for 12 years.


Another measure is the rate of investment in new plant and equipment. There is no sustained net investment in our economy. The rate of growth since 2000 (in what the Commerce Department calls non-residential fixed investment) has been 0.8 percent — hardly measurable.


(Non-residential fixed investment is the money put into office buildings, factories, software and other equipment.)


We’re stalled, stuck.


Q: What will 10-year Treasurys yield in a year or five years?


A: I have no guess, but I do know where it is now (a yield of about 2 percent) is totally artificial. It’s the result of massive purchases by not only the Fed but all of the other central banks of the world.


Q: What’s wrong with that?


A: It doesn’t come out of savings. It’s made up money. It’s printing press money. When the Fed buys $5 billion worth of bonds this morning, which it’s doing periodically, it simply deposits $5 billion in the bank accounts of the eight dealers they buy the bonds from.


Q: And what are the consequences of that?


A: The consequences are horrendous. If you could make the world rich by having all the central banks print unlimited money, then we have been making a mistake for the last several thousand years of human history.


Q: How does it end?


A: At some point confidence is lost, and people don’t want to own the (Treasury) paper. I mean why in the world, when the inflation rate has been 2.5 percent for the last 15 years, would you want to own a five-year note today at 80 basis points (0.8 percent)?


If the central banks ever stop buying, or actually begin to reduce their totally bloated, abnormal, freakishly large balance sheets, all of these speculators are going to sell their bonds in a heartbeat.


That’s what happened in Greece.


Here’s the heart of the matter. The Fed is a patsy. It is a pathetic dependent of the big Wall Street banks, traders and hedge funds. Everything (it does) is designed to keep this rickety structure from unwinding. If you had a (former Fed Chairman) Paul Volcker running the Fed today 7/8— utterly fearless and independent and willing to scare the hell out of the market any day of the week — you wouldn’t have half, you wouldn’t have 95 percent, of the speculative positions today.


Q: You sound as if we’re facing a financial crisis like the one that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.


A: Oh, far worse than Lehman. When the real margin call in the great beyond arrives, the carnage will be unimaginable.


Q: How do investors protect themselves? What about the stock market?


A: I wouldn’t touch the stock market with a 100-foot pole. It’s a dangerous place. It’s not safe for men, women or children.


Q: Do you own any shares?


A: No.


Q: But the stock market is trading cheap by some measures. It’s valued at 12.5 times expected earnings this year. The typical multiple is 15 times.


A: The typical multiple is based on a historic period when the economy could grow at a standard rate. The idea that you can capitalize this market at a rate that was safe to capitalize it in 1990 or 1970 or 1955 is a large mistake. It’s a Wall Street sales pitch.


Q: Are you in short-term Treasurys?


A: I’m just in short-term, yeah. Call it cash. I have some gold. I’m not going to take any risk.


Q: Municipal bonds?


A: No.


Q: No munis, no stocks. Wow. You’re not making any money.


A: Capital preservation is what your first, second and third priority ought to be in a system that is so jerry-built, so fragile, so exposed to major breakdown that it’s not worth what you think you might be able to earn over six months or two years or three years if they can keep the bailing wire and bubble gum holding the system together, OK? It’s not worth it.


Q: Give me your prescription to fix the economy.


A: We have to eat our broccoli for a good period of time. And that means our taxes are going to go up on everybody, not just the rich. It means that we have to stop subsidizing debt by getting a sane set of people back in charge of the Fed, getting interest rates back to some kind of level that reflects the risk of holding debt over time. I think the federal funds rate ought to be 3 percent or 4 percent. (It is zero to 0.25 percent.) I mean, that’s normal in an economy with inflation at 2 percent or 3 percent.


Q: Social Security?


A: It has to be means-tested. And Medicare needs to be means-tested. If you’re a more affluent retiree, you should have your benefits cut back, pay a higher premium for Medicare.


Q: Taxes?


A: Let the Bush tax cuts expire. Let the capital gains go back to the same rate as ordinary income. (Capital gains are taxed at 15 percent, while ordinary income is taxed at marginal rates up to 35 percent.)


Q: Why?


A: Why not? I mean, is return on capital any more virtuous than some guy who’s driving a bus all day and working hard and trying to support his family? You know, with capital gains, they give you this mythology. You’re going to encourage a bunch of more jobs to appear. No, most of capital gains goes to speculators in real estate and other assets who basically lever up companies, lever up buildings, use the current income to pay the interest and after a holding period then sell the residual, the equity, and get it taxed at 15 percent. What’s so brilliant about that?


Q: You worked for Blackstone, a financial services firm that focuses on leveraged buyouts and whose gains are taxed at 15 percent, then started your own buyout fund. Now you’re saying there’s too much debt. You were part of that debt explosion, weren’t you?


A: Well, yeah, and maybe you can learn something from what happens over time. I was against the debt explosion in the Reagan era. I tried to fight the deficit, but I couldn’t. When I was in the private sector, I was in the leveraged buyout business. I finally learned a heck of a lot about the dangers of debt.


I’m a libertarian. If someone wants to do leveraged buyouts, more power to them. If they want to have a brothel, let them run a brothel. But it doesn’t mean that public policy ought to be biased dramatically to encourage one kind of business arrangement over another. And right now public policy and taxes and free money from the Fed are encouraging way too much debt, way too much speculation and not enough productive real investment and growth.


Q: Why are you writing a book?


A: I got so outraged by the bailouts of Wall Street in September 2008. I believed that Bush and (former Treasury Secretary Hank) Paulson were totally trashing the Reagan legacy, whatever was left, which did at least begin to resuscitate the idea of free markets and a free economy. And these characters came in and panicked and basically gave capitalism a smelly name and they made it impossible to have fiscal discipline going forward. If you’re going to bail out Wall Street, what aren’t you going to bail out? So that started my re-engagement, let’s say, in the policy debate.


Q: Are you hopeful?


A: No.






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  • #8602

    In case you were still thinking that we at TAE are alone in our view of the financial and economic system, how about Ronald Reagan's Budget Direct
    [See the full post at: In case you thought we were alone …]


    “Why not? I mean, is return on capital any more virtuous than some guy who’s driving a bus all day and working hard and trying to support his family?”

    There are two reasons why ‘capital’ gains in value. 1). Either the owner uses it (works) in the production of goods and pays income taxes while doing so or 2). Inflation. In the former case, taxes are already paid on the capital. In the second, the ‘gains’ are caused by government not the owner of the capital. So capital gains taxes are either a double tax on working people or not a ‘gain’ at all.


    “Give me your prescription to fix the economy.”

    If higher taxes ever worked, they won’t now and will cause business activity to decline meaning even less revenue for the government. There is really no solution to ‘our’ problems. The thing to do is for everyone to take steps to protect his own family. Trying to save the world now just won’t work.

    Golden Oxen

    Just how much gold would have been very helpful in determining what he really thought about the future. I am very skeptical of any bankster that gets religion after salting his stash away, be it Stockman, or Buffet whining about how he is sick and tired of being coddled by the tax man. Has Stockman made modifications to his home, like Stoneleigh, to prepare for the coming disaster? I have a sneaking suspicion that a bear market in his previously owned portfolio is the only disaster he sees coming, and has prepared himself nicely to avoid it and scoop up those bargains at the bottom.


    There is no mention of energy, not in the questions and not in the answers. Stockmans prescription would not be focused on taxes if he were to include the global energy situation.


    Higher taxes. I believe it might work out just fine.

    In Sweden we got high taxes which gives us a lifestyle with these numbers (7 SEK for every USD):
    Engineers private sector 5 years of experience makes about $48000 a year net (after taxes).
    Nurses (work in hospitals) about $30000 usd a year net.

    Every child gets also a benefit taxfree of about $170 per month. This benefit is increased if you got more than 1 child. Increased per child that is.

    Childcare has a maximum limit per month (9-10 hours a day of daycare): $170 / child / month up to school age of 6.
    After school care, when parent has to work, is about $70 per month. (up to about 4-5 hours per day)

    School: free from first grade (at 7) to 18(20) years of age. School lunch also free.
    Univesity studies are also free except most students take out a student loan plus they get a benefit every month of about $300.
    After school an engineer has about $40000 in student loans (3-4 years of study).

    Hospital visit, doctors appointment: $25 per visit (up to the maximum limit described below)
    Treatments or examinations by specialist, x-ray or other: $40 per visit (same here)

    There is a maximum limit on what healthcare costs per year of: $171 (includes everything except medications which also have limits and are supsidized)

    Dental appointments, and dental work is not included in this healthcare (which is weird), so one examination and 1 treatment (fixing a cavity in tooth) is perhaps: $171 a year

    Dentalcare is free for all children up to age 20.
    Healthcare is free for all children up to age 18.

    Getting a license to wield a car is about $2000 one time. 18 age limit.

    Food for the average family of 4 is about $600 USD per month.

    Guaranteed pension is about $1000 per month thats if you have no other income what so ever.

    How does it compare to US living?


    Forgot some things:

    Absolutely minimum vacation is 5 weeks full time pay. By law. per year. Many get more.

    A 3 bedroom apartment near the capital is about $1300 per month in rent, about 80 sqm.


    Why does this not make me feel any better???
    Stockman made both his political career and vast fortune paving the road to global economic destruction, stopping along the way only to build hotels on Park Place.
    Now he’s worried about massive collapse……but not because of the havoc created for everybody else. He simply wants to preserve the bloated fortune made when he was creating that very havoc and make money on books and speakers fees talking about it what went wrong with the system. I’ve yet to hear him say ” I David, was a greedy, selfserving idealogue and am a large part of the misery yet to come.
    He was once known in the media as The President’s blow dried Grim Reaper….not much has changed.


    If you trust the figures and methodology used by the authors of China’s $22 trillion time-bomb

    China has a debt to GDP ratio of 149%:

    Now let’s total up the few trillions we have unearthed. As of 2011, this figure amounted to a tad over $10 trillion! And the ratio of total debt to GDP becomes a more ominous 149 per cent. Mind you, there may be other debts that are obligations of the central government that we don’t know about since reliability of data in China is suspect, to say the least. It is eminently possible that debt is understated and GDP overstated.

    Plenty of debt everywhere you look.


    Well John Newton was a slaver before he got religion so a private equity investor could have the same insight into the flaws of his economic system. We also have the example of former hackers being hired as computer security experts.

    I agree ( mostly) with Stockman. He’s spot on about the real US economy being dead in the water for the past decade and maybe about the stock market too. Problem is, most people don’t have vast fortunes they can sit on and what is cash if not a bearer bond of the US government? So some utility, energy and mining stocks may actually be safer than cash. So says Marc Faber as well as yours truly.

    I also think, if we can, somehow, get a handle on our debt problem, the US, well really North America, sits above every other region in the world. We’ve got the finest research universities in the world, more energy resources than any continent, abundant farmland and water and for the next quater century military supremacy over China.What’s not to like?


    “Well John Newton was a slaver before he got religion so a private equity investor could have the same insight into the flaws of his economic system”

    The evils of the slave trade and supply side economics were well known and talked about in boths men’s times.
    Each had acquired tidy fortunes that kept them and their families in comfort for the rest of their lives before Jesus and Lehman Bros. wrought their respective enlightenment. Newton’s spiritual fame and Stockman’s new literary and talking head reknown should not overshadow the fact that those voices who spoke out were right and should not be overshadowed by those who converted, when the situation no longer served aft them and they had made their fortunes.

    steve from virginia

    A: The consequences are horrendous. If you could make the world rich by having all the central banks print unlimited money, then we have been making a mistake for the last several thousand years of human history.

    Stockman is wrong: You can make a handful rich by having the banks print limited money and giving this handful access to it, giving the rest the obligation to repay.

    This has indeed been the strategy for hundreds of years.


    There is no way out… this crisis has been criminally engineered by the interests that defined corporations as “profit making psychopaths” (in thier own image) and who created Debt Dollar Tyranny via their corrupt Federal Reserve system…

    All one needs to really know that this is all a criminal confidence game designed to bankrupt us is in these two charts…


    Although I agree with much of what Mr. Stockman now says, perhaps if he had had a closer ear of the great (imposter) Communicator, things may have turned out a bit better.

    Please click the following LINK to view a graph that suggests that under the Reagan/Busch tenure, America’s debt as a percentage doubled from 30% to 60%. Also, please note the the GREEN LINE, that shows what would have happened to the national debt had Reagan and the Bushes had balanced their budgets as Reagan claimed he would.


    So when David Stockman and Stoneleigh say it is safer to be in cash, what do they mean by cash? Actual physical bills, as in empty your bank account and store the cash in a safe physical place? Or do they just mean don’t be in stocks, but instead keep your money in a savings account? I’m a little fuzzy on that recommendation. Do they not trust the whole financial system and are recommending taking your money out of the system altogether because they don’t believe you will have access to it if there is a financial collapse, or are they just cautioning to not be invested in the stock market?


    Re Terry,

    My thoughts about the cash:
    what cash in this regard means is first and formost cold hard physical cash so that you can pay your bills, food etc for perhaps 2-3 months.

    If you got more cash than this, you should have them in the US in Short Term Treasuries (or Treasury Direct?).

    and if you still have more cash then perhaps a bar or two of gold and or silver might be good. Bullion etc. But only if you got the cash to survive for quite a long time so you dont have to sell the gold at distressed levels.

    You should not trust the FDIC or any other “guarantee”. Just take a look at the MF Global affair and you’ll get the picture. FDIC and all other depositor insurances are just based on trust, in a system wide breakdown the insurances (your money) will either just disappear as with MF Global or be delayed for God knows how long.

    1. So cash in a safe place for 3 months.
    2. Get yourself prepared with some food, water and essentials in your house. It’s actually quite nice not to be forced to the food store just because you just ate up the cereal. You just go and get a new one from the pantry. Life gets easier without the constant drives to the store 🙂
    3. 6-12 months worth of cash in short term treasuries or the like in your name.
    4. And if you still got more, buy some bullion.
    5. And you can always find something more to do to prepare, for example, why not figure out how to clean your drinking water?

    My two cents.



    I agree with much you say about Sweden. However, anyway you look at it, Sweden is just as much of a Ponzi as Ireland ever was. The lessons of the Nordic property crash of the ’89-’91 were quickly forgotten and Swedish banks are heavily involved in property-lending in Eastern Europe. For example, Swedbank has assets of 1800 billion kronor on equity of 100 billion kronor. As 5% drop in asset value (which has probably already happened) would wipe them out.

    Sweden is hugely dependent on trade with the rest of Europe – and we all know what is happening there

    I am not convinced that the state paying some mothers to look after the kids of other mothers and pretending that they are both working and creating wealth is such a great idea – but then that opinion is based on my experience in Norway. I guess we will find out in due course. I am not suggesting that the American system is any better – quite the opposite.


    Re Nassim,

    I agree, the banks in this country are far too over leveraged. The main reason why I do not hold any cash in them, or the other financial institutions that exist.

    Ireland was a tiger, just as Sweden. Due to our dependancy of exports I see where we’re going. But I believe it to be the right way though. We should not act like a superpower. Instead we should face to the reality and see that we are a very small country with a small economy and instead of using up energy to fight a downturn we could somehow embrace it and use it to our advantage. Something that I see is changing in the perifery with our exports shifting ever so slightly towards emerging markets, asia etc. Perhaps someday.

    About the child care. I believe it to be quite effective from a economic perspective. 1 professional teacher who can take care of 5-8 children releases 4-7 parents who can work and create wealth. But from a societal perspective the gain in short term wealth today I believe is paid tomorrow with children lost in their ways, no connection between parent and child etc etc. This I believe costs society tremendously as criminal activity, angst, use of drugs etc has to be taken into consideration.

    My grandfather could support his family of 2 sons, wife, 4 bedroom house, car etc etc with one salary. My fathers generation needed 1,5 adults working to support the family. My own generation needs 2 or even more adults working to even be able to get by as a family. Thats a sign of inflation that matters, the amount of time you have to work and thereby not take care of your children/future is overwhelming.


    steve from virginia post=915 wrote: Stockman is wrong: You can make a handful rich by having the banks print limited money and giving this handful access to it, giving the rest the obligation to repay.

    It’s just *evil* isn’t it? Most don’t get that it is **impossible** to pay off thhis debt because the “have nots” can only use the money that the “haves” possess in order to pay these debts – and the “haves” aren’t gonna let the “have nots” have access to the bulk of the money.

    Therefore, the debts are UNPAYABLE.

    Forget creativity, work ethic, building a better mouse trap… the best one can do is to pile even more debt onto someon else… how is that for a immmoral national finance system?

    The slave owner class never gave up slavery in America, the neo slave masters just created a system of depersonalized slavery that the average citizen would not figure out on their own and would not admit to once they had it explained to them (although the latter is getting better as the pain hits said average citizen a real way).



    Thank you for clarifying the question I had about cash and for the sensible advice about other steps to take. I am actually going to carry through and follow that advice.


    el gallinazo

    The “Reagan Revolution” was a Neocon, crony capitalist agenda which bearded itself with a few idealistic if misdirected Libertarians. Nixon made China acceptable for trade, and then Reagan started the packing up for the shipment of USA industry overseas, while rapidly increasing the national debt to collapse the Soviet Union, enrich the MIC, and make the USA the unrivaled bully on the block through technical enhancement of its weaponry, much of it deep, ultra compartmentalized black ops and still under cover. Clinton was a consolidation phase during which the banking cartel consolidated its interests through bankers such as GS Rubin in top government posts, culminating in the repeal of Glass-Steagall in its final days. . Stockman points out that the real collapse of the US began around 2000. W was in charge of preparing the country for a complete fascist takeover of all aspects of life through creating the Terraist bogeyman, primarily through false flag operations to replace the Soviet “threat.” Obama is W’s third term. None of this is an accident or an unfortunate concatenation of braindead events as the MSM and much of the alternative media would have you believe.

    As to the debts, both “public” and private being unpayable, the last thing that Vinnie the Horse wants Joe Schmo to do is to pay off his loan. Just as long as he pays enough usury on it each week to prevent Vinnie’s boyz from paying him a little visit.


    That someone like Stockman is in fundamental agreement with the bailing wire analysis of the wall street/banker economy is powerful stuff. That he foresees a “real margin call” is a confirmation that the magnitude of the MSM scam about recovery is enormous. That they can and do ignore and obscure the growing number of expert skeptics despite the enormous risk involved suggests a top-down decision to deceive the public and suppress dissenting voices. Ashvin is the most direct in suggesting the nasty link between the neo-con ideology and large banking interests, but the promotion of starvation and War against Iran as something that will make “everyone ” more secure is as pure a form of fascist propaganda as I can imagine and it is here now. Is there really going to be individual survival and local economies without grass roots political resistance?

    steve from virginia

    It’s just *evil* isn’t it? Most don’t get that it is **impossible** to pay off this debt because the “have nots” can only use the money that the “haves” possess in order to pay these debts – and the “haves” aren’t gonna let the “have nots” have access to the bulk of the money.

    The only reason the have-nots have ANY money at all is to give form to the money idea.

    It is just like the only reason for there to be taxes is to give legitimacy to the money idea. Needless to say, those who have little money pay the taxes.


    There are many problems that contribute to the debt.

    The first is we have too many people, period. We need to stop illegal immigration and greatly slow legal immigration. No more anchor babies and make sure that any law legalizing any illegals who are here includes a provision stating no law can be pass in the future to do it again.

    Stop deductions on taxes for homes and more than two kids.

    Make women pay more for Medicare and Social Security, they get more benefits and presently pay far less than men. That is true equality (which they don’t want).

    Raise tax revenue but not capital gains for stock investments. Presently you have to hold for a year to get the 15% tax rate. This provides an investor base for business which will die without it. It also promotes investing instead of trading. Pass a transaction tax on buys and sells to slow high frequency trading and get revenue.
    I don’t know if the debt can be brought under control, maybe only a good dictator can do it.

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