Is 1% growth mediocre or awful? - The Daily Reckoning

Is 1% growth mediocre or awful?

Apr 22, 2015

- By Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner
Gualfin, Argentina

Dear Diary,

We'll have a full report on our trip to the puna later. In short, we never got there...and practically died trying.

But today let's check on the world of money. That's the world that really matters, isn't it?

Yesterday, the Dow lost 85 points and is still within 300 points of its all time high. Gold sticks to the $1,200 level like a burr on a wool sweater. It's been there for 2 years and shows no sign of getting restless.

So far, we've proposed 2 reasons why the 21th century has been such a dud:

First, the developed nations are cursed with too many geezers. We have nothing against old people (especially inasmuch as we hope to be one ourselves all too soon). But old people do not build a new economy; young people do. And there are not enough of them.

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Second, rules, regulations, subsidies, laws and orders now protect established financial interests against upstart competitors. Businesses get older along with the population as government creeps over more and more of the economy. The feds use monopoly force to prevent competition and reward current voters, present capital owners, and here-and-now voters. The baby born in 2015 finds himself subject to debts, obligations and restrictions that were meant to benefit his grandparents.

Today, we give you another one. As you will see, they are all related. We begin with this report from Fox Business:
    Mortgage finance giant Fannie Mae just debuted its new "HomePath Ready Buyer Program," which lets first-time homebuyers get up to a 3% rebate of a home's purchase price if they buy a Fannie Mae property, so long as they complete an online homebuyer education course which costs $75.00.

    The new HomePath Ready Buyer Program , as described by Fannie Mae, could create $4,500 in savings on a $150,000 home for first-time buyers, (defined as borrowers who have not owned a home in the prior three years).

    In addition to the 3% rebate, Fannie Mae will refund the cost of the homebuyer education course....This new program comes after Melvin Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, announced last December that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would soon start buying mortgage securities backed by 30-year loans with just 3% down payments, which banks largely halted delivering two years ago, instead demanding 20% down.
That's right. We're back to 3% down payments, rebated. And we're back to the feds (Fannie Mae is a government entity) encouraging people to load themselves down with mortgage debt.

"Stimulus," is what they call it. "A debt trap" is what it really is

Housing is essentially a form of consumption...of lifestyle enhancement instead of capital enhancement. And consumption debt has become so weighty that is drags the whole world economy down.

Even the IMF says so. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:
    The International Monetary Fund has sounded the alarm on the exorbitant levels of debt across the world, this time literally.

    The IMF's World Economic Outlook describes a prostrate planet caught in a low-growth trap as the population ages across the Northern Hemisphere, and productivity splutters. Nor is this malaise confined to the West. The fertility rate has collapsed across the Far East. China's work-force is shrinking by three million a year.

    The report warned of a "persistent reduction" in the global growth rate since the Great Recession of 2008-2009, with no sign yet of a return to normal. "Lower potential growth will make it more difficult to reduce high public and private debt ratios," it said.

    Christine Lagarde, the Fund's managing-director, calls it the "New Mediocre".

    The whole world has been drawn deeper into a Faustian Pact. Total public and private debt levels have reached a record 275pc of GDP in rich countries, and 175pc in emerging markets. Both are up 30 points since the Lehman crisis.

    Nobody knows for sure whether this is benign, or how it will end. The haunting fear for the lords of global finance at IMF headquarters this year is that it may never be repaid. Caveat Creditor.
Mediocre? Not at all. Mediocrity would be a big improvement. What we've got here is awfulness. Debt doesn't only slow GDP growth. It pushes it into reverse. That is what we've seen so far in the 21st century. The typical American has less money to spend today than he had in 1999. The century has set him back.

Here is Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington:
    Over the more than two thousand years of economic history, a clear record emerges regarding the relationship between the level of indebtedness of a nation and its resultant pace of economic activity. The once flourishing and powerful Mesopotamian, Roman and Bourbon dynasties, as well as the British empire, ultimately lost their great economic vigor due to the inability to prosper under crushing debt levels. In his famous paper "Of Public Finance" (1752) David Hume, the man some consider to have been the intellectual leader of the Enlightenment, wrote about the debt problems of Mesopotamia and Rome. The contemporary scholar Niall Ferguson of Harvard University also described the over-indebted conditions in all four countries mentioned above
Since 1940, real per capita GDP in the US grew by 2.5% per year. That's mediocre. Since the 21st century began, however, that growth has averaged only 1% per year. That's awful.

Hunt and Hoisington explain why:
    The reason for the remarkably slow expansion over the past decade and a half has to do with the accumulation of too much debt. Numerous studies indicate that when total indebtedness in the economy reaches certain critical levels there is a deleterious impact on real per capita growth. Those important over-indebtedness levels (roughly 275% of GDP) were crossed in the late 1990s, which is the root cause for the underperformance of the economy in this latest expansion.
Non-farm business productivity is rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. So too, the velocity of money has fallen to the lowest level in half a century. Why? Because of the declining marginal utility of debt. When there is little debt, you can add cash and credit to a system and get a boost. The money circulates. The economy revs up. But the more you add, the greater the burden of debt becomes...and the less of a boost you get from it. Finally, you're adding $3 trillion to the base money supply and getting a measly 1% per capita GDP growth. And in the first quarter of this year...the growth falls to near zero.

All this 'stimulus' since 2000 was a scam. It stimulated nothing but more debt...which actually slows the rate of real growth.

Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.

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