Archive for May 23rd, 2012
We all think we know what wealth is, but sometimes the “obvious” misses the mark.
Asking “what is wealth?” seems needless because we all know what wealth is: never having to work again, endless leisure, endless consumption of the “good things of life,” being waited on hand and foot, luxurious belongings, vehicles and homes, a life of travel and sport, trust funds, stacks of secure gold, and so on.
All this is “obvious,” but is that certainty illusory? There are many people with $2 million in net worth, a significant number with $20 million, and more than a few with $200 million. All would be considered wealthy by the average household earning $63,000 annually with a total net worth of less than $100,000, not to mention the 61 million American wage-earners who pull down less than $20,000 a year who own negligible net worth.
Those with a mere $2 million may not reckon themselves wealthy, if their eyes are fixed on those with $20 million. But if a wealthy person suddenly discovers they are riddled with fast-growing cancer, then they quickly lose interest in financial wealth except in terms of what medical treatment it can buy.
There really isn’t much more modern medicine can do for someone worth $200 million than it can for someone worth $2 million; once one’s life and health are at risk, then conceptions of “wealth” are drastically reordered: health is wealth, and nothing else matters.
Once lost, health is difficult to restore, and financial wealth is no longer the key metric. The graveyards are full of extremely wealthy people who died “before their time.”
A life of leisure may not be all it’s cracked up to be, either. Whether it is paid or not, work is the foundation of meaning and identity. Those without work become depressed, those who retire often fade and die, and those with no goals or work ethic become dilettantes who enrich various therapists and pyschiatrists with their ailments and unhappinesses.
It’s not just leisure that’s wealth, it’s control of one’s work life.
We might also ask if wealth correlates all that closely with happiness. Judging by the hordes of wealthy people who are drugged-out, alcoholic, and in permanent therapy, we can surmise the correlation is not quite as strong as the “financial wealth is everything” PR would have it.
Who is happier, the “natives” serving the supine, isolated wealthy person, or the wealthy person? It turns out it’s the people who have a well-earned place in a caring community who are healthier and happier than those who are unloved and isolated, regardless of their wealth and power.
If our labor is compensated in fiat currency that can be depreciated by official whim, then how much of our labor do we actually “own”? Frequent contributor Harun I. has asked this question here, and the line of inquiry it raises applies to all financial wealth held in currency.
Precious metals, long a favorite of those seeking timeless wealth, also have their own pitfalls. Being small in size and easily transportable, they are also easily stolen or confiscated by authorities. A few coins sewed into garments to be used to bribe border guards are an extremely useful form of wealth, but any large cache of precious metals attracts criminals and Central State authorities, i.e. higher-order crooks. Wealth that can be stolen or confiscated has a nasty habit of being stolen or confiscated.
What about real property? An expansive estate is certainly “wealth” if it generates income, but if it happens to classify you as an aristocrat in revolutionary times, then various unpleasantries typically follow, and the wealth that seemed so desireable is transformed into a death warrant.
Wealth is not as fixed as we might imagine; it only appears solid in eras of stability. In times of instability and transformation, wealth that appears solid can evaporate in crisis or crumble in devolution.
Health, skillsets, work you control and a caring community are peculiar “assets” in that they cannot be confiscated by others for their own use. They are uniquely bound to individuals and relationships in a way that financial wealth is not: financial wealth can always be separated from the individual, but the individuals’ skills, community and relationships cannot be confiscated.
If financial wealth can’t buy health or happiness, then what can it buy? Perhaps all it really buys is an illusion of security and happiness that turns to dust once it is within grasp.
Charles Hugh Smith – Of Two Minds
Morgan Stanley (MS) defended its role in Facebook Inc. (FB)’s initial public offering after a Massachusetts regulator subpoenaed the bank over talks between an analyst and investors about the social media company’s revenue outlook.
“Morgan Stanley followed the same procedures for the Facebook offering that it follows for all IPOs,” Pen Pendleton, a spokesman for the New York-based investment bank, said today in an e-mailed statement. “These procedures are in compliance with all applicable regulations.”
The question is twofold — whether there was a breach of the “Chinese wall” that is supposed to exist between the research department and syndicate folks and secondly whether there was material research information provided to certain people but not others.
Whether the latter is actionable is somewhat tricky. An IPO has a “quiet period” where the firm and those involved in the offering are not supposed to be making public statements except through the registration documents. But Facebook filed an amendment to the S1 in which some changes were made.
I suspect there will be a load of fun around this event, given the poor performance of the IPO and the technical matters surrounding its trade, especially late confirms and similar problems. This, incidentally, also appears to have led to people being short when that’s supposed to be impossible until the first trades settle (you can’t short without a borrow, and you can’t borrow shares that aren’t yet in the hands of anyone.)
At least that’s the theory; there are myriad reports that institutional clients and hedge funds are short and able to be short. Hmmmm… how do you short something you can’t get a locate on as of yet because the first trades in the public market haven’t settled? That’s a question we ought to get answered as well.
This whole process stinks. I’d love to just simply stick up the “I told you so” banner and call it a day, but this entire mess outlines a few important facts, with the most-important being that Wall Street never gives a damn about you, the individual investor. The entire purpose of selling something is of course to make a profit, and in this case they sure did — they maximized the amount the selling shareholders got, and the common man — indeed, anyone who bought the IPO — got the bag.
Have you figured it out yet America? What are you doing in this market, eh? Exactly how many times do you need to hear the touts tell you how “cheap” stocks are or how “investing” is something you should do — and lose money — before you wake the hell up?
If this isn’t an object lesson up and down the line, from the apparent shorting of stock that doesn’t exist in the public’s hands yet to screwed up executions so nobody knew what they had to “late” updates to material information on the company’s prospects to more, I don’t know how much more clear it needs to be.
Don’t worry, you only lost 26% in two and a half days if you bought at the open, or about 19% if you were lucky (dumb) enough to get an allocation.
That ought to make your whole year look good, right?
Why isn’t the U.S. economy in a depression right now? The number one reason is because the federal government has stolen more than five trillion dollars from future generations since Barack Obama was elected and has used that money to pump up our grossly inflated standard of living. Whether the federal government spends money wisely or foolishly, the truth is that the vast majority of it still ends up in the pockets of the American people who then use it to buy the things they need for their daily lives. If the U.S. government had not borrowed and spent an extra five trillion dollars that we did not have over the past several years, we would be in the middle of a rip-roaring economic depression right now. So any talk that Barack Obama is “improving the economy” is a total farce. It is a five trillion dollar lie. The reality is that Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress have been stealing trillions of dollars from future generations in order to make things tolerable in the present. If the federal government adopted a balanced budget next year, the debt-fueled prosperity that we are currently enjoying would start disappearing very rapidly and all hell would break loose in America.
At this point, the U.S. national debt is over 15.7 trillion dollars.
When Ronald Reagan took office it was less than a trillion dollars.
If you were to divide the national debt up equally, it would come to more than $50,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States.
So the share of the national debt for an average family of four would be about $200,000.
When the government borrows and spends money that it does not have, that increases the amount of dollars in circulation and it causes GDP to go up.
That is one of the reasons why our politicians like to borrow and spend money that we do not have. It makes the economic statistics look good. They can point to those economic statistics as a reason to send them back for another term.
This is a major flaw in our system. Most of our politicians do not care about how they are raping future generations financially. Most of them just care about getting elected again.
If you will notice carefully, neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama are promising to balance the budget any time soon. Like so many politicians in the past, they promise to do it “eventually”, but “eventually” never arrives.
According to a recent article in the Washington Times, Mitt Romney declared during a recent campaign appearance that he has no plans to balance the federal budget in his first year….
“My job is to get America back on track to have a balanced budget. Now I’m not going to cut $1 trillion in the first year”
Why would he say that?
Why wouldn’t he want to balance the budget?
He went on to explain that….
“The reason,” he explained, “is taking a trillion dollars out of a $15 trillion economy would cause our economy to shrink [and] would put a lot of people out of work.”
Romney is right about this. Taking a trillion dollars out of a 15 trillion dollar economy would plunge us into an economic nightmare.
And that would make him look bad.
Of course if Obama wins the election we can just expect more of the same from him as well.
For example, just check out what White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew had to say about balancing the budget recently….
“The time for austerity is not today,” Lew told NBC News “Meet the Press.” “If we were to put in austerity measures right now, it would take the economy in the wrong way.”
Why is the time for austerity not today?
It is because the 2012 election is coming up and Obama wants the economic statistics to look good.
But can you blame our politicians for being cowardly?
Just look at what is happening in Greece. After several years of austerity they are in the midst of a full-blown economic depression and they still have not balanced their budget.
Do we want to end up like Greece?
Most Americans do not realize this, but the U.S. already has more government debt per capitathan Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Spain.
So why haven’t we collapsed yet?
Well, because we continue to borrow larger and larger amounts of money.
It took from the founding of America until 1995 for the federal government to accumulate 5 trillion dollars of debt.
Under Obama, we have accumulated more than 5 trillion dollars of new debt in just over 3 years.
Amazingly, Obama has added more to the national debt than George W. Bush did during his entire 8 year term.
And let there be no mistake – George W. Bush was a wild spender. A fiscal conservative he most certainly was not.
But Barack Obama does not seem troubled by any of this.
Barack Obama is prancing about the countryside touting his great “economic plan”, but the truth is that the only reason the economy has not totally collapsed is because he is stealing 150 million dollars an hour from our children and our grandchildren.
Sadly, most Americans don’t understand that the current level of prosperity that we are enjoying is a grand illusion. Most Americans still expect things to return to the way that they used to be, and they are increasingly becoming angry that it is taking so long to get back there.
In fact, a whole host of recent surveys have shown that Americans are very dissatisfied with the direction the economy is heading in….
Four recent surveys have found that on average only 28% of Americans are satisfied with the condition of the country, while 70% are dissatisfied. Three recent surveys have found that between 69% and 83% of Americans believe that the country is still in recession (it isn’t), and only half believe that a recovery is under way.
What they don’t realize is that if we were not massively ripping off our kids and our grandkids things would be much, much worse.
Thomas Jefferson understood that government borrowing is essentially the same as theft from future generations.
He once made the following statement….
And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.
What we are doing to our children and our grandchildren is so immoral that it is hard to put into words.
We are running up trillions upon trillions of dollars of debt in their name just so that our lives can be more comfortable right now.
How could we be so selfish?
The sad thing is that even with all of this reckless spending our economy is still not in great shape.
-Today, approximately 48 percent of all Americans are currently either considered to be “low income” or are living in poverty.
-Back in 1960, social welfare benefits made up approximately 10 percent of all salaries and wages. In the year 2000, social welfare benefits made up approximately 21 percent of all salaries and wages. Today, social welfare benefits make up approximately 35 percent of all salaries and wages.
-The United States actually has a higher percentage of workers doing low wage work than any other major industrialized nation does.
-Every year now, we see millions of Americans fall out of the middle class. In 2010, 2.6 million more Americans descended into poverty. That was the largest increase that we have seen since the U.S. government began keeping statistics on this back in 1959.
-At this point, approximately 22 percent of all American children are living in poverty.
-When Barack Obama took office, there were 32 million Americans on food stamps. Now, there aremore than 46 million Americans on food stamps.
So how much worse would things be if a trillion dollars of federal spending was suddenly removed from the economy?
Are you starting to get the picture?
As bad as things are right now, they are about to get a whole lot worse.
So why can’t we just keep on borrowing and spending forever?
Well, just like Greece found out, debt always catches up with you eventually.
During fiscal 2011, the U.S. government spent over 454 billion dollars just on interest on the national debt.
But just like we are seeing in Europe, if confidence in U.S. government debt starts to disappear the U.S. government could end up facing much higher interest rates to borrow money.
If the average rate on U.S. government debt only rose to 7 percent (in the past it has actually been much higher than that), then the U.S. government would be spending about 1.1 trillion dollars a year just on interest on the national debt.
So if we were spending 1.1 trillion dollars just on interest, that would be close to half of all the revenue the federal government brings in.
Right now, the Federal Reserve is manipulating the system in a desperate attempt to keep interest rates down. During 2011, the Federal Reserve bought up approximately 61 percent of all government debt issued by the U.S. Treasury Department.
But most Americans have no idea how fragile our financial system is.
Most Americans just assume that we will always be the greatest economy on the planet and that there is nothing to be worried about.
Sadly, one way or another this debt bubble is going to burst and then our debt-fueled false prosperity is going to disappear.
Most Americans are not going to understand what is happening and they are going to go absolutely nuts.