Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Layman's View of What Went Wrong With Our Economy.

I am not an economist, but I am versed enough in the discipline to gloat that I was correct back in the 1990's even. I know many will not agree with my version of what went wrong, but many others will.

The first blunder we made was our head-first foray into the global market frenzy. I was skeptical even when NAFTA was the flavor of the month. The open market model was a way for companies to sidestep manufacturing in the US in favor of using third world labor. Their gains were our losses. Now, the US produces very little and it has become a service based economy. Sure, labor unions have priced American laborers out of work, but the demise of the US Manufacturing sector was hastened by globalization.

Next, the US stock market has functioned as a promoted and regulated Ponzi scheme. The early in and out investors will and the late comers (usually the greater portion) lose money. The Fed manipulates interest rates to keep investment flowing, and the media (CNBC, Bloomberg, etc.) constantly cheer lead and promote stocks. I recall one anaylist touting AOL as a long term great investment due to the growth potential and the internet as a more important vehicle. Then the dot-com bubble burst and AOL was reduced to shreds a few months later.

Before the current market 40% downturn, I recall various financial pundits proclaiming how attractive "valuations" were for stocks. After the 40% drop they were still using that rationale to attract more stock investment. What they know deep down is that "valuations" mean nothing but a numerical correlation that is used to justify promoting more investment. Stock prices are more influenced by sentiment than valuation and no amount of value analysis will make stocks an attractive investment to spooked investors.

Finally, Americans and our industries became addicted to OPM (other people's money). OPM financed our McMansions, our 4 flat-screen TV's, our SUV's, and our yearly iPod model upgrades. Companies relied on bond issuances, and investors to finance their ventures. When recession comes to rear its head, we are at a loss to pay back OPM. That's what we face now.

What is the solution? I wish I knew, but I feel that we as a nation must expect job loss, economic uncertainty, and saving to be inevitable parts of our futures. I'm a fan of market forces fixing our problems, but market forces are undermined by bailouts, interest rate manipulations, cash infusions, and stimulus plans proposed by our government representatives. These are temporary measures that might provide short term relief, but long term consequences. I feel that the federal government just wants to prod Americans to buy, buy, buy, again just to get the juices of consumption flowing again. However, this is no resolution to the undiversified economic model we have grown into.

Adam Smith must be turning in his grave.

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