”The financial crisis that began in the summer of 2007 was an extraordinarily complex event with multiple causes.”— Ben Bernanke
Note from Addison: Mr. Bonner continues with the travails of writing about hard subjects online today… and over a decade ago. Social media was still a new phenomenon when we were forecasting the “Total Destruction of the US Housing Market” several years before the financial crisis mortgage backed securities (MBS) wrought.
Our effort with today’s Shell Game is no different… economic anxiety and political violence are likely going to be the most disruptive feature in the economy and markets in 2024, not that readers appreciate us pointing it out with detail.
From a**hole to anti-semite, the 21st century explained in curses and calumnies.
And those are just the ‘A’s!
Over the years, the name calling comes in waves. We try to connect the dots. We describe what we see. Some people don’t like it.
The dot.com fantasy began to evaporate in March, 2000. The internet was a great success, of course. But it did not lead to greater prosperity for most people. Today, the average person is said to spend seven hours a day looking at an electronic screen. Most of it, we believe, is time wasted.
Then came 9/11. It showed that the great empire – the US at the height of its glory – was remarkably vulnerable. A small group of (mostly) Saudis, on a limited budget, launched a spectacular attack on the heart of American capitalism.
The US had no way to retaliate against the terrorists. Its blood was up…with nowhere to go. The attackers were dead. The US had no Gaza. So, it attacked Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.
One of the most visible supporters of the Iraq invasion was New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Ten years after the Iraq invasion, Charlie Rose on NPR asked Friedman, in effect, what was the point?
Here is his reply:
What they [Islamic extremists] needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house—from Basra to Baghdad—and basically saying:
Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?: You don’t think we care about our open society? You think this [terrorism] fantasy [you have]—we’re just gonna let it grow?
Well, suck. on. this. That, Charlie, was what this war was about. We coulda hit Saudi Arabia…We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.
In 2003, the empire was losing its mojo. Like a middle-aged man who has an affair, it had to show that it could still rattle windows and bury children in rubble.
But it was expensive. The total cost of the ‘War on Terror’ was $8 trillion. Coincidentally, that was the amount that the Fed ‘printed’ since 1999.
And thus was the next crisis set in motion.
Yes, there are patterns to life. Cycles. Stories with beginnings, climaxes, and endings. We all play our roles. Even the ‘greatest story ever told’ had its extras.
What would Christianity be without the crucifixion and the glorious resurrection? And for that you needed a mob. Pontius Pilate stood as judge over Jesus. “I find no guilt in this man,” he reported. But the mob wanted blood. “Crucify him, crucify him,” they demanded.
People always come to think what they need to think when they need to think it. They need to play their parts. They need to follow the script.
By the early 2000s, the fever of war and inflation was upon the land. Under cover of a ‘national emergency’ all resistance gave way…and the dollars rolled off the printing press.
Following 9/11, the Fed cut 500 basis points off its key lending rate. Americans were urged to ‘spend, spend, spend’ to support the economy. The feds even funded a “cash for clunkers’ program to boost auto sales.
But what Americans bought most eagerly were houses. Some bought them to live in. Some bought them to ‘flip.’ And by 2007, the Fed’s ultra-low rates had created another bubble, this one in housing. Buyers paid too much; mortgages couldn’t be paid.
That was an easy call: the real estate bubble was going to pop. Many people said confidently that ‘real estate never goes down,’ and dismissed us as cranks or wet-blankets. But some were angry. Here’s Dan:
I was working on ‘The Housing Report’ in 2005…. That turned into an alert we published that was titled (with understatement) The Total Destruction of the US Housing Market.
This was BEFORE the huge increase in adjustable rate mortgages, interest-only mortgages, and all the subprime fraud that followed. But even then we could see the writing on the wall.
I got a few calls to do radio interviews on it. Most hosts confused or disinterested. But I got ambushed on one interview. The host said I ought to be ashamed for alarming and panicking the public without any proof and that housing was a safe investment and it was disgraceful etc.
Soon, families were walking away from their overpriced houses, dropping the keys through the letter slot (and sometimes leaving the water running). Mortgage finance companies were going broke. Four million people lost their homes.
Then, after the failure of Lehman Bros…and a big drop in the stock market, the Fed went to work…proving once again that there is no calamity that it can’t make worse. Another great emergency! Too much credit had caused too much debt. So, what was the Fed’s response?
More credit—a zero rate policy that was the law of the land for the next twelve years.
The picture was becoming clearer and clearer. The US was acting like a banana republic in-the-making, a sh*thole country with too much debt and an incompetent, parasitic elite. But it was also a great empire, financing its far-flung operations on credit…which was bound to end in inflation.
By 2016 the whole War on Terror had flopped. Heartland citizens had now spent 36 years trying to keep their heads above water. More and more people saw the nation in decline.
It was then that an out-of-left-field presidential candidate admitted that the nation was slipping and pledged to ‘make America great again.’
People wanted to believe that Mr. Trump would do it. He was the messiah they had been waiting for. But the picture we were looking at was very different from what many people wanted to see. The difference was jarring and upsetting. It led to the biggest wave of Dear Reader disaffection that we had ever seen.
And they weren’t especially nice about it.
“You old fossil…you don’t know what the f** you’re talking about,” they pointed out.
During Mr. Trump’s four years in office, federal debt grew faster than any time in history, with the biggest financial deficits ever…while GDP growth slowed to its lowest since the Great Depression. Yet Mr. Trump vetoed no spending bills.
He demanded no balanced budget from Congress. He closed no foreign bases nor ended any of America’s woebegone military adventures. He pushed through a major tax cut, but made no budget cuts to offset the lost revenue. He presided over the Covid Panic lockdowns…and the Great Stimmie Giveaways…and urged the Fed to lower rates even further.
And his trade war was a flop, as everyone knew it would be. On Mr. Trump’s watch, the swamp grew deeper. The nation grew weaker. And the working millions—the people Mr. Trump had pledged to help—went deeper in debt than ever before.
But wait…there’s more. The late, degenerate empire was now declining faster than ever… Joe Biden picked up where Donald Trump left off.
Inflation was on the rise. More stimmies. More giveaways. More sanctions. And two new wars!
P.S. from Addison: If you have a comment you’d like to contribute, by all means, let ‘r rip, right here.