America

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And The Winner Is...

Which nations to keep your investments in
Friday, May 13, 2016, 8:20 PM

Executive Summary

  • The Sole Superpower
  • The Importance of factoring in External Costs
  • The Biggest Loser
  • Which nations to keep your investments in

If you have not yet read Which Countries Will Be Tomorrow's Winners & Losers?, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

In Part 1, we examined the thesis that geography and demographics largely define a nation’s destiny.

In Part 2 here, we add other potentially game-changing factors that don’t necessarily fit neatly into either category.

Oh, No: America, The Sole Superpower?

Many of those who disagree with America’s military-interventionist foreign policy of the past 15 years will naturally be appalled by any analysis that suggests America’s preeminence is only going to become even more dominant as the rest of the world is destabilized by the inter-connected dynamics driving global disorder.

The good news is Zeihan sees America becoming much less interventionist as it withdraws into greater self-sufficiency—a topic I’ve discussed in previous essays on autarky. (What If Nations Were Less Dependent on One Another? The Case for Autarky (January 2014))

In Zeihan’s view, America’s preeminence is based on its unparalleled assets of geography and more favorable demographics than its competitors. Zeihan sees the U.S.A’s energy resources, dual-ocean buffers, lack of contiguous-border competitors/enemies, culture of innovation and impressive pool of domestic and foreign capital as an unbeatable combination that no other aspirant to superpower status can match.

In his analysis, the intrinsic weaknesses of other nations and alliances such as the Eurozone have been papered over by the flood of capital that has saturated the global economy for the past 20 years.  The source of this ocean of capital is.... » Read more

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What If Nations Were Less Dependent on One Another?

The Case for Autarky
Wednesday, January 15, 2014, 4:13 PM

Autarky is more than a ten-dollar word for self-sufficiency, as it implies a number of questions that “self-sufficiency” alone might not.

The ability to survive without trade or aid from other nations, for example, is not the same as the ability to reap enormous profits or grow one’s economy without trade with other nations. In other words, 'self-sufficiency' in terms of survival does not necessarily imply prosperity, but it does imply freedom of action without dependency on foreign approval, capital, resources, and expertise. » Read more

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The Consequences of American Autarky

A contrarian view that may be the U.S.'s best future bet
Wednesday, January 15, 2014, 4:13 PM

Executive Summary

  • Will profit-chasing bring corporate capital back to the U.S.?
  • China's dwindling T-bill leverage
  • The decline of dependence on Mid-East oil
  • Autarky may be the best investment for the U.S. (and similar nations)

If you have not yet read Part I: What If Nations Were Less Dependent on Another? available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

In Part I, we sketched out a framework for evaluating the trade-offs implicit in autarky; i.e., national self-sufficiency.  In Part II, we’ll explore a few potential ramifications of America’s declining consumption of energy and increasing ability to replace foreign-supplied capital, resources, energy, and expertise with domestic sources.

The core issue of autarky boils down to: What are the risks and costs of exposing the nation to the vulnerabilities of dependence for the convenience and profitability of remaining dependent on foreign providers?

Of the potential consequences, let’s focus on several high-visibility possibilities:

  1. China’s ownership of U.S. Treasury bonds possibly giving it leverage that amounts to blackmail-type veto power over U.S. policies.
     
  2. The dependence of U.S. corporations on foreign sales and the weak dollar for profits
     
  3. The decline of oil imports changing the calculation of U.S. interests in the Middle East and other oil-exporting regions

Profits as Priority

As I have often noted, the stupendous profitability of U.S.-based corporations is largely the result of non-U.S. sales and the profits reaped from a weak U.S. dollar.  When the euro was at parity to the dollar a decade ago (1 euro = $1), U.S. corporations reaped $1 of profit on every euro of profit gained from sales in the European Union. Now the same one euro in profit generates an additional 35% in dollar-denominated profits due to the exchange rate.

I have also noted that the enormous importation of goods made in China has generated remarkable profit margins for U.S. corporations such as Apple, while the Chinese suppliers are eking out net profits in the 1% to 2% range for the privilege of manufacturing goods that generate gross margins of 50% to 60% for U.S. corporations.

In other words, the Chinese did not impose this trade on U.S. companies the U.S.-based corporations extracted maximum yield on capital invested by moving production to China, not just in terms of lowering manufacturing costs but also in the enhanced proximity to the world’s great consumer-profit opportunities in developing Asian nations.

In other words, while other nations may focus on self-sufficiency, the American priority is profitability and maximizing return on capital invested. If and when profitability is threatened, capital pulls up stakes and relocates to whatever locale makes the best financial sense.

That the locale that makes the best financial sense is the U.S. is a new thought for many... » Read more

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Off the Cuff: The Tarnishing of American Exceptionalism

Self-inflicted sabotage
Thursday, October 24, 2013, 1:01 AM

In this week's Off the Cuff podcast, Chris and Mish discuss:

  • The Tarnishing of the American Image
    • Government shutdown, drones, NSA spying, military intervention...
  • A Recovery in Europe?
    • No way, despite the recent PR offensive
  • A Coming Crisis of Confidence
    • When the Fed can no longer move markets, watch out
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America the Vulnerable

History warns we're sleepwalking towards collapse
Monday, May 27, 2013, 8:13 PM

For most people, the collapse of civilizations is a subject much more appetizingly viewed in the rearview mirror than straight ahead down whatever path or roadway we are on.

Jared Diamond wrote about the collapse of earlier civilizations to great acclaim and brisk sales, in a nimbus of unimpeachable respectability. The stories he told about bygone cultures gone to seed were, above all, dramatic. No reviewers or other intellectual auditors dissed him for suggesting that empires inevitably run aground on the shoals of resource depletion, population overshoot, changes in the weather, and the diminishing returns of complexity.

Yet these are exactly the same problems that industrial-technocratic societies face today, and those of us who venture to discuss them are consigned to a tin-foil-hat brigade, along with the UFO abductees and Bigfoot trackers. This is unfortunate, but completely predictable, since the sunk costs in all the stuff of daily life (freeways, malls, tract houses) are so grotesquely huge that letting go of them is strictly unthinkable. We’re stuck with a very elaborate setup that has no future, but we refuse to consider the consequences... » Read more

Podcast

David Stockman: We've Been Lied To, Robbed, and Misled

And we're still at risk of it happening all over again
Saturday, March 30, 2013, 12:42 PM

David Stockman, former director of the OMB under President Reagan, former US Representative, and veteran financier is an insider's insider. Few people understand the ways in which both Washington DC and Wall Street work and intersect better than he does.

In his upcoming book, The Great Deformation, Stockman lays out how we have devolved from a free market economy into a managed one that operates for the benefit of a privileged few. And when trouble arises, these few are bailed out at the expense of the public good.

By manipulating the price of money through sustained and historically low interest rates, Greenspan and Bernanke created an era of asset mis-pricing that inevitably would need to correct.  And when market forces attempted to do so in 2008, Paulsen et al hoodwinked the world into believing the repercussions would be so calamitous for all that the institutions responsible for the bad actions that instigated the problem needed to be rescued -- in full -- at all costs.  » Read more

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Let's Stop Fooling Ourselves: Americans Can't Afford the Future

Unemployment, taxes & unfunded retirements are squeezing us
Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 11:24 AM

The truth is: The three adult generations in the U.S. are suffering, and their burdens are likely to increase with time. Each is experiencing a squeeze that is making it harder to create value, save capital, and pursue happiness than at any point since WWII. At that point, we were a creditor nation with an economy exploding into dominance on the world stage. Now, however, the U.S. is the largest debtor nation and our economic hegemony is increasingly at seige across a number of fronts.

A continuation of the status quo is a decision to sleepwalk face-first into the constraints hurtling towards us.

Instead, shouldn't we stop fooling ourselves and ask: What should we be doing differently? » Read more

Podcast

James Howard Kunstler: The Dangers of the Age of Delusion

We're acting as if risks have no consequences
Saturday, February 16, 2013, 1:53 PM

It’s characteristic of the time that we’re living in that there simply is no sense of consequence. And that’s exactly what you get when you have a Federal Reserve that’s out of control and a public that is filled with technological narcissistic visions of Santa Claus delivering rescue remedies on demand. And so there’s no general sense that when you do things, bad things can happen

James Howard Kunstler is concerned. Sure, he still has the same issues with the West's highly energy-consuming suburban lifestyle that he famously brought to light in his books, The Long Emergency, the World Made by Hand series, and Too Much Magic. But beyond our decaying fundamentals, he's distressed by society's unwillingness to be honest with itself about the issue's it's facing. » Read more

Podcast

John Michael Greer: If the Four Horsemen Arrive, Offer Beer

Preparing for the future with optimism
Saturday, November 10, 2012, 7:55 PM

"We have a national mythology that limits are always bad. In fact, we have a national phobia of limits," wryly observes John Michael Greer: author, historian, conservationist and proprietor of the popular weblog The Archdruid Report. "We need to get past that." » Read more

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Four More Years

Predicting a global recession in 2013
Thursday, November 8, 2012, 11:51 AM

Obama has been re-elected. Given the hyperbole and highly emotional rhetoric of the election, it is hard to imagine that the U.S. is anything but slightly more divided than before, with the gaps and divisions widening more and more as time goes on.

The real tragedy in this story is that virtually none of the really big and important issues were even touched in this election cycle. One party pointed to how much they managed to increase military spending while the other promised to exceed even that. One side said they'd promote even faster drilling and extraction of our dwindling energy reserves and the other promised they could do it even faster. Both said they wanted more growth and more jobs and more, more, more. » Read more