Counting the Zeros in the US Economy

Poor Mr. Obama. They’re calling him “President Zero.” Why? Because August produced zero new jobs.

But we Daily Reckoners were way ahead of the story. Almost everywhere we look we see a circle with a hole in it.

How many new jobs have been created in the last 10 years? Zero.

There were about 130 million jobs in America in the year 2000. There are about 130 million today.

How much more does the average wage-earner make? Zero. Adjusted for inflation, he made about $16 an hour in 2001. He still makes about $16 an hour.

How much more are stocks worth? Zero.

How much more does a house sell for? Zero.

By all the important measures, Americans are Zero better off than they were a decade ago.

But wait. They’re much worse off. They have much more debt. Here are some numbers that aren’t zero. In round numbers, total debt to GDP increased from around 200% to over 350%. Federal debt alone went from 57% of GDP to nearly 100% today.

And now the markets are beginning to realize what happens to prices when there’s too much debt in the system.

The Dow was down 100 yesterday. No relief from the bear market.

Gold down $3.

At least, gold is moving in the direction we think it OUGHT to move. Not that we’ve got anything against it. But gold is up a whopping 33% this year. That ain’t natural. It ain’t normal. And it probably ain’t gonna continue.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re gold bugs. We believe the feds are the problem and gold is the solution. But we weren’t born yesterday. And we don’t think the time has come for gold to make its final, blow-off climax.

No, dear…dear reader. We’re still in the foreplay stage. The hot action will come later. Probably much later.

In the meantime, we are in a Great Correction…and now, at last, almost everyone knows it. There was no normal recession. And now there’s no normal recovery.

The latest proof came from the employment numbers. The New York Times was on the story:

The government report on hiring, released on Friday, prompted another round in a relentless diminution of economic expectations. The unemployment rate, at 9.1 percent, did not change last month, and the White House said it was expected to stay that high through at least 2012.

The optics of a giant zero in the jobs column — more symbolically powerful, perhaps, than even a small decrease might have been — increase the pressure on President Obama as he prepares to deliver a major address on job creation next week, on Republicans who have a starkly different approach to economic revival and on the Federal Reserve, whose policy makers have been divided over the wisdom of using its limited arsenal of tools to get the economy moving again.

The White House immediately seized on the report to bolster the president’s impending call to action. Republicans countered that the numbers were further proof that the stimulus policies of Mr. Obama, whom they quickly dubbed “President Zero,” were not working.

This is not the first time that job growth, the most important measure of the economy for many Americans, has ground to a halt since the recovery. It dropped into negative territory in the middle of last year after three months of strong showings. This time, the slowdown comes after the earthquake in Japan, a spike in oil prices and the European debt crisis, in addition to political gridlock in America.

No, the quack remedies aren’t working. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t popular. In fact, we’ll make a prediction. The less they work, the more popular they’ll become.

That’s the formula for success in a city like Baltimore. You fail. They give you money.

It will become the feds’ favorite formula too. Their recovery claptrap won’t work. The economy will drag its butt down Tokyo lane…and people will clamor for more bailouts. President Zero will have to ‘do something.’

We expect he’ll come up with some Rooseveltian jobs program. How many real jobs will it add? A big, fat zero.

Stay tuned.

Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning