The Top Ten Things to Worry About Surviving in a Bad Economic Climate

I staked out my position on the Doom & Gloom side back in 1992 when I was shocked by the problem I discuss first. What should you be concerned about? Start with the basics: what do you think you might have to survive? No point in making plans if you aren’t worried about something. Here are the top ten contenders:

1. At the current rate of taxation, even if nothing deteriorates, how much money does your wife need to live on after you are gone? The classic rule is “80% of your highest income plus a paid for house.” Right. If you make $100,000/year, you need to accumulate through savings or insurance $1.6M in capital at 5% interest. Problems: inheritance taxes are due to cut back in, and Uncle definitely wants a chunk of $1.6. Worse, the interest will be taxed as income and she isn’t going to find 5% interest. Let us suppose that she has $1000/mo in Social Security—a little over the average, but you’ve got a good job. A loving government will take roughly 10% of that away from her immediately too pay for Medicare and has already announced a 20% increase in fees over the next three years…with no increase in COLA, or the “Cost Of Living Allowance.” According to the Feds there is no inflation, hence her costs will not rise. We would love to know where those who make such pronouncements buy groceries, gasoline, socks, and tires. Supposing naively that she pays no income tax, if she puts the $250,000 in insurance you may have arranged for her in a CD at 1.5%, at the end of the first year she will have $3,750 in interest plus the theoretical $11,100 in Social Insecurity, for a total income of $14,850. Social Security probably won’t cover the house note you almost certainly have, and houses aren’t selling well. Her alternatives are to find a job or live on what she has for three years and hope she can find husband. That is certainly neither a safe nor a dignified plan, although it may make more sense than buying lottery tickets. The worst part is, that’s the best I can foresee for her.

2. The Greater Depression arrives, as it almost certainly will. It doesn’t matter whether you’re married or single, how safe is your job? 26,000,000 of the things have disappeared already in this century, and unless you are among the 40% of the populace which works for some governmental entity or a CEO you night want to do a little worrying. Japan is on the twenthieth year of their last depression, with a brand new government devoted to the project of becoming an economic block with India, and a few sprats such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, hunks of Indonesia, and so forth. Yup, our little island nation friend is going to grow up, leave the nest, and devote itself to destroying the dollar. What they plan to do with the two trillion or so they hold I have no idea, but if they knock the dollar out as the reserve currency they have some notions. The ironic part is that those dollars have little value at present and are under pressure from all sides, from Bernanke and Geithner’s government-sanctioned counterfeiting and money-laundering (swooshing the new cash around through Treasuries and the market, for example), to cheerful plots in the Middle East and BRIC. It’s coming, get ready for it.

3. The stock market takes a 40% thud at the year’s end, the bond market crashes, the ARM supply has 80% set to re-arm, commercial real estate looks like a yeast vat it bubbles so freely, and a lot more banks are set to fail. Some may even be “set up” to fail. These government-made disasters are pretty much set in stone and will coincide with your other choices.

4. Government revenues are down 17%, the jobless rate is at 17% by rational accounting methods, and a great many states have balanced budget requirements. They will have only two recourses: raise taxes again, or cut jobs and “services.” ARE we having fun yet? 25% of those working are paying all of the income taxes and virtually all property taxes—and schools and bureaucracies demand more money every year. Protests against government spending and taxes are becoming more visible.

5. OPEC members have been running on the American Plan in large part, tossing around bread and services to keep their citizens from expressing noisy opinions of fleets of silver Mercedes Benze automobiles, some of them diamond studded. At one point in the last year it took Saudia Arabia, as I recall, $70/barrel just to cover the “social services” portion of their budget. Basically, every dime the Sauds get for a barrel these days is already committed to welfare, which means it is rather expensive to give away their declining oil supply. Throw the peak oil mess and the miraculous never-depleting “reserves” OPEC nations claim into this bucket. Meanwhile, back on the home front, the Greens are fully in control; drilling rights that had been negotiated were blocked recently, coal is threatened under cap and tax, don’t even mention nuclear power, and hydroelectric dams stand idle because the water has been flushed uselessly to help dear little fishies. Oh, and the crops failed in California when the water was diverted from irrigation.

6. The citizenry of these “united” states turns ugly for a variety of reasons, ranging from food or energy scarcity, taxation, the avalanche of new socialistic legislation, union members who have priced themselves out of jobs, racial or religious riots, and/or a hearty disinclination to put up with this any more. For an eyeful, ask Google how many states and a group of islands have strong secessionist movements. Funny Hawaii ne! Seems like they want Queen Liliuokalani’s throne back, and who can blame them? The real situation is that Hawaii has belonged to Japanese Democrats since I was graduated from the University of Hawaii, all those decades ago.

7. Some combination of the above appears, and the government proves that a government no longer strong enough to give the masses what they want is still strong enough to implement everything from the War Powers Act to the “PATRIOT” act, and turns completely totalitarian on us. Obama declares a national emergency, dismisses Congress (don’t come back boy and girl millionaires; your cushy jobs have been abolished), and pursuant to Executive Order 11921, armed, uniformed thugs show up on your doorstep and loot your house of all foodstuffs, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, valuables, and anything else any member of the team fancies. De facto gun registration is becoming de jure as it is being sneaked quietly through Congress disguised as “a simple IRS measure.” It requires a tax of $50 a year on every gun you own—or admit owning—your fingerprints, and submitting to government psychological examinations on demand, as well as other unsavory regulations. Penalties for being in possession of “untaxed” guns will be quite severe. This section has two possible outcomes: the rednecked, gun owning, Bible-thumping, smoking, drinking, butter-and-red-meat-eating, bluejean-wearing, Limbaugh-listening, homophobic, racist domestic terrorists (description courtesy of Janet Napolitano and assorted government agencies) are in open revolt, and either win, or they don’t. My money is on the armies in Kevlar and Corcorans armed with up-to-the-minute genuine assault weapons, riding around in AP carriers and tanks, including the all-volunteer forces, the 100,000 or so Blackwater has, assorted UN “peacekeeping” forces, and the Canadians who are pledged to come to the aid of the president if asked. Oh…I forgot the two battalions of the Praetorian Guard assigned to the president’s personal use, the secret service, the FBI, Homeland “security,” and the BATF.

8. The depression and embargos on oil are so devastating that not even the government can muster the money to pay armies, and we drift quietly into The Greater Depression, with perhaps forty or more percent unemployment, irregular power services, little to buy in the stores, devalued dollars, cessation of Social Security and then drastic cuts in welfare, food, water, and fuel shortages, and a seething populace.

9. At some point, cauldrons roil over, the always-happy-to-riot sectors of “society” prevalent at Watts, Katrina, and Ike, and ghettos jump in happily, and the food supply is exhausted in the cities after three days, maximum. Millions die from heat, cold, thirst, tainted water, rampant disease, and assorted natural and man-made disasters.

10. In the fullness of time something on the order of 40,000,000 are dead from the aforementioned conditions, having argued with violent, hairy strangers, or been shot for fleeing like locusts from Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, and Houston (for starters) to spread out over the land attacking farm houses and taking over small towns. The farms will lose their future crops in most instances, and little towns will be barren of food, as well. When the population has been reduced sufficiently, the remainder will eke out an unpleasant existence grubbing in the soil attempting to learn to grow plants with not many seeds available, learning to raise animals and slaughter them (that being illegal by that time), discovering that medical care is almost nonexistent and is paid for in chickens and barter is the established method of commerce since the value of the dollar is on the order of that in Zimbabwe, and the LE (Law Enforcement) officials will likely not have enough manpower to say wearily more than “You shot it, you bury it.”

There y’are, the ten things which exercise my mind the most. You decide which one you’re going to worry about, and I’ll come back later and address the problems one by one. In the meantime, divest yourselves of dollars. Turn them into anything durable which you will need later.

Drearily yours,
Linda Brady Traynham

November 16, 2009

The Daily Reckoning