Kicking the Habit

One of today’s stories out of New York began with the headline: “The US needs a trillion dollar fix”

A “fix” is a good way to describe the approach being taken by economists, politicians, industrialists and, of course, Wall Street interests. Uncle Sam is now cast in the role of a “pusher”.

“The one thing that isn’t shrinking in the US economy these days,” according to the report, “is the size of the stimulus package that financial advisors say is needed to turn it around. With car sales dropping, payrolls plunging and manufacturing contracting, economists from across the political spectrum are raising the ante on how much the government should lay out. Some are now calling for at least a $ 1 trillion boost.”

And that number may grow. Last week we learned that the economy has been in recession for a year and that employers had cut 533,000 more jobs last month.

“‘Congress should think in terms of US $ 900 billion in 2009, with possibly more in 2010, said James Galbraith, a self-styled liberal economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has talked with the Obama transition team about the issue. ‘I may be higher than they are at this point,’ he said, ‘but things are evolving’…

“Congress is going to spend enormous amounts of money,” a Carlyle Group official stated. “Initially, people were talking about US $ 150 billion, then US $ 300 billion, then US $ 500 billion, then US $ 800 billion. Now, people are talking about a trillion-dollar stimulus package.”

“Fix” is the only word that accurately describes the pickle we’re in. Whether it be $ 150 billion, or $ 1 trillion, the stimulus package will be just the beginning. In more ways than one, the “fix” is in.

No amount of stimulus funding will restore stability to our economy. For example, just a few months ago home mortgages were modified in a bid to avoid foreclosure, but in typical fashion, more than 53 percent of those mortgages have become delinquent again. So now those homeowners are in need of another “fix”, but there’s no way they can kick the habit without gainful employment.

John Dugan, the US Comptroller of the Currency, said it was unclear why so many borrowers ran into trouble again so soon after getting help. “Is it because the modifications did not reduce monthly payments enough?” he wondered … “Is it because consumers replaced lower mortgage payments with increased credit card debt?” … “Is it because the mortgages were so badly underwritten that the borrowers simply could not afford them?” … “Or is it a combination of these and other factors?”

[Or could it be that Mr. Dugan and those financial geniuses mentioned above have yet to see the connection between the steadily increasing number of job losses in the US – like the 533,000 cuts last month – and the rapidly deteriorating economy here and throughout the world? Forget the “fixes”. The US needs job creation. The US needs paychecks. The US needs buying power.]