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COMMENTARY:

Thinking About Keynes

by Fred Cederholm
Any way you view the 2008 indexes, benchmarks, and leading indicators; this nation is looking at a financial and economic Armageddon unseen since the years of the Great “D”. These problems have been building for a generation.
I’ve been thinking about John Maynard Keynes. Actually I’ve been thinking about Obama’s Administration, the 2008 legacy, monetary policy, fiscal policy, and employment/unemployment. President elect Barack Obama has already been lobbying 24/7 for turning the US economy around. He is hoping to sign the largest, most comprehensive and costly economic stimulus bill in the history of this nation as soon as he is sworn in as the 44th President on January 20th. I wish him well, but I don’t see that happening – not by a long shot. Clearly time is of the essence as we face the most pervasive economic dislocation since the Great Depression of the 30s, but Congress has reservations.

You see any way you view the 2008 indexes, benchmarks, and leading indicators; this nation is looking at a financial and economic Armageddon unseen since the years of the Great “D”. These problems have been building for a generation. Neither solutions nor fixes will come overnight – certainly not in even the first few years of his administration. Housing alone is a HUGE albatross for him to deal with. Unsold properties are at a twenty year high. Prices have declined from 8% to almost 40% (depending on the community location) in 2008. Projections for 2009 suggest an additional 10% to 20% on top of that! Foreclosures and pre-foreclosures are at an all time record pace (since the Great Depression of the 1930s).

Personal bankruptcies approached a record in 2008. It is expected that 2009 will surpass last year’s highs for both personal and corporate restructurings/ liquidations! 2008 car sales declined for America’s BIG THREE to the match the sorry levels of the last major downturn of some 16 years ago. They will need far more than the presently sought $35 BILLION in emergency infusions to turn their segment of the economy around. Retail is only now coming to grips with the Christmas selling season of 2008 that wasn’t! While comparing gross dollar sales to prior years is depressing enough, these fail to give the true picture of “profits” that were not realized because of the 20% to 70% off sales’ prices. February and March will bring downsizings and bankruptcies for scores of retailers.

We have already seen that none of the traditional (albeit record in costs) fixes tried in 2008 have worked. The monetary policy (interest rate cuts and a surge in money supply) and fiscal policy (tax incentives and cash back to taxpayers) failed to neither stem nor turn the tsunami. Obama is upping the ante on these by adding TRILLIONS more of the same. He is also resurrecting the Keynesian underpinnings of FDR’s New Deal – when the public cannot be induced to spend, to construct, or to hire; the Federal Government must step up to the plate. Bill Clinton announced that “the era of BIG Government was over”: well under Obama...BIG Government is back – and this time with a vengeance!

2008 saw 2.4 MILLION jobs lost and the year ended with an “official” unemployment rate of 6.7%. When you consider those whose unemployment benefits have lapsed and add those who have given up their search, the percentage is probably double that. 2009 projections suggest another 3 MILLION American jobs will cease and desist. Candidate Obama talked of creating 1 MILLION then 2 MILLION jobs. President Elect Obama has already raised the number to 3 MILLION with rumblings of 4 MILLION coming shortly. 20% of these are envisioned for the government sector. 800,000 new government employees is not something that actively inspires me at this point. Add this to the already consummated (or pending) government buy-ins for the bailouts in retail banking, commercial banking, investment banking, insurance (AIG), and the BIG three automakers and these “fix it’s” are looking (and smelling) a lot like backdoor socialization/ nationalization to me.

Keynes revolutionized economics in his “The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money” (1936). His writings, lectures, and theories are postured to become THE cookbook for the coming Obama approach. In the 30’s the UK Pound was the world’s reserve currency, now it is the US dollar. But... will $11 TRILLION in National Debt plus TRILLION dollar deficits into the future cook the dollar’s goose?

I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.


Copyright 2008 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved. Fred Cederholm is a CPA/CFE, a forensic accountant, and writer. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.A., M.A. and M.A.S.). He can be reached at asklet@rochelle.net. –

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This story was published on january 5, 2009.