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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS:

Thinking About Bigness

by Fred Cederholm
Since WWII; the DC power-players-that-be have no problems upping the ante from the MILLIONS of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, to the BILLIONS of the 80’s and 90’s, to the TRILLIONS of the 21st Century. They do so “not because it was hard, but because it was easy.”
I’ve been thinking about bigness. Actually I’ve been thinking about the unfolding recession/depression, the Kennedy “Moon speech,” the prior eight economic setbacks, bailouts, and coming 35% market declines. Last week’s announcements and the projected revelations for the coming week continue an American tradition of the biggest catching the headlines and the public’s attention. More (or rather most) is not a good thing when it describes losses, terminations, cutbacks, or deficits!

You see the American experience has a fixation with the superlative form. Big maybe good, bigger is better, but biggest is the best! This preoccupation with super-sized jumbo-ness has clearly brought US/us to the current catastrophic brink of monetary, financial, and economic Armageddon that is the focus and bane of our very future and existence. As we face the coming pain and sacrifices that we all must endure for MULTIPLE years, we need to reflect on how it was our past excesses which have brought us into this quagmire. We will need all the TRILLIONS and all the inspirational rhetoric/oratory that the President and the talking heads of the Obama Administration can muster.

On May 25th, 1961; President John Fitzgerald Kennedy delivered his famous “Moon Speech.” America’s ego (and pre-eminence) had been set aback in the space race. Kennedy challenged the nation and informed the world that we would send humans to the moon (and safely return) by the end of the decade “not because it was easy, but because it was hard.” We focused our dollars, our know-how, and our energy/efforts to achieving that end. We succeeded, and America’s pre-eminence was restored. Success was all the sweeter and positives were more than accentuated! If only we had followed the Kennedy “moon model” in addressing/fixing the recessions since WW II?

In dealing with each and every one of these downturns, the party-line official-policy (from both political parties, the Treasury, and the FED) was to cut interest rates, fluff the deficits/debts, and stimulate grow in consumption/spending. This promoted the debt based expansion of MORE of just about anything that would goose up the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) back into a bigger number. It was the BIGNESS that was important, NOT the present or future implications. This was the fix – “not because it was hard, but because it was easy.” It fixed nothing, just laid the foundations for the next bigger bubble. More was not better, it was just more – and it came with a higher price down the road. Subsequent GDP numbers seemed bigger, but so called “growth” came at the costs of much larger outstanding debts for our governments, our corporations, and our households to carry.

Each time there were these economic setbacks, there were entities which couldn’t continue to make the grade. Such were “brokered” into mergers with what had been surviving competitors. The forces of market competition were thus diluted/weakened for the next inevitable retrenchments. The plusses of economies of scale and the benefits of bigness were hawked as solutions - in reality they only made things worse. Such bailouts/mergers were promoted “not because they were hard, but because they were easy.” TOO BIG TO FAIL became the mantra justifying the continuation of this nearsighted fixing of the crises in the 1980s, and 1990’s. “Bigger” now became “biggest,” and when these financial (and corporate) behemoths found themselves armadillo-bottoms-up alongside-the-road, they were not only TOO BIG TO FAIL, they were TOO BIG FOR ANYBODY BESIDES UNCLE $UGAR TO BAILOUT - OR TO TAKE OVER! Was this a quirky accident - or the plan?

This puts us clearly on untested ground. Even though the old, universal, one-method-fits-all fix it cure/response has never worked long term since WWII; the DC power-players-that-be have no problems upping the ante from the MILLIONS of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, to the BILLIONS of the 80’s and 90’s, to the TRILLIONS of the 21st Century. They do so “not because it was hard, but because it was easy.” Look for the equity market’s reactions to be negative: we will see the DOW > 4,500, the NASDAQ > 900, the RUSSELL 2000 > 250, and the S&P 500 > 475 in the next 12 months - down 35% more!

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 March 2, 2009.