Sunday, May 09, 2010

The book on my bedside table...

... at the moment is "Affluenza" by one Oliver James.

Having read the Prologue and Part One it seems to me that there is little point in reading much further. I do not suffer from Affluenza. It is not likely that I ever will - given that various members of the family have described my as "stingy" and "old" and "expletive" at different times. Therefore there seems no real future in reading how James proposes his cure for the ailment.

His opinion on the causes and who might be the most susceptible plucks the strings of my confirmation bias. His commentary in what I have read thusfar would curdle TF's coffee and give his Beemer an apoplexic fit.

I guess that just about says it all.

It also fits into the context of my last comment at TF's place regarding government deficits and the difference between "need" and "want".

Out of the commentary in Der Spiegel - regarding the Greek economic crisis comes this following which also rings a strong 12-string chord from the ol' probligo -
In fact, the Portuguese economy has been stagnating for the last 10 years. It grew substantially before that, after the country had joined the EU. In the years since the introduction of the euro, the Portuguese have gotten used to low interest rates and have "lived completely beyond their means," as President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, an economics professor himself who was also prime minister during the boom years, warned last year. "We spend 10 percent of GDP more than we take in, year after year," says Portuguese economist António Perez Metelo.

Private households owe more than 100 percent of their annual income. Because the Portuguese save so little, banks are forced to borrow money abroad. Each of the 10.6 million Portuguese citizens owes foreign banks an average of €18,300 and paid €590 in interest in 2009.

This situation cannot continue -- not in Greece, not in Portugal and not in most other countries. But the euro zone isn't the only place with a debt problem.

The US budget deficit has now reached $1.6 trillion, or 10 percent of GDP. The national debt is now over $12 trillion and is forecast to expand to more than $20 trillion by the end of the decade. At that point, Americans will be paying $900 billion a year in interest alone.

Der Spiegel continues -
Today, only four areas consume almost all government revenues: defense, social programs, health care and interest on debt. Americans must pay for everything else with new debt.

Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute, one of the leading economic think tanks in the United States, warns: "If we don't correct the situation in the next five years, our worldwide position will be in jeopardy."

The disastrous financial situation is in large part due, not to the economic stimulus packages and programs to fight the global economic crisis, but to behavior during the years under former President George W. Bush. At the time, Americans became accustomed to consuming far more than they produced.

They consume inexpensive goods from Southeast Asia, and the Chinese and the Japanese are only too willing to accept US Treasury bonds in return. In other words, Asia is giving the United States an almost unlimited credit line. This is the only reason the Americans were able to keep interest rates low for so many years -- the cost of borrowing was being kept artificially low. Many people believed that they could afford to buy real estate. And in the belief that the value of their houses was constantly increasing, Americans consumed even more and got into more and more debt. This illusionary system fell apart when the real estate markets collapsed.

But current President Barack Obama has also contributed substantially to the biggest American budget deficit since World War II. His healthcare reforms alone will cost the government about $900 billion in the coming years. And the military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will swallow up $160 billion in the coming budget year.

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