Warning lights are blinking bright red everywhere
Just a few months ago it appeared that COVID and vaccine mandates were going to be the biggest issues for the November 2022 elections.
It now appears that this perspective will seem quaint.
Even if we don't get into a shooting war with Russia (which our news media is thirsting for), we appear to be destined for a brutal economic shock that will dominate over every other concern this fall. I wouldn't be surprised if the political campaigns have only two topics: Russia and the economy.
I'll start with the oldest, largest, and most painful problem for the working class - housing.
U.S. home prices rose by 18.8% in 2021, according to the Case-Shiller U.S. National home Price Index. Yet real residential fixed investment fell in the second and third quarter of 2021 and was essentially unchanged in the fourth quarter. Homebuilders are trying to build more homes, but the housing supply chain still hasn’t been able to increase production to match. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, completions of single-family homes have been unchanged since August 2018.
Rents in some cities went up 40% last year, and are rising at the fastest rate ever.
So housing is getting increasingly unaffordable at an accelerated rate, while the supply chain is preventing developers from building more. Just this item alone is enough to cause social unrest.
We can't build our way out of this, and we can't keep doing what we are doing. Yet our political leaders have no intention of making the reforms in the tax code that would alleviate the stress.
Poor people all over the planet were going hungry.
And then the REAL bad news hit.
Ukraine and Russia are both major exporters of basic foodstuffs, and the war has already hit crop production, driving up prices
Mr Beasley said it was putting more people at risk of starvation worldwide.
"Just when you think hell on earth can't get any worse, it does," he said.
Russia and Ukraine, once dubbed "the breadbasket of Europe", export about a quarter of the world's wheat and half of its sunflower products, like seeds and oil. Ukraine also sells a lot of corn globally.
Analysts have warned that war could impact the production of grains and even double global wheat prices.
Mr Beasley told BBC World Service's Business Daily programme that the number of people facing potential starvation worldwide had already risen from 80 million to 276 million in four years prior to Russia's invasion, due to what he calls a "perfect storm" of conflict, climate change and coronavirus.
To make matters worse, Ukraine’s government has banned the export of wheat, oats and other staples.
Egypt is banning the export of wheat, flour, lentils, and pasta.
Indonesia is banning the export of palm oil.
Serbia announced on Wednesday it will ban exports of wheat, corn, flour and cooking oil as of Thursday to counter price increases while Hungary banned all grain exports last week.
More food export bans are sure to come, followed by social unrest and war. Dreams of freedom generally won't get poor people out in the streets, but an empty belly always will.
A food crisis in 2007 and 2008 due to weather shocks and trade restrictions to the food market triggered riots in countries like Haiti, Bangladesh, and Mozambique.
Food scarcity also played a large role in the Arab Spring, a series of anti-government protests in the Middle East in the early 2010s after international food prices shot up, unemployment rose, and frustration with corrupt political systems peaked.
One of the driving forces behind the Arab Spring, experts say, was the high cost of food.
Keep in mind that food prices have already exceeded the 2007-2011 levels.
If that wasn't enough, the food price inflation could cause a currency crisis in poorer nations.
We can see from the chart below the Taiwanese dollar, Mexican peso, the Colombian peso, the ringgit, the rupiah and the yuan all look vulnerable among EM currencies given the rise in food prices. Turkey is literally off the chart with food adding an extra 8.5% points to CPI over the last six months, while Russia’s currency has already collapsed due to sanctions.
And as currencies weaken, the risk of an inflation spiral in EMs rises as the cost of imported goods climbs even more.
Inflation is running at 40-year highs and is more than likely to go much higher. That leaves whole generations in a financial environment that they are unfamiliar with. This includes traders on Wall Street, who will likely take a beating this year because it's likely that none of them know how to trade in a stagflationary environment. It also includes consumers (who probably have no real savings or pension anyway).
Even when you remove food and energy, the inflation rate is getting high.
Which brings me back to energy.
Gas prices are expected to hit all-time highs this week, and then keep going. Some are estimating that gas prices could rise another 50% from here.
And this was BEFORE the U.S. decided to ban Russian oil.
Some have speculated that the sanctions alone will hit the economy like the 2008 crash.
If you want to see a consistent trend in economic history, few can compare to oil and recessions.
Meanwhile, corporate profits are at all-time highs, while corporations plan to continue to hold down wages.
after-tax corporate profits actually reached record levels as a share of economic output, said the U.S. Commerce Department.
According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly two thirds of publicly traded companies had higher profit margins after the pandemic.
...As these large companies raise prices and the CPI shows a 7 percent increase, surveys from Salary.com and the Conference Board show that corporations are on average only planning to increase wages by 3 to 3.9 percent.
“Many companies we’ve spoken to have seen their overall payrolls barely budge at all,” Pollak said. “They’ve lost their most experienced, highest paid people and replaced them with a younger cohort,” due to pandemic-related retirements.
There is a virtual certainty that we'll be in a recession by November, while several poor nations will erupt into civil wars.
And that's not even the bad news. The bad news is the lesson that we are teaching the world.
Speaking on Bloomberg’s Odd Lots podcast, the global head of short-term interest rate strategy at Credit Suisse AG noted that wars tend to turn into major junctures for global currencies, and with Russia losing access to its foreign currency reserves, a message has been sent to all countries that they can’t count on these money stashes to actually be theirs in the event of tension. As such, it may make less and less sense for global reserve managers to hold dollars for safety, given that they could be taken away right when they’re most needed.
That's not controversial statement. A central banks currency reserves are supposed to be the most safe and secure financial instrument out there. If another country can simply "turn off" those reserves, then it isn't safe and secure. Simple as that.
So you can bet that every nation out there with the slightest ambition of independence is going to start diversifying their currency reserves. What we've just witnessed is the Beginning of the End of Dollar Hegemony.
The only surprise is that it was 100% self-inflicted.
The basic assumption of economic and diplomatic forecasting is that every country will act in its own self-interest. Such reasoning is of no help in today’s world. Observers across the political spectrum are using phrases like “shooting themselves in their own foot” to describe U.S. diplomatic confrontation with Russia and allies alike. But nobody thought that The American Empire would self-destruct this fast...
I thought that de-dollarization would be led by China and Russia moving to take control of their economies to avoid the kind of financial polarization that is imposing austerity on the United States. But U.S. officials are forcing Russia, China and other nations not locked into the U.S. orbit to see the writing on the wall and overcome whatever hesitancy they had to de-dollarize.
I had expected that the end of the dollarized imperial economy would come about by other countries breaking away. But that is not what has happened. U.S. diplomats themselves have chosen to end international dollarization, while helping Russia build up its own means of self-reliant agricultural and industrial production. This global fracture process actually has been going on for some years, starting with the sanctions blocking America’s NATO allies and other economic satellites from trading with Russia. For Russia, these sanctions had the same effect that protective tariffs would have had.