A Lottery Nobody Wants to Win
Millions of Americans will soon be calling for "redistribution"… with the young violently taking from the old.
A major jubilee is coming to America soon…
Lots of people will be excited about this once-in-50-years event. The crowds will cheer. And politicians will promise new and better prosperity.
But what will happen is really a national nightmare.
If you've never heard of the concept of a national jubilee, read this carefully… and skeptically. I need your feedback about these ideas. (Please send us a note to the e-mail address at the end of this article).
You see, I fear we may be among the only people in America who know what's about to happen… and why it can't be stopped.
Did you ever read Shirley Jackson's acclaimed short story, The Lottery? The story starts out by painting a picture of a beautiful, small farming community.
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock… The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play.
The author, however, soon hints at the depravity that will follow:
Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix – the villagers pronounced this name "Dellacroy" – eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.
This is a lottery that no one wants to win…
As you know if you've ever read the story, every adult has to draw a card from the black box. Whoever pulls out the card with the mark of death (a black spot) is stoned to death. It's a ritual killing. Every member of the community must take part. They even hand a stone to the victim's young son, so he can take part in the ritual.
The jubilee we're about to experience will have many of the same characteristics…
Millions of Americans will soon be calling for it. Some violently. The young, the poor, and the ignorant will all rally for jubilee. They will, in effect, start piling up stones.
And the person who is going to be ritually killed? That will be us.
Economies collapse when debt-service costs grow faster than income for a long time – usually 50 years or more. These aren't normal default cycles. These are far different… These are debt-fueled revolutions.
What happens is that debt builds and builds. Once debt-service costs start growing faster than the economy, then the total debt is never reduced. Sooner or later, debt begins to grow geometrically, far faster than income. And then… it simply can't be managed. That's when the crisis hits.
These debt revolutions are characterized by the inability of the debt burden to be reduced in "normal" ways. In a normal cycle, deleveraging reduces debt burdens. And this happens through some combination of reduced spending (to pay off debt), defaults (where assets are redistributed among creditors), and increases to the money supply (to prevent a deflationary spiral and stoke economic growth).
But in a debt revolution… those normal measures don't work. Austerity causes a big reduction in economic growth. Spending slows and the economy declines faster than debt can be reduced.
Likewise, the debt burdens can be so big that defaults don't work because the collateral won't come close to covering the debt. (Think about General Motors' bankruptcy. The government put an additional $50 billion into the company, and it still couldn't pay its creditors.) And sometimes even extreme amounts of money printing doesn't work because interest costs increase more than inflation, causing the debt burden to continually grow faster than the economy.
When 'Normal' Stops Working
When deleveraging doesn't work, the debt burden grows and grows. It begins to weigh heavier and heavier across the poorest segments of society. It becomes life-choking. It leads to despair. To depression. To violence. And to revolution.
I don't think I have to tell anyone that the federal debt burden has been growing uncontrollably for the last decade. Since 2008, total U.S. federal debt has more than doubled. That is, our government has borrowed more money in the last 10 years than it borrowed in the 231 prior years of its existence, combined.
Yes, in terms of debt to gross domestic product (GDP), government borrowing was larger during the Civil War and during World War II. That's true. But it's also irrelevant. What really matters is that it's not only the government's debt that continues to grow uncontrollably. What really matters is that our country's total debt load (household, corporate, and government) continues to grow. Even after the crisis of 2008. Even with $4 trillion in new money. Even with the huge number of mortgage defaults (over $1 trillion in losses).
And… what really matters is that, more so than ever before, the burden of these debts is falling most heavily on the poorest members of our society – the people most likely to be radicalized. The people most likely to be violent. The people most likely to declare a jubilee.
Most Americans believe the 2008-2011 financial crisis solved our debt problem…
We all know someone who defaulted on his mortgage and hasn't been able to borrow money since. Most of us believe that solved the problem… that everything is fine now. Well, except for the government's debt… But that's a different kind of problem.
But the facts tell a different story.
- U.S. total debt (household, corporate, and government) hasn't declined since 2008.
- Federal debt only declined in one quarter (first quarter 2017, -2.6%) since 2008. Household debt only declined twice (2010, 2011 by less than 1%). And corporate debt has declined twice, too (-4% in 2009, less than 1% in 2010).
- Total debt is currently growing at almost 4% a year. Since 2008 our economy has grown on average at 2.9% a year. That means, once again, our debts are growing much faster than our economy.
Our economy did not deleverage. The "normal" methods of reducing our country's debt burdens did not work.
Economists will be quick to tell you that this doesn't really matter because debt service burdens fell. That has allowed disposable income to rise and led to "solid" economic growth that, eventually, will allow these debts to be repaid.
Please remember this idea: It is because debt service obligations have fallen (relative to GDP) that our economy recovered, not because of any reduction in debt load.
As you know, interest rates have fallen dramatically over the past eight years. Yields on corporate junk bonds have never been lower. Same with yields on government debt. Same with most mortgage loans. These huge reductions in borrowing costs allowed the economy to continue growing despite the lack of any deleveraging and the continued growth of our debt burden.
These massive reductions in interest rates were caused by the Federal Reserve's actions… which are now being reversed.
There's another problem that most people haven't figured out yet…
Most of the household credit growth over the last few years wasn't in mortgages, which are normally safe loans. They're well collateralized. And most people who buy a house have the income required to support the loan. The new debt has been highly concentrated in the poorest segments of our society.
Credit Suisse Chief Global Strategist Jonathan Wilmot published some debt research that looked at debt-to-income ratios across different segments of the population. In the late 1980s, the 20% of Americans with the least amount of income held little debt, when measured against their income levels. Today, however, this segment of the population is the most in debt when measured against income.
The poorest Americans now hold debts in excess of 250% of their incomes, or about five times more debt than the wealthiest 20%.
This massive change in the character of our household debts came about because of "innovations" in lending – like subprime auto loans, pay day lenders, and, most important, student loans. Today total household debt is almost $13 trillion. That's higher than the previous all-time high of $12.6 trillion, set in the third quarter of 2008 – immediately prior to the last crisis.
And what's most important to understand is that the cost of this debt burden has been artificially reduced since 2009 by the Fed. These costs – not just the normal debt service, but also the cost of defaults – are about to soar.
More than 10% of these loans are student loans ($1.5 trillion outstanding). Most were made to poor people against zero collateral, where there isn't any legal process to deal with defaults. This is a serious economic problem that will transform into a serious political problem because we have no economic or legal way to deal with these debts.
In other words… this massive debt bubble has mostly been created by the 44 million Americans who have student loans. These are the people in our society who are the least able to manage their debts. They are the most likely to default.
In 2016, no payments were made by more than 4 million borrowers against a total of $137 billion in outstanding student loans. This represents a 14% annual increase in the default rate from 2015. On average, 3,000 new people default on their student loans each day.
And yet… the issuance of these bad debts continues to soar. Since 2013, the average balance of all student borrowers has increased by 17% to more than $30,000.
A Violent Redistribution
What happens when the least educated, least "vested," and most violent members of your society (unmarried men in their 20s)… also make up the largest demographic block… and have the largest debts (relative to income) with zero ability to pay back these debts back or discharge them through bankruptcy?
Forty-four million people carry a student loan. Most of them can't afford these loans. Nor can they default. They can't restructure. They're stuck – many with $100,000 loans that absorb more than 100% of their disposable income.
What do you think they are going to do? All they can do is fight…
When you watch the news and you see people rioting about race in Charlottesville, Virginia… when you see the inner cities burning in Baltimore… when you see more and more radicalized politics – like resurgent neo-Nazi groups, the rise of Black Lives Matter protests, and college students embracing violence to protest at any conservative speaker – what you're really seeing is the beginning of the jubilee.
These protests may nominally be about race. Or about Donald Trump. But what they are really about is hopelessness. What they are really about is economics. The poor – and especially the young and poor in our country – have no hope of being able to afford the American dream. Not when median incomes are $60,000 and the average college debt is more than $30,000. Not when the average cost of a house is more than $250,000 and even a decent apartment is unaffordable for most college graduates.
The jubilee has started in America…
The jubilee is a Jewish economic tradition. It is part of the Old Testament. You'll find it described in the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 25. The idea was simple. At the end of 49 years, all debts would be wiped out and collateral property returned. It was a way of completely "resetting" the financial order, of making sure the wealthy didn't become too dominant… of making sure their economy didn't collapse… of making sure there was never a violent revolution.
The jubilee has started. You haven't seen it yet. But it's there. Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) recently toured all 50 states. His message: we should forgive all student loans and offer a guaranteed income to every American. Likewise, both the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaign pledged to forgive student loans and make college "free."
There is a fourth way to deleverage an economy. I already mentioned the three normal ways: austerity… default… and money printing. You can also redistribute the wealth. That's the jubilee.
We've been trying the first three ways for almost 10 years. They haven't worked, at all. Instead, the debt burden has only grown larger, and it has grown fastest on the backs of the poorest members of our society. This does not bode well for the stability of our country.
Think about it… Most of the voting households in our country can't handle a $400 emergency. Millions and millions of them have a debt burden they can't afford. So out of the four ways to reduce our economy's debt burden, which do you think we're going to try next?
It's a jubilee. And just like Shirley Jackson's lottery, it's likely to be incredibly violent… with the young violently taking from the old.
President Trump comes up for re-election in 2020. That's 49 years to the day since the last jubilee in America, in 1971. That's when Nixon repudiated our government's debt by abandoning the Bretton Woods gold-standard system and telling our creditors, who had been promised payment in gold, to "go pound sand."
Since then, total debt in America has soared from around 100% of GDP to close to 400% of GDP. Many of you can remember the 1970s. The violent protests. The soaring inflation. The feeling that the country was coming apart at the seams.
Well, this time will be about four times worse. The jubilee is coming. And you'd better get ready for it.
Keep a copy of this issue of American Consequences filed away…
Share it with your friends. Remember where you first heard about the coming jubilee. And send us your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Porter Stansberry founded Stansberry Research in 1999 working on a borrowed computer at his kitchen table. Since then, he has built the firm's flagship newsletter, Stansberry's Investment Advisory, into one of the industry's most widely read publications.
Today, Porter is well-known for doing some of the most important – and often controversial – work in the financial advisory business.