Friday, January 24, 2020

"100 Seconds to Doomsday"

"100 Seconds to Doomsday"
by Brian Maher

"Our heart is black with grief today. For we bear grave news… Earth is substantially closer to doomsday. It is true. This we have on the invincible authority of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It has reset its “Doomsday Clock.” Two days ago, Armageddon’s timepiece read two minutes to midnight. But yesterday, the Cassandras wrung their trembling hands... And grimly advanced the doom hand 20 seconds - to 100 seconds to midnight. How they are certain doomsday is not 103 seconds away, or 33, remains somewhat dim to us. They nonetheless assure us... Not once in 74 years has doomsday drawn so close - not even in the iciest depths of the Cold War.

“We Now Face a True Emergency”: Shrieks Rachel Bronson, Bulletin president and chief executive officer: "It is 100 seconds to midnight. We are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds - not hours, or even minutes. It is the closest to Doomsday we have ever been in the history of the Doomsday Clock. We now face a true emergency - an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay."

But why? Why is annihilation suddenly such an immediate menace, a 100-second menace? Here are the three cavalrymen of this apocalypse, fast approaching: Atoms, oil and speech. That is... atomic arms, climate change and “cyber-based disinformation.” The third is so vicious because it halts action against the first two.

The Doomsday Trio: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, by way of explanation: "In the nuclear realm, national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to lowered barriers to nuclear war. Political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea remain unresolved and are, if anything, worsening. U.S.-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is all but nonexistent."

Meantime, Earth is down with a fatal fever. And Man strokes Nero’s fiddle as it burns up: "Governmental action on climate change still falls far short of meeting the challenge at hand. At U.N. climate meetings last year, national delegates made fine speeches but put forward few concrete plans to further limit the carbon dioxide emissions that are disrupting Earth’s climate. This limited political response came during a year when the effects of man-made climate change were manifested by one of the warmest years on record, extensive wildfires and quicker-than-expected melting of glacial ice."

Finally, democracy’s enemies pollute the “information ecosphere” with seditions and blasphemies. These hellcats undermine “domestic and international efforts to foster peace and protect the planet”: "Continued corruption of the information ecosphere on which democracy and public decision making depend has heightened the nuclear and climate threats. In the last year, many governments used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations, undermining domestic and international efforts to foster peace and protect the planet.

Hence Earth dangles by the barest tatter. Hence the Doomsday Clock nears midnight. Hence our blackened heart. But what do we see galloping in? Is this yet a fourth horseman of earthly apocalypse? Is it… debt?

The Deadly Horseman of Debt: The numbers men project total global debt will exceed $257 trillion in this, the first quarter of 2020. That eclipses all records. Divide the world’s combined debt by 7.7 billion - Earth’s existing population - and each earthly inhabitant is $33,376 in bondage. Total global debt now rises to 322% of global economic production. That too is a record. And total “developed world” debt piles to 383% of GDP - another record yet. Meantime, nonfinancial corporate debt rises to 92% of GDP. That is correct… still another record. But stay within these shores…

Engorged by Debt: The United States government has since borrowed some $13 trillion since the financial crisis. These borrowings have hoisted the United States national debt above $23 trillion. Yet the American economy expanded only $5.1 trillion these past 10 years. That is, while GDP has expanded less than 40%… the national debt has increased over 120%.

We have likened the economy to an overswollen tick, engorged by debt rather than blood. It cannot move ahead unless it shakes off the burden. The economy presently requires $4 or $5 of debt to squeeze out $1 of growth. It is a frightful arithmetic. What is more, much of today’s debts are “nonproductive.”

The Destructive Weeds of Debt: That is, they are not investments in the future. They are claims upon the future. Tomorrow’s consumption becomes today’s consumption. It leaves tomorrow’s bounty that much reduced. Even the dashboard saint of government spenders - Lord John Maynard Keynes - placed rigorous demands upon debt. The government may fall into debt during economic distress, he allowed. But each dollar of debt it plants in economic winter... must come up a lovely blossom in spring. Else it is nonproductive.

Much of today’s debt - however - turns up weeds. These weeds choke the entire economic garden… strangling spring’s flowers before they even live. That is because much of government borrowing goes to “social welfare.” Also, to service existing de‌bt. In fact... Interest payments on the national debt represent the swiftest-growing government expenditure. In words other, much of today’s debt goes to nonproductive uses. And so the economy will likely skip spring. Where oh where is Lord Keynes?

Less Spring: And as we have noted before: Evidence indicates any de‌bt-to-GDP ratio above 60% courts economic risk. Any ratio above 90% invites calamity - or possible doomsday, in keeping with today’s apocalyptic theme. The United States’ present de‌bt-to-GDP goes at 106%. What about the GDP side of the equation? Is GDP on the increase? 2018 growth came it 2.9%. Last year’s final tally is not yet in. But consensus estimates 2019 real U.S. GDP growth will recede to 2.3%.

What of 2020? The Congressional Budget Office projects 1.9% growth this year. The median Federal Reserve forecast rings in at 2.0%. Meantime, Morgan Stanley expects 1.8% 2020 growth. More winter. More weeds. Fewer spring blossoms.Indeed, less spring.

Time to Reset the Doomsday Clock Again: Lance Roberts of Real Inves‌tment Advice, in summary: "As this money is used for servicing de‌bt, entitlements and welfare instead of productive endeavors, there is no question that high de‌bt-to-GDP ratios reduce economic prosperity over time. In turn, the government tries to fix the “economic problem” by adding on more “de‌bt.”

Thus we add debt to the doomsday horsemen that presently scourge and menace Earth. It sits high in the saddle… and its approach is like thunder. We suggest the atomic scientists advance their Doomsday Clock accordingly - 100 seconds may prove far, far too generous. We can almost hear the tolling bells of midnight..."

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