Saturday, January 07, 2012

Focus on Debt -- One of the Twin Catastrophes of Decline


Two of the most important catastrophes leading to a modern collapse are debt and demographic decline. The two catastrophes are strongly interrelated. Let's look first at debt:
Old debts are paid with new ones, with borrowers giving not the slightest thought to repayment. This has been going on for a long time, far too long, in fact. It was only with the eruption of the financial crisis in 2007 and the outrageously expensive bailouts of banks and economies that many people realized that the entire world is living on credit.

"Debt is rising to points that are above anything we have seen, except during major wars," economists at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) concluded in a recent study. "The debt problems facing advanced economies are even worse than we thought."

This is even true of seemingly rock-solid Germany. In the third quarter of 2011, German public debt amounted to €2.028 trillion, an increase of €10.8 billion over the debt level just three months earlier. Germany's public debt grew by about €120 million a day -- or more than €80,000 a minute -- between July and September.

To make matters worse, this increase occurred in a quarter marked by plentiful tax revenues and a significant decline in unemployment. But debts increase independently of whether times happen to be good or bad.

...The fact that nations are continually spending more than they take in cannot turn out well in the long run. The word "credit" comes from the Latin "credere," which means "to believe." The system will only function as long as lenders believe in borrowers. Once the belief in the creditworthiness of borrowers is destroyed, hardly anyone will be willing to buy their securities.

When that happens, the system is finished.

...The social security coffers contain absolutely no reserves for members of the baby-boomer generation. "As a result of our government's generosity, we are creating substantial financial burdens for future generations," says economist Raffelhüschen. But no one really wants to hear this. Besides, all of this will happen so far in the future that many feel it simply doesn't concern them.

Next to pensions, health insurance is the second-largest item on Raffelhüschen's list, accounting for a shortfall of €2 trillion. The inevitable aging of society will only exacerbate the problem. With age or, more precisely, with the number of old people, healthcare spending rises dramatically.

...Whatever approach the Western world uses to combat its debt crisis -- be it austerity measures, taxes, inflation or, what is most likely, a mixture of the three -- solving this problem will shape the lives and work activities of a generation.

"If history is a model, we can expect to see many years of debt repayment," the McKinsey management consulting firm predicts in a study. In other words, the debt avalanche is inevitable, and the only question is whether countries can protect themselves in time.

Demographic decline is the other twin cause of modern collapse. Here is more on that topic:
...U.N. forecasts [show] that, by the year 2050, the whole of Europe, including Russia, will shrink by 130 million people. Decades of low birth rates have resulted in aging populations that have placed a huge strain on pensions and health care largely covered by Europe’s generous social welfare systems. These problems are now affecting many key policies. Indeed, in the current euro crisis, German government officials say their reluctance to bail out Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal is driven largely by fears among its own taxpayers that the bill will become so onerous as to jeopardize their retirement. _WaPo
When combined, the twin catastrophes of debt and demographic decline are difficult to overcome. The post-war generations of Europeans have grown up soft, and entitled. Men are increasingly feminised, while women refuse to have children. Perhaps the answer is to transplant female uteri into the males, to allow male childbirth?

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