As the result of being in meetings all week, the workload has once again proliferated to painful levels. And so, in the interest of retaining some small amount of sanity and balance, I'll only be with you briefly today.
Helping to fill in around the edges, I have an article on the current crop crisis from our own Bud Conrad, the stalwart chief economist of Casey Research and co-editor of The Casey Report, the latest edition of which is out today.
The table of contents of the edition is pasted in here, but you can read the entire edition risk-free thanks to our customary policy of offering three-month trials… details here.
Before I get to Bud's article, and the rest of the edition, I wanted to quickly revisit my article from last week, Paying Lip Service to Liberty, and share just a sampling of the dozens off excellent responses you and other dear readers sent along.
Yesterday, in what has to be one of the most bizarre and ironic coincidences I have ever been an inadvertent actor in, I received a Facebook posting notification from David S., a fellow owner at La Estancia de Cafayate, that reads as follows.
I hope and guess this isn't our neighbor. Strange coincidence – 58-year-old David Galland.
SPOKANE – Deputies arrested two men after a 3-hour standoff in Otis Orchards.
Authorities pulled the men over in a truck because of invalid license plates. Deputies said 58-year-old David Galland and 55-year-old Michael Hicks refused to cooperate so they called in for reinforcements.
SWAT team members surrounded the truck near E. Kildea and N. Starr Road just before 2:00 Wednesday afternoon.
The driver was so uncooperative that authorities had to cut him out of his seat belt.
The standoff happened in a driveway and that home was evacuated. Officials do not believe the men are connected to the home.
Authorities called in for reinforcement because they did not know if the men were armed.
The Spokane County Sheriff's Office says the car had Sovereign Plates, which represent a type of thinking that doesn't associate with or respect law enforcement.
Ironic because the entire thesis of last week's article is that it is pretty much futile to go toe-to-toe against the overwhelming power of the state, which is acting with the overt or at least tacit support from most of the citizens of our rapidly degrading democracy.
Coincidence in that the version of David Galland involved in this singularly futile form of protest is also the same age as I am – 58 years old – which I mentioned in last week's article.
In a moment, I'll share a smattering of the almost 40 pages of responses we received to that article, but before moving on to that, I would urge you to watch the video of the newscast on police reaction to the other David Galland's refusal to get out of his car.
Even though the reporter enters the scene after Galland and his friend have been forcibly removed from said car, it appears that scads of machine-gun-toting police in full SWAT outfits remain on the scene.
This phenomenon, of the militarized constabulary massively overreacting to even everyday crimes – in this case a traffic stop – has given rise to a new prank, Swatting, although you'd have to be a true moron to want to pull one off.
Swatting, in case you haven't heard the term, involves placing a fake 911 call about a crime in progress at someone else's house. A classic of the genre occurred recently when someone reported that there was a home invasion under way at Miley Cyrus' (empty) house, setting off a platoon-level response, including helicopters.
(Of course, it's all fun and games until someone gets gunned down, at which point the hoaxer will have many years in a small cage to chortle at the looks on the faces of the shootee and the shooters alike as they realize, in sequence, they'd been fooled.)
I had a good chuckle myself over the irony of the "other Galland." That is, until late last night, when the thought struck me that maybe the fellow had lifted my identity… egad!
Could I end up on a no-fly list, curtailing my precious freedom to travel, discussed last week? Bright and early, I signed up for a trial subscription to a service that monitors for identity theft.
With that aside, let's get to your emails.
First off, most were quite positive. For example…
Bravo!: "Nothing too profound, just something that's been on my mind."
Profound enough... and my sentiments exactly.
If the majority of Americans (or even a large minority) were truly interested in and devoted to freedom and liberty, Ron Paul would have been elected president long ago.
As it is, he can't even get the nomination of one of the mainstream political parties after two honest and sincere attempts.
Your observations of the mere lip-service most Americans pay to liberty and freedom while actually supporting its opposite are absolutely spot on. Thanks for saying concisely and out loud what many of us have known in our hearts for a long time.
Lip service: Finally, a voice of sanity.
My father was born and raised in Germany. Born in 1903 to a peasant farming family that we have traced back to the 16th century, he always impressed on us the principle, when faced with tyranny that you can do nothing about, of keeping your head down and being inconspicuous. That is the strategy that got them through the troubles, and is the principle that all survivors have practiced.
I care not about all the theoretical injustices, I only care about me and my loved ones and our wellbeing. The way to ensure that is to mind your own business.
I hope all the best to you and yours.
Great essay today...
I am a 41 years old, currently in the first year of a 3-year expat assignment in Shanghai, China. I spend a lot of time riding in a car and find myself pondering the very points you raised today.
Being on this side of the world has afforded me the opportunity to visit places like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Korea and meet people from all over the world. Of the people I have met, we all have the same, basic, primal objective: to provide the opportunity for those that we love to live as fulfilling of a life as free as we can. We all come from different countries, with different tax laws, and different "red tape" that we must navigate through, but in the end, we all have the common goal.
Your article really hit home today, and has me sitting here questioning what the "correct path" will be. Your writing will force me to dig deeper into myself to find the answer. Thanks for taking the time and having the courage to continually challenge the status quo...
Others, but not many, were less favorable, trotting out the time-worn arguments against making your quest for liberty a personal one. Here's one now, and my response.
I have greatly enjoyed the writings by you and others at Casey for the past several years. I am 90 yrs old. I think you are wrong to believe you can escape the world by moving to a different country. Furthermore, I do not agree that the majority of Americans are as dumb as you believe they are. I also wonder, do you have a family? I could not leave my family behind if I planned to leave. I believe that there will be a shift in this country, perhaps at this election.
First, thanks for the nice words. As for your contention that I may be wrong in thinking I can "escape the world by moving to different country," allow me to restate that I am not looking to escape the world, just those corners of the world where the politics have devolved to the point that the odds of being deprived of my liberty become unacceptably high.
We're not quite there in the US, yet… but we're certainly moving in that direction, which is why I am making the effort to create a comfortable nest in a different political jurisdiction.
Also, I don't recall saying that the majority of Americans are dumb – rather they are scared and have become overly reliant on the state. You'll have to trust me on this one, but in my experience based on meeting a lot of people in a lot of countries around the world, we Americans live on tenterhooks by comparison.
On the family thing, to my way of thinking, I will be happy to come visit them periodically – for the time being we will spend six months a year, the summer months, in the US – unless and until the time where even visiting the US becomes perilous to my liberty. At which point the state of freedom in the country will have declined to a point where my family members will be very happy that I had the foresight to create a refuge they can avail themselves of.
Do I think things will get to that dire point?
Not really, but then again neither did many of the Jews in Nazi Germany, despite the far more obvious threats to their personal well-being. Specifically, while 58% left the country in time to avoid the worst, 42% stayed behind… of which about 82% were subsequently killed in the Holocaust.
Let me again stress that I don't buy into the whole dystopian-future thing. Rather, I just think expanding your horizons and diversifying your life internationally is good practice, if you can manage it. In my experience, diversifying your life between cultures is invigorating and generally leads to living a fuller and richer life.
While everyone has to make their own decisions about these things, for me the option of spending time in the company of like-minded individuals in a quaint, sun-soaked town at the end of the road in a drop-dead-gorgeous and up-and-coming wine-growing region that is entirely self-sustaining is hugely attractive.
You can call it running away if you like; I call it living life large.
Back to the "against" side of the ledger, we have this one… my answers are in line with the text, in bold.
Re: Casey Daily Dispatch: Paying Lip Service to Liberty: You've asked some (loaded) questions here, and I'd like to ask some questions of you – the supporter of "liberty."
Re Social Security: Are you willing and able to support your elderly/sick parents who have very little, if any, personal income on which to live? What happened to these people before Social Security? And with Social Security bankrupt and unsustainable, what's the plan to keep it going? More taxes that drain money from individuals that could be otherwise used in building businesses and looking after loved ones? That said, a thriving economy will have enough extra money sloshing around to help look after the truly desperate.
Re Health Care: Are you willing to take the chance that you may acquire a serious physical ailment that would be beyond your ability (monetarily) to treat? See above. If you got the state out of 90% of that in which it currently meddles, the cost of providing health care and health care insurance would plummet.
Re Education: Are you willing and do you have the time and/or the money to educate your own children regardless of their capabilities? You bet! I guarantee that if the state got out of education, the neighbors hereabouts would pool their resources to set up a school in less time than it took for me to write this sentence. Just like we're doing in La Estancia de Cafayate… and it will offer a hell of a lot better education than is available locally.
Re Taxing of Rich: Will you be satisfied to live in a country that has such an enormous chasm between those with extravagant lifestyles and those who are living in poverty? Absolutely! As long as people cannot use the coercive power of government to favor one group over another, then it should be an absolute free-for-all – with the winners earning as much as they can, as long as they can do so without committing fraud.
If I had the time, I would recount here dozens of stories of individuals I have known who have started life with nothing but, by providing products and services that other people wanted, have made fortunes. I could also tell you dozens of stories of acquaintances of mine who, usually through their own missteps, lost fortunes. One such fellow, having inherited $10 million, utterly blew the money in a series of stupid moves – so much so that the last time I saw him, he was working as menial laborer sweeping the floor of a local store.
The letter continues on in much the same way, extolling the virtues of the FDA (which kills as many as it saves and which could be replaced in a heartbeat by private enterprise)… and challenging the notion that the mortgage rate deduction should be canceled (meaning one part of society – the increasingly small part that actually pays taxes – should subsidize home purchases by others).
Sorry to say, this particular Dear Reader is locked in exactly the mental trench that the state has so carefully dug. And will likely remain in the trench until reality comes along to fill it in.
Moving along, I'll sign off on this segment with my favorite letter, but only because of the source – Harry Schultz, a friend of many years and a real pioneer in providing independent investment research. I just came across this note in the many pages of reader feedback, written in Harry's iconic short-hand, a style that has, after many decades, made it into the modern lexicon.
Uncle Harry here: Dear David,
What a masterpiece U have written!
I have sent it on to a few people who will understand it. If u write on this subject again, plz add the vital freedom loss of PRIVACY in the US. Bank acnts are no longer private. Nor brokerage acnts. Nor moving money offshore in size. Nor withdrawing money from your bank acnt in cash. Etc. U know this, but it is necessary to mention among the leading liberty losses! Without control of your assets, U have near no freedom.
Here is what I said to friends to whom I sent your article:
"This is beautifully written by David Galland, who I almost hired many yrs ago. U'll soon see why.
"I wrote a few yrs ago: 'It's too late; we've lost.' That's certainly true in the US & badly damaged in UK.
"Talk is cheap; 98% don't want to pay the price to change things. Most R now set in the new big brother ways, accepting govt as their provider in chief. The US is decades away from change for the better.
"Anyway, read David & see wot u think. Rsvp."
Hope all is well with u. It appears it is! Esp vis a vis Argentina. I told Doug some months ago, I wud like to join your community in Arg, but my age is a factor in moving. Even so, I view it as not impos.
Fond wishes, Harry
And I thought the La Estancia community couldn't get any better… but with the addition of "Uncle Harry," it most certainly would!
I have said it before and I will say it again: here at Casey Research, we really do have remarkable readers. I do wish I could share all the many great responses and essays received, and I wish I had time to respond to each individually, but don't and so probably won't. But if you wrote in, I can assure you I read your comments and, in many cases, passed them on to others on the team here. Much appreciated.
And now, on to other business, starting with Bud's article on the crop crisis.
By Bud Conrad
Our news media have not given enough attention to the very serious heat problems of this summer's growing season for grains. The heat and drought have seriously damaged the corn crop during the early July period of tasseling. The price of corn at $8 per bushel is a new record high. Similarly, $9 per bushel of wheat and soybeans at $16 a bushel are a record high. Soybeans are in the middle of their crucial pod filling stages in August and are looking vulnerable. The decline in the quality of the corn crop over the growing season shows just how serious this year's drought has been.
One measure of the drought shows this year to be the worst since the dust bowl of 1934.
(Click on image to enlarge)
One of the biggest domestic uses for grains is feed for cattle, pigs and poultry. In this drought, some 70% of grazing land has also been damaged. The high grain prices mean that cattle farmers are losing money. To cut their losses, they liquidate their herds, driving meat prices down. For beef, there could be shortages three years from now when the new calves that aren't being bred now would be coming to market, driving prices up then.
40% of our corn crop is diverted to the very inefficient creation of ethanol for fuel to supplant part of our crude oil demand. Requests by farmers to cut the regulation requiring the use of ethanol have not had much effect. Ethanol processing plants require capital investment, so it is difficult to change the parameters that set up the plants after the investments have been made. But it makes little sense to have such a program that does relatively little to alleviate our petroleum demand in the face of the corn shortage.
One of the reasons that food prices have not risen as fast as other commodity prices until recently is that we have enjoyed massive productivity from the "green revolution" of using better fertilizers and genetically modified plants that can produce higher yields per acre. But in the last five years, these yield increases have been very small. Jeremy Grantham of GMO newsletter provides this graph, showing that the problem may be more long term than just this year.
(Click on image to enlarge)
It is debatable whether this is some kind of biological limit or just the result of a number of one-time weather events across the planet. I think that a combination of disruptive climate change and the limits of biological processes will restrict our ability to grow the increasing quantities of food that the increasing population expects. I think higher food prices are part of our future.
The US is the biggest exporter of grains in the world. With these higher prices, there will be political reverberations around the world. The Arab Spring was partly instigated by poor and underemployed people finding they could not afford food's rising cost. We can expect political problems ahead. This chart shows that political crises occur more frequently when food prices are high. The food price will go to new records once futures prices filter through the production process.
(Source: Paper by Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand and Yaneer Bar-Yam (2011),
The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East)
(Click on image to enlarge)
This morning's (August 10, 2012)USDA's World Agricultural Supply Demand confirmed the fears of drought damage. The chart below shows the projected stocks of corn expected at the end of the 2012/2013 crop year as being 45% less than they were predicted last month.
Food comprises 14.2% of our CPI index, with cereals only 1.2%, so the effect on consumers will be much weaker than the headline commodity price jumps, but food has a surprising correlation with other prices, like energy.
This weather event is signaling a change in the importance of agriculture and food in our economic system. Expect higher prices to stay with us, and expect price and escalation to continue. Higher inflation will affect interest rates too.
By Vedran Vuk
With Mario Draghi and Ben Bernanke refusing to open the floodgates for yet more monetary stimulus last week, Wall Street is again disappointed. Expectedly, the market slid downward in response before the jobs report picked it back up. But was this really so unpredictable to warrant such a slide? No, not really. Nonetheless, Wall Street expected more stimulus as institutional investors are analyzing monetary policy from their perspective rather than the central bank's viewpoint – a big mistake.
Consider Wall Street's conundrum: with the S&P 500 up less than 7% in 2012, the year is almost over, and the investment firms have little to show for it. This 7% return might be OK in calmer markets, but instead investors have been taken on a roller coaster ride – all for a measly return. So, what could send stocks higher? If the European crisis just disappeared, things would turn for the better… but that's not going to happen. Or perhaps if US unemployment finally moved downward… but that's not going to happen either. Today, the market is celebrating as the unemployment rate slightly rose from 8.2% to 8.3% because things could have been even worse. That tells you exactly how bad things are out there.
The only short-term savior for equity markets is another round of extreme monetary stimulus, which will keep things propped up a bit longer. Hopefully, in that time, unemployment and the general economy would improve, which would lead to lessened fiscal strain on troubled governments. Another round of monetary stimulus is the only immediate game-changer left on the table. Without it, Wall Street will have to face the realities of a stagnant market. Fund managers don't need a disaster to be badly hurt here; failing to produce adequate returns is a bad enough outcome. How many people would place their money in a high-risk market after a few years of low single-digit returns? Probably much fewer than today.
As a result of this conundrum, Wall Street sees monetary stimulus as the only way forward – hence the strong belief that Bernanke and Draghi will produce stimulus at any moment. To Wall Street, this makes sense, but unfortunately for them, the Federal Reserve has different incentives.
First of all, Bernanke realizes that he is low on bullets. The last few landed way off target, and his last bullets might miss the mark even more so. Bernanke is stuck with two options here: he can fire off his last bullet now (as Wall Street desires) and can send the market up maybe 1,000 points on the DJIA. Or he can wait to save this last bullet in case the market crashes.
It's not such a hard decision for him. If Bernanke shoots his bullet now and the market crashes anyway, he's going to go down in history as the worst Federal Reserve chairman ever. And if he tries to shoot the gun again in an emergency after he has overheated it, Bernanke might very well send the economy into a hyperinflation. In such a scenario, he would become a cautionary tale for econ graduate students for the next hundred years (and I'm not kidding about that… economists are still discussing the monetary policy of the Great Depression).
Would you take such a risk for a couple of hundred extra points on the DJIA? I don't think so. Wall Street's incentive and Bernanke's couldn't be further apart on delivering another monetary stimulus before it's desperately needed.
You may ask yourself, "But wait, didn't Bernanke boost the stock market only a few years ago? Why wouldn't he do it again now?" A few years ago, Bernanke had a lifetime wealth problem on his hands regarding the average US consumer. When someone loses 25% of their home's equity and their 401(k) crashes by 35%, they become shell-shocked as a result of their total lifetime wealth taking a sudden large dip. Economists understand that the spending behavior of someone with a $500,000 nest egg saved for retirement isn't the same as for a person with half as much. It's really a simple concept: when we feel more comfortable about our future, we can spend more today. Even if one had no risk of losing his or her job in the crash, personal spending habits would often change in reflection of reduced lifetime wealth. Beforehand, by boosting equity markets, Bernanke could stimulate the economy by increasing everyone's sense of their lifetime wealth, inducing them to spend more in the present.
Unfortunately, this strategy didn't work so well. Now Bernanke again holds the option of boosting equities a bit higher with yet more stimulus. Will another thousand points on the DJIA really send the economy back into a recovery? Most likely not. That said, another round of monetary stimulus isn't completely out of the question. However, with the possibility of a European-led market crash around the corner, an early stimulus would be a very high-risk gamble in Bernanke's eyes – a gamble that may seal his fate forever.
While Wall Street fund managers are worried about delivering returns to their clients, Bernanke has a million problems on his mind, and equity prices are not one of them. Though the market will continue to get overexcited at the possibility of more monetary stimulus, we probably won't see another round of a truly massive program until things really hit the fan and the Fed is forced to reach toward the bottom of the ammunition box.
David again. I think Vedran's got it right. I had a long chat with Donald Coxe, a senior strategist for BMO, a $500 million institution, and we touched a bit on this general topic. Don and I both agree that the Fed is running out of any real ability to "manage" the economy. In Don's view, which he will be expanding upon as a faculty member at our upcoming Summit in Carlsbad, central bank policy actions here in the US and abroad have been the equivalent of injecting financial heroin into the economy. As the use of the drug continues, it becomes less and less effective, and so more and more has to be injected until the point where the damage done causes the patient to overdose and drop dead.
I think the Fed is going to be very hesitant to unleash QE3, though it will ultimately be forced to it. But once it does, Mr. Market is almost certain to come to the quick conclusion that the Fed may have effectively shot its last bullet, and that it won't resolve the sovereign debt crisis – just make it worse. At that point, the crisis is likely to become acute, and quickly so.
In Carlsbad, Don is going to go into great detail about his current forecast and strategies to successfully navigate the politicized economy. For more details on the event, September 7-9, co-hosted by Casey Research and the Sprott Group of Companies, click here.
But do so right away, as there are only 30 seats remaining before a complete sell-out.
I just realized something...
It just hit me! My dog sleeps about 20 hours a day.
He has his food prepared for him.
His meals are provided at no cost to him.
He visits the doctor once a year for his checkup and again during the year, if any medical needs arise.
For this he pays nothing, and nothing is required of him.
He lives in a nice neighborhood in a house that is much larger than he needs, but he is not required to do any upkeep.
If he makes a mess, someone else cleans it up.
He has his choice of luxurious places to sleep.
He receives these accommodations absolutely free.
He is living like a king and has absolutely no expenses whatsoever. All of his costs are picked up by others who earn a living.
I was just thinking about all this, and suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks...
My dog is a CONGRESSMAN!!!!
Taking the Bible Literally
On her radio show, Dr. Laura said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Schlesinger, written by a US man and posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as quite informative:
Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there "degrees" of abomination?
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev. 24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)
I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.
Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.
Your adoring fan,
James M. Kauffman,
Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia
Last week we ran an article by John Mauldin on the topic of earning a decent yield in a world where central planners are ratcheting down interest rates. As we have also discussed, we have worked with John and his team to develop a new service, Yield Shark, designed to troll the market for undervalued dividend opportunities. Well, this week the numbers came out on the performance so far of the stocks recommended since the service was launched last month… and they are extraordinary!
One recommendation is up 31.1% in less than a month, and that doesn't include a 10% dividend investors will soon receive. Another is up 18% in seven weeks… another up 11% in 8 weeks, not counting a 6%. There were zero losers, and the other two recommended stocks are up 8% and 10%, respectively.
Of course, no service can pull down these sorts of returns on a regular basis, but the returns to date certainly show that the analytical methodology is solid. If you are looking to boost that corner of your portfolio dedicated to earning yield – and on occasion, some very nice capital gains – check out Yield Shark. It's only $99 a year and comes with a three-month money-back guarantee, so it's kind of hard to go wrong.
And with that, I will sign off for the week, thanking you as I do for reading and for being a Casey Research subscriber.