Saturday, October 10, 2009

Has US Currency already "collapsed"?

A post I did a while back, "What would a U.S. currency collapse look like?", has been getting more hits and rising up in my site meter. I found out it's been linked to at, regarding the search words "currency collapse". I went to that page, and there were many interesting links to that topic. Here are a few that I found informative:

How Does a Currency Collapse? and the U.S. $?
When a currency loses the confidence of its people, its fall becomes exponential, as has happened to the Zimbabwe $, where in 1982 one U.S.$ equalled 1 Zimbabwe $. Today around Z$200,000 buys one U.S. $ if you can find someone idiot enough to sell one for the Z$.

In day-to-day terms, the smallest note in Zimbabwe a Z$500 is the size of a U.S.$. The price of a single-ply sheet of toilet paper is more expensive at around Z$867.

The U.S.$ is nowhere near there, but clearly the U.S. Administration has no plan or even desire to rectify the U.S. Trade deficit. Consequently, we are seeing a growing number of Central Banks turning to the Euro for its reserves and away from the U.S.$.

Whilst most observers and particularly U.S. observers like to have tangible facts and numbers with which to mathematically gauge the present and the different possible futures, a collapsing currency situation is not as neatly gaugeable. Indeed it is driven in stages of ‘confidence’, which are rarely measurable in advance.

For instance we see today the move of the Pension and other long-term funds into the gold E.T.F. one finds there are no mathematically measurable factors with which to measure the pace of change to these funds. Yes, the number of ‘Road-shows’ the World Gold Council does affects this move to some extent, but how do you measure the spread of that knowledge and resulting investment in the E.T.F.s outside of that? How does one measure the forces causing uncertainty and falling ‘confidence’.

It is an emotional progression, one that moves in lurches as particular incidents destroy confidence limb by limb. In such a climate a steady degeneration of confidence lead to an effect we shall call a "plateau - cliff" process.[...]

Read the whole thing. See the steps of the "process". See the graph. Yikes.

Then James Turk does an interview with Turk maintains that our currency has already collapsed, that we are already in the "process", and it just hasn't reached critical mass yet. The interviewer argues forcefully against Turks assessments, but Turk holds his ground, answering a lot of good questions by the interviewer. Here's a sample:

Moneychanger Since, at least the New Deal and the succession of Roosevelt and all his monetary/inflationary tricks, people have been predicting that the dollar would collapse. Aren’t you ashamed to come along 70 years later and predict again that the dollar is going to collapse?

Turk By any logical interpretation the dollar has already collapsed. Today’s dollar only purchases five cents of what it purchased in the 1930s, ten cents of what it purchased in the 1960-70s, and maybe 50 cents of what it purchased in the 1980s. So inflation has already brought the dollar to an ongoing collapse. The sound money people have been warning about this through the decades: the dollar is no longer an effective form of currency.

That raises another question: will the dollar’s problems become more severe? That’s where it becomes a bit more troublesome in terms of projecting and looking at the future. Can this decades-long situation continue, or must it end in some cataclysm? In our view it must come to end in a cataclysm, and that’s what we lay out in the book.

Moneychanger But isn’t the word “collapse” misleading? The people who mange the dollar, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, have managed the collapse from 1934 until 2004, 70 years, so that the economy did not collapse along with the dollar. Can you really call that a collapse? Also, what’s to prevent their managing it a bit longer, through this decade? Even if it loses (as I expect) at least 75% of its value in this decade -- and it’s already lost nearly 30% from February 2002 to March 2004 -- it still won’t disrupt the economy too terribly.

Turk Let’s look at the first part of that question, the claim that the economy hasn’t collapsed. You’re widening the point that I was making earlier about the dollar collapsing in terms of purchasing power. When you bring the economy into the discussion you have to ask yourself another question. Are people better off now than they were 20-30 years ago? Looking at real wealth and adjusting for the dollar’s debasement, people are less wealthy today than they were 20-30 years ago. Incomes are lower today than they were 20-30 years ago, partly because the dollar’s been debased, partly because people take home less money after taxes. By any logical measure, I don’t think people are as well off as they were in the 1960s or 1950s when the dollar problems weren’t as severe as they’ve become in recent decades.

But there’s more to that question: we’ve created a debt mountain, a debt bubble. Bubbles always pop. We mortgaged our future trying to maintain standards of living by debasing the currency and borrowing. This is unsustainable and will ultimately bring about the dollar’s collapse.

Moneychanger But the Federal Reserve and the Treasury have managed the collapse. That’s what they do. They are crisis managers. They exist to manage the debasement of the dollar so that this infection does not give the whole economy a fever resulting in death. Would you agree?

Turk Yes, and as a clear result of their managing an unsustainable situation, we have less and less freedom. The Patriot Act just presents the latest example. Look at US financial history. They continue to erode and encumber our freedom. Why? Because they recognise that the present system is not sustainable and they are trying to keep the bubble in the air.

Moneychanger You claim the present system is not sustainable. Allan Greenspan says it is. George Bush says it is.

Turk Well, are they going to tell you that it’s not sustainable?

Moneychanger No, but they have 70 years of success to argue on their side. What makes it different this time? In the dollar’s darkest hours of 1980, when gold hit $850 and silver $50 and they pushed interest rates over 20%, well, yes, it’s a crisis, but we’ll muddle through this one, too. They’ve been muddling through since 1934. What is to prevent their muddling through this time? What specific things will make the dollar collapse this time? By “collapse” I don’t mean “erode” or even “erode quickly”, but I mean collapse in the sense that currency collapsed in Germany in 1923 or Argentina in 2002.

Turk That is exactly what I envision for the dollar. To answer your question we have to consider both supply and demand. In recent decades demand for the dollar has been, more or less, fairly consistent. As the financial bubble has been inflated and the Debt Mountain was built, people have continued to demand the dollar. They still use it for their day to day transactions. But what happened in Argentina and in Germany in the 1920s? Eventually, in a very short period of time, people realised that the hollow promises they were using for currency weren't worth what they had previously valued them to be. Then began the flight from the currency. The demand for those currencies dropped dramatically. In a long-term time frame, you could say almost overnight, but it was really over a period of weeks and months. People moved out of that currency as quickly as they could into other alternatives.

Demand for the dollar will ultimately drop for essentially the same reasons that demand for the Argentine peso and the Reichsmark dropped: they were fiat currencies oversupplied to the market.

Today far too many dollars are sloshing around the global economy. All it takes is a little break in confidence, then people quickly understand that the dollar is not worth the paper it’s printed on. There are a lot of hollow promises backing your dollar. That will lead to the flight from the currency that will ultimately bring the dollar down. But it’s the same outcome for every fiat currency. That’s the point that Americans don’t yet get. There is no logical reason why the dollar should end any differently than any other fiat currency.

Moneychanger But help me see the unseen. In 1923 Germany the people had already suffered through the inflation of World War I. They had seen their currency lose value as prices rose 800%, they had caught on. That “catching on” was necessary to precipitate the flight from the currency.

In Argentina in the decades of the 1980s and 90s, they had three different currencies, if I’m not mistaken. It may have been four, I can’t keep up with it. All Latin America has a century-long tradition of monetary instability. In the U.S. the last two generations have grown up without seeing gold in circulation, the last generation has grown up without seeing silver in circulation. Since 1971, the whole world has been on a fiat standard. Every currency has been inconvertible, backed by nothing. So why would American confidence break now? They don’t know anything else. They have only known a regime of inflation and ever-depreciating dollars. What will put the idea in their mind now that they have to flee out of dollars?

Turk What will trigger the flight from the dollar? We can’t really predict that. It could be some geopolitical event, some domestic financial event, a bankruptcy of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. We just don’t know what the specific trigger will be.

Look at the overall picture of what the dollar is today, and ask yourself a question. Do I want to prepare for this coming event by moving assets out of dollars into other alternatives – other currencies, precious metals, tangible assets. Never mind asking what specific event will starts the flight.

Where we stand today in this country is not unlike where Russians stood in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. If you had possessed the terrific foresight to say that in two years the Russian Rouble will collapse and the Soviet Union will be history, the average Russian would have just laughed at you. And you know what he would have said? “The government will never let that happen.” Exactly what Americans say today.

“The government will never let that happen.”

But the reality is that the market is bigger than the government. Truth can be hid for only so long, and we have been hiding the truth. We’ve been creating illusions of prosperity, while in reality we’ve been consuming infrastructure and building a debt mountain. The Debt Mountain is ultimately going to be the problem that causes the dollar to collapse. [...]

Turk claims that a sound currency was written into our constitution, and he predicts the American people will demand that we go back to it. And that we have not had a sound currency since 1934.

Also, this interview was made in 2004. Yet he predicts some things that have since happened, or are happening now. Do read the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

Turk is absolutely correct. For decades now America has been led down the path of inflation, devaluation so slowly that generations have become numb to it. But, the market has not. Gold and silver are now decoupling from stocks and even other commodities as they take their rightful place as the only true store of value, which is what a currency was supposed to represent. If you can't afford gold or silver, store food and water.

Chas said...

Yes, the devaluation has been coming slowly. But when if finally catches up with us... well. I recently did a blog post about a book that describes what it might be like:

The Authors say it will not be as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930's, on the physical level. BUT, that it will SEEM worse to many of us psychologically, because we've enjoyed easy money, credit and prosperity for so long.

I put some excerpts in my blogpost. The authors make some pretty plausible arguments for the ideas they put forth.