Wednesday , September 19 2018
Home / Charles Hugh Smith
Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith is an American writer and blogger. He is the chief writer for the site "Of Two Minds". Started in 2005, this site has been listed No. 7 in CNBC's top alternative financial sites. His commentary is featured on a number of sites including: Zerohedge.com., The American Conservative and Peak Prosperity. He graduated from the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Honolulu. Charles Hugh Smith currently resides in Berkeley, California and Hilo, Hawaii.

Articles by Charles Hugh Smith

We’re All Speculators Now

12 hours ago

One of the most perverse consequences of the central banks “saving the world” (i.e. saving banks and the super-wealthy) is the destruction of low-risk investments: we’re all speculators now, whether we know it or acknowledge it.
The problem is very few of us have the expertise and experience to be successful speculators, i.e. successfully manage treacherously high-risk markets. Here’s the choice facing money managers of pension funds and individuals alike: either invest in a safe low-risk asset such as Treasury bonds and lose money every year, as the yield doesn’t even match inflation, or accept the extraordinarily high risks of boom-bust bubble assets such as junk bonds, stocks, real estate, etc.
The core middle-class asset is the family home. Back in the

Read More »

Massive Deficit Spending

2 days ago

America’s problem isn’t a lack of deficit spending/consumption. America’s problems are profoundly structural.
The nice thing about free to me money from any source is the recipients don’t have to change anything. Free money is the ultimate free-pass from consequence and adaptation: instead of having to make difficult trade-offs or suffer the consequences of profligacy, the recipients of free money are saved: they can continue on their merry way, ignoring the monumental dysfunction of their lifestyle.
This explains the appeal of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which holds that deficit spending is the “solution” to all our problems because governments can’t go broke–they can always emit whatever currency they need via printing or

Read More »

Massive Deficit Spending Greenlights Waste, Fraud, Profiteering and Dysfunction

4 days ago

The nice thing about free to me money from any source is the recipients don’t have to change anything. Free money is the ultimate free-pass from consequence and adaptation: instead of having to make difficult trade-offs or suffer the consequences of profligacy, the recipients of free money are saved: they can continue on their merry way, ignoring the monumental dysfunction of their lifestyle.
This explains the appeal of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which holds that deficit spending is the “solution” to all our problems because governments can’t go broke–they can always emit whatever currency they need via printing or borrowing.
The problem with government deficit spending is it’s free money to the recipients: there are no feedback mechanisms to enforce any

Read More »

The Next Financial Crisis Is Right on Schedule (2019)

6 days ago

After 10 years of unprecedented goosing, some of the real economy is finally overheating: costs are heating up, unemployment is at historic lows, small business optimism is high, and so on–all classic indicators that the top of this cycle is in.
Financial assets have been goosed to record highs in the everything bubble.Buy the dip has worked in stocks, bonds and real estate–what’s not to like?
Beneath the surface, the frantic goosing has planted seeds of financial crisis which have sprouted and are about to blossom with devastating effect. There are two related systems-level concepts which illuminate the coming crisis: the S-Curve and non-linear effects.
The S-Curve (illustrated below) is visible in both natural and human systems.The boost phase of rapid

Read More »

The Next Financial Crisis Is Right on Schedule

6 days ago

Neither small business nor the bottom 90% of households can afford this “best economy ever.”
After 10 years of unprecedented goosing, some of the real economy is finally overheating: costs are heating up, unemployment is at historic lows, small business optimism is high, and so on–all classic indicators that the top of this cycle is in.
Financial assets have been goosed to record highs in the everything bubble.Buy the dip has worked in stocks, bonds and real estate–what’s not to like?
Beneath the surface, the frantic goosing has planted seeds of financial crisis which have sprouted and are about to blossom with devastating effect. There are two related systems-level concepts which illuminate the coming crisis: the S-Curve and

Read More »

How Things Fall Apart

8 days ago

A funny thing happens on the way to stabilizing things by doing more of what’s failed: the system becomes even more unstable, brittle and fragile.
A peculiar faith in pushing extremes to new heights has taken hold in official circles over the past decade: when past extremes push the system to the breaking point and everything starts unraveling, the trendy solution in official circles is to double-down, pushing even greater extremes. If this fails, then the solution is to double-down again. And so on.
So when uncreditworthy borrowers default on stupendous loans they were never qualified to receive, the solution is to extend even more stupendous sums of new credit so the borrower can roll over the old debt and make a few interest

Read More »

The Brevity of Life

9 days ago

We sense it’s now or never, and this can manifest as a mid-life/mid-career crisis.
At a reader’s request, I’m excerpting an essay from last week’s Musings Report:
My friend GFB recently sent me a quote from Paul Bowles novel “The Sheltering Sky” (1949). If you are under the age of 30, it may not have the same impact that it has on those of us on the downhill slope of life.
“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it?

Read More »

After 10 Years of “Recovery,” What Are Central Banks So Afraid Of?

12 days ago

The “recovery”/Bull Market is in its 10th year, and yet central banks are still tiptoeing around as if the tiniest misstep will cause the whole shebang to shatter: what are they so afraid of? The cognitive dissonance / crazy-making is off the charts:
On the one hand, central banks are still pursuing unprecedented stimulus via historically low interest rates, liquidity and easing the creation of credit on a vast scale. Some central banks continue to buy assets such as stocks and bonds to directly prop up the “market.” (If assets don’t actually trade freely, is it even a market?)
On the other hand, we’re being told the global economy is in synchronized growth and this is the greatest economy ever in the U.S. and China.
Wait a minute: so the patient has been on

Read More »

The Global Financial System Is Unraveling

13 days ago

Currencies don’t melt down randomly. This is only the first stage of a complete re-ordering of the global financial system.
Take a look at the Shanghai Stock Market (China) and tell me what you see:

A complete meltdown, right? More specifically, a four-month battle to cling to the key technical support of the 200-week moving average (the red line). Once the support finally broke, the index crashed.

SPX is soaring to new highs, not just climbing a wall of worry but leaping over it. So the engine of global growth–China–is exhibiting signs of serious disorder, and the world’s consumerist paradise–the U.S.– is on a euphoric high (Ibogaine in the water supply?)
This divergence is worth pondering. How can the two economies that have powered a 28-year Bull Market in just

Read More »

The Global Financial System Is Unraveling, And No, the U.S. Is Not immune

14 days ago

Take a look at the Shanghai Stock Market (China) and tell me what you see:

A complete meltdown, right? More specifically, a four-month battle to cling to the key technical support of the 200-week moving average (the red line). Once the support finally broke, the index crashed.
Now take a look at the U.S. S&P 500 stock market (SPX):

SPX is soaring to new highs, not just climbing a wall of worry but leaping over it. So the engine of global growth–China–is exhibiting signs of serious disorder, and the world’s consumerist paradise–the U.S.– is on a euphoric high (Ibogaine in the water supply?)

This divergence is worth pondering. How can the two economies that have powered a 28-year Bull Market in just about everything (setting aside that spot of bother in 2008-09) be

Read More »

Productivity

15 days ago

The only possible output of this system is extortion as a way of life.
As the accompanying chart shows, productivity in the U.S. has been declining since the early 2000s. This trend mystifies economists, as the tremendous investments in software, robotics, networks and mobile computing would be expected to boost productivity, as these tools enable every individual who knows how to use them to produce more value.

One theory holds that the workforce has not yet learned how to use these tools, an idea that arose in the 1980s to explain the decline in productivity even as personal computers, desktop publishing, etc. entered the mainstream.
A related explanation holds that institutions and corporations are not deploying the new technologies very effectively for a variety

Read More »

Once the Bubbles Pop

16 days ago

I hate to break it to you, but the everything bubble isn’t permanent.
OK, I get it–the Bull Market in stocks is permanent. Bulls will be chortling in 2030 that skeptics have been wrong for 22 years–an entire generation. Bonds will also be higher, thanks to negative interest rates, and housing will still be climbing higher, too. Household net worth will be measured in the gazillions.
Here’s the Fed’s measure of current household net worth: a cool $100 trillion, about 750% of disposable personal income (DPI):

Household net worth has soared $30 trillion in the past decade of permanent monetary and fiscal stimulus. No wonder everyone is saying Universal Basic Income (UBI)– $1,000 a month for every adult, no questions asked–is

Read More »

Once the Bubbles Pop, We’re Broke

18 days ago

OK, I get it–the Bull Market in stocks is permanent. Bulls will be chortling in 2030 that skeptics have been wrong for 22 years–an entire generation. Bonds will also be higher, thanks to negative interest rates, and housing will still be climbing higher, too. Household net worth will be measured in the gazillions.
Here’s the Fed’s measure of current household net worth: a cool $100 trillion, about 750% of disposable personal income (DPI):

Household net worth has soared $30 trillion in the past decade of permanent monetary and fiscal stimulus. No wonder everyone is saying Universal Basic Income (UBI)– $1,000 a month for every adult, no questions asked–is affordable, along with Medicare For All (never mind that Medicare is far more expensive than the healthcare provided

Read More »

Why Is Productivity Dead in the Water?

19 days ago

As the accompanying chart shows, productivity in the U.S. has been declining since the early 2000s. This trend mystifies economists, as the tremendous investments in software, robotics, networks and mobile computing would be expected to boost productivity, as these tools enable every individual who knows how to use them to produce more value.

One theory holds that the workforce has not yet learned how to use these tools, an idea that arose in the 1980s to explain the decline in productivity even as personal computers, desktop publishing, etc. entered the mainstream.
A related explanation holds that institutions and corporations are not deploying the new technologies very effectively for a variety of reasons: the cost of integrating legacy systems, insufficient

Read More »

Here’s How We Ended Up

20 days ago

Combine financialization, neoliberalism and moral bankruptcy, and you end up with predatory, parasitic elites.
How did our financial and political elites become predatory parasites? Some will answer that elites have always been predatory parasites; as tempting as it may be to offer a blanket denunciation of elites, this overlooks the eras in which elites rose to meet existential crises.
Following in Ancient Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Wealth Inequality (September 30, 2015)
As historian Peter Turchin explained in his book War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, the value of sacrifice was a core characteristic of the early Republic’s elite:
“Unlike the selfish elites of the later periods, the aristocracy of

Read More »

To Understand America’s Neofeudal Economy, Start with Extortion

23 days ago

Let’s spin the time machine back to the late Middle Ages, at the height of feudalism, and imagine we’re trying to get a boatload of goods to the nearest city to sell. As we drift down the river, we’re constantly being stopped and charged a fee for transiting one small fiefdom after another. When we finally reach the city, there’s an entry fee for bringing our goods to market.
Note that none of these fees were payments for improvements to transport or for services rendered; they were simply extortion. This was the economic structure of feudalism: petty fiefdoms levied extortionate fees that funded the lifestyles of nobility.
This is why I have long called America’s economy neofeudal: we pay ever higher fees for services that are degrading, not improving. This is the

Read More »

How Wealthy Would We Be

23 days ago

These charts reflect a linear system that is wobbling into the first stages of non-linear destabilization.
The widespread presumption is the U.S. is wealthy beyond words, and will remain so as far as the eye can see: wealthy enough to fund trillion-dollar weapons systems, trillion-dollar endless wars, multi-trillion dollar Medicare for all, multi-trillion dollar Universal Basic Income, and so on, in an endless profusion of endless trillions.
Just as a thought experiment, let’s ask: how “wealthy” would we be if we stopped borrowing trillions of dollars every year? Or put another way, how “wealthy” would we be if the rest of the world stops buying our trillions in newly issued bonds, mortgages, auto loans, etc.?
The verboten

Read More »

How “Wealthy” Would We Be If We Stopped Borrowing Trillions Every Year?

25 days ago

The widespread presumption is the U.S. is wealthy beyond words, and will remain so as far as the eye can see: wealthy enough to fund trillion-dollar weapons systems, trillion-dollar endless wars, multi-trillion dollar Medicare for all, multi-trillion dollar Universal Basic Income, and so on, in an endless profusion of endless trillions.
Just as a thought experiment, let’s ask: how “wealthy” would we be if we stopped borrowing trillions of dollars every year? Or put another way, how “wealthy” would we be if the rest of the world stops buying our trillions in newly issued bonds, mortgages, auto loans, etc.?
The verboten reality is our “wealth” is nothing but a sand castle of debt. Take away more borrowing and the castle melts away. I’ve gathered a selection of charts

Read More »

The Longest Bull Market

26 days ago

The uncomfortable reality is all Bull Markets, no matter how lengthy or robust, all expire.
As you have undoubtedly heard, the current Bull Market in U.S. stocks (S&P 500) is the longest in recent history–though some historians claim that Rome’s SPQR Index rose steadily though most of Emperor Augustus’ 40-year reign from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D., easily topping the current rally’s 10-year run.
It’s also possible that the longest Bull Market occurred circa 2580 B.C. in Egypt, as a result of quarry stocks soaring for decades during the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza. The unprecedented outpouring of wealth for labor and materials boosted the stocks of a variety of sectors, from quarries to shipping to breweries slaking the

Read More »

The Telltale Signs of Imperial Decline

28 days ago

Nothing is as permanent as we imagine–especially super-complex, super-costly, super-asymmetric and super-debt-dependent systems.
Check which signs of Imperial decline you see around you: The hubris of an increasingly incestuous and out-of-touch leadership; dismaying extremes of wealth inequality; self-serving, avaricious Elites; rising dependency of the lower classes on free Bread and Circuses provided by a government careening toward insolvency due to stagnating tax revenues and vast over-reach–let’s stop there to catch our breath. Check, check, check and check.
Sir John Glubb listed a few others in his seminal essay on the end of empires The Fate of Empires, what might be called the dynamics of decadence:
(a) A growing love of

Read More »

The Telltale Signs of Imperial Decline

29 days ago

Check which signs of Imperial decline you see around you: The hubris of an increasingly incestuous and out-of-touch leadership; dismaying extremes of wealth inequality; self-serving, avaricious Elites; rising dependency of the lower classes on free Bread and Circuses provided by a government careening toward insolvency due to stagnating tax revenues and vast over-reach–let’s stop there to catch our breath. Check, check, check and check.
Sir John Glubb listed a few others in his seminal essay on the end of empires The Fate of Empires, what might be called the dynamics of decadence:
(a) A growing love of money as an end in itself: Check.
(b) A lengthy period of wealth and ease, which makes people complacent. They lose their edge; they forget the traits (confidence,

Read More »

If You Want To Survive This Election

August 18, 2018

If you want to preserve your sanity and avoid unhappy derangement, turn off all corporate and social media from now to Thanksgiving.
Since elections are extremely profitable for traditional media / social media corporations, your sanity will gleefully be sacrificed in the upcoming election–if you are gullible enough to watch the “news” and tune into social media. Elections are extremely profitable because candidates spend scads of cash on media adverts.
The greater the discord and derangement, the higher the media profits. The more outraged you let yourself become, the more time you spend online, generating insane profits for the corporations that own whatever platforms you’re addicted to.
Seeking an echo chamber of people who

Read More »

If You Want to Survive this Election with Your Mental Health Intact, Turn Off the “News” and Social Media Now

August 17, 2018

Since elections are extremely profitable for traditional media / social media corporations, your sanity will gleefully be sacrificed in the upcoming election–if you are gullible enough to watch the “news” and tune into social media.Elections are extremely profitable because candidates spend scads of cash on media adverts.
The greater the discord and derangement, the higher the media profits. The more outraged you let yourself become, the more time you spend online, generating insane profits for the corporations that own whatever platforms you’re addicted to.
Seeking an echo chamber of people who agree with you? We got you covered. Attracted like a junkie to emotionally corrosive “news”? That’s our specialty! Want an outlet for your spleen? That’s what we offer, because

Read More »

Our ‘Prosperity’

August 16, 2018

Nowadays, trade and “prosperity” are dependent on currencies that are created out of thin air via borrowing or printing.
So here’s the story explaining why “free” trade and globalization create so much wonderful prosperity for all of us: I find a nation with cheap labor and no environmental laws anxious to give me cheap land and tax credits, so I move my factory from my high-cost, highly regulated nation to the low-cost nation, and keep all the profits I reap from the move for myself. Yea for free trade, I’m now far wealthier than I was before.
That’s the story. Feel better about “free” trade and globalization now? Oh wait a minute, there’s something missing–the part about “prosperity for all of us.” Here’s labor’s share of U.S.

Read More »

Our “Prosperity” Is Now Dependent on Predatory Globalization

August 16, 2018

So here’s the story explaining why “free” trade and globalization create so much wonderful prosperity for all of us: I find a nation with cheap labor and no environmental laws anxious to give me cheap land and tax credits, so I move my factory from my high-cost, highly regulated nation to the low-cost nation, and keep all the profits I reap from the move for myself. Yea for free trade, I’m now far wealthier than I was before.
That’s the story. Feel better about “free” trade and globalization now? Oh wait a minute, there’s something missing–the part about “prosperity for all of us.” Here’s labor’s share of U.S. GDP, which includes imports and exports, i.e. trade:

Notice how labor’s share of the economy tanked once globalization / offshoring kicked into high gear? Now

Read More »

Technocrats Rule: Democracy Is OK as Long as the People Rubberstamp Our Leadership

August 14, 2018

We are in a very peculiar ideological and political place in which Democracy (oh sainted Democracy) is a very good thing, unless the voters reject the technocrat class’s leadership. Then the velvet gloves come off. From the perspective of the elites and their technocrat apparatchiks, elections have only one purpose: to rubberstamp their leadership.
As a general rule, this is easily managed by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and bribes to the cartels and insider fiefdoms who pony up most of the cash.
This is why incumbents win the vast majority of elections. Once in power, they issue the bribes and payoffs needed to guarantee funding next election cycle.
The occasional incumbent who is voted out of office made one of two mistakes:

1. He/she

Read More »

The Grand Irony of RussiaGate

August 13, 2018

When the Soviet regime exiled Sakharov in 1980, everybody assumed the USSR was permanent and impregnable to collapse.
There are many ironies in the RussiaGate drama, but none greater than this: The U.S. becomes more like the former U.S.S.R. every day. Longtime correspondent Bart D. sketches out the irony:
I look at the US economy and what I see in actual everyday life is that corrupted capitalism has resulted in the same problems for average citizens as what crony communism did for the citizens of the USSR.
Poor consumer choice. Poor resource allocation. Poor quality consumer products. Poor environmental management/outcomes. Hyper-vigilance and hyper-control of Government over its people. Dodgy Utilities. The difference is that

Read More »

The Grand Irony of RussiaGate: The U.S. Becomes More Like the U.S.S.R. Every Day

August 12, 2018

There are many ironies in the RussiaGate drama, but none greater than this: The U.S. becomes more like the former U.S.S.R. every day. Longtime correspondent Bart D. sketches out the irony:
I look at the US economy and what I see in actual everyday life is that corrupted capitalism has resulted in the same problems for average citizens as what crony communism did for the citizens of the USSR.
Poor consumer choice. Poor resource allocation. Poor quality consumer products. Poor environmental management/outcomes. Hyper-vigilance and hyper-control of Government over its people. Dodgy Utilities. The difference is that the Soviet Union had a better healthcare system than USA currently has and better housing availability for common people.
How’s the irony! Capitalism and

Read More »

The Fantasy of “Balanced Returns” Funding Retirement

August 8, 2018

The fantasy that a “balanced portfolio” yielding “balanced returns” will fund a stable retirement for decades to come is widely accepted as a sure thing:inflation will stay near-zero essentially forever, assets such as stocks and bonds will continue yielding hefty income and capital gains, and all the individual or fund needs to do is maintain a “balanced portfolio” of various asset classes that yield “balanced returns,” i.e. some safe “value” lower-yield returns and some higher risk “growth” returns.
This fantasy is based on the belief that yields will exceed real inflation for decades to come. That is, if inflation is 2%, and the average yield of a “balanced portfolio” is 6%, then the inflation-adjusted return is 4% annually–not great, but enough to secure retirement

Read More »

We’ll Pay All Those Future Obligation

August 7, 2018

The only way to pay all these future obligations is by creating new money.
I’ve been focusing on inflation, which is more properly understood as the loss of purchasing power of a currency, which when taken to extremes destroys the currency and the wealth/income of everyone forced to use that currency.
The funny thing about the loss of a currency’s purchasing power is that it wipes out every holder of that currency, rich and not-so-rich alike. There are a few basics we need to cover first to understand how soaring future obligations–pensions, healthcare, entitlements, interest on debt, etc.–lead to a feedback loop which will hasten the loss of purchasing power of our currency, the US dollar.
1. As I have explained many times, the

Read More »