Monday , September 25 2017
Home / Charles Hugh Smith
Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith

At readers' request, I've prepared a biography. I am not confident this is the right length or has the desired information; the whole project veers uncomfortably close to PR. On the other hand, who wants to read a boring bio? I am reminded of the "Peanuts" comic character Lucy, who once issued this terse biographical summary: "A man was born, he lived, he died." All undoubtedly true, but somewhat lacking in narrative.

Articles by Charles Hugh Smith

Dear Jamie Dimon: Predict the Crash that Takes Down Your Produces-Nothing, Parasitic Bank and We’ll Listen to your Bitcoin “Prediction”

5 days ago

This is the begging-for-the-overthrow-of-a-corrupt-status-quo economy we have thanks to the Federal Reserve giving the J.P. Morgans and Jamie Dimons of the world the means to skim and scam the bottom 95%.

Dear Jamie Dimon: quick quiz: which words/phrases are associated with you and your employer, J.P. Morgan? Looting, pillage, rapacious, exploitive, only saved from collapse by massive intervention by the Federal Reserve, the source of rising wealth inequality, crony capitalism, privatized profits-socialized losses, low interest rates = gift from savers to banks, bloviating overpaid C.E.O., propaganda favoring the financial elite, tool of the top .01%, destroyer of democracy, financial fraud goes unpunished, free

Read More »

Yes, This Time It Is Different: But Not in Good Ways

7 days ago

Yes, this time it’s different: all the foundations of a healthy economy are crumbling into quicksand.
The rallying cry of Permanent Bulls is this time it’s different. That’s absolutely true, but it isn’t bullish–it’s terrifically, terribly bearish. Why is this time it’s different bearish going forward? The basic answer is that nothing that is structurally broken has actually been fixed, and the policy “fixes” have fatally weakened the global financial system.
Let’s go over a handful of the many ways that this time it’s different, starting with the unprecedented level of central bank support of asset prices via the purchase of financial assets such as stocks and bonds.
Central Banks Have Purchased $2 Trillion In

Read More »

Housing Bubble Symmetry: Look Out Below

8 days ago

Housing markets are one itsy-bitsy recession away from a collapse in domestic and foreign demand by marginal buyers.
There are two attractive delusions that are ever-present in financial markets:One is this time it’s different, because of unique conditions that have never ever manifested before in the history of the world, and the second is there are no cycles, they are illusions created by cherry-picked data; furthermore, markets are now completely controlled by central banks so cycles have vanished.
While it’s easy to see why these delusions are attractive, let’s take a look at a widely used measure of the U.S. housing market, the Case-Shiller Index:

U.S. National Home Price Index, 1980 – 2017 – Click to

Read More »

The Real Reason Wages Have Stagnated: Our Economy is Optimized for Financialization

9 days ago

Labor’s share of the national income is in freefall as a direct result of the optimization of financialization.
The Achilles Heel of our socio-economic system is the secular stagnation of earned income, i.e. wages and salaries. Stagnating wages undermine every aspect of our economy: consumption, credit, taxation and perhaps most importantly, the unspoken social contract that the benefits of productivity and increasing wealth will be distributed widely, if not fairly.
This chart shows that labor’s declining share of the national income is not a recent problem, but a 45-year trend: despite occasional counter-trend blips, labor (that is, earnings from labor/ employment) has seen its share of the economy plummet

Read More »

Is the High Cost of Housing Crushing Wages?

10 days ago

The authors’ thesis doesn’t explain the 47-year downtrend of labor’s share of the economy.
A provocative essay, Don’t Blame the Robots, makes the bold claim that “Housing Prices and Market Power Explain Wage Stagnation.” (Foreign Affairs) In other words, the stagnation of the bottom 95% of wages isn’t caused by automation or offshoring, but by the crushingly high cost of housing:
“Yet recent academic work in macroeconomics suggests that current wage stagnation has less to do with robots and more to do with real estate and market power.
Real wage growth is a function of two things: changes in productivity and changes in the share of national output attributed to labor. If the share of GDP going to workers doesn’t

Read More »

The Insanity of Pushing Inflation Higher When Wages Can’t Rise

13 days ago

In an economy in which wages for 95% of households are stagnant for structural reasons, pushing inflation higher is destabilizing.
The official policy goal of the Federal Reserve and other central banks is to generate 3% inflation annually. Put another way: the central banks want to lower the purchasing power of their currencies by 33% every decade.
In other words, those with fixed incomes that don’t keep pace with inflation will have lost a third of their income after a decade of central bank-engineered inflation.
There is a core structural problem with engineering 3% annual inflation. Those whose income doesn’t keep pace are gradually impoverished, while those who can notch gains above 3% gradually garner the

Read More »

Bitcoin, Sour Grapes and the Institutional Herd

18 days ago

The point is institutional ownership of bitcoin is in the very early stages.

If I had a bitcoin for every time some pundit declared bitcoin is a bubble, I’d be a billionaire. There are three problems with opining that bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are bubblicious:
1. Everything is in a bubble now: stocks, bonds, housing, heck, even bat guano is bubblicious. Exactly what insight is being added by yet another guru repeating the BTC is a bubble meme?
2. What’s the value proposition in declaring BTC is in a bubble? Spotting bubbles is like shooting fish in a barrel; the value proposition is in identifying the price/time tipping point at which bubbles pop.
3. Declaring bitcoin is a bubble is starting to sound like sour

Read More »

Why We’re Doomed: Stagnant Wages

19 days ago

The point is the present system cannot endure.
Despite all the happy talk about “recovery” and higher growth, wages have gone nowhere since 2000–and for the bottom 20% of workers, they’ve gone nowhere since the 1970s.

Diverging Income Trajectories 1947 – 2014 – Click to enlarge
Gross domestic product (GDP) has risen smartly since 2000, but the share of GDP going to wages and salaries has plummeted: this is simply an extension of a 47-year downtrend.

Gross Domestic Income: Compensation of employees 1950-2017 – Click to enlarge

Last month I posted one reason Why We’re Doomed: Our Economy’s Toxic Inequality (August 16, 2017). The second half of why we’re doomed is stagnant wages. Why do stagnating wages for

Read More »

Why Wages Have Lost Ground in the 21st Century

22 days ago

The problem with stagnant wages is our socio-economic system requires ever-higher incomes to function.
One of the enduring mysteries for conventional economists is why wages aren’t rising for the bottom 95% even as unemployment is low and hiring remains robust. According to classical economics, the limited supply of available workers combined with strong demand for workers should push wages higher.

Why have wages for the bottom 95% lost ground in an expanding economy?We can start our search for answers by looking at a chart of wages going back 44 years to the early 1970s. Note that the top 5% began pulling away in the 1980s, when financialization and globalization took off, and accelerated in the 1990s tech boom

Read More »

The 5 Steps to World Domination

27 days ago

You don’t need an army to achieve World Domination; all you need is enough cheap credit to buy up everything that generates the highest value and/or income.
World Domination–it has a nice ring, doesn’t it? Here’s how to achieve it in 5 steps:
1. Turn everything into a commodity that can be traded on the global market:land, leases on land, options to purchase land, houses, buildings, rooms in slums, labor, tools, robots, water, water rights, mineral rights, rights to air routes, ships, aircraft, political power, shares in corporations, government bonds, municipal bonds, corporate bonds, student loans that have been bundled into debt-based instruments, the income from city parking meters, electricity, software,

Read More »

Did the Economy Just Stumble Off a Cliff?

August 26, 2017

The signs are everywhere for those willing to look: something has changed beneath the surface of complacent faith in permanent growth.
This is more intuitive than quantitative, but my gut feeling is that the economy just stumbled off a cliff. Neither the cliff edge nor the fatal misstep are visible yet; both remain in the shadows of the intangible foundation of the economy: trust, animal spirits, faith in authorities’ management, etc.
Since credit expansion is the lifeblood of the global economy, let’s look at credit expansion. Courtesy of Market Daily Briefing, here is a chart of total credit in the U.S. and a chart of the percentage increase of credit.

Notice the difference between credit expansion in 1990 – 2008

Read More »

We Need a Social Revolution

August 25, 2017

In the conventional view, there are two kinds of revolutions: political and technological. Political revolutions may be peaceful or violent, and technological revolutions may transform civilizations gradually or rather abruptly—for example, revolutionary advances in the technology of warfare.
In this view, the engines of revolution are the state–government in all its layers and manifestations—and the corporate economy.
In a political revolution, a new political party or faction gains converts to its narrative, and this new force replaces the existing political order, either via peaceful means or violent revolution.
Technological revolutions arise from many sources but end up being managed by the state and private

Read More »

Why We’re Doomed: Our Economy’s Toxic Inequality

August 20, 2017

Anyone who thinks our toxic financial system is stable is delusional.

Why are we doomed? Those consuming over-amped “news” feeds may be tempted to answer the culture wars, nuclear war with North Korea or the Trump Presidency.

The one guaranteed source of doom is our broken financial system, which is visible in this chart of income inequality from the New York Times: Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart.

While the essay’s title is our broken economy, the source of this toxic concentration of income, wealth and power in the top 1/10th of 1% is more specifically our broken financial system.

What few observers understand is rapidly accelerating inequality is the only possible output of a fully financialized

Read More »

Are We Already in Recession?

August 16, 2017

If we stop counting zombies, we’re already in recession.
How shocked would you be if it was announced that the U.S. had just entered a recession, that is, a period in which gross domestic product (GDP) declines (when adjusted for inflation) for two or more quarters?
Would you really be surprised to discover that the eight-year long “recovery,” the weakest on record, had finally rolled over into recession?
Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the statistical pulse of the real-world economy knows the numbers are softening.
— Auto/light truck sales: either down or off a cliff, depending on how much lipstick has been applied to the pig.
— Restaurant/dining sales: down.
— Tax receipts: down.
— Retail sales: flat,

Read More »

What the Mainstream Doesn’t Get about Bitcoin

August 13, 2017

The real demand for bitcoin will not be known until a global financial crisis guts confidence in central banks and politicized capital controls.
I’ve been writing about cryptocurrencies and bitcoin for many years. For example: Could Bitcoin Become a Global Reserve Currency? (November 7, 2013)
I am an interested observer, not an expert. As an observer, it seems to me that the mainstream–media, financial punditry, etc.–as a generality don’t really grasp the dynamics driving bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies.
What the mainstream does get is speculative frenzy. New technologies tend to spark speculative manias once the adoption rate exceeds the Pareto Distribution’s critical threshold of 4%, and opportunities to

Read More »

Is Another Oil Head-Fake Brewing?

August 9, 2017

The dramatic declines in the costs of oil production will be boosting supply at the very moment that demand is falling.
Over the past decade I’ve addressed what I call Head-Fakes in the cost of oil/fossil fuel: even though we know the cost of extracting and processing oil will rise over time as the easy-to-get oil is depleted, oil occasionally plummets to such low prices that we’re fooled into thinking it will remain cheap for a long time to come.
This drop in price is a head-fake, because over time the depletion of the cheap-to-extract oil will push global prices higher.
Why does this matter? Economists have noted for decades that spikes in energy costs tend to trigger recessions for the obvious reason: the more

Read More »

Why We’re So Risk-Averse: “We Can’t Take That Chance”

August 5, 2017

If our faith in the future and our resilience is near-zero, then we can’t take any chances.
You’ve probably noticed how risk-averse Hollywood has become: the big summer movies are all extensions of existing franchises–mixing up the superheroes in new combinations, or remaking hit films from the past–all safe bets.
The trend to “playing it safe” is not limited to Hollywood:–we see risk aversion in every sphere of the economy and society.
The unfailingly stimulating Ben Hunt of the Epsilon Theory newsletter has been highlighting the connection between super-easy-money financial policy and the avoidance of risk that’s so apparent in Corporate America: rather than take a chance that an investment in new technology,

Read More »

The Two Charts That Dictate the Future of the Economy

July 27, 2017

If you study these charts closely, you can only conclude that the US economy is doomed to secular stagnation and never-ending recession.
The stock market, bond yields and statistical measures of the economy can be gamed, manipulated and massaged by authorities, but the real economy cannot. This is espcially true for the core drivers of the economy, real (adjusted for inflation) household income and real disposable household income, i.e. the real income remaining after debt service (interest and principal), rent, healthcare co-payments and insurance and other essential living expenses.
If you want to predict the future of the U.S. economy, look at real household income. If real income is stagnant or declining,

Read More »

There Is Only One Empire: Finance

July 25, 2017

Any nation-state that meets these four requirements is fully exposed to a global loss of faith in its economy, debt, balance of payments and currency.
There’s an entire sub-industry in journalism devoted to the idea that China is poised to replace the U.S. as the “global empire” / hegemon. This notion of global empire being something like a baton that gets passed from nation-state to nation-state is seriously misleading, in my view, for this reason:
There is only one global empire: finance. China and the U.S. both exist within the Empire of Finance. Virtually every mercantile nation with access to global markets lives, works and thrives/dies within the Empire of Finance. Every nation that allows capital to flow into

Read More »

The Path to Inflation: “Helicopter Money”

June 6, 2017

Yet conventional economists are virtually unanimous that deflation is the danger and inflation is a “good thing” we need to spur so servicing existing debt becomes easier for debtors.
Due to the deflationary pressures of technology and stagnant wages for the bottom 90%, the consensus sees low inflation as far as the eye can see.
When the consensus is near-100% on one side of the boat, we can safely bet Reality will not conform to expectations. This leads to a question: what could cause official near-zero inflation to surprise the consensus and leap higher?
One possible answer is “helicopter money”: money created by central banks that is distributed directly to households via tax rebates, debt forgiveness, or

Read More »

How Debt-Asset Bubbles Implode: The Supernova Model of Financial Collapse

June 4, 2017

When debt-asset bubbles expand at rates far above the expansion of earnings and real-world productive wealth, their collapse is inevitable. The Supernova model of financial collapse is one way to understand this.
As I noted yesterday in Will the Crazy Global Debt Bubble Ever End?, I’ve used the Supernova analogy for years, but didn’t properly explain why it illuminates the dynamics of financial bubbles imploding.
According to Wikipedia, “A supernova is an astronomical event that occurs during the last stellar evolutionary stages of a massive star’s life, whose dramatic and catastrophic destruction is marked by one final titanic explosion.”
A key feature of a pre-supernova super-massive star is its rapid

Read More »

Will the Crazy Global Debt Bubble Ever End?

June 3, 2017

We’ve been playing two games to mask insolvency: one is to pay the costs of rampant debt today by borrowing even more from future earnings, and the second is to create wealth out of thin air via asset bubbles.
The two games are connected: asset bubbles require leverage and credit. Prices for homes, stocks, bonds, bat guano futures, etc. can only be pushed to the stratosphere if buyers have access to credit and can borrow to buy more of the bubbling assets.
If credit dries up, asset bubbles pop: no expansion of debt, no asset bubble.
The problem with these games is the debt-asset bubbles don’t actually expand the collateral (real-world productive value) supporting all the debt. Collateral can be a physical asset like

Read More »

Inflation Isn’t Evenly Distributed: The Protected Are Fine, the Unprotected Are Impoverished Debt-Serfs

June 1, 2017

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measure of inflation is bogus on a number of fronts, a reality I’ve covered a number of times: though the heavily gamed official CPI is under 2% for the past four years, the real rate is 7% to 12%, depending on whether you happen to live in locales with soaring rents/housing and healthcare costs.
The Burrito Index: Consumer Prices Have Soared 160% Since 2001 (August 1, 2016)
Revealing the Real Rate of Inflation Would Crash the System (August 3, 2016)
The Disaster of Inflation–For the Bottom 95% (October 28, 2016)
But the other reality is that inflation is not evenly distributed throughout the economy or populace: many people have little exposure to the crushing inflation of healthcare

Read More »

The Keynesian Cult Has Failed: “Emergency” Stimulus Is Now Permanent

May 31, 2017

What do we call a status quo in which “emergency measures” have become permanent props? A failure. The “emergency” responses to the Global Financial Meltdown of 2008-09 are, eight years on, permanent fixtures. Everyone knows what would happen if the deficit spending, money-printing, zero interest rates, shadow banking, asset purchases by central banks and all the rest of the Keynesian Cult’s program stopped: the status quo falls apart.
Keynesianism Vs The Real World
Let’s start by reviewing the core contexts of the economy.
1. The dominant socio-economic structures since around 1500 AD are profit-maximizing capital (“the market”) and nation-states (“the government”).
2. The dominant economic theory for the past 80

Read More »

State of Denial: The Economy No Longer Works As It Did in the Past

May 26, 2017

There’s no Plan B for a state-corporate form of central-planning capitalism that is no longer functioning.If there is one reality that is denied or obscured by the Status Quo, it is that the economy no longer works as it did in the past. This is the fundamental economic context of our current slide into political-social disintegration.The Status Quo narrative is: the policies that worked for the past 70 years are still working today. Boiled down to its Keynesian state-corporate essence, the Status Quo economic narrative is simple: All we need to do to escape a “soft patch” (recession) is for governments to borrow and spend more money to temporarily boost incomes and demand until the private sector gets back on its

Read More »

Housing’s Echo Bubble Now Exceeds the 2006-07 Bubble Peak

April 30, 2017

If you need some evidence that the echo-bubble in housing is global, take a look at this chart of Sweden’s housing bubble.

A funny thing often occurs after a mania-fueled asset bubble pops: an echo-bubble inflates a few years later, as monetary authorities and all the institutions that depend on rising asset valuations go all-in to reflate the crushed asset class.
Take a quick look at the Case-Shiller Home Price Index charts for San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, OR. Each now exceeds its previous Housing Bubble #1 peak:

US S&P Case-Shiller SF Home Price Index, 1980 – 2017(see more posts on S&P 500 Index, U.S. Case Shiller Home Price Index, ) – Click to enlarge

Is an asset bubble merely in the eye of the beholder? This is what the multitudes of monetary authorities (central banks, realty industry analysts, etc.) are claiming: there’s no bubble here, just a “normal market” in action.
This self-serving justification–a bubble isn’t a bubble because we need soaring asset prices–ignores the tell-tale characteristics of bubbles.

Read More »

Who Will Live in the Suburbs if Millennials Favor Cities?

April 27, 2017

Who’s going to pay bubble-valuation prices for the millions of suburban homes Baby Boomers will be off-loading in the coming decade as they retire/ downsize?
Longtime readers know I follow the work of urbanist Richard Florida, whose recent book was the topic of Are Cities the Incubators of Decentralized Solutions?(March 14, 2017).
Florida’s thesis–that urban zones are the primary incubators of technological and economic growth–is well-supported by data that shows that the large urban regions (NYC, L.A., S.F. Bay Area, Seattle, Minneapolis,etc.) generate the majority of GDP and wage gains.
Cities have always attracted capital, talent and people rich and poor alike.Indeed, “city” is the root of our word “civilization.” So in this sense, Florida is simply confirming the central role cities have played for millennia.

America’s Economic Output – Click to enlarge

More recently, Florida has addressed the rising wealth/income inequality that is making desirable urban areas unaffordable to all but the top 10% or even 5% wage earners. This is a critical concern, because vitality is a function of diversity: a city of wealthy elites paying low wages to masses of service workers is not an economic powerhouse.

Read More »

Our State-Corporate Plantation Economy

April 26, 2017

We’ve been persuaded that the state-cartel Plantation Economy is “capitalist,” but it isn’t. It’s a rentier skimming machine.
I have often discussed the manner in which the U.S. economy is a Plantation Economy, meaning it has a built-in financial hierarchy with corporations at the top dominating a vast populace of debt-serfs/ wage slaves with little functional freedom to escape the system’s neofeudal bonds.
Since I spent some of my youth in a classic Plantation town (and worked on the plantation as a laborer in summer), the concept of a Plantation Economy is not an abstraction to me, but a living analogy of the way our economy works.
Wal-Mart and the Plantation Economy (August 24, 2010)
Colonizing the Plantation of the Mind (August 25, 2010)
We Need a Social Economy, Not a Hyper-Financialized Plantation Economy (November 12, 2015)
Loving Our Servitude in America’s Plantation Economy (February 10, 2017)
The Plantation Economy is extremely hierarchical. Corporations and the state are both extremely hierarchical.
In the Plantation Economy, the Company has access to nearly unlimited credit.Small businesses serving the employees and the employees have enough credit to live on but not enough to buy productive assets. As a result, the Corporation can always buy up any productive assets, expanding its monopoly.

Read More »

Marx, Orwell and State-Cartel Socialism

April 23, 2017

When “socialist” states have to impose finance-capital extremes that even exceed the financialization of nominally capitalist economies, it gives the lie to their claims of “socialism.”
OK, so our collective eyes start glazing over when we see Marx and Orwell in the subject line, but refill your beverage and stay with me on this. We’re going to explore the premise that what’s called “socialism”–yes, Scandinavian-style socialism and its variants–is really nothing more than finance-capital state-cartel elitism that has done a better job of co-opting its debt-serfs than its state-cartel “capitalist” cronies.
We have to start with the question “what is socialism”? The standard definition is: a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
In practice, the community as a whole is the state. Either the state owns a controlling interest in the enterprise, or it controls the surplus (profits), labor rules, etc. via taxation and regulation.

Read More »

Our Intellectual Bankruptcy: The “Religion” of Economics, UBI and Medicare For All

April 23, 2017

1. Mainstream neo-classical/ Keynesian economics. As economist Manfred Max-Neef notes in this interview, neo-classical/ Keynesian economics is no longer a discipline or a science–it is a religion.
It demands a peculiar faith in nonsense: for example, the environment–Nature– is merely a subset of the economy. When we’ve stripped the seas of wild fish (and totally destroyed the ecology of the oceans), no problem–we’ll substitute farmed fish, which are in economic terms, entirely equal to wild fish.
In other words, the natural world cannot be valued in our current mock-science religion of economics.
Other absurdities abound. Stripping the seas of wild fish adds to GDP, so it’s all good, right? Dismantling newly constructed buildings and building a replacement structure also adds to GDP, so it’s an excellent source of “growth.”
As Max-Neef points out, conventional economists have absolutely no understanding of poverty. If you need a sobering account of just how this abject willful ignorance works in the real world, I recommend reading The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.
Gail Tverberg (among others) has shown how the existing economic model no longer makes sense of the actual economy we inhabit: The Economy Is Like a Circus.

Read More »