On Friday afternoon, after the shocking Brexit referendum, while being interviewed by CNBC Alan Greenspan stunned his hosts when he said that things are about as bad as he has ever seen.
“This is the worst period, I recall since I’ve been in public service. There’s nothing like it, including the crisis — remember October 19th, 1987, when the Dow went down by a record amount 23 percent? That I thought was the bottom of all potential problems. This has a corrosive effect that will not go away. I’d love to find something positive to say.”
Strangely enough, he was not refering to the British exodus but to America’s own economic troubles.
Today, Greenspan was on Bloomberg Surveillance where in an extensive, 30 minutes interview he was urged to give his take on the British referendum outcome. According to Greenspan, David Cameron miscalculated and made a “terrible mistake” in holding a referendum. That decision led to a “terrible outcome in all respects,” Greenspan said. “It didn’t have to happen.” Greenspan then noted that as a result of Brexit, “we are in very early days a crisis which has got a way to go”, and point to Scotland which he said will likely have another referendum on its own, predicting the vote would be successful, and Northern Ireland would “probably” go the same way.
His remarks then centered on the Eurozone which he defined as a truly “vulnerable institution,” primarily due to Greece’s inclusion in its structure. “Get Greece out. They’re a toxic liability sitting in the middle of a very important economic zone.” Ironically, the same Eurozone has spent countless hours doing everything in its power to show just how unbreakable the union is by preserving Greece, while it took the UK just one overnight session to break away. Luckily the UK was not part of the monetary union or else it would be game over.
But speaking of crises, Greenspan warned that fundamentally it is not so much an issue of immigration, or even economics, but unsustainable welfare spending, or as Greenspan puts it, “entitlements.”
The issue is essentially that entitlements are legal issues. They have nothing to do with economics. You reach a certain age or you are ill or something of that nature and you are entitled to certain expenditures out of the budget without any reference to how it’s going to be funded. Where the productivity levels are now, we are lucky to get something even close to two percent annual growth rate. That annual growth rate of two percent is not adequate to finance the existing needs.
I don’t know how it’s going to resolve, but there’s going to be a crisis.
This is one of the great problems of democracy. It goes back to the founding fathers. How do you handle a situation like this? And it’s very troublesome, but eventually you get things like Margaret Thatcher showing up in Britain. Their situation is far worse than ours. And what she did is she turned it all around essentially by, as I remember it, the miners were going to strike and she decided – she knew they were going to strike. Since at that point, the government owned these coal mines, she built up a huge inventory so that when they went on strike, there was enough coal in Britain so that eventually the whole union structure collapsed. She fundamentally changed Britain to this day. The fact that we are doing so well in the E.U. is not altogether clear that it is the E.U. or whether it was Margaret Thatcher.
When asked if “we need an accident of history” to address this, Greenspan replied “Probably. In the United States, social benefits, which is the more generic term, or entitlements, are considered the third rail of American politics. You touch them and you lose. Now, that is a general view. Republicans don’t want to touch it. Democrats don’t want to touch it. They don’t even want to talk about. This is what the election should be all about in the United States. You will never hear one word from either side. ”
This is the same entitlements crisis that Stanley Druckenmiller has also been raging about for years, most recently in his “The Endgame” presentation delivered at the Ira Sohn conference.
Greenspan then went on to bash the false “recovery” narrative, warning that “the fundamental issue is the fact that productivity growth has ground to a halt.”
We are running out of people. In other words, everyone is very pleased at the fact that the employment rate is rising. Well, statistics tell us that we need more and more people to produce less and less. That is not a prescription for a viable political system. And so what we have at this stage is stagnation. I don’t think that there is anything out there which suggests that there is a recession, but I don’t know that. What I do know is that the money supply, and too, which has always been a critical indicator of inflation, is for the first time going up remarkably steadily 6 percent, 7 percent, almost a straight line. It’s tilted up in the last several months. It’s added a percentage point or two. The thing that we should be worrying about now, which we have actually given no thought to whatsoever, is that this type of economic environment ends with inflation. Historically, fiat money has always ended up that way.
And here we get to the heart of the matter, because in not so many words, Greenspan effectively says that hyperinflation is coming:
I know if you look at human history, there are times and times again where we thought that there was no inflation and everything was just going fine. And I just basically say, wait. This is not the way this thing ordinarily comes up. I don’t know. I cannot say I see it on the horizon. In fact, commodity prices are soggy. The oil prices has had a terrific impact on global inflation. It’s not about to emerge quickly, but I would not be surprised to see the next unexpected move to be on the inflation side. You don’t have inflation now. And you don’t have it until it happens.
Of course, Greenspan ignores his own role in the creation of the boom-bust cycle which has doomed the world to series of ever more destructive bubbles and ultimately, hyperinflation which will likely be unlashed once the helicopter money inevitably arrives. In retrospect, the 90-year-old, who clearly is looking forward not backward, has a simple solution: the gold standard.
If we went back on the gold standard and we adhered to the actual structure of the gold standard as it exited prior to 1913, we’d be fine. Remember that the period 1870 to 1913 was one of the most aggressive periods economically that we’ve had in the United States, and that was a golden period of the gold standard. I’m known as a gold bug and everyone laughs at me, but why do central banks own gold now?
Why indeed. And of course, that’s rhetorical.
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His full interview is below.