by Richard C. Cook
Global Research, July 23, 2007
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., has joined the chorus of those in high places who are warning of a major worldwide economic downturn.
Paulson was quoted at length in a July 23, 2007, article in Fortune by Rik Kirkland entitled, “The Greatest Economic Boom Ever: Enjoy It While It Lasts.” Paulson’s remarks came in the context of assessing the ability of the highly-leveraged equity, hedge, and derivative markets to withstand the shocks to come. He told Fortune in an interview:
“We haven’t had a global financial shock since 1998. I believe that these large and dramatic increases in private pools of capital and in the credit derivatives markets since then have helped manage and disperse risk and make the economy more efficient. When we do have one-and it’s when, not if; that’s not me being negative, it’s just that we’re not going to defy economic gravity-we’ll be seeing for the first time how some of these instruments perform under stress.”
The Fortune article notes that the fate of the global economy depends in large measure on the ability of the U.S. consumer to continue to buy what the rest of the world produces. But, as Fortune indicates, the economic fundamentals continue to move in the wrong direction.
The U.S. current account deficit, they point out, continues to plunge, heading toward the $900 billion mark, almost nine percent of GDP. U.S. household debt as a percentage of personal income has shot up almost thirty-five percent since 2000. While real income stagnates for the U.S. middle class, asset and commodity prices are surging, with gasoline prices leading the way and the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index doubling since 2001. Financing in the business world is increasingly shaky, with loans to companies with “junk” credit ratings soaring from under $50 billion a year in 2001 to over $200 billion in 2006.
What are the politicians saying? Both President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney, who may be hoping to escape in one piece after eight years of economic malpractice, are silent on the subject of a possible downturn. Also silent, unfortunately, are Republican and Democratic front-runners Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton.
So obsessed with his image of having been in the vicinity of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, Giuliani seems blissfully unaware that there is such a thing as an economy.