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US buying bubble could burst the world economy
The Mail & Guardian ^ | Monday, July 28, 2003 | Larry Elliot

Posted on 07/28/2003 11:55:29 AM PDT by Willie Green

For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.

Everything´s going to be all right. No, not Bob Marley, but every policymaker from Alan Greenspan to Wim Duisenberg. The A side of 2003 was a bit grim, but turn the record over and the second half will be better. The controls are set to go, the policy framework is solid, better times are ahead.

Sound familiar? It should do. This has been what policymakers and their bullish camp followers in the markets and the media have been arguing in each of the past three years. Every year, they say the good times are coming back, and every year so far, they have been wrong.

This time, they say, it´s different. Stock markets have rallied since the end of the war in Iraq, oil prices are lower and the United States´s economy is showing signs of revving up. Once the US juggernaut has really started to roll, so the conventional wisdom goes, the global economy will be dragged along behind.

But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong, not just about the imminence of recovery but about the underlying health of the global economy altogether? As one correspondent put it, is there a chance that we could be heading for the “big one”, an economic crisis the likes of which has not been seen since the 1930s?

It´s certainly worth considering, and the place to start looking is the US trade deficit, at present running at more than $50-million an hour. Far too little attention has been paid to the giant tab the US has been running with the rest of the world in order to satisfy demand for goods and services that cannot be provided domestically, with economic logic turned on its head to argue that the spendthrift habits of the world´s biggest economy are actually a good thing.

The difficulty, however, is that there is no mechanism for bringing the US current account back into balance, and it has been the absence of such a mechanism since the break up of the Bretton Woods fixed-exchange-rate system that has contributed to the growing problem.

In essence, the Bretton Woods system was an updated form of the gold standard; both ensured there was a self-stabilisation mechanism whereby countries running either surpluses or deficits were forced to take remedial action.

In the case of the gold standard, a country´s money supply was linked directly to its stock of gold. Nations that ran trade surpluses would accumulate more gold, which allowed them to expand the money supply by creating more credit. Easier money fuelled booms, which in turn fuelled inflation. Higher prices relative to other countries made exports dearer, thereby reducing the trade surplus.

The system worked in the opposite way, of course, for countries with trade deficits. The gold standard was suspended during World War I, revived in the 1920s and collapsed in the 1930s. Bretton Woods was seen as a substitute for the gold standard, and pegged the dollar to gold at $35 an ounce, with every other currency linked to the dollar at fixed rates.

Bretton Woods was more flexible than the gold standard but the premise was the same: trade imbalances led to flows across national borders of gold, or more usually dollars, and this forced domestic adjustment.

The breakdown of Bretton Woods, following Richard Nixon´s decision to suspend convertibility of dollars into gold, means there is no longer an adjustment mechanism. The US has permitted itself to run bigger and bigger trade deficits, a cumulative $3-billion since the early 1970s, financing them by printing more dollars.

The fact that the dollar has traditionally been the world´s reserve currency of choice has helped, because central banks in other countries have seen little point in sticking their stash of US currency in a bank vault but instead have sought to get a return on them by investing in US assets.

As Richard Duncan points out in his book, The Dollar Crisis (Wiley), the result of this has been to create a reservoir of global liquidity, growing bigger and bigger all the time. The extra liquidity sloshing around in the global financial system lay behind the explosion of credit, not only in those countries running trade surpluses but in the US as well, because that was where the creditor countries reinvested their dollars. This is obviously a far cry from the gold standard-Bretton Woods mechanisms.

“The current international monetary system has three inherent flaws that will eventually cause it to collapse in crisis,” Duncan says. “First, it allows certain countries to sustain large current account or capital and financial account surpluses over long periods, but it causes those countries to experience extraordinary economic boom and bust cycles that wreck their banks and undermine the fiscal health of their governments.´´ Here he means countries like Japan in the 1980s and Thailand in the 1990s.

“Its second flaw is that this system has made the well-being of the global economy dependent on a steady acceleration in the indebtedness of the US.´´ At some point this will have to stop.

“The third flaw is that it generates deflation.´´ Why? Because the credit bubble has encouraged overinvestment in just about every global industry, which has created an imbalance of supply over demand, bearing down on prices. The upshot was the dotcom bubble and its collapse. The remedy of global authorities has to be to pump in more liquidity, thereby inflating new bubbles in the US in house prices, mortgage refinancing and bonds. One way of looking at this is that Greenspan has learned from the 1930s and is determined that easy money is a vaccination for depressions. The other is that pumping up liquidity is like handing an alcoholic a bottle of whisky.

The American analyst Kurt Richebacher says the authorities are looking in the wrong place for the cause of the problem. “For the first time ever in the post-war period, many countries around the world, not only in the US, are experiencing a prolonged economic downturn in the absence of any monetary tightening. In essence, there must be causes other than the credit crunch. Nobody questions the need for action. But it should be clear that easy money can only be the cure for tight money, not for any other causes depressing the economy. For us, the real and disturbing story about the US economy is that with all its imbalances it has reached the stage where it requires permanent, massive monetary and fiscal stimulus to garner just a tepid economic response — and to prevent the bubbles from deflating.´´

This is certainly true. The interesting thing about the easing of policy in the past three years is how ineffectual it has been. Between 2000 and 2002, the federal budget moved from a surplus of $295-billion into a deficit of $257-billion, and is heading towards a $500-billion shortfall in 2003. During the same two years, credit expanded by $4,4-trillion. “And what was the effect of this credit and debt deluge on the economy?´´ he asks. “Gross domestic product grew in real terms by $248-billion and in nominal terms by $621-billion. To us, this is an outright policy disaster.´´

The dangers should be obvious. The dollar might act as a gradual adjustment mechanism but is more likely to come down with a crash. US consumers could decide to tighten their belts rather than face savage retrenchment if they continue on their rake´s progress. But the chances are they will not, and that a plunging dollar will spread the US´s recession to the rest of the world. There is no global financial system worthy of the name, merely a Potemkin village. Could this be the big one? You bet.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Government
KEYWORDS: axisofeeyore; boom; bubble; bust; crash; globalism; thebusheconomy
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1 posted on 07/28/2003 11:55:29 AM PDT by Willie Green
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To: sourcery; arete
ping!
2 posted on 07/28/2003 11:56:47 AM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: Willie Green
I've been worrying about this stuff for a while, but what are small-fry like us to do other than practice our subsistence gardening technique?
3 posted on 07/28/2003 12:01:25 PM PDT by adam_az (This space for rent.)
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To: Willie Green; A. Pole
We're doomed, doomed I tell you!!
4 posted on 07/28/2003 12:07:10 PM PDT by optimistically_conservative (Can't prove a negative? You're not stupid. Prove it!)
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To: Willie Green
Well, as most most economists would say, "on the other hand..."
5 posted on 07/28/2003 12:07:13 PM PDT by moni kerr (Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way)
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To: moni kerr
No kidding. Something people always forget is the value of investment in real property is carried on the govt books at historical cost, not current appraised value. All the national parks and every acre of federal land is grossly undervalued on the books. There's a lot of property value supporting the balance sheet. Also, the deficit numbers are but a spit in the collective bucket when compared to output.
6 posted on 07/28/2003 12:24:39 PM PDT by kinghorse
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To: Willie Green
Im becoming psychic..... as soon as this article got gloomy I knew you had posted it
7 posted on 07/28/2003 12:30:02 PM PDT by woofie
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To: Willie Green
"Far too little attention has been paid to the giant tab the US has been running with the rest of the world in order to satisfy demand for goods and services that cannot be provided domestically, with economic logic turned on its head to argue that the spendthrift habits of the world´s biggest economy are actually a good thing."

This is where the author shows his complete ignorance and incompetence to objectively analyze the economic situation. There isn't a single thing on earth that we cannot provide domestically with the exception of a couple of trace elements that don't exist under our soil. Damn near everything we import was invented by us, now due to regulations here in the US and subsidies overseas, those goods are made more cheaply "over there". That does indeed need to stop - and then numbnuts like this POS will really scream when their economies fully tank because the manufacturing came back here. This is obviously written by a Euroswine.

Nice try, Willie, but it ain't gonna fly around here. But I'm happy that this Chicken Little is worried.

8 posted on 07/28/2003 12:35:09 PM PDT by 11B3 (We live in "interesting times". Indeed.)
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To: Willie Green
It did not take long for the "don't worry be happy" crowd to get on this thread. But then again, most of them do not have a grasp of history before 1980.
9 posted on 07/28/2003 12:48:52 PM PDT by Beck_isright (Remember the Blue Ridge Corporation!!!! Damn the torpedoes and SEC, full speed ahead!)
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To: Beck_isright
It did not take long for the "don't worry be happy" crowd to get on this thread.

The "always worry, never be happy, we're all gonna die" crowd always gets here first. Good economic news deprresses you guys more than it does Tom Daschle.

10 posted on 07/28/2003 12:59:42 PM PDT by Iowegian
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To: 11B3
. . . due to regulations here in the US and subsidies overseas, those goods are made more cheaply "over there".

The single biggest contributor to the flight of jobs overseas is not regulations and subsidies, but a U.S. dollar that has been the strongest currency in the world by a wide margin over the last 15 years.

11 posted on 07/28/2003 1:01:02 PM PDT by Alberta's Child
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To: Tauzero; Starwind; David; Soren; Fractal Trader; Libertarianize the GOP; zechariah; farmfriend; ...
FYI
12 posted on 07/28/2003 1:01:02 PM PDT by sourcery (The Evil Party thinks their opponents are stupid. The Stupid Party thinks their opponents are evil.)
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To: kinghorse
You may have a point that fedgov land is undervalued but why do they seem intent on leveraging to the hilt assets such as this....and who's holding the note?
13 posted on 07/28/2003 1:05:35 PM PDT by american spirit (ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION = NATIONAL SUICIDE)
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To: Beck_isright
A worrier dies a thousand deaths, an optimist but once...
14 posted on 07/28/2003 1:18:51 PM PDT by chilepepper (The map is not the territory -- Alfred Korzybski))
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To: chilepepper
Anyone not worried at this point just isn't paying attention or has other deficiencies.
15 posted on 07/28/2003 1:21:19 PM PDT by american spirit (ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION = NATIONAL SUICIDE)
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To: Willie Green
marking
16 posted on 07/28/2003 1:27:55 PM PDT by djreece (McClintock: The BEST candidate for CA governor!)
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Comment #17 Removed by Moderator

To: Alberta's Child; Willie Green
The single biggest contributor to the flight of jobs overseas is not regulations and subsidies, but a U.S. dollar that has been the strongest currency in the world by a wide margin over the last 15 years.

So manufacturing will come back now that the dollar has lost 20% of it's value?

18 posted on 07/28/2003 1:59:37 PM PDT by forester (Reduce paperwork -- put foresters back in the forest!)
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To: optimistically_conservative
We're doomed, doomed I tell you!!

Are we more doomed than we were for Y2K?

19 posted on 07/28/2003 2:02:28 PM PDT by verity
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To: forester
Not necessarily. Nobody is going to shut down a plant in Malaysia and move back to the U.S. just because the dollar has lost 20% of its value in recent months. The issue isn't where the dollar is today, but where someone thinks it's going to be over the next couple of decades.
20 posted on 07/28/2003 2:06:26 PM PDT by Alberta's Child
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To: 11B3
not only written by Euroswine but a moronic Euroswine to boot! The continued fearmongering over deflation reveals the writer is either totally clueless, hasn't been paying attention over recent weeks, or just doesn't realize that any remaining talk about deflation or the like, being generated by fed types, was merely to help minimize the crash of the bond + treasury markets; any remaining discussion by the fearmongerers is just that (fearmongering).
21 posted on 07/28/2003 2:30:09 PM PDT by Steven W.
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To: Beck_isright
most of them do not have a grasp of history before 1980

Probably educated in public schools too. (/sarcasm)

22 posted on 07/28/2003 2:52:16 PM PDT by superloser
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To: Willie Green
The sky is falling, the sky is falling...
23 posted on 07/28/2003 3:01:43 PM PDT by Dr. Marten (Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it)
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To: 11B3
I notice that Willie isn't adding any of his own comments to the "thread". He must have knew that it was rediculous when he posted it :-)
24 posted on 07/28/2003 3:08:35 PM PDT by Dr. Marten (Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it)
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To: Willie Green
Yup. We're doomed. Fortunately, we have already bought everything we'll ever need.
25 posted on 07/28/2003 3:10:13 PM PDT by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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To: superloser
" Probably educated in public schools too."

That's pretty much a gurantee. There's a difference between "Chicken Little" and a realist. Too bad there are, as in 1931, too many who label someone who is realistic as a "chicken little" or "doom and gloomer". I suppose that makes anyone who is aware of economic and political history an anti-Republican plant. Too bad FR has fallen so far, so fast.
26 posted on 07/28/2003 3:11:00 PM PDT by Beck_isright (Remember the Blue Ridge Corporation!!!! Damn the torpedoes and SEC, full speed ahead!)
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To: Cyber Liberty; Poohbah
Why did I know I wouldn't have to go too far into this before the author mentioned "Bretton Woods" and "gold"?
27 posted on 07/28/2003 3:13:54 PM PDT by Chancellor Palpatine (...ignorance can be fixed, but stupid is forever...)
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To: kinghorse
YES another FR WINNER!

Want to pay off the National Debt? Sell the National Real Estate. It would do everyone good if the FedGov owned less land.
28 posted on 07/28/2003 3:14:12 PM PDT by eno_
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To: chilepepper
"A worrier dies a thousand deaths, an optimist but once..."

The optimist:

The cafe owner in Hiroshima who offered free rice with breakfast on August 6, 1945 because the weather was nice.

The Worrier:

The guy who shorted a lot of stocks in 1999-2000 and now is sitting pretty on cash instead of believing all of the promises of the grand economic "rebound" as advertised on CNBSC.

I wold rather die a thousand deaths and keep on living than trying to catch a falling knife. To each his own choice. I have no sympathy either way.
29 posted on 07/28/2003 3:15:01 PM PDT by Beck_isright (Remember the Blue Ridge Corporation!!!! Damn the torpedoes and SEC, full speed ahead!)
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To: Iowegian
Doesn't depress me one bit. You don't know me well enough to judge how I feel or invest. Let's just say, I'll be fine either way. I don't use the media for investment purposes.
30 posted on 07/28/2003 3:16:01 PM PDT by Beck_isright (Remember the Blue Ridge Corporation!!!! Damn the torpedoes and SEC, full speed ahead!)
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To: eno_
Want to pay off the National Debt? Sell the National Real Estate.

Can't. It's collateral for the National Debt. We have mortgaged our grandchildrens' future, education, infrastructure, and land. Isn't much left that isn't in hock.

31 posted on 07/28/2003 3:22:26 PM PDT by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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To: RightWhale
Ok then, let's nationalize all foreign investments and then turn around and sell it back to pay off the national debt :-: Then we will have plenty to sell...
32 posted on 07/28/2003 3:29:11 PM PDT by Dr. Marten (Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it)
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To: Beck_isright
My comment may not apply to you, but it does to many others who post and flock to articles such as this. I was using your comment to make a point, nothing personal meant to you.
33 posted on 07/28/2003 3:31:46 PM PDT by Iowegian
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To: RightWhale
oos! My smiley didnt come out right. :-)
34 posted on 07/28/2003 3:39:33 PM PDT by Dr. Marten (Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it)
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To: Beck_isright
It did not take long for the "don't worry be happy" crowd to get on this thread.

The problem with the optimistic crowd is they are too easily pleased by superficial glitter. To mix metaphors, it is like the 2% increase in durable goods orders is the tasty frosting on a cake. The optimists chomp into the pretty frosting, oblivious to the rotting, decaying, putrid dough underneath (the credit and debt bubble).

35 posted on 07/28/2003 3:40:02 PM PDT by steve86
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To: Willie Green
What the market is telling us is that the US standard of living, in terms of the amount of goods a dollar will buy, is too high. This expresses itself as a balance of trade deficit (difference between goods exported and goods imported) and service jobs moving overseas. It's like a rubber band being stretched. At some point, the dollar has to fall in value to equalize US wages with those in India, and equalize the price of US products and Chinese products.
36 posted on 07/28/2003 3:42:39 PM PDT by BlazingArizona
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To: Beck_isright
only a fool assumes apriori that an optimist falls for the illusions of others... i'll repeat, after all is said and done, all the worrier gets for his trouble is an ulcer. you have to enjoy life RIGHT NOW, and that in no way assumes one is not preparing for the future. i bailed the market COMPLETELY in late 1999 and have not returned, yet i am an optimist, and enjoying life very well, thank you.

being a worrier in no way implies making the correct, or the incorrect call. ditto the optimist.

it is all a matter of attitude towards life. if you want to be a worrier, suit yourself. i will remain an optimist, particularly in the area i know best, my own intuition...

37 posted on 07/28/2003 3:51:20 PM PDT by chilepepper (The map is not the territory -- Alfred Korzybski)
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To: BearWash
An excellent point. It's like building a foundation for a house on quicksand. Although it seems stable when you lay it, less than a year later, the home is swallowed whole. But who cares as long as you build and sell the home to some poor sucker. The debt of the consumer and the government is so easily dismissed as a "percentage of GDP", etc, etc... The reality is that the fiat currenc collapse is one of the only ways to eradicate this debt. Or start a world war.
38 posted on 07/28/2003 4:08:45 PM PDT by Beck_isright (Remember the Blue Ridge Corporation!!!! Damn the torpedoes and SEC, full speed ahead!)
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To: chilepepper
No ulcer here. I'm optimistic that I'm correct. You can not build a house of cards in the middle of a hurricane. Today we are in the eye.
39 posted on 07/28/2003 4:10:07 PM PDT by Beck_isright (Remember the Blue Ridge Corporation!!!! Damn the torpedoes and SEC, full speed ahead!)
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Comment #40 Removed by Moderator

To: ArneFufkin
I have no idea where the last two sentences came from! Hot key voodoo. LOL. Gibberish are Us!
41 posted on 07/28/2003 4:54:59 PM PDT by ArneFufkin
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To: Admin Moderator
Thank you!
42 posted on 07/28/2003 4:57:21 PM PDT by ArneFufkin
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To: RightWhale
Can't. It's collateral for the National Debt. We have mortgaged our grandchildrens' future, education, infrastructure, and land. Isn't much left that isn't in hock.

Bull. We could, and should, sell as much federally owned land as possible. It is very unhealthy for the paower of states for the fedgov to own so much.

43 posted on 07/28/2003 5:21:42 PM PDT by eno_
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To: Willie Green; RLK
Industry Leaders Warn Bush
"If the administration does not act beginning in mid-2004, a new, enormous wave of plant closures and worker layoffs is certain to occur in the country’s major textile areas, such as the southeast, as orders for yarns, fabrics, home furnishing products and apparel are diverted to China,...China could gain control of approximately 70 percent of the U.S. market once quotas are removed,”

U.S. Departing The First World

Boeing can't act like British colonialists extracting wealth from other countries and exporting it all back home....the United States has no divine right to our standard of living,"
Alan Mulally, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group - Source

SOURCE FOR BELOW: BUSH DECLARES NOTHING WRONG WITH ECONOMY

George W. Bush Quotes:

"Look around you," Bush implored his audience. "You've all got jobs. I've got a job. Dick Cheney has a job. I don't see what all the fuss is about."

"I may not be an economist, but anyone can see that things look pretty good from here. Besides, we're at war."

"And if there were problems with the economy, I'd be on it. Don't you think I would? The simple truth is that there are no problems. Not a one. Not an iota of problem."

"And we're not going to be suckered into a rope-a-dope with this whole recession game by the Democrats. We've got a war to fight."

"When have you ever heard me say there was a problem with the economy? When? Never. That's because there has been no problem since this administration took office.

"Did I mention we're at war?"

"Economies are about money," the President stated. "And I feel . . . I believe that money . . . I like money. And I like this country. Money is good and this country still has a lot of money."

Ari Fleischer Quotes:

"If the President declares that there is nothing wrong with the economy, then I'm sure there is nothing wrong with the economy."

"To turn our attention away at this time from the threat posed by Iraq to focus on the U.S. economy would be un-American."

"Obviously, our Republican mandate from the recent elections shows that the American people are more concerned with Homeland Security than whether their 401(k)s have gone down a few measly points. Get over it."

44 posted on 07/28/2003 5:22:21 PM PDT by Uncle Bill
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To: Uncle Bill
That's pretty funny.

Richard W.

45 posted on 07/28/2003 5:29:42 PM PDT by arete (Greenspan is a ruling class elitist and closet socialist who is destroying the economy)
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To: eno_
It is very unhealthy for the paower of states for the fedgov to own so much.

An hypothesis. Fed Gov does not agree, and the states after the original 13 colonies have a different deal where they never owned federal land in the first place. Who will buy all this federal land?

46 posted on 07/28/2003 5:31:35 PM PDT by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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To: RightWhale
For a "Right" Whale you sure do like the post New Deal shape of FedGov power.

How about autioning fedgov land and seeing who buys it? The U.S. has a very large and liquid market in real estate.
47 posted on 07/28/2003 5:47:40 PM PDT by eno_
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To: eno_
How about autioning fedgov land and seeing who buys it?

Guarantee this: most of the land won't be sold anywhere near its valuation. There won't be enough money raised to pay for the auction. The FedGov will also retain the right to tax the property, and will retain subsurface rights. They also won't auction national parks, wildernesses, or forests. Doesn't leave much that anybody would be interested in. Maybe later, when there are 6 billion people living in America it will be worth something, but not now. It's just $6 trillion collateral.

48 posted on 07/28/2003 5:54:54 PM PDT by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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To: woofie
rotflmao
49 posted on 07/28/2003 6:31:14 PM PDT by y2k_free_radical (i)
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To: adam_az
"I've been worrying about this stuff for a while, but what are small-fry like us to do other than practice our subsistence gardening technique?"

General rule: whatever the government is doing, do the opposite.
50 posted on 07/28/2003 8:00:01 PM PDT by Tauzero (This was not the sand-people, this was the work of Imperial Storm Troopers: only they are so precise)
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