Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can't help but wonder what's happenin' to my companions,
Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it'll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they're gonna have to abandon?
There's a slow, slow train comin' up around the bend.
- Bob Dylan
The question before the jury is a simple one, but the answer is complex. Is the US in a "V"-shaped recovery? Are we returning to the old normal? A great deal hinges on the answer, and this week we look at some of the evidence before us.
But first, a follow-up thought to last week's letter. I wrote about why countries can reduce their private debt, reduce their public debt, or run a trade deficit, but not all three at the same time. If a country wants to see its government run a fiscal surplus (or small deficit) and at the same time its private citizens want to reduce their leverage (common desires throughout the developed world), it must run a trade surplus. That's a simple accounting statement. If you did not read last week's letter, you can get to it by going here.
That brings up the deepwater gusher in the Gulf. That it is an unmitigated disaster is an understatement. There is the possibility of the oil getting into the Gulf Stream and going around Florida and landing upon the Atlantic coast. We will be cleaning this up for years.
I am at the moment on a plane to Italy, but if memory serves me right, we run about a $300-billion-dollar trade deficit just in energy purchases. Our trade deficit has been coming down in most other categories but is fairly steady with respect to oil. And as noted above, if we want to get to a place where we are in control of our government deficit, we must reduce that trade deficit.
Bluntly, we cannot hope to balance the fiscal budget without getting a handle on our energy policy (unless consumers and business elect to go into more debt against the current trend - there must be an accounting balance!)