Michael Panzner's new book details four areas of grave concern in the US economy:
1. Ballooning public and private debt.
2. A retirement system (pensions and healthcare) that is financially unsustainable.
3. Government guarantees to banking and financial institutions, which have allowed them to take even bigger risks.
4. Derivatives, a vast system of mutual bets, deals and guarantees that interlink so that failure in one part could spread rapidly and disastrously to all parts.
Although focused on the US, this work has relevance for the rest of the world. According to Panzner, something's got to happen soon, and when it does, it'll be vast and horrible.
He predicts first a credit squeeze, which makes cash king and ruins our credit-dependent lives and businesses wholesale; then hyperinflation, as the government prints money to keep the system from complete collapse.
In this scenario, at first, stocks, corporate bonds, property, commodities (including gold), even government bonds and savings certificates, all decline in value against hard cash as everybody scrambles to settle their own debt, collect what's owed to them and continue to pay the bills. Then the hyperinflation hits and everybody tries to offload their currency.
We could end up with a system of barter and a dangerous social environment. Mr Panzner recommends using the Web to get forewarnings of imminent change, and gives the reader many web and blog addresses.
Is this impossible? Of course not. It may not pan out quite the way he sees it - a perfect financial storm - but mayhem does not have to be perfect.
Naturally, politicians won't want such a disaster on their hands. They can reduce the State's obligations, e.g. by deferring the retirement age; they can limit free medical care for retirees to core essentials, or maybe apply means-testing so that only the poorest get it free. As in the UK, public employees may be made to retire later, and to make higher pension contributions.
But coupled with huge personal and commercial debt, and a trade deficit that looks set to increase indefinitely, such remedies may not be enough.
Michael J Panzner: "Financial Armageddon" (Kaplan Publishing, New York 2007)
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