Friday, January 23, 2009

Britain Points the Way to U.S. Economic Future

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

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As of today, Great Britain is officially in recession, joining the U.S., Japan and Germany. Britain's GDP shrank 1.5% in Q4 2008, after shrinking 0.6% in Q3 2008. Those are at least the official figures, it is quite probable that the actual ones are even worse. Notable declines took place in the banking, retail, and manufacturing sectors (just like in the U.S.). The FTSE fell below 4000 and the pound dropped to 1.35 per U.S. dollar, a 23 year low, on the news.

Great Britain was once the premier economy in the world. The British pound was once the world's reserve currency. A rigid class system which guaranteed entitlement to those on top - similar to contemporary Wall Street in the United States - followed by socialist practices that offered entitlement to those on the bottom have over time eroded the country's economic dynamism. Early in the 20th century the capitalist free for all and innovation friendly U.S. began to assume economic preeminence after World War I. U.S. currency dominance was made official at Breton Woods in 1944 toward the end of World War II.

One of the most shocking stories in the history of technology illustrates quite clearly how Britain and U.S. attitudes differed in mid-century and why the U.S. became the post World War II economic powerhouse that it did. Both Britain and the U.S. developed early electronic computers for war time use. At the end of the war, the British government destroyed even the plans for the computers fearing they would fall into the hands of the Russians. The U.S. made the plans publicly available by publishing them, engendering one of the biggest growth industries of all time. The lesson of openness and transparency is currently being lost in the U.S. however with the Federal Reserve and Treasury engaging in significant and frequently secret manipulation of the financial system. In the long term this is only going to prove to be disastrous - although the short term results have been horrendous enough as is.

The response of the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, to the current British recession is that it is a result of global events. In case anyone has forgotten, Gordon Brown was the Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to U.S. Treasury Secretary), who took the decision to sell half of British gold reserves in 1999 , when gold was around $260 an ounce, to buy among other things, U.S. dollars. Brown also has presided over a subprime crisis, 125% housing loans to people who could never pay them back were common, that is much worse than in the U.S. Unfortunately, while Gordon Brown is one of the most economically incompetent officials ever to run a major economy, he has plenty of company on the world stage these days. George Bush is certainly in the running for a close second. Many Japanese leaders in the last 25 years would be up there as well. Because economic idiocracies are common place in the world today, drastic action will be required to fix things. If the U.S. doesn't take appropriate action soon, it will be following Britain down the path of long term economic and currency decline.

NEXT: Unemployment Everywhere

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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