Prophets of doom have always taken risks in terms of ridicule and humiliation. If you stand on a street corner holding up a sign that reads "The End Is Near," passersby will laugh and heckle. People will say you're like Chicken Little, running around telling people the sky is falling.
Yet after an economic crash like the subprime-induced one we're experiencing now, people always say, "Why didn't someone warn us?" or "What's the government doing to save us?"
Well, in May, the government will reward the kind of greed and ignorance that sparked the subprime mess with a $168 billion stimulus package. Instead of heeding the warnings of the markets, the incompetent and irresponsible get bonus checks. Small wonder the country has money problems.
As for "the end is near" proclamations, the Jan. 11, 2008, U.S. edition of the Financial Times published one of the biggest ones I've ever seen. Next to a photo of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the front-page headline read, "U.S.'s Triple-A Credit Rating Under Threat."
Unfortunately, not many people paid attention to it. I doubt that many people even know what it means, or what Moody's is, or why their warning is important. In overly simplified terms, Moody's was saying that the United States may soon become a subprime nation.
That is, the world markets will no longer recognize us as a financially responsible country, and we won't be able to maintain our financial and economic supremacy. In short, the end really is near -- from Moody's perspective, it's less than 10 years away.
The Empire in Decline
Worse, none of the leading presidential candidates even mentions this potential downgrading of credit worthiness as a problem. While I think it's noble that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaign for universal health care, I've never heard either of them mention the fact that we can't afford the health care we already have.
Do I think John McCain (or, in a long-shot, Mike Huckabee) would do a better job than the Democrats? No. I have no confidence in either party or the current processes of government to tackle this issue. The problems of health care and Social Security have grown too big and are clearly beyond our control.
All empires come to an end, and the American one is no exception. We've fought too many foreign wars, swept too many domestic problems under the rug, and paid for our greedy consumption with money borrowed from too many countries around the world. The end isn't just near, it's inevitable.
Bad Times, Few Solutions
In less than three years, the first of approximately 75 million American baby boomers will turn 65. No government can change that, so until someone discovers the fountain of youth the end is not far away. In a few years, the U.S. government will begin to operate in the red, paying for campaign promises made years ago by politicians who are no longer in power.
Do the math. If 75 million baby boomers begin collecting $1,000 a month in Social Security and Medicare benefits, that comes to $75 billion in additional monthly spending. That's a lot more than the one-time $168 billion stimulus package due out in May.
Why would anyone want to run for president at this point in history? Do they believe they can solve our growing economic problems? Or will they do what every other politician has done in the past -- simply leave the problems for their successor to solve?
Don't get me wrong -- I'm impressed with the people running for president. I love the fact that we have a woman, an African-American, a war hero, and a Baptist minister to choose from. I just feel the looming financial problems are beyond their control.
The Looming Gloom
Do I see doom and gloom ahead? Absolutely. But I also see tremendous opportunities made possible by the impending murk. In fact, that Financial Times article about the downgrading of U.S. credit worthiness only validates my current investment strategies.
Regardless of what our national credit rating is, people will always want a roof over their heads, food on their tables, fuel for their cars, and clothes on their backs. Instead of betting on the Democrats or Republicans to take care of me, I would rather count on my financial IQ to guide me through the coming years. I see it as my personal responsibility to invest wisely in the equities of strong companies, well-financed real estate, energy, commodities, and precious metals, and minimize my taxes.
The people I'm concerned about are the ones who are watching their retirement accounts dropping in value with the stock market, their homes lose value rather than appreciate, and their purchasing power decline as the dollar drops.
Always a Silver Lining
For these people I'm an advocate of financial education, but I also know that many of them aren't interested in becoming more financially astute. So instead, I recommend that they buy silver coins, as long as silver is under $25 an ounce. Today, silver is cheap and easy to acquire and manage, while real estate and businesses are both management-intensive; silver requires no management, expect for a safe storage place. In addition, the iShares silver ETF (SLV) is convenient.
Silver is consumed in many industries, and it's reported that the world has less than a 10-year supply of it left. That's why I believe silver is currently one of the best investment opportunities there is -- even for people with limited financial training.
Even if the end is near, there's always a silver lining.