Posts Tagged ‘Fail’

 

In the 1970’s we heard the earth was going to get so crowded we’d be falling off. Now the panickers have flipped to population decline. They were wrong in the 70’s, so are they wrong again? Is a declining population catastrophic?

Countries from Germany to Japan are investing in mass immigration or pro-birth policies on the assumption that they must import enough warm bodies to stave off economic collapse. I think this is mistaken.

Falling population on a country level is certainly no catastrophe and, indeed, may be positive. I’ll outline some reasons here…

Historically, the first question is why population declined. If it’s the Mongols invading again then, yes, the economy will suffer. Not because of the death alone, but because wholesale slaughter tends to destroy productive capital as well.

On the other hand, if the population is declining from non-war, we have a well-studied natural experiment in the Black Plague. Which is generally credited with the “take-off” of the West. Because if the population declines by a third while capital including arable land stays the same, you get a surplus. Same resources divided by fewer people.

Think of zombie movies where dude’s running around with unlimited resources at his disposal — free cars, riverfront penthouses. That, in diluted form, is what a declining population gives us — more land, more highways or buildings, more resources per person.

Now, if the population’s declining not because of a terrible disaster like the Plague, rather because people simply want fewer children, then you don’t even get the massive hit from losing productive people. A worker dying at 40 takes a lot of productivity with him, while a child unborn isn’t actually destroying anything but hopes and dreams.

So if the Plague was a per capita economic bonanza to Europe, having fewer children should be an even larger per capita bonanza.

Take Germany; before recent rises in immigration, Germans averaged 1.25 children per woman. This translates into a 1/3 decline in population per cycle (i.e every 75 years if people are living 75 years). So without immigration, Germany might expect a 1/3 decline by 2100. Is this good or bad?

The question breaks into 2 parts: absolute number of people, and changes in age composition. On numbers alone, it’s great for Germans; same physical capital, same amount of land and air and water. True there are fewer taxpayers to amortize shared costs like defense, but these costs are small and, empirically, often scale to the population anyway. For example Holland’s military budget and population are both about 1/5 of Germany’s.

So on numbers it’s great — more stuff for fewer people.

Now the second question is age profile. The key here is that a declining population means fewer working-adults to pay out pensions, but it also means even fewer kids. Who are very expensive. The number that captures both is “dependency ratio,” which is the ratio of workers to children-plus-elderly.

To take a real-world example, the UN expects Germany in 2100 to have 68 million people, compared to today’s 82 million — about a 20% decline. The age profile shifts so they expect a third more over-65’s — from 17 to 23 million. Meanwhile, children 14 and under fall from 11m to 9m. So total dependents goes from 28 million today to 32 million in 2100. Meanwhile, population age 15 to 64 goes from 54 million today to 36 million in 2100. Upshot is today a single working-age person supports half a dependent — 54 million carrying 28 million. But in 2100 that worker will support a single dependent — 36 million carrying 32 million. So far so bad, right?

Well, there are 2 big caveats here, both based on long-lasting trends.

First, for over a century now people are not only living longer, but living healthy longer. This is called “health expectancy” and, sticking with Germany, is rising by about 1.4 years per decade.

This implies that 65 year-olds in 2100 will be as healthy as 53 year-olds today. While today’s 65-year-olds are as healthy as 2100’s 78-year-olds. This alone would bring the elderly numbers back down to today’s, but the lower number of children means worker burdens actually decline.

Of course, this would require raising retirement ages in line with health expectancy – 1.4 years per decade – which politicians are obviously deeply reluctant to do.

Second caveat is another long-term trend, economic growth. The irony here is that, from a population growth viewpoint, economic growth is actually the worst-case scenario. Because if the economy crashes instead, then historically the population actually soars — kids become your safety net if the welfare state goes bankrupt. So if we fail to grow, the demographic problem actually solves itself anyway. Either we grow, or population decline was a false alarm anyway.

Quantifying this growth, over the past 50 years Germany has grown 1.65% per year, real per capita. That trends puts a 2100 German worker making 4 times what they do today. Keep in mind this is likely underestimating the benefit, because any outperformance makes Germans richer yet, while any catastrophe probably makes them have more kids.

So, summing up, rising health expectancy implies there will actually be fewer dependents in 2100 Germany, while economic growth implies German workers will be 4 times richer, just on growth alone. The demographic burden plunges by 80% or more.

By the way, if you’re freaked out at the prospect of working an extra 1.4 years per decade, that economic growth alone suggests a 50% decline in worker burdens – twice the dependents on four times the income. So even if politicians are spineless, the welfare burden declines even with more dependents.

Bottom line, whether we look at total numbers or demographically, population decline coming from simply choosing to have fewer kids is nothing remotely catastrophic.

Now, a final point: in a worldwide context, more people does tend to increase investment, therefore innovation and economic growth. This is obvious in the aggregate – there wouldn’t be any factories if there weren’t any humans – but people forget. So, on a world-wide level, we should have a bias towards more humans, while recognizing that, on a country level, a shrinking population is certainly no catastrophe.

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In an unexpectedly strong diplomatic escalation, one day after China agreed to vote alongside the US (and Russia) during Monday’s United National Security Council vote in passing the watered down North Korea sanctions, the US warned that if China were to violate or fail to comply with the newly imposed sanctions against Kim’s regime, it could cut off Beijing’s access to both the US financial system as well as the “international dollar system.”

Speaking at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference on Tuesday, Steven Mnuchin said that China had agreed to “historic” North Korean sanctions during Monday’s United Nations vote. “We worked very closely with the U.N. I’m very pleased with the resolution that was just passed. This is some of the strongest items. We now have more tools in our toolbox, and we will continue to use them and put additional sanctions on North Korea until they stop this behavior.”

In response, Andrew Ross Sorkin countered that “we haven’t been able to move the needle on China, which seems to be the real mover on this, in terms of being able to apply the real pressure. What do you think the issue is? What is the problem?”

 

The stunner was revealed in Mnuchin’s answer: “I think we have absolutely moved the needle on China. I think what they agreed to yesterday was historic. I’d also say I put sanctions on a major Chinese bank. That’s the first time that’s ever been done. And if China doesn’t follow these sanctions, we will put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system. And that’s quite meaningful.”

And to underscore his point, the Treasury Secretary also said that “in North Korea, economic warfare works. I made it clear that the President was strongly considering and we sent a message that anybody that wanted to trade with North Korea, we would consider them not trading with us. We can put on economic sanctions to stop people trading.”

In other words, to force compliance with the North Korean sanctions, Mnuchin threatened Beijing with not only trade war, but also a lock out from the dollar system, i.e. SWIFT, something the US did back in 2014 and 2015 when it blocked off several Russian banks as relations between the US and Russia imploded.

Of course, whether the US would be willing to go so far as to use the nuclear option, and pull the dollar plug on its biggest trade partner, in the process immediately unleashing an economic depression domestically and globally is a different matter. So far Washington has been reluctant to impose economic sanctions on China over concerns of possible retaliatory measures from Beijing and the potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy. Washington runs a $350 billion annual trade deficit with Beijing, while the PBOC also holds over $1 trillion in US debt.

Ironically, the biggest hurdle to the implementation of the just passed sanctions may be the president himself. “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. “I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

Separately, at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Republican Chairman Ed Royce said the U.S. should target major Chinese banks, including Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. and China Merchants Bank Co., for aiding Kim’s regime. Russia also came in for criticism. Assistant Treasury Secretary Marshall Billingslea said in prepared remarks to the committee that North Korean bank representatives “operate in Russia in flagrant disregard of the very resolutions adopted by Russia at the UN.”

While China and Russia supported the latest UN sanctions, officials made clear they were troubled by Haley’s comments in the Security Council that the U.S. would act alone if Kim’s regime didn’t stop testing missiles and bombs. They emphasized the world body’s resolution also emphasized the importance of resolving the crisis through negotiations. “The Chinese side will never allow conflict or war on the peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement on Tuesday.

In a soundbite late on Tuesday, Japan’s Nikkei quoted prime minister Shinzo Abe who said that “in the end, [the North Korean] problems should be solved through diplomatic dialogue,” adding that Japan will “work together with the international community to apply maximum pressure, so that North Korea commits to perfect, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.” For Japan to engage with the regime, he stressed it would have to be “on the condition that North Korea commits to” this complete denuclearization.”

Which, of course, won’t happen: “sanctions of any kind are useless and ineffective,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters earlier this month at a summit in Xiamen, China. “They’ll eat grass, but they won’t abandon their [nuclear] program unless they feel secure.”

Predictably, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry slammed the sanctions saying it “condemns in the strongest terms and categorically rejects” the United Nations adding more sanctions, North Korea’s state-run KCNA reported on Wednesday morning. Instead, North Korea warned it “will redouble efforts to increase its strength” as it seeks to establish “practical equilibrium” with U.S.

And so, not only is the entire geopolitical circle jerk back at square one, but the ball is again back in North Korea’s court, while the decision on whether or not to launch another ICBM really depends on whether China will give it the quiet go ahead; a China which responds notoriously poorly to being threatened in the global financial arena, like for example when the US threatens to kick it out of the global dollar system…

Some optimists are touting the hypothesis that the weakness of the economic expansion since the last cyclical trough (June 2009) means that the next recession will be mild.

In fact, such a tendency has never been observed in the 140 years of US business cycle history examined famously by University of Chicago Professor Victor Zarnowitz. The only reliable rule which he found was that “the worse the downturn the stronger the subsequent upturn” — a rule that has famously broken down under the onslaught of the Great Monetary Experiment in the present cycle.

So how can we best decipher the future of this cycle including its peak and subsequent trough? In broad terms the best guide is King Solomon “there is nothing new under the sun” on the one hand and the Austrian school and behavioral finance theorists on the other. The latter warn in combination against pseudo-scientific hypothesis making and the perils of making judgment on the basis of those small sample sizes available from the laboratory of history.

Three Reasons We’re Told not to Worry

To be fair, the optimists on the shallowness of the next recession are not citing a past historical episode to back their case. Rather they make three claims: (1), because investment spending has been so anemic, its scope to fall is correspondingly limited; (2), the likely tumble in asset prices will not this time cripple the US banking system which is now unusually resilient; and (3), the new tools which the central bankers have tried out during the experiment so far can now be sharpened and adapted to better combat the next recession when it hits. All these claims are unfortunately bogus and they fail to acknowledge a potential recessionary shock from  the side of the co

Weak Business Spending, Declining Consumption, Popping Bubbles

The weakness likely has much to do with the uncertainty generated by the monetary experiment. Business decision-makers and their shareholders in thinking about the future can see that the Fed (and central banks abroad) have generated a dangerous asset price inflation disease which will likely end up badly. This will include much evidence of mal-investment, a crash across many asset markets, and a big pull back in consumption as households realize the mistakes of their past credulity.

Given so much fear about the end-destination of the monetary experiment, the road to raising shareholder equity is often not via undertaking long-term investment projects. Rather, companies are paying out cash to shareholders and leveraging up to do so. This tendency to eschew long-run commitments is also attributable to awareness that present equity values contain much froth which may well have vanished by the time the business owners (including executives with share-options) would hope to cash out.

Yes, the areas of mal-investment during the economic expansion do emit boom-like signals. The speculative stories and the high leverage found there are characteristics of the Hunt for Yield as induced by the income famine conditions prevalent under the Great Monetary Experiment. The eventual plunge of investment in these areas can be large overall in macro-terms even though overall business capital spending across the economy as a whole is sub-normal. We have seen that already for the energy boom and bust in the US. The same may be true further ahead for all the suspect areas of mal-investment, whether commercial real estate construction, Silicon Valley, apartment construction, and any activity related to the biggest bubble of all — private equity.

Why We Should be Skeptical of Claims that There is “No Potential US Banking Crisis”     

The widespread collapse in speculative temperatures which would mark the late stage of asset price inflation disease would cause — in the US and globally — a huge loss across a wide range of financial institutions whose purpose is to provide income for retirement. The reckless reaching for yield as these institutions have pretended to meet their commitments under income famine conditions would come home to roost as high-yield debts and dividend-rich equities fell sharply in price and the liquidity of even the investment grade corporate bond market seized up. 

The alarmed clients of these institutions would pull back their present spending in alarm that their rosy expectations regarding future income had blown apart. This may already be happening pre-emptively as indicated by the “surprise” weakening of US retail sales during July and August.

The dimensions of the overall seizing up of credit markets would be tremendous even though US banks may continue in relative safety at least in the early stages. Near-zero or negative interest rates has caused the normal credit alarm system to hibernate. Delinquency or non-performance occurs in silence with no evidence of non-payment. But alarm mal-function will not prevent the dud nature of bad credits to finally emerge or sudden fear of these to cause a shudder in market prices.

Italian government bonds, whose 10-year yield is now (mid-September) barely 1.30 and significantly below T-bond yields could be the canary in the mine. A sovereign debt crisis and banking crisis in Europe worse than that in 2010–12 is a mainstream scenario for the end-phase of this global asset price inflation disease. Indeed, Europe could be the tinderbox where a US stock market crash led initial recession shifts into full slump mode with feedback loops to the vaunted safety of US banks.

But Surely the Federal Reserve Would Pre-Emptively Exercise a Mega-Yellen Put?

The advocates of the Great Monetary Experiment would have us believe that the central bankers could put a floor under the next recession and at least provide the basis for a new weak but long economic expansion as the present one. The bad news for the experimenters (and their political chiefs) is that next time the Federal Reserve may not be able to lift asset prices by turning on the music of “nowhere else to go” and stimulating a “Hunt for Yield.” The experience of loss may have tamed the hunters and emptied the audiences, with no one believing the central bank narratives about the wonders of their tool box and the potential to fix long-term interest rates.

The good news for economic prosperity and freedom is that the failure of the grand experimenters next time to ignite asset price inflation early on in any incipient economic upturn might lead to their dismissal (if not effected earlier!).

Why let them continue to nurture the monetary virus which at some point will reach escape velocity and start to re-infect global markets, thus producing anemic economic outcomes? Would it not be better to install a sound monetary order? That is the main hope for curing the global curse of the Federal Reserve and its grand experiment. But its fruition depends crucially on the next US president reacting to the recession and its likely severity by firing the present Fed chief, choosing wisely her replacement, and joining with Congress to legislate a framework for monetary stability.

One day after Barack Obama was eager to overhear the only conversation that mattered in the G-20 room…

… there was just one thing left to do for the two arch-nemeses of the increasingly multipolar world: a staredown.

However, nobody blinked.

As is well-known, Russia has been firmly backing Bashar Al-Assad for years, providing military assistance and war planes, to avoid another pro-western puppet from taking over the strategically critical country. America, meanwhile, is on the side of what it has called “moderate” anti-Assad rebels (which include various al Qaeda splinter organizations despite their recent “amicable split”), as well as Kurdish forces (which in turn are being bombed by US-ally Turkey) behind the pretext of the war against ISIS, an entity created and supported, willingly or not, by Saudi Arabia and the US.

As Bloomberg first reported, U.S., Russia Again Fail to Reach Cease-Fire Deal on Syria, when John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov met for about an hour on the sidelines of G-20 leaders summit in Hangzhou, China in hopes of reaching agreement after failing to do so on Sunday; after they achieved nothing, the Kremlin added that Putin and Obama discussed Syria and Ukraine for an hour with their
delegations present; delegates left and two leaders talked one-on-one
for about 20 minutes.

They too failed.

Still, as the following two pictures reveal, there is yet hope for the future…

… although if not so much for a deal between Putin and Obama…

… then perhaps the lame duck president’s successor.

After years of relentless decline in the Baltic Dry index…

 

… today the largest casualty finally emerged on Wednesday when South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping, the country’s largest shipping firm and the world’s seventh-biggest container carrier, filed for court receivership after losing the support of its banks, leaving its assets frozen as ports from China to Spain denied access to its vessels.


 For those unfamiliar with the company, here is a brief overview from its website:
 Hanjin Shipping is Korea’s largest and one of the world’s top ten container carriers that operates some 70 liner and tramper services around the globe transporting over 100 million tons of cargo annually. Its fleet consists of some 150 containerships and bulk carriers.

 

With 4 regional headquarters in the U.S., Europe, Asia and South East & West Asia, approximately 5,000 global staffs as well as container terminals in world’s major ports contribute to Hanjin Shipping’s world-class logistics network around the world.

As Reuters reports, banks led by state-run Korea Development Bank withdrew backing for the world’s seventh-largest container carrier on Tuesday, saying a funding plan by its parent group was inadequate to tackle debt that stood at 5.6 trillion won ($5 billion) at the end of 2015.

Suk Tai-soo, president and chief executive officer of Hanjin Shipping Co, arrives
at a court in Seoul, South Korea, August 31, 2016.

South Korea’s biggest shipping firm, announced the filing for receivership and a request to the court to freeze its assets, which the Seoul Central District Court planned to grant, a judge told Reuters.

As part of the company’s insolvency process, the court will now decide whether Hanjin Shipping should remain as a going concern or be dissolved, a process that usually takes one or two months but is expected to be accelerated in Hanjin’s case, the judge said. A bankruptcy for Hanjin Shipping would be the largest ever for a container shipper in terms of capacity, according to consultancy Alphaliner, exceeding the 1986 collapse of United States Lines.

Coming as no surprise to anyone who has followed the persistent decline in worldside trade, global shipping firms have been swamped by overcapacity and sluggish demand, with Hanjin booking a net loss of 473 billion won in the first half of the year.

South Korea’s ailing shipbuilders and shipping firms, which for decades were engines of its export-driven economy, are in the midst of a wrenching restructuring. According to Reuters, KDB’s decision to stop backing Hanjin Shipping shows the government is taking a tougher stance with troubled corporate groups.

The fallout from the country’s unprecedented bankruptcy invoked a statement from South Korea’s Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho, who said that “the government will swiftly push forth corporate restructuring following the rule that companies must figure out how to survive and find competitiveness on their own while taking responsibility.”

To be sure, this decision is a fresh breath of air in a world in which mega-corprations across the globe have become “too big to fail” by default, and in many cases anticipate a government bail-out.

According to South Korea’s Financial Services Commission, Hyundai Merchant Marine, the country’s second-largest shipping line, will look to acquire its rival’s healthy assets, including profit-making vessels, overseas business networks and key personnel,  A Hyundai Merchant Marine spokesman told Reuters nothing had been decided about the potential acquisition of Hanjin assets and that the firm will hold talks with KDB. Hyundai Merchant Marine is also in the process of a voluntary debt restructuring.

The question now is whether as a result of the bankruptcy process there will be an unexpected failure in the global supply-chain: South Korea’s oceans ministry estimates a two- to three-month delay in the shipping of some Korean goods that were to be transported by Hanjin Shipping, and plans to announce in September cargo-handling measures which could include Hyundai Merchant Marine taking over some routes, a ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

Making matters worse, Reuters adds that KDB’s move to pull the plug was already having an impact on Hanjin’s operations, with the company’s various shipping assets already frozen. Ports including those in Shanghai and Xiamen in China, Valencia, Spain, and Savannah in the U.S. state of Georgia had blocked access to Hanjin ships on concerns they would not be able to pay fees, a company spokeswoman told Reuters.

Another vessel, the Hanjin Rome, was seized in Singapore late on Monday by a creditor, according to court information. “Now Hanjin must do everything it can to protect its clients’ cargoes and make sure they are not delayed to their destination, by filing injunctions to block seizures in all the countries where its ships are located,” said Bongiee Joh, managing director of the Korea Shipowners’ Association.

Finally, while jarring Hanjin’s bankrtupcy was inevitable: shipping industry economics have deteriorated. Charter rates for medium-sized container ships have dropped from around $26,000 a day in 2010 to $13,000 per day now.  Container rates from Shanghai to the U.S west coast have more than halved since then, from around $2,000 per 40-foot container in January 2010 to $596 per 40-foot box last week, data from the Shanghai Shipping Exchange shows.

Shares in Hanjin Shipping have been suspended after plunging 24% on Tuesday.

The global implications from the bankruptcy are unknown: if, as expected, the company’s ships remain “frozen” and inaccessible for weeks if not months, the impact on global supply chains will be devastating, potentially resulting in a cascading waterfall effect, whose impact on global economies could be severe as a result of the worldwide logistics chaos. The good news is that both economists and corporations around the globe, both those impacted and others, will now have yet another excuse on which to blame the “unexpected” slowdown in both profits and economic growth in the third quarter.

Most of us watch television. In part, we seek to be entertained, but, additionally, we often seek to be enlightened as to “what’s going on.” In a difficult era like the present one, in which some of the most prominent countries are experiencing the onset of an economic crisis, virtual cartoon characters are competing as choices in political contests, governments are becoming increasingly rapacious and a police state is developing rapidly, it’s not surprising if the average person questions, “What on earth are they thinking?”

Well, there’s no shortage of media exposure to answer that question. Today, there are a multitude of channels offering 24/7 “news,” from which we may hope to glean some insight as to what the leaders of the world are thinking. Yet, in spite of the endless folderol being offered, the leadership vision remains about as clear as mud.

 They don’t want war, but are invading more countries than ever before in history. Political hopefuls are vague at best regarding their proposed platforms for action, yet they attack each other as though they’re reporters for the tabloids. Governments continually speak of their wish to lighten the load on the common man, whilst heaping laws, regulations, fines and taxes on him like never before, and whilst heaping billions in tax dollars on their cronies in the financial industry. They claim to seek greater security for all, but instead, create an endless stream of agencies that have the authority to ignore basic rights and behave more like Mafia shakedown operators than law enforcers. Governments claim to be pursuing a sounder economy, but have created an unprecedented level of debt, that promises to crush the economies of several of the world’s most prominent countries in the very near future.

And so, many people look to the media, seeking answers. Typically a news programme will feature a “panel of experts,” who will debate the latest issues. They rarely reach a conclusion, but do succeed in creating a general impression that one political party is out to destroy the country and that the other (which they represent) is out to save it.

In addition to the panels, the media go straight to the source on frequent occasions, interviewing political and financial leaders. The list of questions is invariably prepared well in advance and the interviewee is never caught off guard. His handlers have prepared his answers for him and, on every occasion, a full plate of predictable reheated rhetoric is served up to the viewer for his consumption.

In these repartees, the interviewer is intended to appear congenial yet probing, yet the questions asked are invariably bland enough for the interviewee to either dismiss them or provide an easy retort. The interviewee is intended to appear as though he is informing the public of policies and procedures that, whilst too complicated for the viewer to fully grasp, are well in hand and will provide solutions in the not-too-distant future. Be patient.

The fact that these solutions never seem to arrive seems to be less relevant than the fact that a new solution is underway. In this manner, the viewer, no matter how badly his life is being affected, continues to sit tight and be hopeful, for, surely, better days are just around the corner.

Incredibly, the average viewer seems to be able to consume endless quantities of this propaganda, year after year, and never say to himself, “Something’s radically wrong here.”

If he were to actually turn off the television for a week or so, stand back, and assess the propaganda as a whole, he might conclude that, in fact, the media acts at the behest of the economic and political leaders, to propagate their message. The “debates” and “pressing questions” are limp at best and never lead to any significant change or improvement. Nor are they intended to. They are pacifiers only.

Worse, the leaders themselves continue to not only fail the public, but to steadily morph the governmental, economic and social systems in a direction that will lead inevitably to a bad end.

It is true, of course, that the citizens of these leading nations are becoming increasingly cynical about their leaders and their own futures, but their reaction to the pablum, after having a good grumble, tends to be to “hope the next administration will be better.” This is very foolhardy indeed. (Once the apple is thoroughly rotten, expect to see only worms inhabiting it.)

But those who sense that they’re being shafted need to vent somehow. And, for this we have political parties. Whether our country has Democrats and Republicans, Tories and Labour, or any other such groupings, those who are elected are under no illusion that they exist to serve those who elected them; they exist to serve the major donors who pay for the elections. And the major donors contribute to both parties, in order to ensure that their objectives are carried out by the candidates who are successful, regardless of their party. The overall plan will continue, full steam, regardless of who’s in office.

But the parties do provide the electorate with targets at which to aim their rubber-tipped arrows. Regardless of which party is in power, liberal voters will complain that not enough is being done for their causes and conservative voters will do the same.

Will one win out over the other eventually? Unquestionably not. The system is designed to remain as is – with endless bickering encouraged, but no actual progress planned.

The most prominent countries in the world are on the cusp of a major economic crisis. With it will come political and social crises and, most certainly, war. The television viewer, if he accepts this at all, will say, “Well, that will teach them. Then they’ll have to admit that our side was right.”

Unfortunately, no. After the inevitable economic crashes, after years of pointless warfare, after increased totalitarianism at home, there will be an eventual end to the strife. When the dust begins to settle, the average person will turn on his television, hoping to see that some answers have been reached.

Instead, what he’ll witness, if he turns on a liberal station, will be pundits stating that, if only there had been more QE and more entitlements, it might have all worked out, but that, instead, there was disaster, as a result of the conservatives.

Likewise, the pundits on the conservative station will expound that all the suffering could have been avoided if the entitlements had been kept in check and the bombs could have been dropped on the enemy earlier. Both liberals and conservatives will return to their corners to dress their wounds and prepare for the next round of polarization against each other.

So, who is it that we blame for mankind’s debacles? Surely, we were tricked by the leaders – the politicians, central bankers, leaders of major industries, etc. Or was it the media that did such a sterling job of packaging up the propaganda that we were unable to see the forest for the trees?

It will matter little, because nothing will be learned and we shall begin the game anew. But if it’s a genuine solution we’re after, yes, that is possible. But that solution depends upon whether we’re prepared to cease to allow the media to provide our reasoning for us. We must be prepared to study our leaders’ actions, to be prepared to be contrarian and, most importantly, to question everything. If not, we ourselves are amongst the blind and the clueless and we can expect an endless cycle of the same dog and pony show.

Territorial disputes are a delicate thing… and potentially deadly as well.

That’s why the U.S. is backing up its positions with an ever-increasing presence of warships  in the South China Sea.

China is very touchy about these territories, and unwilling to give up what they perceive as their waters, even as a UN tribunal just denied their claims and strengthened the U.S. hand.

Indeed, the entire situation is combustible and very dangerous.

As James Holbrooks of the Underground Reporter noted:

 In a congressional hearing on Wednesday, former Director of National Intelligence and retired Navy admiral Dennis Blair told the panel that the United States should be prepared to use military force to oppose Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

“I think we need to have some specific lines and then encourage China to compromise on some of its objectives,” Blair, who headed the U.S. Pacific Command while in the Navy, said at the hearing.

The admiral’s recommendation came the day after a United Nations tribunal invalidated China’s claim of territorial rights to nearly all of the waters in the South China Sea.

The U.S., citing the territorial dispute and security concerns raised by its allies in the region, have for months been sending warships into the South China Sea as a check against Chinese hostility.

Beijing, acutely aware of the military buildup off its coast, has publicly warned the U.S. it’s more than ready to defend against provocations. “China hopes disputes can be resolved by talks… but it must be prepared for any military confrontation.”

It seems that the situation is being deliberately stoked into conflict, and that tensions are programmed to reach a boiling over point. If true, there is no indication of where the point of no return would be.

The U.S. has the excuse of protecting its ally, and former territory, the Philippines, and thus has a pretext to play policeman in the region.

But in turn, that is only a thinly-veiled ruse to amplify the military pressure, and let bloated speech and menacing saber-rattling episodes set the tone for ‘diplomacy’ with the Red Dragon.

Now, there is not only an escalation, but an acknowledgement on both sides of the Pacific that things are headed towards war – and it is being openly discussed in those stark terms:

  “If our security is being threatened, of course we have the right to demarcate a zone,” Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said Wednesday at a briefing in Beijing. “We hope that other countries will not take this opportunity to threaten China and work with China to protect the peace and stability of the South China Sea, and not let it become the origin of a war.”

And war, it appears, is becoming increasingly likely by the day — with other countries in Southeast Asia beginning to take sides.

[…]

So, with the U.S. demanding compromise from a China who refuses to bow down — and forcing local powers to choose sides in the process — it seems the stage is being set for a potential military conflict in the South China Sea that could engulf the entire region.

Are we really to expect a looming world war from China, who has played the parts of villain, ally, trade partner and rival all at the same time?

No one can say, but there is plenty of worry that war could really happen. Even billionaire George Soros warned that the potential danger of WWIII breaking out with China was ‘not an exaggeration’:

 The US government has little to gain and much to lose by treating the relationship with China as a zero-sum game. In other words it has little bargaining power. It could, of course, obstruct China’s progress, but that would be very dangerous. President Xi Jinping has taken personal responsibility for the economy and national security. If his market-oriented reforms fail, he may foster some external conflicts to keep the country united and maintain himself in power. This could lead China to align itself with Russia not only financially but also politically and militarily. In that case, should the external conflict escalate into a military confrontation with an ally of the United States such as Japan, it is not an exaggeration to say that we would be on the threshold of a third world war.

And yet, President Obama and numerous other U.S. officials have been deliberately stoking the tension and adding fuel to the fire with provocation in the disputed waters.

As Michael Snyder wrote several months ago:

 Barack Obama sent a guided missile destroyer into disputed waters in the South China Sea to see if the Chinese would start shooting at it. Yes, this is what he actually did. Fortunately for us, the Chinese backed down and did not follow through on their threats to take military action. Instead, the Chinese have chosen to respond with very angry words. The Chinese ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, says that what Obama did was “a very serious provocation, politically and militarily.” And as you will see below, a state-run newspaper stated that China “is not frightened to fight a war with the US in the region”. So why in the world would Obama provoke the Chinese like this? Yes, the Chinese claims in the South China Sea are questionable. But there are other ways to resolve things like this.

Most Americans assume that an actual shooting war between the United States and China is not even within the realm of possibility, but many of our leaders see things very differently. For instance, just check out what CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell thinks…

The current posturing in the area has led to heightened tensions between the world’s preeminent military powers, and in May Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told CNN that the confrontation indicates there is “absolutely” a risk of the U.S. and China going to war sometime in the future.

Not long ago, the U.S. also demonstrated ballistic missiles – armed with nuclear warheads – over the coast of California in an apparent demonstration towards China regarding the readiness and seriousness of their clash.

Though it isn’t on the front burner right now amid other sensational headlines, keep an eye to the fact that World War III is slowly being brewed on the back burner. Someday, it could ignite into a full blown nightmare. Stay vigilant. Hope for peace, prepare for war.