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Risk Quotient: 72
The quotient was revised on January 4, 2009 to reflect the global economic conditions, our socialist government, and external threats. Read our previous advice on surviving the economic downturn.Predictions and Advice for surviving 2010
Here are Captain Dave's 2010 predictions and how you can prepare to weather the storms we may experience in 2010:
Prediction One: The economy will get worse, unemployment will rise, more people will lose their homes, and your buying power will deteriorate.
The economy is like a man poised on the brink of a cliff with one foot on solid ground and one foot stepping outward over a steep drop-off. The footing seems pretty solid, but once the weight shifts forward just a tiny bit, the economy will topple into a death spiral. When this shift takes place (This year? Three years? Maybe as long as five years?) and how far the fall will be are the real questions.
The economic news coverage in the major media often sounds good, as if we are in the midst of an economic recovery, but the fundamentals are still troubling. Sure, there are hopeful signs, but I predict that it will be a long time before most of us see an improvement in our personal economic situations. The so-called "green shoots" are going to wither because we are in the economic equivalent of a drought. There is just no liquidity to be had as every bank, company or individual with money is doing everything they can do hold on to it. This lack of liquidity is stifling consumer spending and business investment which are the most critical legs in the gross domestic product.
I also foresee a significant chance of a "double dip" recession in 2010. I believe we will see another financial crisis, leading to a wave of failures, collapses, closures, and bankruptcies. You can expect rising unemployment, rising prices, falling stock markets, more foreclosures, and panic in the government. That panic will lead to more ill-conceived stimulus spending and rescue packages that achieve little other than the waste of shrinking tax revenues and add to an unhealthy Federal deficit.
As a result of added stimulus and deficits, the dollar will continue to get weaker as overseas investors lose confidence in our ability to pay back our debts. They will turn up their nose and the dollar and diversify into other currencies as well as commodities and precious metals. (This is already happening, but will get worse in 2010.) Uncertainty and lack of confidence in the dollar will cause other countries to sell our debt, and these fire sale prices which will devalue the dollar even further.
This weakening of the dollar will drive up the cost (in dollars) of commodities and raw materials – including oil, steel, aluminum, copper and so forth -- as well as anything we import, including such basic products as food, clothing, household goods, and electronics. Food prices, which are heavily dependent on the cost of oil (for fertilizer and transportation), will also increase. In short, pretty much anything we buy will get more expensive. This will result in inflation, but the government will try to hide it by manipulating the CPI data. So you and I will feel inflation, but it will not be reported as such, at least not for several months.
As people have to spend more money on food and energy, they will have less to spend on discretionary spending, which creates a downward economic spiral that is self-perpetuating. The lack of discretionary spending will result in a falling sales and profits at most companies, which will lead to declining stock market values, store closures, more bankruptcies, rising unemployment, and a crisis in the commercial real estate market. The loss of jobs and rising unemployment will result in even more foreclosures, which will hurt the banking industry even more (see below for more.)
In short: I believe that the economic recovery bandied about by the mainstream media is wishful thinking and will not last. My advice is to use this time of apparent good news to prepare for another wave of bad economic news globally and especially in the U.S. and UK. If you were caught by surprise in 2008, don't repeat that mistake in 2010.
What you can do:
Prediction Two: Major international business, U.S. States, and foreign countries will go bankrupt and default on their debt. Some will be rescued; some will not be.
We are already seeing problems of this nature in Iceland, Dubai, Greece and Spain, but in 2010 much larger, more important countries could be at risk, including Italy and Germany. California, with a credit rating close to that of junk bonds, will probably go early if they do not receive a federal bail out, but countries like the Ukraine and Latvia are also in trouble. If the double dip comes as feared, even Great Britain could default. If the dollar depreciates and this country continues its aggressive spending while creating dollars out of thin air, even the U.S. could reach a point where it can no longer raise the revenue needed to service its debts.
Problems with small municipalities are too many to count. On a local level, municipalities are laying of personnel, having police cars repossessed, and cutting back on services because their tax base has eroded.
How did we reach this point? By electing politicians who never ran a company, have no business experience, and probably cannot balance their own checkbook.
When companies see their revenues falling, they reduce headcount, close the least profitable factories, pare product lines, and take other drastic actions to cut expenses. Governments used to cut back when times got tough, but that is no longer the case. Today's generation of politicians and administrators don't trim budgets; they simply raise taxes or borrow more money. This makes things worse for the taxpayers who have less money to spend on rent, food and the all important "consumer spending" that makes up 70% of our economy. The result of higher taxation is less money in the marketplace which results in more companies going out of business and higher unemployment.
It is important to keep in mind that governments cannot create enough jobs to end unemployment, but government can create an environment in which entrepreneurs and business people create jobs. Lately, government has been discouraging or penalizing job creation by making it expensive for a small business to survive. Increased regulatory burdens, higher taxes, and added expenses to meet government requirements are all disincentives to small business men and take up dollars that could be used to hire added personnel.
Every time a country, a state, or a Fortune 500 company goes bankrupt, there will be fewer institutions willing to invest in the sovereign debt of other countries. This will drive up the cost of borrowing, which will simply bring about the next bankruptcy that much more quickly. If we reach a point at which no one is wiling to lend the U.S. money, the government will hit a brick wall. It will either have to admit it can no longer afford its current programs and cut the budget or it will have to admit that the Fed is creating dollars out of thin air. Either of these actions will kick off an economic collapse worse than we saw in 2008.
What you can do:
Prediction Three: There will be bank runs, bank failures, and the government will restrict access to your money, including your retirement savings.
Expect banks to collapse as banks who hold these supposedly secure treasury notes, municipal bonds and other government debt suffer losses. Combined with underwater housing loans, a rising tide of defaults and foreclosures, and a crashing commercial real estate market, the above-referenced bankruptcies of governments is likely to be the straw the breaks the camels bank.
Any sudden problem could trigger a bank run that could cause hundreds of banks and other institutions to collapse. Keep in mind that the FDIC is out of money, so the government must borrow funds to guarantee your deposits, another example of a downward spiral.
If the banking system collapses, the government will suddenly own those assets. Good luck getting them back while they have any value. Don't be surprised if your money or investments are nationalized and replaced with government IOUs.
What you can do:
Prediction Four: An increasingly partisan Congress will continue to waste our money and build the deficit, which will simply make the economy worse.
After the economy takes a nose dive, there will be a rash of new attempts by an increasingly desperate congress and administration to help the economy by "spending our way out of a recession." This will show some temporary short term benefits (like the Cash for Clunkers program) but will actually make things worse and delay any recovery. These programs waste money, drain government coffers, and increase the deficit, which will just exacerbate the problems discussed above. They will also cost increase taxes and result in higher costs for all Americans.
So we will see more bail outs, more programs to try to stimulate the recovery, and more tax dollars wasted on programs that spend $300,000 to create one $30,000 job. All the while, taxes on middle class Americans and small businesses will increase and Congress and the president will continue to sell us manure while telling us that it does not stink.
The debt load will become unsustainable as the recession results in lower tax revenue, requiring more deficit spending, which will result in yet another downward spiral. The only way to stop this spiral is to cut government spending, eliminate programs and reduce the footprint of government. That will not happen under the current administration or congress, no matter how desperate things get. In fact, the idea that the current administration is using the situation to gain power and control should be given increased credence.
I also predict that at some point before the mid-term elections in November 2010, the Democrats will suddenly embrace the idea of cutting government and slashing budgets. This attempts to close the barn door after the dollars have all escaped will be too little, too late. They will also result in no significant legislation as it will simply be political posturing leading to the election, not a serious change of heart.
What you can do:
Prediction Five: Economic turmoil, food shortages, rapidly rising prices, and political unrest will result in protest, strikes, riots, and civil unrest around the world.
Last year, rising prices and rumors of rice shortages caused food riots in a number of countries. Expect more riots and protests as food prices rise and food becomes scarcer. Not only are drought and other weather conditions cutting food harvests in Australia and Argentina, but a three year drought in California is hurting food production it the U.S. Plus, as prices rise due to inflation, it will become harder for people to afford to feed their family. This will result in protests against the governments and ruling parties, especially in poorer, less developed countries.
But the cost of food is just one reason there could be unrest. Economic disparities between rich and poor, rising taxes, mass layoffs from what were formerly "government protected" jobs, and dissatisfaction with the current leadership will result in civil disobedience and unrest in countries across Europe, Asia and North America. Some of these will be sporadic and short lived, but others will be well organized campaigns aimed and regime change. The danger here is not tea party type protests and well organized marches, but rock-throwing, fire-starting, smash-and-loot riots that sends troops into the street and endanger nearby residents and business owners.
We are already seeing this kind of protest in unlikely places such as North Korea when they re-valued their currency, and in Iran, where students and organized opposition groups continue to confront the government. Protests driven by unions and economics are already taking place in parts of Europe, including Greece.
In many countries with repressive regimes, protests are met with a crack down on protestors that causes life to become worse for everyone, even those who had nothing to do with the protests. This just makes more people join the protest, creating another downward spiral.
In the U.S., protests are likely to be peaceful unless there is massive inflation, a collapse of our banking system, or financial ruin. In that case, all bets are off as we could see protests that turn violent and give way to riots and opportunistic looting on a massive scale. The U.S. has a history of passive civil disobedience rather than active civil unrest, but it really depends on how angry people are. And there is no better way to make a person angry than to take from him his way of life, remove him from his home, threaten his children with hunger, and leave him no peaceful path to recovery.
If we see a total collapse of the economic system in which the trucks stop delivering goods, expect chaos, death and destruction starting in heavily populated areas and spreading outward as masses of people become locusts looking for the next food source to strip.
What you can do:
Prediction Six: Iran will be involved in a war, possibly with us.
If the world is lucky, Iran will be torn asunder by a civil war. Opposition groups will grow stronger and challenge the current regime. Encouraged and perhaps aided covertly by the U.S. and neighboring countries, Iran will have a second revolution.
If regime change does not come about due to internal strife, Iran is likely to become embroiled in a war with one of its neighbors and/or with the U.S. At some point, something will have to be done about Iran's nuclear ambitions – either by the U.S. or by Israel. France is talking big, which is a nice change, but is unlikely to act unilaterally. China and Russia will go out of their way to stall any UN action and to try to delay any proactive U.S. attack. Obama will let them delay his action, possibly until it is too late to act preemptively.
Iran is like a miniature version of the old Soviet Union in the 1960s and '70s, and there should be no mistake that we are in the middle of a Cold War with them, a cold war that is likely to heat up at any time. Like the USSR, Iran fights proxy wars, as they are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. They have a few "client" states or organizations such as Hezbollah, and a few friends like North Korea and Venezuela. Yet they are generally disliked or feared by their neighbors. No one would really mind if they were taken down a few notches or even wiped off the map, but no one really wants to deal with the mess that would left over and the turmoil that would be created in the Middle East. At such a time that it becomes easier to deal with the fallout from a war with Iran than it is to deal with their belligerent threats and continued existence, they will be attacked and destroyed. It is just a matter of time. And we are hopeful that such a time will arrive before they nuke Israel or sell a nuke to terrorists that will bring it to the U.S.
What you can do:
Prediction Seven: The U.S. will be a victim of terrorists attacks.
The threat of a terrorist attack has never gone away, just dropped off the front pages and slipped from the minds of most people. Yet Al Qaida and other radical fundamentalist groups are still out there, planning and plotting different ways to kill Americans, exacerbate our economic problems, and get revenge for the damage we have done to their organization.
Al Qaida and their allies are just one front in the war on terror. Iran is a state sponsor of multiple terrorist groups. While many of these are focused on Israel, suicide bombers could wreak havoc in the U.S. should we commence active hostilities against Iran. Iran could also supply nuclear weapons to a terrorist group.
A well-organized terrorist attack planned and sponsored by Al Qaida and/or Iran might involve multiple near-simultaneous attacks, they could target major landmarks or population centers, or items of significant national interest (such as the new York Stock Exchange, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Statue of Liberty, just to name a few).
What you can do:
In summation, expect 2010 to be a difficult year, at best. Prepare for it while you still can.
in Doubt, Plan
Whether you fear bombs, biological weapons, something as severe as the collapse of civilization or as mundane as a hurricane, making a plan to deal with the worst-case scenario can help reduce your level of fear. We believe the information and guidance we provide here can help you be better prepared and therefore overcome, or at least manage, your fear.
Starting to Prepare
Here's your first lesson: Do not count on others to protect you. The police usually cannot stop a murder, a sniper attack or terrorist act from occurring, only arrest those who have committed it and hope it serves a deterrent. The government cannot always stop terrorists, only kill them afterwards and try to track down their leadership. The first lesson of being a survivalist is that you must be responsible for your own well-being. You must protect yourself.
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a Biological or Chemical Attack
We have all seen first hand the disruption caused by a few envelopes and a few sniper's bullets. Worse yet are concerns of terrorist in crop dusters spraying sporting events and downtown streets with anthrax spores. And Anthrax is the least of our problems because it can be treated with antibiotics and is not very contagious. No, officials are far more worried about Smallpox, a disease that the UN has considered "eradicated" for some 30 years. They are worried about suicidal bombers in the subways or shopping malls. But how much should we worry? Is the threat realistic? Do you really need a gas mask to survive in the future?
If Uncle Sam is preparing to vaccinate 20,000 first-responders, up to 500,000 medical personnel and 500,000 soldiers, should you get a smallpox vaccine too? First, you need to realize that the chance of you personally being on the receiving end of an attack is very low, unless you live or work in an area that is a high-potential target, such as the post office, the media or the government. Second, the greatest risk to the population in general is not an attack, but its aftermath. (In the anthrax attack, only 17 people came down with anthrax and less than half died.) The threat is not only the disease, but the unrest and disruption. Will the government declare martial law, close airports and block roadways, order everyone to remain quarantined in their homes and take other harsh precautions designed to stop the spread of disease? If so, do you have enough food and water to survive for a week or three without being able to run out to the store? Will a bioterrorist attack be the straw that breaks the economy and sends it back into a recession? Will the food supply be disrupted? Will you have fresh, clean water to drink? Will you lose your job? These are things you need to prepare for. And reading the Survival Guide is a good place to start. If you won't feel safe without a gas mask or chemical protection suit by your side, we're happy to sell them to you. But we suggest you stock up on food, water filters, blankets, flash lights and other more mundane items as well.
Captain Dave is preparing a detailed report on the threat of biological and chemical weapons and how to prepare to survive an attack and its aftermath. Sign our guest book to have a copy e-mailed to you as soon as it is complete.