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The First World Depression

This collapsing economy won't discriminate. It is an equal opportunities unemployer...

"THE BRITISH are utterly doomed," I told my colleague (and British expat) Kris Sayce, writes Dan Denning for The Daily Reckoning in Melbourne, Australia.

"Correct," he replied.

"Why utterly?" asked our Aussie colleague, mining-stock analyst Al Robinson.

"Well," I replied, "they have the same bad bank problem as America. They have even more debt as a percentage of GDP. And the housing bubble there was worse. Plus, the weather is awful. We're all doomed. But they're utterly doomed. It rains all the time."


Here in Australia, ABC Learning Centres ran out of lifelines this week. The company owes creditors over A$2.2 billion. People want their money back now (ANZ on the hook for A$182 million, Westpac for A$200 million). ABC Learning Centres don't have it.

What happens now? Will all those kids in the day care centres be kicked to the curb...thrown out with their stuffed animals, runny noses, and Matchbox cars?

This first world depression (WDI, to use Bill Bonner's shorthand) doesn't discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender or the ability to tie ones shoe laces. It is an equal opportunity unemployer.

With state-subsidized child care in Australia, you'd think day-care would be a good franchise to own. It's government-guaranteed money. You just need to learn how to change a few nappies and deal with the mewling and puking. But it must be harder than it seems. And so if no one rushes into the marketplace to take up ABC Learning Centre's work, we're sure the – uh-oh – Nanny State will come up with something.

Koking aside, perhaps we are moving toward a more corporatist phase in the uneasy relationship between markets and government regulators. Markets and governments exist alongside one another to allocate capital and resources in the economy. But it looks a backlash against markets is forming on the political Left.

Trouble is, the State struggles at delivering even basic services these days (actually, it sucks). If you thought the government had trouble getting your mail delivered on time, wait until it gets into the mortgage business. But it probably WILL get into the mortgage business – and a lot of other businesses besides.

Wait...wasn't it already in the mortgage business with Fannie and Freddie? Oh yeah...

As investors, we're going to have to be careful that the businesses we own aren't blindsided by new government forays into the market. However in a corporatist world, the State acknowledges the limits of its own operational competence. It subcontracts key services out to capable, for-profit businesses. There may be opportunity in that.

Not to get too far off the beaten track, but it's quite possible we're totally wrong about the decline of the fiscal welfare/warfare State. If anything, the State seems to be getting more powerful. More people least in the United States. And there's a lot of staying power in an institution that can command its revenues (taxes) through coercion (guns, jail).

What you can't take you have to borrow (bonds), but there are guns for that sort of thing too (nuclear weapons).

"Are the markets still crashing Dan?" asked our friend Adam at the coffee shop.

"It looks like it. But it's a slow-motion crash."



"I read in the paper that they reckon unemployment is gonna hit nine per cent. It'll be like the last recession in 1992. Maybe worse."

"You're an Aussie. How'd that one go?"

"Sat on the couch a lot. Watched a lot of Donahue and Bert Newton on the telly. Got to the beach a fair bit."

"That doesn't sound so bad."

"Wasn't all bad. Life was a bit slower. Simpler. Didn't pay very well though."

Best-selling author of The Bull Hunter (Wiley & Sons) and formerly analyzing equities and publishing investment ideas from Baltimore, Paris, London and then Melbourne, Dan Denning is now co-author of The Bill Bonner Letter from Bonner & Partners.

See our full archive of Dan Denning articles

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