A Tale of Two Nations: Russia vs USA Economic Prospects

by F. William Engdahl, New Eastern Outlook: Taking the extraordinary USA and EU economic sanctions against Russia and low oil prices since 2014 into account, Russia’s economic outlook looks excellent going forward while that of Trump’s America looks bleak, to put it mildly. Paraphrasing the memorable 1992 Presidential candidates debate between a then-young William Jefferson Clinton and George H.W. Bush, “It’s the debt, stupid.”

In the past few years too many US economists and analysts such as Moody’s Credit Rating have tried to dismiss the economy of the Russian Federation as a near-bankrupt Soviet-era oil and gas-dependent economy, devastated by the 2014 collapse in oil price. This is a grave mistake, especially so as military calculations of NATO in many cases depend on such poorly-informed and dated judgments. Here are just a few select examples of what is really going on in terms of cutting edge and even bleeding edge technology R&D and commercialization in Russia in the civilian sector. The West’s neo-colonial smug arrogance has no place.

Yes, the physical economy Russia has great problems. I’ve traveled throughout Russia many times since 1994. I have seen much beyond the breath-taking beauty of the Czar palaces of St. Petersburg or the spectacular Moscow Kremlin fortress constructed in the 1480’s. I’ve seen dilapidated infrastructure and streets with New York-style potholes in Russia’s smaller cities.

I grew up and for some time worked in proximity of slums and poverty in cities such as Boston, New York, Newark, or Dallas as a young man in the United States during the 1960’s and 1970s and after. The differences with Russia’s economic deficits are enormous. The growing poverty in America since the beginning of the 1970’s was as a deliberate economic policy consequence of Wall Street policies and notably so after the decision to abandon the Bretton Woods Gold Exchange Standard in 1971.

By contrast, the poverty in Russia today is a residue of the seventy years of Soviet conditions during the military necessities of the Cold War and the fatal flaws of its rigid central planning that suppressed individual initiative and creativity, or rather penalized it. That was aggravated in a devastating manner by the Gorbachev Perestroika monetary mistakes and the criminal CIA-backed looting of Russian state assets by the Yeltsin mafia in the decade of the 1990s.

In brief, the United States, when the falsified US Government economic data are stripped away, is falling deeper into debt and decay as money and Wall Street mega-banks reign supreme like Gods of Money. Russia in contrast is growing slowly but definitely out of its economic and infrastructure deficit of the past decades, in fact of the past century since the Western-backed Lenin coup d’etat of 1917. While the United States over the past five decades has been tearing down its once prospering cities, infrastructure and industry, Russia is building up its national economy on an advanced technological basis with some of the most creative scientific and engineering minds on Earth. As Moody’s or S&P language might put it, “USA economy: Outlook Negative going forward; Russia economy: Outlook Positive going forward.”

A Debtors’ Prison

The difference between the present economic prospects of the United States and that of the Russian Federation is fundamental. To begin with we need to examine the relative debt structures of the West versus the East. In the United States debts are soaring and the slums and homelessness are spreading, hidden behind United States’ Potemkin Village ultra-wealthy gentrified urban areas like Manhattan in New York City or Washington D C and its wealthy suburbs.

Household debt in the USA, almost nine years after the financial collapse of September 2008, and after more than 8 years of near-zero Federal Reserve interest rates, is alarmingly high, higher than almost any time in the postwar period at almost 80% of GDP.

Of that household private debt, student loan debt for college education is more than $1.3 trillion, or an average debt of $48,000 a student. Astonishingly, students’ indebtedness for higher education has passed Americans’ legendary credit card debt in dollar terms. In early 2017 according to Federal Reserve and other data more than 44 million Americans held a total of some $1.3 trillion in debts for higher education. In 1997, only 20 years ago, total student debt was less than $30 billion, hardly a drain.

One reason for the explosion of debt is that total costs of a higher education in America today are soaring, notably at state-supported colleges. Costs rose 41% from 2002 to 2012. At the same time the incomes of the families of the households sending their children to college has stagnated and after 2008 declined in real terms.

For most of the immediate postwar period until the great economic crises of the 1970’s, higher education in the United States had a tradition–most especially at state universities– that tuition costs were minimal or state subsidized so that higher education could be open to anyone “with brains” as Harvard President Charles W. Eliot once charmingly put it. Higher education was seen by states and communities as an investment in the nation’s future. Those were the days before globalization and the great labor outsourcing. Now Federal government monies to support low-cost state college tuition have been severely cut, and state budgets across the country are still bleeding from the 2007-8 financial crisis.

Total private household debt in the United States today is over $12 trillion for combined home mortgage debt, college loans, car debt, credit card debt. That’s a huge burden weighing on the growth potential of the US economy.

Add to this the exponential growth of the US national debt, now just under $20 trillion, and it becomes clear that the campaign rhetoric of the Trump Presidency to “make America Great Again” requires emergency economic measures and effective and well-thought-through Chapter 9 type bankruptcy-reorganization of the nation’s debt in order to allow the United States to again become a real manufacturing economy not merely a financial speculator in debt.

In 1980 at the start of the “debts don’t matter” irresponsibility of the Reagan-Bush era, the level of Federal debt was a very manageable 30% of GDP. By the end of Bush Senior’s term in January 1993, it stood at more than double or 63% of GDP. It was beginning to “matter,” but Wall Street and bond traders loved it. When George W. Bush, took office in 2001 it had fallen back to 54% through no fault of Bush but rather to Baby-boomer demographics. From there US national debt took off like a ballistic missile, doubling by March 2017 to more than 104% of GDP today, just a whisker below a staggering $20 trillion.

This debt in the USA, private and public, is the true reason the Fed, more than eight years after the worst financial crisis in world history, still fears to bring interest rates much beyond the historically low 1.25% at present for fear of triggering a domino debt default collapse of the entire economy. Russia faces nothing remotely comparable in terms of such a debt prison.

The situation for the EU countries is only slightly better. The Eurozone countries have an average of 90% debt to GDP, far beyond the 60% ceiling of the Maastricht Treaty. In Greece it stands at 179 % , followed by Italy at 133 %, Portugal at 130 %, Cyprus at 107 % and Belgium at 106 %.

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