Dateline: Dublin, Ireland
On paper, the whole thing is worth $36 billion. Deep below the surface, however, the fault lines are beginning to show.
Salaries for key employees are way up – now at $4 million on average – but are nowhere near keeping pace with the money being made by the ruling class at the top.
And while everyone seems fat and happy now, all indicators point to the notion that this national pastime is waning in support, but aging in its demographics.
I’m taking about a new report that shows that Major League Baseball’s fan base is getting smaller and older even as team values rise higher and higher thanks to lucrative (and possibly unsustainable) television licensing deals.
However, I could just as easily be talking about the United States or any number of other western countries.
In the aging west, people are being duped into thinking they are rich when in reality their homeland is nothing but a house of cards.
The total value of all baseball franchises is now $36 billion, while the US economy is valued at nearly $17 trillion.
For all of the US persons crowing that their economy is the largest and most significant on earth, there is less conversation of the fact that the entire economy is wiped out by the American national debt.
Or that economic growth over the last thirty years looks a lot less substantial when you factor in inflation so massive that everyday groceries have risen four-fold or more just since I was a child.
Like baseball owners flush with cash as fans spend increasingly outrageous and inflated sums to attend games and purchase merchandise, western nations are stewing in a false wealth that could vanish at nearly any minute.
It’s all a charade.
The US equity market is on a roll not because the companies whose stocks trade there are any better. In fact, the much-ballyhooed dot coms that are flying high because they have actually figured out how to turn a profit have failed to capitalize in mega-markets like China and India.
More and more, large US and western companies are missing the boat in some of the world’s largest emerging markets, losing out forever to local companies.
But in an era of funny money and massive shuffling of paper, things like profits or long-term stability don’t matter.
All that matters is keeping the party going.
I’ve suggested before that the United States could well become a third world country in your lifetime. In reality, any country could.
We know from history that empires rise and fall, often with little warning. As with bankruptcy, sovereign default and collapse can happen slowly… then all at once.
While the US dollar is riding high now, I have been reading economic projections that suggest it can’t last much longer. Currencies from substantial economies such as the United Kingdom, the European Union, and various emerging markets can’t get beaten up so badly forever.
Again, there is nothing intrinsically more valuable about the US dollar than the Canadian dollar, the Austrian dollar, or the Hungarian forint.
Each of these countries has corrupt bureaucrats competing with each other to devalue their currencies faster, tax their citizens more, and make life more difficult for business owners.
If you’re one of the people sitting at home fat and happy watching the Kardashians, bankruptcy will hit you like a ton of bricks.
Here across the pond, the so-called “aging of Europe” threatens to kill some of Europe’s most venerable economies as well.
These countries suffer the Paris Hilton Effect where the really have no idea what made them rich. They just figure the gravy will continue forever.
Yet these countries aren’t even replacing themselves with babies to pay into the house of cards that promised to support everyone with printed money from cradle to grave.
For instance, things are projected to be so bad in Germany that city planners are now trying to figure out which buildings to demolish and replace with public parks.
They’re all debating how to make the sewer pipes more narrow since fewer people will be using them. It’s like Detroit… all in Europe’s largest economy.
In Italy, the government will either have to mandate a retirement age of 77 or admit 2.2 million suckers to pay their outlandish tax rates… EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
Belgians are taking the total collapse of their country with a bit more enjoyment. Statisticians there have argued that fewer people paying into the gravy train will be OK because unemployment will be lower.
Somehow I thought the point of these out of control governments was to ensure there wasn’t unemployment, to begin with. Silly me.
The United States isn’t much better, even as it pumps out distorted numbers claiming the economy is back on track.
No doubt the people who live in any of these countries figures the government that can’t even fix unemployment or ensure granny gets a social security check at 65 will bail them out and maintain prosperity forever.
Then again, I suppose people in the Roman, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian empires thought the same thing.
Ireland actually has one of the brightest spots in the European Union. Not only does Ireland have one of Europe’s highest birth rates, but the country understands – as I always say – where its bread is buttered.
Dublin is actually undergoing a housing shortage now as every tech company is moving into the reclaimed land on the city’s old docks to the east of the city center.
Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and an array of other companies have set up shop with spacious offices that act as their entire European headquarters. It’s all a result of Ireland’s low-tax policies and easy connectivity to the rest of Europe.
As a result, people are moving here from all over the EU and the EEA. The country is getting back on track, albeit with slower growth than you’d see in the emerging markets we frequently discuss here.
However, things weren’t always that way. My 75-year-old taxi driver this week reminded me that the Ireland he grew up in was legitimately a third world country. He recounted stories of often walking to school in the brisk Irish weather without shoes and without having eaten breakfast or even dinner the night before.
And at age 12, he dropped out of school to work at any job that would have him.
Today, while the Celtic Tiger died in the wake of a continent-wide recession, Ireland has taken the right attitude to attract capital to its shores.
Ireland might actually stand a chance. If you position yourself in places where people actually have a clue as to how wealth is created and sustained, you’ll be alright. Tax havens and low-tax jurisdictions like Ireland, Estonia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Panama will rise from the ashes.
However, most of the rest of the west is finished. And almost no one will see it coming.