Individual economic predictions are usually pretty useless, and predictions of catastrophe are as ubiquitous as rednecks at a NASCAR race. Therefore when I see general doom-and-gloom predictions for the economy I tend to ignore them.
On the other hand, there is a tipping point. When both official and private sources all over the world that aren't known for being alarmist start screaming "fire!" then it is time to pay attention.
Before I make a few personal comments let me quote my sources.
The International Monetary Fund today warned authorities worldwide to "think the unthinkable" in planning to cope with a mounting crisis in the global financial system.
John Lipsky, IMF first deputy managing director, called for "decisive policy action" amid a credit crunch that stems from the US real estate meltdown and is spreading throughout the financial markets.
"The current market turmoil is without precedent in the postwar period. With a significant risk of recession in the US, compounded by sharply rising inflation in many countries, fears are building that the global economy might be at some kind of tipping point," it said.
"These fears are not groundless. The magnitude of the problems yet to be faced could be much greater than many now perceive," it said. "It is not impossible that the unwinding of the credit bubble could, after a temporary period of higher inflation, culminate in a deflation that might be hard to manage, all the more so given the high debt levels."
Barclays Capital has advised clients to batten down the hatches for a worldwide financial storm, warning that the US Federal Reserve has allowed the inflation genie out of the bottle and let its credibility fall "below zero".
"We're in a nasty environment," said Tim Bond, the bank's chief equity strategist. "There is an inflation shock underway. This is going to be very negative for financial assets. We are going into tortoise mood and are retreating into our shell. Investors will do well if they can preserve their wealth."
The Royal Bank of Scotland has advised clients to brace for a full-fledged crash in global stock and credit markets over the next three months as inflation paralyses the major central banks.
"A very nasty period is soon to be upon us - be prepared," said Bob Janjuah, the bank's credit strategist.
"Cash is the key safe haven. This is about not losing your money, and not losing your job," said Mr Janjuah, who became a City star after his grim warnings last year about the credit crisis proved all too accurate.
Billionaire Warren Buffett has already said he thinks the U.S. economy is in a recession, and now he says the economy is getting worse.
In every decade there is always someone with official sounding credentials that will shout "This is it!" That's why most people simply ignore these predictions.
As for myself, I have only spent about a decade of close examination of the markets and world economies. Therefore I don't have the history to judge today's economic crisis to, say, the 1973-1982 period (when I wasn't old enough to be in the workforce).
However, I can say that this is nothing like what we saw in 2001. Also, looking back at historical numbers, the fundamentals of the American economy are in far worse shape than any time since the 1930's. But that doesn't mean that it will play out the same way.
The one thing I can say for certain is that the era of America's dominance of the world economy is coming to an end.
That's not the same thing as doom-and-gloom. But it is the same thing is a fundamental decline in America's influence on the global stage. The rest of the world is going to learn to live without America, and Americans are going to have to learn to live with that.
[Update: In a related note, I spotted this article today.]
Humiliation for Mr. Dollar: Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Bank, faces a general investigation by the International Monetary Fund. Just one more example of the Fed losing its power.
No Fed chief in US history has been forced to submit to the kind of humiliation that Ben Bernanke is facing.