This is worse than expected.
The U.S. economy was hitting on almost no cylinders in the fourth quarter, as gross domestic product fell at the fastest pace since 1982 on sharp declines in consumer spending, investment and exports, the government said Friday. GDP fell at a 6.2% seasonally adjusted annualized pace in the final three months of 2008, revised from the initial estimate of a 3.8% drop, the Commerce Department reported. It was the worst decline in GDP since a 6.4% decrease in the first quarter of 1982. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected a revision to a 5.5% decline.
If you just look at the job market, the 1st quarter of this year will be just as bad. New jobless claims yesterday rose to a new record of 667,000, also the highest since 1982.
And considering that we're in a more globalized economy than we were back then, the potential for worldwide unrest and resource wars is great.
As people lose confidence in the ability of markets and governments to solve the global crisis, they are likely to erupt into violent protests or to assault others they deem responsible for their plight, including government officials, plant managers, landlords, immigrants and ethnic minorities. (The list could, in the future, prove long and unnerving.) If the present economic disaster turns into what President Obama has referred to as a "lost decade," the result could be a global landscape filled with economically fueled upheavals.
Indeed, if you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police. If you inserted orange pins at these locations -- none as yet in the United States -- your map would already look aflame with activity. And if you're a gambling man or woman, it's a safe bet that this map will soon be far better populated with red and orange pins.
For the most part, such upheavals, even when violent, are likely to remain localized in nature, and disorganized enough that government forces will be able to bring them under control within days or weeks, even if -- as with Athens for six days last December -- urban paralysis sets in due to rioting, tear gas and police cordons. That, at least, has been the case so far. It is entirely possible, however, that, as the economic crisis worsens, some of these incidents will metastasize into far more intense and long-lasting events: armed rebellions, military takeovers, civil conflicts, even economically fueled wars between states.
Have a happy Friday!