John Rubino

About the Author John Rubino

John Rubino manages the financial website DollarCollapse.com. He is the co-author, with GoldMoney’s James Turk, of The Money Bubble (DollarCollapse Press, 2014) and The Collapse of the Dollar and How to Profit From It (Doubleday, 2007), and author of Clean Money: Picking Winners in the Green-Tech Boom (Wiley, 2008), How to Profit from the Coming Real Estate Bust (Rodale, 2003) and Main Street, Not Wall Street (Morrow, 1998). After earning a Finance MBA from New York University, he spent the 1980s on Wall Street, as a money market trader, equity analyst and junk bond analyst. During the 1990s he was a featured columnist with TheStreet.com and a frequent contributor to Individual Investor, Online Investor, and Consumers Digest, among many other publications. He currently writes for CFA Magazine.

The ‘Real Stuff’ Economy Is Falling Apart

Each month one or two high-profile government reports show the US is growing, adding jobs and generally recovering from the Great Recession. But it’s not clear how that can be, when the part of the economy that makes and moves real things keeps shrinking. Here’s a chart, published recently by Zero Hedge, showing that US manufacturing has been contracting for the past year:

Factory orders Dec 15

Meanwhile, the companies that move physical things around are falling hard.

One reason for the discrepancy between overall growth and real stuff is that most of today’s economy is made up of services, and they’re doing okay.

Service sector Dec 15

What is the service sector? Mostly software, restaurants, banks, construction companies, retailers, doctors and hospitals.

Can an economy thrive if it doesn’t make or move physical things? Intuitively the answer is no, because most of the services mentioned above either maintain the status quo (like healthcare and restaurants) or (like houses) consume rather than build capital. As for banking, in its current incarnation it’s almost certainly a net negative, draining capital from productive uses and funneling it to trading desks and political action committees.

The US, in short, is engaged in an experiment to see how long an economy can function with services growing and manufacturing contracting. As with so many of today’s monetary and fiscal experiments, no one knows when definitive results will come in. But the data so far aren’t encouraging.