Finally I recalled the last resort of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: Let them eat cake. -- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1769According to noted economist David Rosenberg, since the multitrillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street began over a year ago, we have lost 6.2 million jobs, auto sales are down 23%, housing starts are down 30%, bank credit is down $500 billion, household net worth is down $7 trillion, and hundreds of thousands of small businesses have failed or are near failure. Yet Wall Street is booming. Bonuses on Wall Street are expected to set new records this year. The big Wall Street banks are making a fortune even as the rest of the country is still mired in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Maybe due to guilt, or noblesse oblige, or just as a public relations stunt, Goldman Sachs ( GS) and Warren Buffett, two of the largest beneficiaries of the taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailout, announced that they would give $500 million to small businesses to promote job growth. Because that amount is basically what Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.A) and Goldman Sachs earn in a couple of days, it is so small and pathetic that any reasonable person can only see it as adding insult to injury. Why are very smart people like Buffett and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, unaware of this? For the same reason that, hundreds of years ago, in pre-revolutionary France the royalty could not understand why the peasants were starving. Although it is not known which spoiled French princess originally uttered the phrase "Let them eat cake" in response to a question of what the starving peasants should eat if they had no bread, those words have become immortalized as one of the most egregious examples of what happens when the ruling class becomes completely disconnected from regular people. It is sad to say that I think we face something like this in America right now.
In what will go down in history as one of the dumbest things ever publicly stated by a CEO, Mr. Blankfein said recently that Goldman Sachs was "doing God's work." I can't help but hear this absurd statement and be reminded of how medieval royalty believed that their status was conferred upon them by the divine right of kings. The parallel is just too striking to be a coincidence. Of course, voters can be assured that their elected representatives are looking out for their interests, right? This is not some monarchy like in ancient France. This is a democracy. This is America. We defeated King George and his royal army hundreds of years ago because we believed in self governance and were willing to fight to the death for it. Unfortunately, the Congress and Obama administration have been hijacked by Wall Street as well, and the voters know it. In a recent poll, 90% of voters agreed with the statement that the taxpayer-funded bailouts have benefited Wall Street and have not benefited regular people. This polling has politicians in Washington scared to death right now, but they don't know what to do. They've already spent trillions bailing out Wall Street under the false assumption that this would somehow magically create jobs. Well, it hasn't. We are still losing jobs as opposed to creating any, and there isn't much money left to spend on programs that would actually create jobs and help people. Politicians are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
So what are they doing? They're talking tough. They're lambasting Wall Street. We now have a new economic team. They're pretending to care what serious people like Paul Volcker have to say. They're making statements about giving some money to small businesses from the TARP program that was originally intended for the banks. Will the voters believe this latest attempt at bait and switch? I don't think so. Too much money has already been wasted. Too many mistakes have already been made. Voters see that the change they voted for did not happen. All they got was more of the same with different rhetoric. Voters want real change, which is going to make 2010 a very tough year for incumbents, as demonstrated by the recent Senate election results in Massachusetts. How do you explain to regular people that you took trillions of dollars of taxpayer money and gave it to Wall Street so that bankers could continue to make millions of dollars per year even as regular people are losing their jobs, seeing their wages decline, losing their homes and struggling to pay their bills? If the trillions of dollars that were given to Wall Street had been given to small businesses instead, millions of jobs would have been created by now. This is a fact, and no amount of rhetoric or fancy speeches can make it go away. Scott Brown gets it. That's why Mr. Brown, who was a nobody just weeks ago, is the new conservative Republican senator-elect from a liberal state. The White House and Congress still don't get it, but at least they seem to get that something is wrong because they see that their political survival is now in jeopardy.
We still don't know what, if anything, this government will do to stimulate the real economy instead of just Wall Street and speculators. As an individual investor or small business owner, there are certain things you can do with your savings to protect yourself regardless of which path our royal masters in Washington decide to follow with our money. Although cash returns are zero, the threat of deflation and the inconvenient fact that cash is still the only medium of exchange we have in most of the economy, makes a substantial cash cushion a necessity for most people. For myself, I keep at least 50% in cash right now. However, there is also a substantial threat of inflation due to excessive government spending and money printing by the Federal Reserve. To protect your cash against the inflation threat, you can keep a portion of your money in gold through SPDRs Gold Trust ( GLD), or, as I prefer, through gold miners via Market Vectors Gold Miners ( GDX) or Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ( GDXJ). Another way to protect against future inflation is to short long term U.S. Treasuries through a security such as Proshares Ultrashort 20+ year Treasuries ( TBT) or Proshares Ultrashort 7-10 year Treasuries ( PST). Owning energy stocks through Spiders Energy Select ( XLE) or Oil Service Holders ( OIH) is a third way to protect your cash against inflation. All of these investments will help give you peace of mind that your savings are protected no matter how badly the government continues to mess with our economy.