Varney: ‘We are living through the most tumultuous times’

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“We are living through the most tumultuous times we can imagine.” Those were the cheerful words that Stuart Varney of FOX News shared Tuesday, June 30, with attendees of the 2009 CCJ Symposium, held at the Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham, Ala. “It is astonishing what we are seeing,” said Varney, who discussed trends to watch in the financial markets and the economy in general. “The headlines change every day,” he said, calling the last eight months “extraordinary.”

Varney said to fully understand how the economy reached the sour point it’s at now, “we have to understand where we came from, and how we got here.” Varney said that for the past generation, the American economy has been the best-performing of all the major industrialized nations.” We are the most successful, most dynamic of the capitalist societies,” he said. Up until fall of last year, for the last 100 business quarters, only five of those quarters saw contractions – the U.S. economy grew at twice the rate of Japan and much faster than Western Europe. Whereas today about 65 percent of Americans now have direct investment in stocks and bonds – “This society spreads around the goodies,” Varney said – that figure was only 15 percent 30 years ago. Also, U.S. home ownership now stands at 65 percent, much more than other countries, he said.

Varney said those figures provide a clearer picture of where things stand now. “We are right on the cusp of a real shift in our financial culture,” he said. “We have come to the end of an era where we concentrated on wealth creation. We’re heading full-tilt down the road of wealth distribution.” This cultural shift isn’t attributable to the policies of the Obama administration, but more so because of the way Americans think today, Varney said. Tax, trade and regulatory policy all are heading that way, with an emphasis on what’s “fair” for everybody, said Varney, pointing out that American capitalism now has “a black eye” thanks to the media highlighting “the outrageous behavior of a few rogue businessmen.”

The economy “cliff-dived” in late 2008, Varney said, recounting how the dollar went up – which was bad for other nations that owed the United States money – jobs were lost, retailers began suffering and home prices declined. Varney told Symposium attendees that he believed “the freefall is over” and that the housing market is showing signs of bottoming. However, the troubles of Europe and Asia continue to affect America’s fortunes, he said. “We are a truly global society.”

As for the future, Varney cited demographics, the population shift and fertility rates as ongoing concerns. “When you establish a certain level of development, your fertility rate drops, and drops sharply,” he said. An aging population means a massive increase in the number of people who are retiring, who in turn are depending on fewer working people that are paying into the system for their benefits, who in turn are having fewer children. Many nations are below the 2.1 percent fertility rate needed to keep population levels steady, Varney said. “45 counties are experiencing or are about to experience population decline,” he said. “America’s position is a young, vigorous, dynamic society, much younger than the rest of the world.”

Responding to questions from Symposium attendees, Varney said he “doesn’t see any way around interest rates going up” and that the United States will “bumble along the bottom of the economy” until it recovers. Varney said he believed the cap-and-trade bill only will lead to more companies relocating to other countries that don’t put a price on emissions, and he said the ongoing health reform talks would be more successful if lawyers were taken out of the equation, which could lower healthcare costs 20 percent. “I can’t think of a single piece of legislation that I like and applaud,” he said.

The 2009 CCJ Symposium is sponsored by ACS Expedited Solutions, Comdata,, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Navistar Inc., PeopLease Corp., PeopleNet, Roadranger, Shell Lubricants, TravelCenters of America and Whiting Systems Inc.