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Will Your Retirement Efforts Achieve Escape Velocity?

Sadly, most of us will outlive our savings
Friday, November 2, 2018, 6:41 PM

The concept of 'retirement', of enjoying decades of work-free leisure in your golden years, is a relatively new construct. It's only been around for a few generations.

In fact, the current version of the relaxed, golfing/RV-touring/country club retirement lifestyle only came into being in the post-WW2 boom era -- as Social Security, corporate & government pensions, cheap and plentiful energy, and extended lifespans made it possible for the masses.

But increasingly, it looks like the dream of retiring is fast falling out of reach for many of today's Baby Boomers. Most will outlive their savings (if they have any at all).

And the retirement prospects look even worse for Generations X, the Millennials, and Gen Z.

A Bad Squeeze

While the US enjoyed a wave of unprecedented prosperity throughout the 20th century, the data clearly shows that halcyon era is ending.

Real wages (i.e., nominal $ earned divided by the inflation rate) for the average American worker have hardly budged since the mid-1960s:

Yet the cost of living has changed dramatically over the same time period. Note how the rate of increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) started accelerating in the late '60s and never looked back:

Squeezed between stagnant wages and a rising living costs, perhaps it should be little surprise that so many Americans are having difficulty finding anything left over to save for retirement.

We've written about this extensively in our past reports, such as Let's Stop Fooling Ourselves: Americans Can't Afford The Future and The Great Retirement Con. But as a way of driving the point home, here are some quick sobering stats from the National Institute On Retirement Security:

  • The median retirement account balance among all working US adults is $0. This is true even for the cohort closest to retirement age, those 55-64 years old.
  • The average (i.e., mean) near-retirement individual has less than 8% of one year's income saved in a retirement account
  • 77% of all American households aren't on track to have enough net worth to retire, even under the most conservative estimates.

(Source)

To these grim stats, we have to add in the likely additional challenges that will be brought by the coming epidemic of failures of underfunded public and private pension plans, the loss of jobs due to automation/outsourcing/competiton from younger workers/layoffs during the next recession, the extra years of funding demanded by longer lifespans, falling home and asset prices as interest rates rise, and the vaporizing of any existing savings as the Everything Bubble finally bursts.

We're already seeing a new term appear in the research: senior poverty. We're going to hear this term a lot more over the coming decades

Keep in mind that things have gotten this bad during the longest bull market in US history. How much worse will it get during the next downturn? 

The problem is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age—between 8,000 to 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, according to Kevin Prindiville, the executive director of Justice in Aging, a nonprofit that addresses senior poverty. Older Americans were the only demographic for whom poverty rates increased in a statistically significant way between 2015 and 2016, according to Census Bureau data. While poverty fell among people 18 and under and people 18 to 64 between 2015 and 2016, it rose to 14.5 percent for people over 65, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which is considered a more accurate measure of poverty because it takes into account health-care costs and other big expenses. “In the early decades of our work, we were serving communities that had been poor when they were younger,” Prindiville told me. “Increasingly, we’re seeing folks who are becoming poor for the first time in old age.”

This presents a worrying preview of what could befall millions of workers who will retire in the coming decades. If today’s seniors are struggling with retirement savings, what will become of the people of working age today, many of whom hold unsteady jobs and have patchwork incomes that leave little room for retirement savings? The current wave of senior poverty could just be the beginning. Two-thirds of Americans don’t contribute any money to a 401(k) or other retirement account, according to Census Bureau researchers. And this could have larger implications for the economy. If today’s middle-class households curtail their spending when they retire, the whole economy could suffer.

(Source)

Yikes.

OK, so the masses are screwed. Retirement is nothing but a pipe dream for them.

But what about for you?

Will Your Retirement Fail To Launch?

Rocket science has a concept that's very relevant to retirement planning. It's called escape velocity.

When attempting to shoot a rocket into space, you need to make sure it's travelling fast enough to get out of the Earth's gravity well.

Not enough speed, and your rocket plummets back to the ground (catastrophically). Just enough speed gives your rocket orbital velocity, where it stays in contant motion circling the Earth. Anything faster than that achieves escape velocity, sending your rocket out into the larger solar system:

This is a good analogy for retirement planning:

  • Not enough savings and it's a lifetime of work until you're simply too old to continue. Beyond that point, unless you win the lottery or find a generous benefactor, you'll likely live below the poverty level and depend on whatever government susbsidies are available to you and the growing army of impoverished seniors like you. This will not be a fun outcome -- trust me. I'm supporting a close family member going through this now.
  • Just enough savings and you can retire, albeit cautiously. The main danger to those in this situation is that living costs may rise faster than anticipated. If so, falling out of retirement is a real threat. Frugality and vigilance are key.
  • Ample savings let you achieve escape velocity. This doesn't neccesarily mean you can enjoy a caviar-and-champagne lifestyle; but you can leave the rat-race behind to focus on your interests, and sleep at night without worry. This is the state most of us aspire to, but fewer and fewer of us will actually attain.

The critical question each and everyone reading this needs to ask themselves is: Are my retirement efforts on track to achieve escape velocity?

Statistically, for most of you, the truthful answer is: No.

So get started by getting clear about what your current shortfall may be (we'll talk about steps for addressing any shortfall later on below).

As a jumping off point, use the Multiply By 25 Rule. Many financial planners use this as a general rule of thumb: to be able to afford to retire, you should have at least 25x your desired annual income saved up before you hang it up at the office.

What's your current household's annual burn rate? Do you want to maintain that same standard of living as a retiree, or are you willing (and able?) to get by on less?

Don't forget that the older you live, the higher the probability you'll need to enter assisted living or a nursing home at some point. Here are some figures for you on that (from the Genworth 2017 Cost of Care Survey):

  • $100,000 a year = the median cost of a private room in a nursing home

  • $85,000 a year = if you don’t mind sharing a room.

  • $50,000 a year = if you can manage with just daily help from a home health aide. $50,000 pays for one shift a day; the rest of the time you’re on your own

(Source)

Whatever the final estimate, given your current savings rate, is it realistic to expect you'll have 25 times that amount saved by the age you'd like to retire?

If you've never yet done this simple math, do it now.

If the numbers reveal you're on or ahead of track, congratulations! And if not, at least you have a sense of what the gap is and can get to work on devising a credible plan for either closing it or ratcheting your retirement goals downwards.

(Of course, the Multiply By 25 Rule is just a rough guideline. The correct multiple for you may be higher or lower depending on your personal situation and goals. As always, we recommend working with your professional financial advisor -- or the one we endorse at Peak Prosperity -- when developing your retirement plan.)

For as they say, to fail to plan is to plan to fail. Workers who plan to fail rarely succeed in achieving retirement escape velocity:

Mutiplying Horror Stories

The media is increasingly peppered with heartwrenching stories of seniors unprepared to support themselves.

Many have spent their lives working, but were simply unable to put enough away:

In a perfect world, the perfect retirement is where life begins. But for people like Debra Leigh Scott, there’s the very bleak possibility that retirement is where life might end.

Suicide is my retirement plan,” Scott, a 60-year-old adjunct professor, said in an interview with Vitae. “Unless you have a spouse or partner, you’re looking at dire poverty in old age. In addition to poverty, you’re looking at getting no additional work because of your age, or you’re looking at dropping dead in the classroom.”

Scott, a divorced mother of two grown children, has been teaching for over a quarter century but never received the tenured position she hoped for. After years of financial struggles — including the loss of a home — she has no money saved for retirement.

(Source)

Some are seeing their cost of living escalate much faster than expected, depleting their savings more quickly:

In one neighborhood in Jersey City, New Jersey, the average tax burden will rise to $29,026 from $16,591, an increase of nearly 75 percent.

Property taxes are up 38 percent year-over-year in Clark County, Nevada.

Meanwhile, homeowners in Williamson County, Texas — just outside of Austin — experienced a 15 percent tax increase last year.

(Source)

Others are learning that the pension promises made by their employers are in jeopardy:

New England Teamsters facing $5.1 billion pension shortfall, putting retirees at risk, study says (Boston Globe)

A pension plan covering more than 72,000 truck drivers and warehouse workers represented by the New England Teamsters union is the nation’s second most underfunded multiemployer pension plan, and is on track to run out of money within a decade, according to a new study.
 
Nationwide, the study said, 121 multiemployer plans covering 1.3 million workers are underfunded by a total of $48.9 billion and have told regulators they could slip into insolvency within 20 years.

And remember, this is all happening at a time of record-low unemployment, low interest rates, record high stock and real estate prices, 3%+ GDP growth, and relatively affordable energy prices:

Again we have to ask: How much worse will things get when the next recession hits?

Securing Escape Velocity

Everyone reading this is on a one-way path to old age. Whether you plan ahead for it or not.

For the majority of us who hope to avoid spending the rest of our lives *having* to work but do not yet have our retirement fully funded, the following strategies will prove critical:

  • Minimize your cost of living footprint -- Your savings will go farther the less you draw from it. Which expenses can you reduce/remove when you retire without losing undue quality of life? Start with the big expenses first -- housing, food, vehicles, education, etc. Moving to a smaller/cheaper residence or a lower-tax state can extend your financial self-sufficiency by years. Buy in bulk and cook more meals at home vesus eating out. Become a 1-car household -- or go carless (it may be much cheaper and more convenient to simply call an uber when you need a ride).
  • Maintain your health -- Failing health is typically the biggest financial and emotional drain of old age. Making wellness a priority now, and taking good care of your health will reap tremendous dividends in your retirement, in (potentially huge) savings and (potentially much) higher quality of life.
  • Line up family/community support in advance -- Too many folks delay involving their support community until things devolve to crisis levels. At that point, options tend to be much more limited. Instead, start openly planning with your family and close supporters long before retirement, to clarify how folks may be able to support you (and what you can do today to earn that support tomorrow). For many, a return to multi-generational residential living make great sense -- where aged parents move in and help with chores and child rearing while they're able, and then are caringly attended to in their last years when they cannot.
  • Develop passive income streams -- When you stop working, that doesn't mean your income has to stop, too. In the years/decades preceding retirement, there are steps you can take to create income streams that will persist for the rest of your life. Real estate investing, creating or buying into businesses, allocating your porfolio increasingly into dividend and income producing assets, purchasing annuities -- these are all examples of steps most of us should be looking into. The more passive income you have coming in during retirement, the less your need will be to draw down from your nest egg.

So the good news is that the retirement dream is still attainable. You're just going to have to remain laser-focused and disciplined in your pursuit of it.

There are strategies and behaviors that, if adopted now, will make it much more likely for you to be able to afford to retire -- and in a way you can enjoy.

If you haven't already read it, be sure to read our report Success Strategies For Retirement by Charles Hugh Smith. It details out a number of the best practices needed for a solvent retirement in today's environment, including providing 14 specific action steps you can start taking right now in your life that will materially improve your odds of enjoying your later years with grace.

For far too many Americans, "retirement" will remain a perpetual myth. Don't let that happen to you.

Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

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35 Comments

Little Pond's picture
Little Pond
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 9 2018
Posts: 4
Like there's no sweet spot

Like there's no sweet spot for oil price (too high for consumers is still too low for producers), there's no sweet spot for my savings. Too high for my comfort (worried that I'll loose the value stored there when things go wonky in the near future) is still waaaay too low to even imagine someday retiring.

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 3 2014
Posts: 620
And, exactly, where are your savings going?

If retirement means the ability to sit on your ass, in your gated community and bitch about the high cost of air travel or the fact that the minimum wage has increased, increasing the cost of your next Starbuck's latte, then you may have a point. We have, unfortunately, as a society lulled ourselves into the narrative that we are entitled to live the good life because we have worked harder, invested smarter and taken advantage of the many benefits of the American dream.  Adam's suggestions are valid and back up common sense. 

However, the only proviso I have to his last suggestion is that passive income streams come at the expense of someone else's labour and the "expanding economy". The illegal Mexicans milking your cows or Guatamalians cleaning your house or your sister-in-law's seperated daughter working at Walmart only highlight what wage disparity means in real terms. "There's-no-free-lunch" mantra used by many of "Haves" in this world are increasingly born by the "Have-nots" that will soon be pounding on chain-linked fences and throwing rocks at security forces hired to maintain this separation. I think our proclivity to ignore these disparities and continue on our merry myopic way, will only make the coming clash of increasing population and lack of resources more violent.

In the meantime, I look forward to the canned produce I have in my basement and where I will be planting next year's cabbage, onions, corn and other staples in my "paid-for" garden. For now, however, I have to go out and split some more firewood cause there's a north wind and the thermostat says it's 15C in the house. I consider myself fortunate to have enough to get by and am content. If we all could say that, the world might be a better place for all of us.

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 30 2009
Posts: 809
Retirement, a Transient Cheap Energy Phenomenon

Retirement, as we know it today, is a relatively new phenomenon, made possible in large part by cheap energy.  The ability to successfully accumulate wealth not withstanding, once cheap energy is gone, more elbow grease will be required to sustain life.

Additonally, life expectancy has risen dramatically in recent human history, but that is starting to change.

The phemomenon of people working 30 or 40 years and then retiring for 30 or more years is not a goal worked on and achieved intentionally, more a shortlived boon.

It is seen as necessary in part because people expect to become frail in their old age.  But people become frail in their old age today more because of lifestyle than age.  People who eat a Western Diet and spend a meaningful portion of their day in a "LazyBoy" watching reruns of "Law and Order SVU", will likely become frail with chronic medical conditions as they age.

Another issue that is coming into play is the age demographic.  Retirement can be supported by a large number of "working age" people supporting a small number of frail old people.  When the ratio of frail old people to "working age" people get too large, retirement is no longer practical.

I never expected baby boomers to sail through their retirement years like the previous generation or two did.  There are just too many of us.  Some of us will have to contribute elbow grease.

I am 66 years old, "retired" and just finished the potato harvest in Central Wisconsin.  I hauled almost 7 million pounds of potatoes from the field to storage.  The harvest just ended on October 31st.  Have a french fry on me.

 

 

pat the rat's picture
pat the rat
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 1 2011
Posts: 125
nothing

I have seen many times that the nursing home will step in and take all of your asset, here in New York state, so by the time you enter into one you should not have any thing any way. This destores the reson for saving, why save for somebody else, it should be for your family! This is going to be the biggest mess in history.  

newsbuoy's picture
newsbuoy
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 10 2013
Posts: 318
Love The Ones Your With...

Some thirty people gathered to celebrate the birthday of the host. After a few bottles of vodka were imbibed, the tongues got loose, and the guests started telling political jokes. Through laughter, a voice sounded, "Comrades, please, it's too noisy. In such a noise, I can't hear the jokes. I am writing it down, you know."

A man sitting next to the one who's writing down, says admiringly, "How do you manage to write down that fast?"

"Oh, I'm writing down only the initials."

 

brushhog's picture
brushhog
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 6 2015
Posts: 39
"Retired at 38"

I "retired" at 38. Now my definition of retirement is that I do not work a "job". That is, I will never work for anyone else ever again. I have two small passive income streams, and a farm. The farm feeds me, heats my house, and brings in a very small third income [ most years ]. I intend to do this until I die. Why wouldnt I?

I basically work full time in the summer cutting hay, planting, cutting wood, etc.. Then when Ive put up enough feed, wood, and food to last the winter my full time work is done. Pretty much from this time of year until May I spend just a couple of hours a day feeding, refilling waters. cleaning stalls, and generally puttering around. The rest of my time belongs to me. I spend it cooking, lifting weights, browsing the internet, meditating, reading, etc Whatever I feel like doing.

VeganDB12's picture
VeganDB12
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 18 2008
Posts: 755
Thank you for the wake up call

A very good and concise summary of retirement shortfalls with simple calculations that simply horrified me when I did them. :)

In all seriousness, I found the AARP retirement calculator on their website to be very helpful.  I saw how much of my projected income would be based on adequate social security benefits which gives what I worry is a false sense of security. Planning without including those benefits is a real eye opener as well.The calculator allows you to adjust your projected need based on whether you retire with a modest, current or extravagant lifestyle and really brought home how important living frugally will be in the future for me.

No time to start like the present-back to cost cutting and thinking about where to live when I finish working. Much appreciate your candor in this article. 

NickAdams10's picture
NickAdams10
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 5 2015
Posts: 29
brushhog wrote: I "retired"
brushhog wrote:

I "retired" at 38. Now my definition of retirement is that I do not work a "job". That is, I will never work for anyone else ever again. I have two small passive income streams, and a farm. The farm feeds me, heats my house, and brings in a very small third income [ most years ]. I intend to do this until I die. Why wouldnt I?

Very interesting. This almost sounds like something from a FIRE blog. Anyway, I am curious: what are the other passive income streams? Real estate? Dividends?

chipshot's picture
chipshot
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 15 2010
Posts: 61
There Is No Retirement In the Natural World

About seven years ago there was a documentary  (African Cats?)  about a lioness that was the clear leader of the pride.  The pride might not have survived without this master hunter, mom and protector, but the day she no longer could carry her weight in a hunt, she walked off  (soon to become part of the food chain), knowing she would be chased away by others in the pride if she tried to stick around.

What does this have to do w retirement?  In nature, among all species other than our own, the margin for survival is too small to allow for support, or subsidizing, of older individuals unable to contribute their fair share.  Nature allows the next generation to be taken care of  (feeding and caring for newborns until they become self sufficient)--a necessity if life is to continue--but not those well past their prime.  Guess it's part of the survival of the fittest doctrine that rules over all life.

Humans have temporarily managed to overcome this (of which fossil fuels have played a major role), allowing for retirement for the last couple generations.  In the end, however, the laws of nature always win out.  Believe we are witnessing that here with the inability for elders to financially afford to live far beyond their productive years.

 

 

Luke Moffat's picture
Luke Moffat
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 25 2014
Posts: 382
Real Vision on Retirement

Here's Real Vision's take on retirement:-

Take away point is the value of assets and products bought by boomers will decline, e.g. stocks, bonds, cars, real estate. 

In order to lessen the impact he sees Central Banks increasing their balance sheets to avoid a deflationary death spiral. Worth a watch (he misses the energy aspect but hey, what's new?);

All the best,

Luke

treebeard's picture
treebeard
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 626
Multigenerational living arrangements

.....seem to be the way to go.  Western culture, especially American culture seems to be individualistic and me centered to the point of narcissism and sociopathy.  Elders can provide a lot more value in a multigenerational setting than alone, and can be a lot happier and healthier to boot. Even in a frail body, watching children, bits of cooking and cleaning, imparting wisdom and small chores are possible.  That is the normal human arrangement, I think, that these aberrant time seem to have lost.  Although for most of us, that may be a challenge, my own family included. Though I do hope at least to be living close to our own children as we age.

I could never see myself living a life of "leisure" personally.  There is so much that needs to be done to move the needle in the right direction, and I think that I would get bored to death pursuing some trivial pleasure every day.  I see retirement as a way of living that is more meaningful, rather than being trapped in a system that forces you to create "value" for an insane society to earn money.  Often that "value" you are creating is no value at all, to earn your daily bread.  And in an exploit or be exploited setting to boot.  And to what end, a bigger house, nicer car, a collection of "fine wines" or whatever.  What people will do to the planet and each other for such trival ends still boggles my mind, but such is life on planet earth.

Mark_BC's picture
Mark_BC
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 30 2010
Posts: 514
What about herbivores?

Moose and zebra don’t need to work. All they need to do is walk around and eat. They don’t get ostracized if they aren’t pulling their own weight. Based on that argument, if we all stopped eating meat and became vegetarians then we wouldn’t have to kick the elderly out in the street if they don’t “pull their own weight” as the saying goes.

I find something very disturbing about this whole discussion and the conclusions being drawn here -- the idea that we are all individuals that need to “produce” and carry our own weight, or else we’ll be kicked out – and that this is a necessary consequence of dropping EROEI of energy and economic stagnation. And that because of this, it is a necessary outcome we should accept that the elderlys’ pensions won’t able to be honoured.

I think this outlook is a product of the flawed capitalist dogma we’ve all been fed in the West for centuries -- that laziness, or inactivity, or just smelling the flowers, is bad, because it isn’t “productive”. I think it’s also due to a fundamental misunderstanding of how wealth comes about. Wealth is not “produced” by us; rather it is “harvested” from the natural world and “transformed” by us. It follows from this that if we maintain a healthy environment and set up sustainable resource flows to our societies, then there is no reason whatsoever why we can’t allow people to retire, slack off, or whatever you want to call it, yet still receive their piece of the pie.

I find treebeard’s comment resonates the most with me where he points out that so many of the activities we need to do to get money and create “value” these days are pointless anyways and just damage the environment and actually diminish overall value. But while he is good at making concise comments, I am not and ramble on for thousands of words…

Let’s consider two opposite hypothetical economies. Both have the same basic economic structure in terms of taxation, government, public vs. private sector etc. as today. But one society is from 1000 years ago when there was no automation and everything that needed to be done got done by hand or animal. Compare this to some other fictitious future society where robots have become so advanced that they are able to do EVERY job that people do today (let’s also assume these robots are friendly and are on our side; and I should also state that I don’t think we’ll ever get to this society because we’ll die off before then for many reasons discussed on PP).

Here is the question: In which of those societies would people be better off? The answer is the one from 1000 years ago because people at least had jobs. In the robot-dominated economy, there is no demand for human labour and therefore there are no jobs for ANYONE. Everyone would be living in shacks on the street barely subsisting on welfare… because we have NO way of transferring wealth to people through any other means than via their salaries from the capitalist economic system, which by definition “creates” wealth by growing a certain sector of the economy through capital investment and reaping profit from it. We call this “wealth creation”, but it isn’t really creation at all. It is wealth transfer from the natural world -- but that is a different discussion that would make this comment much too long. In a future society dominated by robots, people could try to get jobs making nice trinkets and selling them to each other, but no one would be able to buy them, because they would have no money because there would be no monetary flow coming from the natural world required to support people (food, energy etc), because it would all be done by robots.

I’d argue that where we are today is halfway between those extremes. I heard an interesting discussion on the radio a few weeks ago. It was pointed out that the labour struggles that went on in the 1980’s to improve the treatment of factory workers is different than today. Back then, workers were NEEDED and they were fighting for a better piece of the pie. Today, workers aren’t even needed. A good portion of the population could just set up in cardboard boxes and die and it wouldn’t even affect the economy. Wait a minute … isn’t that what we’re seeing?

When economic growth stops, there will not be near the demand for human labour that we see even now, because the whole sector of the economy associated with growth (design, construction, manufacturing, resource extraction, plus financial services based on a growing money supply) will disappear. But robotics and automation will not go away because oil and machines will remain much cheaper than human labour for a long time.

Basically, 1000 years ago, everyone working 7 days a week resulted in zero or meagre growth due to the rudimentary state of technological automation. Today, 50% of the population working 5 days a week results in significant growth because we have computers and machines to do 10 times the work 10 times faster. So when clueless people say we should be striving for full employment (ignore the government’s lying statistics about how we have 5% unemployment – pure nonsense), I reply that it is IMPOSSIBLE with today’s advanced state of technological automation to achieve full employment because this would result in a completely unattainable rate of economic growth for reasons we are all familiar with here.

As a result, the (growing in size) “have not” portion of the population will not go away; it will only increase unless a system of wealth transfer is instituted which takes from the elites and gives to the poor. I know this sounds communist and inefficient, but it is the unfortunate reality. Universal basic income isn’t the solution because it takes from the (decreasing in size) working middle class and gives to the poor. Ultimately, we cannot escape the age-old human struggle: class warfare with the rich getting richer while the middle class and poor get poorer. Ultimately all the problems we see today boil down to that eternal struggle. The only reason it’s becoming so much more obvious today is because resource shortages are cutting off that wealth transfer from poor / middle class to the rich. Previously, that wealth transfer was hidden and sustained by economic growth which was able to continually “create” (ahem… “transfer”) new wealth.

In the 1950’s we were promised a glamorous future where we would only have to work 1 hour a day because robots wold be doing so much of the work for us (we all know the funny pictures from the magazine covers back then). Too bad they forgot the one critical flaw in their prediction – people would then only make 1/8 the salary (inflation adjusted). The sad part is that we COULD have had a future like that if we wanted it – but we let that idea get destroyed by the elites.

The reason people cannot retire today like they used to is NOT because there is some great new demand for labour that prevents them from retiring. It is NOT because energy is getting scarcer with dropping EROEI (at least not directly). No. The reason is because the 99% have been swindled and sucked dry by the 1% elites and there is not enough wealth left within the pool of middle class wealth to support widespread retirement with dignity. We are all becoming debt serfs.

The aging demographic is NOT the reason people can’t retire today, because we NO LONGER NEED young people to support old people. We now have automation to do that (look at how much food can be harvested by one person driving a modern piece of farm harvesting equipment – how many other retired people could that one person feed?). We aren’t living in 1018 anymore. While energy will be getting scarcer and more expensive in the future, this will not change the situation until oil becomes more expensive than human labor, which is a long long way off in the future. That single agricultural harvesting machine being driven by a single person will be harvesting food that way for a long time, and human labour won’t become competitive enough to shift it the other way until after society totally collapses.

So I come to the completely opposite conclusion: if economic growth ends; if we want to preserve the environment, if we want to conserve energy and resources for the future, if we want a fair society, then we NEED TO have people retiring early at 45.

I’m not saying I have the ideal solution. I’m just pointing out that I don’t see this issue being addressed in any meaningful way anywhere; the conversation isn’t even discussing it properly because we don’t grasp the fundamental trends with resources, technology and automation, and how they all interact in the face of an end to economic growth. Capitalism isn’t going to work and neither will communism but you’d think that with all of humanity’s achievements and knowledge thus far we’d be able to come up with some working alternative to those two polarized choices.

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 11 2009
Posts: 2249
Retirement? Naaaah....

I'll be busy doing stuff until the day I die.  I won't call it "working" necessarily, but I'll be doing stuff that has value and will bring me money (or barter or whatever) enough that I'll get by.  

As I recently commented in a different thread, I have "pre-crashed" my lifestyle and don't need a lot to get by.  The days of puttering about from leisure activity to leisure activity (oh, is it Tuesday, then it's golf!) for a few decades after stopping working are numbered.

Gardening, community-building, Pilates, Tai Ji -- there are all going to have value in a simpler lower-energy future.  The first for obvious reasons, the second because (beyond the obvious reasons) most people have no clue how to foster community (they think "community" is what they get on FB), and the third and fourth are (along with yoga, IMO) the most effective and essentially no-cost methods of ensuring best-possible health and vitality, especially among aging populations.  I'm expert at Pilates, pretty good at community, credibly not-bad at gardening, and well along my Tai Ji journey (sort of student teaching at this point, nearly 4 years in).  Please note gardening and Tai Ji also build community (and Pilates builds personal relationships 1 or 2 at a time).  

I expect to be busy.  

VIVA -- Sager

chipshot's picture
chipshot
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Joined: Mar 15 2010
Posts: 61
Even Herbivores Don't Get Retirement

Herbivores don't need help feeding themselves the way predators do when past their prime, but when they are no longer strong enough to fend off predators or fast enough to outrun them, they become part of the food chain.  I'm just looking at life and retirement in the context of nature.  In that context, once a creature has passed reproducing age, physical decline takes place until they become a meal, one that sustains another creature closer to its prime.

I'm not advocating the capitalist meme that every person needs to be productive in economic terms.  To the contrary, we need to be less economically productive for environmental reasons.  But living to an age where one needs to be supported (subsidized) by others conflicts with the laws of life that apply universally across the planet.

No question the 99% have been swindled and sucked dry by the 1%  (who live mainly off unearned income, which one way or another is generated by working people--that's right, the biggest takers are not unemployed minorities but the uber wealthy!).  What you might be discounting, Mark_BC, is the high cost of retirement to the rest of the population.  Health care costs for seniors is astronomical, far surpassing what elders contributed over their life to medicare.  This is creating a burden to the rest of the population that is unsustainable.

At the same time I don't disagree with your conclusion about people needing to retire earlier (at 45), but they should only live as long as they are reasonably self-sufficient.

As for machines and automation, are we ever going to account for rising CO2 levels and the effects of climate change?  To truly live sustainably means zero emissions, no burning of fossil fuels and doing everything by hand using human energy.  Think we'd find it far more difficult under those conditions--nearly imopossible--to keep so many elderly alive.

brushhog's picture
brushhog
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Posts: 39
My passive income streams

Nick my passive income streams are a combination of real estate rental income and some securities. My wife also works part time so thats another small source of household income.

brushhog's picture
brushhog
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Posts: 39
You're NOT A ZEBRA, DUDE

OK I have to give you credit for linking zebras and moose with retirement, which has to be a first. Beyond that...not so much. Zebras and moose are not human beings. A moose carries his home on his back, he has a working appendix, and can live on grass. When he gets old he either keels over and dies [ and gets eaten ] or he gets chased down and eaten. YOU do not have a hide on your back, you need a house to repel weather. YOU cannot live on grass, you'll at least need to plant, cultivate, and harvest your food. YOU will want access to medicine, you will not be content to fall over and provide the local racoon population with a meal. All of these things take WORK. If there was no "system" no "capitalism" nobody to oppress you, you would still be working, pretty much all day everyday to provide yourself with the basics to survive.

The only way to "slack off" and spend all your time "smelling the roses" is to force SOMEBODY ELSE to do your labor for you. Whether that is acheived through capitalist investment in a voluntary society, or through compulsive taxation and forced redistribution in the kind of society you are advocating, doesnt matter. Work is necessary because of your HUMAN CONDITION, NOT because of "capitalism" or some other system of oppression. Maybe, if you play your cards right, in your next life you will be born a zebra and you can spend all your time running from lions and eating grass. For now, you are a human and must spend your life working to support yourself because I'm damned sure not going to do it for you.

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 30 2009
Posts: 809
Utopia

In my favorite Utopia book, people did not compare and compete based on wealth accumulation.  

They judged people based on competence.  It didn't matter what form the competence took as long as it contributed to society in some fashion.  The pay for competence was respect.

The cool thing about paying someone in respect is that it doesn't make you any poorer.  It's not a zero sum game.

Goods and services were free, but since wealth accumulation didn't gain you respect, people only acquired things that they needed.

Free goods meant people didn't have to do anything to survive in comfort, but the problem with sitting around is that they wouldn't become competent at anything, hence would not be paid respect.  They were poor in the coin of the realm, respect.  People felt sorry for them and felt they should be adequately provided for.

 

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Mark_BC
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Posts: 514
brushhog wrote:You're NOT A
brushhog wrote:

You're NOT A ZEBRA, DUDE

I'm also not a lion. You're reading too much into my zebra comment. I was pointing out that just because lions kick each other out when they no longer pull their own weight doesn't mean we have to, because zebras don't.

I never said we shouldn't have to work. I said we are halfway between the two hypothetical societies where manual labour does everything versus the one where robots do everything. That means we still need to work to get the things we want. That also leaves a lot of time left over to smell the roses.

Quote:

The only way to "slack off" and spend all your time "smelling the roses" is to force SOMEBODY ELSE to do your labor for you.

I never said spend *all* my time smelling the roses, my point was that the ridiculous hours people have to put in today to just get by is not natural, it is not necessary, and is a direct result of our impoverishment by the elites. With ROBOTS doing half the labour for us (not SOMEBODY ELSE), we should all be able to work 4 hours a day 4 days a week, and all retire at age 45, and still enjoy very fulfilling lives. 

Quote:

you are a human and must spend your life working to support yourself because I'm damned sure not going to do it for you

I don't expect you to. I expect the elites to.


Quote:

But living to an age where one needs to be supported (subsidized) by others conflicts with the laws of life that apply universally across the planet.

No, that is not a law of life. The only laws of life that we are bound to are the laws of ecological energetics. And old people would NOT be subsidized by others. They would be supported by the machines that do half our work for us. We are not being chased and eaten by hyenas anymore. If we want to support people beyond their "productive" years there is nothing preventing us from making that decision and doing it, other than our own voluntary impoverishment at the hands of the elites.


Quote:

Health care costs for seniors is astronomical, far surpassing what elders contributed over their life to medicare.  This is creating a burden to the rest of the population that is unsustainable.

It's only astronomical in relative terms because the 99% are becoming destitute debt slaves. Medical care is being paid for by the middle class because the elites hardly pay any tax. The middle class is poor. If the middle class was no longer poor, then medical costs would no longer be prohibitive. The reason today's medical care far surpasses what elders contributed over their lifetime into medicare is because of inflation. Real inflation is around 10% per year.

Nate's picture
Nate
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 5 2009
Posts: 604
passive income streams

We have several passive income steams:

1) agricultural (property rents and dairy leases)

2) real estate (rentals and loans backed by first trust deeds)

I have learned a lot during the past 30 years dealing with passive income streams.  Lessons learned:

Deal only with individuals of high integrity. Period.  If your aren't comfortable closing a deal with  only a hand shake, move on.  We have several hand-shake only deals that have worked well.  Contracts are great, but dealing with attorneys to enforce those contracts is expensive.

Raise cash at market tops (now) to position yourself for future opportunities.  A large cash position in 2008 provided us with great opportunities during the next 2 years.

Opportunities seldom come labeled.  Listen to friends.  Really listen.  Lots of investment opportunities exist around us.  Evaluate them, and as Chris would say, trust your gut.

Where are the opportunities now?  That's an easy pick in the agriculture world. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darwin Evolved's picture
Darwin Evolved
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Posts: 5
Preparing for Retirement

There is a lot to unpack.

Social Security was NEVER intended to be your primary retirement income and was never sold to the American people that way. It was intended as a supplement and backstop against destitution in old age. It is not a "Ponzi Scheme" and can fucntion well into all of our futures as long as we do not let the politicians rob it blind. The Social Security system is a creditor to the Treasury and has not contributed to the deficit as benefits are paid out of seperate accounts. As to the Trust Fund, it was set up to deal with a shortfall due to declining birth rates and longer life spans that created a future shortfall and was designed to deplete. It is not running out of money as prior to that arrangement always paid out of current collections. My former Lt Governor had at one time run the Social Security system after a time at OMB when we had balanced budgets and was asked at a public meeting about how the system works and what the truth vs the hype happens to be.

The intent of Ryan/McConnel and Trump was to use the deficits created by the GOP Tax Scam as a cudgel to raid the Social Security system to cover their dirty work. The election result has changed that plan. The Social Security system is a multi Trillion Dollar creditor to the US - not a liability.

The pension thing was a crisis created by changes in policy during the Reagan era where corporations were allowed to get their fingers into pension funds. Various corporate raiders and irresponsible CEOs took money from the funds either through borrowing against the value of the fund and letting the company go bankrupt after they were gone, or by intentionally underfunding the plans. When the companies went bankrupt, their pension plans were often placed in the PBGC. You can thank the corporate raiders and flippers for the collection of underfunded pensions in their collection.

I am 57 this month and will "retire" a decade from now. My home is paid for & I have no debt beyond a car payment I could retire at will. I have been saving and investing since I was in my 20's- unlike many of my peers. I have 2 fully funded pension plans- repeat fully funded- that are vested. I also have a Roth IRA from my current employer that should also provide tax free money to be used in retirement. As my employer pays the overhead on the plan, the numbers are better than if I had the 403b they offer.

I have purchased property where I intend to retire that already has a cabin on it that I will replace with a permanent home closer to that time. That home will be as energy efficient and easy to maintain as possible and is in an area with a mild climate.

"Retirement" for me will not be sitting in a chair watching the grass grow, but will be a shift to a different vocation that is far more flexible than now and one I am not dependent upon for expenses. The work will be because I want to- not because I have to.

I have other investments in stocks and some have proven to be fortunate. I started buying Apple stock about the time of the OS X Public Beta when the company was on few radars for investment. I bought Amazon stock when the business press was whining about Bezos plowing money back into the company and not being profitable. I still have stock in both but stopped adding to those positions years ago. I did have Tesla stock but sold it a nunmber of years back. Those are not my only holdings, but they have made an outsized part of my assets due to buying cheap (being lucky).

I do have some physical Gold and Silver but do not think it is anything but a small reserve in case of a worst case scenario. Do not be fooled, metals could go down in a downdraft as well- way down. That said, they could prove valuable at some point.

I am not a prepper or a doomer, but think the next decades could prove to be very tough for many if not most of us. It is quite apparent that climate change will not be mitigated by any action of our Federal Government and not to any great extent by consumer behavior- Americans will keep buying gas guzzling SUVs and Pickups right up to where they cannot afford the payments or the fuel bill. The same is true for outsized houses.

The debt thing is very ugly. Corporations, governments and individuals have larded themselves with massive debt and many are people who are fast approaching retirement. There is going to be a reckoning when no savings and inability to work meets huge debt obligations for people and the impact will hit the consumer economy dependent upon them buying to pay their debt load.

I am the Baby Boomer child of Depression Era parents. It was instilled in me that you should always save, keep financial reserves, plan for the unexpected and keep debt to a minimum. I took it to heart and hopefully will prove to be wise.

We could sure use some adult leadership in government and business as there is a lot to deal with and not a lot of time to mitigate the stuff baked into the cake.

Grover's picture
Grover
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Posts: 874
Darwin, There are a few items

Darwin,

There are a few items in your post that I'd like to address; however, let me say that I agree with most of the sentiment in the last 2/3 of your post - particularly looking to yourself to provide your own retirement. Kudos!

That said, there are a few issues I have with most of the first third of your post.

Darwin Evolved wrote:

Social Security was NEVER intended to be your primary retirement income and was never sold to the American people that way. It was intended as a supplement and backstop against destitution in old age. It is not a "Ponzi Scheme" and can fucntion well into all of our futures as long as we do not let the politicians rob it blind. The Social Security system is a creditor to the Treasury and has not contributed to the deficit as benefits are paid out of seperate accounts. As to the Trust Fund, it was set up to deal with a shortfall due to declining birth rates and longer life spans that created a future shortfall and was designed to deplete. It is not running out of money as prior to that arrangement always paid out of current collections. My former Lt Governor had at one time run the Social Security system after a time at OMB when we had balanced budgets and was asked at a public meeting about how the system works and what the truth vs the hype happens to be.

Social Security was always set up as a Ponzi Scheme. It has always been a "pay as you go" system. The "investment" by current payers goes to pay the "benefits" of current receivers. There is no investment or production that can augment the transfer component. It is as pure a Ponzi Scheme as it gets.

Social Security has morphed substantially since its inception. There are more recipients receiving benefits for longer durations than was originally proposed. The biggest change was due to LBJ. He wanted to fight the war on poverty and the war in Viet Nam. He was a smart politician and realized that he couldn't get taxes raised enough to accomplish both. He came up with the grand idea of the Unified Budget.

In the United States a unified budget is a federal government budget in which receipts and outlays from federal funds and the Social Security Trust Fund are consolidated.

This allowed him to use the money in the Trust Fund to fight his wars without appearing to raise taxes. The congress critters didn't resist because they saw the burgeoning SS balance as a way to buy votes through public expenditures in their particular congressional district - all without appearing to raise taxes.

I'm not sure exactly when the SS Trust Fund was completely drained, but it is currently drained every night. What remains in the Trust Funds is a huge pile of irredeemable IOUs. The money has all been spent already! As long as receipts exceed outlays (cash cow,) the system limps along. Unfortunately, the aging Baby Boomers are too large a component of society to be ignored. About 10,000 are retiring daily. There aren't enough remainders of the GI and Silent generation who are dying to offset this increase. As a result SS is (or will be soon) joining Medicare as a cash hog (outgo exceeds income.) Since all the money has already been surreptiously spent, the only ways to generate cash flow is to increase taxes or borrow more.

Borrowing always seems like the easier option, but that puts an undue obligation on future tax payers. Here's the current Federal debt as of 11/09/2018:

https://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/debt/current

( Debt Held by the Public vs. Intragovernmental Holdings )

Current Debt Held by the Public Intragovernmental Holdings Total Public Debt Outstanding
11/09/2018 15,901,215,846,182.69 5,831,353,804,748.50 21,732,569,650,931.19

​You can consider the Intragovernmental Holdings as being funds that were collected by the government for specific purposes (e.g. Social Security.) Those funds are included here because they no longer exist as funds. Since the government collected those funds and then spent them, that portion of the debt is more imaginary than real - both literally and figuratively.

Darwin Evolved wrote:

The intent of Ryan/McConnel and Trump was to use the deficits created by the GOP Tax Scam as a cudgel to raid the Social Security system to cover their dirty work. The election result has changed that plan. The Social Security system is a multi Trillion Dollar creditor to the US - not a liability.

The pension thing was a crisis created by changes in policy during the Reagan era where corporations were allowed to get their fingers into pension funds. Various corporate raiders and irresponsible CEOs took money from the funds either through borrowing against the value of the fund and letting the company go bankrupt after they were gone, or by intentionally underfunding the plans. When the companies went bankrupt, their pension plans were often placed in the PBGC. You can thank the corporate raiders and flippers for the collection of underfunded pensions in their collection.

You are correct in accusing the Reagan and Trump administrations of shenanigans. (Oh, and the election won't change this plan.) Your seemingly particular political bias is missing the lion's share of the shenanigans. ALL the administrations since LBJ (along with all congresses since then) have been engaged in various public robbery schemes. Congress has been largely absent in educating the public. Only a few, such as Ron Paul have attempted to explain our dire straits. As a result, he and others like him have been labeled as nut jobs and summarily dismissed.

The bottom line is that you can't expect the government to provide you with any level of retirement for the long term. At 57, you likely won't see any of the promised benefits - especially if you wait another 10 years before collecting. The exponential math just doesn't support any other conclusion. Being independently wealthy enough to fund your own retirement is your best bet. Then again, what will all those who weren't prudent do when the system fails?

Grover

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3198
SS trust fund
Quote:

I'm not sure exactly when the SS Trust Fund was completely drained, but it is currently drained every night.

Actually, that isn't correct.  You need to think in a different frame of reference than most of us are accustomed to.  As individuals we don't spend money unless we have it in cash or can borrow it (not including those who run up debt without consideration of the consequences or ability to pay).  But, when you borrow money from a bank or get your tax refund, do you ask where the money comes from?  Do you ask them to show you what account the money comes from or whose pocket it comes from?  Of course not.  As is pointed out in the Crash Course, bank loans are money created on the spot.  All that money, until you have it safely in your pocket, doesn't exist.  When you pay off the loan, the principle is extinguished and all that remains is the interest you have paid.  At least with the SS trust fund the money actually exists as an account entry.

It still exists with a positive balance:

https://www.cbpp.org/research/social-security/policy-basics-understandin...

According to the linked article we begin drawing down the trust fund this year, but it will continue to have a positive balance for years into the future.  It contains the money we have contributed over the years in addition to the money it has collected as interest payments for the gov't securities it is invested in, minus what has been paid out.  The balance currently is about $2.9 trillion.  Of course, the gov't has been using that money in the meanwhile, just as a bank uses the money you have on account for its own purposes.  Banks count on the high probability that all account holders won't ask for their money at once.

Beginning this year the SS trust fund starts being drawn down if nothing is changed.  

Quote:

Social Security is adequately financed in the short term but faces a modest long-term financial shortfall amounting to 1.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over the next 75 years, the period that the program’s actuaries use in evaluating the program’s long-term finances.  Following the bipartisan Social Security solvency deal in 1983, Social Security ran a surplus every year until 2018.

With no changes the fund can continue paying out full benefits until 2034 when it will be depleted.  Even at that point, they could still pay out 3/4 of the full benefit amount from ongoing collection of SS taxes.

However, relatively modest changes in tax policy or reduced benefits could alleviate even that concern.  There are also other ways to address the problem such as allowing more immigrants in who have demostrated an extraordinary desire to work hard and participate in the American economic system.  One of the benefits of that change in policy is that most immigrants tend to be young and will be paying into the system for many years into the future, and thereby adding to the trust fund.  

 

 

davefairtex's picture
davefairtex
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 3 2008
Posts: 5647
SS trust fund

The trust fund is filled to the brim with IOU's from the Federal Government to itself.

I have a trust fund too.  It has a trillion dollars in it.  Its a little box on my desk, into which i have deposited a slip of paper that says, "I owe myself a trillion dollars."

That's the SS trust fund.

If your pension fund contains someone else's liability, the fund contains assets.

If your pension fund contains your own liability, it is just an accounting gimmick.

 

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
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Posts: 3198
US Treasuries
Quote:

The trust fund is filled to the brim with IOU's from the Federal Government to itself.

Those IOUs are also called US Treasuries, long considered the safest investments on the planet.  I gave you the numbers.  They should be easy to double check.  The rest is your belief system.  You are entitled to your opinions, but you presented no facts to back them up.

Grover's picture
Grover
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Joined: Feb 16 2011
Posts: 874
Fictional Accounting Entries
Doug wrote:

At least with the SS trust fund the money actually exists as an account entry.

Doug,

That is the truest statement I ever recall you making. Unfortunately, that is all that the SS trust fund contains. The money has been spent by the government and replaced by "account entries."

Doug wrote:

It still exists with a positive balance:

https://www.cbpp.org/research/social-security/policy-basics-understandin...

According to the linked article we begin drawing down the trust fund this year, but it will continue to have a positive balance for years into the future.  It contains the money we have contributed over the years in addition to the money it has collected as interest payments for the gov't securities it is invested in, minus what has been paid out.  The balance currently is about $2.9 trillion.

You seem to be confusing the "account entries" with actual money in the portion of your quote that I bolded. As you noted, we begin drawing down the Trust Fund (more precisely, the account entries in the Trust Fund.) In years past, the surplus money that was contributed (taxed from individuals and their employers) helped reduce the appearance of the overall federal deficit. That's what a cash cow does. We're experiencing the opposite condition now. The drain of SS and Medicare will make the federal deficit appear worse - simply because the funds were borrowed by the government and spent. It will get worse each year unless changes are made to the system. That's unlikely to happen - third rail issue.

In Post #24, Doug wrote:

Those IOUs are also called US Treasuries, long considered the safest investments on the planet.  I gave you the numbers.  They should be easy to double check.  The rest is your belief system.  You are entitled to your opinions, but you presented no facts to back them up.

It is one thing to have the money spent on worthwhile endeavors. Those with a huge benefit and minimal cost make sense. Those with a nebulous benefit and huge cost don't make sense. For instance, what positive benefit have we realized that justifies our $4+ trillion DOD expenses in the Middle East skirmishes since 9/11/2001?

Since taxes weren't raised to pay for the skirmishes, we just used the full faith and credit of the US to pile on the debt. You can look at that as an accounting entry as well. Here's the current debt as of 11/13/2018:

https://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/debt/current

Current Debt Held by the Public Intragovernmental Holdings Total Public Debt Outstanding
11/13/2018 15,901,577,706,655.06 5,832,624,123,280.60 21,734,201,829,935.66

SS, Medicare, and the other Trust Funds are combined in the "Intragovernmental Holdings" column. Unlike the "Debt Held by the Public," that accounting entry represents money that was taxed from individuals and their employers expressly for the specific future Trust Fund expenses. That column could be completely erased and it wouldn't impact the Country's financial situation at all. It is literally only an accounting entry. Of course, if you want to pretend that the Trust Funds have a positive balance, then to be consistent, you have to realize that our debt increases exactly as much as the Trust Funds' accumulative positive balance. (DaveFairtex's example about his personal Trust Fund is an accurate and humorous analogy.)

So, how much debt does the US Government owe? Is it $15.9 trillion or is it $21.7 trillion? I've heard "analysts" quote the $15.9 trillion column and later on argue (as you did) that the Trust Funds are flush with cash (or accounting entries.) It is important to distinguish how much debt we actually carry because our annual GDP is somewhere in the $19 - $20 trillion range. If you only consider the Debt Held by the Public, our debt to GDP ratio is significantly less than 1.0. However, if you want to think those fictional accounting entry balances in the Intragovernmental Holdings actually exist, then our debt to GDP ratio is significantly more than 1.0.

It is analogous to a personal FICO score. Too much debt limits the personal FICO score, resulting in higher interest rates for the borrower. Back to our collective government debt, how much debt is too much debt? When will those buying the debt require higher interest rates? When will they determine that any rate would be insufficient reward for assuming the outsized risk? When that happens, will it really matter if any of the Trust Funds have a positive accounting entry?

and finally, Doug wrote:

With no changes the fund can continue paying out full benefits until 2034 when it will be depleted.  Even at that point, they could still pay out 3/4 of the full benefit amount from ongoing collection of SS taxes.

Would you be as cavalier with cutting SS benefits if you knew your federal pension would be cut by a similar percentage?

Grover

TechGuy's picture
TechGuy
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 13 2008
Posts: 453
Trust Fund? What SS Trust Fund?

Doug Wrote:

"According to the linked article we begin drawing down the trust fund this year, but it will continue to have a positive balance for years into the future.  It contains the money we have contributed over the years in addition to the money it has collected as interest payments for the gov't securities it is invested in, minus what has been paid out"

We started drawing down the SS trust fund during the LBJ's Gun's & butter economy. Thats when the trust fund was shifted to the General gov't spending account to pay for the Vietnam war and LBJ's Great society.

Every dollar that goes into the trust fund is spend, either to payout entitlements or any gov't spending (Miltary, Welfare, education, transportation,etc).

SS & Medicare when insolvent in the 1980s, Back then GreenSpan was the commitee chairmen to fix SS & medicare. The did so by increasing the payroll tax. Since that time, the Payroll tax cap has increased every year (About 3% per year) so that it would fully fund entitlement outlays.But this is about to change, because the number of boomers retiring is going grow substantially in the 2020s. Currently most boomers are working past retirement, mostly due to lack of savings\debt. However age & health is going to become a factor that forces them into retirement. Also raising the SS cap provides diminshing returns as the number of people that make above the cap is smaller and smaller (I believe about 11% or 12% of households have incomes above the $128.7K cap for 2018.

Doug Sadly Wrote:

"Those IOUs are also called US Treasuries, long considered the safest investments on the planet.  I gave you the numbers. "

Actually the SS (Introgov't funds) aren't invested in US treasuries. They are just Figures on the balance sheet. The gov't does not issue treasures for the SS Surplus. To provide cash to SS recipients using SS *trust* fund, the gov't either needs to sell treasuries to the public or cut federal spending. In either case it just puts more pressure on the US treasury market, unless the Fed steps in, and starts buying US treasuries via QE, but that also devalues the dollar. So there is only a lose-lose scenerio.

Also there are considerable better "safe investments" than US treasuries. The US is the most indebted nation in the world. US treasuries are anything but safe, considering that US inflation has been running about 2% to 3.5% for the past 20 years. The Dollar has lost about 40% of its value since 2000.

 

TechGuy's picture
TechGuy
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 13 2008
Posts: 453
Doug Wrote: "With no changes

Doug Wrote:

"With no changes the fund can continue paying out full benefits until 2034 when it will be depleted.  Even at that point, they could still pay out 3/4 of the full benefit amount from ongoing collection of SS taxes."

Between 2022 & 2024 every tax dollar will be spent just to service the debt, Welfare & entitlements. Already the US Federal gov't spends nearly $500B a year on debt interest payments & continues to run Trillion dollar annual budget deficits. Another words by 2024 the US Federal gov't becomes the next Puerto Rico.

Also don't forget that just about every city & state has massive unfunded pensions. Already you can see some of the worst go over the edge. Taxes in Chicago have been increasing by at least 5% every year and its still not enough to balance the budget. Early this week NYC disclosed it has at least $100 Billion hole in its pension budget (Just for the Medical care portion).

I very much doubt the USA will survive to the 2030s. Simply  too much debt, coupled with demographics & the pending peak in global oil production.

 

 

davefairtex's picture
davefairtex
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 3 2008
Posts: 5647
thought experiment

Let's imagine a world where the Social Security Trust Fund didn't exist.  How would the government fund payments to beneficiaries?  It would sell treasury bonds receiving cash in exchange, take the cash, and hand it to beneficiaries.

Now let's go back to today.  How does the government fund payments to beneficiaries?  It sells treasury bonds, takes the proceeds, and hands them to beneficiaries.

The impact on the treasury market is identical - just as if the Social Security Trust Fund did not exist.  Which, functionally, it does not.

If this scam were available to companies, each and every one of them would not contribute cash to their funds (something difficult to obtain), but instead, would contribute their very own special-issue corporate bonds (something utterly painless to issue).  Enron's pension would have been filled with Enron 100-year 0% bonds.  When it came time for people to retire, they'd have to sell some of those 100-year bonds, and pay the beneficiaries out of the proceeds.  Assuming the market wanted to actually fork over cash in exchange for said 100-year bonds.  Which given what happened to Enron, is unlikely.

Dave's rule of pension solvency: A given entity's pension fund contains assets if the contents are someone else's liabilty.  A pension fund does not contain assets if the debt instruments are the entity's own liability.

 

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 7 2007
Posts: 5905
Accounting matters
Doug wrote:
Quote:

The trust fund is filled to the brim with IOU's from the Federal Government to itself.

Those IOUs are also called US Treasuries, long considered the safest investments on the planet.  I gave you the numbers.  They should be easy to double check.  The rest is your belief system.  You are entitled to your opinions, but you presented no facts to back them up.

Doug,

You might want to study accounting because you are missing a very simple tenet of acounting; it's not possible to claim your own liability as an asset and report anything other than zero as a result.

If you want to discuss the financial health of any entity it's essential to understand this very basic accounting principle.  If we're going to discuss some other angle, such as faith in government, then we can dispense with the accounting, but otherwise not.

The only way I know that the double bookkeeping of the US government/SS administration can be set aside is by observing that Congress can always change the rules and reduce future SS payouts, or increase SS taxes.

But that would have to happen because (drumroll please) the SS administration has nothing but a pile of self-referential IOUs in its drawers.  In other words, because of the basic accounting principle raised above.

 

davefairtex's picture
davefairtex
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 3 2008
Posts: 5647
SS trust fund: an accounting view

What Chris said, but with better jargon than I did.

I'm not an accounting guru, but at one point I did need to manage a small company's accounting "department" for a few years.  The balance sheet (the place where the "Social Security Trust Fund" is listed) is the place where "what is owed" is subtracted from "what is owned" to get the equity.  I know, that is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to most people, but it boils down to: "Uncle Sam can't write itself a $5 trillion dollar check and create enough wealth to fund the retirement of everyone."

In other words, accounting amounts to common sense.

For those "technically inclined", the balance sheet equation: A - L = E, or Assets - Liabilities = Equity.

So if the "social security Trust fund" is an "A" (asset), loaded up with newly-constructed treasury bonds issued to fund it, then you will also see an exactly equal number of "treasury bonds issued and outstanding" under "L" (liabilities), which results in no net change in E (equity).

Or, more prosaically, the discipline imposed by the balance sheet (and that's all the SSTF is - a balance sheet entry) is telling us that the US can't create equity (wealth) for retirees by issuing treasury bonds to itself and stuffing them into a "Trust Fund."  Any more than you can write yourself a big fat check, stuff it into a box, and think, "wow, I'm now a millionaire" (i.e. my "net equity" is now a million bucks.)  The discipline imposed by the balance sheet won't let you make this sort of error.  A - L = E, or $1M - $1M = 0.

Sal Kahn gives you a first cut at this, for those who might be interested.  All two of you.  Call me crazy, but I really enjoyed accounting.  There was a certain order and a desire for representing truth to it that appealed to my engineer-brain.

https://www.khanacademy.org/economics-finance-domain/core-finance/housing/home-equity-tutorial/v/introduction-to-balance-sheets

You know, I'm always grateful to Doug for providing me with an opportunity to sort things like this out.  It makes it so that if I'm ever asked at a cocktail party, I'll have a 2-minute response that is incisive, and impossible to refute.  Prior to today, I would have known the answer internally, but would not have the words (or the time) to properly frame my response.

Sometimes I wonder if Doug might actually be an incredibly wise and knowledgeable individual operating at a level far above us; he knows these truths already, but he chooses to act as a devil's advocate, asking us all these fairly basic questions straight out, in order to provide us the opportunity to fine-tune our thinking in a safe environment.

You Just Never Know.

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3198
OK

Lets start at the start.  My participation in this thread began by correcting the clearly incorrect statement by Grover to the effect that the SS trust fund has been drained and continues to be drained every day.  See post #22.

From that came a flurry of posts from others attacking me because I made a factual assertion backed up by good authority.  No one disputes that in any factual manner with citations.

It is true that I am not an accountant.  As far as I know neither are you.  But, the steely eyed accountants and actuaries with green eyeshades who administer the trust fund are.  They say there are $2.9 trillion in the fund.  I'm not making that up.

Then Dave commented that the fund is filled with gov't IOU's to itself.  Not quite accurate.  In fact they are gov't securities for the benefit of the fund, which is, essentially, us.  He then sets up a "thought experiment" in which there is no SS trust fund.  What follows is irrelevant because there is a trust fund.  If you want to see how it would work without a trust fund, look at how SSI works.  That's essentially a welfare program that comes straight from government funding.

Then there are some rhetorical flourishes concerning "accounting entries" suggesting that when they  make up the SS trust fund they are somehow insubstantial, perhaps not worth the paper they are written on.  (Of course they aren't written on paper, they are all digital these days)

It's a little mystifying to me how the commenters here find accounting entries essentially worthless when they depend so heavily on them.  Lets be clear.  Virtually every form of wealth aside from physical assets and cash in your pockets are accounting entries.  Your bank accounts. investment accounts, direct deposits even checks are no more than accounting entries.  Checks are no good if there are no accounting entries backing them up.  Even when you put cash money into the bank, it is immediately transformed into accounting entries.  Your cash, being fungible, just disappears into the bank's general funds.

So, the bottom line is which accounting entries you trust.  So far, the SS trust fund is over 80 years old, has worked just fine so far with minor adjustments along the way, has $2.9 trillion in assets (about the most ever) and, with more minor adjustments, will be good far into the future.  True, it is made up of gov't securities, but if those same securities were in the trust fund you leave your children, would you be terribly worried?  Most people wouldn't.  I'm not.  If you don't trust the gov't to oversee the fund, that's on you, not them.  They've done pretty well so far.

 

AKGrannyWGrit's picture
AKGrannyWGrit
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 6 2011
Posts: 494
Chris said-  You might want

Chris said- 

You might want to study accounting because you are missing a very simple tenet of acounting; it's not possible to claim your own liability as an asset and report anything other than zero as a result.

Okay just scanning the site and saw this post.  Never graduated from collage but am quite sure there is a whole bunch of stuff that makes sense but should’nt.  Soooooo if the above statement is true how can our government count student loans, (which are a liability for the backbone of our country, our youth) as a big part of our GDP.  Seems assanine to me.  ???

AKGrannyWGrit

 

Grover's picture
Grover
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Posts: 874
Educating Doug Takes Lots of Time
Doug wrote:

Lets start at the start.  My participation in this thread began by correcting the clearly incorrect statement by Grover to the effect that the SS trust fund has been drained and continues to be drained every day.  See post #22.

Doug,

Did I ever show this to you before? It is the US Debt to the Penny from:

https://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/debt/current

Current Debt Held by the Public Intragovernmental Holdings Total Public Debt Outstanding
11/15/2018 15,941,677,510,341.56 5,822,138,257,458.65 21,763,815,767,800.21

I posted 2 more just like this previously in this thread. The dates and numbers have changed because it is almost live data. This is the balance of each category as of 11/15/2018. Please note that the "Intragovernmental Holdings" column has changed. That has combined all the net balances of all the "Trust Funds." Those monies were collected as taxes and then converted to irredeemable IOUs by the Treasury. The IOUs are denominated in dollars. (You think that since both are denominated in dollars, the total is as fungible as dollars. Think again.) In the process, the monies that were collected as taxes were sucked out of the Trust Funds. This happens on a daily basis (other than weekends and official holidays.) That's essentially what I correctly stated earlier.

Perhaps you could answer a question. If these Intragovernmental Holdings were assets of the government, why would those be included in the current debt (which otherwise only contains liabilities)?

Doug wrote:

They say there are $2.9 trillion in the fund.  I'm not making that up.

You are right. They do say this. But, just like everything with legal implications, it doesn't mean what they lead you to think it means. They've taken the $2.9 trillion that was collected as tax monies and then replaced that with $2.9 trillion in special bonds. (I don't want to bother looking up the actual name because it doesn't matter to this discussion and it won't convince you anyway.) Those special bonds replace the actual tax monies collected so the accountants can make all their columns zero out. Effectively, they are just noting how much was taken from the Trust Funds with the promise to pay it back with interest. (The interest in another fictional accounting entry added to the trust fund.)

On some level, this makes sense. Why should the government pay to borrow money from the Public when there is a pile just sitting there doing nothing? The biggest problem is moral. That money has been collected for another purpose and "temporarily" using it is thievery. Private firms can't legally get away with these shenanigans. The government gets away with it because they write the rules and they count on enough idiots not knowing what is going on behind the scenes.

When outlays are more than income, the government borrows from the public to make the extra payments. That retires some of the special bonds and all the columns zero out. Since the monies were already spent surreptitiously, they can't be spent again. Since our government's outlays exceed income, the only remaining option is to borrow the money. Had they not resorted to stealing the trust fund monies, this wouldn't be an issue.

Doug wrote:

It's a little mystifying to me how the commenters here find accounting entries essentially worthless when they depend so heavily on them.  Lets be clear.  Virtually every form of wealth aside from physical assets and cash in your pockets are accounting entries.  Your bank accounts. investment accounts, direct deposits even checks are no more than accounting entries.  Checks are no good if there are no accounting entries backing them up.  Even when you put cash money into the bank, it is immediately transformed into accounting entries.  Your cash, being fungible, just disappears into the bank's general funds.

This is a logical fallacy. You are essentially equilibrating all aspects of all accounts regardless of origin. I agree with you that some accounts are worthwhile. I've made short term loans to banks (checking accounts) with legal requirements that I can withdraw any or all at any time. I also have made longer term loans to the same banks for somewhat higher interest rates. Because I agreed to leave my money on loan for a longer period, I can't just walk in and demand that they pay it before it is due. Try going down to your local SS office and demanding payment on your portion of the $2.9 trillion harbored in the SS Trust Fund. (You might just want to try this as a thought experiment because if you do it in person, the security team will question your sanity and everybody's safety.)

Grover

davefairtex's picture
davefairtex
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 3 2008
Posts: 5647
equity vs assets

Doug, you are only looking at half the picture.

The SSTF is an asset line on the balance sheet.  Most definitely, it is a real line, and I trust it.  Those steely eyed accountants (hopefully not the same team that approved Enron's final quarterly statement prior to the big blow-up) have dutifully recorded the correct number of treasury bills sitting there in the account.

But that's only half the story.  Related: if a man owns a home valued at $1M, and has a loan from the bank in the amount of $900k, how much is he worth?  If you just care about assets, you would say he is worth $1M.  If you subtract liabilites from assets to come up with "equity", then the answer is $100K.  A "real accountant" wouldn't hesitate: the number is $100k.

So in the case of Treasury - the asset line of SSTF is (maybe?) $5 trillion in treasury bill assets.  Matching that, on the "liabilities" side of the balance sheet, is $5 trillion in treasury bill liabilities owed by Treasury to the SSTF.

So based on this, we can calculate just how much "wealth" (or "equity") Treasury has on hand to meet its long term SS liabilities (which is yet another line on the balance sheet).  And that answer is $0.

Accounting, if used properly, will tell you how much wealth you have.  You just weren't using accounting properly.  Its an easy mistake to make.

The takeaway: assets are not wealth.  Assets minus liabilities, that's wealth.  A - L = E.  Wealth is what is required to meet those long term SS liabilities.  And since there isn't any wealth set aside to meet them, that's why SS is commonly known as an "unfunded liability."  Unfunded = "no wealth set aside to meet it."

Once again, I thank you for helping me to refine my thinking on this matter.  Some others might be frustrated, but just speaking for myself, I want you to stay here forever.  I always improve after our interactions.

DennisC's picture
DennisC
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 19 2011
Posts: 335
Small Contribution

FWIW, prompted by Grover and Dave, I learned more new stuff today.

https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/ProgData/specialissues.html

Trust funds and types of investments
The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance Trust Fund comprise the Social Security trust funds. Both funds are managed by the Department of the Treasury through their Bureau of the Fiscal Service. Since the beginning of the Social Security program, all securities held by the trust funds have been issued by the Federal Government. There are two general types of such securities:

    Special issues—available only to the trust funds
    Public issues—marketable Treasury bonds available to the public.

The trust funds now hold only special issues, but they have held public issues in the past.

Check out the "investment holdings" link on the left of the page for more actuarial entertainment!

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