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    The Festering Social Rift Over Pensions

    Why does he get to retire and I don't?
    by Adam Taggart

    Friday, December 14, 2018, 11:43 PM

Most Americans will never be able to afford to retire.

We laid out the depressing math in our recent report Will Your Retirement Efforts Achieve Escape Velocity?:

  • 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)

There are a number of causal factors that have contributed to this lack of retirement preparedness (decades of stagnant real wages, fast-rising cost of living, the Great Recession, etc), but as we explained in our report The Great Retirement Con, perhaps none has had more impact than the shift from dedicated-contribution pension plans to voluntary private savings:

The Origins Of The Retirement Plan

Back during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress promised a monthly lifetime income to soldiers who fought and survived the conflict. This guaranteed income stream, called a "pension", was again offered to soldiers in the Civil War and every American war since.

Since then, similar pension promises funded from public coffers expanded to cover retirees from other branches of government. States and cities followed suit — extending pensions to all sorts of municipal workers ranging from policemen to politicians, teachers to trash collectors.

A pension is what's referred to as a defined benefit plan. The payout promised a worker upon retirement is guaranteed up front according to a formula, typically dependent on salary size and years of employment.

Understandably, workers appreciated the security and dependability offered by pensions. So, as a means to attract skilled talent, the private sector started offering them, too. 

The first corporate pension was offered by the American Express Company in 1875. By the 1960s, half of all employees in the private sector were covered by a pension plan.

Off-loading Of Retirement Risk By Corporations

Once pensions had become commonplace, they were much less effective as an incentive to lure top talent. They started to feel like burdensome cost centers to companies.

As America's corporations grew and their veteran employees started hitting retirement age, the amount of funding required to meet current and future pension funding obligations became huge. And it kept growing. Remember, the Baby Boomer generation, the largest ever by far in US history, was just entering the workforce by the 1960s.

Companies were eager to get this expanding liability off of their backs. And the more poorly-capitalized firms started defaulting on their pensions, stiffing those who had loyally worked for them.

So, it's little surprise that the 1970s and '80s saw the introduction of personal retirement savings plans. The Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) was formed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in 1974. And the first 401k plan was created in 1980.

These savings vehicles are defined contribution plans. The future payout of the plan is variable (i.e., unknown today), and will be largely a function of how much of their income the worker directs into the fund over their career, as well as the market return on the fund's investments.

Touted as a revolutionary improvement for the worker, these plans promised to give the individual power over his/her own financial destiny. No longer would it be dictated by their employer.

Your company doesn't offer a pension? No worries: open an IRA and create your own personal pension fund.

Afraid your employer might mismanage your pension fund? A 401k removes that risk. You decide how your retirement money is invested.

Want to retire sooner? Just increase the percent of your annual income contributions.

All this sounded pretty good to workers. But it sounded GREAT to their employers.

Why? Because it transferred the burden of retirement funding away from the company and onto its employees. It allowed for the removal of a massive and fast-growing liability off of the corporate balance sheet, and materially improved the outlook for future earnings and cash flow.

As you would expect given this, corporate America moved swiftly over the next several decades to cap pension participation and transition to defined contribution plans.

The table below shows how vigorously pensions (green) have disappeared since the introduction of IRAs and 401ks (red):

(Source)

So, to recap: 40 years ago, a grand experiment was embarked upon. One that promised US workers: Using these new defined contribution vehicles, you'll be better off when you reach retirement age.

Which raises a simple but very important question: How have things worked out?

The Ugly Aftermath

America The Broke

Well, things haven't worked out too well.

Four decades later, what we're realizing is that this shift from dedicated-contribution pension plans to voluntary private savings was a grand experiment with no assurances. Corporations definitely benefited, as they could redeploy capital to expansion or bottom line profits. But employees? The data certainly seems to show that the experiment did not take human nature into account enough – specifically, the fact that just because people have the option to save money for later use doesn't mean that they actually will.

And so we end up with the dismal retirement stats bulleted above.

The Income Haves & Have-Nots

In our recent report The Primacy Of Income, we summarized our years-long predictions of a coming painful market correction followed by a prolonged era of no capital gains across equities, bond and real estate.

Simply put: the 'easy' gains made over the past 8 years as the central banks did their utmost to inflate asset prices is over. Asset appreciation is going to be a lot harder to come by in the future.

Which makes income now the prime source of building — or simply just maintaining — wealth going forward.

That being the case, it's obvious that those receiving a pension will be in far better shape than those who aren't. They'll have a guaranteed income stream to partially or fully fund their retirement.

Resentment Brewing

While the total number of people expecting a pension isn't tiny, it's certainly a minority of today's workers.

31 million private-sector, state and local government workers in the US participate in a pension plan. 3.3 million currently-employed civilian Federal workers will receive a pension; as will some percentage of the 2 million people serving in the active military and reserves.

Combined, that's about 25% of current US workers; roughly 13% of total US adults.

Now that the Everything Bubble is bursting and a return to economic recession appears increasingly probable within the next year or two, the disparity in prospects between these 35 million future pensioners and the rest of the workforce will become increasingly obvious.

The danger here is of festering social discord. The majority, whom we already know will not be able to retire, will highly likely start regarding pensioners with envy and resentment.

"Hey, I worked as hard as Joe during my career. How come he gets to retire and I don't?" will be a common narrative running in the minds of those jealous of their neighbors.

This bitterness will only increase as taxes continue to rise to fund government pension payouts, already a huge drain on public budgets. "Why am I paying more so Joe can relax on the beach??"

Humans are wired to react angrily to perceived injustice and unfairness. This short clip shows how it's hard-coded into our primate brains:

So it's not a stretch at all to predict the divisive tension and prejudice that will result from the growing gap between the pension haves and have-nots.

The negative stereotypes of union workers will be tightly re-embraced. This SNL sketch captures a good number of them:

The steady news reports of pension fraud and abuse will anger the majority further. Any projected decreases in Social Security (benefit payouts will only be 79 cents on the dollar by 2035 at our current trajectory) will only exacerbate the ire, as the small governmental income the have-nots receive becomes even more meager.

The growing potential here is for an emerging social schism, possibly accompanied with intimidation and violence, not dissimilar to that which has occurred along racial or religious lines during darker eras of our history.

As people become stressed, they react emotionally, and look for a culprit to blame. And as they become more desperate, as many elderly workers with no savings often do, they'll resort to more desperate measures.

Broken Promises

And it's not all sunshine and roses for the pensioners, either. Being promised a pension and actually receiving one are two very different things.

Underfunded pension liabilities are a massive ticking time bomb, certain to explode over the next few decades.

For example, many pensions offered through multi-employer plans are bad shape. The multiemployer branch of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federally-instated insurer behind private pensions, will be out of business by 2025 if no changes in law are made to help. If that happens, retirees in those plans will get only 10% of what they were promised.

Moreover, research conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows a $1.4 trillion shortfall between state pension assets and guarantees to employees. There are only two ways a gap that big gets addressed: massive tax hikes or massive benefit cuts. The likeliest outcome will be a combination of both.

So, many of those today counting on a pension tomorrow may find themselves in a similar boat to their pension-less neighbors.

No Easy Systemic Solutions, So Act For Yourself

There's no "fix" to the retirement predicament of the American workforce. There's no policy change that can be made at this late date to reverse the decades of over-spending, over-indebtedness, and lack of saving.

All we can do at this time is influence how we take our licks. Do we simply leave the masses of unprepared workers to their sad fate? Or do we share the pain across the entire populace by funding new social support programs via more taxes?

Time will tell. But what we can bet on is tougher times ahead, especially for those with poor income prospects.

So the smart strategy for the prudent investor is to prioritize building a portfolio of income streams in order to have sufficient dependable income for a sustainable retirement. Or for simply remaining afloat financially.

Sadly, accustomed to the speculative approach marketed to us for so long by the financial industry, most investors are woefully under-educated in how to build a diversified portfolio of passive income streams (inflation-adjusting and tax-deferred whenever possible) over time.

Those looking to get up to speed can read our recent report A Primer On Investing For Inflation-Adjusting Income, where we detail out the wide range of prevalent (and not-so-prevalent) solutions for today's investors to consider when designing an income-generating portfolio. From bonds, to dividends (common and preferred), to real estate, to royalties — we explain each vehicle, how it can be used, and what the major benefits and risks are.

And in the interim, make sure the wealth you have accumulated doesn't disappear along with the bursting of the Everything Bubble. If you haven't already read it yet, read our premium report from last week What To Do Now That 'The Big One' Is Here.

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14 Comments

  • Sat, Dec 15, 2018 - 9:37am

    #1
    borderpatrol

    borderpatrol

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 21 2017

    Posts: 8

    Carrening toward dystopia

    We are living in very strange times, where “Tainter’s, Collapse of Complex Societies” is accelerating.  The pension crisis is just one of the symptoms where “everything goes and nothing matters”. It funny,  “but not really”, to here the claim that all these government employees are “special, heros, patriocic, entitled, etc”, while the rest of society is burdened with the debt, coruption, and overegulation of this monster.  I have friends that are verterans and even though they get very good pensions and health care and can afford to pay the going rate for products and services, they are always seeking to get discounts where ever they can at the expense of others.  They fail to understand when someone isn’t fully compensated for their procducts or services, someone else has to pick up the slack or take an  hit on it, often those that really can’t afford it and don’t get it.  
    I’m a nurse in health care and get paid really well to take of patients that will likely be no longer be able to take care of themselves and (a burden to societiey, yes, that was a potically incorrect statement, but true) and a huge expense to the rest of society. Little do they care that their selfish needs and economic burden are being placed on others.  See, we are all entitled, with little concern about how are actions, habits, and selfishness affects others.  
    Now that interest rates have crept off the zero mark, we are starting to see the hiccups of the debt burden that’s been created.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that what is happen is just happenstance, that most of what’s going on is being done by a handful of families that have controlled “western civilization” for a milennia.  For me, it’s not just been a economic oppression that we have been under, but also a spiritual and moral oppression also. 
     

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  • Sat, Dec 15, 2018 - 1:20pm

    #2

    charleshughsmith

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Aug 15 2010

    Posts: 685

    work you enjoy

    As I’ve said before, “retirement” is ideally 100% control of work you enjoy.
    https://www.oftwominds.com/blogjan15/retirement1-15.html
    Looks Like I’ll Be Able to Retire Comfortably at Age 91
    My advice is to focus not on retiring comfortably, but on working comfortably.Line up work you enjoy that can be performed in old age. 

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  • Sat, Dec 15, 2018 - 2:44pm

    Reply to #2

    Locksmithuk

    Status Bronze Member (Online)

    Joined: Dec 19 2011

    Posts: 94

    Charles & his advice

    charleshughsmith wrote:

    As I’ve said before, “retirement” is ideally 100% control of work you enjoy.
    https://www.oftwominds.com/blogjan15/retirement1-15.html
    Looks Like I’ll Be Able to Retire Comfortably at Age 91
    My advice is to focus not on retiring comfortably, but on working comfortably.Line up work you enjoy that can be performed in old age. 

     
    In addition to Charles’ [excellent, as usual] advice about enjoying income from a labour of love, another consideration has to be: how can I personally mitigate the adverse impact of a pension shortfall on my financial circumstances?
    I get that people will be pissed off that their pensions won’t be sufficient for their perceived needs, but the sooner acceptance kicks in the better for them. Without wanting to sound flippant -: unless you can change the situation then accept it, get over it, move on. Or else – as Chris has previously said – you’re struggling to overcome an unsolvable problem instead of addressing it for what it really is i.e. a predicament. At 25 I made the conscious decision to forget about pensions. I didn’t believe that my share of the pot would be worth it come 65. That wasn’t based on any astute financial insight. I simply looked at population growth rates, inflation rates [high at the time], and thought “Nah, I don’t like the look of this – I’ll forego voluntary extra pension contributions and invest it in something I can control a little better”. I’m not smug, because not everything has turned out financially like I’d hoped, but at least I have control of my assets, and my situation is good – I’m working at the top of my chosen profession and I am so gratefully lucky to live in one of the world’s most beautiful locations. The brutal truth is that if you’ve been asleep at the pensions/stock market wheel and not paying attention to everything around you for the past 20 years then you’re partly culpable for your own financial situation.
    The good news is that people need not be fearful, if they’re prepared to reconsider the definition of ‘wealth’, as already discussed to death on these pages. If you are 100% honest about the material things which you actually need in life, things become a lot more positive. Ten years ago I’d buy something if I needed to repair, and ALL my food would be bought. Now I never buy without first asking “Can I grow this?”, or “Do I really need this?”, or looking at what I can scavenge for a repair or build job…. yes, my fiancee and I have frequently been seen head-down, arse-up in a timber yard dumpster, giving timber lengths a loving new home. Having previously been a ‘worryer’, nowadays I worry a lot less about our abiliity to live comfortably, after seeing the HUGE difference in our financial outgoings, and experiencing the extra comfort of our ever-improving know-how.
    For anyone who has not read about Charles’ Burrito Index and his associated thoughts about living simply, start with this article and go from there: http://charleshughsmith.blogspot.com/2016/07/the-burrito-index-consumer-prices-have.html
    There are still reasons to be hopeful and cheerful, despite the cluster*uck headed our way. Chin up, take responsibility, stay rational, change what you can and accept what you realistically can’t change. And for God’s sake stay alert. The alternative is to curl up into a ball and die. It’s a straightforward – albeit not easy – choice.

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  • Sat, Dec 15, 2018 - 7:53pm

    #3
    greendoc

    greendoc

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Sep 23 2008

    Posts: 112

    Push back from the table

    I know some people well into their seventies still working because they love their jobs…they are not self-employed, but rather lawyers, researchers, engineers in the corporate world.  They also like the extra income because they can travel: trekking in Peru; safaris in Africa,; enjoy the perks in life: fine dining, vacation homes, Hamilton tickets, etc. I have tried to talk to them about maybe it is time to push back from the table and let someone younger take their place, which in turn allows someone even younger to get their foot into the dining room to speak.  But they don’t see why they should get off the gravy train.  I lost some respect for these people when I heard those selfish replys.
     
    But I also know a person with Spinal Muscle Atrophy, an extremely debiliting muscular dystrophy that until recently had no real medical treatment. He is fiercely independent, lives alone and supports himself.  There is a new drug, Spinraza, shown to be helpful in SMA, and he has been offered it.  His insurance covers it.  His doctors want him to take it.  But the first year is $750,000 and $350,000 a year thereafter.  He has turned it down on moral grounds. He feels 1. those prices are a rip-off and he does not want other people subsidizig his medical care THAT much, and 2.  It has really only been shown to be effective in young children (he is in his 50s) and if anyone should get the medication, it should be a young person.   I have HUGE repsect for this man and wish this kind of selfless thinking was more prevalent.  

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  • Sat, Dec 15, 2018 - 10:56pm

    #4
    pgp

    pgp

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Mar 01 2014

    Posts: 165

    Pensions... Yet another establishment lie.

    In Holland pensions are sold to every man and their dog and employees are forcefully required to pay 10% or more of their very ordinary salaries to support company pensions. 
    The ignorant masses seem to approve however and even applaud the hit to their pay packet.  That the rising premiums will only keep the coffers full enough to pay today’s retirees while contibutors decline in the face of an aging population, is something the socialist European governments in general don’t want anyone to consider.
    So pensions are just another establishment lie that do nothing for future generations and only help deliver or maintain wealth for today’s privileged few.

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  • Sun, Dec 16, 2018 - 7:14am

    #5

    SingleSpeak

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Nov 30 2008

    Posts: 163

    "Prophecy" hitting the mark

    Reading Robert Kiyosaki’s “Prophecy” about 15 years ago was a big eye-opener. It explained how the passage of ERISA in 1974 was igniting a pension time bomb and about when that bomb would explode. 
    I’m not sure if the fear of the markets it instilled in me has beneifited my bottom line retirement preparation, probably not, considering the explosion in value since that time of some of the stocks I was holding, Apple, Netflix, etc., but it did help me see some basic flaws in the system and kept me searching for more information to connect more dots. 
    This search hit paydirt in 2008 when I found the Crash Course and the bigger picture emerged, like a 3-D image that magically pops up after staring at the outer camoflauge image of an autostereogram long enough.
    Fortunately, realizing there are several forms of capital, some more important than financial capital, helps keep the outrage from the unfairness of pension prospects between public and private workers under control (so far). Understanding that the entire retirement experiment is a side benefit of our once-in-the-history-of-the-world fossil fuel jackpot also helps put things into perspective.
    As always thanks Chris, Adam, and fellow seekers,
    SS

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  • Sun, Dec 16, 2018 - 8:39pm

    #6
    ejhr

    ejhr

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jun 27 2014

    Posts: 33

    pensions

    The question usually asked in order to take the heat off politicians, unless they are in opposition, is this
    “How will you pay for it?”
    The supremely simple answer. is:
    “The Fed will write a check”
    How does that work? First the United States constitution says every citizen has “inalienable rights” and that includes good health, and by extension, good Healthcare. Since it is an inalienable right it has to be the responsibility of the Government. the Federal one. There is no place for a for profit healthcare model, [but the government is not forbidden to have one]. However it is MUCH CHEAPER for the government to set it up and manage it, at cost.
    Once set up the government will have to pay spending requisitions to its suppliers. What happens is explained by Ben Bernanke on 60 minutes in 2009,” The Government has a printing press, or rather the electronic equivalent to mark up numbers in federal reserve accounts held by the builder”. He then can access the cash; He also said “The fed does NOT use tax money”.
    This action by the Fed is called deficit spending.  A debt arrives, due to be paid, so the fed must mark up the above account to settle the debt. So by  this action  The governement  spends as it goes and debt does not accumulate.                                                                                 

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  • Sun, Dec 16, 2018 - 8:41pm

    #7
    S7

    S7

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Nov 29 2009

    Posts: 6

    Do we have a choice?

    Yeah, this is definately one of the issues my wife tells me to let go of. Mostly she is right, there is nothing I can really do to change the projected path of the economic engine of America, but, like Charles said, I’m trying to change my focus from retiring comfortably to working comfortably. I hope my body holds out to work into my 90’s, because I enjoy what I do for my small business and have a loyal customer base that, in a stable economy, guarantees me steady income but not a guarenteed retirement. I wake up when my body tells me to, I go to bed when I’m tired and can work as many or few hours I want. So if I frame it that way, at 50 years of age, I am retired. I built and paid for my house as I built, so no mortgage. Drive paid for cars. Just maintnance to keep all the things working. Sure I still have occasional emergencies where my customers need me to respond immediately, but it is not the norm. It’s hard to disconnect from the “Hamster Wheel” model of the Western Capitalist economy of, “If you are not producing more, you are losing” mentality, but I believe there needs to be a change in the concept of the American Dream and the social contract we have been coerced to accept as “normal”. What happened to Sears offering these kind of employment benefits? I know. My uncle worked as a regional manager for Sears and retired after 30 years with a 6 figure retirement. Sorry, not sustainable, and you public employees who have similar arrangements, funded by taxpayers, I would suspect will become the target of the less than stable taxpayers agression. Real bummer.
    From my last post, “Why The System Can’t Change”, I focused on the substandard/failing model of public education and the above average rewards of salary/pension those who participate in that system receive compared to the average employee. Of course they believe that what they are doing is essential for the progress of society, but I contend they are and have been contributing to the problem. Children, when introduced and enrolled into the public education system, are programmed from day one to accept a paradigm of life, what to think not how to think. Not every student falls into the trap but I suspect a majority do. Rather than try to concisely explain why I believe this, I recommend a couple books to start with. One by John Taylor Gatto, “The Undergroung History of American Education”, and one by Charolette Iserbyt “The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America”. If you are part of that system, I suspect this will fall on deaf ears, but you must realize, it does not fall on deaf ears for the silent majority, they just haven’t found a vehicle to produce change in the system yet. This is what catapulted Trump into the presidency, like him or not. It is amazimg how worked up people get when you mention charter schools. Competition is a good thing, unless you work for the government.  Unfortunately, the system has erected a fairly substantial edifice of protection to secure themselves and the statue quo indefinately, so it brings about a feeling of hopelessness.
    Sadly, probably the only thing that will change this paradigm is a major collapse of everything and a start over.  We just need to make sure if that happens that the leeches that got us here don’t attempt to establish the same system with themselves. 
     
     

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  • Mon, Dec 17, 2018 - 2:34pm

    #8
    Uncletommy

    Uncletommy

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 03 2014

    Posts: 520

    Forget pensions; look at infra-structure!

    The beauty of pensions is that they are a self-limiting scheme. Eventually, enough of us are going to die to eliminate the liability of having to provide funds for a tranche of seniors. As long as we don’t continue to raise unrealistic expectations of “future pensioners”, the system should clear itself given time. Unfortunately, the same can not be said of roads, sewers, water works, and other utilities on which we’ve become dependent. It is reasonable to assume that future citizens will need to invest in personal resilience efforts instead of defined benefit packages, if they envision a comfortable future. 
    Again, our dependence on agency has lulled us into ignoring our roles in providing our day-to-day needs. The true costs of these needs have been born through government and municiple bonds that require ever more expensive raw materials and energy to function, not to mention future upgrades to current technologies. Those costs have only one way to go, if we don’t seriously re-examine the design and function of these utilities. A recent article from Strong Towns, by Charles Marohn, The More We Grow, the Poorer We Become, explores these issues. Well worth the read:
    https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/8/22/the-more-we-grow-the-poorer-we-become-td9nw
    or watch his presentation about 15 minutes in:

    “When a community builds a new road, that piece of infrastructure comes with a future obligation for maintenance. Local officials can estimate, with a good degree of precision, when that obligation will come due and roughly how much it will cost. In normal accounting terminology, that would be considered a future liability. In the magical world of municipal accounting, however, that road is labeled an asset.”

     

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  • Mon, Dec 17, 2018 - 7:24pm

    #9
    ArcticTern

    ArcticTern

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    Joined: May 08 2016

    Posts: 0

    Pensions

    I usually agree with you Adam, but this time I think you will be proven wrong.  The pensions will be paid out all right, but it will be a hollow benefit when a cup of coffee crosses the $1000 line.  Indexing? Force majeure.

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  • Tue, Dec 18, 2018 - 6:38am

    Reply to #8

    Chris Martenson

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jun 07 2007

    Posts: 4539

    That's a great article

    Uncletommy wrote:

     A recent article from Strong Towns, by Charles Marohn, The More We Grow, the Poorer We Become, explores these issues. Well worth the read:
    https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/8/22/the-more-we-grow-the-poorer-we-become-td9nw

    There’s so much to like in that article, but for me it was the reliance on very simple math to make th epoint.
    We’ve all bought into an incoherent narrative of growth.  It’s so non-sensical that it doesn’t even require anything more than basic math – addition, subtraction, multiplicaiton and division – to expose as an unworkable fraud.
    Yet viritually every municipality and city is stocked to the gills with public servants turning the crank of progress utterly disconnected frm the idea that their very efforts are working against future stability and are damning future generations to penury or worse.
    The Overton Window is too small.  Polite conversation cannot and does not point out the inconsistencies.
    But he future has arrived.  It’s already here for Detroit.  Most people turn away from the freefall decay of Detroi thinking “well, that’s there, and I live here, and that couldn’t happen here.”
    Sadly, Detroit is creeping into every city and all you have to do to confirm this ffor yourself is open your eyes and notice the actual state of public works.  See the concrete spalling.  Notice the rusting undersides of bridge spans. Just look.  That’s all it takes.
    Nothing lasts, everything requires maintenance.  That requires energy, lots of it.  Our translation of energy is wealth, or dollars here in the US.  I loved this quote:

    Local governments make all kinds of promises—to properly maintain infrastructure, to adequately fund pensions, to staff police and fire departments—that they are failing to keep.
    Unlike a debt default, these soft defaults are explained away as public policy choices. This ignores the connection between the capacity to pay debts and the capacity to keep other promises. Both rely on local government tapping into the wealth of the community.
    Whatever combination of property, sales, and income tax is used, there must be capacity there to pay. You can’t tax what’s not there. As public obligations grow, private wealth within the community must keep pace. Yet our accounting rules and practices completely ignore this reality.

    You cannot tax what isn’t there.  There has to be a balance between obligations and community wealth.
    That’s just so ridiculously simple.
    Yet so hard for some reason.  And if that’s hard, when casue and effect are linear and immediately related, then forget about humans rallying to save an ecosystem or insects or marine life where the causes and effects are orders of magnitude more subtle and separated by vast blocks of time in many cases.
    This is why everyone needs to prepare, and be ready because these things are not just going to magically go away and there’s no magic bullet of technology that’s going to fundamentally alter the fact that all wealth derives from energy, which is streadily depleting.

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  • Tue, Dec 18, 2018 - 9:17pm

    #10

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 691

    Too Much Debt

    Mish just posted an article on his site with the headline: Each Chicagoan Owes $140,000 to Bail Out Chicago Pensions. From the article’s data, it would be more appropriate to say that each Chicago Household owes $140,000. That’s not quite as bad, but still unsustainably horrendous! That’s just for pensions. It doesn’t address all the infrastructure needing attention or any of the other issues needing attention.
    Chicago may be one of the poster children for bad fiscal management, but it is by no means alone. Any government entity that doesn’t have a similar problem would be an anomaly. The problem is the result of too many promises given by politicians and subsequently bought by naive voters who wanted more than they were willing to fund. Someone will eat the losses – either those who have been promised the pensions or those who implicitly agreed with politician’s lies via the voting booth (probably both.)
    Social Security is another case of gross fiscal mismanagement. All the money that was collected through payroll taxes should have gone to a trust fund. That was the premise that was sold to the naive public. Instead, the government has siphoned the money away using “Special Issues – available only to trust funds.” (H/T DennisC) Those funds have been replaced by bonds that are backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. What that really means is that congressoids spent the money on pork barrel projects and all of us are on the hook via more taxation to replace the funds that originated as payroll taxes.
    Don’t worry. There’s only approximately $2.9 trillion that needs to be replaced in the SS “”Trust”” Fund. According to http://www.usdebtclock.org/, the US population is more than 329 million people. Every man, woman, and child is $8,800 in debt just to make Social Security whole again. That’s just one chunk. Of course, not all of those 329 million are working. There’s a whole lot more debt than just SS that needs to be repaid. Given the statistics Adam provided in the opening paragraphs … we’re screwed.
    It has been baking in the cake for decades. Ironically, the Social Security promise has allowed the general populace mindset to shift from one of self reliance to one where the government will provide for retirement. Could that be why the median savings rate is so dismal? Who really benefits when people spend instead of saving? Hmmmm.
    Grover

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  • Wed, Dec 19, 2018 - 8:53am

    Reply to #8
    S7

    S7

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Nov 29 2009

    Posts: 6

    A great pension benefit for a "Public Servant"

    For those that like a link to show how disconnected the public employment sector is from the reality of living today, I want to share a copy of a post I made just to illustrate a point. You never can beat a dead horse enough when it comes to our public servants.
     
    Here is a perfect example of a city manager, retired from El Monte California. Retired city manager James Mussenden collects more than $ 216,000 a year, plus cost of living and fully paid health insurance. And this is 1 man, from a Po-dunk suburb in LA. Median household income of $ 39,000. There are roughly 100,000 people in this suburb who will never have the retirement he has. They are the ones paying for him and Lord knows how many other people. Hubris, it’s all I can think of. I’m sure he really made a great impact for the improvement on society to justify the pension. That’s a public servant.
    This is one aspect of what brought Trump to the Presidency.
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-01-01/its-corruption-steroids-look-in

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  • Wed, Dec 19, 2018 - 9:59am

    Reply to #8
    DennisC

    DennisC

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Mar 19 2011

    Posts: 101

    Not Sure

    how they manage to get by in their golden years.  This might be something fun to look at for some taxpayers: https://openpension.ct.gov/#!/year/2018/card/0
    Good gig if you can get it.

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