Ron Swanson is Smiling

This article first appeared at National Review.

Ron Swanson is having a good year.

The smug anti-social meat-and-potatoes libertarian protagonist in the NBC series Parks and Recreation prides himself on being a do-nothing saboteur in his Pawnee (a fictional town in Indiana) municipal job and also, among other things, on having stashed away untold amounts of gold bullion, buried in various locations for doomsday or perhaps just for a rainy day.

While his sophisticated counterparts in Indianapolis or (gasp) far away New York City fret over their carefully constructed portfolios of securities, mutual funds, hedge funds, and the rest, Swanson’s own investment shines, like him, in its straight, plain and idle simplicity. This year, it also shines from having outperformed most assets, with the price of gold logging a 29 percent rise since January compared with a humble 1 percent for the S&P 500 stock index and 20 percent for a Nasdaq that is driven by only a handful of names.

After a long decline in the 1980s and 1990s, gold began its rehabilitation on the eve of the new millennium. Had Swanson caught the gold bug in July 1999, when gold made a historic bottom at $252.8, he would have gained 677 percent from his investment, a performance that towers over the major stock indices.

Entire careers have been made in the stock market over that twenty-one year span, with billions of dollars flowing into the pockets of bankers and investment managers, and into their six-figure cars, seven-figure Hampton homes, and eight-figure private jets.

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Yet, none of these financiers’ portfolios has measured up to gold. The dumb barbaric yellow relic has trounced all of them over nearly every interval since 1999, as can be seen in the table above. The one exception to this public thrashing is the ten-year period since 2010 in which gold has underperformed only because it spiked in 2010-11, much as it is currently. Read more

Should Children Vote?

The rising cost of entitlements will test inter-generational harmony.img_6331

In the week following the Brexit vote, a recurrent complaint from the losing side was that a majority of older people voted to leave while a majority of younger people voted to remain. In the eyes of the complainers, this rendered the leave outcome less legitimate because younger people have more years of life ahead of them and therefore would allegedly suffer more than old people from a decision to leave the European Union. So much for the wisdom of old age knowing what is best. And so much for the principle of one person one vote, regardless of age, gender or race or whatever.

Instead of disenfranchising a group of older voters, we may consider allowing children some representation in our voting system. In the United States, the voting age is 18 which means that there are approximately 74 million US citizens aged under 18 who do not have the right to vote. That is a sizable 23% of the entire population who will all be adults by 2034 and who may not in the future take kindly to the long-duration budget commitments that were made in their absence. Read more

Would Reaganomics Work Today?

The key drivers that propelled the Reagan economy are now tapped out or out of favor.

The name of Ronald Reagan is frequently evoked by the current contenders to the GOP nomination. Donald Trump speaks admiringly of the 40th President of the United States and uses a truncated version of his 1980 campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again”. Ted Cruz promises to implement Reagan’s solution of lower taxes, lower regulation and a stronger military. Before he bowed out recently, Marco Rubio was equal in his praise. And John Kasich stakes an even more tangible claim by reminding us that he is the only candidate who actually worked with Reagan. Read more

Bill Gross: Four Structural Issues Weighing on the US Economy

BILL GROSS, co-CIO of PIMCO, writes in the firm’s latest INVESTMENT OUTLOOK:

Strawberry Fields – Forever?

You didn’t build that ….. 332

I built that ………………… 206

Well, I guess that settles it: you didn’t build that after all. Or maybe you did, but not all of it. Or maybe like the convoluted John Lennon above “you think you know a yes, but it’s all wrong. That is you think you disagree.” Whatever. Rather than an economic mandate, November’s election was more of social commentary on the Republicans’ habit of living with eyes closed. Their positions on what Conan O’Brien labeled “female body parts” – immigration, gay rights and student loans – proved to be big losers, and they will have to amend rather than defend those views if they expect to compete in 2016. I suspect they will. Political parties are living social organisms that mutate in order to survive. We will see straight talking Chris Christie or Hispanic flavored Marco Rubio leading the Republican charge four years from now versus a reenergized Hillary Clinton. It should be quite a show with a “No Country for Old (White) Men” caste to it. READ MORE.

USA: Long-Term Implications of an Older Population

The NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL released a new report Aging and the Macroeconomy: Long-term Implications of an Older PopulationExcerpts of the press release:

Population Aging Will Have Long-Term Implications for Economy; Major Policy Changes Needed

WASHINGTON — The aging of the U.S. population will have broad economic consequences for the country, particularly for federal programs that support the elderly, and its long-term effects on all generations will be mediated by how — and how quickly — the nation responds, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council.  The unprecedented demographic shift in which people over age 65 make up an increasingly large percentage of the population is not a temporary phenomenon associated with the aging of the baby boom generation, but a pervasive trend that is here to stay.

“The bottom line is that the nation has many good options for responding to population aging,” said Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA-CREF and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.  “Nonetheless, there is little doubt that there will need to be major changes in the structure of federal programs, particularly those for health.  The transition to sustainable policies will be smoother and less costly if steps are taken sooner rather than later.”

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are on unsustainable paths, and the failure to remedy the situation raises a number of economic risks, the report says.  Together, the cost of the three programs currently amounts to roughly 40 percent of all federal spending and 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.  Because of overall longer life expectancy and lower birth rates, these programs will have more beneficiaries with relatively fewer workers contributing to support them in the coming decades.  Combined with soaring health care costs, population aging will drive up public health care expenditures and demand an ever-larger fraction of national resources.  READ MORE.

 

 

Does U.S. Population Bust Spell Fiscal Doom?

FROM INVESTORS’ BUSINESS DAILY:

Some news that gets little attention can have a big impact down the road. Case in point: U.S. population growth this year hit its lowest rate in decades. And no, this isn’t a good thing.

Population-control extremists are no doubt dancing a jig on word that the U.S. rate of growth was 0.74% in the most recent year, slowest since World War II (see chart). From the end of the 2010 census ended April 1 to July 1 of this year, we added just 2.8 million people, for a total of 311.6 million.

The reasons for this are many. Immigration, for one, has slowed considerably. Of more importance, however, Americans are having fewer babies, just 3.96 million in 2011, a number that’s expected to decline for years.

Why is this happening? READ MORE.

New York Times: Is Simple Demography Behind Weak Economy?

DAVID LEONHARDT writes in the NEW YORK TIMES:

Economic growth in the United States has been disappointing for more than a decade now. Some of the reasons are complex and hotly debated, and will be the subject of a series of posts here starting next week. But one of the reasons is not mysterious at all. It simply reflects demographic changes.

The share of Americans who are working age — old enough to be out of school but young enough not to be retired — is no longer growing. Only about 53 percent of the population was between the ages of 25 and 64 last year, unchanged from 2007 and up only slightly from 52 percent in 1997. Between 1967 and 1997, by contrast, the share grew 8 percentage points, to 52 percent from 44 percent. As more baby boomers retire, the share will begin to fall.

Fewer people of working age means, obviously enough, fewer workers. It also means fewer potential entrepreneurs creating new businesses that hire people. READ MORE.