Chart of the Decade

This chart tells millions of stories. I’m trying to get my head around its implications.

That’s right: since 1984 (surely an appropriate year) while the elderly have grown their wealth in nominal terms, the young are much worse off both in inflation-adjusted terms, as well as nominal terms (pretty hard to believe given that the money supply has expanded eightfold in the intervening years). So why are the elderly doing over fifty times better than the young when they were only doing ten times better before?

Are young people a stupefied generation coddled by parents and government, addicted to welfare, junk food, drugs and reality TV?

To some extent, but are they any less fiscally and morally responsible than the marijuana-smoking, free-love-embracing, national-debt-accruing baby boom generation? That’s a matter of opinion, but my answer is probably not. Baby boomers hate Ron Paul, while the under-35s seem to love him.

Is it due to government policies that favour the elderly and screw the young?

America is suffering from excessive consumer debt:

Net worth is calculated by subtracting debt from assets. The biggest debt for most people is a mortgage. So having more mortgage debt or less mortgage debt tends to be a pretty good determinant of net worth. (And no — unlike in the United Kingdom and Australia which have a severe problem with housing affordability — housing in the USA is still cheap today priced in wages)

The elderly have very often already paid off their mortgages — no doubt helped by the 1980s and 1990s where both stock prices and house prices grew rapidly. And why did rise so rapidly?

Some say that it came on the back of excessive expansion of the money supply beyond the economy’s productive capacity. But that doesn’t seem quite true:

The money supply grew in tandem with industrial production. This was no bubble, but organic growth (albeit as I have shown before on the back of cheap Chinese goods and cheap Arab energy).

My hypothesis is that the present situation is a product of government expansion.

Here’s government expenditure as a proportion of GDP:

Government spending in democracies very often tends to constitute a transfer of wealth from non-voters to voters (as well as groups that can’t afford lobbyists to groups that can afford lobbyists — perhaps that is one reason why corporate profits are soaring while youth unemployment remains elevated, and why Wall Street banks get bailed out, but delinquent small businesses do not).

Here’s the voter turnout by age in the 2004-2008 Presidential elections:

Older people vote in droves. Politicians want their votes and therefore promise them more free stuff — medicare, medicaid, services — and they vote for whoever offers them the most.

The biggest issue though, is this:

Keynesians may say that this reflects a government’s failure to create jobs for young people. They claim that the problem is that there is not enough money circulating in the economy, and that government can “raise demand” by pumping out more cash. But there is plenty of money in the economy; so much money that Apple have built up a $90 billion cash pile. So much that China has built up a $3 trillion cash pile. So much that banks are holding $1.6 trillion in excess reserves below fractional lending requirements.

More likely is the reality that overregulation and barriers to entry are preventing the unemployed from picking up the slack in the jobs market. As John Stossel reveals in a recent documentary film,  in New York City it costs $1 million to get a licence to drive a taxi. Anyone who wishes to operate a food cart, or run a lemonade stand has to traverse reams of bureaucracy, acquire health and safety certificates, and often pay huge fees  to receive the “necessary” accreditation. While some barriers to entry are necessary (e.g. in medicine), in other fields it is just an unnecessary restraint on useful economic activity. In many American cities it is now illegal even to feed the homeless without government certification and approval. Citizens who defy these regulations face fines, arrest, and even imprisonment.

In a recent article, the Economist noted:

Two forces make American laws too complex. One is hubris. Many lawmakers seem to believe that they can lay down rules to govern every eventuality. Examples range from the merely annoying (eg, a proposed code for nurseries in Colorado that specifies how many crayons each box must contain) to the delusional (eg, the conceit of Dodd-Frank that you can anticipate and ban every nasty trick financiers will dream up in the future). Far from preventing abuses, complexity creates loopholes that the shrewd can abuse with impunity.

The other force that makes American laws complex is lobbying. The government’s drive to micromanage so many activities creates a huge incentive for interest groups to push for special favours. When a bill is hundreds of pages long, it is not hard for congressmen to slip in clauses that benefit their chums and campaign donors. The health-care bill included tons of favours for the pushy. Congress’s last, failed attempt to regulate greenhouse gases was even worse.

Complexity costs money. Sarbanes-Oxley, a law aimed at preventing Enron-style frauds, has made it so difficult to list shares on an American stockmarket that firms increasingly look elsewhere or stay private. America’s share of initial public offerings fell from 67% in 2002 (when Sarbox passed) to 16% last year, despite some benign tweaks to the law. A study for the Small Business Administration, a government body, found that regulations in general add $10,585 in costs per employee. It’s a wonder the jobless rate isn’t even higher than it is.

The truth may be that the inability of the unemployed to become self-employed is the force that is squeezing the jobless most. Certainly, job migration overseas has changed America, but why should it mean continued elevated unemployment? There is enough money to keep the economy flowing so long as there are opportunities for people to make themselves useful in a way that pays. With the crushing burden of overregulation and the problem of barriers to entry, these opportunities are often restricted to large corporations.

These issues of youth unemployment and growing inequality between the generations are critically important. Unemployed and poor swathes of youth have a habit of creating volatility in response to restricted economic opportunity.

80 thoughts on “Chart of the Decade

  1. Just a correction: “That’s right: since 1984 (surely an appropriate year) while the elderly have grown their wealth in line with inflation” -> Even the BLS data show that to be in line with inflation 120,000 should have doubled by 2009. Not sure if it changes much, but probably it does.

      • As I point out in the article, globalisation greatly changed the picture. It doesn’t have to mean youth in the West have to stay unemployed, though.

        • It doesn’t if we just do this (from Bill Bonner, same article): “You want to put people back to work? Just cut wages in half. Presto, mission accomplished. Seriously, it would be easy to fix the unemployment problem. Just eliminate all the safety nets, welfare, unemployment, disability, minimum wages and other employment legislation. Let price and demand get together on their own. Anyone who really wanted to work would lower his wage to the point where an employer was willing to pay him. The economy would boom. But that’s another story. And no one — other than Ron Paul — is going to mention it in Congress.”

          The inflation-adjusted thing for the elderly probably changes things in the same way: not only the youth but even the really educated have to compete with the really educated worldwide.

        • “not only the youth but even the really educated have to compete with the really educated worldwide” -> and of course include the uneducated retired persons. Other than that, he mentions much of the same things (and solutions) you mention.

        • Just eliminate all the safety nets, welfare, unemployment, disability, minimum wages and other employment legislation.

          That really seems like shooting ourselves in the foot, to be honest. Slashing everything immediately is a recipe for trouble. Some safety nets (e.g. disability) are a good idea. I don’t want disabled people to end up starving on the street. I just want to get the part of the country that can work — but isn’t — working again. Yeah, getting rid of the minimum wage could be helpful, but it would be deeply unpopular. Removing barriers to entry so that people can work without paying huge administrative fees, taxes, licencing fees, etc, seems to be the most accomplishable strategy.

        • I agree with what he says. He doesn’t want disabled people ending up starving in the streets either, he’s talking about abused social welfare programs. (I know even in my own country plenty of people that should be working but instead have got a nice paycheck as a result of some imagined – or exaggerated – disability for which they got some certificate).

          Other than this, he sounds more than reasonable. I guess some people will end up in the streets anyway – in some Occupy movements – because having their cozy life abruptly interrupted will seem like an attack on their personal liberty to be lazy or something.

  2. @Aziz: “Older people vote in droves. Politicians want their votes and therefore promise them more free stuff — medicare, medicaid, services — and they vote for whoever offers them the most.”

    In the USA Yes. In Australia, No. In Australia voting is compulsory if registered, and most are registered. Even the homeless (If Registered) have to vote. This ensures policies are Socialist in leaning.

    However Australia had massive inaffordability in housing because banks lent to people with Equity and property to secure a mortgage over to begin with (Older generation)

    However there is hope for the younger generation (Provided the elderly don’t sell up and spend at casinos) It’s called inheritance!

    Lets hope you were born into a class that had Equity to begin with, and was on the receiving end of all that Fiat inspired printed cash (Mates rates). Paper for land bricks and mortar so to speak. Sounds like a good deal.

    • I worked in banking at the time of deregulation, and the rule changes which favoured the wealthy (Banks financed by securitising using overseas Fed funded-money printed- Bonds) was the catalyst for the biggest intergenerational and interclass theft in Australia’s history.

      It actually saddens me that Politicians knew this would make it unaffordable for many buyers who wanted to fall in love get married, buy a home (not an investment property) have happy children in a stable home, couldn’t.

      I say Nationalisation of all Politicians property and use it to fund a rebate for families wanting a home. That will make them pay attention!

      • Yes. It is time politicians had more skin in the game. I think their salary should always be linked to results, and if they take the country backward they should foot the bill.

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  4. Yes wouldn’t it be lovely if we could go back in time. To a time when pushing a wheel barrow of imported goods, could ensure you can build an emporium empire, like Australia’s Myer family.

    It’s called the internet, and is the last place unregulated for free trade. Import a container, pay the customs tax, and sell to whoever you like, using the Government postal service.

    Why set up a stand where you can be hassled by local by-laws officers, pay exhorbitant rents, pay other fees?

  5. Well, let’s see. Youth generate wealth from wages while the elderly generate significant amounts of wealth from asset values.

    We have an economic system that fiercely defends asset values (interest rate cuts, easy credit, zoning regulations limiting new housing supply, Fed purchases of distressed assets, government bailouts etc.) yet is content to watch the value of labor plummet (free trade, barriers to unionization, etc.). So yes, we have deliberately created a system to enrich the elderly at the expense of youth. Pretty simple really.

    • Agreed. Intergenerational theft through law changes. If I read the law more I would have understood the ramifications of the changes in banking regulation.

      It is not the economics, but the laws that cause change. (Repeal of Glass Steagall, Community Reinvestment Act etc). Lawyers-Politicians are the same ilk. Devils Advocates!

  6. I noticed this articles appears on Zerohedge.

    The responses are buffoonish. It is a disgrace to your work.

    The commenters are either trolls paid to be flippant and tune readers out (Competitors discrediting Zerohedge), or the USA’s most intelligent are really just idiots. There will be no change in the USA.

    God save America from themselves!

    • Yeah. But look at it like this: I got 900 readers of the article on my site today. I got nearly 19,000 on Zero Hedge. I got 40 comments here, and over 300 on Zero Hedge. Yes, to some extent ZH has a lowest common denominator audience simply because of the size and success of the site.

  7. American government has always chased the baby boomer vote because that is the largest demographic bloc. Government gives that group its most accommodating policies. Even when the boomers were subject to the Viet Nam draft, it was easy to get out of it (if your family had enough money to put you in college). In 984 there were plenty of boomers still in or just leaving the 35-and-younger group. In 2009 the boomers are just entering the 65-and-over group. It would be interesting to see that net worth graph for 1959 when boomers are still being born.

  8. Great Post!

    I know, FO-SHO, that the 1st chart above, can be explained partially by the under reporting of the inflation numbers for the last 30 years and its relevance to leverage.

    It took me long time to figure out the hows and the whys and so on, but here it is:

    Irregardless of all other economic theories, the chart above is the story of leverage. Leverage increases both the gains and losses of a particular investment. People/firms with money/collateral have access to leverage 1st and the more money you have, the cheaper leverage is.

    Its important to understand that over the last 30 years, the world’s economy has became uber efficient. Examples abound in virtually every industry from autos to farming to accounting. Technology has allowed the human race to do more with less and the result has been a higher living standard for some. But there seems to be a catch. The “trickle down effect” promised in the 1980’s never materialized fully. Why?

    The “trickle down effect” never reached the masses because most of the surplus value created by technology gains was captured by leverage. Where did this “leverage” come from? Why the US Federal Reserve and othe centeral banks around the world. The economic theory of pumping liquidity into the economy during slumps to smooth out the business cycle did, does and will always favor the haves over the have nots. It doesn’t matter how the new money (liquidity) gets into the system either via lowering IRs, deficit spending or another avenue, the new money will always flow towards the haves and allow them leverage up and capture most of the surplus value. An example of this can clearly be seen in 2008 by the $220 million dollar loan given to the wife of the Morgan Stanely CEO Cristy Mack (and her buddy Susan something) under the TALF program, which virtually guaranteed a profit at the taxpayer’s expense.

    What does leverage have to do with inflation? Well, once the US dollar became a fiat currency in 1971, the race for hard assets has never stopped and hence the reflection of this race in the inflation numbers. The TPTB realized this after the disaster of the 1970’s and put in policies to combat and hide the deficiencies of a fiat currency and its side effect of inflation. Offical government programs that transfer wealth from the haves to the have nots where put in place and unofficial programs such as the supression of gold prices by the banking cartel were instituted. (I can’t prove this, but come on folks, look at Bernanke today trying to fight the gold bugs.)

    But the Babe Ruth of problems, is the under reporting of the inflation numbers, which is an outright lie. The real reason and why it is the biggest lie never told is this, “In a rationally functioning economy, there will always be a slight deflationary pull.” New technologies always put a downward pressure on prices. At one time 90% of the US population had to be farmers in order to survive. Today, only 2% of the US population are farmers. Technology is the reason.

    So, if technology creates efficiencies and allows the purchasing power of a currency to increase, where did the surplus value go and by extension the increased standard of living for the masses go? Why it went to folks who access to leverage. Who are those folks? Ah, yeah right,

    • Efficiency is a honey trap, because it depletes redundancy. Redundancy is good because it acts as a stabiliser. It counteracts fragility. The most “efficient” creature would have one eye, one arm, one lung. Why spend energy on two eyes when you can spend less on one? Humans developed redundancy because it is robust.

      The global economy has evolved into a cyclops. All the redundancy has been stripped back to none. And what we are left with is hyper-fragility.

  9. Crap,

    I forgot to mention, most young folk have no capital, have had any wage gains eaten up by “real” inflation and have increased world compition for jobs.

    But, in with a currency backed by a standard, many of the inefficiencies would have worked themselves out long ago.

  10. This video represents what is bad with Investment advisors. Use the past 3 years of a bull market rise (Confirmation bias), with a “SalesGirl” and organise a meeting with your most wealthy male clients. Men being men, will prove their worth by closing a deal to impress her. The underlying Ponzi momemtum will be breathtaking.

    She is contantly searching for her words, and not the brightest spark.

  11. It is funny how the older generation and elders complain about the govt corruption yet they are also the generation of people who voted them into office…

    So why are those people complaining when they are the ones who put all these people into office in the first place. Just because you are older by age does not mean you are wiser.

    • I agree. This corruption started a long time ago and has been going on for so long dating back to when America was separating from the king and queen. They still wanted control so they set control with governing the currency and banks.

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    • Well, just use credit cards to payoff the student loans and default on the credit cards.

      Sheesh, do I have to do everything for you kids?

    • Well, I think that student loans are a story unto themselves. The main story is that while the cost continues to rise, the wages of a person with a college degree are stagnant. Simply, education has become devalued. Not only that, but there is now a costless alternative to expensive degrees: self-eduction via that wonderful source the internet.

      The smartest thing I heard anyone say in the last five years was actually from a Jewish real estate agent my age who was trying to rent me a flat: “why would people want to go to university? All it shows is that you are lazy and can’t be bothered to find a proper job for three or four years.”

      While I disagree for certain fields (e.g. medicine, law, architecture — i.e. vocational subjects) I completely disagree for non-vocational subjects. Better to work and self-educate.

      Tomorrow’s article will be on student loans.

      • Wise advice. I abused the President of my professional CPA organisation because they can’t run a proper resource library e.g. How to use SAP, a major business ERP software tool.

        Why did I bother going to Uni to qualify for membership of their Association, pay alll those fees, when I can educate myself.

        It is a closed shop racket!

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  14. I’m also curious about the manufacturing number… How’s it calculated? Is it sprinkled with BLS magic? Are Apple products manufactured in USA because Apple is registered in the US?

    And if I’m not mistaken that graph shows manufacturing increasing 2-3 times while the money supply is up 7 times (when superimposing 2 graphs we can perform such neat tricks).

    And I wonder how many of those manufacturing companies are companies like

    • Using government statistics is viable Andrei, because they are all sprinkled with BLShit, so we are comparing Apples to Apples.

      Yes, to some extent I think the “manufacturing” number has some holes in it; that a lot of it is building shit for the military-industrial overseas war machine; that it is measured in inflatable dollars and not constant units of productivity, etc etc.

      By the way, the 2000s and 2010s is the real decade to make Austrian economists excited, because in that decade, the money supply continued to grow while industrial production — even with all the problems we are identifying — has continued to slump.

    • Buddy,

      Is Western Australia around the city of Perth a good place to live?

      Any pointers or leads are appreciated. I’m looking at a long term move, around 5 years from now.

      • Visited when I was young appeared clean and well kept i.e manicured lawns. Beaches etc. But 3000km to Sydney, Melbourne, nothing but flat barren desert in between. Driving is a once only adventure. You’ll have to fly which is over priced due to lck of competition.

        It is a mining town on steroids, so nightlife is boozy and wild. Of course the poorer parts attract “Bogans” Google that. 90% of Australian cultural characteristic. Good people but refined English or Asians may find them boorish.

        Gets ultra hot 35-40 in summer.

        I visited Adelaide the other week. Thought about moving there (Nice beaces). Closer to East Coast but has the Civic minded classy feel to it. BTW Adelaide was a colony not built on the back of convicts. So the culture is slightly more refined.

  15. A young malleable and easily controlled population is being created on purpose by the powers that be. Fully employed, well educated and semi-independent young people are dangerous…they may not do as they are told, they may invent their own technologies and social innovations which may make the central planners redundant, their corporations obsolete…so they need to be prevented. Its a bunch of old rich families wanting to hold on to their power and wealth…by out manoeuvring and destroying the competition. One of the Rockefeller top guys is supposed to have said competition is a sin.

    • I hate to point out that most of my friends are not “semi-independent young people.”

      Hence, I am here on the internet talking to strangers.

    • I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I do see a “conspiracy” in the fact that government (supported by corporate lobbyists) is over-regulating many things to oblivion. Simply, it is central planning gone to its logical conclusion: it maximises planners’ control, and maximises the corporate elite’s grasp on the marketplace.

      • Lobbyists should be outlawed. They spend money to lobby for change and influence which protects their interests. This is why the free “West” is now a suffocated mess.

        Great return on investment.

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      • I got a response from Tyler as to why I have not been set up with an account.

        He made some smart remark about checking my spam inbox. No log in set up in my spam folder, so I abused him and said lift his game. Zerohedge is a advertising business. Nothing more. They probably are a Hedge fund and trade the tips.

        • I find Graham Summers there the most annoying. He doesn’t even have the facts straight. I don’t know for how long the EMU will survive, but at least he should get his facts straight. He said things like “Germany wants a political union not a currency union” (anyone who knows anything about EU affairs knows that this is the step required to make a transfer union democratically accountable) and quoted Schauble as being the anti-EU guy in Germany (anyone knowledgeable would describe him as the arch-europhile). Oh, and not to mention that his permabear macro predictions have been constantly wrong ever since I started following ZH >1 yr. ago.

        • Tyler gets some love from me. After all, he puts my articles at the top of his site, getting me thousands of readers and driving traffic to my blog, and helping me build my reputation. And Tyler himself is mostly right on the issues — and on his on particular issues of algos, HFT, international bond market, etc etc he’s probably the best in the world. A lot of the other people there I don’t have much time for, especially permabears, anarchists, etc.

        • I know he helps your site, but he has a responsibility now. If I was in Government and against the spirit of Zerohedge I would shut it down on National Security concerns.

          A lot of people had their savings wiped out. The panicked and sold at the March Bottom. That is one pissed off person. A reason for a lone wolf stereotype.

          The articles and posts feed that anger. I can’t believe how stupid people can be writing those comments. They are either Government trolls trying to stir up emotions and see who bites (Target for an arrest on National Security Grounds) or actual lunatics.

          Like I have said before, change only occurs through organising a legitimate organisation. writing to politicians, organising a protest (With Government Permit of course) This is what OWS should have done. They failed big time. Now people have lost the emotion.

          This is what I set out to do on Zerohedge. But I am nothere to save the USA or UK from themselves. My focus is ensuring Australia prospers.

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  19. Seeing a different picture from this chart. In fact this chart’s telling different stories.

    Who says young people (35 younger) should have lots of money? Ok, may be they do if they are on Wall Street.

    Many people I know were penniless at 35 and younger. Many young medical doctors 35 and younger have no money but debts. But they are working their way to build a self-sufficient life and most them do very well later on. It can only be achieved by working through times. And yes by 65 things will get better.

    (Talking about in the U.S.A here)

    • But the story is that that was still roughly true in 1984. Of course young people will have a lower net worth. But should it decline even in spite of the monetary base increasing eightfold? I think that tells a story about a broken society that requires the young to take on excessive debt and even then they may not be able to get a job.

      • How much debt to take what major to study are personal decisions. I never take on loan which I can’t pay back. Problem is bubble economy make bubble heads out of the babies growing up in “good times.” Too many were living easy lives and made to believe that they can be anyone they want to be, like becoming some CEOs or big money making big shots or others, only if they go to expensive good schools. And there are always some nice clean easy high pay good jobs waiting for them at the end of their schools.

        Too bad, reality now teach them the lesson. But no need to worry because hard times teach young people to be more practical and make them tough too, just like their gradparents’ generation who had experienced the Great Depression.

        There’s this Chinese saying something like: good thing may end badly while bad thing may create positive result…. You’ll never know what sweetness taste like without knowing the taste of bitterness.

        • There’s this Chinese saying something like: good thing may end badly while bad thing may create positive result…. You’ll never know what sweetness taste like without knowing the taste of bitterness.

          This is some great wisdom. Do you have a source on that quote?

      • Most Chinese growing up with wisdom like that. Think it’s from Yin Yang philosophy. Like in the universe all things are connected in some ways and all things can be interchangable. Chairman Mao also wrote that in his Little Redbook.

        Here’s another old Chinese proverb/story: (塞翁失马焉知祸福) “Blessing in disguise how can we know good and bad fortune (Or.Behind Bad luck comes good luck. )”

        Story: Once upon a time an poor old man lost his only horse. He was very sad and cried for days and nights His friend comforted him and said: Blessing in disguise how can we know good and bad fortune.

        One good day months or a year later, miracle happened. The old man’s horse came home with it’s new formed family: it’s mate and it’s children. The old man ended up getting back many horses by losing one.

        Sometimes you have to lose in order to gain. ( Gambling is not implied.)

  20. Isn’t this chart an over simplification of a complex issue. The age brackets don’t reflect Boomers who are currently in their late 40’s and into 60’s. But a 65+ chart only collects a fraction of the boomers. The true seniors have some major skin in the $ net worth game and their are far more in the elder ranks thanks to great health care. So as American youth try to find the perfect work life balance that is their due more boomers and seniors work longer to amass more for the longer long haul. Instead one might say get to work or at least get out and vote instead of watching from the side lines. It ain’t easy, never was, problems change, but change can be driven with passion for a cause.

  21. Maldistribution of wealth within civil society is the source of the problem, not government, other than to so say that a government captured by the top 1% income group, lobbies for policies favorable to it. Look to civil society for the cause of our problems not to government, it simply reflects the private maldistribution of wealth, private debt not public debt is our problem.

    • Chicken or egg? Is the government a reflection of civil society, or is civil society a reflection of government?

      The problem, in my view, is both.

      • No its advertising and Drama shows. This forms the psyche of the next generation.

        If I had a lot of money to burn I would create an ad mocking the mainstream press, drama, and consumer society etc. An AdBusters or an Azizonomics on the TV so to speak.

        But the stations won’t let you do that.

        They have to dumb down the masses.

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