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oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Eating Our Seed Corn: How Much of our “Growth” Is From One-Time Cashouts?
We as a nation are consuming our seed corn in great gulps, and there will be precious little left in a decade to pass down to the next generation.
Anecdotally, it seems a significant percentage of our recent economic “growth” is being funded by one-time cashouts of IRAs, 401Ks, sales of parents’ homes, etc. This is the equivalent of eating our seed corn. Once these pools of savings/equity/capital are gone, they aren’t coming back.
I personally know a number of people who have cashed out their retirement account 401Ks (and paid the taxes) to pay for their kids’ college expenses–in effect, cashing out their retirement to lower but not eliminate the debt burden of their offspring who bought the “going away to college” experience.
The cashed-out 401K delighted the government, which reaped huge penalties and income taxes, as the cashout pushed the annual income of the recipient into a high tax bracket. (“Hardship” withdrawals for medical care and education waive the penalties, but the income tax takes a big chunk of the withdrawal.)
The middle-aged person who cashed out their retirement will not work long enough to save an equivalent nestegg. Not only is time against such an accumulation of retirement savings, so is the stagnant economy: companies are slashing 401K contributions to offset rising healthcare (a.k.a. sickcare) expenses, and many workers young and old alike are finding jobs that pay them as self-employed contractors or part-time jobs with no benefits.
Another set of middle-aged people are withdrawing from IRAs (and paying the penalties) just to fill the gap between expenses and income. For a variety of reasons, many people are loathe to cut expenses or are unable to do so without drastic changes in their lifestyle. So they withdraw from the IRA (individual retirement account) to cover expenses that are left after income has been spent.
This “solution” is appealing to those whose incomes have declined in what they perceive as “temporary” hard times.
Another pool of equity that is being drained is the home equity in aging parents’ homes. The government will only pay for one set of medical expenses (long-term care, for example) if the elderly person has assets of less than $2,000 (as I recall). Given this cap, it makes sense for elderly homeowners to transfer ownership of their home to their offspring well before they need long-term care (which can cost $12,000 to $15,000 a month).
A variety of other medical expenses can arise that cause the home to be sold to raise cash–either expenses for the elderly parents or for their late-middle-age offspring who develop costly health issues. Family disagreements over sharing the equity can arise, leading to the sale of the house and the division of the equity among the offspring.
This cash is immediately hit with a variety of demands: a grandkid needs a car, somebody needs money to go back to graduate school (pursuing the fantasy that another degree will provide financial security), and so on–not to mention “we deserve a nice vacation, a new car, etc.”, the temptations in a consumerist culture that we all “deserve.”
Once the family home is sold, the furnishings and other valuables are also sold off to raise cash. In many cases, the expense of transporting the items across the country to relatives exceeds the value of the furnishings.
One common thread in all these demands for liquidation of equity is the short-term need is pressing. A consumerist culture offers few incentives for long-term savings other than life insurance, IRAs and 401Ks, and all of these can be tapped once a pressing need arises.
Though people may want to hang on to their nestegg, they are faced with short-term needs: how else can I pay tuition, or this medical bill?
As incomes have stagnated and costs for big-ticket expenses such as college and healthcare have soared, the gap between income and expenditures has widened every year for the bottom 90%.
Even those in the top 10% are not protected from draw-downs in retirement funds and family equity in homes and other assets.
Retirement funds, home equity, family assets–these are the financial equivalent of seed corn. Once they’re cashed out and spent, they cannot be replaced.
In more prudent and prosperous times, these nesteggs of capital were conserved to be passed on to the next generation not for consumption but as a nestegg to be conserved for the following generation. That chain of capital preservation and inheritance is being broken by the ravenous need for cash to spend, not later but right now.
So how much of the recent “growth” in GDP results from our consumption of seed corn? It is difficult to find any data on this, something which is unsurprising as the data would reveal the entire “recovery” story as a grandiose illusion: we as a nation are consuming our seed corn in great gulps, and there will be precious little left in a decade to pass down to the next generation.
We face not just an impoverishment in consumption but in expectations and generational assets.
January 29, 2014
I have an old acquaintance named Sam who has a hell of a deal for you.
Sam is actually a pretty famous guy with a big reputation. Unfortunately he has been a bit down and out on his luck lately… but he’s trying to make a comeback. And Sam is prepared to float you a really great investment opportunity.
Here’s the deal he’s offering: you give Sam your hard-earned retirement savings. Sam will invest your funds, and pay you a rate of return.
Granted, the rate of return he’s promising doesn’t quite keep up with inflation. So you will be losing some money. But don’t dwell on that too much.
And, rather than invest your funds in productive assets, Sam is going to blow it all on new cars and flat screen TVs. So when it comes time to make interest payments, Sam won’t have any money left.
But don’t worry, he still has that good ole’ credibility. So even though his financial situation gets worse by the year, Sam will just go back out there and borrow more money from other people to pay you back.
Of course, he will be able to keep doing this forever without any consequences whatsoever.
I know what you’re thinking– “where do I sign??” I know, right? It’s the deal of the lifetime.
This is basically the offer that the President of the United States floated last night.
And like an unctuously overgeled used car salesman, he actually pitched Americans on loaning their retirement savings to the US government with a straight face, guaranteeing “a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. . .”
This is his new “MyRA” program. And the aim is simple– dupe unwitting Americans to plow their retirement savings into the US government’s shrinking coffers.
We’ve been talking about this for years. I have personally written since 2009 that the US government would one day push US citizens into the ‘safety and security’ of US Treasuries.
Back in 2009, almost everyone else thought I was nuts for even suggesting something so sacrilegious about the US government and financial system.
But the day has arrived. And POTUS stated almost VERBATIM what I have been writing for years.
The government is flat broke. Even by their own assessment, the US government’s “net worth” is NEGATIVE 16 trillion. That’s as of the end of 2012 (the 2013 numbers aren’t out yet). But the trend is actually worsening.
In 2009, the government’s net worth was negative $11.45 trillion. By 2010, it had dropped to minus $13.47 trillion. By 2011, minus $14.78 trillion. And by 2012, minus $16.1 trillion.
Here’s the thing: according to the IRS, there is well over $5 trillion in US individual retirement accounts. For a government as bankrupt as Uncle Sam is, $5 trillion is irresistible.
They need that money. They need YOUR money. And this MyRA program is the critical first step to corralling your hard earned retirement funds.
At our event here in Chile last year, Jim Rogers nailed this right on the head when he and Ron Paul told our audience that the government would try to take your retirement funds:
I don’t know how much more clear I can be: this is happening. This is exactly what bankrupt governments do. And it’s time to give serious, serious consideration to shipping your retirement funds overseas before they take yours.
(Note to members of our PREMIUM service: look for an upcoming actionable alert on this topic).