Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas



I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Charles Dickens

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Gods of the Copybook Headings


AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

-R. Kipling

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bush Has Made Us Vulnerable


Here's a "pull no punches" look at where America stands at the end of the George W. Bush presidency. History may look back on him more favorably than now - since his low approval ratings are probably only surpassed by Gov. Blagojevich. I try to refrain from the Monday Morning Quarterbacking that is very prevalent - he faced huge decisions, and it is easy to criticize when the results of those decisions were not favorable. That being said, we are in trouble as a nation - and as its leader, he bears a large portion of responsibility.

The administrations of George W. Bush have virtually assured such a displacement by catastrophically throwing the country off balance, both politically and financially, while breaking the nation's sword in an inconclusive seven-year struggle against a ragtag enemy in two small bankrupt states.
...
The pity is that the war could have been successful and this equilibrium sustained had we struck immediately, preserving the link with September 11th; had we disciplined our objective to forcing upon regimes that nurture terrorism the choice of routing it out with their ruthless secret services or suffering the destruction of the means to power for which they live; had we husbanded our forces in the highly developed military areas of northern Saudi Arabia after deposing Saddam Hussein, where as a fleet in being they would suffer no casualties and remain at the ready to reach Baghdad, Damascus, or Riyadh in three days; and had we taken strong and effective measures for our domestic protection while striving to stay within constitutional limits and eloquently explaining the necessity -- as has always been the case in war -- for sometimes exceeding them. Today's progressives apologize to the world for America's treatment of terrorists (not a single one of whom has been executed). Franklin Roosevelt, when faced with German saboteurs (who had caused not a single casualty), had them electrocuted and buried in numbered graves next to a sewage plant.

The counterpart to Republican incompetence has been a Democratic opposition warped by sentiment. The deaths of thousands of Americans in attacks upon our embassies, warships, military barracks, civil aviation, capital, and largest city were not a criminal matter but an act of war made possible by governments and legions of enablers in the Arab world. Nothing short of war -- although not the war we have waged -- could have been sufficient in response. The opposition is embarrassed by patriotism and American self-interest, but above all it is blind to the gravity of the matter. Though scattered terrorists allied with militarily insignificant states are not, as some conservatives assert, closely analogous to Nazi Germany, the accessibility of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons makes the destructive capacity of these antagonists unfortunately similar -- a fact, especially in regard to Iran, that is persistently whistled away by the Left.
...
Both failed. The country is exhausted, divided, and improperly protected, and will remain so if the new president and administration are merely another face of the same sterile duality. To avoid the costs of a stalled financial system, the two parties -- after an entire day of reflection -- committed to the expenditure of what with its trailing ends will probably be $1.5 trillion in this fiscal year alone.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Four Bad Bears


Here's a really cool financial website with tons of data to sift through: http://dshort.com. Shown here is a composite graph of the last 4 big bear markets, that they update daily:

The site has lots of interesting articles and charts...with a slant towards long term and retirement investing advice. It might be quite helpful in the quest to navigate today's crazy markets.


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Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Are Alt-A Loans?


Some interesting factoids about Alternative A-Paper loans:

For lenders, Alt-A mortgages are considered riskier than "prime" loans, yet safer than "subprime"

They are defined by the following characteristics:

- Reduced borrower documentation (NINJA- No Income, No Job or Asset loans)
- High debt to income ratio
- High loan to value ratio

Most Alt-A mortgages are "non-comforming" and do not fall under Government Sponsored Enterprise (Frannie/Freddie) lending guidelines

Typically the borrowers are not credit risks, but the loan structure itself enhances the risk profile

The low amount of documentation allows for borrowers to take on more than they can afford

Alt-A loans are widely used for investment properties, raising the chances that they will go to foreclosure

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Word of the Day

anthropogenic (nthr-p-jnk)

1. Caused or influenced by humans.
2. Pertaining to the effect of human beings on the natural world.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More Mortgage Woes


Here's your daily dose of pessimism...those of us who thought the housing market may turn around in late '09 or early '10 may be in for a rude awakening. As shown in this 60 Minutes piece, there are millions of exotic mortgages - called Alt-A and Option ARMs - still poised to reset in the coming years. These "resets" may see foreclosure rates as high as 50-70% as the monthly payments increase to realistic levels. Commercial real estate, car loans and credit cards are all expected to see increased defaults as well.



In a more positive note, the fed lending rate was slashed to near zero today. This may allow more people to qualify for real loans and/or refinance the crazy ones they are presently in.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Debt Man Walking


This article
provides a concise and easy to understand explanation of the world economic state of affairs since World War II. Beginning with the formal agreement of Bretton Woods, an informal agreement between the major players emerged in the late 70s and early 80s. As this bargain has begun to unravel in the last few years - dangerously so in the last few months - global players are calling for a "New Bretton Woods". While most agree something has to be done, exact actions are harder to define.

For decades, the United States has relied on a tortuous financial arrangement that knits together its economy with those of China and Japan. This informal system has allowed Asian countries to run huge export surpluses with the United States, while allowing the United States to run huge budget deficits without having to raise interest rates or taxes, and to run huge trade deficits without abruptly depreciating its currency. I couldn't find a single instance of Obama discussing this issue, but it has been an obsession of bankers, international economists, and high officials like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. They think this informal system contributed to today's financial crisis. Worse, they fear that its breakdown could turn the looming downturn into something resembling the global depression of the 1930s.

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Global Trends 2025: Final Thoughts


I will summarize the main points that I have covered from this report in this post, as well as feature an interesting glimpse of optimism.

"Relative Certainties"

- A global multipolar system is emerging with the rise of China, India, and others. The relative power of nonstate actors—businesses, tribes, religious organizations, and even criminal networks—also will increase.
- Continued economic growth—coupled with 1.2 billion more people by 2025— will put pressure on energy, food, andwater resources.

"Uncertainties"

- Whether an energy transition away from oil and gas—supported by improved energy storage, biofuels, and clean coal—is completed during the 2025 time frame.
- Whether mercantilism stages a comeback and global markets recede.
- Whether Europe and Japan overcome economic and social challenges caused or compounded by demography.


Without a doubt, we live in very interesting times. If we can predict anything, it is that the future will be unpredictable. I'll finish up with a portion of text that exudes optimism. Will it come true? Only time will tell.

A Non-nuclear Korea?

We see a unified Korea as likely by 2025—if not as a unitary state, then in some form of North-South confederation. While diplomacy working to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continues, the final disposition of the North’s nuclear infrastructure and capabilities at the time of reunification remain uncertain. A new, reunified Korea struggling with the large financial burden of reconstruction will, however, be more likely to find international acceptance and economic assistance by ensuring the denuclearization of the Peninsula, perhaps in a manner similar to what occurred in Ukraine post-1991. A loosely confederated Korea might complicate
denuclearization efforts. Other strategic consequences are likely to flow from Korean unification, including prospects for new levels of major power cooperation to manage new and enduring challenges, such as denuclearization, demilitarization, refugee flows, and financing reconstruction.



Other Global Trends Posts:
Global Trends 2025
Global Trends Update
Global Trends Update II
Globalization and the Crash of '08
Demographics of Discord
Timing is Everything
Winners and Losers in a Post-Petroleum World
Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty
Final Thoughts

Read More...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Treasury Bills Trade at Negative Rates

In another sign of the craziness of the markets, earlier this week US Treasury Bills traded at negative interest rates for a short time. Essentially this means you had to pay for the courtesy of someone else holding onto your money.

The Treasury sold $27 billion of three-month bills yesterday at a discount rate of 0.005 percent, the lowest since it starting auctioning the securities in 1929. The U.S. also sold $30 billion of four-week bills today at zero percent for the first time since it began selling the debt in 2001.

If you invested $1 million in three-month bills at today’s negative discount rate of 0.01 percent, for a price of 100.002556, at maturity you would receive the par value for a loss of $25.56.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Recession or Depression?


It was recently announced that we are officially in a recession. But what about the worst "ession" of them all - what exactly is the definition of economic recession and depression?

Here's an interesting look at just that...

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Global Economic Prospects 2009: Commodities at a Crossroad


The World Bank released its latest Global Economic Prospects report for 2009. Since it deals nearly exclusively with commodities, I thought it might have some interesting nuggets to explore. Today I'll post the link to the pdf, the introduction, as well as some of its key findings - and hopefully break down some commentary in the coming days.

The release of this year’s Global Economic Prospects finds the world economy at a crossroads. Markets all over the world are engulfed in a global economic crisis, with stock markets sharply down and volatile, almost all currencies having depreciated substantially against the dollar, and risk premiums on a wide range of debt having increased by 600 or more basis points. Commodity markets too have turned a corner. Following several years of increase, prices have plummeted, and although well above their 1990s levels, they have given up most of the increases of the past 24 months.

Chapter 1 of this report examines the medium-term implications of this crisis for
developing-country growth, inflation, and world trade. Chapter 2 looks at longer-term supply and demand prospects in commodity markets. It takes into account the long-term growth prospects of developing countries and their rising share in world GDP (gross domestic product), the declining quality of new pools of resources, and the influence of technology on both demand and supply. Finally, chapter 3 reports on the poverty impacts of high commodity prices and examines
the effectiveness of policies in both producing and consuming countries in dealing with the challenges posed by periodic bouts of high commodity prices.

This report does not deal with water, fish, or timber, all commodities of critical importance to developing countries and the globe but which fall outside the scope of this report either because of their public-goods character or, in the case of timber, because of its treatment in a recent report (World Bank 2007).
Key Findings:
  1. The global financial crisis threatens short term prospects in developing countries
  2. Uncertainty continues to cloud the outlook
  3. The commodity market boom has come to an end
  4. Commodity prices are declining in response to slower GDP growth
  5. In the longer term, growth in the demand for commodities should ease
  6. Moderating demand for metals depends critically on increased efficiency in China
  7. Future energy demand depends onimproving automobile efficiency
  8. Over the next 20 years, supplies of extracted commodities are likely to remain ample
  9. Food demand will slow with lower population growth, but biofuels could expand crop demand very rapidly
  10. Strong productivity growth and unused crop land should ensure adequate food supply at the global level
  11. Commodity-producing countries are managing the revenue windfall better than they have in the past
  12. High commodity prices pose challenges for the poor, especially in consuming nations
Lots of interesting topics to cover...

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Global Trends 2025: Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty


As highlighted in the previous two posts, Chapter Four deals with resources - and the possibility of conflict that could arise when these resources become scarce. Three main resources - the basics of life - have the highest potential for tension: food, water, and energy. While energy tends to dominate the headlines, food and water may loom just as large for certain populations.

Experts currently consider 21 countries with a combined population of about 600 million to be either cropland or freshwater scarce. Owing to continuing population growth, 36 countries, home to about 1.4 billion people, are projected to fall into this category by 2025.
...

The World Bank estimates that demand for food will rise by 50 percent by 2030, as a
result of growing world population, rising affluence, and shifts to Western dietary
preferences by a larger middle class. The global food sector has been highly responsive to market forces, but farm production probably will continue to be hampered by misguided agriculture policies that limit investment and distort critical price signals. Keeping food prices down to placate the urban poor and spur savings for industrial investment has distorted agricultural prices in the past. If political elites are more worried about urban instability than rural incomes—a safe bet in many countries—these policies are likely to persist, increasing the risk of tight supplies in the future. The demographic trend for increased urbanization—particularly in developing states—underscores the likelihood that failed policies will continue.
...

In addition to the currently projected scarcities of freshwater and cropland, the UK
Treasury-commissioned Stern Report estimates that by the middle of the century
200 million people may be permanently displaced “climate migrants”—representing a ten-fold increase over today’s entire documented refugee and internally displaced
populations. Although this is considered high by many experts, broad agreement exists about the risks of large scale migration and the need for better preparation. Most displaced persons traditionally relocate within their home countries, but in the future many are likely to find their home countries have diminishing capabilities to accommodate them. Thus the number of migrants seeking to move from disadvantaged into relatively privileged countries is likely to increase. The largest inflows will mirror many current migratory patterns—from North Africa and Western Asia into Europe, Latin America into the US, and Southeast Asia into Australia.
We in the U.S. may not think these resources are ever in danger, but in recent years there have been disputes over water rights in several Southern states. Not just in traditional desert states - in 2007 Georgia and the Carolinas had major water shortages. And water shortages could spell trouble for those who rely on irrigation to produce crops as well. The Ogallala Aquifer in the midwest is being rapidly depleted, per wikipedia:

The Ogallala Aquifer is being depleted at a rate of 12 cubic km (420,000 million ft3 or 9.7 million acre feet) per year, amounting to a total depletion to date of a volume equal to the annual flow of 18 Colorado Rivers. Some estimates say it will dry up in as little as 25 years. Many farmers in the Texas High Plains, which rely particularly on the underground source, are now turning away from irrigated agriculture as they become aware of the hazards of overpumping.
A comparable replacement for this water may simply not exist, and a large portion of the folks that rely on this water for drinking and employment may be forced to make very difficult choices. And the millions of people who rely on the food grown in these states will be competing for reduced global reserves.


Other Global Trends Posts:
Global Trends 2025
Global Trends Update
Global Trends Update II
Globalization and the Crash of '08
Demographics of Discord
Timing is Everything
Winners and Losers in a Post-Petroleum World
Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty
Final Thoughts

Read More...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Global Trends 2025: Winners/Losers in Post-Petroleum World

We believe the most likely occurrence by 2025 is a technological breakthrough that will provide an alternative to oil and natural gas, but implementation will lag because of the necessary infrastructure costs and need for longer replacement time. However, whether the breakthrough occurs within the 2025 time frame or later, the geopolitical implications of a shift away from oil and natural gas will be immense.

  • Saudi Arabia will absorb the biggest shock, as its leaders will be forced to tighten up on the costs of the royal establishment. The regime could face new tensions with the Wahabi establishment as Riyadh seeks to promote a series of major economic reforms—including women’s full participation in the economy—and a new social contract with its public as it tries to institute a work ethic to accelerate development plans and diversify the economy.
  • In Iran, the drop in oil and gas prices will undermine any populist economic policies. Pressure for economic reform will increase, potentially putting pressure on the clerical governing elite to loosen its grip. Incentives to open up to the West in a bid for greater foreign investment, establishing or strengthening ties with Western partners—including with the US—will increase. Iranian leaders might be more willing to trade their nuclear policies for aid and trade.
For Iraq, emphasis on investing in non-oil sectors of its economy will increase. The smaller Gulf states, which have been making massive investments designed to transform themselves into global tourist and transport hubs, are likely to manage the transition well, bolstered by their robust sovereign wealth funds (SWFs). Across the Arab world, SWFs are being deployed to develop non-oil sectors of the economy in a race against oil as a diminishing asset.

Outside the Middle East, Russia will potentially be the biggest loser, particularly if its economy remains heavily tied to energy exports, and could be reduced to middle power status. Venezuela, Bolivia, and other petro-populist regimes could unravel completely, if that has not occurred beforehand because of already growing discontent and decreasing production. Absent support from Venezuela, Cuba might be forced to begin China-like market reforms.

Early oil decline states—those exporters which had peaked or were declining as is currently the case with Indonesia and Mexico—may be better prepared to shift the focus of their economic activities and diversify into non-energy sectors.



Other Global Trends Posts:
Global Trends 2025
Global Trends Update
Global Trends Update II
Globalization and the Crash of '08
Demographics of Discord
Timing is Everything
Winners and Losers in a Post-Petroleum World
Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty
Final Thoughts

Read More...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Global Trends 2025: Timing is Everything


Chapter Four of Global Trends 2025 covers one of my favorite topics - resources. I'll begin the discussion by highlighting a section concerning alternative energy and the challenges that we face.

Timing is Everything

All current technologies are inadequate for replacing traditional energy architectures on the scale needed, and new energy technologies probably will not be commercially viable and widespread by 2025 (see foldout). The present generation of biofuels is too expensive to grow, would further boost food prices, and their manufacture consumes essentially the same amount of energy they produce. Other ways of converting nonfood biomass resources to fuels and chemical products should be more promising, such as those based on high-growth algae or agricultural waste products, especially cellulosic biomass. Development of clean coal technologies and carbon capture and storage is gaining momentum and—if such technologies were cost-competitive by 2025—would enable coal to generate more electricity in a carbon-constrained regulatory environment. Long-lasting hydrogen fuel cells have potential, but they remain in their infancy and are at least a decade away from commercial production. Enormous infrastructure investment might be required to support a “hydrogen economy.” An Argonne National Laboratory study found that hydrogen, from well to tank, is likely to be at least twice as costly as gasoline.

Even with the favorable policy and funding environment that would be needed for biofuels, clean coal, or hydrogen, major technologies historically have had an “adoption lag.” A recent study found that in the energy sector, it takes an average of 25 years for a new production technology to become widely adopted. A major reason for this lag is the need for new infrastructure to handle major innovation. For energy in particular, massive and sustained infrastructure investments made for almost 150 years encompass production, transportation, refining, marketing, and retail activities. Adoption of natural gas, a fuel superior to oil in many respects, illustrates the difficulty of a transition to something new. Technologies to use natural gas have been widely available since at least the 1970s, yet natural gas still lags crude oil in the global market because the technical and investment requirements for producing and transporting it are greater than they are for oil-based fuels.

Simply meeting baseline energy demand over the next two decades is estimated to require more than $3 trillion of investment in traditional hydrocarbons by companies built up over more than a century and with market capitalizations in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Because a new form of energy is highly unlikely to use existing infrastructure without modifications, we expect any new form of energy to demand similarly massive investment.

Despite what are seen as long odds now, we cannot rule out the possibility of a transition by 2025 that would avoid the costs of an infrastructure overhaul. The greatest possibility for a relatively quick and inexpensive transition during that period comes from better renewable generation sources (photovoltaic and wind) and improvements in battery technology. With many of these technologies, the infrastructure cost hurdle for individual projects would be lower, enabling many small economic actors to develop their own energy transformation projects that directly serve their interests—e.g., stationary fuel cells powering homes and offices, recharging plug-in hybrid autos, and selling energy back to the grid. Also, energy conversion schemes—such as plans to generate hydrogen for automotive fuel cells from electricity in a homeowner’s garage—could avoid the need to develop complex hydrogen transportation infrastructure. Similarly, non-ethanol biofuels derived from genetically modified feed stocks may be able to leverage the considerable investment in liquid petroleum transport and distribution infrastructure.
Observations

- This highlights a need for increased research and development. Our current alternatives are not a realistic substitute to oil/coal/natural gas. America needs to lead in energy technology breakthroughs.

- We need to figure out which direction we are going in, and provide smart incentives to get there. I am a strong believer in the free market, but I think we have to have a plan with support from government and industry. Hopefully this can be rolled into (at least addressed) the Big 3's bailout/bankruptcy emergence.

- We should try to use technologies that use our current infrastructure as much as possible. More overlap means less adoption lag.

- Liquid fuels are going to continue to be key in the foreseeable future for large scale transport, agriculture and construction. We can leverage plug-in flex fuel hybrids for reducing light transport demand.

- The current global recession could have harmful effects on alternative energy development, or it could buy us desperately needed time. Perhaps a combination of both.

- Conservation efforts should be much easier with the current financial situation.


Other Global Trends Posts:
Global Trends 2025
Global Trends Update
Global Trends Update II
Globalization and the Crash of '08
Demographics of Discord
Timing is Everything
Winners and Losers in a Post-Petroleum World
Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty
Final Thoughts

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How to Get Out of Debt

video

Let's say I want something, but I don't have any money...

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Creepy Japanese Robot Man



Have we learned nothing about the dangers of life-like robots from movies?

I-Robot, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator 1-3, Short Circuit, Robocop, Bicentennial Man... O.k. maybe not that one

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Global Trends 2025: Demographics of Discord


The second chapter of the report focuses on a topic that I feel has large implications on societies - past, present and future - and in the coming years will have distinct effects. It has been said that "Demography is Everything", and I feel the report captures several interesting trends that will shape our world.

Two of these trends include:

  1. Urbanization
  2. Aging Populations in Developed Nations
Urbanization
If current trends persist, by 2025 about 57 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, up from about 50 percent today. By 2025, the world will add another eight megacities to the current list of 19—all except one of these eight will be in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Most urban growth, however, will occur in smaller cities of these regions, which are expanding along highways and coalescing near crossroads and coastlines, often without formal sector job growth and without adequate services.
Increased urbanization will have implications in maintaining access to food and clean water. The ability for these megacites to absorb new citizens will also be key. Large groups of unemployed, hungry, and disaffected people are highly unstable and prone to revolt and/or terrorism. These groups could push more and more failing states over the edge.

Aging Populations

Rapidly aging populations will have profound impacts on society. As retirees have fewer and fewer workers for support, a shift will have to occur. Either the society will increase fertility (much easier said than done), import workers through immigration, or benefits and support for the elderly will have to be reduced commensurately. Each of the options have implications on the stability of the nation or region.
In almost every developed country, the period of most rapid growth in the ratio of seniors (age 65 and older) to the working-age population will occur during the 2010s and 2020s, boosting the fiscal burden of old-age benefit programs. By 2010, there will be about one senior for every four working-age people in the developed world. By 2025, this ratio will have climbed to one to three, and possibly higher.

Large and sustained increases in the fertility rate, even if they began now, would not reverse the aging trend for decades in Europe and Japan. If fertility rose immediately to the replacement level in Western Europe, the ratio of seniors to people in their working years would continue to rise steadily through the late 2030s. In Japan, it would continue to rise through the late 2040s.

The annual level of net immigration would have to double or triple to keep working-age populations from shrinking in Western Europe. By 2025, non-European minority populations could reach significant proportions—15 percent or more—in nearly all Western European countries and will have a substantially younger age structure than the native population (see page 20). Given growing discontent with current levels of immigrants among native Europeans, such steep increases are likely to heighten tensions.

The aging of societies will have economic consequences. Even with productivity increases, slower employment growth from a shrinking work force probably will reduce Europe’s already tepid GDP growth by 1 percent. By the 2030s, Japan’s GDP growth is projected to drop to near zero according to some models. The cost of trying to maintain pensions and health coverage will squeeze out expenditures on other priorities, such as defense.
As I examined here, the U.S. will be (perhaps already are?) facing a serious economic crossroads with regards to our social entitlement programs. It will take strong leadership, clear vision, and the ability for all parties to compromise in order to solve these complex problems. Many in my cohort are assuming Social Security will not be around for retirement and are planning accordingly. This is probably a good idea, but what about the many millions who are not?


Other Global Trends Posts:
Global Trends 2025
Global Trends Update
Global Trends Update II
Globalization and the Crash of '08
Demographics of Discord
Timing is Everything
Winners and Losers in a Post-Petroleum World
Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty
Final Thoughts

Read More...