Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Posts Tagged ‘Consciousness’

• U.S. Personal Savings Rate To See Big Gains

Posted by Ron Robins on September 4, 2008

There is good news coming. Americans are about to save more, much more. A new consciousness is dawning. It is one that brings enhanced balance to Americans material and inner personal lives as they re-evaluate their futures due to changed circumstances. Boomers approaching retirement are seeing their homes decline in value, their stock market investments in difficulty, and concerned about government support—are realizing the importance of savings as never before.

Recently, U.S. tax-payers received up to $600 in cash from their government. It seems that Americans are choosing to save it. In May 2008 the savings rate as a percentage of personal disposable income shot-up to 4.9% and in June to 2.5%. This occurred after the rate was near zero for about three years and the lowest since 1933. These higher savings rates are just the beginning of a trend that I believe will crest with savings rates in excess of 10% in the next few years.

Higher savings rates will eventually create a new economic equilibrium and allow for vigorous economic expansion. However, until this new economic equilibrium emerges, the increased savings rates have some downsides. It begins with a significant reduction in consumer expenditure. The U.S. is the world’s leader among developed countries in having the highest consumption relative to its gross domestic product (GDP). Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley shows that U.S. consumption is about 71% of GDP, compared to 56-57% in most other developed countries. The U.S. average for the years 1975–2000 was 67% of GDP, and for 1950-1975 around 64%. Now the U.S. is likely to head back to the latter figure.

Why Americans will save more
Another consequence of lower consumption will be further downward pressure on Americans most important asset – their homes. Until recently, Americans saw their homes as the safe place to invest in and build equity for retirement. But they now understand this strategy may not work well in the future. Purchasing a home for investment purposes will be de-emphasized. Home prices are likely to fall even further, scaring particularly those boomers to save in other ways.

In addition, declining consumption could mean even lower stock market returns than even the abysmal ones seen in recent years. Adrian Ash in his article, The Decade of No Returns, says, “… the total return [capital gains and dividends] on the S&P500 [the pre-eminent U.S. large companies stock index] was actually negative for the decade ending on 30th June 2008.” The numbers were adjusted for inflation as well. By far the largest proportion of Americans’ stock investments are held in companies that make-up the S&P 500 Index.

Incidentally, if you account for the declining value of the dollar internationally, then performance of the S&P 500 delivered a negative real return of about -20 to -40% over the past 10 years! And Americans investing in S&P 500 companies did also participate significantly in the growth of foreign market as well. Such revenues grew rapidly to around 40% of total S&P 500 sales during this period.

Therefore Americans planning to retire in the next few years cannot rely on the stock market to replicate its gains seen between 1980 and 2000, to fund their retirement. They simply have to save more and place some of those savings away from the stock market. (Note: I do not anticipate Americans abandoning stocks. And there will be some market sectors that will do very well even if the broad market struggles.)

Boomers also have to question the ability of the U.S. government to fund their medical needs and pensions in retirement, as the U.S. government is in one heck of a hole – a hole of around $70 TRILLION! The enormity of this funding gap cannot be easily grasped. But let us try. In an article, U.S. ‘fiscal gap’ paving the road to meltdown, by Derek DeCloet in the Canadian Globe & Mail he states, “To earn $70-trillion in profit, you’d need 1,723 companies the size of ExxonMobil; $70-trillion would be equal to the annual sales at 1.35 million Wal-Mart stores. [Now that’s]… not the size of the U.S. government’s debt, though. It’s the shortfall between its projected future revenues and what it plans to spend (in today’s dollars).”

It is evident from the U.S. government’s financial position that its promised benefits to its citizens could be cut significantly – while substantially raising taxes as well. In such an environment boomers have no other option but to urgently save a heck of lot more now.

A new consciousness arising bringing balance to spending and saving
Americans, whether they be boomers or from generations X, Y and Z, are at the cusp of a new consciousness. They will bring a new balance to their material life and inner desires. The rapidly changing financial picture together with a fundamental shift in their consciousness concerning what is important in life, will place a renewed emphasis on savings. In years to come, this will be seen as a great turning point for the American economy, a turn towards a more balanced Enlightened Economics.

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© Ron Robins, 2008.

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Posted in Economics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

• An incendiary mix! Inflation, CPI and the U.S. Federal Reserve

Posted by Ron Robins on May 28, 2008

The U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) does NOT measure inflation
It is stunning how confusion reigns on the subject of inflation. Simply put: the Consumer Price Index (CPI) does not measure inflation. It tries, imperfectly, to measure the cost-of-living. Inflation and cost-of-living are not the same thing! As elite economists from Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman to the Bank of England’s Mervyn King comment, inflation is a monetary phenomenon. It is evidenced by excessive expansion of the money supply which exceeds economic growth. Therefore, the basis for higher prices in an economy is ‘too much’ money.

One measure of current U.S. broad money supply shows it growing at an annual rate of over 16%! However, there is considerable debate as to what money supply measure best links it with inflation. (I suspect that for developed countries, we might see credit expansion playing a much more important role in understanding the inflationary process than is currently appreciated. But that is for another post to research.)

Most people believe the CPI measures a fixed basket of goods and services over time. That is again, incorrect. It used to be the case, but not anymore. The current CPI basket of goods and services is constantly changing according to what bureaucrats think people are buying, and by numerous statistical alterations they deem ‘appropriate.’

How the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) modifies the CPI to show tame inflation
The kind of huge modifications the U.S. CPI is subjected to include the following:

  • Substitution of products. Should prices rise, it is inferred people will substitute with something less expensive.
  • ‘Hedonic’ adjustments. If computers’ performance doubles, the relevant index component is halved.
  • Weighting changes of index components. If an item becomes suddenly expensive, it may receive a smaller index weighting.
  • Chain-weighting. Applies to some ‘versions’ of the CPI. This smoothes-out sudden price changes over many months and means indexes using this are always ‘behind-the-curve.’
  • Intervention analysis/seasonal adjustments. Bureaucrats adjust index components according to historical seasonal variations, whether warranted in the current year or not. (See: The Government’s Statistical Whopper of the Year, by Robert P. Murphy.)

Hence, the BLS is able to manipulate the CPI to whatever doctrine holds sway at the time. Prior to about 1980, there actually was a fixed basket of goods and services that comprised the CPI. It did a much better job of measuring inflation caused by monetary expansion. But politicians and some academics did not like this as they said it overstated the actual cost-of-living. For instance, they figured that if beef became expensive, people might buy chicken, and so on, thereby reducing living costs, and thus effectively lowering the index.

Of course, these types of changes also inferred lower living standards. But no politician, or a bureaucracy headed by a political appointee such as the BLS, would want to say that!

CPI inflation over the past year: using 1980’s configuration, nearly 12%; using current methodology, 3.9%!
So around 1980 the CPI began to be massively modified and thus began the trek of divorcing it from monetary inflation. The difference in numbers between the 1980s CPI inflation measure and today’s cost-of-living CPI is extraordinary! John Williams at http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data shows that for April 2008, the CPI using 1980s methodology shows inflation over the past year of close to 12%; using CPI (CPI-U) as constructed today it is just 3.9%!

There is no doubt that the ideal of trying to get a consumer price index that reflects the reality of consumer buying behaviour is a good one. But to rely on the current CPI as a means of determining U.S. inflationary pressures so as to modify its monetary policy, is, at first glance, illogical. However, there is something else going-on here.

The Federal Reserve uses current CPI to fool the world in supporting U.S. economy and artificially high bond, stock prices
The U.S. Federal Reserve often cites the CPI as being very influential in shaping its monetary policy. From the foregoing this seems to be a very strange policy. When viewed through a political lens and the need to maintain confidence in the U.S. economy though, it makes sense to try to fool the world at large that inflationary pressures are minimal within its economy.

The U.S. economic problems are so big that if the Federal Reserve and other government agencies came clean on the true rate of inflation, we would see:

  • U.S. economic growth would be shown to have been negative for several years now (real GDP growth rate = nominal growth less inflation)
  • Bond yields would soar
  • Stock market could rise in highly inflationary environment or crash should deflation take-over
  • U.S. government deficit rocket higher
  • Severe economic downtown. Perhaps a depression

As consciousness rises investors everywhere will begin to understand the distinction between U.S. monetary based inflation that is in the double digits, and a highly stylized, theoretical, consumer price index that minimizes the monetary inflationary threat. Prices of everything will then be re-set accordingly.

There is huge danger ahead should the U.S. monetary and credit expansion continue unabated. The excess funds will find their way into more asset classes and lead to further big asset bubbles – and busts. Commodities anyone! Oh, what an incendiary mix!

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© Ron Robins, 2008.

Posted in Monetary Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

• Cultural Creatives to Dominate in the Age of Enlightened Economics

Posted by Ron Robins on May 22, 2008

For many years I have envisioned the possible psychological archetype of individuals in the coming ‘Enlightened Economics’ era. After much thought and research, I believe it is likely to resemble that of what sociologist Paul Ray calls the “Cultural Creative.” He coined the term back in the 1990s after performing two extensive surveys on Americans’ psychological values for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help understand and categorize Americans’ values to assist in the development of their environmental policies.

Who are the Cultural Creatives (CCs)?
In 2000, Dr. Ray co-authored with Sherry Ruth Anderson the book, Cultural Creatives (CCs), where they describe CCs as caring “…. deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, and social justice, about self-actualization, spirituality, and self-expression.” They suggested that in the year 2000 there were more than 50 million CCs in America (about 25 per cent of the U.S. adult population) and a further 80-90 million in Europe. In a private conversation I had with Dr. Ray in 2002, he indicated that CCs could dominate western populations as early as 2020. I believe a case could now be made that this will occur much earlier than that.

Spiritual and personal development were at the centre of the values of the founding ‘core’ CCs. Referring to the early development of CCs, Dr. Ray and Ms. Anderson state, “As the ranks of beginners kept growing [in the 1960s], hundreds of thousands stayed with the process and went deeper. By the 1980s, the ‘movements’ numbers had swelled to a million or so, and by the 1990s, tens of millions were involved… But the consciousness movement-full of contradictions, shallow and deep, bubbling with new developments-is still in the phase of accelerating growth.”

CCs imbibe the values of Enlightened Economics
As explained in my various posts (The Missing Ingredient in Economics — Consciousness; Retiring the GDP (Gross Domestic Product, etc.) the fundamental shift I envisage in individual consciousness is towards that of global ecology, spirituality and social justice. This fits very well with the definition of CCs.

Though Dr. Ray has not completed further surveys in recent years as to the growth of CCs in western or global populations, it is clear from the enormous escalation of interest in green products and services, the environment, ethical investing, corporate social responsibility, spirituality, etc., that the numbers in the CC camp are growing significantly.

The ranks of the CCs are being filled from a group Dr. Ray refers to as ‘Moderns.’ The Moderns are the governing group in western societies. Their primary values concern money and status.

As the Moderns decline, the CCs gain
In the U.S., Moderns number close to half of the population. Dr. Ray and Ms. Anderson in their book explain the role of Moderns as “… the normative culture found in the office towers and factories of big business; in banks and the stock market; in university science labs and high tech firms; in hospitals and most doctors offices; in mainline churches and synagogues; in the ‘best’ schools and colleges …and most ‘mainstream’ and newspaper articles. The standard we take for granted, the rules we live by, are made by and for Moderns.”

However, the Moderns are declining in number as their values, focusing on financial materialism, status and lack of altruism, are under attack from both within and outside of their group. Increasingly, such values alone are seen as insufficient to meet the challenges of our world. The shenanigans on Wall Street – with the sub-prime mortgage and derivative fiascos and the gross irresponsibility of corporate elites – are some of the many reasons encouraging countless Moderns to re-align their values. Thus, unknowingly, they convert to the ranks of the CCs.

The expected era of Enlightened Economics necessitates a psychological archetype that reflects the demands of a new global epoch. This new epoch requires values depicting openness to the unfamiliar; a sense and inner experience of the unity of all things; and a deep caring for nature, the environment and humanity. And it also includes a realization that a new vision of global economics is critically needed. Cultural Creatives (CCs) heading to be the majority in numerous countries, imbibe these qualities. As such, their psychological archetype is the one I believe will dominate in the forthcoming age of Enlightened Economics.

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© Ron Robins, 2008.

Posted in Consciousness/Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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