A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America by author Bruce Cannon Gibney

Author Bruce Cannon Gibney says Baby Boomers are the cause of America’s moral, economic and social decline. Find out why he calls them “A Generation of Sociopaths.” Watch more at Salon.com/video.

The New Retirement Plan: Save Almost Everything, Spend Virtually Nothing

A group of younger workers, devotees of the FIRE movement, are seeking ways to duck mistakes made by prior generations

They’re also watching the generation entering retirement struggle with many of the same problems. About 10,000 people turn 65 every day and many are unprepared for the years ahead. Older Americans have high average debt. Their 401(k)-type retirement funds will bring in a median income of under $8,000 a year for a 65-year-old couple.

The younger generation’s radical solution—dubbed Financial Independence, Retire Early—has spawned an ecosystem of podcasts, blogs, books, conferences and informal discussion groups. One online forum dedicated to the concept, known to its followers by the acronym “FIRE,” has more than 450,000 subscribers.

FIRE adherents are often millennials and younger members of Generation X who have college degrees, above-average incomes and the discipline to adopt a strict do-it-yourself approach to retirement. Some say they are saving as much as three-quarters of their income, or five times the 15% savings rate conventional financial advisers often recommend, and growing their own food. Others are taking more modest measures such as living in smaller houses and driving older cars.

.. The downside of FIRE is its inherent paradox: For those seeking financial security, early retirement can be risky. Since many early retirees rely solely on income from stocks, bonds or real estate for living expenses, sudden market downturns can pose a threat to their plans. At the same time, these people have to forecast their cost of living for decades. This means prolonged periods of high inflation can wreck their forecasts and budgets.

.. The self-reliance and thrift embodied by FIRE have roots in American history. Elements of the philosophy can be found in Ben Franklin’s 1758 classic “The Way to Wealth,” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay “Self-Reliance” and Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden,” an 1854 book about living simply in a cabin he built near Concord, Mass.

Many FIRE boosters cite a more recent work: the 1992 book “Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. This paean to financial independence and anti-consumerism, a business best seller in the ‘90s, found a new audience after the 2008 financial crisis.

.. FIRE enthusiasts gather around the country to discuss ways to save more, spend less, and manage investments. A recent meet-up in Manhattan attracted close to 30 people to an office conference room. The attendees—mostly men in their 20s and 30sseveral with backgrounds in engineering—discussed taxes, index funds and real-estate investing over beer and potato chips.

.. “We are surrounded by consumerism, advertisements and marketing, and there are a lot of easy ways to spend,” said David Rodriguez, 33, a mechanical engineer who helped organize the meeting. “It is important to have a place to find like-minded people.”The interest in thrift is flourishing most visibly online where frugality evangelists amass large followings via podcasts, blogs and conferences. One of the most popular FIRE blogs, Mr. Money Mustache, started in 2011, has attracted about 2.5 million page views in the past 30 days, according to Google Analytics data. A podcast devoted to the topic, ChooseFI, has been downloaded 5.2 million times and been played in 190 countries since its inception in early 2017, according to podcast hosting service Liberated Syndication. This puts it in the top 2% of the more than 50,000 podcasts the service hosts.

.. Some who have tried the path of early retirement say it isn’t always as idyllic as it sounds. Socializing with people who still have conventional jobs can be awkward, said Ed Ditto, 49, who retired at 36 as an energy trader and now writes the Early Retirement Dude blog. His solution is to invite friends and neighbors to backyard potlucks.“I don’t bring up the fact that I don’t have a job,” he said. “If someone is interested, I’ll talk about it, but I don’t want to run the risk of stirring up resentment.”

.. One complaint from readers was that the 33-year-old author and her husband still earn sizable incomes. Nate Thames works for a nonprofit and was paid about $270,000 in 2016,

.. “Now I understand why even with cutting everything to the bone, that we haven’t been able to save like they do,” a reader posted in an online review of the book.

Mr. Sabatier, 33, says his Millennial Money website made $401,000 last year. Blogger Joe Udo, 44, recently disclosed he has made almost $350,000 since starting “Retire by 40” in 2010.

.. “It was hard to go from working every day in an office full of people to sitting in a tiny apartment by myself,” she said. “It is very isolating.”Recently she began taking on more freelance work as a copywriter. “I got a lot more meaning from my work than I had realized,” she said. “It is a lot harder to find meaning than to save 70% of your income.”

.. FIRE proponents say they account for the danger of fluctuating markets by adhering to a rule-of-thumb pioneered by financial planner William Bengen, who concluded retirees should spend no more than 4.5% of their initial nest egg, adjusted annually for inflation, to ensure a high probability of supporting themselves over decades.

.. It took a Category 5 catastrophe for Sylvia Hall to start thinking of changing her approach to her finances. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Ms. Hall, then a New Orleans resident, temporarily lost a home and a paycheck as the first payments were due on $101,600 in law-school debt.

The US is at Risk of Losing a Trade War with China

The “best” outcome of President Donald Trump’s narrow focus on the US trade deficit with China would be improvement in the bilateral balance, matched by an increase of an equal amount in the deficit with some other country (or countries). In fact, significantly reducing the bilateral trade deficit will prove difficult.

.. macroeconomics always prevails:

..  if the United States’ domestic investment continues to exceed its savings, it will have to import capital and have a large trade deficit.
..  because of the tax cuts enacted at the end of last year, the US fiscal deficit is reaching new records – recently projected to exceed $1 trillion by 2020 – which means that the trade deficit almost surely will increase, whatever the outcome of the trade war. The only way that won’t happen is if Trump leads the US into a recession, with incomes declining so much that investment and imports plummet.
.. The “best” outcome of Trump’s narrow focus on the trade deficit with China would be improvement in the bilateral balance, matched by an increase of an equal amount in the deficit with some other country (or countries). The US might sell more natural gas to China and buy fewer washing machines; but it will sell less natural gas to other countries and buy washing machines or something else from Thailand or another country that has avoided the irascible Trump’s wrath.
.. But, because the US interfered with the market, it will be paying more for its imports and getting less for its exports than otherwise would have been the case. In short, the best outcome means that the US will be worse off than it is today.
.. The US has a problem, but it’s not with China. It’s at home: America has been saving too little. Trump, like so many of his compatriots, is immensely shortsighted. If he had a whit of understanding of economics and a long-term vision, he would have done what he could to increase national savings. That would have reduced the multilateral trade deficit.
.. There are obvious quick fixes: China could buy more American oil and then sell it on to others. This would not make an iota of difference, beyond perhaps a slight increase in transaction costs. But Trump could trumpet that he had eliminated the bilateral trade deficit.
..  As demand for Chinese goods decreases, the renminbi’s exchange rate will weaken – even without any government intervention. This will partly offset the effect of US tariffs; at the same time, it will increase China’s competitiveness with other countries—and this will be true even if China doesn’t use other instruments in its possession, like wage and price controls, or push strongly for productivity increases. China’s overall trade balance, like that of the US, is determined by its macroeconomics.
.. China has more control of its economy, and has wanted to shift toward a growth model based on domestic demand rather than investment and exports. The US is simply helping China do what it has already been trying to do. On the other hand, US actions come at a time when China is trying to manage excess leverage and excess capacity; at least in some sectors, the US will make these tasks all the more difficult.
.. if Trump’s objective is to stop China from pursuing its “Made in China 2025” policy – adopted in 2015 to further its 40-year goal of narrowing the income gap between China and the advanced countries – he will almost surely fail. On the contrary, Trump’s actions will only strengthen Chinese leaders’ resolve to boost innovation and achieve technological supremacy, as they realize that they can’t rely on others, and that the US is actively hostile.
.. If a country enters a war, trade or otherwise, it should be sure that good generals – with clearly defined objectives, a viable strategy, and popular support – are in charge. It is here that the differences between China and the US appear so great. No country could have a more unqualified economic team than Trump’s, and a majority of Americans are not behind the trade war.
Public support will wane even further as Americans realize that they lose doubly from this war: jobs will disappear, not only because of China’s retaliatory measures, but also because US tariffs increase the price of US exports and make them less competitive; and the prices of the goods they buy will rise. This may force the dollar’s exchange rate to fall, increasing inflation in the US even more – giving rise to still more opposition. The Fed is likely then to raise interest rates, leading to weaker investment and growth and more unemployment.
.. Trump has shown how he responds when his lies are exposed or his policies are failing: he doubles down. China has repeatedly offered face-saving ways for Trump to leave the battlefield and declare victory. But he refuses to take them up.
Perhaps hope can be found in three of his other traits:
  1. his focus on appearance over substance,
  2. his unpredictability, and his
  3. love of “big man” politics.

.. Perhaps in a grand meeting with President Xi Jinping, he can declare the problem solved, with some minor adjustments of tariffs here and there, and some new gesture toward market opening that China had already planned to announce, and everyone can go home happy.

.. In this scenario, Trump will have “solved,” imperfectly, a problem that he created. But the world following his foolish trade war will still be different: more uncertain, less confident in the international rule of law, and with harder borders. Trump has changed the world, permanently, for the worse.

Even with the best possible outcomes, the only winner is Trump – with his outsize ego pumped up just a little more.

 

A Bilateral Foil for America’s Multilateral Dilemma

The May 19 deal between the US and China seems to have reduced tensions between the two countries. But, given the global nature of America’s trade deficit, any effort to impose a solution focusing on one country will likely backfire.

The bad news is that the framework of negotiations is flawed: A deal with any one country will do little to resolve America’s fundamental economic imbalances that have arisen in an interconnected world.
.. In May 1930, some 1,028 of America’s leading academic economists wrote a public letter to US President Herbert Hoover urging him to veto the pending Smoot-Hawley tariff bill. Hoover ignored the advice, and the global trade war that followed made a garden-variety depression “great.”
President Donald Trump has put a comparable spin on what it takes to “make America great again.”
.. Tracing outsize current-account and trade deficits to an extraordinary shortfall of US domestic saving – just 1.3% of national income in the fourth quarter of 2017 – counts for little in the arena of popular opinion.
.. Nor does it matter when we point out that correcting for supply-chain distortions – caused by inputs from other countries that enter into Chinese assembly platforms – would reduce the bilateral US-China trade imbalance by 35-40%.
.. Indeed, with budget deficits likely to widen, America’s saving shortfall will only deepen in the years ahead. That points to rising balance-of-payments and multilateral trade deficits, which are impossible to resolve through targeted bilateral actions against a single country.
.. China’s vague promise to purchase more American-made agricultural and energy products borrows a page from the “shopping list” approach of its earlier trade missions to the US. Unfortunately, the big-wallet mindset of a deal-hungry China reinforces the US narrative that China is guilty as charged.
.. Since 2000, the largest annual reduction in the US-China merchandise trade imbalance amounted to $41 billion, and that occurred in 2009, during the depths of the Great Recession. The goal of achieving back-to-back annual reductions totaling more than double that magnitude is sheer fantasy.
.. Without addressing the shortfall in domestic saving, the bilateral fix simply moves the deficit from one economy to others.
.. Therein lies the cruelest twist of all. China is America’s low-cost provider of imported consumer goods. The Trump deal would shift the Chinese piece of America’s multilateral imbalance to higher-cost imports from elsewhere – the functional equivalent of a tax hike on American families. As Hoover’s ghost might ask, what’s so great about that?

Why China Won’t Yield to Trump

China may give Donald Trump some face-saving way out from the trade war he has started, but it won’t offer any substantive concessions. In other words, Trump’s tariffs will do nothing to improve America’s external balance, output, employment, or real wages.

.. some defend Trump’s actions as a  to impel China to adjust its trade policies, such as the requirement that foreign companies share their intellectual property (IP) to gain access to the Chinese market.

.. Trump does not understand the basics of such a negotiation: he thinks that a country with a trade deficit necessarily has the stronger negotiating position. In reality, the surplus country is often in the stronger position, because it has accumulated financial claims against its “opponent.”

.. China does not necessarily even have to sell to wield influence. With US debt expanding and interest rates on the rise, even rumors that the Chinese might stop buying Treasury securities could be enough to drive down US bond prices and accelerate the increase in US interest rates.

.. While industries and consumers in China would also be hurt by a trade war, that country’s leaders can overrule interest groups and stifle protests.

In any case, public opinion will largely back retaliation against the US.

.. The Chinese remember well the Opium Wars of the nineteenth century, when the Middle Kingdom tried and failed to resist the British campaign to force it to open its economy to opium and other imports.

.. Add to that Trump’s reputation for flip-flopping, and the odds that Chinese leaders would bother making a deal with Trump to change their country’s trade policies seem small.

.. Even if China did decide to concede something to Trump, it would not be meaningful.

.. China could export less merchandise to the US directly, instead routing products through Taiwan and other countries, where some final assembly could take place.

.. The result would be economically meaningless; but so is the concept of the bilateral deficit itself, as Chinese exports to the US contain a high proportion of intermediate inputs produced in South Korea, the US, and elsewhere.

.. What really matters is that China’s current-account has been falling since 2008, and now stands at a relatively small 1% of GDP.

.. America’s external deficit is growing, but that is the result not of trade policy; it stems from Republicans’ , which is blowing up the budget deficit and reducing national saving.

.. As for Trump’s complaints about China’s IP “theft,” there are some valid grievances on this front. But addressing this issue requires technical expertise and negotiating skill, not blunt threats based on inadequate knowledge.

Crucially, it would also require cooperation with other partners who have similar grievances with China, ideally including pressure applied through rules-based institutions like the World Trade Organization.

Trump is pursuing the opposite strategy, arguing that neither multilateralism nor bilateral negotiations work with China. Yet such tactics have helped to compel China to allow a 37% appreciation of the renminbi in 2004-2014 and to crack down on counterfeiting of US merchandise and theft of US software.

.. Trump may also want to avoid the WTO because the US doesn’t win all of the cases it brings there. But it does have a 90% success rate. And it is not as if the US has never violated international rules

 

Paul Krugman Explains Trade and Tariffs

There’s no way to bring back all those steel plants and steel jobs, even if we stopped all imports. Partly that’s because a modern economy doesn’t use that much steel, partly because we can produce steel using many fewer workers, partly because old-fashioned open-hearth plants have been replaced by mini-mills that use scrap metal and aren’t in the same places. So this is all a fantasy.

.. You may remember Bernie Sanders using Denmark as an example. It’s a good one: much better wages, a much stronger social safety net, a mostly unionized work force. But Denmark is as open to world trade as we are. It’s domestic policies — from taxing and spending decisions to pro-labor policies in the service sector — that make the difference. Universal health care and the right to organize matter a lot more for workers than trade policy.

.. Why does the president of the United States have the authority to make decisions (such as imposing tariffs) that have significant impacts on the economy, trade, relationships with allies, etc. — with impunity, and with no input from Congress? What path should Congress be taking to restrict his powers.— Ricky, Saint Paul, Minn.

PK: Actually, Congress voluntarily limited its own role, to protect itself from special-interest politics: it votes big trade deals up or down on a single vote, then stays out of it.

.. However, these powers aren’t supposed to be used arbitrarily: there’s supposed to be an independent study of the issue, and the president acts on the basis of that study. What’s happening with Trump is an abuse of the process: the Commerce Department came up with an obviously bogus national security rationale for tariffs Trump wanted to impose for other reasons.

So we have a process that gives presidents some discretion, for pretty good reasons — but one that assumes that said presidents will act honestly and responsibly. It falls apart when you’re dealing with someone like Trump.

.. PK: President Oprah Winfrey, or whoever, can undo these tariffs with a stroke of the pen. However, we might get into a full-scale trade war before that happens, and in any case the U.S. has already lost its reputation as a reliable negotiating partner.

.. PK: Basically, we have persistent trade deficits because we have low savings and remain an attractive place for foreigners to invest. And as a result, the U.S., which was a creditor country before we began running persistent deficits since 1980, is now a net debtor.

But you want to keep some perspective. Our “net international investment position” — overseas assets less liabilities — is about -45 percent of G.D.P., which isn’t that big a number, all things considered. For example, it’s less than 10 percent of our national wealth.

And the idea that this gives foreigners a lot of power over America has it backward. On the contrary, in a way it makes them our hostages: China has a lot of money tied up in America. Suppose they tried to pull it out: the worst that could happen would be a fall in the dollar, which would be good for U.S. manufacturing and inflict a capital loss on our creditors.

Lot of things worry me; our foreign debt, not so much.