Economic Aspects of the Pension Problem – Part 1

As It Appears Sixty Years Later

Part One: Euthanasia of the Pension Funds

Antal E. Fekete

Sixty years ago. in 1950, Ludwig von Mises published an article with the above title. He pointed to inflation as the greatest threat to pension rights. Today an additional threat is looming large on the horizon: the threat of deflation, and a new examination of the pension problem is timely.

Courtesy of Antal E. Fekete @ ProfessorFekete.com:

Deliberate Dollar Debasement

In 1950 Mises looked at the pension problem from the point of view of the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar, a consequence of what he called the deliberate policy of currency debasement by the U.S. government. In 1950 a pension of $100 per month was a substantial allowance, he noted. Shelter could be rented for a month for less than $30 in most parts of the country. (In 2010, $100 hardly buys one night’s stay at a decent hotel.) In 1950 the Welfare Commissioner of the City of New York reported that 52 cents would buy all the food a person needed to meet his daily caloric and protein requirements. (In 2010, $100 barely buys a cup of coffee and a muffin for every day of the month.)

Of course, currency debasement does far more damage than simply eroding the purchasing power of pensions. As Mises observed, it also leads to the insufficiency of capital accumulation. Companies report phantom profits that mask losses, since depreciation quotas understate the wear and tear of productive equipment. Savings are hardly adequate to pay for capital maintenance, let alone new capital or technological improvements in production — the only source from which pensions to an increasing labor force can be paid. When young workers who now join the labor force are ready to retire, the necessary funds to pay their pensions will simply not be available.

Capital destruction due to declining interest rates

I have written extensively about the proposition, one that mainstream economists doggedly refuse to discuss, that a falling interest-rate structure has a deleterious effect on accumulated capital. Capital is destroyed across the board simultaneously and stealthily. By the time the damage is discovered, it is too late to do anything about it and firms go bankrupt in droves. The falling trend of interest rates is the unrecognized cause of the depression that is presently devastating the world economy — just as it also was 80 years ago. Nowhere is the erosion of capital caused by falling interest rates is more obvious than in the case of the capital of the pension funds. They must earn adequate return on their investments, but a falling rate of interest frustrates this effort. At the lower rate the original schedule of capital accumulation cannot be met. Continue reading

The Failure of Keynesianism

Courtesy of James E Miller @ Mises.com:

It’s hard not to agree with the old aphorism “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” It’s nice to think we learn from our mistakes; yet we always seem to repeat them at some later date.

Reading the daily news, you would be hard-pressed to find mention that there is still an employment crisis unfolding in many industrialized countries. The New York Times recently reported that employers in the United States hired only 175,000 workers in February. This is apparently a cause for celebration among economists. The unemployment rate in the U.S. still remains at an historic high of 6.7%, and there appears to be no date in sight for a return of full employment, but no matter; the economy is supposedly gaining steam.

The only problem is, nobody seems to care much anymore. High unemployment is a constant reality now. Nearly six years of slagging job creation has created a cloud of apathy for most people. It’s just accepted that not everyone who wants to find work will be able to; or they will wander from low-wage job to low-wage job without any kind of security.

The current economic malaise is reminiscent of what the Great Depression was like. Persistently high unemployment with no conceivable end; massive government intervention in the marketplace; a changing industrial landscape; and even social and cultural transformation. We’re less than a century removed from the biggest economic hardship ever faced in America, and the same mishaps are unfolding in front of our eyes.

Then and now, something has remained perennial: the utter incompetence on government’s part to cure economic stagnation.

Newscasters, state officials, and academic economists all tell us government is capable of spending us into prosperity. No matter how much dough is thrown at the glob known as the “economy,” large numbers of people remain out of work. During the Depression, the glut of joblessness lasted for nearly fifteen years. Uncle Sam spent like a drunken sailor while swallowing up much of the economy in fascist scheme after fascist scheme. Continue reading

The Plan isn’t Working

Courtesy of Laissez Faire Club:

You didn’t want to be the guy chosen to tell Stalin that the wheat crop failed or the production quotas on trucks and cars were not met. Why?

Because despots always blame people, not systems.

In the same way, you don’t want to be the guy chosen to tell Obama that his health care websites are a disaster. But that’s what they are, and he’s managed to blame everyone but himself.

At his hilarious and embarrassing press conference on Monday, the president first assured us that “no one is madder than me” about website failures. Then, of course, he lashed out at the critics and implicitly blamed them for technical failures.

“It’s time for folks to stop rooting for its failure, because hardworking, middle-class families are rooting for its success.”

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Continue reading