income inequality

Jeremy Grantham Identifies 10 ‘Potential Threats To Our Well-Being’

Jeremy Grantham, the British-born investment strategist and founder/former chairman of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co. (oversees $117 billion in client assets as of June 30, 2015), just released his latest investment letter on the GMO website. Writing about the second quarter of 2015, Grantham, whose individual clients have included current Secretary of State John Kerry and former Vice President Dick Cheney, focused on ten “potential threats to our well-being” (echoing a Morningstar piece I blogged about on July 14). These threats are (in his own words):

1. Pressure on GDP growth in the U.S. and the balance of the developed world: count on 1.5% U.S. growth, not the old 3%
2. The age of plentiful, cheap resources is gone forever
3. Oil
4. Climate problems
5. Global food shortages
6. Income inequality
7. Trying to understand deficiencies in democracy and capitalism
8. Deficiencies in the Fed
9. Investment bubbles in a world that is, this time, interestingly different
10. Limitations of homo sapiens

Grantham talked about each threat in detail. I’ll be focusing on those items I think would interest Survival And Prosperity readers.

Regarding pressure on U.S./developed world GDP growth, Grantham wrote:

Factors potentially slowing long-term growth:
a) Slowing growth rate of the working population
b) Aging of the working population
c) Resource constraints, especially the lack of cheap $20/barrel oil
d) Rising income inequality
e) Disappointing and sub-average capital spending, notably in the U.S.
f) Loss of low-hanging fruit: Facebook is not the new steam engine
g) Steadily increasing climate difficulties
h) Partially dysfunctional government, particularly in economic matters that fail to maximize growth opportunities, especially in the E.U. and the U.S…

On “plentiful, cheap resources” being gone:

All in all I am still very confident, unfortunately, that the old regime of irregularly falling commodity prices is gone forever…

On oil:

Oil has been king and still is. For a while longer… Now, as we are running out of oil that is cheap to recover, the economic system is becoming stressed and growth is slowing…

Grantham added:

The good news is that with slower global growth and more emphasis on energy efficiency and a probability of some carbon tax increases, global oil demand may settle down to around 1% a year for the next 10 to 15 years. At that level of increase in demand, even modest continued increases in recovery rates will keep us in oil even if no new oil is found for the next 15 years.

Beyond 15 years, the resource and environmental news gets better because cheaper electric vehicles and changes in environmental policy will enable steady decreases in oil demand…

On global food shortages, Grantham referred to some recent research. He wrote:

I was completely gruntled by a report last month from the Global Sustainability Institute of Anglia Ruskin University in the U.K. This unit is backed by Lloyds of London, the U.K. Foreign Office, the Institute of Actuaries, and the Development Banks of both Africa and Asia – a grouping with a very serious interest in the topic of food scarcity and societal disruptions to say the least. The team of scientists used system dynamic modeling, which uses feedbacks and delays, to run the business-as-usual world forward 25 years. Without any new and improved responses from us, the results are dismaying: Prices of wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice were all predicted to be at least four times the levels of 2000. (They are currently about double.) The team concluded, “The results show that based on plausible climate trends and a total failure to change course, the global food supply system would face catastrophic losses and an unprecedented epidemic of food riots. In this scenario, global society essentially collapses as food production falls permanently short of consumption.” And you thought my argument on food problems of the last three years was way over the top!

Grantham is still not impressed with the Federal Reserve. He predicted:

And what of the current Fed regime – the Greenspan-Bernanke-Yellen Regime – that promotes higher asset prices and lower borrowing costs, which facilitate stock buybacks amongst other speculative forces? Well, this regime, too, will change. Regression of regime, if ou will. Painfully, politicians, the public, businessmen, and possibly even some economists will recognize the current regime as a failed experiment.

And on the “limitations of homo sapiens”? Grantham observed:

Not only does our species have a strong predisposition to be optimistic (or bullish) – it is probably a useful survival characteristic – but we are particularly good at listening to agreeable data and avoiding unpleasant data that does not jibe with our beliefs or philosophies. Facts, whether backed by 97% of scientists as is the case with man-made climate change, or 99.9% as is the case with evolution, do not count for nearly as much as we used to believe. For that matter, we do a terrible job of planning for the long term, particularly in postponing gratification, and we are wickedly bad at dealing with the implications of compound math. All of this makes it easy for us to forget about the previously painful market busts; facilitates our pushing stocks and markets on occasion to levels that make no mathematical sense; and allows us, regrettably, to ignore the logic of finite resources and a deteriorating climate until the consequences are pushed up our short-term noses.

The take-away from all of the above?

• Grantham forecasts U.S./developed world GDP growth to slow to 1.5 percent
• Investment opportunities may exist in commodities, agriculture, and other things food-related
• The outcome of the Fed’s current monetary policies will be painful
• Human nature- in particular, our unbridled optimism and focus on short-term gratification- will continue to result in asset bubbles and longer-term problems outside of the financial markets/economy/larger financial system

You can read Grantham’s latest investment newsletter on the GMO site here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s notes: Info added to “Crash Prophets” page; I am not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein)

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Tuesday, August 4th, 2015 Agriculture, Bubbles, Capitalism, Civil Strife, Commodities, Crash Prophets, Energy, Environment, Federal Reserve, Food, GDP, Government, Income, Investing, Monetary Policy, Natural Resources, Population, Stocks, Vehicles Comments Off on Jeremy Grantham Identifies 10 ‘Potential Threats To Our Well-Being’

Most Americans’ Incomes Fell Last Year, Except For Highest Earners

Here’s some economic data many Americans might not be too pleased to learn about. From an April 2 new release on the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics website, entitled “Consumer Expenditures Survey Midyear Update News Release”:

Average incomes fell for a second year, showing a decrease of 0.9 percent…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The BLS pointed out that average income before taxes suffered a -.9 percent change between July 2012-June 2013 ($65,029) and July 2013-June 2014 ($64,432)

The news release also illustrated the percent change in income before taxes between July 2012-June 2013 and July 2013-June 2014 for five different U.S. income quintiles. It wasn’t pretty:

• Lowest 20th percentile, $10,174 to $9,818, -3.5 percent
• Second 20th percentile, $27,094 to $26,369, -2.7 percent
• Third 20th percentile, $47,017 to $45,724, -2.8 percent
• Fourth 20th percentile, $75,990 to $74,410, -2.1 percent
• Highest 20th percentile, $164,647 to $166,048, 0.9 percent

A number of entities are using the data in an attempt to demonstrate growing income inequality in the U.S.

However, I see these numbers and think, further evidence of America’s poor economic health.

You can view the entire news release on the BLS website here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Monday, April 6th, 2015 Government, Income, Main Street, Wealth Comments Off on Most Americans’ Incomes Fell Last Year, Except For Highest Earners

Peter Schiff Recommends This Much Hated Investment

This week, we’ve already heard from “crash prophets” Dr. Marc Faber and Jim Rogers. I musn’t forget the CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, Peter Schiff, who appeared on CTV’s Canada AM yesterday. Discussing the Commerce Department’s report that the U.S. economy grew by 1.7% in the 2nd quarter and the popular notion that we’re in a recovery, Schiff pointed out:

If you look at the fundamentals, if you look at the contracting labor force, the declining use of energy, the explosion of poverty in America and income inequality, all the record number of people on food stamps and on disability, all the part-time jobs that are replacing the full-time jobs that we’ve lost. All of this is consistent with a shrinking economy. But the government won’t admit it.

Meanwhile, the cost of living is rising rapidly in America, and we pretend that there’s not enough inflation. And Ben Bernanke is out there trying to lay the foundation for more QE, because he knows he can never taper. He’s just bluffing. He can’t tell the market the truth that the U.S. economy is completely addicted to his monetary heroin. And the moment he takes it away, it’s going to be a complete economic withdrawal.

It’s a familiar message from Schiff. However, he also warned whoever would listen about the housing bubble and economic crisis that roared its ugly head in the fall of 2008 until he was blue in the face… and it eventually happened.

And here’s what the author of The Real Crash: America’s Coming Bankruptcy—How to Save Yourself and Your Country icon is recommending Americans do to protect themselves before the next leg of the financial crisis commences:

Buy precious metals.

Okay. He’s been saying that for a while too.

But in an interview with Greg Hunter of USAWatchdog.com that was published on YouTube.com on July 28, Schiff, who’s also the CEO of Euro Pacific Precious Metals, tells viewers about one precious metals-related investment opportunity in particular that he’s incredibly-bullish on, even though others despise it right now. From the exchange:

I think right now you’ve got the best buying opportunity of the entire bull market in gold mining stocks- gold and silver stocks. That’s why, for the first time ever, I just launched on Friday of last week my first gold mutual fund. The Euro Pacific Gold Fund [EuroPac Gold Fund] invests almost entirely in gold and silver mining companies. You know, I started my mutual fund company about 3 years ago. But at the time, gold stocks were near their highs, they had a big run. So from a timing perspective, I didn’t want to come out with a fund right after a big run. I wanted to wait for a decent pullback, so we can start the fund at a relatively low point. And then have a nice track record.

You know, most people in the financial industry, when they launch a fund, they want to sell what’s hot. Because it’s easy. It would have been easy for me to launch a gold fund 3 years ago because everybody wanted to buy gold stocks. But now is a better time as an investor. It might be a harder sell, because everybody hates gold stocks right now. But that’s when you buy in cheap- when everybody hates it. But I’m willing to educate people so that they know what they should do. I don’t want to sell people what I think they want. I want to educated people and convince them to buy what I know they need. So it might be a harder sell, but this is a great time, I think, to be investing.

You know, they say on Wall Street, it’s easy to make money, all you got to do is buy low and sell high. Well, it’s easier said than done. Because you can’t sell high until you buy low. And I’m convinced, we are buying really low right now by buying the mining stocks. So people can buy themselves or check out some information on my brand new mutual fund that came out on Friday.


“Peter Schiff: Buy Gold and Silver Now, Money Printing Until We Have A Currency Crisis & More”
YouTube Video

By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s notes: Info added to “Crash Prophets” page; I am not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein.)

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Friday, August 2nd, 2013 Commodities, Crash Prophets, Employment, Energy, Entitlements, Federal Reserve, GDP, Government, Income, Inflation, Investing, Monetary Policy, Money Supply, Mutual Funds, Poverty, Precious Metals, Recovery, Stocks Comments Off on Peter Schiff Recommends This Much Hated Investment

4 Out Of 5 U.S. Adults Suffer ‘Economic Insecurity’ During Their Lives

Quite a few financial news websites I dropped by this weekend were buzzing about a just-released Associated Press article that said 4 out of 5 American adults wrestle with “economic insecurity” during their lives. From the CBS News website yesterday:

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.

According to the AP piece, economic insecurity is defined as “a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line.” The risk is currently at 79 percent, but the current widening income inequality gap suggests that by 2030, close to 85 percent of working-age adults will experience such hardship.

In addition, the AP article talked about poverty America today. According to the Associated Press:

Nationwide, the count of America’s poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15 percent of the population, due in part to lingering high unemployment following the recession.

Seeing as that this article comes on the heels of Barack Obama’s “A Better Bargain for the Middle Class” speech on middle-class America’s woes last week, instead of it being an indictment of the President’s economic policies as some have claimed, perhaps its real purpose is to provide more ammunition to the White House for a renewed push on economic initiatives they’ve been championing for a while, such as wealth redistribution.

An interesting article, which you can read here on the CBS News website.


“When you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody” (1:47)
“‘Joe the Plumber’” Becomes Focus of Debate”
YouTube Video

By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Monday, July 29th, 2013 Demographics, Employment, Fiscal Policy, Government, Income, Main Street, Manufacturing, Poverty, Recession, Taxes, Wealth Comments Off on 4 Out Of 5 U.S. Adults Suffer ‘Economic Insecurity’ During Their Lives

Quote For The Week

For four and a half years, Mr. Obama has focused his policies on reducing inequality rather than increasing growth. The predictable result has been more inequality and less growth. As even Mr. Obama conceded in his speech, the rich have done well in the last few years thanks to a rising stock market, but the middle class and poor have not. The President called his speech “A Better Bargain for the Middle Class,” but no President has done worse by the middle class in modern times… If only Mr. Obama understood that before a government can redistribute wealth, the private economy has to create it.

-The Wall Street Journal, commenting on a speech President Obama gave while visiting Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, on July 24

By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Monday, July 29th, 2013 Business, Demographics, Fiscal Policy, Government, Income, Main Street, Quote For The Week, Stocks, Wealth Comments Off on Quote For The Week

Democrats Or Republicans Better For Economy?

Is A Republican President Really Better For The Economy?
December 13, 2007

In the December 11 article “Economists Say Recession Risk Is Climbing,” the Wall Street Journal talked about some of the findings from its latest survey of economists. When asked which presidential candidate would be best for the economy, only half of the 52 economists participating in the survey responded. The Journal reported that 35% of respondents chose Rudolph Giuliani, 19% chose John McCain, and 15% picked Mitt Romney as the candidate who would be best for the U.S. economy. Hillary Clinton was picked by 8% of economists participating in the poll, while 4% chose John Edwards. Ron Paul, Michael Bloomberg, and Alan Greenspan each got a write-in vote. Alan Greenspan?

I’m not surprised that the survey results showed economists felt a Republican White House would be best for the U.S. economy. I’ve always heard that the economy performs better under a Republican president. Even when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the early nineties, some of my classmates said that it was a shame that President Clinton and the Democrats were reaping the benefits of economic policies instituted by President George H.W. Bush’s administration. So tonight, I’m going to explore the claim that Republican administrations are “best” for the U.S. economy.

I call to your attention a study done in December 2006 by Elliott Parker, Ph.D., who is a Professor of Economics at the University of Nevada-Reno. Using data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, Dr. Parker first compared the economic performance of Republican and Democratic presidencies from 1929 through the end of 2005. He found that the Real GDP Growth Rate (annual average) was 1.9% for Republican administrations and 5.1% for Democratic administrations during this time. Real GDP Growth Rate Per Capita was .7% for the Republicans and 3.8% for the Democrats. However, the professor pointed out that the years comprising the Great Depression and WWII should probably be excluded from the comparison. So economic performance from 1949 (end of Truman administration) to 2005 was compared, which showed Real GDP Growth Rate (annual average) under Republican administrations now stood at 2.9% and Democratic administrations at 4.2%. Real GDP Growth Rate Per Capita was 1.7% for the Republicans and 2.9% for the Democrats. These results prompted Dr. Parker to conclude that “the economy has grown significantly faster under Democratic administrations, and more than twice as fast in per-capita terms.”

The University of Nevada-Reno economics professor also uncovered the following while conducting the economic comparison between Republican and Democratic presidential administrations from 1949 to 2005:

• Unemployment Rate- Republicans 6.0%, Democrats 5.2%
• Change In Unemployment Rate- Republicans +0.3%, Democrats -0.4%
• Growth of Multifactor Productivity- Republicans 0.9%, Democrats 1.7%
• Corporate Profits (share of GDP)- Republicans 8.8%, Democrats 10.2%
• Real Value of Dow Jones Index- Republicans 4.3%, Democrats 5.4% (in logarithmic growth rates)- Republicans 2.8%, Democrats 4.4%
• Real Weekly Earnings- Republicans 0.3%, Democrats 1.0%
• CPI Inflation Rate- Republicans 3.8%, Democrats 3.8%

Regarding the question of statistical significance, Parker noted:

The differences in growth, unemployment, and the corporate profit share are all statistically significant, and support the argument that the economy may actually perform better under Democrats. The differences in weekly earnings, stock market growth, inflation, and multifactor productivity all favor the Democrats as well, but these differences are not statistically significant.

Addressing the claim heard back in my college days, Dr. Parker also tried to account for a lag effect. He said, “It is a reasonable argument that economic performance early in a new administration is likely to be the result of policies followed by the prior administration.” Therefore, he tested whether lagging the effect of the administration on growth might support the argument that the economy actually performed better under Republicans. The professor found that even with up to four years of lagged effects, there was no evidence that the economy performed better under Republicans.

Dr. Parker drew the following conclusions regarding the claim that Republican presidencies are “best” for the U.S. economy:

But we can reasonably conclude that these government statistics provide evidence that directly contradicts the argument that the economy does better on average under Republican administrations. With lagged effects and other causes considered, the difference may be insignificant, but the economy may actually perform worse under Republicans.

Are Democrats Or Republicans Better For The U.S. Economy?
September 10, 2008

Back on December 12, 2007, I wrote a post where I investigated the claim that Republican administrations are better for the U.S. economy than Democratic administrations. I referred to a study done in December 2006 by University of Nevado-Reno economics professor Elliott Parker, who compared the economic performance of Republican and Democratic presidencies from 1929 through the end of 2005 using data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. Dr. Parker concluded:

But we can reasonably conclude that these government statistics provide evidence that directly contradicts the argument that the economy does better on average under Republican administrations. With lagged effects and other causes considered, the difference may be insignificant, but the economy may actually perform worse under Republicans.

Just recently, I came across a New York Times piece written by Princeton economics/public affairs professor Alan S. Blinder. A former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, Blinder wrote on August 31:

Many Americans know that there are characteristic policy differences between the two parties. But few are aware of two important facts about the post-World War II era, both of which are brilliantly delineated in a new book, Unequal Democracy, by Larry M. Bartels, a professor of political science at Princeton. Understanding them might help voters see what could be at stake, economically speaking, in November.

I call the first fact the Great Partisan Growth Divide. Simply put, the United States economy has grown faster, on average, under Democratic presidents than under Republicans.

The stark contrast between the whiz-bang Clinton years and the dreary Bush years is familiar because it is so recent. But while it is extreme, it is not atypical. Data for the whole period from 1948 to 2007, during which Republicans occupied the White House for 34 years and Democrats for 26, show average annual growth of real gross national product of 1.64 percent per capita under Republican presidents versus 2.78 percent under Democrats.

That 1.14-point difference, if maintained for eight years, would yield 9.33 percent more income per person, which is a lot more than almost anyone can expect from a tax cut.

Blinder then proceeded to point out another shortcoming of Republican economic leadership. He wrote:

The second big historical fact, which might be called the Great Partisan Inequality Divide, is the focus of Professor Bartels’ work.

It is well known that income inequality in the United States has been on the rise for about 30 years now- an unsettling development that has finally touched the public consciousness. But Professor Bartels unearths a stunning statistical regularity: Over the entire 60-year period, income inequality trended substantially upward under Republican presidents but slightly downward under Democrats, thus accounting for the widening income gaps over all. And the bad news for America’s poor is that Republicans have won five of the seven elections going back to 1980.

Blinder concluded:

The two Great Partisan Divides combine to suggest that, if history is a guide, an Obama victory in November would lead to faster economic growth with less inequality, while a McCain victory would lead to slower economic growth with more inequality. Which part of the Obama menu don’t you like?

Which leads me to ask, will the economy play along as history intends? As the British historian Peter Burke once said:

From time to time, historians need to be shocked.

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Will Growing Income Gap Between Middle-Class And Rich Lead To Class Warfare?

I think it’s a terrible dilemma, because what we’re obviously heading toward is some kind of class warfare

-Alan Johnson, Wall Street compensation consultant, in a CNN Money article from February 16, 2011

This morning I came across the following chart in a CNN Money piece from yesterday about income inequality in the United States:


Source: CNN Money

While writing about the increasing income disparity between America’s rich and middle class, CNN Money’s Annalyn Censky threw out this zinger:

In 1988, the income of an average American taxpayer was $33,400, adjusted for inflation. Fast forward 20 years, and not much had changed: The average income was still just $33,000 in 2008, according to IRS data.

Meanwhile, the richest 1% of Americans — those making $380,000 or more — have seen their incomes grow 33% over the last 20 years, leaving average Americans in the dust.

1988, $33,400. 2008, $33,000. Ouch. CNN Money’s Chris Isidore also looked at the gap between rich and middle-class Americans back during the holidays. He wrote on December 23:

The richest 1% of U.S. households had a net worth 225 times greater than that of the average American household in 2009, according to analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. That’s up from the previous record of 190 times greater, which was set in 2004.

The widening gap came even as wealthy households’ average net worth tumbled 27% — to about $14 million — between 2007 to 2009. That’s the first time that they suffered a decline since the three-year period of 1992 to 1995.

Meanwhile, the average family’s net worth plunged 41% — to just $62,200 — from 2007 to 2009, according to EPI’s calculations.

“The typical person lost more because a bigger percentage of their wealth in 2007 had been the value of their home,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with EPI.

I’ve noticed an increase in negative rhetoric directed against wealthy Americans the last couple of years. But could the disparity in earnings lead to class warfare? I found a piece on the Psychology Today website earlier today that suggests it’s possible. Looking at income gaps and class warfare, Ray B. Williams, co-founder of Success IQ University and President of Ray Williams Associates, Inc., wrote on September 25, 2010:

Income inequality, which is fuelling other kinds of social inequality, has the potential to create class warfare in America…

Research indicates that high inequality reverberates through societies on multiple levels, correlating with, if not causing, more crime, less happiness, poorer mental and physical health, less racial harmony, and less civic and political participation. Tax policy and social-welfare programs, then, take on importance far beyond determining how much income people hold onto.

The level of inequality we allow represents our answer to “a very important question,” says Nancy Krieger, professor of society, human development, and health at Harvard “What kind of society do we want to live in?”

We may be seeing the signs of a cultural and class wars if the current trend of income and social inequality continues in America.

Sources:

Censky, Annalyn. “How the middle class became the underclass” CNN Money. 16 Feb. 2011. (http://money.cnn.com/2011/02/16/news/economy/middle_class/index.htm). 17 Feb. 2011.

Isidore, Chris. “The rich are much richer than you and me.” CNN Money. 23 Dec. 2010. (http://money.cnn.com/2010/12/23/pf/rich_wealth_gap/index.htm). 17 Feb. 2011.

Williams, Ray B. “Will income inequality cause class warfare?” Psychology Today. 25 Sep. 2010. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201009/will-income-inequality-cause-class-warfare). 17 Feb. 2011.

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Thursday, February 17th, 2011 Class Warfare, Psychology, Wages 3 Comments
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