Is rising life expectancy good news for the US?

Nov 4, 2014

Baltimore, Maryland

Dear Diary,

"Hi, this is Michelle Obama..."

You hear the most amazing things on the streets of Baltimore. On Election Day, a loudspeaker, mounted on a white van, makes its way up down the streets, with a recorded message. As near as we could make out, Ms. Obama was urging grown-ups to vote.

As they say on Wall Street, she was 'talking her book.' The political elite need the voting masses like a tractor trailer needs diesel fuel, to get where it is going.

In the Wall Street Journal last week our spirits were buoyed up as we realized that we had more life left than we thought. New figures show a man who reaches age 65 will likely live to be 86.6 years old - a full two years more than the last forecast.

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Two more years? What will we do with them? Run for public office? Learn a foreign language? Rob a liquor store and serve 24 months in jail?

Wait...there must be a cloud to go with this silver lining. "The new estimates...could eventually increase retirement liabilities by roughly 7%," says the Journal.

The last time we looked, the US was already so far underwater it was almost sure to get the bends. According to GAAP accounting, the feds owe some $212 trillion - most of it in money it doesn't have to pay pensions and health care benefits. If people are living longer, those liabilities must increase. Let's see, 7% of $212 trillion...hmmm... You can do the math as well as we can; the new total should be about $16 trillion more.

And if that is so...what does it mean for governments' pension and health care systems throughout the developed world?

What it means is that they are all going broke. Led by those aging pacesetters -- the Japanese. Yes, in the race to see which modern, debt-funded social welfare state will go broke first, Japan is in the lead.

"BOJ stuns markets with fresh QE," was the Financial Times' take on the story over the weekend. "S&P ends at record high after surprise move from the Bank of Japan," it continued.

As long-time Diary sufferers already know, the essence of government is armed robbery. Coaxed to the polls by Michelle, voters may fantasize that they set the course for the United States of America. But it is the elite who are in the driver's seat. That is our observation...and the conclusion of two university studies reported recently in these pages. The public merely votes for whichever candidates have done the best job of hoodwinking it. Then, the elite use the police power of the state to transfer wealth and power from the voters to themselves. Which is why the para-military buildup of local police forces is so alarming; it suggests they are going to strong arm us all.

In the old days, they were unapologetic about it. Even as late as the 19th century, Napoleon's army stomped over Europe with Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity on their lips. But Larceny was in their hearts. The soldiers of the Grande Armee stole everything they could cart away.

Modern government demands more fraud than force. Capitalism depends on complex, trusting relationships and long-term fixed investments. Stealing things outright disrupts it. Output goes down. Nations that have no respect for the requirements of capitalism have weak economies. And weak economies can't afford much firepower. That was what led China and Russia to abandon their creeds in the late 20th century.

Command economies are weak economies; weak economies can't compete militarily.

After the French Revolution almost all major countries found they needed to make the common people feel that they were in charge of government. And, after Bismarck, political parties found they needed to offer the voters some form of social welfare benefits. Otherwise, they faced a "revolt of the masses."

That is what turned today's governments into huge, kleptocratic insurance companies, running grossly inefficient health care and pension programs, while the elites steal a large part of the cash-flow. (Sugar subsidies, QE, Fannie Mae, Blackhawk drones, pharmaceuticals, bailouts...)

This model worked reasonably well for the last 150 years. Capitalists added more meat to the average man's diet and more leisure to his time. Wealthier, he both demanded...and was able to support...increasingly ambitious insurance programs.

But Bismarck's model reached its peak in the last half of the 20th century. In Europe and America, substantial real income gains ended in the '70s. The old Fords and Rockefellers were gone. And the new capitalists were so fettered with taxes, rules and regulations that they found it hard to move ahead. Debt and demography, too, reduced growth rates. Yet, people still wanted more benefits. They looked to the government and the credit industry to supply them. The dollar was cut loose from gold in 1968 - making it possible to go deeper into debt than ever before. As benefit levels rose, the more important they became to the people receiving them...and the more costly they became to the governments. Politicians found that they could not raise taxes nor cut benefits. All they could do was to borrow more money.

As is recounted superbly in David Stockman, in the fight for balanced budgets, in the early '80s, the Republic Party took a dive. Thereafter, there was no serious opposition to deficits...and by early in the 21st century, more than half of the voters were receiving support from the government. The wolves outnumbered the lambs at the polling stations; the dinner menu was a foregone conclusion.

In the US, social welfare spending could still be financed by cutting military spending. But the security industry too has been turned into a giant part of the insurance complex - with millions of wolves relying on jobs, contracts, health care and retirement benefits.

And now, with graying populations, falling birthrates, heavy debt and slow growth, claims rise. The insurance company model is headed for a bust.

The good news from last week's life expectancy numbers is that we have a good chance of living long enough to see it.

Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.

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