November 17, 2011

My country, 'tis of thee

I thought as much:

Eighty is the new 65,” Joseph Ready, executive vice president of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement & Trust, said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York before the survey was released today. “It’s a real sea change.”

"Sea change" is a good phrase - not entirely worn out yet, despite its antiquity. I think it's one of those imported Britishisms that have come into common use here in the States. Like, "at the end of the day." Nevertheless, I can't see how 80 can be the new 65, since 80 is beyond average American life expectancy. This whole Peter Pan thing can be carried too far. The point Mr. Ready (-or-Not) seems to be making is that retirement may become a thing of the past except for the "1%." And they won't retire for long, either, since they'll be eaten for food by the working 99%. Another "sea change."

I am only an amateur Doomsayer, however, so don't take my word for it. Doomsaying is a crowded field, and there are many, many practitioners these days, especially on the Internet. I read a few every day, just to keep my spirits down. The latest roiling fiasco is the financial insolvency of Europe. Here I must register a slight disappointment: it was one of the pleasures of my youthful years to favorably compare Europe's more gracious, socially-secure living to the Darwinist bloodbath more typical of life here at home. It was one of the ways we could get a dig in at this country that systematically deprived us of 6-week vacations, wall-to-wall free medical care, a year of "paternity" leave, retirement for everybody at 55, and so much more. I wasn't sure how Europe did it, but it sure seemed nice.

It now seems possible the same laws of thermodynamics apply in Europe as here Stateside, not surprising since most of the early important work in physics was done in Europe. What a come-down all this has been. Is it possible Europe was doing it all with mirrors? They're in hock up to their eyeballs now. Really, when you think about it, the U.S.A. is in better fiscal shape. That sounds strange to say about a federal government which borrows 42 cents of every dollar it spends, but consider: the total U.S. national debt of $15 trillion (about 100% of GDP) is considerably better than Italy, which is at 120% (equivalent to $18 trillion here). Further, the $15 trillion in the U.S. is not real. $4.5 trillion could be written off tomorrow simply by repealing Social Security and Medicare, and the finances of Social Security are now so ridiculously dismal that its days are surely numbered. For example, last month (October, the first month of the new fiscal year 2012), Social Security took in $39 billion and paid out $61 billion. The phantom interest paid by the phantom Trust Fund was, for the first time I noticed, inadequate to cover the shortfall. That is amazingly dire. When the hallucinated money is still not enough, what do you call it? A failure of imagination?

As I say, however, that's the bad news. The good news is that the U.S. national debt can be reduced by $4.5 trillion if the Super Committee simply drops acid and gets jiggy with it. Just eliminate these programs. Now we're at $10.5 trillion. Yet it gets better still. Of this remainder, about $1.3 trillion is held by the Federal Reserve, which only pretends to collect interest on its "holdings" so it can "credit them back" to the Treasury who supposedly paid...oh hell, we've covered this. So knock it down to $9.2 trillion.

Damn it feels good to be a gangsta. We're the toast of the OECD and NATO, as opposed to being, you know, toast. We're in good shape, in other words, with debt at 60% of GDP. We have more control over our debt than these Eurodogs, with their stinky cigarettes and silly pointed men's shoes. We are better prepared for the coming austerity than they are because we're already living the insecure life - our health care "system" sucks, the Social Security pension was always inadequate, we never got more than a couple of weeks off, no one ever heard of Dad taking a year off to be with the kids (the last place this hard-working threshing mill donkey would ever want to be anyway), and, in general, it's always been that big-fish-eats-little-fish situation that Woody Allen once described, in trying to come to terms with how the natural world works, "as one enormous restaurant."

So yeah, there's a retirement "plan" they can't take away from you. Work until you die. Wherever the human race is going, America always seems to get there first.