By Lowell Ponte
Investing for the future used to be like dieting. If you had the willpower to increase the amount you invested, or to reduce the calories you ate, then the forces of compound interest and weight loss were predictable. If we acted responsibly, we seemed able to control our future.
Today the world seems strangely different. America is in an obesity epidemic, with nearly 38 percent of adults now more than 20 percent overweight. It is almost as if we are putting on weight to help survive some approaching disaster we unconsciously sense coming. For the first time in living memory, the average lifespan of Americans has begun declining.
As we get fatter, our savings grow thinner. Nearly a third of us have nothing saved for retirement, and half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, without the cash reserves to handle even a relatively small emergency.
One of America’s most famous investment advisors and financial authors used to tell people which stocks and bonds were best. Now he tells people to sink their life savings into two things: one is the new cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – a wildly volatile risk that is more like high-stakes gambling than prudent investing.
The other investment he recommends is marijuana businesses, which may be legal under some state laws, but remain illegal under federal drug laws. States such as California are now planning marijuana taxes of 45 percent on marijuana products, which will make “legal” marijuana more expensive for consumers than black market opiates.
This investment expert’s advice makes a perverse kind of sense. Habitual marijuana use will make people hungrier, fatter, and dim-witted enough to bet their future on Bitcoin. He will get rich both ways. But our lifespan, attention span, productivity, and drugged brain power will shrink, as China’s did when millions were seduced into smoking India-grown British opium.
Up to 38 percent of adult Americans – 92 million – are already prescribed opioids, while more than half of fatal drug overdoses (64,000 in 2016, more than total U.S. deaths in the entire Vietnam War) involve black market opioids imported mostly from China. Perhaps 20 percent of working-age American men who are out of the labor force are opioid users.
The American Dream is also undermined by government policies. “The sweeping tax overhaul House Republicans introduced [November 2] would eliminate or scale back some of the biggest incentives for home-buying in federal law,” wrote Russell Berman in The Atlantic. This would, he said, cut in half the limit on deducting mortgage interest, cap property tax deductibility, repeal the tax deduction for moving expenses, and force more people to pay taxes on profits made from selling a home.
The low-earning Millennial Generation has already postponed buying their first home, which has postponed marriages and couples starting a family, which has in turn helped spawn the lowest fertility rate in American history.
Higher taxes, in other words, have unintended consequences. In this case, raising taxes on home ownership could mean far fewer children in this generation – and far fewer future workers to pay for Social Security and Medicare that are already speeding toward bankruptcy. They also push America away from the anchored communities of homeowners and toward the transient communities of renters who have far less of a stake in their neighborhoods.
Baby Boomers grew up thinking that what you invested in a home was a reliable haven of ever-increasing savings for the future. Government coerced the banks into giving mortgages to millions of uncreditworthy home buyers. This created an insane bubble in home prices and, in 2008-2009, a bust in prices that cost the average family 39 percent of their total net worth and left tens of millions underwater in debt. Monetary expert Craig R. Smith and I first analyzed this in Crashing the Dollar.
Some see the stock market in a similar bubble today, near bursting, with millions of investors at risk in the stock casino. They were driven to gamble because their homes and bank savings accounts are no longer reliable investments, and the dollars they save are being deliberately debased by government money-printing and inflation.
Those now urgently seeking security likely will never find it in the fearful sleep of owning Bitcoin or in the pipedreams of Acapulco Gold marijuana. You would probably be far safer investing in the reality of old-fashioned coins and putting a portion of your portfolio into what has been hard, reliable money for the past 6,000 years – gold – that governments cannot debase and that never disappears in a puff of smoke.
To schedule a fascinating interview with Lowell Ponte, a veteran think tank futurist and co-author of seven economics books, contact: Sandy Frazier at 516-735-5468 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
For a free copy of Craig R. Smith and Lowell Ponte’s latest book, Money, Morality & The Machine, contact: David Bradshaw at 602-918-3296 or email him at email@example.com .