Popular Myths and a Shrinking Work Force
It’s not just voters who buy into popular myths. Many investors do too. Few have wider appeal than the myth that central banks can create economic growth via the printing press.
What central bankers and their supporters seem to forget is that growth comes from living, breathing human beings.
It often sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. But genuine economic growth comes from two things: the number of workers in the labor force and the productivity of those workers.
That’s a problem for the US. Because according to a recent report in The Economist, its potential labor force is set to grow at less than one-third the 0.9% rate we saw between 2003 and 2013.
Making things worse, many of America’s boomers – the first of whom qualified for Social Security in 2008 – are opting out of the labor force. Instead of looking for jobs, they are choosing to live on benefits.
This helps explain why the percentage of working-age adults looking for jobs in the US has fallen to below 63% from about 66% when the global financial crisis struck.
And it’s not just Americans who are getting older on average.
From The Economist:
“[T]he ratio of workers to retirees is now plunging in most developed countries and soon will in many emerging markets. Japan is already liquidating the foreign assets its people acquired during their high-saving years; China and South Korea are starting to do so and Germany will soon.”
Fewer workers in the labor force. More retirees to support for those with jobs. Foreign retirees cashing out of their US stocks and bonds. Janet Yellen et al. better hope investors are gullible enough to believe the magic of QE can continue to levitate financial assets forever.
Otherwise, stock and bond investors will start to reconsider the prices they’re willing to pay to own their pieces of paper.
Past and projected workers per retiree of selected countries – via macrobusiness.com.au.
Chris Hunter is Editorial Director at Bonner & Partners
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