I won’t keep you in suspense. The biggest trade ever is in demographics. In particular, our rapidly increasing life expectancy.
Quick story. My Coast Guard friends are retiring now. You get to retire after 20 years of service, but some of them have been taking advantage of early retirement and are leaving the service as young as age 40.
Oh my God, what a deal: At age 40, you can bring home about $50K a year and then start a whole new career on the side!
In the old days, you could offer that deal because military folks would die at 47. Now they will live to 100.
Paying out benefits for 60 years to retired military personnel doesn’t sound like a great deal for the taxpayer.
Of course, the military pensions are just the tip of the iceberg. To receive Social Security, you can retire at age 62 (or 67 for full benefits). Again, that’s fine when most people die before 62. The blended life expectancy (for both men and women) is almost 79 years and trending higher.
Or my favorite chart on life expectancy ever, also a rebuttal to those who don’t like capitalism.
If you pay attention to Silicon Valley stuff, you know that Google and Ray Kurzweil and some other folks are working on projects that will allow us to live to 150 or even beyond. That would involve doing a couple of things, first
- Curing cancer
- Curing heart disease
- Curing Alzheimer’s disease
You do these three things, it increases life expectancy by another 10 years or more. And we are actually doing those things!
Once you have a cure for all known diseases (attainable in my lifetime), then you have a different problem. Cells get old and die. The Silicon Valley folks are working on that too.
Funny, if you don’t smoke, eat right, and get a little exercise, you will pretty much live to 80, no matter what. What happens beyond that is up to genetics, which we will solve one day.
So what will the world look like if people live to 100, 150, or more?
It Looks Like Greece
Greece’s retirement age (to receive benefits) used to be 55 years. Again: retiring at 55, what a deal! I would only have 14 more years to go. People are pretty healthy at 55 (though maybe not the Greeks—they have the highest rate of tobacco use in the developed world).
So if people live way longer than the retirement age, the Social Security system goes kablooey. It just does. And yet people resist all attempts to reform it.
We know Social Security is in trouble. George W. Bush tried to tackle it. For all his faults, it was the right thing to do. But he got laughed at.
The first thing we will do is to means-test the benefits, which will just make it more progressive but won’t solve the actual problem. You need to push back the retirement age, like, to 80.
But wait a minute. There aren’t even enough jobs for people to work until age 80.
The World Was a Lot Simpler When People Just Died When They Were Supposed To
We’re going to look back at the 1940s-2000s as an exceptional period in economic history—with high, virtually straight-line, uninterrupted economic growth. We had debt problems before, but biology has made them intractable.
In fact, the whole profession of economics is based on the very idea that there is population growth and inflation. What happens if birth rates decline? They are. Population growth rates will peak very soon. (By the way, the old Malthusian idea of overpopulation is being discredited.) What does the profession of economics look like with declining populations, people living longer, a dearth of unskilled jobs?
Is it nonstop deflation?
Many economists predict years of global deflation based on this premise. They say that you should buy bonds at any price. It’s a compelling argument. I think we’re going to learn a lot of really interesting things about money velocity in the coming years.
Like tech in the ‘90s and energy in the 2000s, health care has been and will be the trade of the 2010s. You have the happy accident of huge technological advances and a government that seems willing, for the time being, to pay for it all. You hear some squawking about the cost of some treatments, but seriously, if you can cure cancer for $250,000, who is going to say no? Especially when that person’s chemotherapy, radiation, and hospital bills could easily exceed $2,000,000.
Lots of folks thought that Obamacare would tomahawk the health care sector. In classic market fashion, it has done the exact opposite. The insurers in particular have been the biggest beneficiary. You probably saw the recent Aetna/Humana merger.
People have tried for years to short biotech. Hasn’t been fun for them.
People have funny attitudes about death, you know. You ask someone if they’d like to live to 100, 120. “Noooooo,” they say. “I wouldn’t want to just sit in a chair.”
Me, personally, I’d be okay with sitting in a chair. But the point of these treatments is that you can be active into your 100s. What then?
“I don’t know…” they say.
Are you kidding me? Forever young, my man. I’m 41, and I look a lot younger than my parents at the same age (sorry, Mom and Dad). I’m still DJing parties, for crying out loud.
Still don’t get the point of Snapchat, though.