Sunday, May 29, 2011

Is it worth saving money anymore?

I still believe in keeping some savings, but what about long term financial planning?

I'm 31. Where should I be financially?
[...] Once you have a retirement goal in mind, you want to be able to refer to benchmarks along the way to see how you're doing. Otherwise, you could find yourself at the end of your career well short of the savings you'll need.

The best yardstick is the size of your nest egg relative to your income. To quit working at 65 with a decent shot at replacing 80% of your pre-retirement earnings, you'll need savings equal to roughly 12 times your income (that assumes you'll collect Social Security but no pension). [...]

I used to believe in this kind of advice. I still do, in theory. But is it worth doing NOW, when our money is being devaluated?

In my youth, till I learned to manage my money properly, I went hungry a few times between paychecks. Then, after going into debt with credit cards, I learned to save money to pay off the debt. After that, I was good at saving money so I kept doing it, enabling me to buy property. Since then, I've always had savings. But nowadays, I keep thinking I need to spend it, before it becomes worthless. Like it happened in Germany in the 1920's, where people's entire life savings were wiped out overnight.

James Turk did the following interview with Turk maintains that our currency has already collapsed, that we are already in the "process", and it just hasn't reached critical mass yet. The interviewer argues forcefully against Turks assessments, but Turk holds his ground, answering a lot of good questions by the interviewer. Here's a sample:

Moneychanger Since, at least the New Deal and the succession of Roosevelt and all his monetary/inflationary tricks, people have been predicting that the dollar would collapse. Aren’t you ashamed to come along 70 years later and predict again that the dollar is going to collapse?

Turk By any logical interpretation the dollar has already collapsed. Today’s dollar only purchases five cents of what it purchased in the 1930s, ten cents of what it purchased in the 1960-70s, and maybe 50 cents of what it purchased in the 1980s. So inflation has already brought the dollar to an ongoing collapse. The sound money people have been warning about this through the decades: the dollar is no longer an effective form of currency.

That raises another question: will the dollar’s problems become more severe? That’s where it becomes a bit more troublesome in terms of projecting and looking at the future. Can this decades-long situation continue, or must it end in some cataclysm? In our view it must come to end in a cataclysm, and that’s what we lay out in the book.

Moneychanger But isn’t the word “collapse” misleading? The people who mange the dollar, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, have managed the collapse from 1934 until 2004, 70 years, so that the economy did not collapse along with the dollar. Can you really call that a collapse? Also, what’s to prevent their managing it a bit longer, through this decade? Even if it loses (as I expect) at least 75% of its value in this decade -- and it’s already lost nearly 30% from February 2002 to March 2004 -- it still won’t disrupt the economy too terribly.

Turk Let’s look at the first part of that question, the claim that the economy hasn’t collapsed. You’re widening the point that I was making earlier about the dollar collapsing in terms of purchasing power. When you bring the economy into the discussion you have to ask yourself another question. Are people better off now than they were 20-30 years ago? Looking at real wealth and adjusting for the dollar’s debasement, people are less wealthy today than they were 20-30 years ago. Incomes are lower today than they were 20-30 years ago, partly because the dollar’s been debased, partly because people take home less money after taxes. By any logical measure, I don’t think people are as well off as they were in the 1960s or 1950s when the dollar problems weren’t as severe as they’ve become in recent decades.

But there’s more to that question: we’ve created a debt mountain, a debt bubble. Bubbles always pop. We mortgaged our future trying to maintain standards of living by debasing the currency and borrowing. This is unsustainable and will ultimately bring about the dollar’s collapse.

Moneychanger But the Federal Reserve and the Treasury have managed the collapse. That’s what they do. They are crisis managers. They exist to manage the debasement of the dollar so that this infection does not give the whole economy a fever resulting in death. Would you agree?

Turk Yes, and as a clear result of their managing an unsustainable situation, we have less and less freedom. The Patriot Act just presents the latest example. Look at US financial history. They continue to erode and encumber our freedom. Why? Because they recognise that the present system is not sustainable and they are trying to keep the bubble in the air.

Moneychanger You claim the present system is not sustainable. Allan Greenspan says it is. George Bush says it is.

Turk Well, are they going to tell you that it’s not sustainable?

Moneychanger No, but they have 70 years of success to argue on their side. What makes it different this time? In the dollar’s darkest hours of 1980, when gold hit $850 and silver $50 and they pushed interest rates over 20%, well, yes, it’s a crisis, but we’ll muddle through this one, too. They’ve been muddling through since 1934. What is to prevent their muddling through this time? What specific things will make the dollar collapse this time? By “collapse” I don’t mean “erode” or even “erode quickly”, but I mean collapse in the sense that currency collapsed in Germany in 1923 or Argentina in 2002.

Turk That is exactly what I envision for the dollar. To answer your question we have to consider both supply and demand. In recent decades demand for the dollar has been, more or less, fairly consistent. As the financial bubble has been inflated and the Debt Mountain was built, people have continued to demand the dollar. They still use it for their day to day transactions. But what happened in Argentina and in Germany in the 1920s? Eventually, in a very short period of time, people realised that the hollow promises they were using for currency weren't worth what they had previously valued them to be. Then began the flight from the currency. The demand for those currencies dropped dramatically. In a long-term time frame, you could say almost overnight, but it was really over a period of weeks and months. People moved out of that currency as quickly as they could into other alternatives.

Demand for the dollar will ultimately drop for essentially the same reasons that demand for the Argentine peso and the Reichsmark dropped: they were fiat currencies oversupplied to the market.

Today far too many dollars are sloshing around the global economy. All it takes is a little break in confidence, then people quickly understand that the dollar is not worth the paper it’s printed on. There are a lot of hollow promises backing your dollar. That will lead to the flight from the currency that will ultimately bring the dollar down. But it’s the same outcome for every fiat currency. That’s the point that Americans don’t yet get. There is no logical reason why the dollar should end any differently than any other fiat currency.

Moneychanger But help me see the unseen. In 1923 Germany the people had already suffered through the inflation of World War I. They had seen their currency lose value as prices rose 800%, they had caught on. That “catching on” was necessary to precipitate the flight from the currency.

In Argentina in the decades of the 1980s and 90s, they had three different currencies, if I’m not mistaken. It may have been four, I can’t keep up with it. All Latin America has a century-long tradition of monetary instability. In the U.S. the last two generations have grown up without seeing gold in circulation, the last generation has grown up without seeing silver in circulation. Since 1971, the whole world has been on a fiat standard. Every currency has been inconvertible, backed by nothing. So why would American confidence break now? They don’t know anything else. They have only known a regime of inflation and ever-depreciating dollars. What will put the idea in their mind now that they have to flee out of dollars?

Turk What will trigger the flight from the dollar? We can’t really predict that. It could be some geopolitical event, some domestic financial event, a bankruptcy of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. We just don’t know what the specific trigger will be.

Look at the overall picture of what the dollar is today, and ask yourself a question. Do I want to prepare for this coming event by moving assets out of dollars into other alternatives – other currencies, precious metals, tangible assets. Never mind asking what specific event will starts the flight.

Where we stand today in this country is not unlike where Russians stood in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. If you had possessed the terrific foresight to say that in two years the Russian Rouble will collapse and the Soviet Union will be history, the average Russian would have just laughed at you. And you know what he would have said? “The government will never let that happen.” Exactly what Americans say today.

“The government will never let that happen.”

But the reality is that the market is bigger than the government. Truth can be hid for only so long, and we have been hiding the truth. We’ve been creating illusions of prosperity, while in reality we’ve been consuming infrastructure and building a debt mountain. The Debt Mountain is ultimately going to be the problem that causes the dollar to collapse. [...]

Turk claims that we have not had a sound currency since 1934, even though a sound currency was written into our constitution. He also predicts the American people will demand that we go back to it.

This interview was made in 2004. Yet he predicts some things that have since happened, or are happening now. Read the whole thing, it's a real eye-opener.

What can we DO about any of it? Idaknow. Do what we can, I suppose, to get ready for the Brave New World of Finance that seems to be inexorably coming our way?

Related Links:

Commentary: Stimulate the economy, not government

What would a U.S. currency collapse look like?

Argentina's Example: Are we heading there?

Our true national debt: $130,000,000,000,000.

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