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I am fascinated with trends and the future
Old 11-27-2007, 10:11 PM   #1
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I am fascinated with trends and the future

Has anyone here done any thinking on how our political direction will affect the quality of our retirement in the USA? How about trends like Peak Oil and how that will affect our mobility and the cost of airconditioning in Phoenix or South Florida? I just found this forum, so I haven't had time to look around yet.

I have been an entrepreneur and investor most of my life, so accurately forecasting trends is very important to me. It looks like we're in for some very interesting "Golden Years", fellow Boomers.

I'd also be interested in hearing from any who have left the U.S. for warmer, more easygoing latitudes.
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Old 11-28-2007, 01:15 AM   #2
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Hi and welcome

Lots of people who like discussing these, and other topics so welcome. Also there are multiple expats wandering about in places like Argentina, Estonia and Texas.
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Old 11-28-2007, 05:42 AM   #3
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Welcome to the forums, Voltaire.

I became worried about something less exotic -- the government messing up Social Security when the republicans wanted to change it after I had retired early and before I was old enough to collect it. It motivated me to write my senators and congressman for the first time.
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If you want the scoop on Social Security's future...
Old 11-28-2007, 11:43 AM   #4
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If you want the scoop on Social Security's future...

I've done a lot of reading about Social Security, too. I found a great book entitled "The Coming Generational Storm," by Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns. It has the endorsement of four Nobel Prize winners, and a number of other famous people who don't lend their endorsements lightly.

Kotlikoff's conclusion is that there is no way the younger generation of workers can be taxed enough to keep the Ponzi scheme of SS going, so the checks will soon have to be paid by simply printing the money, causing massive inflation.

I doubt that's what your Congressman told you, but I've checked with other experts on the subject and I believe Kotlikoff.

I'd be curious to hear what your Congressman(or -woman) told you. Keep in mind that Congress has been spending our SS surplus like it was their own piggy bank for years, which is a highly unethical thing to do when they should know the next generations will not be numerous enough to support the huge Boomer retirement contingent.
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Old 11-28-2007, 11:59 AM   #5
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Kotlikoff's conclusion is that there is no way the younger generation of workers can be taxed enough to keep the Ponzi scheme of SS going, so the checks will soon have to be paid by simply printing the money, causing massive inflation.

Just read the other day about SS, that by existing law, when there are insufficient funds to pay full SS benefits, the benefits will have to be cut.
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Retirees drive less
Old 11-28-2007, 12:33 PM   #6
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Retirees drive less

and may end up flying less too. Taxing coal would increase electricity prices but solar and nuclear would limit this, and a well insulated home can be very efficient. Water would probably be a greater problem.

Kotlitkoff makes the error of applying finance to macroeconomics, but what makes sense individually doesn't make sense for a society. The book, "What if boomers can't retire?" exposes the fallacy of this thinking. Societies for the most part cannot save for retirement because what they consume must be produced relatively soon before consumption. Dependents are always supported by those working at the time; they cannot store up what they need for their future retirement. The entire concept of wealth transfer between generations is fallacious on the macro level. The time value of money makes no sense for a society because monetary and fiscal authorities determine what the value of that money is in the future.

If SS runs out of money, and that is a big if given the uncertainties of the next 30 plus years and the pessimism of the assumptions made, than benefits will be reduced as it now stands. Most proposed solutions simply offer other means of reducing them so are hardly solutions, just alternatives and largely inferior ones at that. Healthcare, on the other hand, is a problem and while we can afford today's healthcare, we will likely not be able to afford tomorrows. I expect most people will end up going elsewhere for medical care and buying what they can afford as there is little consensus on solving it here.
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Old 11-28-2007, 01:45 PM   #7
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I'd be curious to hear what your Congressman(or -woman) told you. ..
Neither of my 2 senators answered my letters, but they publicly opposed privatization of Social Security.

My congressman, a Republican, sent me a response in which he sided with the Bush plan for privatization of SS, so I voted for his Democratic opponent in the next election. I was a registered republican.
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You may not agree with me, but...
Old 11-28-2007, 04:10 PM   #8
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You may not agree with me, but...

I'll tell you what I think: Our Senators and Representatives can't be trusted with our retirement savings. They've proven that already by spending the surplus that should have been invested for the past 40 years. They will say anything, promise anything to get your vote, but they have no firm grasp of how they're going to deliver on their promises. That's why we're in this position.

The money just isn't there anymore, yet not only do the politicians keep offering us new benefits like the Prescription Drug coverage, but now even Republicans are promising to give us some form of Universal Medical Insurance. Who's going to pay for it? You and me, no doubt.

We are about 60 Trillion dollars in debt, when you add future SS/Medicare obligations to the current national debt, so the Dems can promise to honor the SS commitment, but the numbers don't lie. They will have to double taxes, cut benefits, lengthen the age of retirement, and/or inflate their way out of the mess. (That is a summary of Kotlikoff's reading of the situation. He was on the President's Council of Economic Advisors, so I tend to think he knows what he's talking about. His career has specialized in studying this one problem.)

Kotlikoff believes that the only politically acceptable course is to quietly inflate their way out.

My personal preference would be to vote for someone who would pay what is owed to those who are retired or about to retire and let younger workers opt-out of the SS tax, so they can invest for their own retirement. The one candidate for Pres. talking about this is Congressman Ron Paul (a Republican with a libertarian streak). You can see his position on his Web site: Ron Paul 2008 — Hope for America under Issues.

Dr. Paul would find the money to make this work by dismantling our military empire, which supports two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and 700 military bases in 130 countries.

Without the expense of defending Europe, Japan, Korea, etc., the U.S. would be able to afford a strong defense of our own country. Most of the supposed danger of "Islamo-Fascism" is just a reaction to our imperial way of pushing around the countries of the Middle East.

Sorry to be so longwinded, but it's a complicated subject and important, so I wanted to be clear.
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Old 11-28-2007, 04:31 PM   #9
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Speaking of trends...
Water. I think the decade long drought in the SW and the drought hitting the SE are just the beggining. Both will get worse over time although I don't expect the SE to be as bad as the drought in the SW.
Investing in companies with ideas to tackle those problems could be a great opportunity. Investing in companies that create residential lawns using grass/turf... probably not
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I agree, Water is essential
Old 11-28-2007, 06:17 PM   #10
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I agree, Water is essential

I, too, have been reading about the potential for investment in water technologies. I like investing in businesses where no one can live without your product.

I haven't really been following the drought in Georgia, but it seems very odd to me. In general, they usually get lots of rain. (I grew up in Florida and I can remember that we had spells where the precipitation was well below normal for years, causing fires to break out and agricultural havoc.)

Another water issue is the exhaustion of the underground aquifers. When that happens AND you don't get rain, then you've got big problems.

In the Southwest, it's basically a desert where they borrow water from distant states to produce crops (and lawns and swimming pools, etc.). They are exceding their population carrying capacity, so they can expect BIG problems sooner or later.

I'm not sure what can be done to "solve" these water shortages, except for conservation and desalinisation. Wasting money on lawns is crazy - why not grow edible landscaping with the same effort? Get some food from the area.

All these things factor into a wise choice of where to retire, I believe. I don't want to get "stuck" in an area that has been living on borrowed time as far as their energy needs, or water needs, or especially their dependence on importing food or gasoline. That's why I choose to live in Oregon, where there's plenty of rainfall, electricity, and local farms. People are generally very pleasant - we don't see any gang activity in the smaller towns, nor much crime.

As I look for dependable ways to create a retirement income that is not dependent on the stock market or Social Security, but that is enjoyable and not too physical so I can do it into old age, something that appeals to me is having a big organic garden - big enough to feed me year round and have some to sell for income.

That, to me, is a "Social Security" safety net I can control - and, from what I'm reading has real growth potential as oil/natural gas get expensive.
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Old 11-28-2007, 08:06 PM   #11
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Voltaire.. I think you would enjoy reading a blog I recently came across called "How Many Miles from Babylon":
How Many Miles from Babylon

Sadly, there seem to be no new updates, but I have still not finished with the archives, and I did want to bring it to the board's attention in a dedicated thread when I'd finished. Really fascinating to me. It made me look at my bank balance in a whole new way. Brings up a lot of things I have always thought but seem to be taboo to speak of.. in particular how we owe everything.. EVERYthing that has to do with "life as we know it" to oil and coal. It SOUNDS like something that is only starting to affect small pockets of obviously absurd and improbable communities like Palm Springs or Las Vegas.. but it really isn't.

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I don't want to get "stuck" in an area that has been living on borrowed time as far as their energy needs, or water needs, or especially their dependence on importing food or gasoline.
You say you "don't want to get stuck".. neither do I.. but we're there, baby. We're already there.. and have been, most of us, for a few generations now.

Not holding my breath for political leadership on this. It's obvious the "war" angle has been the go-to response to secure the oil at any cost. I've dropped my simplistic "greedy oil co." war theory for the more nuanced "them energy guys know stuff we don't" war theory. More war and nuclear power is in our future. I fear the populace will be more tolerant of radioactive waste in their Big Macs, than they will be ready to pick up a plow or eviscerate a dead chicken themselves. Hope I am not being too uncharitable, but how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, now that they've seen Paree?

For the record, I live in a small town, too, where there is a mild climate, decent water, some agriculture and where many people still have skills of a bygone era, but ...survive without imported goods and fuel? No way, not even if the population remained stable with no influx from larger nearby cities and towns. Remember, fuel is what makes the imported goods possible in the first place. Sadly, Gore may well see his critics (or his grandchildren their grandchildren) literally eating crow.
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How're ya goin' ta keep 'em down on tha farm?
Old 11-28-2007, 10:14 PM   #12
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How're ya goin' ta keep 'em down on tha farm?

Hunger might do it. The danger and hassle of travel when they treat you like a terrorist in your own country. Once I got a taste of the relative freedom on the farm, I had little desire to go to Paree.

I just have a feeling things are not going to be "business as usual" for too much longer in this country with some of what I call Overlooked Retirement Dangers coming to a head. I remember Miami during the fuel shortages of 1979. People got downright testy! I don't want to re-experience that when I'm 68. Not even now do I want to go to any big American city.

I enjoyed the Babylon blog, ladelfina. That's a parallel lifestyle I once lived and I'm trying to get back to.

I'm very attuned to the Peak Oil situation: check out one of my favorite authors, James Kunstler at James Howard Kunstler . He doesn't see any good alternative to oil, not for the scale of the demands we place on oil. More crucial to agriculture, is natural gas; no fertilizer=back to near-subsistence production. And we're much closer to the end of natural gas reserves than oil.

I don't mean to be gloomy, but since we're talking about how we want our retirement to be, I bring these things up. Overlooked Retirement Dangers that can be avoided with a little planning. Most folks just would rather immerse themselves in Dancing with the Stars: someone else's glamorous pretend life.

I've been to Paris and Rome and Oktoberfest and Amsterdam, Mexico, Canada, and most of the U.S. states, and did it up right. But I don't think I'll be doing much gratuitous travel anymore like when I was 30. Things have changed and I don't have the tolerance for the BS that goes on at our airports, now.

If I do decide to check out someplace that might still be warm and friendly like Mexico was forty years ago, I may just go and not plan to return. A lot depends on how the election goes in 2008. This country seems to be getting polarized like it was during the Nixon/Vietnam years and - if there seems o be someplace that is more free and comfortable - I'd rather not be living under either Empress Hillary or Rudi Julie-Annie.

To get back to your original thought, We're only slaves to the system to the extent we need/want to buy stuff from them (Corporate America). What do I need from them if I can grow most of what I eat and trade for the rest with my neighbors? I've been there - it was great.

I haven't owned a car for 9 years and it's such a relief generally. I grin when I see folks lined up, idling at the Espresso booth, just beggin to pay 3 bucks for something they could make at home for a quarter. All the while burning up those precious hydrocarbons! I have realized I don't need 99% of what this world lures us into the Debt Trap with. Been there, done that, and got pictures to prove it.

Got to go - I'm starved!
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Old 11-28-2007, 10:58 PM   #13
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I have been an entrepreneur and investor most of my life, so accurately forecasting trends is very important to me.
Sounds like you might enjoy "microtrends" by Mark Penn.
I'm wading through it looking for the promised investment ideas. No "EUREKA" moments yet, but they can't be far off.

Microtrends : Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne
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Thanks for the tip, JPatrick!
Old 11-29-2007, 12:01 AM   #14
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Thanks for the tip, JPatrick!

I took a look at that link and it looks interesting. I'll see about getting a copy. Thanks!
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Old 11-29-2007, 12:50 AM   #15
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Voltaire.. I'm so impressed that you have 'been there' and think you could do it again. On an intellectual level I am there, but as they say "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak". After a night of dancing or serious yoga I feel achy and sleepy, and am not even 50 yet! A WIMP! If pressed I can find significant immediate short-term energy reserves, but am unsure about what a long haul would require. I do like the idea of being beholden to no one.

Quote:
We're only slaves to the system to the extent we need/want to buy stuff from them
So true, but I fear we miscalculate our real, actual dependence.

Since moving here, I have limited buying sprees to US goods that cost far less there than their equivalents here in Italy (entering Italy there is not much BS.. the BS comes later!). Meanwhile after US passport control INTO the US at Thanksgiving, there were three separate DHS agents serially controlling our customs declaration forms. A great show of turning the (self-reported) form this way and that.. times 4 counting the final exit. Who knows in what warehouse these forms end up. My carefully-washed contraband fresh gift bay leaves (for me, free in infinite quantities.. in a US supermarket $4/bottle of 10-or-so sad specimens..) got through fine. I have also gotten cheeses through easily; haven't attempted a prosciutto yet. I'm convinced the customs people just pig out on or otherwise divide up the 'illegal' merch.

Quote:
I grin when I see folks lined up, idling at the Espresso booth, just beggin to pay 3 bucks for something they could make at home for a quarter.
I hear ya.. every time I return there's more and more of a culture shock. My sister throws out paper, plastic... all into the garbage.. about as much volume in one day as we generate in two weeks! Irritating. Apparently now you can buy 4 slices of roast beef in a vacuum plastic pouch INSIDE a tupperware-type small bin w/lid.. at least that's what I found in her fridge. The plastic weighs more than the "food" contents, and it's all thrown away in the general trash. In Italy this would be given to you in a paper wrapper, or perhaps in a paper wrapper lined with plastic (get this) where it's designed such that you can easily peel the plastic layer away from the paper layer and recycle each layer separately. It's not some great sacrifice! The stuff lasts almost a week, anyway. If the d*** roast beef lasts a month or more it probably has crap in it you'd be better off without.

I decided to make an apple pie for TG. This was viewed as early onset dementia by mom and sis. But it only took a couple cups of flour, a couple sticks of butter, water, sugar, cinnamon, and 5 apples. Simplicity itself. My sister had NO FLOUR IN THE HOUSE, not even a tablespoon's worth. I hadn't planned for such a bizarre (to me) eventuality, so luckily the supermarket was OPEN on TG day and I could buy the d*** flour!

Anyway, I could easily go a year, or in a pinch several years, here without buying any significant amount of durable goods beyond a few lightbulbs, probably, but food and energy are the keys. We keep our two old cars (seeing as we drive so little, it hurts only at insurance time). Being in a small town it's useful to keep two in case one of us (DH) is away for work or one is on rare occasion in the shop; public transport is drastically limited and a car is pretty necessary. As my mom is wont to say, neither of the cars "owe us anything" at this point. If one car bit the dust we might not replace it, though.

Voltaire, can you share some of your stories of 'having been there' outside of -or on the fringes of- Corporate America?
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Stories from the fringe
Old 11-29-2007, 05:30 PM   #16
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Stories from the fringe

Hello la delfina and all:

I got a taste of a more elemental life when I decided our government was wrong to be in Vietnam trying to tell people there how they should be governed. I was a poli/sci student, studying to get into the diplomatic corps. I saw that we were in the wrong and would lose, so I chose not to play that game. As a result, I am alive and whole and have no nightmares from Nam. We now trade with them and they have discovered on their own that Communism doesn't work very well.

Living on the run introduced me to people who supported the cause of peace, freedom, and simple living long before they were popular. I lived with Quakers on a farm, growing most of our own food and learned the benefits of cooking from scratch and avoiding packaged, processed foods.

I worked with a group of war-resisters picking and pruning apples. We shared food, accommodations, chores and it worked out very well. It was an exciting time, with lots of good books of philosophy and world religions to compare. People from all over the country and even foreign students.

Eventually, I moved to a communal farm near Rochester, NH, and grew much of our food. We had no indoor plumbing, but it was alright. One project for making some cash was making organic apple pies and selling them at the nearby college town.

Money went a long way, before the inflation of the late 1970s kicked in. Work for the System wasn't so important then. I have always felt that we have been placed into an artificial system where we have to work very hard to get ahead because there are so many taxes and the phony notion we must keep up with the Jones. But then, I grew up in the shade of palm trees, where food drops off the trees and is waiting to be caught in the ocean.

I resist set-ups like that and am healthier, younger-looking, and less stressed than my friends who went along with the official system of working. I have usually started small, simple businesses when I wanted income, but I've also worked menial jobs to remain free to study, think, and keep in shape.

Using a car habitually is very expensive. It's possible to get back in shape by deciding to walk whenever possible or bike it. In Italy that is much more feasible. Nothing comes easy though. As we get older, we will quickly lose our conditioning if we don't push ourselves to get outside and exercise. Use it or lose it!

It sounds, la delfina, like you are already well along toward being more conscious than most Americans about avoiding senseless waste. The main thing I learned from living off the land was that the opposite way will take us to an unhealthy, fat, sluggish , stressed condition - and then the hospitals get us and it's pretty much all over, then.

The whole American system - Way of Life - is set up to make profits for big companies from selling us unhealthy foods that make us sick and then we spend the last part of our lives giving doctors our money(what the taxman hasn't already taken!). I refuse to buy into that system and, as a result, I rarely need modern medicine. I look 45, but I'm 58.

So, there are sacrifices, but it's worth it. The best times are when I find others who believe as I do. Hope this gives you an idea of where I'm coming from. Read Henry David Thoreau or Lao Tzu for more backround.
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Old 11-30-2007, 10:51 PM   #17
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Aenlighten:

I just wanted to get back to you. There was a lot to think about in your msg: some I agree with; some I don't; some I'm not sure about. I will look for the book, "What if Boomers Can't Retire?" I think many will be working at something longer than they wanted to.

I believe in wealth transfer between generations - but when the federal government is the trustee and spends the money it should have invested, there's no way the GenX and Y are big enough to support the Boomers as we supported the previous WWII generation. I'm not an economist, though, but I do know I'd rather have the money they take out for SS/Medicare so I can invest it myself. I don't trust Congress, based on their track record.

Solar and nuclear have potential, I agree, but the waning years of oil are going to be a big drag on our economy. Less travel, for sure. (But due to the way our homes are so far from most workplaces, it might not be feasible for retirees to work if they can't afford to drive there.)

Anyway, we'll see how it turns out. I appreciate the food for thought in your post yesterday.
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Old 12-01-2007, 11:00 AM   #18
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Amusing

A good part of the world is outside the window with their noses pressed against the glass while we sit inside, overeating debating whether to landfill/incinerate/recyle our plastic and whine about those outside the glass who just want inside - screw the child labor/environmental/other social crap - let us in and then we'll debate.

Coal - plus we have more oil shale than the Middle East - after we shoot the lawyers/tree huggers and other nut cases - Freidman's The World is Flat is just the beginning.

In the 70's the Brit's I worked with - used to describe the French problem - franc devaluation - fixed pensions - world inflation. Pssst swiss annuities!

Last night I watched a really cute sweetie on the travel channel - in Baveria and Switerland - I was mentally converting euro's to dollars as prices were mentioned - yikes!

heh heh heh - remember the Bear - agile, mobile and hostile. Greater Kansas City ain't bad - the yellow brick road is around here somewhere. I get more worried when football season is over. Happy curmudgeoning!
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