It is easier to know what will happen than when. Rickards forwarded the piece because Gundlach is bearish on bonds--six years after his pullout from munis. That is understandable. I too have been bearish, cutting back on my stock holdings in 2016 and hence getting a smaller benefit from the 2017 rally than I might have. (As well, I am a tech skeptic, which also has been a costly mistake. C'est la vie.)
The current rally will snap, either in '18 or later, and there will be a correction. There will then be monetary expansion on top of the already immense monetary expansion since 2008, and Americans will continue to suffer declines in their real wages and real household income as Wall Streeters like Gundlach benefit handsomely and those with at least some assets in the market continue to gain.
What I found most interesting about Gundlach's talk is his cavalier attitude toward screwing middle income baby boomers by instituting means testing for Social Security. He does not seem to have thought through the issue carefully, but he seems to suggest that currently benefit-eligible elderly should have their benefits cut in order to make federal government bonds more attractive to him.
Like all Wall Streeters, Gundlach has benefited handsomely from public subsidization. No one knows how wealthy Warren Buffett or Jeff Gundlach would have been without the massive monetary expansion since 1971, but neither would be nearly as wealthy as they are. Feeling comfortable with his own benefits from the public purse, Gundlach sees the need to cure federal indebtedness fast by reducing Social Security benefits. That way bonds will surely rally.
Gundlach is right that benefits need to be reduced. Federal indebtedness is now in excess of 100% of GDP, not including the future unfunded liabilities of the Social Security System. According to CNBC, if actuaries use an unlimited time horizon (beyond 75 years) rather than a 75-year horizon, the future unfunded liabilities of the system are $32 trillion. Current GDP is $19 trillion.
Projections beyond 10 or 20 years have little meaning because the assumptions that actuaries make become increasingly inaccurate. Technological shifts, demographic shifts, wars, diseases, impoverishment of the middle class, inflation, and monetary expansion change life expectancy. CNBC claims that until 2034 Social Security will be able to cover benefits. Thereafter, there will be a 25% deficit until 2090. After that the system will be in extremis.
Gundlach suggests that boomers' benefits be cut by instituting means testing. In other words, the middle income savers whom Gundlach's backers at the Fed have screwed by reducing interest rates should be screwed again by means testing Social Security. Those who made life decisions based on government lies that Social Security is an insurance plan should end their lives in poverty. Gundlach is confident that boomers will not complain. He claims that they are a unique generation, but he does not offer a reason.
Gundlach is right: Through monetary policy Wall Street has screwed boomers who save, and they have been too dumb to complain for 40 years, so Wall Street's lackeys in Congress might as well once again screw them by cutting Social Security in order to gain a few extra years' bond rally. They likely won't complain again. Gundlach will profit. That's what the phrase "a good economy" means in today's English language.
As Gundlach suggests, the retirement age should be raised. An increase of one year beginning with two years from now might be a fair solution. Thus, people born in 1953 wouldn't get full benefits until 2020; people born in 1954 (my birth year) wouldn't get full benefits until 2022, and so on. The full-benefit age might be raised to 72. That would likely solve the short-term problem. Actuaries will need to determine the precise increase in retirement age. Fairer still would be slower increases of say six months or to start the increases five years hence so that those nearing retirement will have time to plan.
In some areas Gundlach is surprisingly uninformed. He suggests, for instance, that air conditioning repair men, competent, technically trained blue collar workers, are now permanently unemployed. That claim reflects economic illiteracy. I have seen this strange claim repeatedly coming from elite America. It reflects the lack of competent economic instruction at elite, left-wing universities.
In any case, the employment rate in America is currently at an all-time high. Many technical jobs remain unfilled. The employment-to-population ratio is slightly lower than in 2008, but that is to be expected given an aging population. The employment-to-population ratio in Nov. 2017 was 60.1; it was 63.3 in January 2007. The number of employed is at an all-time high.
The high employment rate has been achieved by reducing real wages through monetary expansion. More Americans work; they earn lower wages. The wealth is transferred to Wall Street because the low interest rates boost the bond market. Insiders like Gundlach and Buffett benefit most as Americans work harder for suppressed wages.
Social Security was originally sold to Americans as an insurance plan combined with a welfare plan. There is no such thing. Insurance is actuarially fair. If there is no actuarial relationship between contributions and benefits, then the plan is not insurance. Social Security was designed to give higher benefits to lower earners than they have earned and lower benefits to higher earners than they have earned. There was never any connection between the FICA tax and the OASDI Social Security benefit.
The plan was set up to fool people. It was set up to be a fraud. The biggest fraud was the impression given to Americans that there is a fund into which their contributions go to fund their own retirement. That deception was accomplished by pretending that FICA was somehow separate from other federal taxes and somehow linked to OASDI. It has always been just another, albeit regressive, income tax with no connection to the statutory welfare benefit that OASDI provides.
There is no easy way out of the mess that the two parties have caused with respect to Social Security. There are ways to reformulate monetary policy. The two parties will not betray Wall Street, and I'm afraid Americans are unable to think without the say-so of Wall Street-backed media. Perhaps in the future the phrase "Social Security scheme" can replace the phrase "Ponzi scheme."