Retirement Planning & Investing During Deflationary Times

I Wish This Were Clickbait…

But it’s not.

The economic damage done by the over-reaction to Covid-1984 has impacted millions. And unfortunately, for many, the pain will be felt for years to come, via a potentially HUGE reduction in Social Security benefits.

This pains me to write this. As I’m a HUGE proponent of Social Security and, in fact, even wrote an entire book proving that you can actually retire on Social Security alone.  You can buy the book by clicking on the link below if you’re so inclined.

However if you were born in 1960, and potentially any year after that, this may no longer be true due to how Social Security calculates your benefit.

Let’s start with the basics.  Social Security indexes your wages to what’s called an Average Wage Index(AWI). Essentially they inflate the money you made in previous years to give you a benefit that pays out in current dollars.

For instance, in 1991 I was an E-4 in the Army. I made around $11,000.  If Social Security were to give me a benefit based on that amount alone, I might be able to buy a bag of Ramen noodles and that’s it.

Instead what they do is they INDEX that $11,000 to the increase in average wages over the years. Click this link to see exactly how this works.

Because I was born in 1970 my earliest year of eligibility (when I turn 62) is 2032.  So, I type 2032 in the box hit enter and VOILA! I get my indexing numbers.

I see my indexing amount for 1991 is 3.7398426.  So, I take the $11,000 I made in 1991 times by that indexing amount to get $41,138.  That is the dollar amount that Social Security uses to calculate my wage base for the year 1991.

Social Security does that for each and every year you paid payroll taxes.  They then add up your top 35 years, divide that number by 420 and you get your AIME.

Your AIME is the number the Social Security Administration uses to calculate your PIA, which is your benefit you’ll receive at FRA.  I know, a LOT of acronyms going on here.  And I’m not going to take the time to explain all this here.  Buy my book down below or simply watch my Youtube channel as I’ve discussed these formulas a million times to Sunday.

The kicker here though is your INDEX NUMBERS.  That is what determines your INDEXED AMOUNTS that ultimately determine what your benefit is.

What I did not know was that your index numbers are not permanent. They can actually change, retroactively, depending on the economy for the year in which you turn 60!   Read this article NOW!  It’s from Andrew Biggs, who I’ve interviewed twice, here and here.

In summary:
“Assuming a 15 percent decline in the Social Security Administration’s measure of economywide average wages in 2020, a middle-income worker born in 1960 could have his annual Social Security benefits in retirement reduced by around 13 percent, with losses over the retirement period in excess of $70,000.”

“(W)hen the Average Wage Index in (the year you turn 60) falls below projected levels by a given amount, earnings in all past years are also reduced by a similar percentage.”(emphasis mine.)

So, a decline in the GDP in the year you turn 60 means a decline in your Social Security benefit…and that decline in your benefit could be HUGE – hundreds of dollars a month!

To prove the point, I did a series of videos on this exact thing showing what happened to people who turned 60 during the last economic downturn in 2009.  Now the economy dropped that year by all of .4%, not 4% but .4%!

And even with that tiny decline the folks who were born in 1949 received thousands less in benefits than those born 1 year before or after them. See here and then here.

What does this all mean? Simple, the folks advocating for the economic shut down, and CONTINUED shut down, are going to impact YOUR retirement plans!  And that is not acceptable.

Just because of the year in which you were born you could lose $10.000s of benefit.  Did the amount of taxes you paid into the system change? Nope.

Did the extra years you worked to solidify your retirement change? Nope.

You did what you were supposed to do. You played by the rules and JUST LIKE THAT the rules are going to bite you by no fault of your own.

Oh, don’t think if you were born, say in 1970 like me, this may not affect you either.  Do you not know the economic decline from 1927-1939?   Think you’ll be exempt if we follow a similar path that our leaders took us down during that time period?

If we go into a massive regulatory environment, ala the 30s, rest assured, your Social Security benefit, and mine, will be reduced too.

We need to hope for quick economic downturn similar to what transpired in 1921 as written about by James Grant in his book, “The Forgotten Depression”.

Hopefully our leaders will read Murray Rothbard’s account of the reason why the Depression of the 30’s became “Great” and not in a good way.

However, given it’s our leaders who put us in this mess with their incessant desire to “follow the science”, whatever the h**l that means, I’m not holding my breath.

Eisenhower warned us about our credentialed elites dominating society:

“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been over shadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

It appears we’ve arrived at such a place and sadly the regular person is being shut out from the debate.

Forget all that! The one area YOU do have power is by your ability to raise a ruckus with your representatives.  Trust me, the last thing your elected officials want is a bee in their bonnets.  Politicians are like electricity and they will ALWAYS go the path of least resistance.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls this the Dictatorship of the Small Minority because those tend to be the loudest voices…all the while the rest of us just about our lives trying to put food on the table.

Well, sorry to wake you from your comfortable slumber, but if our leaders can get away with THIS to reduce your Social Security benefits, what comes next?  Doubling of Medicare premiums?

You need to use your voice to say this needs to be fixed! You did what you were supposed to do.  You “social distanced”, you “sheltered at home”, heck many of you lost your flippin jobs or businesses!

And now you’re potentially going to lose thousands in the one thing that is supposed to stand solid for you?

Do not stay silent.

Raise a ruckus until they change this.

Never Been Here Before…
I attended a webinar yesterday where Stephanie Kelton was being interviewed. Kelton is/was a Bernie advisor and a HUGE proponent of the Modern Monetary Theory of economics. She will have a new book coming out which you can pre-order here.

Now, I’m unequivocally opposed to Bernie Sanders and the silliness behind the push for the “Green New Deal” BUT there is some common ground one can find with the Kelton’s of the world:
Deflation is coming.

And what Professor Kelton said in yesterday’s webinar is concerning to me. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If we don’t get inflation in 18 months, we could be in big trouble.”

This, my friends, is a fundamental shift in everything we’ve been taught for nearly 100 years, that inflation, i.e. the continual decline of purchasing power, is the risk. It’s actually sacrosanct among investors for years, you need to invest in order to at least keep up with inflation.

But what if there is no inflation, but rather DEFLATION? How does that change one’s thinking?

Interestingly enough, if we go back in time, starting in the 1870s through the end of that century, we see significant DEFLATION, year after year.

We can also look at 1927 through 1940 and see the same thing.

While there are no instances of deflation in my, or your, lifetime, it actually happened not too long ago. Can we use any of that previous information to at least get an idea of what investing and retirement planning might look like?

Well, yes and in fact, I did a set of videos on this exact thing.
Investing During the Deflation (1870-1900) is here.
Investing During the Great Depression is here.
5% Withdrawals During Deflation is here.

As you’ll notice having a sizable cash holding was a critical aspect to a successful investing/retirement strategy. The reason for that is quite simple, cash INCREASES in value during deflation!

Your cash need do nothing other than sit in a Mason Jar and it will gain value simply because the price of goods is DROPPING.

You must remember money is nothing more than a way to purchase goods. In of itself, money/cash is an inanimate object, it’s meaningless

But, because it’s used to transfer one product, food for instance, to you in exchange for it, it has an intrinsic value.

If a dollar today can buy a hotdog but tomorrow that same dollar can buy a hotdog and a drink, that is deflation. And my dollar is inherently worth MORE than it was yesterday.

I hope that makes sense. As it’s such a fundamental shift in thinking I worry a lot of people will get it wrong.

Did that dollar increase in value because I invested it in some strategy? No! It increased in value due to the price of goods dropping. I need not be Warren Buffet to increase my purchasing power, and thus my wealth, with that dollar. I just needed to have a dollar. And that’s it.

Now, while deflation may sound like a fun thing, I make money by taking no risk??? SIGN ME UP! The problem is that if my dollar will buy a hotdog today, but tomorrow I expect it will buy a hotdog and a drink, then what’s to say in two days it won’t be able to buy me a hotdog, drink AND some french fries?

If that is my expectation, then I’m going to hold onto my dollar for dear life as I can buy more and more products later. And thus the deflationary cycle. As I hold onto that dollar waiting for prices to continue to drop it is removed from the economy and the velocity of money screeches to a halt. When velocity of money declines…look out below! Economic activity slows wayyyyy down. This is what we need to be thinking of today.

What happens when that occurs? It’s such a foreign concept to us raised post-Great Depression.

Japan gives us a glimpse of what may happen. Which is why RIchard Koo’s book, The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics is so critical to read.

We really need to be studying Japan more. As I truly believe that’s where we are going as a nation.

I’ll be doing more videos looking at Japan through a microscope. I haven’t done it much yet. But just you wait.

If Kelton is right, and despite her politics, I think she is, it’s going to be a whole new day in economics, investing and retirement planning.

22 MILLION people filing for unemployment. Let that sink in. And that’s just the beginning. Untold business operations being shut down. Untold furloughs. Untold investments in future growth not being made.

I don’t think we’ve anywhere near the idea of how bad this is going to be. And a $1200 “stimulus” check for the privilege of being forced to be under house-arrest simply won’t cut it.

It’s going to be ugly. I could be wrong, obviously. In fact, never a bad idea to bet AGAINST me… but if I’m even partly right, prepare accordingly.

Build up cash.

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