Productivity Down – Blame the Kids?

The decline in productivity, first noted 15 months ago, is starting to become a serious issue. It is true that an increase in GDP is most likely and most sustainable when the output for every worker constantly goes up. But over the last year, we’ve had a sustained drop of 0.4% annualized.

The message is starting to creep into popular media. A scapegoat now has to be found, lest our politics actually focus on something real and useful. The blame for this decline now falls on smartphones – especially in the hands of those slacker Millenials.

Those kids! They just won’t get off our lawn. Or put down their phones and start mowing it, something like that. We’re never sure. What we do know is that rather than discuss economic trends we now have someone to blame so we can divert our attention from reality. This is just in time for the problem to solve itself.

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Back to the Future

If you want to know the future, ask the kids. It’s going to be their world one day and you can expect that it will be made in their image. Their attitudes, values, and goals will become what drives the economy once they kids of today become the parents and leaders tomorrow.

That’s why UBS asked Millenials (born 1982-1999, or currently 15-32 years old) about their financial and life goals. This is the generation that has been described as narcissistic, broke spenders among other things. If you believe that line, think again. The young people today are one of the most conservative generations yet financially, valuing happiness and security far more than a big pile of cash.

This describes our future, certainly, but more importantly it fits perfectly into the main reason why there are economic and business cycles in the first place.

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The Year Everything Changes

2017 is still over three years away, but we can already say a lot about it. We know that there will be a new President, although it’s not clear yet which party has the edge this far out. It’s likely that whoever is elected she (as it well could be) will try very hard to take the partisan edge off of Washington and get things done. There may even be a new Congress by then with a completely different configuration. But as big as the political changes are likely to be, the real change will be away from Washingtoon.

That will be the year that the peak Baby Boomers, born from 1952-1959, hit 65 years old and start to retire. Ahead of them are at least 15 million Boomers who will have passed that threshold, with probably 10M or more retiring. With slow growth inflation should still be low and unemployment will suddenly and sharply decline. The Millenial Generation will hit the workforce (and the electorate) in a big way. Combine that with the rising optimism coming on slowly and the boom should fire up.

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