Saturday, April 25, 2015

Canada - Economic Stagnation Nation?

BOOMERS - Wealth Concentration and Stagnation

In reading Sotheby’s report on Real-estate trends in luxury properties the excerpt below spurred some thought, 9.6 million people (boomers), 80% of high net worth Canadians, are over 55 years of age and 58% of those are retired – and more are soon to be retired; this reality is rested juxtaposed against the provision of many FREE services to this same cohort, of most significance of course are medical services. While this “age group” is larger than ever before, they are healthier than ever before which may defer to some degree their taxing the free services, but tax services they will. There is a another affect on economy as well, they cost more to keep and they generate less income, once more however, the capital they have they are conservative in investing – less apt to take chance on disruptive, innovation or risk prone investments, often the type of investments that stimulate the economy.

In the forest management people refer to a stand of timber becoming decadent, that is to say, that in its maturity the old growth precludes new forest, and the old growth is well established and living thereby precluding giving living space to new forest – this is a point of stagnation, the increase in fiber volume is limited. This contrasts to a circumstance after a fire perhaps, where several species are taking hold, there is age class variance as the forest species move through life cycles – there is dynamism here – annual increase in fiber volume is greater here. The population profile of Canada, much of the western world is in a state of decadence due to this reality, which parallels the aged forest reality.

Japan, given its racial homogeneity and the resulting resistance to immigration was the first example of this pernicious reality taking hold – some two decades of low growth and a monetary policy at war with deflation ensued. Could this fate be awaiting us in Canada or the wider western economy? There are indications that there are factors seemingly suppressing inflation, Central Bank policy has been simulative in the extreme since the 2008 downturn, with little indication the tide is turning. It seems that the economy is never really hitting it’s stride, never any pressure on price due to capacity restraints, just more or less – sideways. It would be unwise to suggest that a single cohort is to blame, or a single demographic element – it is, however, certainly a single and significant contributing factor. 

The combination of the increased use of free government services, the withdrawal from vocation and resulting income contraction and the ongoing conservative management of capital on the part of this cohort is sure to challenge us.

The situation seems to cry out for some means to incent this cohort to put its money to work more aggressively. There may be reward to government coffers in policy that mitigates risk in the areas of investment that most improves our economy.  There is requirement for infrastructure spending, capital that is more or less latent or invested at no real rate of return – the government could engage in 3P processes that include partial payment of infrastructure thereby reducing “cost” and improving return. A municipal bond program could be brought in to play, so local communities could go to their citizens to raise capital for City infrastructure and enjoy the support of upper level governments, via a tax credit of some kind. Recent attempts at infrastructure spending seem somewhat muted, in the post stimulus spending time frame we are now in, there seems very little infrastructure spending on the horizon. The joy of infrastructure spending is, it gives an immediate boost the economy now – in much the same way a healthy house market does, AND then it is the gift that keeps giving as it makes the future economy more efficient.

The process of government sweetening the pot for investors in government infrastructure is aggressive in that it is a form of quantitative easing, it is quantitative easing that puts enhanced return in a place that rewards presently “latent” capital AND directs benefit to the middle class, rather than the institutions that caused the downturn in the first place. Quantitative easing in other jurisdictions had the government issuing a $1000 bond at a cost of $900 – this is a simplification for illustration, the point is financial institutions got “free” money. Sweetening the pot for “Boomers” who have capital directed in a manner that is less advantageous now, who then move investments to a place that moves the economy in an immediate way, is likely to provide several benefits; including the funds to government coffers on the boomers capital gains taxes.

One would have to put pencil to paper to see the degree that is appropriate for government to participate; however, when one tallies the quantifiable benefits of infrastructure, increased revenues from capital gains – (offsetting to some degree the initial investment by government) AND the multiplier effect of the actual work – one would guess supplementing infrastructure bonds and or municipal bonds to the tune of 5% would be very viable – I suspect even a better return could be offered. Here we have a several wins; the public gets better return on capital, the public invests in the infrastructure it needs (the hospitals the boomers are going to be filling, the road and rail that support commerce, the city transportation networks the improve commerce and the environment, the much needed education system reconfiguration – the list is endless) AND the people who have wrongly paid to repair the damages of a financial industry gone a rye, get a little back.

I know what you're thinking, this is like a remake of the Keynesian “Roosevelt New Deal”, and there is nothing new here. The concept of the new deal is here, the implementation is different.  The Keynesians purpose in all policy is to increase aggregate demand, they rarely care how that is done, government spends – I mean SPENDS – to increase aggregate demand. This is different, this is government “seeding the economy”, by providing an avenue for all levels of government AND it could be easily adapted for small and medium business as well in the same spirit as the British Columbia Venture Capital Program,  an avenue that lets infrastructure that is in REAL demand be build. The “New Deal” was a top down, centralized effort, the same sort of effort that had quantitative easing enriching the very people who created the financial downturn in the first place. This is a hybridization of quantitative easing, municipal & government bond programs, directed at a group of people who require secure returns and whose capital we need.
Canada is a long way from the Japan scenario, we have immigration, we are a resource economy and we have a generally more vibrant demographic picture. We do however, need to be mindful that the “idle boomers”, their ageing and their “idle capital” could be a drag at the very least, and push us into a period of stagnation at worst. With a small amount of incentive, we can generate a big result, and if it is managed properly, rather than saddling future generations with debt, we enhance future generations’ operational reality and enrich them.           

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