Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Archive for the ‘Consciousness/Psychology’ Category

• Proposed Healthcare Surgery Won’t Heal America

Posted by Ron Robins on May 30, 2011

By Ron Robins. First published May 18, 2011, in his weekly economics and finance column at alrroya.com

Yes, surgery is required for the US government’s Medicare (healthcare) program. But before the scalpel is used to control unsustainable costs, an understanding of what promoted the financial disease is required. Unfortunately, that understanding is almost totally missing in the American debate. The Medicare changes proposed so far will not heal America.

In “Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain”, I wrote “unacknowledged as key causes of most developed countries’ growing and unsustainable debt is their citizens’ lack of happiness and well being. This induces people to seek immediate comfort in material goods, drugs, and activities and lifestyles that eventually cause them, and their societies, great harm, ill health, and massive debt!” Additionally, consider the immense psychological distress and impact on individual lifestyle and chronic diseases when about half of all American marriages end in divorce and 29 per cent of all children live in single parent ‘families.’

Hence, for many tens of millions of Americans, this lack of happiness and well being inflicts significant psychosomatic (mind/body) based illnesses, accounting for 70 per cent or more of costly chronic lifestyle-based diseases.

Supporting the view concerning the negative effects of lifestyle-based diseases is Mark Bittman, writing in the New York Times on April 12. He said that, “for the first time in history, lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and others kill more people than communicable ones. Treating these diseases—and futile attempts to ‘cure’ them—costs a fortune, more than one-seventh of our GDP… But they’re preventable, and you prevent them the same way you cause them: lifestyle. A sane diet, along with exercise, meditation and intangibles like love prevent and even reverse disease… ”

Mr. Bittman also quotes Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard-affiliated paediatrician and the author of Ending the Food Fight, who says, “the magnitude of the [US government] deficit is small when you consider costs of nutrition-related disease; the $4 trillion that the Republicans want cut over a decade is about the same as the projected costs of diabetes over that same period.”

Hence, it is clear that what should be done is to put resources into proven cost-effective programs that promote improved psychological health and lifestyles. Unfortunately, the US Congress is probably too psychologically unstable to seriously consider incorporating such programs! Instead it will probably resort to changes in Medicare that mostly attempt to limit healthcare costs. However, changes to Medicare are unlikely to happen until after the 2012 Presidential elections unless Congressional action comes sooner due to a collapsing US dollar and/or bond market, or a miraculous bi-partisan bill that both Democrats and Republicans agree on.

The starting point in this debate is that the US is dealing with potentially mammoth unfunded Medicare liabilities of up to $125tn. over the infinite horizon, according to Boston University’s professor of economics, Laurence J. Kotlikoff. Funding that would require all 309 million Americans to each write a cheque to the US treasury for $405,000! Clearly, that is not about to happen.

President Obama revisited the Medicare cost debate on April 13, by saying the following: “Already, the reforms [to Medicare]… will reduce our deficit by $1tn… We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power… We will change the way we pay for healthcare… with new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results… we will slow… Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending…”

“… the reforms we’ve proposed… [are] saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional $1tn in the decade after that… [and] I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry…” A ‘voucher’ program is at the heart of proposed Medicare reform by US House Budget Committee’s Chairman Paul Ryan. It is also favoured by Professor Kotlikoff.

Commenting on April 14, a CNN post on President Obama’s Medicare reform proposals and those of Mr. Ryan, Professor Kotlikoff made the following remarks: “This is simply a continuation of kick-the-can down the road, which leaves ever larger government bills for our kids to pay… Obama’s speech made no effort to find common ground with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to address Medicare… ”

Professor Kotlikoff also writes about his own plan, The Purple Health Plan (PHP), which shares many similarities with Mr. Ryan’s proposal. “The [PHP]… provides all Americans with vouchers each year to purchase a basic healthcare policy. Those with bad genes or bad luck receive larger vouchers. The vouchers are paid for by our taxes. We pay for a basic health plan of our choosing solely with the voucher. Insurance providers of the basic plan can’t turn us down… [spending is fixed at] 10 per cent of GDP… [the plan] also offer[s] participants financial incentives to lower their weight, stop smoking, take their meds, and otherwise improve their health.”

Professor Kotlikoff’s PHP is partly based on the healthcare systems of Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Israel, who the OECD ranks as having some of the most cost-efficient and effective healthcare systems. American per capita healthcare spending is around 50 per cent greater than in those countries, yet with frequently poorer outcomes. The PHP has great credentials, being supported by five Nobel Economics’ Laureates: George Akerlof, Edmund Phelps, Thomas Schelling, William Sharpe and Vernon L. Smith.

Surgery to America’s healthcare system, Medicare, is coming around again. The changes that eventually gather the most support may well centre around Professor Kotlikoff’s PHP, utilising a voucher system and limiting government spending. His plan also incorporates some financial incentives to promote improved health. But the PHP, as with any of the other plans being proposed, need to include a major emphasis on psychological health too. Without such an emphasis, the proposed changes to Medicare will not solve the massive problem of psychosomatically induced diseases—which are the bulk of chronic health problems and with which are associated most of the huge mounting costs.

Thus, none of the proposed changes to Medicare offered as yet by President Obama, US House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, or by Professor Kotlikoff, will really heal America.

Copyright alrroya.com

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• Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain

Posted by Ron Robins on April 12, 2011

By Ron Robins. First published March 31, 2011, in his weekly economics and finance column at alrroya.com

Unacknowledged as key causes of most developed countries’ growing and unsustainable debt is their citizens’ lack of happiness and well being. This induces people to seek immediate comfort in material goods, drugs, and activities and lifestyles that eventually cause them, and their societies, great harm, ill health, and massive debt!

After decades of study, Robert E. Lane, the Eugene Meyer Professor Emeritus of Political Science, at Yale University in the US, found that it is a lack of happiness and well being that is eating away the moral fibre of the populations in advanced market democracies. In Professor Lane’s seminal book, Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, he writes, “amidst the satisfaction people feel with their material progress, there is a spirit of unhappiness and depression haunting advanced market democracies throughout the world, a spirit that mocks the idea that markets maximise well-being and the eighteenth-century promise of a right to the pursuit of happiness under benign governments of peoples choosing.”

Continuing, “the haunting spirit is manifold: a postwar decline in the United States in people who report themselves happy, a rising tide in all advanced societies of clinical depression and dysphoria [anxiety, malaise], especially among the young; increasing distrust of each other and of political and other institutions, declining belief that the lot of the average man is getting better, a tragic erosion of family solidarity and community integration together with an apparent decline in warm, intimate relations among friends.”

It is these conditions which Professor Lane observes that give rise to individuals seeking immediate comfort anyway they can. Hence, most developed countries’ populations gravitate to instant solutions that might ameliorate their lack of happiness and anxieties. This, no matter the long term monetary, psychological, or physical consequences and costs to themselves or society. Professor Lane believes it is imperative for western democracies to give the highest priority to improving the happiness and well being of its individuals. And this means their focus should be on human psychological health and relationships—not about income levels.

By looking for hedonistic joys in the present, many developed countries’ individuals seek excessive material consumption which then creates unsustainable levels of consumer debt. In the US, though to a lesser degree in other developed countries, consumer debt has grown far faster than individual earnings gains over the past several decades. Despite a respite in consumer debt growth during the past two years, signs are emerging that US consumer debt might well begin to outpace actual earnings gains again in 2011, thereby creating conditions for yet another future financial crisis.

Also, and again much ignored in the debate concerning debt, are other individual behaviours that induce it. For example, to provide a modicum of happiness and to make life more bearable, people in America (and in many developed countries) consume drugs (legally and illegally) in extraordinary amounts. These drugs—alcoholic beverages, marijuana, cocaine, cigarettes, prescribed and non-prescribed medications, etc.—often create dependencies that impair health, brain and psychological functioning. These dependencies then lead to greater crime to support drug habits, increase prison populations and criminal/legal costs, raise the number of accidents everywhere, and encourage unhealthy lifestyles that in turn produce epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and all manner of health problems.

Americans spend more on healthcare, by far, than anyone else. In 2009, according to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, Americans spent $8,086 per person on healthcare, equal to 17.6 per cent of their economic output or gross domestic product (GDP). And such expenditures continue spiralling 4 to 10 per cent a year, far faster than GDP itself. Thereby they add inexorably to future unfunded US federal government medical liabilities that Boston University’s Professor Laurence Kotlikoff believes is about $125 trillion over an infinite timeframe. To fund that liability would require every man, woman and child in America to pay about $407,000 to the US federal treasury!

And among public companies a short term focus on near term profits that potentially create longer term costs and debt has been endemic. Consider this 2001 quote by Maryann Keller on the US automobile industry. In Forbes magazine, she said, “[That] Chrysler, GM and Ford spent billions of dollars to buy their stock in the open market… It was always obvious that product spending [developing new autos] was being sacrificed to provide trading liquidity [ease of selling stock] for big investors while boosting earnings per share. GM, Ford and the Chrysler Group today [in 2001] find themselves with growing gaps in their product portfolios as they lose market share…”

Thus, the US automobile industry preferred to spend profits on supporting their near term stock prices rather than developing new products for longer term profits. By 2009 all but Ford were bankrupt. After losing tens of thousands of jobs and engaging in a massive automobile industry restructuring program, the US government bailed out the industry (for now?) at a cost of about $85 billion. (Canadian governments also supported GM and Chrysler to the tune of $13.5bn CAD.)

Total societal US debt (private, corporate and government) is now likely to continue moving higher again as consumers are forever encouraged to spend now while saving is discouraged due to artificially mandated low rates. Increasing employment, though welcome, is not likely the answer to mounting unsustainable societal debt. In fact, it might well exacerbate it if former long term trends of debt growth outpacing income gains continue.

The US, like most other developed countries, is on a path to increased human suffering and tragic financial circumstances unless it deals with the fundamental issue: enabling individuals and families to become intrinsically happier and experience feelings of greater well being. Only then can the compulsion towards short term thinking and gratification—which builds huge unsustainable long term debt—be stopped.

Copyright alrroya.com

Posted in Consciousness/Psychology, Economics, Labour Issues, Spiritual | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

• The Allure of Gold: Now and through the Ages

Posted by Ron Robins on February 10, 2010

While respected sociologist Dr. Paul Ray reveals the rise of higher consciousness in society today, we also note the rise of something else unparalleled in our modern epoch: the declining confidence in developed countries’ paper currencies. This is clearly evidenced by that eternal barometer of currency health—gold.

Having seen gold’s U.S. dollar price rise four-fold over the past decade and with substantial gains in all currencies (while outperforming every other major asset class), gold is resuming its historical monetary role.

Why is this happening? Mainly because of our gradual realization of what I call the Really Bad Three ‘Ds’ of the developed world:

1) Debt (The Global Debt Bomb, Forbes);

2) Derivatives (… the new ‘ticking bomb,’ Marketwatch); and,

3) Demographics (The 81% Tax Increase, by Bruce Bartlett, and Global Ageing Population–Financial and Economic Crisis Brewing, by Niels Jensen.

Also supporting gold’s ascent and paralleling Dr. Ray’s thesis of a rising higher consciousness globally, is the increasing appreciation of gold’s age old and alluring spiritual, cultural, and healing qualities.

Gold through the ages
Gold has enthralled people from time immemorial. In ancient Egypt, Egyptians ingested gold for spiritual, mental, and bodily purification. In India’s Vedic tradition gold is associated with the sun, light, fire, purity, life, immortality, truth, splendour—and long revered as money and wealth. In China, traditionally gold is owned for good luck. The golden dragon, the symbol of Chinese culture, stands for happiness, procreation, and immortality.

In Europe, the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Dutch, Spanish and British, all found gold to be the ideal currency. Gold has historically been chosen as currency due to it being “durable, divisible, consistent, convenient, and have value in and of itself.”

In our modern era New Agers call gold “the Master Healer’… Gold symbolizes the purity of spirit and they attribute the power of cell regeneration, energy conductivity, communication transmission and energy purification to the metal… In the world of spiritual healing, gold has the emotional power to ease tension, feelings of inferiority, and anger as well as encouraging the realization of one’s potential and bringing comfort.” (From: jewellerysupplier.com)

Growing practical uses of gold today
Gold also has new and rapidly growing practical applications. It is used in electronics and computers as an extraordinary natural conductor of electricity which will not rust or degrade. In medicine, it is used to treat arthritis, and gold nanoparticles are central in much of biological research. In aerospace, NASA uses gold in a film to reflect infrared radiation and as a lubricant for mechanical devices operating in space.

Gold alloys are utilized in dentistry for fillings, crowns, bridges, and orthodontic appliances. Dentists find gold easy to work with, nonallergenic, and chemically inert. (See geology.com)

Perhaps the oldest and best known use of gold is for jewellery. Analysis of GFMS Ltd.’s third quarter, 2009 report, shows gold used in jewellery represented about 59% of usage and that gold for investment purposes accounted for 28% of demand; electronics 9%; other industrial demand for 2%; and dentistry 2%.

Inflation/hyperinflation/deflation fears increase gold’s attraction
However, it seems that for 2009 as a whole, something extraordinary happened: for the first time in decades investment demand for gold exceeded that of jewellery use. Gold is being purchased as a hedge against the anticipated currency chaos resulting from the Really Bad Three D time-bombs of uncontrollable Debt, explosive Derivatives, and aging population Demographics.

The fears are that the governments and central banks of the U.S., E.U., U.K., and Japan, may of necessity create high inflation to alleviate the burden of their unsustainable debts and obligations. Unfortunately, inflation can get out of control, increase rapidly, and result in hyperinflation causing huge loss of confidence in the affected currency.

Central banks can generate inflation by printing money. Put simply, they flood the economy with almost free, ‘excess’ money, which forces a decline in value of each monetary unit, thus producing inflation. Countries (or anyone in debt) can then pay off their debts with money that buys a lot less—thus cheating their lenders. This has been common practice of indebted governments throughout time and is what ignites the lust for gold as the safe haven from the ensuing monetary and economic maelstrom.

However, renowned economics’ professors Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff, as well as Dr. Lacy H. Hunt, and others, believe that deflation will rule. In deflationary periods, as in the 1930s, the money supply contracts, prices fall, debt deleveraging occurs, major financial system defaults occur, the economy shrinks, and government deficits and debts explode upwards. Even in deflationary episodes, investors fearing losses or government failure buy gold for protection. (See The Long Wave Analyst.)

Therefore, central banks in the developing world possessing the world’s largest reserves of developed countries’ currencies and debt are fearful of losses arising from any of the above potential conditions. So, to protect the value of their assets they do what central banks have always done—they buy that ancient metal of kings—gold. The central banks of China, India, and Russia, are among the biggest buyers of gold today.

Furthermore, as these developing nations grow they are investing increasingly in their own locales where investment returns are higher than in developed countries. Thus, their reduced buying or outright selling of developed countries’ debt and currencies is further lowering the value of those currencies and debt.

Gold’s new role
These developments are creating mounting instabilities in the world’s financial system and are encouraging discussions of a new global currency that might compete with or replace the U.S. dollar. Already, Brazil, Russia, India and China (the so-called BRIC nations) as well as developed countries such as France, are demanding the establishment of a new world currency order.

To accommodate these demands the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Special Drawing Rights (SDRs—a ‘basket’ of currencies used as money between central banks) may well be re-formulated to include new currencies and commodities. Theoretically, the re-formulated SDRs could even become the world currency.

Top gold analysts like Jim Sinclair see the linking of gold to both the SDRs and to the U.S. dollar money supply. By anchoring the dollar to a rising gold price the U.S. could likely stem the dollars declining value.

The downside of gold production
If proper safety and environmental rules are not followed the mining and production of gold can mean ill health for miners and mining communities, and environmental degradation. Mining and processing of gold ore usually requires the use of the highly toxic chemicals such as arsenic and mercury.

The ore after processing is left in tailings ponds, and if the ponds are not carefully designed, built, and maintained, the water from these ponds can contaminate water sheds, rivers, and farm fields. If not properly managed, there are real downside risks in the mining of gold.

However, there are two reasons why I feel more optimistic about gold mining in the future. Firstly, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world are bringing to light those gold mining activities that are doing harm. In some cases NGOs have caused abusive mining operations to shut-down or to make major changes in their operations. Secondly, governments are implementing ever tighter health and environmental controls concerning mining.

These factors are slowing the amount of gold mined, as well as making the mining itself more expensive. Hence, as gold demand increases and the above factors help to restrain its supply, gold prices are likely to receive even further support. Incidentally, since the 1990s, global gold demand has substantially exceeded what is mined, while the amount of new gold found is unable to replace that mined.

To summarize, gold is re-incarnated
In the next few years the probability of currency and economic turmoil due to the Really Bad Three Ds—Debt, Derivatives, and Demographics of the developed world—will be greater than at any time since the 1930s. Similar turmoil has occurred innumerable times over countless millennia, and can be seen from the ancient civilizations of Egypt, India, China—to modern Europe. As turmoil occurs, gold becomes the store of wealth and assumes its role as the currency of choice.

However, gold is not only rising due to currency and economic instabilities. It is also rising because of its many fast growing commercial applications and particularly because of the allure of its age-old spiritual, cultural, and healing characteristics. In the era of higher consciousness where Enlightened Economics reigns, gold serves many key functions. The future is indeed golden!

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© Ron Robins, 2010.

Posted in Consciousness/Psychology, Economics, Finance & Investing, Gold & Precious Metals, Personal Finance, Spiritual | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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