According to "Wealth Creators vs Wealth Destroyers" in Monday's (March 8) Wall Street Journal, four dominant mutual fund firms -- Janus Capital, Putnam Investments, Alliance-Bernstein, and Invesco Aim -- lost a total of $126.3 BILLION for their investors!
"So what," many may be prompted to respond, "ya need to know the stock market is a crap shoot -- if ya can't afford to lose, you shouldn't play."
One, mutual funds are the stock market, kind of. Way overwhelmingly, America's 401k retirement plans are in mutual funds the individual employee frequently has only very limited choice of when it comes to selection and participation in; get in, get out, and maybe someone else could do better. Two, any given fund is often composed of millions of shares of hundreds of individual corporate stocks that the fund managers are buying and selling daily, if not hourly. Three, the average employee whose retirement is wrapped in a particular fund, or collection of funds has neither the time to monitor the up and down changes daily, has very limited expertise in the realm, and -- even if he wanted to -- has almost no ability to effect a timely change in his mutual funds. In other words: He's stuck! (I can well imagine some prefer an alternate, albeit rhyming, past tense verb to "stuck.")
My ex-father-in-law paid $42,000 in the mid-"70s for his home in one of Silicon Valley's upscale communities. (Note to those unfamiliar with the geography: Silicon Valley generally refers to the South San Francisco Bay area, where there are, relative to other major metro regions, no un-upscale communities. Even after the crash, compared to elsewhere, housing prices remain stratospheric.) A number of years ago he retired from his position at a major high-tech firm, sold his home for a high-six figure sum, then, with his defined benefit retirement package and his other retirement vehicle investments, set for the rest of his life, moved from the teeming region to a more bucolic part of the state.
While not on the same scale, that was the "plan" across America. Granted that the fellow was extraordinarily innately intelligent, he was also supremely lucky. Nothing he personally did or could have guessed might be the scheme's rocket trajectory culminated in that nearly three-quarters of a million gain on his house; all tax free when he sold. Same thing with the other stock and mutual fund investments. For all intents and purposes his hands were never on the steering wheel nor was his foot on the gas pedal. He just happened to be a truly fortunate passenger; what working men and women, from sea to sea in this land of opportunity, had been long schooled to count on.
Often, when the flooring on the scaffolding collapses and leaves a person hanging, it's not the fault of the mid-air dangling soul. Do the best you can. Play the game by the constantly shifting, arcane rules of chance. You win. Or you don't. If you don't, and you're in your '20s, that's one thing. As you age, however, it becomes something else altogether. Say "C'est la vie" to the person in his or her late fifties and sixties who, through no fault of his or her own, has lost everything . . . I think you've got a case for justifiable homicide there.
Wisconsin's Republican US Representative Paul Ryan recently published his GOP plan, "Roadmap for America's Future." Essentially it's the long-standing Republican quest to privatize -- pronounced : "kill" -- Social Security. It would also replace Medicare and Medicaid by issuing $5,000 vouchers, supposedly enabling American families to buy health insurance from the for-profit health insurance companies. "Get government out of our private lives," or so the anti-socialistic mantra goes.
It was only a few weeks ago that Anthem health insurance announced that for its California subscribers the premiums were going to be increased 39%. In parts of Michigan health insurance rates were raised 56%. A few days ago, a retired woman in my senior park reported to me that her Medicare Part B supplemental insurance -- colloquially, "Medi-gap" insurance -- rates had gone up more than 50%.
Saturday, investment firm Goldman-Sachs reported that the health insurance companies had told them they were prepared to sacrifice subscribers, by raising rates on those they'd rather not insure, those with preexisting conditions or in a demographic that represented a less-than-optimal risk, in order to increase their profits!
Read the preceding paragraph again. Now, think about that. And what it means, what it portends for you, for your children, for the companies you and they may work for, and depend upon for the basics of living.
And I wonder why it is that those who shout so loudly "We can't afford it" have it, or believe they do? What is "it" that they have? An adequate asset base that enables them to ride the waves, even a tsunami, if that's what hits, or a solid health insurance rock that enables them to secure whatever care may be needed. Essentially what it is they're saying is "I got mine, (insert the expletive of your choosing) you." Whether they actually have "it," or just think they do, that's the sentiment. There exists no alternate interpretation.
What's so puzzling to me is why so many who don't have it, or are clearly sufficiently precariously perched they might lose it, are such a vocal part of those who oppose the government's efforts to more solidly anchor the safety nets, in favor of the well-monied interests that benefit by a further rending of those safety nets. They either actually believe the absurd, or they propound from the darkest, most reptilian depths. It's either sheer stupidity, or the most base meanness.
What is even curiouser to me is that other folks, good, decent, well-intentioned folk, tolerate these others in their company; No! invite them in. "We don't discuss politics." Or, "It's just their opinion. They have theirs, and I have mine." Wait a minute. Stop. Think. These other folks are not just figuratively, they are literally killing people; young people, children, mature adults, the sick and infirm. And somehow that's okay. Somehow, the fact they have no human blood coursing their arteries and veins, they feel so comfortable with what ought to be the most discomfiting of truths, that the product of their philosophies is the death and terrible suffering of other Americans . . . and it's just a case of "They have their opinions, I have mine," and so what? That's it?