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The Daily Reckoning

Boomers spend less. The economy exhales.

Some economists blame boomers for the continued economic downturn, but relax. We're still in the early stages of the correction.

By Guest blogger / August 20, 2010

Joseph Oeler Jr., 35, of Hollywood, Fla. waited in line at an Aug 2 job fair in Dania Beach, Fla. Oeler was the first in line and has been looking for work for three months.

Lynne Sladky/AP

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What were they doing down by the pond?

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The Dow was flat yesterday. Gold rose $9 to $1,226.

Has the dip in gold already come and gone?

We were expecting lower stock prices…and lower gold prices too. Both went down earlier in the summer. But neither went down as much as we expected…nor stayed down.

But it’s still fairly early in this correction. The recession began at the end of ’07. We’re now approaching the last quarter of ’10.

By this time in the ’30s, stocks were hitting rock bottom. The market crashed in the autumn of ’29…then bounced…and then started down again. It didn’t stop until it hit bottom in July of ’32 – nearly three years later. By then, stocks had lost nearly 90% of their value, from 381down to 41.

It can take longer, however. Japanese stocks crashed in ’90. But they didn’t hit their ultimate bottom until 2008 – 18 years later – with losses of about 90%.

So relax, dear reader.

Analysts are talking about a “double dip.” They’re worried that the economy may slip back into recession in the fourth quarter.

There are signs of weakening. GDP growth figures are being revised downward. Consumers aren’t spending. Banks aren’t lending – except to the federal government. Mortgage payments are falling further behind – even with fixed mortgage interest rates at record lows.

So many people are out of work for such a long time that we’re seeing more and more “Death of the American Dream” articles.

Even lawyers are out of work. Recent law school graduates say they can’t find jobs.

And the president of all the Americans, Barack Obama, tells us not to “give in to fear.”

“All we have to fear is fear itself,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt. Yes, fear…and 25% unemployment…the Great Depression (made worse by Roosevelt’s interventions)…a 27% decline in GDP…the Dust Bowl…the Wehrmacht…and the Imperial Japanese Army!

Obama might want to save the fear claptrap until Americans have something to worry about. So far, the correction has only taken 4% off America’s GDP and only took the official unemployment rate to 10%. And consumer prices haven’t actually gone negative – yet.

Don’t trouble yourself about it. The economy is in a correction that began in ’07 and hasn’t stopped. It won’t end until it has done its work. That will take time…maybe another 5 years. Maybe another 15 years.

Markets have to breathe in and breathe out. This market is exhaling. That’s just the way it works.

A Wall Street Journal headline:

“Another threat to the economy: Boomers cutting back.”

You see, dear readers, the financial press has no idea of what is really going on. Boomers are cutting back? Of course boomers are cutting back! They’re getting ready for retirement. They need to save some money.

It was loony to think you could finance your retirement out of the increases in your house’s value. Who were you going to sell the house to? Boomers were the biggest buyers of houses. When they turned into the biggest sellers, it was sure to cause trouble.

Besides, you gotta live somewhere.

Financing your retirement on stock market gains was a bit absurd too. Stocks go up…and down. There was never any guarantee that they would be up at a convenient moment…nor that they would stay up when the boomers all decided to cash out.

No, dear reader, you can never count on getting something for nothing. You can’t expect to finance your retirement on money you didn’t earn. Instead, you need real savings. Saved money. Money you didn’t spend. Money set aside. Anything else is just hoping…wishing…praying you get lucky.

(Even real savings are not guaranteed. Your money can still be swept away by inflation.)

But the problem with the WSJ headline runs much deeper. Financial journalists don’t understand what an economy is. Instead, they wallow in the same flattering claptrap as economists. They think the economy is something that is supposed to do their bidding. It’s supposed to make us all rich, by growing constantly. If it isn’t growing there must be something wrong with it. Something that needs to be fixed by the mechanics at the Fed and the Treasury.

You think the economy is “threatened” by boomers cutting back? Not the least bit. It’s just breathing in and breathing out. What’s the big deal?

But economists want to “do something.” It’s all very well when the boomers spend and the economy expands its broad chest. But when it exhales they rush to put a plastic bag over its head.

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