Letter to a State Worker

It must be tough for a California state worker to deal with the rising resentment of private sector workers. It must be easy to consider all of this some sort of plot by big business and billionaires to smack down the public sector workers, now that they’ve finished their nefarious beat-down of the private sector workers. There may be comfort in these notions, but little accuracy. Here are some thoughts for our state worker brethren to consider:

The average CalSTRS pension in 2010 for retirees leaving with 30+ years of service was $68,000 per year (ref. Government Worker Understates Average Pension). This benefit is extremely out of line with what is financially feasible. In the competitive, globalized private sector, the ability to retire before age 60 with an income of $68,000 per year requires amassing a huge amount of wealth. When savings accounts are paying interest of less than 1.0%, and the stock markets have been down for over a decade, might you not want to question the assumption that CalSTRS can earn 7.75% per year, long-term?

A self employed person in the private sector who manages to earn over $80K per year pays 53.25% tax on every extra dollar they make – 15% for employer and employee FICA and medicare, 28% federal, and 10.25% state. That doesn’t include property taxes or sales taxes, or the many taxes embedded in the typical utility and telecom bills. And, of course, if they don’t work, [...] Read More

CalPERS Projected Returns vs. Reality

Whenever CalPERS, or any government worker pension fund, suggests that a long-term projected rate of return of 7.75% is realistic and prudent, one needs to consider the following: Across every major stock index in the U.S., and on most indexes in the rest of the world, publicly traded stocks have been down for the last 12 years. Here is a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Averages staring in January 2000, and running through last week:

What is immediately clear from viewing this chart is that where the index began, nearly 12 years ago, and where it is now, are pretty much the same. To be precise, the Dow entered the week of January 4, 2000 at 11,522, and the Dow entered the week of August 8, 2011 at 11,269 (ref. Yahoo Finance – DJIA 1-2000 to 8-2011). The Dow has actually declined over the past 10.5 years.

Moreover, this loss of equity value should be measured using inflation adjusted dollars, not nominal dollars. If you review the Consumer Price Index from the U.S. Dept. of Labor, you will see that in January 2000 the index stood at 168.8, and in June 2011 (latest figures) the index stood at 225.7. This means that it would take $1.33 today to purchase what $1.00 would have purchased in 2000. From this perspective, the Dow index today would have to stand at 15,406 just to have [...] Read More

How Interest Rates Affect the Federal Budget

The relationship between stagnant economic growth and high levels of total market debt should be clear to anyone trying to manage a household where their home mortgage payment consumes 50% or more of their entire household income. Similarly, the relationship between economic growth and the ability to borrow should be clear to anyone who has enjoyed the ability to purchase anything and everything in sight right up until they reached the point where every credit card they owned was maxed, and every dime of home equity available to them was already borrowed and spent. These comparisons hold true at the macroscopic level as well.

In the case of the federal government, borrowing has been facilitated by the ability to borrow money at cheap rates of interest. According to the official website of the U.S. Treasury, the Total Outstanding Public Debt, i.e., the total amount of money currently owed by the U.S. federal government is $14.3 trillion. From the same source, the Interest Expense on the Debt Outstanding for the first 9 months of fiscal 2011 (through June 2011) is $389 billion, which equates to an annual expense of $519 billion. Does anyone see anything wrong with this picture? The U.S. federal government is only paying interest on its debt at a rate of 3.6%. What happens if this rate of interest goes up?

In the table below, the best case scenario is presented, since it excludes [...] Read More