Drowning in the Money River: Why the 99% of Us Are Falling Further Behind

It's a big club and you ain't in it.

~ George Carlin

If you suspect society is unfair, that there's a different set of rules the rich live by, you're right.

I've had ample chance to witness first-hand evidence of this in my time working on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. Simply put: our highly financialized economy is gamed to enrich those who run it, at the expense of everybody else.

The Money River

A recent experience really drove this home for me.

Having received my MBA from Stanford in the late 90s, I remain on several alumni discussion groups. Recently, a former classmate of mine, who now runs her own asset management firm, circulated her thoughts on how today's graduating students could best access an on-ramp to the 'money river'.

What's the 'money river'? Good question.

The money river is the huge tsunami of investment capital sloshing around the globe, birthed by the historically-unprecedented money printing conducted by the world's central banks over the past decade. Since 2008, they've more than tripled their collective balance sheet:

(Source)

The $13+ trillion in new thin-air money issued to achieve this is truly staggering. It's so large that the human brain really can't wrap around it. (For those who haven't seen it, watch our brief video How Much Is A Trillion? to better understand this.)

But suffice it to say, all that money has to go somewhere. And it first goes into the pockets of those with closest access to it, and of those who direct where it flows.

In the context of MBA graduates working in finance, accessing the 'money river' often follows this recipe:

  • Step 1: Get hired by a buy-side fund (asset management firm, hedge fund, etc)
  • Step 2: Make friends at other funds by investing part of your portfolio in their offerings
  • Step 3: Leave to create your own fund, which all your new buddies will invest part of their firms' portfolios in
  • Step 4: Collect a fat annual salary of 2% of assets under management (regardless of how your fund performs), plus 20% of any gains

Let's put a little math behind this, with real-world numbers based on another classmate of mine who followed this recipe. After graduating, he went to work for a prestigious private equity firm, spending nearly a decade there as a fund manager. He then left to start his own fund.

Since he had invested in scores of ventures and funds while working for the private equity firm, he had amassed plenty of industry insiders who knew they had to reciprocate when it came time for him to hang out his own shingle, because "that's how the game is played". You help me when I need it, and I'll do the same for you.

Only a few weeks after announcing the formation of his new fund, he had raised $100 million for it. At his 2% management fee, that gave him an annual salary of $2 million no matter how the fund performed. And with the standard carried interest percentage, he had substantial additional upside of 20% of any profits the fund may take in the future.

Since forming this fund nearly ten years ago, the financial markets have been on a historic bull run, with hardly any corrections along the way. This is primarily due to the trillions in new money provided by the world's central banks mentioned above. So, it's little surprise that my former classmate's fund now stands at over $1.1 billion in assets under management.

That's now a $20 million annual management fee. Plus 20% on (conservatively estimating) hundreds of millions of gains made along the way.

Not bad work if you can get it.

No Fund For You!

But that's a big part of my point here. The 99% don't have a key past the velvet rope to access the money river.

Look, I don't begrudge this guy his success. Well, maybe I do; but it's not personal -- I know him well enough to say that for certain he's extremely smart, bold and hardworking. But he's benefiting from being in the Big Club that George Carlin railed about. The rest of us ain't in that club, and won't ever be. But our futures are being determined -- or more accurately put, undermined -- by it.

All that liquidity being provided by the central banks? To keep that money flowing it needs to be cheap to those who want to borrow it, so the banks have concurrently driven interest rates down to the lowest levels in recorded history (going back over 5,000 years). Some extra-aggressive central banks have even pursed negative interest rates.

What this has resulted in is a tremendous transfer of wealth to the already-rich at the expense of everybody else.

Those with the means and access to borrow have been able to get essentially free money to do so; while savers and those dependent on fixed income have been starved of any yield whatsoever.

The wave of global stimulus plus the low cost of borrowing has driven capital into nearly every asset market, rocketing prices higher. So those who have held those assets have become substantially richer, while those who have not have become increasingly priced out.

Along with asset prices, prices of nearly everything else have risen, too, dramatically increasing the cost of living:

(Source)

But, as costs have risen, wages have not. Especially when measured in real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) terms.

Real wages are now 7% lower than they were in 1973  -- and that's calculated using the official government-reported inflation rate, which we all know vastly understates the actual inflation rate. (Read our report on The Burrito Index to understand why the true price inflation households suffer is more like 5x greater than the official reported rate).

So the rich see their assets shoot the moon, and they get access to the 'money river', to boot. While the rest of us see stagnant real wages and a skyrocketing cost of living.

Is it any surprise that a tremendous and still-growing wealth gap between the 1% and everyone else has resulted?



(Source)

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The Future Looks Dim For Those Sleepwalking Into It

As we've written about at length in our recent report The Great Retirement Con, the average American worker is woefully unprepared to afford his/her retirement:

(Source)

And for those counting on a pension, odds aren't bad it may get reduced/eliminated during a future economic crisis.

Think that could never happen? Well, Governor Jerry Brown just announced this on Wednesday:

California's Brown Raises Prospect of Pension Cuts in Downturn (Bloomberg)

California Governor Jerry Brown said legal rulings may clear the way for making cuts to public pension benefits, which would go against long-standing assumptions and potentially provide financial relief to the state and its local governments.

Brown said he has a "hunch" the courts would "modify" the so-called California rule, which holds that benefits promised to public employees can’t be rolled back.

"There is more flexibility than there is currently assumed by those who discuss the California rule,” Brown said during a briefing on the budget in Sacramento. He said that in the next recession, the governor “will have the option of considering pension cutbacks for the first time.”

That would be a major shift in California, where municipal officials have long believed they couldn’t adjust the benefits even as they struggle to cover the cost. They have raised taxes and dipped into reserves to meet rising contributions. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the nation’s largest public pension, has about 68 percent of assets needed to cover its liabilities.

Across the country, states and local governments have about $1.7 trillion less than what they need to cover retirement benefits -- the result of investment losses, the failure by governments to make adequate contributions and perks granted in boom times.

"In the next downturn, when things look pretty dire, that would be one of the items on the chopping block," Brown said.

And this is in California, one of the most pro-worker/pro-entitlement states in the Union. If California is already sending out warnings like this, you can be sure that the other 49 states are thinking of making (at least) equally-harsh cuts when the next recession hits.

Potential cuts to promised pensions is just one of the many ways in which those running the system will act to preserve their share of the pie when crisis next arises. Those concerned about what other measures might be taken would do well to read our report Upon The Next Crisis, The Rules Will Suddenly Change.

And for those who prefer their cynicism blended with hard truths and humor, watch this short video of George Carlin's epic rant against the elite's Big Club. I quoted Carlin at the beginning of this article for a reason, he really nailed the central point I'm trying to make (Warning: the language used gets quite graphic):

Fighting Back

So, what can the rest of us in the 99% do about it?

Is this a lost cause? Should we just accept our fate and sink to the bottom of the money river, smothered by its high prices and low yields?

No.

The good news here is that there's a clear set of strategies for keeping yourself afloat while the system continues to pursue these pernicious and deeply unfair policies. They take focus, effort and discipline -- but anyone implementing them will have good chance to stay ahead of the rising cost curve, and have a real shot at financial prosperity.

In Part 2: Winning Against The Big Club, we examine a number of strategies for offsetting the soaring costs of everything from housing to healthcare -- with particular focus on the investments and actions you can take today, inside and outside of the markets, to preserve the purchasing power of your wealth from the nefarious "stealth tax" placed on your money by the kind of inflation discussed above.

Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

A town in Sweden is under fire after denying requests to ring church bells in the 1990s and the 2000s but recently approving a mosque's request to conduct a weekly Islamic call to prayer.

RELATED: Media's anti-Israel, pro-Islam bias sweeps THIS fact under the rug

Authorities in the town of Vaxjo in southern Sweden have given the local mosque a one-year permit to recite the call to prayer every Friday for about four minutes. But Fr. Ingvar Fogelqvist of St. Michael's, the local Catholic church located about a mile from the mosque, says similar requests to ring church bells were denied.

On today's show, Pat and Jeffy talked about this story and favorable bias toward the Muslim faith. The issue isn't that the Islamic call to prayer is allowed; it's that all religions are not being treated equally.

Somebody might want to check the temperature in hell, it might be just a tad chillier than normal.

If you missed Friday's episode of The Glenn Beck Program, you missed something you probably never thought you'd see in this timeline or any other. Glenn actually donned President Trump's trademark red "Make America Great Again" hat and laid out the case for why he thinks Trump will win in a landslide in 2020.

RELATED: The media's derangement over Trump has me wearing a new hat and predicting THIS for 2020

Bottom line: Nancy Pelosi and the mainstream media may have pushed Glenn to this point, but believe it or not, Trump's record will make this next election a walk in the park for number 45. At this point, the sitting president has done enough to earn even Glenn's vote.

Glenn broke down what he thought were the 10 biggest campaign promises that — unlike those made by most politicians — Trump actually kept.

10. Impose a 10% repatriation tax to bring jobs back to America

Not all of Trump's promises were good ones, but regardless of what the consequences may be — he did keep this one.

"Now, I think this one is dangerous," Glenn said on radio Friday. "He did it. Ten percent. Bring all of your money back into the United States. It will create jobs. Yes. It will also create inflation. But it's creating jobs."

9. Withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

This has been one of Trump's most passionate issues.

"The stop the TPP. Uh-huh. Right. Sure you are. Uh-huh. Yes. He did," Glenn admitted.

8. Withdraw from the disastrous Paris Climate Accord

Glenn found himself eating crow on this.

"I'm on record saying he will never do that because his daughter is a huge global warming person and he only listens to the family. Eh. Wrong," Glenn said with a puff of crow feathers coming from his mouth.

7. Bring North Korea to the table and rein them in

This looked impossible. Not so.

"'I'm going to bring North Korea to the table.' Are you? Everybody has tried to do that," Glenn said. "Now, they're at the table. We don't know what's going to happen. So the result of that is unknown. But has anybody else done that?"

6. Stop over-regulation and jump-start the economy

It's the economy, stupid.

"Does anybody feel like America is beginning to get on track somewhat economically? You know why? Because he fulfilled another promise," Glenn said. "Stop over-regulating the American people. Give them their money. Give the companies the opportunity to expand and bring their money back into the country, and maybe they'll build buildings. Maybe they'll build offices. Maybe they'll build new products. Maybe they'll build new factories. Maybe they'll hire a bunch of people."

Glenn went on.

"Now, I know Seattle is trying to do everything they can to make sure everybody in their city is homeless and unemployed, but the rest of the country is enjoying the feeling of, wow, maybe things are going to be okay."

5. Reverse Obama's executive orders

If you're like Glenn, you've gotten used to politicians promising "no new taxes," but you can really tell they're lying if their lips are moving. Guess what? That's apparently not Trump.

"The executive orders? Yeah. He's reversed a lot of Obama's executive orders," Glenn said. "These are outrageous promises."

4. Pull out of the Iran nuclear deal

No big deal...

"'I'm going to cancel the Iran Deal.' Yep. None of these are small. You know, I've got maybe ten minutes. I think we can get that done in the first term. And they did," Glenn said.

3. Give tax cuts to middle-class Americans

Maybe this could have been better, but we'll take it.

"I don't like the tax cut. I think he could go a lot further," Glenn said. "But that's not even his job. His job is to sign things that Congress puts in front of him. Not to design it. You Republicans in Congress, you disgust me. You disgust me. 'Imagine what we could do if we had the House and the Senate and the White House.' I can imagine what you'll do — nothing. You'll do nothing."

2. Change strategy and defeat ISIS

The mainstream media have been radio silent on this.

"How about the president's — well, I know I can defeat ISIS. I know I can do it. I'll defeat ISIS. He did," Glenn said. "And did you notice no one in the press even talked about it? All of a sudden, we're not talking about ISIS anymore. How come? Oh, I know. President Trump. That's why."

1. Recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the US embassy

This one is a true game-changer.

"Now, every president will say to you, when he's running, 'I'm going to make Jerusalem the home.' Well, really? The home of the embassy. Really, are you? Because everybody says that, nobody does it. He did it," Glenn said. "And I think that's going to go down as the biggest game-changer possibly in my lifetime. This is going — it already is — it is changing the game in Iran."

Glenn continued.

"And when it does, this president is going to come out and say something directly to those people, that we support them," he said. "And that's going to add fuel to the fire. And you might see a regime change and a collapse of the Islamic regime in Iran. And it will be 100 percent Donald Trump that made that responsible. One hundred percent. You're going to see changes because of this. He kept that promise. A promise I said, he's not going to do that. Nobody is going to do that. He did."

One chapter of ISIS has ended, but another may be starting

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

For the most part, ISIS has fallen in Syria and Iraq. But before we celebrate the demise of this awful terrorist group, before we let our guard down, we should zoom out a bit, because ISIS is spreading. ISIS has largely just scattered out of the region as if someone turned on the kitchen lights and they scrambled.

RELATED: It IS About Islam: This Is a War Against Evil

The Wall Street Journal spoke with Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the Nanyang University in Singapore. “Although Islamic State's ideology has suffered, it still has a huge potential," he told them. “Islamic State has entered a phase of global expansion, very much the same way al Qaeda extended globally in late 2001."

ISIS has spread into West Africa, and throughout much of Southeast Asia, and, as is typical of ISIS, they have done it violently, with a sick venom.

The world is their potential rubble, and their fight is endless.

Again, from the Wall Street Journal: “One chapter of ISIS has finished and another is beginning," said Hassan Hassan, a specialist on Islamic State at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington. “Their resurgence is coming sooner than expected."

The world is their potential rubble, and their fight is endless.

'The Handmaid's Tale' got it right, just with the wrong religion

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Just in case The Handmaid's Tale's heavy-handed message wasn't already heavy-handed enough, a recent episode made it clear there's always room for further hysteria. Particularly, in relation to depictions of a “patriarchal society" run by Christian doctrine and determined by men — oh those dastardly men.

RELATED: Christian privilege is the new white privilege

The show appropriates Margaret Atwood of the same name, depicting a totalitarian society led by Christian doctrine in which women's bodies are controlled, and they have no rights. The story sounds familiar, but not in the same way Atwood and the show's creators have so smugly assumed.

Just as tone-deaf as 4th wave feminism itself, and tone-deaf in all the exact same places. Most notably, the show's heavy-handed indignation toward Christianity. Toward the patriarchy. Toward conservatives and traditional values. And just like 4th wave feminism, the show completely overlooks the irony at play. Because there is a part of the world where women and children are being raped and mutilated. In fact, in this very real place, the women or girls are often imprisoned, even executed, for being raped, and they are mutilated in unspeakable ways.

Theirs is a cruel, bloody, colorless life.

There is a place, a very real place, where women are forced to cover their entire bodies with giant tarp-like blankets, which is all the more brutal given the endless heat of this place. There is a place where women literally have one-third of the rights of men, a place where women are legally, socially and culturally worth less than men.

They cannot drive cars. They cannot be outside alone. They cannot divorce, they cannot even choose who they marry and often, they are forcibly married at a young age.

They are raped. A lot. Theirs is a cruel, bloody, colorless life. This is the life of tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of women. And, I'll tell you, their religion isn't Christianity.