The Financial Times kindly prints a letter from the blog today, under the headline “The golden age of the baby boomers is gone – for ever“.
It summarises the key ideas in its new eBook, Boom, Gloom and the New Normal, co-authored with John Richardson.
Coincidentally, it appears 4 years after the blog’s famous letter to the FT on the US housing boom, “Every mania has its illusion“.
This letter warned that “the myth behind the US housing mania is likely to become increasingly transparent“. Yet as we know to our cost today, such warnings were widely ignored at the time. The blog hopes that today’s letter receives a more considered hearing.
From Mr Paul Hodges.
Sir, Martin Wolf is absolutely right to highlight that the current downturn is among the longest seen in modern times (“We are floundering in our longest depression“, Comment, September 2). The sad thing is that its cause is obvious, yet seemingly overlooked by most policymakers and investors.
It is the demographic time-bomb caused by the ageing of the baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1970. The UK and other developed economies saw an economic supercycle develop between 1970 and 2000, as these boomers entered the 25-54 age range, when people’s consumption normally peaks. By 2000, there were 384m in this range, 41 per cent more than in 1970.
They were the richest, and largest, generation that the world has ever seen. Unsurprisingly, they created a truly golden age for housing, auto sales and overall consumer demand. Manufacturers were forced to invent the concept of “outsourcing”, as they struggled to keep up.
Policymakers became used to the concept of “pent-up demand”. Any increase in interest and mortgage rates meant boomers had to postpone purchases. But the kids were still growing and more boomers kept entering the 25-54 age group. So demand then returned with a rush when rates were reduced again.
But since 2001, the boomers have been entering the 55-plus age range, when people typically spend less and save more. It is not surprising, therefore, that recent “recoveries” have proved relatively weak, in spite of unprecedented amounts of stimulus. The boomers simply do not need more housing or new cars. And they have to save more, to fund their extra decade of life expectancy compared with their parents’ generation.
By 2020, an unprecedented 33 per cent of the developed world population will be more than 55 years old. We cannot move forward, therefore, in terms of stimulating demand, until we recognise that there is no way back. Equally, though, we could then open our eyes to the opportunities that will exist in this new normal.
These will come from developing a new growth paradigm, based on the emerging megatrends of increasing life expectancy and the need to improve water availability and food production, while reducing carbon footprint. The longer we ignore this demographic change, the longer Mr Wolf’s depression will last.
Paul Hodges, Chairman, International eChem