How the Economy Works
Americans are not taught enough at young age about how money and the economy works. It’s an uncomfortable subject and most believe it’s impolite to talk about money. So, we go on through life not fully understanding the subject of finance or how succeed in accumulating wealth. Most of what I know, I had to learn through trial and error as well as reading about how ultra wealthy people think and act. Unfortunately, despite volumes of literature having been written about the subject, most people consider economics a boring and complicated issue that should be left to the experts. I feel the need to dispel some myths about economics so a better understanding can be reached about where we stand economically today.
Myth 1. The economy is complicated. This is false. An economy is simply the sum total of all the transactions that take place in a given market. Everything can be boiled down the basics, the broad economy is nothing more than individuals trading goods and services for something they deem more valuable than what they are trading. If people are spending less, the economy slows. If people spend more, it expands.
Myth 2. Savings doesn’t matter. We are told to save money at a young age, but if you look at the pundits on television talk about the health of the economy, rarely do they refer to how much a family has stashed away for savings. Instead, they talk about consumer spending. Now, spending is an important indicator of economic health, but so is savings because savings is a measure or future investment and spending. If you are saving your money, it’s because you intend to spend it at a future date for something you need at that time. If you are not saving, you are limiting your ability to spend money in the future, instead opting to spend it now. Savings is one factor that leads to the creation of new capital investments and businesses. If the savings rate is low, this is an indicator the future business creation may slow.
Myth 3. All debt is bad. This is wrong and it keeps people from thinking and expanding in a big way. Most big companies use leverage, (debt) as a way to expand business and income. There are two types of debt, consumer and business. Consumer debt can be bad because generally we are using it to buy goods and services that do not produce future income. Business debt can be good if it is used to produce future income.
Myth 4. People spend based on how much money they have. This is wrong. The ability to spend and the total economy is based on two things; income and the credit (debt). You can buy things with cash, or with credit, which is a future promise that you will pay. The biggest indicator is how people will spend is based on their available credit. Unfortunately, people buy things based on what they believe their future income will be, not what they make now. So, they use credit to buy things that don’t produce income. Eventually when the bills come due, if their income has not gone up enough to cover the new debt plus interest, the person has to default on their credit payments. The company that holds the debt must now take a loss of income and subsequently reduce the amount of credit to consumers. If this happens on a large scale with many people, the reduction of credit will lead to less available purchasing power and less transactions in the economy. Less transactions leads to a slow down in the economy, job losses because companies are selling less and often a reduction in pricing of products.
Myth 5. Wealth is money. False. Wealth is an increase in production and output. If you have a farm and are able to collect twice as much crop as the year prior, you have increased your wealth. People think that the government can just print money to take care of all debt and economic problems. If this were true, we could just all quit our jobs and have the government give us money. Obviously, this cannot happen or basic services necessary to living would never get accomplished. Moreover, an increase in the money supply, if credit levels are still high, without a corresponding increase in the production of goods can lead to an inflation in pricing. In other words, the ability of your money to buy products and services is reduced as more money enters the economy.
Where We Stand Today
At the time of this writing, household debt and government debt has reached record levels. (1.06 trillion for consumer credit card debt, 1.5 trillion in student loans and a total of 18 trillion if we include personal mortgage debt). Government debt has also reached a record 20.6 trillion largely due to unfunded liabilities such as pensions, MediCare and Social Security. The average cash savings of the typical American family is less than $1000 dollar. Nearly 40 percent of families have no cash savings at all, meaning the ability for these families to make future purchases is significantly reduced unless their income expands greatly. Already, auto loan defaults, student loan defaults and credit card defaults are on the high and expected to reach higher levels. In my own businesses, I have seen more credit card declines every month. We have a serious debt problem happening right at the same time the stock market is at an all time high.
What It Means
The American consumer is tapped out as far as their available credit. This likely means that despite all time record level stock prices (which have very little to do with the real economy for most people) their ability to make future purchases will decline, leading to a slowing economy. Of course, no one can predict the future, but if the numbers are any indication, we are at the peak of the debt cycle and what follows will likely be more defaulting on debts and subsequently job loss and a retraction for many businesses. Be warned. Invest in yourself, your skills, your health and save the rest of your money so you can capitalize on lower prices during a downturn. Remember, people always sell things for less when they believe times are bad.
Sorry for the negative note. I’m just trying to be clear on what I see happening so I can help you and your family thrive! If you want a great YouTube video on some of these concepts, look up Ray Dalio’s video on “How The Economic Machine Works.” I promise you’ll learn something.