Jan 222013
 January 22, 2013  Posted by at 11:00 pm Finance

Yeah, The Last Remaining Store Of Real Wealth is somewhat tongue in cheek. I'm talking about pensions here, and despite the fact that hundreds of millions of people, especially in the west world, count on the pensions they pay into year after year for decades, to be there for them when they reach a certain age – which gets pushed forward all the time, talk about Receding Horizons! -, I've long since said that for most that is not going to happen. But many still see it that way: The Last Remaining Store Of Real Wealth.

I started writing a follow-up on the pensions topic, it's been 5 months or so since I wrote The Global Demise of Pension Plans, and while I don't want to do anything as broad as that article at this point, there are developments that warrant what could be labeled an update.

Alas, though I was plodding along nicely, the material itself somehow got in the way, and it would have become too long and winding. Which means that the original article must wait till later in the week, and today I'm going to have to present you with a kind of riddle.

You see, as I was reading through a bunch of recent news pieces, I came upon a Bloomberg article about CalPERS, the California Public Employees' Retirement System, America's largest public pension fund. It made me think back of a July 21, 2012 Barron's article I cited in The Global Demise of Pension Plans, and it didn't add up at first glance. Here's that older article first, written by Michael Aneiro:

Top Pension Fund Sends a Warning

The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the nation's biggest public pension fund at $233 billion, reported a mere 1% return on its investments in its fiscal year ended June 30. Earlier this year, in an attempted acknowledgment of today's realities, CalPERS had lowered its discount rate–an actuarial figure determining the amount that must be invested now to meet future payout needs—for the first time in a decade, to 7.5% from 7.75%. That represents combined assumptions of a 2.75% rate of inflation and a 4.75% rate of return.

Needless to say, a 1% annual return didn't come close to hitting any of those figures [..] CalPERS was quick to note that its 20-year investment return is still 7.7% [..]

Later in the week, S&P Dow Jones Indices said that the underfunding of S&P 500 companies' defined-benefit pensions had reached a record $354.7 billion at the end of 2011, more than $100 billion above 2010's deficit. The organization reported that funding levels at the end of 2011 ran around 75%, on average, and that future contributions will constitute a "material expense" for many companies.

Fitch Ratings later released its own study of 230 U.S. companies with defined-benefit pension plans and found that median funding had dropped to 74.4% in 2011 from 78.5% in 2010, and that corporate pension assets grew just 2.9% in 2011 amid sluggish returns and a 6% decline in contributions.

[..]Interestingly, at a time when bond interest rates are so depressingly poor, fixed-income investments constituted the second-best performing asset class for CalPERS last year, returning 12.7%, no doubt thanks to price gains for high-grade bonds. That result trailed only the fund's 15.9% return on its real-estate investments. What derailed CalPERS, then? Losses of 7.2% on stock investments, 11% on forest-land holdings and 2% on absolute-return assets.

From the bleachers: A "15.9% return on its real-estate investments"? In the moribund 2011-12 US housing market? Really? How does that work? And that's not all: here's a quote from a WSJ article you'll find below:

CalPERS real estate portfolio return for the three year period ending in June [2012] wasn't as pretty: it lost 24%, according to Wilshire Consulting.

Looks like maybe we need to make a choice here; I don't see how all these things can be true at the same time.

On January 21, 2013, exactly 7 months after the first article I quoted, Michael B. Marois writes the following for Barron's, and I can't seem to figure out how the transformation is possible:

CalPERS Buy-Hold Rule Recoups $95 Billion Recession Loss

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System is poised to top a record $260 billion in assets, the market value it held before the global financial crisis wiped out more than a third of its wealth, by sticking with a strategy of buy-and-hold.

The largest U.S. public pension, with half of its money in publicly traded equities, was worth $253.2 billion on Jan. 17, or about 97% of the pre-recession high set in October 2007. The fund returned 13% in 2012, about the same gain as the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index achieved.

"A lot of the improvements in portfolio returns is simply reflective of the return of the market," Chief Investment Officer Joe Dear said in an interview. "But there is still an important lesson there, which is that when the crisis was full on, we didn’t drastically reduce our equity exposure."

CalPERS isn’t alone in nearing previous high marks. The 100 largest public pensions in the U.S. had $2.9 trillion in assets in the fourth quarter of 2007, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That dropped to $2 trillion in 2009 and rebounded to almost $2.8 trillion as of Sept. 30.

The median funded status of state pensions, meaning how much money a system has in order to pay its obligations, fell to 72% in 2011 from 83% in 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Even with its gains, the Sacramento-based pension is still short $87 billion, or about 26%, of meeting its long-term commitments, and has had to ask the state and struggling cities to contribute more. One municipality, San Bernardino, sought bankruptcy protection, saying it can’t afford to pay $13 million it owes to CalPERS.

Do you see what's puzzling me? CalPERS had assets valued at $233 billion on June 30 2012, with a 1% return in the fiscal year ending June 30 2012 (i.e. fiscal year 2011). Still, 7 months later, January 17 2013, its assets are worth $253 billion .

Also, CalPERS boasted a 1% return on its assets in the fiscal year ending June 30 2012, but a 13% return in the calendar year 2012. That means they made what, 24%-25% in the second half of the year? And the COO claims this was "simply reflective of the return of the market"?!

"It’s certainly good news that the asset base has grown and recovered," said Bradley Belt, senior managing director of the Milken Institute and former executive director of the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. "The bad news is that while you’ve gotten back to where you were on the asset side — through a combination of good market returns and new contributions — liabilities never took a holiday. Liabilities are now a whole heck of a lot larger than they were."

CalPERS’s value was already in decline when Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. went bankrupt in September 2008, leading to a panic that wiped out more than $6 trillion in U.S. stock-market value in about six months. By 2009, CalPERS’s value had plummeted to $164.7 billion.

Since then, the pension fund has benefited from the stock market’s recovery after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index touched a 12-year low in March 2009. The benchmark gauge of U.S. equities climbed more than 13% last year and has more than doubled since its low.

CalPERS had assets valued at $164.7 billion in 2009. On June 30, 2012, the number stood at $233 billion (though its real estate portfolio lost 24% over that time). In other words, it had added $68.3 billion, or 41.5%, over 2.5 years, even though its return was just 1% return in the fiscal year ending June 30 2012, as we saw before. The fund then proceeded to add another $20 billion in value in the 6 months after that. Let's read on:

Apart from stocks, CalPERS invests about 17% of its money in bonds, 14% in private equity, 9% in real estate, 4% in cash-equivalents, 4% in inflation- linked holdings such as commodities, and 2% in forestland and infrastructure such as airports and power plants. "We held on to our allocation," the 61-year-old Dear said. "We believed the markets were going to come back and we held our allocation at around 50% and that decision has been justified."

After CalPERS’ real-estate portfolio lost almost half its value by the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Dear set out to shrink leverage used to make purchases, got rid of underperforming managers, focus on core income investments such as rental apartments, industrial parks, offices and retail space. It also sold off a fifth of its speculative residential housing.

The real-estate unit returned almost 13% in 2012, averaging 6% in the past three years, though that’s still below its internal target of 10%.

OK, if I understand this well, according to Bloomberg, CalPERS real estate averaged a 6% return from end 2009 to end 2012, while according to the Wall Street Journal, which cites Wilshire Consulting, it lost 24% between mid 2009 and mid 2012. You tell me.

More CalPERS in an Orange County Register editorial today:

Pension funds still in denial

[..] But while union-backed politicians gained power after Nov. 6, the financial problems faced by CalPERS and other funds are growing, especially if Moody's, the prestigious credit-rating service, changes the assumptions it uses for calculating public-employee pension debt. As we've argued before, the math equations will soon overtake the political calculations. [..]

CalPERS estimates that its investments will earn a 7.5% rate of return, even though they managed only 1% last year. That's an aggressive and unrealistic assumption, but the higher the projected rate of return, the less the projected debt. This is where the games begin. Supporters of these outsized pension formulas want to hide the amount of debt and the approaching problem by embracing unrealistically high rates of return.

Moody's calls for lowering the assumed rate of return to 5.5%, which still may be too high. Moody's can't force local governments to do anything, but its formulas determining creditworthiness affect how outsiders evaluate the financial health of government agencies and lending rates for bonds.

The California Public Policy Center recently released a new report by financial expert John Dickerson, analyzing the effect of the Moody's proposed new rate on six Northern California counties. His conclusion:

"These counties pay about $640 million each year to their pension funds. These adjustments would increase this annual payment to $1.4 billion – from 29% of payroll to 63%. To put this in perspective, payments to pension funds and pension bonds today consume about half of these counties' independent property tax income.

These adjustments show they should consume ALL county property tax income."

And in that WSJ piece by Robbie Whelan and Craig Karmin I quoted above:

CalPERS Downsizes Housing Portfolio

CalPERS, the giant California pension fund, is dumping one of its last major housing investments at a big loss. In a major step toward winding down a two-decade program as the pension world's biggest player in the U.S. housing market, CalPERS is selling a portfolio of 28 housing communities to a partnership between San Diego-based developer Newland Real Estate Group LLC and an affiliate of Japan's largest home-building company, Sekisui House Ltd.

The portfolio, which includes 16,300 unbuilt home sites and thousands of acres of additional undeveloped land in 11 states, represents about one-fifth of CalPERS' residential land portfolio. People familiar with the terms said the portfolio sold for between $500 million and $600 million.

At that price range, the deal values each home site at about $35,000, at most. During the housing boom, big builders would typically buy the land underneath new homes for $75,000 to $150,000, depending on location and state of infrastructure completion. This means that CalPERS, which bought the property over about five years starting in 2002, is likely suffering a loss of as much as 30% to 50%, the people said.

CalPERS move comes after three years of distressed-land sales by other major owners, including builders and banks that have driven down values by as much as 75% in some markets. CalPERS has resisted a major liquidation of its holdings until recently.

During the past decade, CalPERS was the biggest U.S. public pension fund investing in residential housing and land deals, in certain deals using debt to finance up to 80% of the purchases. That boosted returns, but also risks.

Currently CalPERS has about 9% of its $226 billion in assets invested in real estate. Up until the crash, the pension fund used the proceeds from its housing investments to make payments to over 1.5 million state retirees.[..]

After the bubble burst, CalPERS began suffering losses on a number of deals—losing more than $900 million on one deal alone. Last year, the pension giant started overhauling its real-estate-investment program and since then, it has put in place a plan to sell down its portfolio and concentrate on safer, income-producing commercial property.

CalPERS officials think they are moving in the right direction. While the real-estate portfolio lost nearly half its value, or about $10 billion from March 2008 to June 2009, CalPERS says, it has rebounded more recently. For the 12 months through September, the most recent numbers available, the real estate portfolio returned 14%, according to CalPERS.

That return last year beat the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, which fell 1.3% through September. But CalPERS real estate portfolio return for the three year period ending in June wasn't as pretty: it lost 24%, according to Wilshire Consulting.

So there it is for now. And as I said, I don’t get it. CalPERS assets hit a high in October 2007 of $261 billion. Their value fell to $164.7 billion in 2009. Since then, if we follow the WSJ news report, the portfolio gained $91.3 billion, not far below 20% per year. Even as fiscal year 2011 return was just 1%.

Moody's says CalPERS should lower its assumed rate of return to 5.5%, because it can't achieve the 7.5% the fund itself estimates it will make. It's today selling real estate holdings that have fallen from 30%-75% in value.

I get that CalPERS tries to hide losses through unrealistically high return assumptions, nothing new there. But these numbers are something else altogether. And I don't get it. Do you?

Photo: Russell Lee The Law of God February 1939
"Child of migrant sitting by kitchen cabinet in tent home near Edinburg, Texas." Shorpy.com


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    Yeah, The Last Remaining Store Of Real Wealth is somewhat tongue in cheek. I'm talking about pensions here, and despite the fact that hundreds of
    [See the full post at: The Last Remaining Store Of Real Wealth – 1]


    I keep asking whoever will listen (not many) what proportion of one’s gross income does one need to save if they’re working for 40 years and will be retired for 20 years, given a shrinking economy with resource-scarcity price inflation.

    The assumption is that our pension investments will always make enough money to keep us comfortable for our whole retirement. They’re not going to anymore, so we’re each going to have to contribute a LOT more into our pension funds in future.

    Or realise that it’s all a scam and turn to tax-funded benefits for the retired.


    If the WSJ isn’t going to ask then who is? Perhaps the contradictions have escaped them. The WSJ used to have good reporters, the best. It was the editorial page that was off in some alternative universe. I don’t pay attention to it anymore so maybe after Murdoch some of their reporters don’t think or ask questions anymore.

    As for if anyone else is asking questions pertaining to their returns I can easily accept nobody does. Why should they. It seems the smart people who run CalPERS go home and sleep soundly at night. Not worried about the $238 billion under their care or is it $260 billion or $167 billion, whatever. It’s a big pile of money and only the best people are allowed to run that much money so why worry? The Fed is going to make sure assets inflate and everyone will be made whole. Right?

    Anyway I have no clue and there is apparently no way to find out. Is CalPERS going to answer the phone and supply the information to me or Illargi? I think not. So how can we know if the WSJ doesn’t ask or think to?

    Viscount St. Albans

    A reminder the WSJ once asked tough accounting questions.
    By far, the best documentary on the financial crisis. Note that it was produced in 2002 (that’s 6 years before the current mess started).

    It rang the alarm bell long before the tidal wave hit the beach. While dissecting the 2002 Enron and Arthur Anderson cadavers, it opened the door to a whole freezer full of Wall Street bodies.

    Watch the final 6 minutes (45 min — 51 min)

    This Frontline Masterpiece dug to the roots of the accounting weed, and it revealed a messy web of entanglements so intricate, if the government yanked a single creeping sprout, it would uproot the entire garden.


    Golden Oxen

    Someday, Hopefully, 2 and 2 will equal 4 again.

    Until this fairy tale of lies, gimmickry, and corrupt deceitful behavior is ended with a cold bitter dose of reality we can expect the skullduggery to only get worse.

    Witness the daily news headlines of the great recovery we are in, how the stock market is forecasting an imminent World Wide Boom. How everyone is building houses and home prices are going straight up. The Food Stamp nation finds itself in boom times overnight.

    Ilargi gave the best description I have encountered of our current state, A Bankster’s Wet Dream, just what we are living and trying to survive in.


    @Phil, ” They’re not going to anymore, so we’re each going to have to contribute a LOT more into our pension funds in future.”

    We in the productive sector can’t contribute anything to our own pensions here in California. Any residual we have goes to fund calpers, in the form of some of the highest taxes in the nation.

    We end up on a meager social security stipend and a retired state “worker” ends up on $50,000-$80,000 a year plus bennies.

    This whole government pension scheme is nothing but income redistribution.

    See, when calpers needs more funds it simply goes after the taxpayers. When I need more, I have to take a night job.


    I don’t think people get yet. Don’t increase any funds into pensions you don’t control. Do your best to manage everything. Figure a system out.

    The government’s plan with pensions doesn’t exist. They laugh and say there is no solution which is true. The politician has one plan to try to get elected for four years – they have no long term planning.

    Since a majority of the demographic will be retiring they will pull down the markets as they sell investments out of necessity. This was already done with a demographic of savers – Japan. The value of their money dropped the more they tried to live out a retirement. We do not have their luxury – namely a large nest egg. Nor can the government, if they wanted to, print money to solve the problem – this was an alarming study.

    You see money in a retired persons hands moves differently than the working class. When all you purchase is necessities and sometimes less money really deadheads. There are different values to how money is spent based on its redistribution. Some chains move money quickly and others move its slowly. Statistically retirees direct their spending into the slow moving chains.

    I would expect our decline to mirror Japan’s except ours should be a little deeper.


    Hi Illarghi,

    I get that CalPERS tries to hide losses through unrealistically high return assumptions, nothing new there. But these numbers are something else altogether. And I don’t get it. Do you?

    All pension schemes were a good idea at the time, that is at the early stages of industrialisation, whereby the exhausted worker would be spared the ‘poor house’ or worse and allowed to live out the few remaining years of their lives in modest comfort. Given the growth that the industrial model has led to, both in population size and life span as well as a dynamic for investment, this led to a heavy discounting of the future. Well the future is now here, and all those ‘extra’ people who happened along during the population explosion are now looking for a promise to be fulfilled, only to find they are in that ‘discounted’ future. Most pension schemes will end up making Bernie Madoff look like a saint!

    Btw if anyone thinks all this is a recent problem, they should check the early history of railways replete with ‘rampant capitalism’

    In the late 1830s the railways arrived in London and linked the capital to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. This was the start of a truly national network – and one of the greatest civil engineering projects in history.

    The spread of the railways triggered a mania across Britain. Railway tycoons like Samuel Morton Peto and George Hudson made and lost fortunes as the stock markets boomed around these new developments. Yet the bubble burst in 1847 and shares plummeted. Thousands of ordinary shareholders filled the bankruptcy courts.

    So much so that the government bailed them out. A few years later and Overend & Gurney went bust in 1866, 10th May, known as Black Friday, having been invested in amongst other things the railways. But this was on the ‘upswing’ of resource exploitation, and the resources made accessible by this burgeoning technology led to enormous profit that made the initial loses pale by comparison. The 1000 mile Grand Trunk rail-road in Canada literally created a nation for instance. But now those days are gone. despite the consensus that Dont-panic-weve-seen-this-before. There is no more wilderness to conquer, no more nations to build, and very few resources to exploit and little ‘cheap’ energy left to do it with, and certainly no capital. Industrial civilisation has peaked, welcome to ‘the downside’. 👿 (needs smiley with Darth Vader mask!)



    @ Viscount ; nice video.



    The political classes plan for pensions is the same as The Streets. Keep the money coming in. What about the other side, paying it out? That isn’t much of a concern, as long as the money is coming in. What can’t be taken care of by inflating assets, DOW 36,000, a distinct possibility all things remaining equal, and deflating the payouts by Cost of Living inflation can be taken care of by the rolling defaults of plans which has been going on for 50 years. When pension plans are stripped from hundreds at a time it’s a little story which goes away quickly. As I said it has been happening for 50 years. 30 years ago the government took a stab at it with ERISA and still so many plans are held together with duct tape and hope, and lies such as here with CalPERS and do you see any protest? Hell no, as long as the money keeps coming in. That is the important thing. Keep the money coming in, always coming in. For if the money is coming in the risk of financial and other asset deflation is reduced and that is everything, as 2008 showed. The markets are the system and we must serve it.


    The Milken Institute….isn’t that like Fagan’s School for Pickpockets?

    Of course it doesn’t add up. Just like the Euro-bond issue doesn’t add up, or Social Security doesn’t add up, or like when a convenience store hires a drug addict as a clerk and the till doesn’t add up at the end of the shift.

    If you wrote an article and said, “Wow, it looks like CalPERS has managed to make enough money on its investments to meet the needs of its retirees”, we’d all be reading investment and golf-tip blogs instead of TEOTWAWKI ones.

    I admit I’m a little smug. I have no retirement, no savings, no health insurance, no investments, and no employment other than my own. I always suspected that security was an illusion, and I’m just a little bit gratified to see that I really was right, after all.

    “The greatest pain comes from the shattering of a cherished illusion.” -Anonymous


    All pension fund managers are trying to protect themselves from the anger of the grey swans.

    They are the black swan of the bankers and the politicians.
    They hold “the pool of wisdom.” (Pass and future)
    They are more powerful that “the woman behind the throne.”
    They are more powerful than the bankers.
    Their organizations are in the open but can operated clandestine and swiftly.
    They are only 3 phone calls away from any decision maker.
    They can cause a bank run.
    They can “starve the beast”.
    They can make the members of parliament “quake in their boots”
    They are immune to the tools of crowd control. Tear gas, batons, and physical force.
    They have the ability to write modifications to any bill passed by governments and get it passed.
    They are stirring and waking up from their nap.
    They are learning to communicate with computers by the thousands.
    They are getting informed on how they have been conned and used by the bankers and the politicians.
    They are unbeatable, when they decide to act/work as one.
    They will be obeyed, when they speak.
    They are growing stronger by the day.
    “They’ve been there, done that.”
    “They can do the walk and they can do the talk.”
    “They’ve seen it all and done it all.”



    You might be able to do “selective hearing” with your wife.
    You might be able to ignore your mother.
    BUT, when gran calls you had better be listening if you do not want the black swan swooping down upon your house.


    Well Krugman defines the whole problem as “made up” everything can be fixed with a tweek from here and there…I think if you followed his advice you could probably kick the can down the road for another 10 years and by then we should have a large scale war…I am tempted to take a job in the government sector..that seems the only place to thrive right now…that and medical…health insurance for a family of 4 with $3000 deductable 1100 a month! I am in the middle class and I am getting bled to death very slowly…another downturn and I don’t know what I will do…that is why the second is always the most dangerous…we have used all are resourses and the second time we panic…


    Pension problems hit home in our little town of Gainesville, FL. Here is the front page headline of the Gainesville Sun today:

    “City OKs Pension Changes for Law Enforcement Unions”

    The Gainesville City Commission has given preliminary approval to proposed pension changes for the city’s two police department unions.
    Intended to slow the growth of the city’s spiraling pension obligations, the changes would cut some benefits and require that law enforcement personnel work longer to qualify for certain benefits.


    The report is not the most straightforward, but in the end, the information is in there.


    Page 19, Section entitled “FINANCIAL OVERVIEW OF CalPERS FUNDS” has the summary bits, as best as I can determine:

    245.8B Net Assets held in trust June 30, 2011
    +12.4B total additions (contributions + investment gains or losses)
    -16.8B total deductions (retirement, death, survivor benefits, expenses, etc)
    -4.4B additions less deductions
    241.4B Net Assets held in trust June 30, 2012

    One wonders why this isn’t spelled out more clearly, but given the poor performance, perhaps one doesn’t wonder after all.

    Some interesting numbers I extracted:
    average benefit: $28,323
    administration cost: 0.8% ($231/member/year)

    In 2012:
    15.4B to 543,722 retirees -> $28,323 per retiree
    +3.6B contributions from 786,586 members
    +7.8B from employers

    It appears that they are running at a deficit of -4B per year.


    I am sorry to say I am coming to the TAE site less and less. It saddens me to say this because a year and a half ago I was very excited about it. I read every post, donated money to the fund drive and went to see Nicole speak. Her ideas really opened my eyes to larger issues that were driving the changes I saw happening and instilled in me the need to prepare for what might come. I was impressed by her because she had actually re-oriented her life around the principles she expounded. Now being a believer I want less to hear speculation about what is going to happen, when and why. The articles I see on TAE are well researched and thought provoking but they are not about boots on the ground. What is important to me now is getting practical information and to dialog with others on what to actually do with my resources I have. Articles in the lifeboat section of TAE are 7 or more months old and many have no responses from readers. I think it is somewhat the fault of the article format of the site and there being no forum where one can search threads and plug into or start a conversation. TAE articles on specific subjects are posted by the predominately posted by the moderators on specific subjects and I notice if you post a comment on a different subject people tend to ignore you. Thus TAE is not inviting for people to make responses in their own interest area. In contrast Chris Martensen’s weekly news post always has articles on things like how to build a solar dehydrator or how to store water. His forum is a very active with posts on practical matters because you can make your own post subject and then easily follow it.

    TAE has great potential and I wish it the best.



    Fascinating observation. Structure drives conversation. The structure here is first Ilargi|Stoneleigh Post, then we discuss. There is no structure for a more free-form de novo contribution from the community which is then discussed and/or archived and organized later. It would probably need to be moderated and properly organized but that’s just detail.

    Are we looking to construct a permanent collection of useful recipes? How-to for tons of different subjects? Collections of youtube videos on how to pluck chickens, make fire with a survival knife and paracord, etc? (So many things you can do with a knife and paracord – but I digress)

    I think there’s a good opportunity out there for someone whose goal it is to come up with an education site with the aim of soliciting, vetting, and then organizing this sort of material into a quality collection.

    Not sure if thats what the founders want to do here though. Its a big effort. Useful for sure.


    Vulcanelli: The big watershed was after the move from blogger. Before that, it was a very lively, vibrant community (albeit rather insular and intolerant of dissenters, like me). After that, it almost shut down. The community never really recovered. I don’t know what it was about the new format that caused all the problems, except to say that everything is now scattered. TAE used to be, so to say, an organic whole, and now it is chopped into a bunch of little pieces, and people never really found a way to put it together and find each other again.

    Golden Oxen

    I enjoy the format and look forward to each new article and enjoy many of the comments as well. My only regret is Ashvin’s articles being missing, they were of the same caliber as I & S and missed by this reader. His religious articles are fascinating and of the highest quality but his Financial insights were valuable as well, hopefully he will favor us with a current financial viewpoint from time to time.



    re. preparedness

    At the individual, or any size of community, the answer will be the same.

    Position yourself to be able to produce a surplus which can be exchanged with other/communities that are producing surpluses which you do not have.

    For now, learn how others, (Haiti, N. Korea, Greece etc.) are doing it and decide how you can use that knowledge for your own situation.

    Your ability and willingness to change your lifestyle will determine your outcome.

    Most of “Luck” will be determined by your preparedness.


    If you thought that the accountants, auditors and regulators were the gate keepers protecting the interest of ordinary people then you need to read the following.


    Bill Black: Why the World Economic Forum and Goldman Sachs are Capitalism’s Worst Enemies

    The ability of the SDIs, (systemically dangerous institutions), to commit fraud with impunity from the criminal laws is a defining element of crony capitalism. The impunity and implicit national subsidies to SDIs combine to make “free markets” an oxymoron. The SDIs’ economic power translates easily into dominant political power. Crony capitalism cripples markets and democracy.
    The ability of the SDIs’ senior officers to commit massive frauds with impunity from the criminal laws makes “control fraud” a “sure thing.” Control fraud will make the largest banks’ senior officers exceptionally wealthy very quickly – but it will also cause severe harm to the public (and often the bank). Control fraud occurs when the persons who control a seemingly legitimate entity use it as a “weapon” to defraud. In finance, accounting is the “weapon of choice.” It is important to remember, however, that other forms of control fraud maim and kill hundreds of thousands and cause grave environmental damage. We must always remember the infant formula scandal in China where 300,000 infants were hospitalized with kidney stones due to consumer frauds that drove every honest manufacturer out of business.
    Large, individual accounting control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime – combined. Accounting control frauds are weapons of mass financial destruction. Epidemics of accounting control fraud drove the national crises that produced the Great Recession. We have reliable information on this in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Iceland. Spain has kept the facts about lending too opaque to determine reliably what caused their bubble to hyper-inflate, but the lending pattern is consistent with accounting control fraud. These accounting control fraud epidemics drove crises that caused a loss of over $20 trillion in wealth and cost roughly 20 million workers their jobs.
    These epidemics of accounting control fraud were not random “black swan” events. Criminogenic environments produce such intense and perverse incentives that they generate epidemics of control fraud. Our financial policies have been so criminogenic for decades that we are suffering recurrent, intensifying financial crises. WEF is one of the important architects and engineers that have made our financial system so criminogenic.

    Liar loans are still happening. They are necessary to prevent the system from crashing NOW.

    Tomorrow never comes.

    The past is ignored.

    example: +$1T in student loans.


    A very clear account of what is happening in 2013:


    My guess is that the event that will tip us over the edge is climate change-caused food shortages.

    Nicole Foss

    Vulcanelli and others,

    We’re working on a new version of TAE, always with a view to improving the interface between the site and our readers. The lifeboat section has been a challenge to produce, because the two of us can’t cover too wide a range of topics in the available time, so we depend on others to submit material from their own fields of knowledge when it comes to preparation. There hasn’t been as much of that as we would have liked. Perhaps people don’t see TAE in that light, and so find other forums for their ideas.

    I take Alan’s point about the community being fragmented since the move. I agree, and it’s very sad. A lot of effort went into building the community, with all its wonderful personalities, and much of it seems to have dispersed. We do need to find a forum format that encourages discussion. My personal preference has always been for combining discussions rather than dividing them. Otherwise one doesn’t reach a critical mass of participants to sustain a discussion.

    How would people feel if we ran open threads, like the Drumbeat at The Oil Drum? If they appeared on the front page, say, once a week, they would attract a lot more participants than topics buried in the forum.

    If readers have other suggestions, we’re all ears.


    Hi to our hosts, Nicole and Ilargi and to all readers and commentors here-
    been following this site for years and I too miss the old format. Maybe your last idea, Nic, would be good. A General or Open thread where we could all jump in. We did a pretty good job of keeping the ideas separate when need-be. In fact, I think we came up with some very interesting insights when seeing different events/ideas back-to-back. All of a sudden, some connections of things pop out when people muse about this or that.
    There are great sites out there for “lifeboat” issues and hopefully our folks on here are finding them. This site is also stronger on the analysis of ideas and events – putting events into a more integrated picture so that underlying principles are evident. The perspective on how all of this is affecting the world at large is very important since lots of us (US citizens especially) are working hard at NOT being isolationista’s. I, for one, really appreciate the world view we are afforded here. Our writers have global experience and acute insight into how things “work” (or not, as the case may be).

    I would love to see the added OPEN thread where we can find each other again. I miss MANY of you.

    I am back in Northern California again, Nicole. Hope we get a chance to meet up again.


    Stoneleigh: “How would people feel if we ran open threads, like the Drumbeat at The Oil Drum? If they appeared on the front page, say, once a week, they would attract a lot more participants than topics buried in the forum.”

    Great idea!

    You know, these internet fora are like PARTIES. They are not like schools, where you break things up into separate classes: here’s the English class, and here’s the Math class, and so on. It is a party, where you discuss whatever the hell you want, and the discussion takes whatever twists and turns it takes, including English, math, anthropology, peak oil, sex, drugs, the fiscal cliff, and so on, in no particular order. It is chaos, glorious chaos. So mote it be.



    I’ve noticed over the years, on scores of fora, that there are usually a dozen or two dozen classified subject discussion areas, but there is usually ONE area (of those 15-30 areas) — usually something “general” — that gets 70%, 80%, or more of the total posts. Like:
    general discussion: 23,944 posts
    everything else (27 different specific subject areas): 1,722 posts

    Or, sometimes there are 2-3 “general discussions” in a few broad areas, such as (in the peak oil and collapse venue): peak oil and energy, economics, and general news. But no more than about three. Beyond that it gets too specific, too fragmented.

    People don’t want to be limited. They gravitate to the general discussion, and then use that area to discuss anything and everything that pops into their heads. They want to go to “where the action is” — where everyone else is. THEY WANT TO GO TO THE PARTY, not to some 7/8-empty classroom.

    You can easily verify this by surfing around to different fora. It is the same everywhere. In 17 years of forum-cruising, I can’t remember ever seeing an exception.

    I might add that the old TAE (back on blogger) was a party by default. There was only ONE place for all discussion.

    I might also add that communicative parties of this sort are, in my view, *real communities*, even though they do not involve meat-space/in-person contact. This is important, and valuable. They should not be broken up casually. I know that the TAE proprietors are well-intentioned and did not anticipate the fallout of the changeover. But it was highly ironic, given that one of the themes of the site is the nurturing of community. The lesson of this is that cyber-communities are, again, real communities, of an organic nature, and must be dealt with carefully. We cannot abruptly impose upon them radical new systems — forcing them into wholly new and unfamiliar modes of doing and being — any more than we can do so with physical communities, without grim (probably destructive) unforeseen consequences. (Witness, for example, the fallout of “urban renewal” projects, and mass expressway-building, cutting through historic urban neighborhoods, in the 1960s!) In other words, cyber-communities are ECOLOGIES. Not to be messed-with too casually.


    “But these numbers are something else altogether. And I don’t get it. Do you?”

    The most likely answer is that just about everybody knows we’re going to be hit with dollar devaluation tsunami of hyperinflation, starting in a few months. Any shortfalls in pensions or similar financial structures will be well hidden, forever.

    As John Williams, of Shadowstats.com, just announced, his revised fiscal year 2012 federal government deficit, on a GAAP basis, is $6.9 trillion, near the top end of prior guidance. This is all out money creation on a truly historic scale.

    Congress has, again, kicked the can down the road a few months, but the dollar cannot and will not sustain much more of this volume of deficit spending. With the economy producing little, if any, real, inflation adjusted growth, and no income growth, any significant austerity above and beyond the recent payroll tax hike will not make it through our polarized and incompetant national legislature.

    Pension plans will soon have annual returns of 100%, or maybe 1000%, as a wave of hyperinflation hides every major policy error since August 1971. Every policy error except for their watered down CPI, which Williams says is about to get another dilution!!!


    I come to the site every day and read everything. Keep up the good work and keep it coming. I support financially. This is my first time logging in and leaving a comment.

    I’m a California state worker and a member of CalPERS. TAE’s analysis has helped me. The state just ended it, but we used to be able to buy “air time.” You could pay for extra years of service. It was actually a deal made for legislative staffers who took time off to campaign for their bosses. After twenty years on the job, a staffer might end have ended up with fifteen years in CalPERS. The idea was that they could buy the extra five years to make up the difference. So when TAE started talking about what might happen to pension funds in the future, CalPERS air time stopped looking like a no-lose deal.

    The bombshell that Ilargi didn’t really go into in the article is that the California Supreme Court ruled last month that the City of San Bernardino does not have to make its contributions to CalPERS while it is in bankruptcy. This is a significant ruling. California already has three cities in bankruptcy. I tell all state workers to expect CalPERS to cut our retirement checks some day.


    Hi Stoneleigh,

    We do need to find a forum format that encourages discussion. My personal preference has always been for combining discussions rather than dividing them. Otherwise one doesn’t reach a critical mass of participants to sustain a discussion.

    How would people feel if we ran open threads, like the Drumbeat at The Oil Drum? If they appeared on the front page, say, once a week, they would attract a lot more participants than topics buried in the forum.

    If readers have other suggestions, we’re all ears.

    IMHO one has to be careful about fixing something that ain’t broke. TOD is something that is quite unique as we all know, and quite prolific. Too much really. TAE is finding its own ‘unique’ niche and that takes time. But the key is to check out the viewing figures, which seem to be pretty healthy given the nature of the material.

    Perhaps you could invite some of the commenters to post more in depth articles on their favourite subject matter? That would take pressure off both yourself and Illarghi, and engage some eager energy. Also make that more explicit, as I don’t think that many people realise that they can start up threads, and also where to put them, as the ‘lifeboat’ section is quite deep and hard to navigate – perhaps why ‘a home education journey’ ended up where it did and not in the Education section in the Lifeboat area. BTW how does one comment/start a thread there anyway??? Or am I missing something?

    But generally I think the site is extremely valuable and IS working, and there is just so much out there you cannot possibly attempt to have it all on one site or even attempt that – it would fry both your brain and your eyeballs just checking out all the sites!



    I discovered TAE several years ago when it was still on Blogger (or wherever it was). Because the discussion was general and not fragmented as it is now, it was much easier to make connections and see the big picture that TAE has worked so effectively to delineate. I miss the vitality of those exchanges and the ease with which we were able to navigate.


    Maybe add the simple item “This Weeks Discussion” to the main menu (Front Page, Finance, Energy, Earth ……..). Place usually goes pretty quiet on weekends so have it automatically store previous discussion and start a new one on Sunday (or whatever). Maybe even try remove comment section for specific articles to coax discussion into one place. Just a thought.

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