By Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog.com
Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s prime interest rates averaged 6 or 7 percent. Back before 1971 it was possible to save money at a reasonable guaranteed rate of return and easily keep ahead of what little inflation there was in the U.S. economy. That was the beauty of honest money that held its value and paid a real rate of return. In 1971 all that changed when President Richard Nixon took the country off the gold standard and went to a total fiat currency. A few years later the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was sign into law and that made possible the 401K plan. It allowed people to save in a brand new way largely through the stock market. The stock market is an invaluable tool of capitalism. It is how many companies raise capital and create jobs and prosperity. But what most people do not realize is a 401K is not a savings plan but an investing plan. When you save money, you put it away and get a guaranteed return. In an investment plan the money is put away but not guaranteed. Most people I know do not really understand their 401K plan. Folks are repeatedly told “invest for the long term.” They are also told there is really no other way to save for the future because if you simply save your money inflation will eat up your returns. By and large, working people are pushed into 401K’s. In the right business cycle with the right demographics (as in lots of baby boomers investing in stocks at the same time such as the 80’s and 90’s when business and inflation were stable) the 401K is a not a bad deal especially when you consider that companies often match or contribute funds to make the investment plan advantageous to participants. But in the wrong part of the business cycle (aging baby boomer population and big government bail outs of every big bank) the 401K can provide some gut wrenching lessons about “investing.” People are painfully finding out with every statement that these plans have not been such a good “long term” investment deal. The S&P 500 is back at levels not seen since 1998. And that doesn’t really account for companies whose share prices have been wiped out or bankrupted. A few examples spring to mind such as AIG, WaMu, Wachovia, Bear Stearns, GM, Ford, Fannie, Freddie, Lehman, Enron and World Com. Also, factor in a nearly 30 percent drop in the U.S. Dollar Index and how are people in 401K’s making money for retirement? The short answer: They are not!!! If you would have simply invested in money markets (and taken the company match) back in 1998 with your 401K you would have been hit with inflation but at least you would have a positive nominal return. Most people did not take that route. Now, to help fund the multi trillion dollar bailout of Wall Street, the Fed has announced a new policy of “Quantitative Easing.” That means “printing money” to us simple folk. So getting any kind of return on cash will be impossible to do because the government will be printing it faster that you or anyone else can save it. Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman said it best, “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” Printing lots of fiat currency is going to produce an ugly phenomenon for most people. I see a continuing freak show of bailout and default. If you are an investor then the stock market and all its risks and rewards are for you but if you are a saver then maybe you should have other options. Wouldn’t it be easier for most people to save if we just had honest money? Someday honest money will be necessary for the county and our citizens to survive.