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The Rip-Off that Makes Madoff's Ponzi Pale

Bernard Madoff is small fry. There's a worldwide Ponzi scheme that is ripping off an entire generation.

Madoff lost $50bn in his Ponzi scheme, where new money pays for the returns of existing members. That is small fry compared to the intergenerational rip-off where the new generation is paying for the baby boomers to the tune of several trillion dollars, euros or pounds.

Throughout history, the general idea has been that parents, and grandparents, make provision for the younger generation. Baby boomers benefited greatly from the generation who not only fought the war, but laid the foundations of prosperity for boomers to enjoy.

And what have the baby boomers done with their inherited wealth? First, they have spent it and second they have mortgaged the future.

The baby boomers are being paid for by their children and their grandchildren in the biggest inter-generational rip-off in history. They have turned the cascade of wealth from old to young on its head: we now have a Ponzi scheme where new entrants (youth) pay for existing members (pensioners and baby boomers).

The most obvious rip-off is financial. Unfunded public-sector pensions (£1 trillion and rising--) are just a call on the wages of the next generation. When this burden becomes too great, collapse ensues.

See what happened to GM, Ford and Chrysler, which are essentially social security programs funded by car-making: each car comes with a bill of $1,400-plus to pay the pensioners of those firms. That is no way to compete with cars made in China -- begging to Congress and/or Chapter 11 is the inevitable outcome.

The great housing boom also represented a massive transfer of wealth from younger to older generations. The older generation cashed in on the rising price of property, leaving the younger generation with ever greater mortgages to get a home of their own. The great property crash has much further to go, if it is to end this particular rip-off.

The third part of the financial rip-off is tax. The rapid increase in government debt is another transfer of wealth from younger to older generations. Government debt is simply deferred taxation -- the current generation is choosing to live beyond its means and let the next generation pay for it through tax.

The non-financial rip-off is more controversial. The baby boomers will say that they have given the world the joys of the internet, punk rock and colonic irrigation. They also bequeath the future the disaster of climate change, nuclear terrorism and environmental degradation of sea, air and land.

Depending on your age, this is either a very satisfactory outcome or a total disaster.

(Image: aukje.leermakers, CC2.0)

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