Boomers to blame

When bad things happen, we look for someone -- anyone -- to blame. As Newsweek rightly notes (we don't say that very often), there is no shortage of scapegoats to finger in the credit boom and bust. Exotic derivatives, overcompensated executives, Alan Greenspan, the SEC, reckless borrowers -- "all have worn the scarlet letter at one point or another." But another less menacing factor is the real cause; baby boomers, by the simple act of being born.

Stick with us here. The Baby Boom lasted from 1946 to 1964, and some 78 million American children were born during that time. As this cohort ages, its sheer size overshadows the rest of society. If you look at an "age pyramid" for the U.S., the baby boomers are the metaphorical bulge in the python's throat, according to the magazine.

"As this bulge moves from bottom to top, it is having a dramatic impact on the economy. Indeed, the impact is so large that there are hedge fund managers that specialize in picking stocks that will benefit from boomers' buying habits ("Go long on denture manufacturers!")."

The big question, the periodical notes, is what happens when boomers start to retire. The oldest of them became eligible for Social Security in 2008, and as we move forward in time, more and more of the bulge will switch from middle age -- when they're busy earning and spending -- to retirement, when they start to draw down on their savings. According to Harry Dent, when the boomers hit this transition point, the United States will enter a long bear market, as new retirees start tapping into their pension funds and 401(k)s, selling their stocks and bonds to pay for their golden years.

Conclusion? Seen in this light, the credit boom and bust was almost an inevitable byproduct of demographics.

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