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Clinton and Trump danced to the central bankers' grim tune

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Presidential elections are often frightening — and depressing.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are just the latest candidates to reach Election Day with many voters, and columnists, complaining about the options on the ballot.

Related: What benefits do Trump and Clinton offer?

But I think the campaign season has been striking for how much talk there has been about past behavior, and current character traits, and how little talk there has been about the future.

During the presidential debates, for example, the candidates, and even the moderators, seemed to spend about as little time on talking about the future of Medicare as decency allowed.

Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, and Tim Kaine, Clinton’s both played a visible role in setting up their states’ long-term care insurance partnership programs, and both have run states that are home to major long-term care insurance issuers. But neither campaign ever got heavily into talking about how America will handle the baby boomers’ future long-term care needs, let alone about to shore up, or replace, the current private long-term care insurance market.

Clinton offered caregiver proposals. Trump offered leave and health account proposals that could help families with long-term care costs. But both candidates seemed to have an important area of agreement: Post-retirement costs of all kinds are too frightening, and too far from voters’ thoughts, to be worth spending much time or political capital talking about them.

The world’s central bankers have played a role in this policymaker inability to talk openly and seriously about the future by doing their part to hold interest rates to near-zero levels for so many years.

Central bankers have given consumers the message that the future is so distant, and so unimportant, that putting money in a saving account, an annuity, a life insurance policy or a long-term care insurance policy is foolish. The message is that consumers should blow whatever cash they have today on goods and services they can enjoy today, such as restaurant meals, mobile phone apps and balsa-wood houses built in flood zones.

The message behind that message seems to be that no future we can plan for will actually exist. The central bankers’ vision of the world of the 2050s, when all of the U.S. boomers will 85 or older, seems to be that we’ll all be dead, living in caves or rumbling around in tents as we try to flood into Siberia, or whatever region of the world will happen to have nice weather in the 2050s. runs many articles about how financial professionals can get consumers to think about the future.

Maybe the financial professionals have to start by congregating around Federal Reserve banks and getting the officials there to think about the future. If the central bankers aren’t thinking about the future (or, at least, aren’t thinking about the future enough to care about savers’ returns), then it’s not too clear what ordinary consumers can really do.

The passengers in a jet may have strong opinions about how the jet should fly, but, if the pilot and co-pilot are both too busy playing with their phones to fly the plane, the passengers may not have much of a chance to improve their own outcomes. 

Allison Bell is the health channel editor for Email her at [email protected].


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