Tech Digest

What Cats and the Gray Tsunami Have in Common

Stay Up to Date!

Simply enter your email below and click SIGN UP!

From Bioscience Expert Patrick Cox - The Most Life-Changing Book You'll Read This Year - Click Here

May 21, 2018

Dear Reader,

I have a favorite joke, and it’s been my favorite joke ever since writer David Foster Wallace told it 13 years ago.

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”

The point is that we tend to focus on the details of life in front of us but miss the big picture that’s all around us. Actually, my synopsis doesn’t do the parable justice, which is why it’s so brilliant. You can read or listen to the entire address online.

The truth is that humans are hard-wired to display the behavior described in Wallace’s joke. When we look at a scene, whether it’s a sunset, a baseball field, or a crosswalk, it’s change and movement that catch our attention. This makes sense because our ancestors needed to notice the subtle signs of predators as well as prey.

It holds true even in the modern world. If you take the time to survey your surroundings, you may appreciate the landscape or architecture, but a rustle in nearby foliage will pull you immediately back to a state of vigilance. To survive, humans learned to filter out the background and react to immediate changes. This trait is programmed into our genomes.

Herein lies the danger. Sometimes, slow, almost imperceptible changes present the biggest dangers (and the biggest opportunities), but they’re difficult to see. This is true of many species, but cats are master exploiters of this characteristic.

We Are Blind to Subtle Macroeconomic Changes

If you’ve ever watched cats hunting, you’ve seen them move openly to the very edge of their prey’s comfort zone. Then they stop and wait without moving until, in the prey’s eyes, they have completely blended into the background.

            Source: (Jennifer Barnard)

This is true for all feline species, from house cats to the biggest African and Asian cats. Initially, the prey will be on guard but confident that escape is possible. Eventually, though, the quarry relaxes and the predator pounces. If the target reacts in time to the sudden movement, it survives. If it doesn’t—well, it’s the circle of life.

Humans are similarly wired, which is the only explanation I have for the societal blindness regarding the biggest macroeconomic events of our era: the global debt and population crises.

Years ago, I used to be much more focused on fiscal issues and the debt problem. I switched gears because, as a policy economist and writer, I couldn’t seem to convince anybody that we can’t forever kick the fiscal can down the road.

Another reason for changing my focus was that economics has rightfully been labeled the “dismal science.” A big part of a good economist’s work is telling people who demand magical political solutions to every problem that life entails tradeoffs. As my old friend Robert Heinlein said, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

Very few people are willing to hear the TANSTAAFL message that the bill ultimately comes due. I leave that thankless task to el jefe John Mauldin, who is much better at it. And he really delivers it in his last Thoughts from the Frontline, titled, “Train Crash Preview.”

If you haven’t read the column, you should do it now. Go ahead, I’ll save your place.

Government spending has grown so inexorably, though slowly, over the last decades, it has become part of the water around us. There is no more pressing issue, but I won’t try to convince you. That’s John’s job.

Rising Debt + Falling Birthrates = A Recipe for Disaster


Ironically, our debt crisis would have been manageable if it had happened a generation ago when birthrates were high. In fact, the United States did manage a similar level of debt, accrued during the Second World War—but in the post-war years, the US economy and GDP benefited from the growing labor and talent pool of the Baby Boom generation.

Today, the situation is reversed. The global and US debt loads are just as bad, mostly due to the combination of unprecedented growth of the older population and age-related diseases (also known as the “Gray Tsunami”) and falling birthrates in the developed world far below replacement rates. We keep sending our medical bills to our children, and they can’t afford to pay them.  

How did this happen?

I think it’s largely because the debt and the demographic deficit have grown so slowly. They’re the water we swim in.

Most people, particularly those in politics and the media, seem to believe that the situation will get better if we continue to ignore it. Unfortunately, it’s getting worse.

A new report by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics states that the fertility decline from 2016 to 2017 is the largest single-year drop since the Great Recession. Back then, low birthrates could be explained by hard economic times. Conditions have significantly improved since then.

I’ll cite just two of the dozens of stories about the CDC report.

Here’s a Los Angeles Times story titled, “The U.S. birthrate hits another record low. Even women in their 30s are having fewer babies.”

The New York Times’ contribution is, “U.S. Fertility Rate Fell to a Record Low, for a Second Straight Year.”

By the way, only a few years ago, both publications were warning of the dangers of overpopulation.

According to the NYT article, many observers incorrectly assumed that birthrates had been suppressed by the global economic downturn and would therefore return to higher levels after the crisis:

“Every year I look at data and expect it will be the year that birthrates start to tick up, and every year we hit another all-time low,” said Kenneth M. Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire. “It’s one of the big demographic mysteries of recent times.”

I agree that it is somewhat of a mystery. We don’t understand all the forces driving down birthrates. Some are obvious, but I think there’s more to it than we know. It’s clear, though, that birthrates have always fallen as standards of living and lifespans increase.

Expensive government programs in Europe, Japan, and Scandinavia have only marginally slowed depopulation trends. They won’t prevent the failure of programs that depend on transfers of wealth from younger to older cohorts, the biggest component of all developed nations’ budgets.

I realize that almost nobody wants to hear this, so I’m happy that John Mauldin is doing the unpleasant work of delivering tough love to the fish who don’t know what water is. I find it a lot more fun to focus on scientific solutions that can shrink the costs of age-related diseases to a fraction of their current budget-busting size.

I also take comfort in the fact that the “train crash” John is describing will force the adoption of next-generation anti-aging biotechnologies. Those who know it’s coming are in an excellent position to hedge that crash. They can do so by financially supporting the companies and scientists working to give us the health needed to be productive far, far longer than ever before.

John and I both agree that new technologies will enable a “reset” that will usher in a new age of abundance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely that we’re going to get there until the gales of creative destruction clear out the obstacles to its arrival.

So, how's the water?

Patrick Cox
Patrick Cox
Editor, Transformational Technology Alert

Mauldin Economics


Stay in the Loop on Life-Extending Research
with Patrick Cox's Tech Digest

Tech Digest

Your privacy is very important to us. Please review our Privacy Policy.


« Back to Articles

From Bioscience Expert Patrick Cox - The Most Life-Changing Book You'll Read This Year - Click Here

Discuss This


We welcome your comments. Please comply with our Community Rules.


Fritz Rosendahl

May 22, 4:37 a.m.

One of the best articles Patrick has written.  Well thought out, clear and undoubtedly correct.

Use of this content, the Mauldin Economics website, and related sites and applications is provided under the Mauldin Economics Terms & Conditions of Use.

Unauthorized Disclosure Prohibited

The information provided in this publication is private, privileged, and confidential information, licensed for your sole individual use as a subscriber. Mauldin Economics reserves all rights to the content of this publication and related materials. Forwarding, copying, disseminating, or distributing this report in whole or in part, including substantial quotation of any portion the publication or any release of specific investment recommendations, is strictly prohibited.
Participation in such activity is grounds for immediate termination of all subscriptions of registered subscribers deemed to be involved at Mauldin Economics’ sole discretion, may violate the copyright laws of the United States, and may subject the violator to legal prosecution. Mauldin Economics reserves the right to monitor the use of this publication without disclosure by any electronic means it deems necessary and may change those means without notice at any time. If you have received this publication and are not the intended subscriber, please contact


The Mauldin Economics website, Thoughts from the Frontline, The Weekly Profit, The 10th Man, Connecting the Dots, Transformational Technology Digest, Over My Shoulder, Yield Shark, Transformational Technology Alert, Rational Bear, Street Freak, ETF 20/20, In the Money, and Mauldin Economics VIP are published by Mauldin Economics, LLC Information contained in such publications is obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. The information contained in such publications is not intended to constitute individual investment advice and is not designed to meet your personal financial situation. The opinions expressed in such publications are those of the publisher and are subject to change without notice. The information in such publications may become outdated and there is no obligation to update any such information. You are advised to discuss with your financial advisers your investment options and whether any investment is suitable for your specific needs prior to making any investments.
John Mauldin, Mauldin Economics, LLC and other entities in which he has an interest, employees, officers, family, and associates may from time to time have positions in the securities or commodities covered in these publications or web site. Corporate policies are in effect that attempt to avoid potential conflicts of interest and resolve conflicts of interest that do arise in a timely fashion.
Mauldin Economics, LLC reserves the right to cancel any subscription at any time, and if it does so it will promptly refund to the subscriber the amount of the subscription payment previously received relating to the remaining subscription period. Cancellation of a subscription may result from any unauthorized use or reproduction or rebroadcast of any Mauldin Economics publication or website, any infringement or misappropriation of Mauldin Economics, LLC’s proprietary rights, or any other reason determined in the sole discretion of Mauldin Economics, LLC.

Affiliate Notice

Mauldin Economics has affiliate agreements in place that may include fee sharing. If you have a website or newsletter and would like to be considered for inclusion in the Mauldin Economics affiliate program, please go to Likewise, from time to time Mauldin Economics may engage in affiliate programs offered by other companies, though corporate policy firmly dictates that such agreements will have no influence on any product or service recommendations, nor alter the pricing that would otherwise be available in absence of such an agreement. As always, it is important that you do your own due diligence before transacting any business with any firm, for any product or service.

© Copyright 2018 Mauldin Economics