Is Linear Thinking Killing Your Retirement Plan?

By Frank Holmes, CEO and Chief Investment Officer

Is your portfolio limited by linear thinking? We believe so.

Many linear thinkers believe that to solve a problem, you need to follow a simple, logical path, a step-by-step sequence involving two variables. One and one is always two.

When it comes to solving today's social, political and economic ills, linear thinkers believe the solution is more regulation and government intervention. To wit: the thousands of pages piling up from the solutions of Sarbanes-Oxley, the Volcker Rule and Dodd-Frank . (This link will take you to usfunds.com.)

There's a danger with this line of thinking because life is much more complex. Government policies are necessary for a level playing field for businesses, but they require a nonlinear way of thinking. Consider how scientists, mathematicians, psychologists and meteorologists have had tremendous success when they step outside the stiff boundaries required by linear thinking.

Nonlinear math equations and systems have been used to explain weight loss, the spread of happiness, strength of metals and hurricanes. Millions of Americans' lives have been improved by a deeper level of understanding of these issues.

This nonlinear line of thinking needs to be adopted by policymakers. As we enter a critical period in the U.S. election cycle, Americans deserve thoughtful regulations that maintain the spirit found within the Declaration of Independence. These are lofty, but attainable goals, as long as we have leaders who are brave enough to fully consider how their actions affect job creation, social stability, economic prosperity, trust and free markets.

Prohibition is an obvious example of extreme regulation in American history. With all the good intentions of improving the lives of Americans by eliminating the perceived source of corruption, crime and poverty, politicians outlawed the making, transporting and selling of alcohol. Politicians did not anticipate the extent of unintended consequences, as the illegal commodity only encouraged bootlegging, speakeasies and the mafia.

I'll raise my glass to the repeal in 1933 and the more practical and balanced approach that followed, as states chose their own drinking ages until the 1980s, when the need to reduce drunk driving fatalities led to the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984.

Investors today are the unintended victims of the linear thinking that has permeated through today's government policies. A friend of mine shared his parents' experience with me that many retired workers can relate to.

After years of working hard and prudently saving for retirement, my friend's parents felt that their nest egg was large enough to retire and live off the interest. At the time, their accumulated savings of $500,000 was invested in long-term Treasury bonds yielding roughly 6%. The annual interest of $30,000 satisfied their needs.

Fast forward to this year, when 30-year and 10-year government yields have been so manipulated by the Federal Reserve that the rates have been reduced to near-record lows. This knocks the interest income on the retirees' half a million dollar nest egg to only $5,000 per year.