Nothing except the calendar changes Jan. 1. Even the new millennium doesn't start then. It starts Jan. 1, 2001. But much will change during the first few decades of the new millennium, no matter when it starts, and the pension and investment communities had best be prepared for those changes.
Perhaps most important, the baby boomers will become dissavers sometime in the first two decades. Some experts say this could begin as soon as 2007, when the first boomers reach early retirement age and begin living on their retirement savings. Others say it won't occur until after 2010, when the first baby boomers reach normal retirement age.
Yet others say dissaving will not be a significant issue until a large percentage of the baby boom generation is retired, perhaps about 2025, shortly before the Social Security System is expected to run out of money.
And some say it will not occur at all because the baby boom generation stands to inherit significant amounts from its parents. These inheritances, they say, will be invested in the financial markets, offsetting any dissaving by the boomers themselves.
Don't believe it. Dissaving will occur. Most of those inheritances will be eaten up by higher medical costs as the parents of the baby boomers live longer, and linger longer in poor health late in life, and as Medicare covers less and less of the rising costs of the latest medical technology.
Dissaving by the baby boomers will put pressure on stock and bond prices, raising the cost of capital and probably slowing economic growth, unless offset by buying from other sources.
The baby boomers' children, through 401(k) and other retirement programs, will be one source of replacement demand, but they are too few in number to offset their parents' dissaving on a one-on-one basis.
If they could be persuaded to save significantly more than their parents have, and invest those savings in the stock and bond markets, that would help. Raising the maximum contribution limits on 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans would be one way to encourage this.
Another way to stimulate more demand for stocks would be to allow the generation-Xers to invest part of their Social Security contributions in the stock and bond markets. That might offset the selling pressure from the baby boomers.
Right now, neither of these solutions seems likely.
So the first decades of the new millennium will offer challenges to investment professionals, investors and politicians as they wrestle with offsetting the likely impact on the capital markets and the economy of the retirement of the baby boom generation.
Now is the time to be preparing for these challenges.