You don't have to be a hedge fund manager or a Wall Street CEO to know that something's very wrong with the economy and the stock market right now. I'm not talking just about the embarrassingly bad Facebook (FB) initial public offering. Let me count the problems.

Inflation-adjusted wages have been steadily falling over the past few months, the first time that has happened in a nonrecession environment, as people turn to credit cards and tap savings in response to higher food and fuel prices. Last year, we had the weakest nonrecession annual growth of gross domestic product since the 1940s. The credit channel is broken. Home prices are down to 2002 levels. And the stock market has yet to retake its 2000 or 2007 highs.

Beneath all this is a simmering government debt crisis, as long-postponed hard choices on debt and deficits in the rich world come home to roost. Europe is on the front lines of this. Here at home, a combination of higher taxes and spending cuts in early 2013 worth nearly 4% of GDP -- the "fiscal cliff" I recently warned of -- is set to throw America back into recession.

The longer-term picture is even scarier: If nothing is done, by 2024 -- according to a Credit Suisse estimate -- 100% of U.S. tax revenues will go to entitlement spending and interest payments on the federal debt. That's it. Nothing left for tanks, jets, food stamps and SEC regulators. Nada.

While this seems intractable, the root of the problem is really quite simple: too many old people.

Specifically, the nearly 80 million members of the baby boom generation are quickly aging, with most in their mid-50s now. This simple dynamic is the undercurrent beneath many of our problems, from a stagnant stock market to a bleak jobs outlook and the debt/deficit problem. Here's why.

Image: Anthony Mirhaydari

Anthony Mirhaydari

Graying nation

Not to spoil the surprise or anything, but you've probably gathered that I'm not a boomer. And I'm not here to go after boomers on social issues, or on the way they wasted the Greatest Generation's legacy: America as the world's sole superpower, a dynamic economy, a vibrant middle class and state-of-the-art infrastructure. OK, maybe I'm a little miffed.

Although there are grounds for an intergenerational fight, I'm more interested in the tragic nature of all this. Boomers, fully committed to the postwar consumerist culture and suffering from the rise and fall of two epic asset price bubbles, haven't saved enough for retirement. They also didn't have enough kids -- you know, sexual revolution and all. I'll have more on that in a minute.

Rising life expectancies make the problem worse. And long-stagnant wages for the middle class haven't helped.

The 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey (.pdf file) by the Employee Benefit Research Institute paints a grim picture. Only 14% of workers are very confident they will be able to afford a comfortable retirement. Some 60% of workers report that the total value of savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary residence, is less than $25,000. And while 56% expect to receive benefits from a defined-benefit plan in retirement, only 33% report that they or their spouse currently has such a plan.

Clearly, false hope and procrastination are at work.

Thus, instead of enjoying the twilight of life atop a Harley or upon white sandy beaches, a lot of these folks will be staying in the workforce -- often at low-paying, menial positions -- just to survive. The percentage of respondents expecting to retire before the age of 60 has fallen from nearly 20% in 1991 to just 8% now, while the percentage of workers expecting to clock out at 70 or older has jumped from 9% to 26% over the same period.

With the stock market coming off its worst 10-year performance since the Great Depression and with housing still in the tank, that's not surprising. But here's the kicker: By clogging up the job market, this army of gray labor will make it harder for the cohort of would-be workers ages 16 to 34 to get any traction. And that will only get worse, because the oldest boomers are now 66.

Younger workers are the folks who put money into housing and the stock market; they're the buyers who allow older folks entering retirement to cash in those assets. They also pay the taxes that keep entitlements like Social Security going.

It's a vicious cycle. Boomers are working longer because they can't retire, and they can't retire because their homes and nest eggs aren't holding their value, much less gaining. This keeps younger folks from taking over their jobs, which would allow the younger folks to buy those homes and start building their own nest eggs, pouring fresh cash into investments. (Instead, it seems, a lot of those younger folks are moving back in with their boomer parents. The cycle of misery is complete.)

No wonder net household wealth in the U.S. is down 15% from its pre-recession peak.