Why the US Economy is in serious trouble

Child-Poverty-Drops-amid-Overall-Stagnant-Income-Levels-U.S.-Poverty-Report-says

By Mark Ciotola

How we arrived here

As EOS and Technocracy have long pointed out, our lassez-faire economic system is inherently unstable. Profits tend to accumulate out of the hands of consumers and concentrate into the hands of a few wealthy people. When the people who spend run out of money, then the people who save can’t get any more profits, and the whole system collapses. Ironically, during economic downfalls, many of the savers lose a lot of money, too, and even go bankrupt.

Upon the advent of earlier economic crises such the Great Depression, means were taken to prevent excessive concentration and control of wealth by the few. The founding fathers of the USA invoked an aggressive estate tax to prevent the emergence of an aristocracy and power that was was obtained by mere luck of birth. Antitrust laws were created to prevent monopolies. Labor unions were finally allowed to protect wages and the consumer spending so vital to the endurance of an economy. Banking legislation prevented the formation of banks that were too large to fail, and Glass-Steagall prevented banks from problematic conflicts of interest. Progressive tax rates diluted money out of the hands of the wealthy and some of it back in the hands of consumers, reducing dangerous build-ups and improving economic activity.

However, once the shock of the Great Depression ended, and memory of the social debt owed to the veterans of World War II receded, big business interests began to dismantle these economic protections. Progressive tax rates were significantly rolled back. Manufacturing was transferred on a near emergency basis to Japan and elsewhere to bypass North American unions. China was given most favored nation status by the USA that greatly accelerated this process. Banking “games” lead to the destruction and theft of the previously consumer-owned savings and loan associations. Glass-Steagall was revoked, allowing consumer banks to engage in especially risky investment banking operations. Such banks could now issue fraudulent consumer mortgages and package them into instruments for unsuspecting investors.

As consumers ran out of money, we increasingly became a “debt” economy. With domestic wages falling or frozen due to often subsidized foreign competition, consumers turned to home equity loans, student loans and credit cards to maintain their former standard of living. U.S. Federal Reserve chair Allan Greenspan called lenders heroes of the economy. As consumers could not afford to take on more debt, banks whipped up profits by doubling, tripling, etc. consumer loan interest rates. Rates exceeding 50% were common.

Finally, the wealthy couldn’t make enough money by actually producing anything or even lending to consumers at what were once legally usurious rates. They began buying and selling exotic financial instruments known by cryptic names such as butterfly options, derivatives, puts and calls. A particularly devastating was the “naked short”. It allowed a party to make large amount of money by selling millions of shares of nonexistent stock, flooding the market with this bogus stock until the market price of that stock collapsed and drove the underlying company out of business. The naked short sellers made fortunes, the newly unemployed executives received their $10 million golden parachutes, the laid-off employees received a few months of unemployment aid, and the pension funds/mom-and-pop investors received shallowly apologetic letters (if even that).

The only thing that saved the global economy from total melt-down was unprecedented government financial injections into banks, companies and certain national budgets (e.g. USA, China), and other stimulus measures.

An Economy on Life-Support

Supposedly, we learned our lessons after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 nearly melted down the entire global economy. A few consumer protections were enacted. Banks were slightly more regulated, and given FDIC protection for their high-risk investment banking operations (this latter should really terrify you). Lending was tightened up for consumers. Pensions were cut. European economies adopted severe austerity measures. Numerous automobile manufacturers were sold off to China. Indeed, the global economy has regained some semblance of order.

Yet, DO NOT be deceived! This is clearly an economy on life support. The Global Financial Crisis has resulted in tremendously-increased concentration of wealth and consequentially has produced long-term damage to consumer spending. Once the stimulus ends, the economy will return to chaos. It may even do so with continued stimulus.

The following graph shows how ill the economy has become since 2008. This Sizzle Index is an indicator of US economic “heat”. (It was developed by a member of Technocracy). Notice the peak at the year 2000 due to the dot com bubble. A second peak during 2005-2006 represents the housing bubble. Then in 2008 and 2009, the US economy literally fell off a cliff during the Global Financial Crisis. The Sizzle Index decline was about triple the magnitude of the dot com/9-11 crash of 2001. This was an unprecedented drop in recent times. This you already know.

What you may not know is what happened next. Despite some improvement of the US economy, the Sizzle Index is not only highly negative, but it is still declining despite massive quantitative easing (a more polite term for stimulus). The life energy is literally draining out of the economy despite massive. The deflationary pressures on Japan and Europe show similar declines globally.

By Mark Ciotola

Figure by Mark Ciotola

Nowhere to go

Interest rates earned by large investors are at historic lows, due to ongoing stimulus. Meanwhile, these near-zero interest rates are devastating to retirees, and pension funds are in serious trouble. The Federal Reserve has been hoping to bring interest rates back up slightly, but the markets have been extremely resistant.

Federal Reserve must be terrified about recently increased volatility in stock markets. If the economy tanks again, there is nothing left of interest rates to cut!

Technocracy predicted this!

One may ask why we are trapped in such a doomed economic system? Technocracy pointed out these problems, but people have tended to turn to illusory Libertarian-sounding gimmicks. When wealth becomes too concentrated, lobbyist- driven legislatures cut taxes to allow money to “trickle down” to consumers. When wages fall, they open up more foreign competition to reduce living expenses. When consumers can’t borrow enough to make up for those lost wages, banks get deregulated and numerous consumer bankruptcy protections end. Do you see the pattern?

Endgame

The world probably won’t end due to this economic dead end we are racing towards. However, the situation may get so bad that many of us will wish we were dead: children we can’t support, the slavery of endless debt, and the environmental destruction of unrestrained economics. We either have to change our way to doing things or face a future conceivable only from the worst science fiction films.

Mark Ciotola is an academic researcher on the San Francisco State University. His interests are spanning a wide area, from Fast Entrope and the e th Law to Physical history and economics, Intellectual property issues, Carbon Labeling, Energy Accounting and Brown Dwarf and Exoplanet Atmospheres.

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