Blog Archives

Political and Social Conflict Is Accelerating: Here’s Why

That economic, social and political conflict is accelerating is self-evident. What’s open to debate are the core drivers of conflict / disorder /unraveling.

Here’s the core self-reinforcing dynamic in my view:

1. The status quo elites can no longer mask soaring costs of essentials nor soaring wealth / income inequality between the top .01% (Oligarchs), the top 9.99% who enrich the Oligarchs with their discretionary spending and technocratic/managerial labor, and the bottom 90% who are rapidly losing ground on all fronts: economic, social and political.

2. The elites’ “fixes” to the social / political conflicts unleashed by the rigged financial system and winner take most economic order are politically expedient, meaning they don’t actually address the sources of conflict, they merely paper them over with PR as a means of preserving the elites’ wealth and power.

3. The elites’ fundamental financial “fix” is to create trillions in newly issued currency and distribute it to the banks, financiers, super-wealthy families and global corporations– the top .01% Oligarchs.

4. This “fix” accelerates the asymmetric distribution of wealth by enabling the already-wealthy to buy more productive assets, fund stock buybacks, etc., while forcing the bottom 90% to borrow money from the Oligarchs to make ends meet: the rich get richer, the poor get more indebted.

5. The only possible output of these inputs (political expediency to preserve the elites’ wealth and power, the creation and distribution to the Oligarch class of trillions in new currency) is the acceleration of the very erosion that fueled social / political conflicts in the first place. In effect, the elites’ “fixes” are accelerating the conflicts that will ultimately lead to their downfall.

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The Unraveling Quickens

The central thesis of my new book Will You Be Richer or Poorer? is the financial “wealth” we’ve supposedly gained (or at least a few of us have gained) in the past 20 years has masked the unraveling of our intangible capital: the resilience of our economy, our social capital, i.e. our ability to find common ground and solve real-world problems, our sense that the playing field, while not entirely level, is not two-tiered, and our sense of economic security–have all been shredded.

The unraveling of everything that actually matters is quickening. While every “news” outlet cheerleads the stock market (“The Dow soared today as investor optimism rose… blah blah blah”), our “leadership” and our media don’t even attempt to measure what’s unraveling, much less address the underlying causes.

The hope is that if we ignore what’s unraveling, it will magically go away. But that’s not how reality works.

The unraveling is gathering momentum because prices have been pushing higher while wages lag, feeding the rising precariousness and inequality of our economy. The connection between people losing ground and social disorder/disunity has been well established by historians such as Peter Turchin Ages of Discord and David Hackett Fischer The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History.

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Homeless Encampments and Luxury Apartments: Our Long Strange Boom

It’s been a long, strange economic boom since the nadir of the Global Financial Meltdown in 2009. A 10-year long boom that saw the S&P 500 rise from 666 in early 2009 to 2,780 and GDP rise by 43% has been slightly more uneven for most participants.

First and most importantly, household income hasn’t risen by the same percentages as assets, GDP or costs of big-ticket expenses such as rent, healthcare and college tuition. The broadest measure of income, median household income, has registered a 23% increase in the past decade, roughly half of GDP gains and a mere fraction of stock market and housing gains.

It’s well known income gains have skewed to the top, as revealed by Census Bureau data: Historical Income Tables: Household (US Census Bureau).

The bottom quintile (20%) registered income gains of 20% from 2009 to 2017, while the middle quintile (roughly speaking, the middle class) gained 25.5% and the top 5% enjoyed a 31.6% gain.

The raw numbers tell the story in a slightly more visceral fashion:

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If We Don’t Change the Way Money Is Created, Rising Inequality and Social Disorder Are Inevitable

Everyone who wants to reduce wealth and income inequality with more regulations and taxes is missing the key dynamic: central banks’ monopoly on creating and issuing money widens wealth inequality, as those with access to newly issued money can always outbid the rest of us to buy the engines of wealth creation.

History informs us that rising wealth and income inequality generate social disorder.

Access to low-cost credit issued by central banks creates financial and political power. Those with access to low-cost credit have a monopoly as valuable as the one to create money.

I explain why in my book A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All.

Compare the limited power of an individual with cash and the enormous power of unlimited cheap credit.

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Beyond Income Inequality

Judging by the mainstream media, the most pressing problems facing capitalism are 1) income inequality, the basis of Thomas Piketty’s bestseller Capital in the Twenty First Century, and 2) the failure of laissez-faire markets to regulate their excesses, a common critique encapsulated by Paul Craig Roberts’ recent book and 2) the failure of laissez-faire markets to regulate their excesses, a common critique encapsulated by Paul Craig Roberts’ recent book The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism.

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The Three Stages of Empire

Though Edward Luttwak’s The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century CE to the Third is not specifically on the rise and fall of empires, it does sketch out the three stages of Empire.

Here is the current context of the discussion of Imperial lifecycles: the U.S. defense budget is roughly the same size as the rest of the world’s defense spending combined:

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Oops! Philly Fed admits QE widens inequality

Once again, the Federal Reserve proves that it’s the last one to know everything that we knew already.   Today’s stunning announcement:  The Philadelphia Fed admits they (“may have”) made the wealthy wealthier and Main Street poorer.

Oops.  Sorry America.

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The Philly Fed insists that “redistributing wealth” to the wealthy isn’t the main idea, but just side effect of stimulus that they can’t do much about.

“Monetary policy currently implemented by the Federal Reserve and other major central banks is not intended to benefit one segment of the population at the expense of another by redistributing income and wealth,” …

“However, it is probably impossible to avoid the redistributive consequences of monetary policy”.

We’re shocked.  Shocked, we tell you.  It turns out that handing out free money,  buying worthless assets at face value, and allowing a small cabal of private banks the sole right to access your magic free-money window, “may” have given some financial advantages to “one segment of the population”.

Read the full article on NotQuant »

 

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The Cost of China’s Industrialization

That the China Story is going to implode is already baked into the public health catastrophe that will unfold with a vengeance in the coming decade.

The financial pundits gushing over “The China Story”–that the Middle Kingdom’s industrialization is a permanent boon to the global economy and China’s poor–never calculate the human cost of that runaway industrialization and the vast inequalities it has unleashed.

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The Changing World of Work I: America’s Nine Classes

Eight of the nine classes are hidebound by backward-looking conventions, neofeudal and neocolonial arrangements and a spectrum of perverse incentives and false choices.

My theme this week is the changing world of work. The goal of this week’s five-part look at the changing world of work is to look forward, rather than dwell with misty-eyed longing for what is now firmly in the past.

Let’s start by establishing a socio-economic context for the discussion: the class and income structure of the U.S.

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Income, Education and Inequality in the “Recovery”: Prepare to be Surprised

Note to the higher education industry: issuing diplomas doesn’t magically create new jobs in the real world.

By virtually any standard, wealth inequality has soared to historic levels in the six years of “recovery” since the Great Recession of 2008-09. Economist Emmanuel Saez, who has long collaborated with Thomas Piketty, described the recent extremes of wealth inequality in a recent paper Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States, which provides an in-depth look at the widening gulf between the top 1% and the bottom 90% from 2009 to 2012.

Here is a chart of the top 10% share of income, based on their research (the note in red marking the beginning of financialization in 1982 is my own):

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The Face of the Oligarch Recovery – Luxury Skyscrapers Stay Empty as NYC Homeless Population Hits Record High

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Nowhere is the fraudulent and criminal “oligarch recovery” more on display than in my hometown of New York City. Despite benefitting more than any other community from an enormous taxpayer bailout of the industry that destroyed the economy, financial services, the vast majority of the wealth has been allocated to a handful of oligarchs. Meanwhile, the homeless population continues to hit record highs…

Read more here.

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