If we had to choose one “big picture” reason why the vast majority of households are losing ground, it would be: the costs of essentials are spiraling out of control. I’ve often covered the dynamics of stagnating income for the bottom 90%, and real-world inflation, i.e. a decline in purchasing power.
But neither of these dynamics fully describes the relentless upward spiral of the cost basis of our economy, that is, the cost of big-ticket essentials: housing, education and healthcare.
The costs of education are spiraling out of control, stripping households of income as an entire generation is transformed into debt-serfs by student loan debt. The soaring costs of healthcare are a core driver of higher costs in the education complex (and government in general), and to cover these higher costs, counties raise property taxes, which add additional cost burdens to households and enterprises as rents rise.
The conventional definition of a Bear is someone who expects stocks to decline. For those of us who are bearish on fake fixes, that definition doesn’t apply: we aren’t making guesses about future market gyrations (rip-your-face-off rallies, dizziness-inducing drops, boring melt-ups, etc.), we’re focused on the impossibility of reforming or fixing a broken economic system.
Many observers confuse creative destruction with profoundly structural problems. The technocrat perspective views the creative disruption of existing business models by the digital-driven 4th Industrial Revolution as the core cause of rising income inequality, under-employment, the decline of low-skilled jobs, etc.–many of the problems that plague the current economy.
I get it: those disruptive consequences are real. But they aren’t structural: the state-cartel system is structural, because cartels can buy political protection from competition and disruptive technologies. Just look at all the cartels that have eliminated competition: higher education, defense contractors, Big Pharma–the list is long.
The fake-fixes to the structural dominance of cartels and entrenched elites come in two flavors: political reforms that add complexity (oversight, compliance, etc.) but never threaten the insiders’ skims and scams, and monetary policies such as low interest rates and unlimited liquidity that enrich the already-wealthy by funneling whatever gains are being reaped to rentiers rather than to labor.
I explain how this neofeudal economy is the inevitable result of our system in my new book Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic.
One of the enduring mysteries in conventional economics (along with why wages for the bottom 95% have stagnated) is the recent decline in productivity gains (see chart). Since gains in productivity are the ultimate source of higher wages, these issues are related. Simply put, advances in productivity are core to widespread prosperity.
But that’s only half the problem–productivity gains have flowed to the top of the income-wealth pyramid as financialization and cartels have replaced real-world wealth creation as the source of wealth-income.
As I have been noting for a decade, the broken U.S. healthcare system will bankrupt the nation all by itself. We all know the basic facts: the system delivers uneven results in terms of improving health and life expectancy while costing two or three times more per person compared to our advanced-economy global competitors.
U.S. Lifestyle + “Healthcare” = Bankruptcy (June 19, 2008)
Sickcare Will Bankrupt the Nation–And Soon (March 21, 2011)
How Healthcare Is Dooming the U.S. Economy (Three Charts) (May 2015)
You Want to Fix the Economy? Then First Fix Healthcare (September 29, 2016)
This chart says it all: the global outlier in low life expectancy and exorbitant cost is the U.S.
If you want to understand why our economy is stagnating and wealth inequality is rising, look at the rise of rentier skims and the resulting decline in wealth creation.
To understand why the real economy is stagnating, we have to understand the critical difference between rentier wealth and wealth creation. Rentier wealth is skimmed by fees that provide little to no value to the to the person paying the fee.
The classic example is a fee collected to pass from one fiefdom’s border to the next: no value is provided to the person paying the border fee; it is a rentier skim that transfers wealth from serfs to the fiefdom’s landowning nobility.
In the modern economy, rentier skims take a variety of forms.