Blog Archives

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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The Ghosts of 1968

1968 was a tumultuous year globally and domestically. The Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia–a very mild form of political and cultural liberalization within the Soviet bloc–was brutally crushed by the military forces of the Soviet Union.

The general strikes and student protests of May 1968 brought France to a standstill as demands for social and political change called the entire status quo into question.

On the other side of the planet, the Cultural Revolution was remaking China’s still-youthful revolution, to the detriment of the political status quo, the intelligentsia and the common people.

The U.S.was convulsed with assassinations, civil unrest and mass demonstrations against the war in Vietnam and the political status quo (the Democratic Party convention in Chicago).

Ironically, much of the world was benefiting from two decades of rising prosperity and the demise of colonialism. When expectations exceed actual opportunities, discontent is the result. When the power structure is deaf to the discontent, a cycle of repression and disorder feed on each other.

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The Rowboat (Wages) and the Yacht (Assets)

The reason why the status quo has failed and is fragmenting is displayed in these three charts of wages, employment and assets: wage earners (labor) are in a rowboat trying to catch the yacht of those who own assets (capital).

Here is a chart of weekly wages of those employed fulltime: up a gargantuan $4/week in the 18 years since 2000. Let’s see, $4 times 52 week a year–by golly, that’s a whole $208 a year. Brand new Ford F-150, here we come!

If we go back 38 years to 1980–an entire lifetime of work–we find real (adjusted for official inflation, which seriously understates big-ticket expenses such as rent, healthcare and college tuition/fees) wages have notched higher by $10/week–a gain of $500 annually.

If we adjusted wages by real-world income, we’d find wages have declined since 1980 and 2000.

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Social Change Will Upend the Status Quo

The core narrative of the Status Quo is that nothing fundamental needs to be changed: all the problems can be solved with more “free money” (borrowed from the future at low rates of interest) and a few policy tweaks such as Universal Basic Income (UBI) (the topic of my new book Money and Work Unchained).

This core narrative is false: everything needs to change, from the bottom up.And that of course terrifies those gorging at the trough of status quo wealth and power.

The power structure can manipulate financial metrics, but it can’t manipulate rising wealth/power inequality or social discord. Whatever you think of President Trump, his election is a symptom of profound social discord–discord which author Peter Turchin explains is cyclical and cannot be squashed with phony reforms like UBI or police-state repression.

The nation is fragmenting because the Status Quo is failing the majority of the citizenry. The protected few are reaping all the benefits of the Status Quo, at the expense of the unprotected many.

As I have outlined many times, this unsustainable asymmetry is the only possible outcome of our socio-economic system, which is dominated by these forces:

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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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