There is a spirited argument among economists about whether the much-delayed “Obama Recovery” has arrived, and whether it’s anything to celebrate if so.
A real recovery, sufficient to begin healing the enormous damage to our workforce and pull government debt out of its death spiral, would be obvious. We wouldn’t have economists peering at spreadsheets with electron microscopes to detect it. Why should anyone celebrate an economy that leaves most workers with declining wages and a growing burden of debt?
Even left-wingers agree, uncomfortably, that “income inequality” got much worse under Obama, as the rich got richer, while the poor… didn’t. Left-wing analysts will tie themselves in knots trying to shift blame away from Obama and his policies for this state of affairs, with arguments that boil down to “this proves we need even more central planning and socialism to make everybody equal!”
Much of the debate over the maybe-recovery concerns the manipulation of government reports: the sense our vast bureaucracy is cooking the books to make the economy look more robust than it really is. A persistent complaint concerns the way inflation has been hidden, or almost redefined out of existence. (Ed Butowsky discussed this bureaucratic sleight-of-hand on Breitbart News Radio in November, noting that the government began concealing consumer inflation decades ago with some eye-popping formula changes.)
Now comes a fascinating article from Wolf Richter at Business Insider, which brings inflation games, currency manipulation, and near-zero interest rates together, into a unified field theory of how very low nominal consumer inflation has concealed skyrocketing asset inflation… leaving middle-class and low-income workers stuck with flat wages and debt slavery.
Governments across the industrialized world made themselves look better by tinkering with the money supply, lowering the bar for macro-economic success… and sold the Little Guy shackles of debt, at discount prices.
Richter’s key insight is that quantitative easing (QE, or “central banks printing lots of money” in layman’s terms) and near-zero interest rates for loans caused very little consumer inflation, with a few notable examples, so we’ve been treated to plenty of headlines about how inflation is totally under control… but QE caused “rampant asset price inflation, with stocks, bonds, real estate, classic cars, art … all skyrocketing over the years.”
In other words, the things rich people buy and trade have inflated, but most of life’s necessities and modest luxuries have not. That’s because, as Richter puts it: “The money never went to consumers in the form of wages. They would have spent most of it, thus driving up demand that could have created some inflationary pressures in consumer prices. But they never got this money.”
Unfortunately, because QE funneled money into big corporate and investor interests, wages flattened or declined, while household spending power for the poor and middle class declined. Low interest rates made it easy for them to borrow money to make up for lost purchasing power, especially for a few big-ticket purchases that have inflated enormously over the years – particularly health care and higher education. President Obama’s mind-boggling expenditures on both of those goods have done absolutely nothing to slow their inflation – on the contrary, ObamaCare’s meddling with student loans caused that debt bubble to explode.
Richter’s sobering diagnosis of what the Federal Reserve has done to workers:
The Fed keeps a hawk’s eye on wages, especially in the lower 80% of the workers. Its goal is to provide cheap labor to corporate America. And when wage inflation ticks up, the Fed can get quite radical about rate increases.
But because cheap labor makes for bad consumers, the Fed is trying to make cheap debt available to them, turning them into debt slaves, problem solved, for the moment.
So this is one lesson we learned: QE channeled to financial and corporate entities causes asset price inflation, not consumer price inflation. And it tends to exacerbate wage deflation at the lower 80% of households.
One of the exceptions is rent. When residential property prices soar, rents tend to follow. And rents have increased sharply in many cities. But unlike stocks, people have to live in these units, and when rents move beyond their reach, all kinds of things happen, including property price crashes.
That sounds like a far more clear and terrible example of “trickle-down economics” than anything liberals have attempted to slander with the term. Obama built on years of monetary manipulation to create an economy where the government is printing dollars and stuffing them in the pockets of big corporations and wealthy investors, vainly hoping they would invest the money in a way that created jobs, while the media cheerfully pumped out politically-useful stories about a roaring stock market. (Richter notes that what actually happened was a tsunami of money pouring into high-risk, high-yield investments, producing the combination of gluts and shortages that truly free markets are highly resistant to.)
Efforts to create a “perfect economy” tend to collapse into such absurdities as ballooning debt to pay skyrocketing prices for an increasingly poor higher-education product, or phantasmal dollars pouring into unproductive sectors that end up drowning in money. Central planners have a unique ability to annihilate wealth, leaving society with staggering debt levels – including our almost incomprehensible state and federal government debt – but very little to show for it.
Free markets can be rougher on some people in the short term, but they are far healthier over the long run. Winners and losers are discovered by fortune, rather than being assigned by political fiat, and in the process genuine needs are met. Wealth rises and falls, but it doesn’t just evaporate. By now everyone should understand that only real demand, and the exhilarating competition to profitably meet it, produces a robust job market and wage growth. (Did anyone really need further lessons on that score, after watching President Obama laugh it up after he discovered there’s no such thing as the “shovel-ready jobs” he extravagantly promised?)
The Western world is moving rapidly toward a stagnant feudal system populated only by rich aristocrats, rich government officials, and a vast lower class that needs welfare transfer payments to survive. Debt-burdened workers with flat wages, shaky job prospects, and government subsidies for their basic needs are serfs, not a vibrant and independent middle class of entrepreneurs selling their labor to the highest bidders.
If that vision of the future sounds nightmarish to you… well, you’re not a socialist. The Left sees the final and irreversible subjugation of the Middle Class at hand. Low-inflation, low-interest, low-growth debt slavery produces a society with little energy or inclination to challenge its ruling class.
Instead, be respectful of your betters and dutifully supply them with your votes, and they might just knock a few points off the interest rates on your loans, or kick your subsidies up a bit. Currency manipulation has combined with socialist politics to turn the road to serfdom into a superhighway.