Monetary Policy. I’m not only not feeling it, I’m dehydrating because of it.

by Daniel Becker

Continuing my prior post suggesting that what ever monetary policy has done, it has not reached that vast majority nor has it addressed what is the main issue, I viewed this chart by Mike Kimel and thought: Perfect!
Then comes Ken Houghton linking to this article with it’s chart.
What do they have in common? Income inequality. So let me repost this graph from my 12/2007 post.
I’m only posting the second half of the graph, as that is the one that matters.

Take a look at 1996. That is the year that personal consumption crossed over the income level of the bottom 99%. It’s been borrowed money ever since. For an economy that runs on making money from money, that’s not a problem for those who earn their income by such a manor, is it?

Back to Mike’s chart. He noted that the change in what type of spending was associated with recessions happened around the early 70’s. That time is when another major event happened. The rise in productivity disconnected from the rise in wages. That is, any rise in productivity did not produce a corresponding rise in wages as was the historical norm. My position is that this was the start of the “new” service economy of making money from money that went into full mode with Reagan. Ok, we went from government spending to private sector spending as the fuel for the economic engine which I agree with Mike is what is the real mechanisms that is behind the results Mike notes Tyler Cowen labeled The Great Stagnation. Mr. Cowen is correct, it’s a great stagnation, but stagnation has it’s cause. Regarding both Mike and Mr. Cowen, the shift from government spending to private sector spending being considered the fuel that resulted in stagnation is not the complete answer. The change in the means of spending coincides with the ideology change. We went all Milton and Rand ideologocially. However, the act of spending dollars and the means by which dollars are spent is not the fuel of the engine, it only referrers to the distribution of the fuel. Mike is taking about the distribution system and Mr. Cowen is talking about the results of using that system.

So, what is the real culprit? What is it about the fuel that made us get to where we are today?

We started starving the engine of fuel. And we did it by using a supposedly better fuel distribution system. Instead of moving the money into the engine via the broadest distribution system, we followed an idea that suggested a more focused distribution system would work. It has not worked. It has quite literally starved the engine of fuel. I noted this here.
To quote that post using the time span of 1933 to 2005:

For the first 43 years, GDP doubling was always ahead of the income. For the next 32 years, GDP growth was always behind the income which was do to the top 1%’s share. Their’s is the only income that increased faster than the economy. In chart form it looks like this:
First 43 years doubling: GDP 8.6 yrs, 99%’ers 10.75 yrs, 1%’ers 14.3 yrs.
Next 32 years doubling: GDP 10.6 yrs, 99%’ers 11 yrs, 1%’ers 8 yrs.

The first 43 years the share of income to the top 1% was declining to a low in 1976. After that in was increasing.

Ok, now to Mike’s chart. He stated:

Basically, if you corner enough economists, you might get them to tell you recessions begin if there’s a big drop in private consumption, private investment, or gov’t spending.

Reading that statement while looking at his chart should be causing fire alarms and sirens to sound. This is because, if “private consumption” is an accepted cause of a recession, and the only time such appears to be associated is this current recession in 72 or so years of having recessions, then something has radically changed. If that chart showing that an accepted cause of recession only happened once in recent history, then honey, it’s the big one.

I think there is no way to deny it. Income inequality is the dinosaur in the room. It is the meteor that hit the earth. It is why all the past solutions theorized and used since the New Deal recovery are not working.  

They can’t work because they do not address the predicted but never before (recent history) experienced.

So, look at my chart again. It’s borrowed money that keep the consumption going since 1996 (yeah the supposedly great Clinton year). You do know that the share of income rose faster to the top 1% during his 2 terms than during Reagan, Bush 1 and Bush 2? It was debt combined with “new products” designed to pretend people could pay the debt which kept it going.

In terms of numbers: $1,400,000,000,000. That’s 1.4 trillion dollars every year, year in and year out that the original system had moving through it that is now somewhere in the new system doing nothing as it relates to building a larger, stronger, healthier economic engine. You can’t cut taxes enough to make up for this. You can’t distribute enough money via QE to make up for this mostly because QE does not address this at all as noted.
Still not convinced with my graph, Mike’s chart and the chart Ken referred too? Then try this on for size: Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze—an Update to 2007, by Edward N. Wolff, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College

March 2010 Page 20 to 22

As noted above, the ratio of debt-to-net-worth of the middle three wealth quintiles rose from 37 percent in 1983 to 46 percent in 2001 and then jumped to 61 percent in 2007. Correspondingly, their debt-to-income rose from 67 percent in 1983 to 100 percent in 2001 and then zoomed up to 157 percent in 2007! This new debt took two major forms. First, because housing prices went up over these years, families were able to borrow against the now-enhanced value of their homes by refinancing their mortgages and by taking out home equity loans (lines of credit secured by their home)…Where did the borrowing go? Some have asserted that it went to invest in stocks. However, if this were the case, then stocks as a share of total assets would have increased over this period, which it did not (it fell from 13 to 7 percent between 2001 and 2007). Moreover, it did not go into other assets…The question remains whether the consumption financed by the new debt was simply normal consumption or was there a consumption binge (acceleration) during the 2000s emanating from the expanded debt? That is, did the enhanced debt simply sustain usual consumption or did it lead to an expansion of consumption?

The average expenditure of the median income class was virtually unchanged from 1989 to 2001 and also from 2001 to 2007. Thus, the CEX data, like the NIPA data, show no acceleration in consumer spending during the debt splurge of the 2000s. As a result, it can be concluded that the debt build-up of the 2000s went for normal consumption, not enhanced consumption.

Got that? Let’s summarize: The share of income to the 99% of people declined from 1976 onward. At the same time the means of making money changed from labor production to money manipulation (producer economy to finanicialized economy) adding to the reduction in share of income. We also changed the ideology to one from relying on the vast population (as represented by the individual and We the People) to relying on a small portion of the population to distribute what money was created. We did this for 33 years. By 1996, people were borrowing as a means to sustain their standard of living (not increase it). If the people are not spending to increase their standard of living, then is the economy really growing? By 2006 people were no longer able to make the payments and consumption was declining.  Then gas hit $4/gal and winter heating was looking like another $4000 to $6000 would be needed.

To date, nothing has been done to address this. Nothing at all. And, by “this” I mean, the income inequality that has resulted in an an economy where a very small group of people (top 1%) are taking money out of the system (that is money that would fuel the engine) faster than the engine can make it which results in an ever faster declining share to the rest of the people. Instead, we have refined new fuel and dumped it right into the top 1%’s hands and wonder why the engine is still sputtering?

One other issue I have with framing and the words used today: Under water.

People are not under water. They are not drowning in debt. On the contrary, people are dehydrating. They are starving for water. Do you know what the symptoms are of dehydration? You get thirsty and then urinate less to conserve water. (debt spending) Then you stop making tears and stop sweating. (can’t borrow) Eventually your muscles cramp, the heart palpitates and you get dizzy. (close to bankruptcy, voting against your interest) Let it go long enough and you get confused, weak and your coping mechanisms fail. (Tea Party, etc) In the end, your systems fail and you die. (recession)

People are dehydrating and Washington is doing nothing about it because they believe it is drowning.  They are throwing out life boats to people in a desert.  That is the chart Ken linked to.