Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

It’s the big one honey, I know it…

I’ve been doing some numbers concerning personal income. Breaking out share of income, savings, GDP, etc based on BEA data and Saez’s data. I’m playing with it, have converted it to year 2000 dollars and will be looking at per capita relations too. Even thinking of converting it all to 1929 dollars. I plan a few posts on it all.

But, considering the post today concerning the dollar, I thought these two charts would be of interest. These two charts are in 2000 dollars. There is an interesting hump around WW 2, I’ll get to that in a later post. But for now, look at the 3 lines and pay attention to what crosses what.

Income vs Consumption 1929 to 1962

Now, look at this chart.

Income vs Consumption 1963 to 2005
See anything of interest? Something around 1996? Now, Sherman, set the WABAC machine to 1929 and look forward.

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What’s old is New Again

This NY Times piece is making a comparison to yesteryears when those mansions in Newport, RI were built. It starts with Sanford I. Weil of Citigroup and how he compares to Andrew Carnegie.

First, how does this period compare:

Only twice before over the last century has 5 percent of the national income gone to families in the upper one-one-hundredth of a percent of the income distribution — currently, the almost 15,000 families with incomes of $9.5 million or more a year, according to an analysis of tax returns by the economists Emmanuel Saez at the University of California, Berkeley and Thomas Piketty at the Paris School of Economics. (I have posted from their data in the past.) Such concentration at the very top occurred in 1915 and 1916, as the Gilded Age was ending, and again briefly in the late 1920s, before the stock market crash.

Mr Weil view:

“I once thought how lucky the Carnegies and the Rockefellers were because they made their money before there was an income tax,” “I want to give away my money rather than have somebody take it away,”

We have Mr. Kenneth C. Griffin, who received more than $1 billion last year as chairman of a hedge fund, the Citadel Investment Group, declared:

“The money is a byproduct of a passionate endeavor.”
“We have helped to create real social value in the U.S. economy,” he said. “We have invested money in countless companies over the years and they have helped countless people.” “The income distribution has to stand,” Mr. Griffin said, adding that by trying to alter it with a more progressive income tax, “you end up in problematic circumstances. In the current world, there will be people who will move from one tax area to another. I am proud to be an American. But if the tax became too high, as a matter of principle I would not be working this hard.”

Such positions are summed up with:

“Carnegie made it abundantly clear that the centerpiece of his gospel of wealth philosophy was that individuals do not create wealth by themselves,” said David Nasaw, a historian at City University of New York. and the author of “Andrew Carnegie” (Penguin Press). “The creator of wealth in his view was the community, and individuals like himself were trustees of that wealth.”

Really? They are the Trustees?

Can it be anymore egocentric? Why yes they can:

Lew Frankfort, chairman and chief executive of Coach the manufacturer and retailer of trendy upscale handbags, who was among the nation’s highest paid chief executives last year, recaps the argument. “The professional class that developed in business in the ’50s and ’60s,” he said, “was able as America grew at very steady rates to become industry leaders and move their organizations forward in most categories: steel, autos, housing, roads.”

That changed with the arrival of “the technological age,” in Mr. Frankfort’s view. Innovation became a requirement, in addition to good management skills — and innovation has played a role in Coach’s marketing success. “To be successful,” Mr. Frankfort said, “you now needed vision, lateral thinking, courage and an ability to see things, not the way they were but how they might be.” (Like this was not needed in the past?)

Please note, Mr. Frankfort is not emphasizing the manufacturing, he is emphasizing the marketing.

What would be the “problematic circumstances” of being more progressive in the tax structure? Why do they not want to pay the help that they acknowledged got them where they are? Even in the good old days of Carnegie, paying the help was not considered a charitable thing to do.

I have posted that things have changed. We make money differently today. The article notes:

The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 outlawed the mix, blaming conflicts of interest inherent in such a combination for helping to bring on the 1929 crash and the Depression. The pen displayed in Mr. Weill’s hallway is one of those Mr. Clinton used to revoke Glass-Steagall in 1999. He did so partly to accommodate the newly formed Citigroup, whose heft was necessary, Mr. Weill said, if the United States was to be a powerhouse in global financial markets.

The article does offer counter opinions to this self aggrandizement. I’ll leave it to you to read the rest except for this which I think sums up the counter opinion (in a more polite manor than I would have):

“I don’t see a relationship between the extremes of income now and the performance of the economy,” Paul A. Volcker, a former Federal Reserve Board chairman, said in an interview, challenging the contentions of the very rich that they are, more than others, the driving force of a robust economy.

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Money Illusion at the AP

Is Lawrence Kudlow writing copy for the AP:

Consumers bolstered their spending in May as their incomes grew solidly, an encouraging sign that high gasoline prices have not killed people’s appetite to buy. Inflation moderated. It was the second consecutive month that consumer spending went up by 0.5 percent, the Commerce Department reported today. Incomes, the fuel for future spending, rebounded in May, growing by 0.4 percent.

I suspect they were looking at current dollar increases reported here. Just below the nominal increases is reported the real increases as in “chained (2000) dollars. As Dean Baker notes:

Real consumption spending grew by just 0.1 percent in May and real disposable income fell by 0.1 percent.

When the nominal increase in income is less than the increase in the price-level, most people know that real income has declined. But just in case one is an idiot, the BEA already reports the real change. Whoever wrote this copy for the AP should have picked up on this when reading the report. It’s not exactly rocket science. OK – Kudlow makes this stupid mistake routinely, but one would hope the AP would have higher standards than the National Review.

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