Our entire economy is characterized by cartel rentier skims, central-bank goosed asset bubbles and stagnating earned income for the bottom 90%. Despite the rah-rah about the “ownership society” and the best economy ever, the sobering reality is very few Americans are able to get ahead, i.e. build real financial security via meaningful, secure assets which can be passed on to their children. As I’ve often discussed here, only the top 10% of American households are getting ahead in both income and wealth, and most of the gains of these 12 million households are concentrated in the top 1% (1.2 million households). (see wealth chart below). Why are so few Americans able to get ahead? there are three core reasons: 1. Earnings (wages and salaries) have not kept up with the rising cost of living. 2. The gains have flowed to capital, which is mostly owned by the top 10%, rather than to labor ((wages and salaries). 3. Our financialized economy incentivizes cartels and other rentier skims, i.e. structures that raise costs but don’t provide any additional value for the additional costs.
Update: confirming that Trump’s “dear Kim” letter was just a negotiating tactic, the WaPo reports that the US exploratory team is back in North Korea as Reuters previewed yesterday: U.S. OFFICIALS CROSS INTO NORTH KOREA FOR SUMMIT PREPARATION TALKS DESPITE UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDING TRUMP-KIM MEETING – WASHINGTON POST According to WaPo sources, former US ambassador to South Korea, Sung Kim, crossed into North Korea on Sunday to hold talks with Pyongyang’s Vice-Foreign Minister, Choe Son Hui. The US envoy is accompanied by Allison Hooker, the Korea specialist on the National Security Council and an undisclosed official from the Defense Department, the source said. The meetings between US and N.Korean officials are expected to continue on Monday and Tuesday with the aim of organizing “any summit” between Trump and Kim on the North Korean nuclear program. Sung Kim and Choe reportedly know each other well as they were both involved in nuclear talks in previous years.
The only other times in our history when stock prices have been this high relative to earnings, a horrifying stock market crash has always followed. Will things be different for us this time? We shall see, but without a doubt this is what a pre-crash market looks like. This current bubble has been based on irrational euphoria that has been fueled by relentless central bank intervention, but now global central banks are removing the artificial life support in unison. Meanwhile, the real economy continues to stumble along very unevenly. This is the longest that the U.S. has ever gone without a year in which the economy grew by at least 3 percent, and many believe that the next recession is very close. Stock prices cannot stay completely disconnected from economic reality forever, and once the bubble bursts the pain is going to be unlike anything that we have ever seen before.
In an economy in which wages for 95% of households are stagnant for structural reasons, pushing inflation higher is destabilizing. Most households are losing ground as their inflation-adjusted (i.e. real) incomes stagnate or decline.The official policy goal of the Federal Reserve and other central banks is to generate 3% inflation annually. Put another way: the central banks want to lower the purchasing power of their currencies by 33% every decade.
In other words, those with fixed incomes that don’t keep pace with inflation will have lost a third of their income after a decade of central bank-engineered inflation.
There is a core structural problem with engineering 3% annual inflation. Those whose income doesn’t keep pace are gradually impoverished, while those who can notch gains above 3% gradually garner the lion’s share of the national income and wealth.
As the vulture pundits in the mainstream media pick apart hollow political scandals, the essential bankruptcy of the federal government looms just ahead. The national debt is creeping toward 20 trillion dollars, and the United State’s largest problem is once again staring the world in the face.
Just before the government was slated to shut down in 2015 (as it did in 2013), Congress was able to pass a delay on the debt ceiling decision until March 15th of this year — Wednesday of this week.
Recurring uncertainty caused by events like this has implications that extend far beyond our own borders. The amount of leverage in the current system has already forced foreign holders of U.S. debt to question the real value of America’s full faith and credit.
2016 was a record-setting year for the liquidation of foreign-held U.S. bonds, topping out at nearly $405 billion. The selling was led by China, America’s second-biggest creditor, which currently holds over $1 trillion of U.S. debt, almost 28% of the total held by foreign central banks.