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The Great Recovery of '09
What? You didn't notice it?

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
August 14, 2009

So how's the economic recovery treating you?

Not so good, you say?

I can sympathize. My business has dropped to less than half what it was last summer. I talk to other people in town, and they're all in the same boat. Some of the local restaurant owners are probably secretly hoping for a large fire in the county, because they make lots of money feeding firefighters. The Forest Service pays $12 for each breakfast fed to the firefighters, and the crew, who are burning 5,000 calories a day, don't give a shit what it is as long as it's hot, there's lots of it, and it tastes ok. Any competent restaurant manager can keep them happy and make a good profit.

We even had empty motel rooms here on the Fourth of July, when thousands of people flock into town for the Run/Walk and parade. Fourth of July is a big deal here, and the last time we had empty motel rooms was because it SNOWED. 1987. You can look it up.

The thing is, what recovery there is is mostly limited to the Wall Street scum who mostly caused the mess in the first place. The bank bailouts, unpopular as they were, were actually enough to prevent a slide into economic Armageddon, although all the same factors that caused the crisis in the first place are still there, unchanged. They're cocky now, but the fact is they aren't out of the woods. They are even fighting reform and implementation of regulations on derivatives trading, which was the absolute main cause of the bottom falling out last September.

I've even had right wingers tell me there wasn't an economic crisis until Obama took office. I just remind them that in September 2008, John McCain broke off campaigning to return to Washington to handle the crisis, and proved that he couldn't. That would be the crisis that didn't start for another 4 months, I'm guessing.

But the Wild West Casino known as the Market has stabilized for now. And having been saved by government, just as they were in 1933, they've resumed trying to destroy government, because everyone knows business runs better without government interference. Just ask any Somalian.

On Main Street, though, we're still falling off a cliff. The government assures us that the latest economic figures suggest we aren't falling quite as fast as we were, but we are still falling.

Officially, the unemployment rate is 9.4%, down a tick from the previous month's 9.5%. But the official rate is rubbish, and has been for years. Unofficially, it's around 16%, and when you toss in the underemployed, it's around 25%. Be courteous to the next Wal-Mart greeter you see; he might have a Ph.D. And designs on your job.

Nobody, including the Obama administration, is pretending the unemployment picture is going to improve any time soon.

There isn't much of a connect between Wall Street and Main Street, and hasn't been since the Nixon era, when the monied elite and the other 95% of America began going separate ways. The only thing that affected both sides was the pop of the housing bubble, and while Wall Street lost trillions in money that didn't really exist to begin with, millions lost their homes outside. Oh, and GM. Unwise trading in derivatives bankrupted GM, and not unions or the pension fund or whatever bugaboo the Wall Street Journal is using this week. Derivatives done for GM, duckies.

But while Wall Street took on lots of water but might still make it to safe port, the rest of us are just plain sinking.

And Wall Street doesn't care, because they have never been able to figure out that the absolute measure of their success, productivity, requires producers. Abandoned factories may have low overhead, and Wall Street appreciates that, but they don't make anything, and none of the people who had been working there are able to buy anything, which in turn forces the local businesses to shut down.

There are a lot of financial wizards on Wall Street who can't accept that. And it will come back to bite them.

Emmanual Saez came out with his annual report yesterday: “Striking it Richer: The evolution of top incomes in the United States.” The figures, from 2007, show that the top .01% (One in ten thousand) households, some 15,000 of them, make 6% of the national income. The low end for that privileged group was an income of $11.5 million a year. Taxing just that bracket at 70% instead of 28% would increase revenues by nearly 12%. (An embedded scroller of the report is on my main page at www.zeppscommentaries.com ).

Saez goes on to note that projections show average household incomes declining for the rest of us through the end of 2010. If you happen to be one of those lucky households (like me) don't you feel lucky that you are doing your part to help keep that .01% of the population in the style to which they have become accustomed? Why, it's the American Dream come true!

Incidentally, the top 10% of wage earners now make more than HALF of all income, for the first time in American history. But according to the free marketeers, we can ALL be in the top 10% if we just apply ourselves.

There's another way in which Wall Street is affecting Main Street. Most of the implosion out here in the hinterlands was caused, not by derivatives or the housing bubble, but by the spike in fuel prices. Gas hit $4.00 a gallon, and nearly everyone found they had to cut back. Less travel. Cheaper groceries if possible. Eliminate luxuries like eating out, or a new car. Hold off on home repair, and forget getting a loan for anything anyway.

This isn't the 1970s, when people were relatively well off (the minimum wage was about $12.50 an hour in 2009 dollars) and they could absorb the impact of an oil shock better. When gas prices suddenly doubled, it happened to people who were barely making it paycheck to paycheck, and a lot were adding up totals on their credit cards because they couldn't make it.

To an already fiscally stressed population, the spike in gas prices was a killer. Everything slowed down. And stayed that way.

That drove the oil prices down, and a few speculators lost their shirts. I'm sure you saw articles in the media sobbing over them, the poor dears. Some had to put the second RV up for sale.

They want to recoup their losses, and the only way to do that is with another oil bubble, since people aren't forced to buy much of anything else.

You may have noticed that the price of gas has been going up lately. The speculators have convinced themselves that an artificial dip in the official unemployment rate and some hopeful noises out of the Obama administration equate to Happy Days Are Here Again, and they are ready to pounce with high prices.

If there actually was a recovery starting, that put paid to it, I should think.

There was one thing that I found interesting. A lot of people credit (or blame) the depression and FDR (one or the other, depending on class, mostly) for the fact that the wage gap in the US narrowed so drastically from its peak of 48% for the top 10% of incomes to about 33% in 1945, but the fact is, neither the depression nor “that man's” policies was the cause. In 1940, it was still above 45%, showing that the depression didn't give the rich half the kicking around they deserved.

It was the war. 1940, 45% plus. 1945, 32˝%, and it stayed in the low thirties until, surprise, surprise, Reagan got elected.

You can't have a successful Democracy when 10% of the population is “haves” and 90% are have-nots, and the government is run on campaign donations. And in fact, democracy in America is ailing badly. When insurance companies can all but openly hire brownshirts to disrupt public meetings because they feel they deserve vast profits on what should be a public service, that's a sign of a very sick democracy.

We can only hope that we don't have to cycle through what it took to take the idle rich to abandon their false sense of entitlement in 1941. That was a very high price indeed to pay, although the 50s, 60s, and 70s were the best era financially in this country's history.

Maybe standing up to them and demanding single payer would do it. If nothing else, it would slow the unequal distribution of wealth.

We would still be falling off a cliff, but even MORE slowly...

Posted: August 17, 2009

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