Steve Waldman has a great little post on how the end of the consumer credit bubble is going to expose rifts papered over by the illusion of rising living standards for all. In fact, average real wages have been stagnant since the mid-1970s; the gains in income have accrued entirely to those at the top of the food chain.
Thomas Palley has made a similar argument with a different emphasis. He contends that policy-makers retreated from full employment as a goal, since it allows workers to demand higher wages, which in turn causes inflation. Reducing worker bargaining power led to disinflation, lower interest rates led to rising asset prices, which in combination with financial innovation, created an until-recently reinforcing cycle whereby rising asset prices funded consumption. Palley noted that that cycle was at its limits, and Waldman discusses the implications.
My favorite section:
Credit was the means by which we reconciled the social ideals of America with an economic reality that increasingly resembles a “banana republic”. We are making a choice, in how we respond to this crisis, and so far I’d say we are making the wrong choice. We are bailing out creditors and going all personal-responsibility on debtors. We are coddling large institutions of prestige and power, despite their having made allocative errors that would put a Soviet 5-year plan to shame. We applaud the fact that “wage pressures are contained”, protecting the macroeconomy of the wealthy from the microeconomy of the middle class.
Go read it here.