“The Most Remarkable Chart I’ve Seen in Some Time”: Rich Gain More Ground in Every US Expansion

If you had any doubt the US economy had been rearchitected to favor the haves versus the have-lesses, this chart by Pavlina Tcherneva should settle it. Justin Wolfers, hardly a raging liberal, just tweeted:

rich get richer in every expansion

While the overall trend is dramatic enough, you can also see two major shifts: the big change with the Reagan era, with its higher-income and capital-favoring tax cuts, of the top 10% suddenly reaping vastly disproportionate gains relative to the rest of the distribution.

The Bush Administration, with even more changed in taxes that shifted income to the rich, is another big ratchet. But arguably the most dramatic change is under the Obama Adminstration, where the top echelon’s gains came in part at the expense of everyone else.

Matt Stoller was early to notice this change. As he wrote in 2012:

A better puzzle to wrestle with is why President Obama is able to continue to speak as if his administration has not presided over a significant expansion of income redistribution upward.  The data on inequality shows that his policies are not incrementally better than those of his predecessor, or that we’re making progress too slowly, as liberal Democrats like to argue.  It doesn’t even show that the outcome is the same as Bush’s.  No, look at this table, from Emmanuel Saez (h/t Ian Welsh).  Check out those two red circles I added.

Yup, under Bush, the 1% captured a disproportionate share of the income gains from the Bush boom of 2002-2007.  They got 65 cents of every dollar created in that boom, up 20 cents from when Clinton was President.  Under Obama, the 1% got 93 cents of every dollar created in that boom.  That’s not only more than under Bush, up 28 cents.  In the transition from Bush to Obama, inequality got worse, faster, than under the transition from Clinton to Bush.  Obama accelerated the growth of inequality.

A bit hat tip to Pavlina, who has put this data together in a simple but powerful way that makes it hard to ignore how the rich really have gotten richer. And before you argue that this is the result of a technology (as opposed to rentier) driven transformation, please read the post yesterday, Is Rising Inequality Inevitable? Its conclusion: “Rising inequality is therefore not inevitable — it is a political choice.”

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  1. John_de_Vashon

    Was wondering earlier this evening just how the development and explosive of financialization played into all this.

    Yes, certainly tax policies favoring the rich transfer income to the wealthy in a greater degree than to the poor, but how is that income created in the first place?

    IANAE. But, if one looks at the ’80’s as the beginning of the leveraged buyout era and the financial derivatives era, add in the G-L-B Act, add in synthetic financial instruments, add in credit derivatives &c …

    … the common feature of these is to shift the creation of income away from those messy commercial processes that involve inventory, labor, production, transportation, and sales (i.e. that employ large numbers of people) and toward the economic activities of the financial services sector which is solely available to the (warning: political pejorative) Oligarchy and their asset managers.

    So not only do you have tax polices that transfer wealth to the wealthy in a disproportionate share, but you have had a tremendous growth in the financial processes themselves (and the subsequent wealth created by those financial processes) that is less and less available to the very sorts of people who are finding the economy to be shifting away from them and leaving both they and their children unemployed after a downturn.

    Shorter: exactly how many people who work at Walmart have an asset manager who can get them some action on a Credit Default Swap?

    Extra credit: exactly what proportion of economic activity nationally and world-wide is due to financialization as opposed to brick-and-mortar commercial activity, and how has that grown over the time span shown in the graph, above?

    1. peppsi

      Your extra credit question is the right one.

      And part 2: What does the country lose if you turn 100% of that money over to the people?

      1. psychohistorian

        Lets update the context please and say for part 2:

        What does the WORLD lose if you turn 100% of that money over to the people?

        The global plutocrats are excellent at playing countries off against each other and it is time to stop giving them that opportunity.

        1. Ulysses

          “The global plutocrats are excellent at playing countries off against each other and it is time to stop giving them that opportunity.” Very well said! If we could build up some strong international solidarity, empowering ourselves to cover each other’s backs, as we refuse to collaborate with the greedheads’ regime of endless war, we could take the keptocrats’ boot off our neck!

          We don’t have to remain ignorant and divided forever. There is at least a dim hope that the people of this damaged planet can rediscover their basic human decency– in time to stop this train before it runs off the cliff.

    2. John Zelnicker

      The financialization of the American economy actually began slowly in the 1960’s with the expansion the number of mutual funds available to small investors. There was a major acceleration after 1971 when Nixon closed the gold window and the dollar became a non-convertible fiat currency. Then Reagan rewrote virtually the entire tax code in 1986, (The magnitude of the rewrite was so comprehensive that the name was changed from the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.) shifting the main burden of taxation away from unearned income (interest, dividends, and land rents) onto wage and labor income. This added more incentives for increasing the financialization of our economy.

      And now we have the large corporations that used to produce “stuff” cutting back on investing in increasing production in favor of financial engineering in order to keep hitting those quarterly profit targets and enriching the oligarchs in the C-suite.

      1. Banger

        Just a point of clarity here. While Reagan was an important player in the tax code rewrite it was the Democratic Party that was equally responsible. In 1978 the DP big shots decided to sell out the working class for a number of good and bad reasons–but they did it and made money their number one consideration. The media, similarly began its inexorable drive to be PR firms for the moneyed class.

      2. Jim Haygood

        ‘There was a major acceleration [in financialization] after 1971 when Nixon closed the gold window and the dollar became a non-convertible fiat currency.’

        Precisely. You can see the transition in the Seventies on the chart above.

        In the 19th century, plutocrats were coupon clippers. But by the Sixties, academic finance had delivered its verdict: the equity premium means stocks outperform bonds.

        So the plug was pulled on dollar redeemability, and the rich reallocated their investments to capital gains instead of boring old bonds.

        Shame about those who only experience the bad side of inflation (higher costs) while missing out on the good side (investment gains). Who knew free money was gonna be so expensive?

        1. reslez

          Greed rolls downhill like water: it follows the path of least resistance to the greatest return. When resources and energy are plentiful plutocrats engage in productive industry. When energy becomes scarce and resource prices skyrocket, they rewrite the law to make financial games possible. The remaining years of empire are spent in a paper ticket shuffling game wherein they ripoff everyone around them to maintain their relative wealth. Meanwhile the empire crumbles around them.

          What I’m saying is convertibility was introduced because of resource constraints. Convertibility did not of necessity cause povertization.

          1. Oregoncharles

            Exactly. I’ve been saying this for years: when the economy runs up against the resource wall, it proceeds to PRETEND to grow by blowing one bubble after another – the direct result of financialization. Money, especially fiat money, is “virtual” – just a symbol. Consequently, it can grow without limit, while the real economy, because it’s real, cannot. That’s the traditional formula for inflation – limited goods chasing unlimited money.

            Thank you for drawing out the mechanism; I’ve always been unclear about that, even though the connection itself was obvious enough (so obvious that it’s usually ignored.)

            It’s especially important to keep reminding people of the resource restraints here, because, for all its virtues, nc is essentially a financial site. In exposing the shenanigans of high finance, it’s easy to lose sight of the real-world restraints underlying them.

            And in response to Jim’s point, about the plutocrats shifting to equity: yet the bond markets still rule the world. That was the one valid point in Friedman’s “Lexus and the Olive Tree,” otherwise meticulously dishonest.

            1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

              It is essential that we consider alternative, no-growth ways of helping the needy, the under/un-employed, the weak, the old and the defenseless.

              All roads lead to ‘better distribution*.’

              * better distribution could be 1. redistribution 2. done the right way the first time, negating the need to redistribute 3. some other ingenious ways, I guess.

              1. Oregoncharles

                Yes. Unfortunately, the hardest lift of all.

                This is one reason for the economists’ fetish about growth: it prevents the economy from being a zero-sum game, in which you see precisely that chart: the rich get richer, everybody else gets poorer.

                Resource limits mean the economy IS, indeed, a zero sum game, so distribution of the gains is THE main issue. It also has to operate differently, since in the present model, “no growth” = depression.

    3. cnchal

      but you have had a tremendous growth in the financial processes themselves (and the subsequent wealth created by those financial processes)

      I have never seen a financial process “create” wealth. I have always seen financial processes as “extracting” wealth from society at large, for the benefit of financial criminals, of which most of those G20 ministers aid and abet and are.

  2. Skippy

    As of 2014 there are 492 billionaires in America, up from 442 in 2013. Second is China with 152 up from 122 in 2013.

    skippy… exceptionalism at any cost!

    1. ambrit

      I’m assuming this was measured in some ‘neutral’ currency. Or could it be American billionaires as measured in dollars and Chinese billionaires as measured in BRICcoin? Sadly, being a billionaire ain’t the same as it was in granddads time. Something like the difference between having a Gold Record in the ’50s and having one today. Unfortunately, being a wage serf feels the same in any era.

      1. ambrit

        Why should he. He’s got Tony Abbott licking his crusty a—hole clean for him back in Oz. (Aussies feel free to tear me a new a—hole if you think I’m full of it.)

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          100% correct. The tilt to the far right by Australia is shocking. Now Abbott’s claiming he has emails from people saying they want to behead, so they can pass some laws that let them spy more and hold without charges. I say let us see the emails…or I call bullshit

        2. Skippy

          Tony was recently observed getting Murdoch’s opinion on state matters before his own party room at a dinner.

          “Tony Abbott briefed Rupert Murdoch on paid parental leave before party room”


          skippy… our political compass now spins wildly… as if there is no true north or south… methinks the hurdygurdy will spectacularly explode at some point…

          PS. a nice summation – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-12/crabb-parental-leave-when-ideology-and-policy-collide/5517934

    1. Antonin

      Matt Yglesias is not a great source of insights on economic matters, as much as he tries. He sprinkles his proprietary mix of against-the-grain concern-trolling over conventional knowledge and call it a day. We can all do better with our time.

    1. JefeMT

      I look at the chart and scratch my chin and think,
      ‘ I wonder what an overlay of historical tax rates would look like on this baby…’
      Tax rates were very very high for a very very few during the days of progressive tax policy. It’s not that unremarkable to me that that money now goes, like every other loose penny in America, right down the gullet of Wall Street, and trickles up accordingly. Well, maybe not a trickle…

      1. Gerard Pierce

        I don’t know if I believe myself what follows here, but I find it plausible.

        We have always missed the point on those high progressive tax rates. They were politically inspired and intended to go after the greedy bastards of the .01%. Beyond that, the guys that made the progressive rules did not worry a lot about basic fairness. Kind of like: “Kill them all – the IRS will know their own”.

        Back in those days, Ronald Reagan was a struggling B actor where the rules of the game insured that without a lot of luck you would hardly make any money in your lifetime. Most actors like him wound up waiting tables and dying poor.

        When Reagan hit it sort-of big he had a couple of good years. He made some money but was not prepared for a Hollywood system and a tax system that was not going to let him keep any of it.

        So he sold out. He sold out SAG and he went where the money was. He built a political career on sticking it to the people who took what he thought he had earned. And considering the financial risks of being a B actor he may very well have earned it.

        He went after a tax system that did not take into account struggling B actors, and today we are all paying the price.

        1. Oregoncharles

          Actually, in those days there was a (federal) provision for income “windfalls” – freak good years, like winning the lottery, or making a lot of money on a couple of movies. You could average that income over 5 years, forward or back, thus paying in a lower bracket. (I know this because I had to do it.) It made for a complicated tax return, but could be much fairer. It wouldn’t help a plutocrat who made huge amounts year in and year out. That provision was dropped – under Reagan?

          Of course, this didn’t address Hollywood’s business model.

          1. Gerard Pierce

            That one was called Income Averaging. When I got out of the military, I finally had a year where I actually had a half-way decent salary.

            It took me about five hours to figure out how to fill out the Income Averaging forms. It took me three tries because I couldn’t believe that Income Averaging increased my tax refund by a whopping $35.00. Of course I wasn’t making “real money” and I wasn’t a B actor.

            I was a progressive until I became a Shakespearean: “A plague on both their houses”.

            These days, I look at progressive plans, even including progressive taxation, and I wonder who is making a buck off the BS they sell us — and who is being damaged by ideologues who really don’t give a damn.

            Reagan was both collateral damage and blowback.

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            It wasn’t five years, it was three year income averaging. I used it once. They changed it in an interim year to four year averaging, then got rid of it.

    2. Banger

      Yes, but for the pitchforks to come out we have compete with Obama’s coffee cup. The majority of the American people don’t want to know how badly they are being ripped off–they’re waiting for the new i-phone, the next vacation, the next toy, the next pair of shoes.

      1. ambrit

        I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but here Deep South, there are people begging on the streets, usually at an entrance to a Wal Mart parking lot. A lot of them are people who would have been institutionalized in the pre Reagan days. I had this flash a few days ago about how a leftist agitator could start the avalanche rolling by coaching those homeless people on how to identify and stalk rich people. Sort of a Sixth Column approach. Speaking about the Fifth Column idea; it’s beginning to look like Franco was a Prophet. He saw the future, and acted accordingly.

        1. Banger

          I live in the Charlotte area and I see a lot of people everyday and am friends with all types from upper-middle to non-working. But if you talk to those at the bottom they are filled with absurd notions and fantasies and their own “stuff”–the solidarity that workers once felt seems absent. I see radicalism in some of my young anarchist friends, mainly musicians and their consciousness is pretty good. I don’t even see a slight chance of a working class/poor alliance for social change. People who get up past the extreme poverty edge resent those below them–even one of my very intelligent friends who had to actually leave high school to support her insane family. She got out why can’t others? But she’s open to new ideas–it’s just that the left in the U.S. has not presented a world view that intelligent working class and below people can grasp. I’m friends also with a highly intelligent middle-aged ex-substance abuser, ex-con who would have to be guided step-by-step to understand what we talk about here at NC–he’s trying to keep his head above water–how is a radical movement going to help him? And that’s my point–if you want to create a political movement you have to help the people I know not hurl ideas at them–cause they won’t stick. Probably both of us were lucky to get a decent education so that, in my case at least, I can say I have taken part in what Mortimer Adler called the “Great Conversation.” But that era, that hope, is over as anyone who has encountered academia in recent years can attest–it is in decline, not dead, but in general decline for sure.

          1. Oregoncharles

            Sounds like you have a book to write, or perhaps a series of articles, not so random as comments.

            Also: you’re describing the wall the Green Party has been banging its head on for a couple of decades now. If you can open some doors through it, we’d be EXTREMELY interested.

            I’m pretty sure there’s a NC Green Party; they’d be your best starting point. You could contact me through the Oregon party website, http://www.pacificgreens.org, and I could try to carry ideas to the US party.

            In short: the above is one of the most illuminating posts I’ve seen today. You should be writing articles, not just comments; maybe you are.

            1. Banger

              Well, stay tuned–something is in the works.

              My model for political action originally was the Communist Party in Italy before it was the victim of its own false sense of security and black operations directed against it which culminated in 1978 with the Aldo Moro assassination which ended, largely, the left in Italy. Interestingly that is the same year that the Democratic Party in the U.S. turned right forever by focusing its fund-raising and organizing on the corporate sector.

              The Communist delivered tangible things to their constituents–they did not wait for the state to do anything–they helped people directly which gave them solid support from the industrial proletariat and the artists and intellectuals. Sadly the PCI as it was called in those days, were overconfident and divided by radical elements who, it turns out, were working against them (see Operation Gladio for more info)

              If the left wants to resurrect in the U.S. it will have to do things for people and not just advocate for policies. It should be glaringly obvious to anyone who has been reading NC for awhile or just paying attention now that all governmental institutions are at least partly corrupt–the feds being the worst by far. We need to take things in our own hands now and organize as diptherio suggests through cooperatives and other structures to meet our needs and see the government for what it is an occupying force that overthrew the Republic.

              Having said all that my analysis brings me to the fact that we need to start at the beginning which is basic philosophy and metaphysics. We are suffering from a massive collapse of morality in our society that must be addressed by redefining and updating some definition of “good” and therefor evil.

              1. Oregoncharles

                I’ve heard this suggestion before. It’s the model of, eg, Hezbollah, or the Black Panther Party.
                Trouble is, it’s a HUGE amount of work. Greens have enough trouble just functioning as an electoral party; running social services would be a whole new ball game. Granted, it might draw in people who want to do that. some very strategic choices are called for – any idea what service would be a good place to start, with no money?

                And I’d like to know how the Panthers (of honored memory) and Hesbollah did it.

                1. Ulysses

                  In a far more recent example, Occupy Sandy made tremendous inroads with people who were completely unmoved by the initial Occupy movement.
                  I’ve been very impressed with the people of Make the Road New York that I have dealt with in Queens. They do a lot of great local services and grassroots organizing in the Latino community. Their biggest limitation, from my perspective, is that, unlike the Panthers, they are often too deferential to traditional D party power-brokers in the city. Nonetheless, they go ahead and tackle problems that are left ignored by politicians.

                  Another, far more radical, group that does wonders with very little money is the Catholic Workers Movement, whose members are frequently thrown in jail for their direct actions against the war machine here in the U.S.


          2. ambrit

            I was a teenager in1972, living on Miami Beach. I saw both major party conventions from both inside, as a grunt, and on the street. There were some borderline riots, one set up by the cops, and the full flowering of the Flower Generation. ’72 might have been our last chance to save the old system. George McGovern and “Clean” Gene McCarthy! I remember laughing as I made a placard saying, “There’s a Big Dick in Your Future.” My dad dared me to carry it in a demonstration in front of the Convention Centre. I did. Try doing that now.

          3. Ed Walker

            This seems right to me: I don’t think the left has done anything to show a coherent world view that holds promise of improvement in the lives of the worst-off. I think the reason is that the left abandoned the entire field of economics, business, finance and counter-capitalism narratives beginning in the 50s, and accelerating with every subsequent election.

            Now a few people are starting to engage, especially Yves and the other frontpagers and the commenters here, but it is almost impossible to see a theoretical way forward. The deadwood of the entire economics profession is heavily invested in their “childish passion for mathematics”, as Piketty calls it, and its nearly total indifference to evidence, as Piketty tells us backhandedly. As a result, there isn’t much help in academic economics, and indeed there is enormous resistance. Think of all the economists who complain that Piketty doesn’t have a “model”.

            I think you are right to say that this effort is useless unless we can explain how any proposed change will help people. It’s too scary to most people to have changes in social structures with out a reasonably clear way forward.

          4. Fiver

            The ‘working class and poor’ are what the educated elite and well-off have made of them. They can be ‘un-made’ by incorporating them into the Project, i.e., the re-making of our world before we kill it, that Project being the responsibility of everyone who knows, or comes to know, the extreme peril of our situation and trajectory.

            The failure lies with the portion of the elite that did not/does not have the courage at any point to draw its own red line vs major State or corporate criminal or clearly immoral conduct it was prepared to seriously defend. The problem is the majority of educated people are as clueless as the ‘masses’ with respect to the vitals of our world and prefer to keep it that way, as knowing conveys with it some sense of responsibility to act.

            I can’t imagine any sort of ‘movement’ now emerging from the former ‘grass roots’ of the old coalitions – they are too fractured, shrunken, ossified, tired. Chris Hedges speaks directly to these issues. The people that have to be first, animated, and then organized are those segments of the broad elite whose efforts support the entire structure, and without whom the system cannot function. Wall Street, Washington and MSM have largely succeeded in convincing the public that they are those key elite elements, the indispensable ones – but nothing could be further from the truth. The current leadership elite is by any reasonable standard violently, criminally insane – but they need many more educated, skilled people for each one of them in order to rule. It is those groups that actually have the clout to force fundamental change. They are smart, they probably already know we cannot go on like this. We need to find a way for them to go on strike – the entire globe would march with them.

        1. jefemt

          Brindle, your comment made me wonder if one in 4 americans are self employed, sole proprietor ‘making a living , not slaying it’ types? The USA Today article framed everything and appears to have looked through a ‘worker/employee’ lens.
          As anyone self employed knows, a day off is a day without earned income, so days off can hurt, especially if one is living on the margins (where ecologists insist species thrive… but that is another subject). I personally finally have learned to take an opportune hour or two here and there, and enjoy the local offerings on little known streams, or under-hunted areas, with my dogs in tow or lead, depending.
          As a lawyer friend once mused, “You better charge enough, and collect enough, or you’d be better off taking the day to fish. You make the same, and have a hell of a lot more fun!”
          I wonder what the stats are in those other nations on small-time operators, sole proprietors, and business structures, in terms of a mandated funded paid vaca. You all want to buy me a week in Alaska?

          1. Oregoncharles

            Self-employed people are a much higher proportion in Europe, mainly, I suspect, because of health care.
            Have you priced fish lately? You may be making more on fishing days than you think. A week’s worth of high-quality protein is worth a great deal. in real as well as monetary terms. So is mental health, as you’ve learned.

            1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

              Score another for hunting and gathering.

              No student debt (not much, and definitely less than 16 years of ‘education’ – plus free propaganda/brainwashing – to get started as a novice hunter-gatherer) necessary to learn the trade either.

            2. John Zelnicker

              You are correct. It is much easier to leave a corporate job for self-employment (and self-actualization) when there is a decent safety net so that you know if you fail your family will not be destitute. IIRC there is some empirical evidence that this is a major reason for the greater number of self-employed in Europe.

          2. jonboinAR

            I and many of my friends spent a good portion of our work lives as “self-employed contractors”, that is, our bosses pretended, for the purposes of an employer’s responsibility, that we were contractors. They provided us with essentially no benefits because we “worked for ourselves”. Yet, for our part, we knew that if we failed to show up on time daily (7 or 8 depending), and failed to toe the line or refused any order, said orders coming immediately and often, as at any job, that we would be summarily fired. In other words, we did not “pretend to work” as in the old Soviet adage, we showed up on time and busted our butts for fear of immediately losing our livelihood. Not that in our workdays we were particularly abused, but the freedom implied in the term “self-employed” simply didn’t exist.

            At this time and for the past several years I have been blessed to have good, old-fashioned employment with normal benefits and everything, but all I’ve ever known “self-employment” to mean is either that you’re scratching around as a handiman helping people install their dishwasher, building their deck or painting their bedroom, and crap like that, or working a steady job that provides zero benefits (of which, I’m here to tell you, in the ’80’s through the 00’s, don’t know about now, there were plenty – and demanding a fairly high level of skill, often!.) Me and my friends pretty much always, by necessity, opted for the latter, but carried on the former after regular work hours.

            1. John Zelnicker

              In the situation you describe “self-employment” is a smoke screen to avoid taxes, etc., by the employer. It is still wage labor. True self-employment is the entrepreneur who answers to no one but her clients.

  3. John

    Obama gets a massive pass on inequality as the chart shows. Huge protests in NY over the weekend demonstrated that. Folks rightfully protested the inaction on climate change but organizers had no concrete solutions and totally missed the issue of ginormous inequality, which are connected.

    Here is a portion of Obama’s speech addressing the UN General Assembly yesterday. The way he put it the USA is on the amends on inequality. Move along, nothing to see here is his way of keeping the focus elsewhere and away from his unequal policies. Notice he mentions — rule of law — democracy — race, and the money shot “…and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and their circumstances and their countries for the better.”
    Naturally, Obama had to show us his inner Republican agenda. The upward distribution of wealth was no accident.

    Excerpt from Obama’s UN General Assembly Speech — 24 Sep:
    “I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within its own borders. This is true. In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri — where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So, yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.

    But we welcome the scrutiny of the world — because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems, to make our union more perfect, to bridge the divides that existed at the founding of this nation. America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals, and we are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. Because we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and independent judiciary. Because we address our differences in the open space of democracy — with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and every religion; and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and their circumstances and their countries for the better.

    After nearly six years as President, I believe that this promise can help light the world. Because I have seen a longing for positive change — for peace and for freedom and for opportunity and for the end to bigotry — in the eyes of young people who I’ve met around the globe.”

    1. timbers

      Heard snips of his UN speech. Vomit inducing. Lecturing others on the evils of their wanting to be an empire as he bombs at will. He is such a liar and Dems are silent crickets to his lies. It’s painful to listen to him at times (usually it’s just boring).

      There is an entertaining FB poster called Bitchy Pundit. At first she was a total Obama shill and big ACA supporter. I kept needling some of her posts. Over time, she began to avoid topics it was easy to skewer her on … like how Obama showed Putin up in Syria chemical weapons, or ACA cut the deficit or will eliminate medical bankruptcies in America, or how Obama supports higher wages….all things one can easily demolish with simple facts. Now she mostly posts on guns, or Mitch McConnell or Limbaugh or some bad Republican. Like Racheal Maddow – never criticize Obama, just Republican even if Obama is worse on the subject. Guess in Obamabot land that close to being as non controversial as you can get

      1. Banger

        She may be a paid shill. PR firms have a stable of twenty something bloggers with large student debt who FB and blog all day long under a variety of names. I’ve met some of them.

          1. Banger

            Quite simple. First there is no tangible and visible “left” what there is of it is fragmented and weak. And of course it is not organized–there is no “there” there from a political POV.

            Having said that some of us do comment on a variety of public areas–but we get banned. I’ve been banned by DailyKos (twice) and HuffPost. I occasionally say something under my real name at WaPost the only mainstream paper I have some small respect for–it was my hometown paper for many decades of my life.

            1. Ulysses

              Some of my I.W.W. and ecosocialist friends are pretty social media savvy, making sure that there are at least some alternatives to the MSM propaganda Wurlitzer on FB, Twitter, etc. Yet you’re absolutely right, the faux progressive Obots are far more dedicated to “making memes go viral,” than anyone else.

            1. Fiver

              Actually I think there is, and beyond the fragmented pockets of discussion and activity that have been on-going since the Actually, A Depression, as seen with real engagement on environmental and social justice issues along with Occupy etc.

              I think the US has about the same number of people on a percentage basis with a definable core characteristic and belief set that typifies someone who people anywhere would associate with ‘left’ as seen in other democracies. That’s the value of a Third Party with 15% of the vote – instead of going for power directly, you tell the truth. The truth goes on the record for the first time in years and demands all the answers at once. The truth is fact and evidence based. The truth requires meeting a number of conditions reliably, conditions requiring re-energizing the sense of the importance and seriousness and maturity and intelligence needed to be considered qualified for public office at all. A vigorous, open, critical, gutsy, idea-embracing Third Party can embarrass the whole lot of them into again acting like thinking beings or be tossed out en masse by ‘masses’ who know the better act from the worse.

          2. Oregoncharles

            That’s what I’m doing – but unpaid (I’m mostly retired. From self-employment.)

            We don’t pay people to do it because we don’t have money to burn – and we do have volunteers, since it’s kind of fun.

            Find us the funds, we’ll pay people to do it.

            But the truth is, nc is an example of what you’re talking about, on a self-employed basis. Send them some bucks if you have any to spare.

        1. RUKidding

          Possibly a paid shill, but I know plenty who, if they bothered to blog or be on Facebook, would be doing the same shuck ‘n jive for their Sainted Savior (still!!) Obama. No amount of facts can dissuade them from their Magical Thinking that Obama is just the greatest man + most wonderfulest Pres, and any & all ills or wrongs are solely & only the fault of the mean bully Republicans. Defies logic & imagination. Some I know have *directed* me to never ever again discuss Obama with them; they do NOT want to know the truth. The end.

    2. fresnodan

      Obama has managed to not only reduce the share going to the lower strata, but has managed to take back a good portion. I am pretty sure the next demopublican will begin Soylent green ….(when they’ve taken all your possessions, the only thing left is your meat – and not the meat in your refrigerator)

      1. timbers

        Time to start watching re-runs of Walking Dead to brush up on how we will be living soon in the future.
        “Obama has managed to not only reduce the share going to the lower strata, but has managed to take back a good portion.” – perhaps first/only Prez in recent history to accomplish this wonderful feat?

  4. proximity1

    The authors of this report agree that rising inequality is not inevitable:

    “Worse Than the Great Depression: What the Experts Are Missing About American Manufacturing Decline”
    March 19, 2012
    | Reports
    Authors: Robert D. Atkinson, Luke A. Stewart, Scott M. Andes and Stephen Ezell

    “The loss of U.S. manufacturing is not due to some inexorable shift to a post-industrial economy; it is due to a failure of U.S. policies (for example, underinvestment in manufacturing technology support policies and a corporate tax rate that is increasingly uncompetitive) and the expansion of other nations’ mercantilist policies.”

    1. James Levy

      I wish some economist would challenge this “corporate taxes make us uncompetitive” meme by comparing the capital costs of land, new plant, and equipment overseas, the costs of translating everything into other languages and the metric system, the cost of training all these foreigners to do these jobs, and the transportation costs of material to and goods from these overseas manufacturing sites and how this is in any way less than what corporations actually pay in corporate taxes (or, like GE, year after year DON’T pay in corporate taxes). This has got to be a testable hypothesis that can be proved or disproved. Please encourage anyone any of you may know to do this research and put this bullshit to bed.

      1. proximity1

        True, I hear you. But these authors apparently either didn’t and don’t or, they’re merely listing various possible examples–valid or not–of how a manufucturing loss is not, after all, inevitable. Getting everyone to agree that the corporate tax rates aren’t in fact “uncompetitive”–even if that is as a matter of fact true, as I happen to agree– is probably not (yet) possible. We can’t even rid ourselves of a proven theoretical monster which is not only demonstrably false but continues, after some 80 years or more, to wreak havoc upon the world’s economies.

        I couldn’t, on my own, excise that remark about uncompetitive corporate tax rates from the citation–since it was a part of their examples. That doesn’t mean I regard that aspect of their views as valid, however.

    2. ambrit

      I know it’s now treated like some loathsome disease, but the corporate tax rate issue is spun deliberately rightward. The proper response to a foreign state’s mercantilist policies is a system of tariffs. Everyone official forgets to mention that you can avoid the trap of crapification by simply opting out of the race to the bottom.

      1. jonboinAR

        I’m in favor of tariffs. As far as I can tell, they are my friend. I agree with you that the way to opt out of the global race to the bottom doesn’t take a Thorium engineer to figure out.

      2. Fiver

        “Everyone official forgets to mention that you can avoid the trap of crapification by simply opting out of the race to the bottom.”

        In fairness to the generic ‘official’, even mentioning it is liable to get him removed from his paycheck. Any important country that tried to ‘opt out’ now would be targeted. Can you imagine Japan saying ‘That’s it. We’re done. We’re out of this insane race to the bottom. We’re going our own way.”? Done abruptly such a thing would destroy the global financial system. Cripes, small Central American countries or any size South American countries still can’t ‘opt out’ without being severely and continually punished until they’re smart enough to choose a US-friendly Government and system neoliberally designed for maximum screwing.

  5. John

    Why is this any surprise?
    Every worker in this country knows they’ve been falling down in wages, benefits and retirement (like in NONE) for years.
    While the rent, utilities, and food have skyrocketed.

    1. Banger

      And still they support the status quo and are in denial–interesting. Now they all are happy about going after ISIS and next year it will be another new “Hitler” or maybe now they have done enough audience testing to know that you don’t demonize one guy but a group loosely defined as “radicals” and then we ask people to report on “radical” activity in their communities.

      1. ambrit

        I know that it’s not PC but I tell people when that subject comes up to remember the fates of collaborators in the underworld or during periods of occupation.

  6. timbers

    Great graph. It’s something many of knew, with different words and examples to describe it, but not as crystal clear as this.

    I frequently press my Dem friends that empirically Obama is the most right wing Prez in history (using TPP = feudalism as one ex) and that anyone who voted Obama voted the most worst possible candidate, not even close. Especially like pointing this out to Dems who post liberal items on FB that Obama is against in his actions what they are posting about. They don’t like that.

    I voted Green.

    1. RUKidding

      While I subscribe to the theory that our votes don’t matter, I also encourage others to vote what is disingenuously called “third” party. I get a lot of enraged D-voters castigating me for “wasting” my vote (as IF) or how this is supporting “the other side” (what “other” side? I only see one side, myself). Etc.

      At least attempting to get “third” parties out into the national conversation might get some new ideas aired.

      What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over & over but expecting a different result. I only vote for the legacy parties in very specific races at the state and local level, where I have some reason to believe that said politician will, actually, act more for the interests of the 99s. At the Fed level? ONLY alternate parties or no vote, when given no other options.

        1. jonboinAR

          I voted Dr Jill. The first administration I voted for Obama because I was afraid JM would get us into war. Pffft!! (Actually, thinking about that as I type, I’m afraid that I’d have to vote Obama again if the situation were to recur. That other ticket was ridiculous in a horrifying way. We might all be glass by now.) I plan to vote 3rd party next time, too. That’s 6 of us? Hey! I think we have a (VERY, VERY tiny) movement going!

  7. timbers

    Just wanted to add….

    After Obama was re-elected, some said now he could move left because he was free from some of politics to do wanted he wanted.

    Couldn’t help but thinking why anyone thought Obama would move left when freed from politics. Of course he would and has moved right.

    1. RUKidding

      Yes: how bogus was that line of thinking, but I sure know a whole lotta people who bought it hook, line & sinker. And quite honestly, they are all champing at the bit to vote for Hillary. It’s frightening.

      1. jonboinAR

        Do any of you think that Obama/Hillary are not left relative to say, Bush/Romney, at all, nor the latter rightward, but that the mainstream candidates are really exactly the same, responding to their masters, that they really are nothing but front men for the same, whatever-its-called, oligarchy or whatever, that only those vetted in that way have any chance of gaining the major party nominations?

        1. proximity1

          In a word, yes, that summary is roughly how I see it, them. There are always nuances in anything as complicated as comparing people and groups, but, those nuances aside, I can say that, for all practical intents and purposes, we might just as well have a Bush or a Romney as an Obama or a Clinton. The self-same system, after all, worked–as intended–to make all these people the next-to-inevitable result. As some have actually pointed out, there are certain particular instances of policy and executive administration where, incredibly, Bush did an objectively better job–or at least some of his appointed minions did–than has either Obama or his minions.

  8. TG

    If you look at the data carefully, you will see there is a strong inflection point at the end of the 1970’s. That’s when the share going to bottom 90% really started to plunge. That’s also when the current cheap-labor immigration policy started to get big enough to really affect labor markets (This cheap-labor policy was nominally begun in 1965, but the absolute numbers were initially very low).

    For societies without an open frontier, when populations are forced upwards too rapidly, this is ALWAYS the result. Supply and demand, people, supply and demand.

    1. sd

      I peg the change for labor to the 1981 air traffic controllers strike. What power does Labor have if the President of the United States can effectively step in and fire you?

      Taft-Hartley has to go so that Labor can have a voice again.

    2. Banger

      It was also when the Democratic Party put a for rent sign up on its headquarters and started going after corporate money. Having said that the late 70s showed a dramatic revulsion for the changes of the sixties and early seventies. People wanted to return to “normalicy” and for most Americans that means a clearly hierarchical society run by some combination of “experts” and bosses who know better. They wanted “morning in America” they wanted to get “back to work” and play with all the new toys credit cards could buy and Asian labor could produce. We wanted to “get Vietnam behind us” so we could repeat in every detain more of the same which we eventually did.

      The difference now is that, at that time, there was social capital and room to grow–now all that is gone.

      1. wbgonne

        Excellent analysis. It sure seems that America is in the late-stages of empire. And we Americans are living it, if not facilitating our own decline. The level of denial, stupidity and greed we now display may be the probable response of a people who have lived entire lives as privileged citizens of Colossus America and now simply can’t accept any other reality but, however predictable, that response will surely fail to arrest the decline and will likely accelerate it. Some people understand this and exploit those human foibles for even more selfish purposes. Those people run the Democratic and the Republican parties.

    3. Jagger

      —-That’s also when the current cheap-labor immigration policy started to get big enough to really affect labor markets —-

      Women in the labor force went from around 45% to 75% between 1970 and 1988. Definite impact on labor markets as well.

  9. Banger

    Stunning graphic! It shows the increasing power-shift towards the super-rich and further illustrates what Chris Hedges has described as our move towards neo-feudalism. He carefully shows, in his books, how we are moving in that direction politically and culturally–he like me see no counter-movement. The media won’t tell this story and the American people really don’t want to know. I talk to working class people all the time and, unless they are young (they seem open) they don’t want to hear about it and will just change the subject.

    1. ambrit

      The most receptive group to this message I have encountered are boomer parents watching their children sink into poverty and peonage. These parents see clearly the rigging of the game because they were promised something completely different. So much for the sanctity of (social) contracts!

      1. RUKidding

        I am a boomer, and nearly everyone I know is still firmly wedded to their TEAM uber alles. IOW, my R-voter friends/acquaintances are firmly entrenched in their Fox/Rush viewpoints. And my D-Voter friends worship at the shrines to Obama that they have erected in their homes, and they cannot wait to vote for HRC.

        It’s quite disheartening. Many of the people I know are utterly in denial about how bad things have gotten. Don’t ask me how they can be so blind to reality. As AA says: Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

        There is still a somewhat large enough cohort who doing *just* good enough, that they are still clinging and grasping to the ancient regime for all it’s worth in the false belief that, by doing so, THEY will be “ok.” If others aren’t OK? Too bad, so sad, sucks to be you, you’re probably lazy and worthless.

        1. Jim Haygood

          ‘My D-Voter friends worship at the shrines to Obama that they have erected in their homes.’

          So many are the documented miracles resulting from Obama’s determined droning [his missiles, not his speeches] that Saint Barack is a shoo-in for the fast track to posthumous sainthood.

        2. Sufferin' Succotash

          That’s part of what made Ferguson so disturbing, aside from the racial aspect and the local police who looked like SS troopers on the Eastern Front in 1942. It’s the disturbing glimpse at what crappy lives so many Americans lead nowadays–and not all of them African Americans by a long shot. Crappy economic opportunities, crappy public services, crappy politics, crappy legal system. There are decaying blue-collar communities in the Northeast where all people seem to do for a living is sell each other pizza and do each other’s nails. Popular responses gravitate between rage and resignation, both equally pointless.
          This will change eventually, but the change will have nothing to do with whoever happens to be sitting in the White House.

        3. Martin Finnucane

          There is strategic hate management on both sides, each reinforcing the other in subtle ways – in the sense of “there but not quite in view.” So Obama salutes the Airforce 2 marine guard guy while holding a cup of coffee. Fox news types froth at the mouth at his brazen uppity marxism or whatever. Then the Obot cognoscenti types share links claiming that the presidential salute is not a real thing, and think ugly thoughts about the cro-magnons on the “other side.”

          One side’s hate management produces more raw material for the other side’s hate management. The peasantry cheers and jeers from the sidelines.

          I have Obotic friends/family who like to post political stuff on their facebook pages. I find it remarkable that O makes the most astounding W-esque moves – sponsoring a fascist putsch in the Ukraine (e.g.), aligning with Al-Qaeda in Syria to overthrow a sovereign state (e.g.) – and the response from my Obot liberals is silence. But let’s plaster our facebooks with posts about how stupid the red-stater racist MSNBC-hating blah blah people when it comes to their attitudes toward “our” president.

          Something that I’ve learned is that the blind and willfully ignorant tribalism that I thought uniquely characterized the angry white guys on the right (“What’s wrong with Kansas?”) in fact is just as pervasive amongst the respectable left-libs.

          Two last words: Huffington Post.

          1. Banger

            Excellent! I have finally come to abhor both “sides.” I have two sets of two words: 1) Professional Wrestling; and 2) Reality TV.

      2. Banger

        Yes, I do know some of those people–they certainly are worried and many of them are no longer blaming their kids. But most are still in denial.

  10. Brindle

    Obama—“…and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and their circumstances and their countries for the better.”

    This is the core piece of propaganda; that the lone individual is the vehicle for the improvement of communities and nations. Divide and conquer, and for the MOTU’s and TPTB having citizens believe that individual action is their only or best way of creating positive change, well, at that point the elites have mostly won.

  11. indio007

    trickle down economics continues. The data had been saying for a long time that trickle down actually equals flood up.

  12. Enquiring Mind

    It is surprising that someone hasn’t yet started targeting token plutocrats.
    (I’m not advocating that.)
    That would be an echo of some of the animus of the French Revolution.

    1. sufferin' succotash

      That’s all the excuse the Powers That Be would need.
      If any one-percenter suffers so much as a hangnail this country would be on permanent lockdown.
      Keeping us safe, dontcha know.

  13. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Perhaps we can finally say, ‘growth is not the answer.’

    ‘My young graduate friend, there’s a great future in distribution.’

  14. kevinearick

    Birth Control & Economics

    Be at the gate, with the correct tools, and go through the gate when it opens. Don’t follow the majority, because the majority ‘works’ off the fear of ignorance, willingly selling its free will for toys. The empire participants will be crowding the door that does not open, because they have turned it into an extortion toll booth.

    Birth control is quite simple. Keep the female’s womb cool and/or variable. There are a thousand ways to do that. You have the Internet.

    Going to the medical scientists is like going to the used car lot. You are going to pay too much, you are going to pay exorbitant interest and you are going to pay a penalty, for being stupid. The moment you walk onto that lot, you lost, because you entering a contract made to be broken, as the weaker party.

    The used car salesperson is simply supplying a demand, albeit an artificial one. Without economic mobility, at will, you are a commodity, subject to increasing rent on decreasing make-work income, consuming more and more of your time, away from your children, on the way back to the DNA churn pool.

    Bloomberg is a commodity. He can fly here, there and everywhere, but he cannot exit his economic status, no matter where he goes. If you do not provide the building with an elevator, all inhabitants consume their own waste. Have your food and water analyzed some time.

    Labor could fix those elevators in the global cities, employed as extortion toll booths in big city rat races, but it’s not going to. Whether the majority dies off slowly, quickly, or halts at an equilibrium is up to the majority.

    Because the majority votes to redefine the lower middle class as labor, for the purpose of exploitation, doesn’t make it so. The water line is now up to the neck of the upper middle class, playing both capitalist and socialist sides, and continues to rise. Whether it lowers rent in the countryside now or collapses later is irrelevant to labor.

    So, you climb up and down the building, installing door hardware and electrical troughs as you go, gaining experience at each floor, to replace the return line. You install the motor last, and cut the necessary holes in the wall. The empire hires Edison. You want Galileo.

    If you are beating your head against the wall, expecting the majority to change its behavior, stop beating your head against the wall, because the majority cannot change its course of its own volition, no matter how good, bad or indifferent their position becomes.

    From the perspective of the State, a job is a privilege, not a position to be earned. That’s what all those compliance pieces of paper are all about. Good luck with that, disabling the top end of the job market, to maintain the status quo. In the grand scheme of things, the empire is a tiny cubicle, of cubicles.

    No, the regulators, politicians and city managers are not the top of the job market, and the bankers don’t have a clue how an economy really works, What they do know is the gravitational side of the fulcrum.

    At this very moment, yet another critter is about to take preemptive action against me, thinking that real estate inflation is wealth, that he is more intimidating, subjecting himself to commoditization…crack me up.

    1. Ptarmigan

      kind of zombie poetry
      like a soundtrack to fascinating dystopian vision
      thoroughly enjoyable
      stanza size paras

  15. Denis Drew

    If the top 1% income continues to receive all the economic growth, then, by the time the output per person expands 50% (25-30 years?) the top 1% income will “earn” half of a much larger economy (25% + 50% = 75% of 150%). By the time output per person doubles (typically 40-50 years) the equation will read 25% + 100% out of 200% = 62,5% of an even more massive economy.

    Throw in Piketty’s projections — massive inequality of rentier income that will be swallowing up even more income decades out.

    There is a decades past, around the world tested answer. Ask Jimmy Hoffa as I always say — who spent 30 years, fighting (by fair means and foul admittedly) to spread the negotiation of one, single collectively bargained contract with all employees doing similar work with all employees — spreading outward from the jungle of Detroit’s Depression era labor market, finally to the whole country with the Teamsters 1964 National Master Freight Agreement. Without so-called centralized bargaining every union these days is subjected to the race-to-the-bottom if employers can point to someone down the road paying less — more is needed than just organizing, as with card check. Ask poverty level wage supermarket employees since Walmart, etc., destroyed their middle class contracts.

    Oddly enough to an American (me), legally mandated, centralized bargaining was instituted by the industrialists in post WWII Europe — something about fending off a labor union race to the top; thereby conserving more money for rebuilding. Today centralized bargaining can be found all over the world from nearby French Canada to Argentina to Indonesia.

    Which is to say that the most successful labor union in this country and the most successful economies in the world have instituted the only labor market setup I have ever heard of that is fair and balanced. When are we going to pick up on the possibility of instituting legally mandated, centralized bargaining here? It mus begin with talking about it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      Unemployment was vastly lower than it is today, and the measure of unemployment was much more stringent than now. Japan has much lower unemployment than the US and much lower income inequality. High un and underemployment means lower labor bargaining power, which allows for business owners to pay less for workers.

  16. Ignacio 2

    The article could be titled: “How capitalism dies or the story of capital accumulation.”, anyone not blind should not expect differently, capitalism without checks naturally evolves to oligarchy and inequality.

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