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Ground Under Foot

Recovery for the 7 Percent

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

“From the end of the recession in 2009 through 2011 (the last year for which Census Bureau wealth data are available), the 8 million households in the U.S. with a net worth above $836,033 saw their aggregate wealth rise by an estimated $5.6 trillion, while the 111 million households with a net worth at or below that level saw their aggregate wealth decline by an estimated $600 billion.”

–“An Uneven Recovery,” by Richard Fry and Paul Taylor, Pew Research Center.

Since the recession was officially declared to be over in June 2009, I have assured readers that there has been no recovery. Gerald Celente, John Williams (shadowstats.com), and no doubt others have also made it clear that the alleged recovery is an artifact of an understated inflation rate that produces an image of real economic growth.

Now comes the Pew Research Center with its conclusion that the recession ended only for the top 7 percent of households that have substantial holdings of stocks and bonds.  The other 93% of the American population is still in recession.

The Pew report attributes the recovery for the affluent to the rise in the stock and bond markets, but does not say what caused these markets to rise.

The stock market’s recovery does not reflect rising consumer purchasing power and retail sales. The labor force is shrinking, not growing. Job growth lags population growth, and  the few jobs that are
howeconcreated are primarily dead-end jobs in lowly paid domestic services. Retail sales adjusted for inflation and real median household income have been bottom bouncing since 2009.

To the extent that there is profit growth in US corporations, it comes from labor cost savings from offshoring US jobs and from bringing in foreign workers on work visas.  By lowering labor costs, corporations boost profits and thereby capital gains for those 7 percent who have large holdings of  financial assets.  Those in the 93 percent who are displaced by foreign workers experience income reductions.  This transfer of the incomes of the 93 percent to the 7 percent via jobs offshoring and work visas is the reason for the stark rise in US income inequality.

Another source of the stock market’s rise is the Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing, that is, the printing of $1,000 billion dollars annually with which to support the too-big-to-fail banks’ balance sheets and to finance the federal budget deficit. The cash that the Fed is pouring into the banks is not finding its way into business and consumer loans, but the money is available for the banks to speculate in derivatives and stock market futures.  Thus, the Fed’s policy, which is directed at keeping afloat a few oversized banks, also benefits the 7 percent by driving up the value of their stock portfolios.

The reason bond prices are so high that real interest rates are negative is that the Fed is purchasing $1,000 billion of mortgage-backed “securities” and US Treasury debt annually. The lower the Fed forces interest rates, the higher go bond prices.  If you are among the 7 percent, the Fed has produced capital gains for your bond portfolio.  But  if you are a saver among the 93 percent, you are losing purchasing power because the interest you receive is less than the rate of inflation.

The Pew report puts it this way: Since the “recovery” that began in June 2009, wealthy households experienced a 28 percent rise in their net worth, while everyone else lost 4 percent of their assets.

Is this the profile of a democracy in which government serves the public interest, or is it the profile of a financial aristocracy that uses government to grind the population under foot?

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. His latest book The Failure of Laissez-Faire Capitalism. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format.