WHO DESTROYED THE MIDDLE CLASS – PART 1
“Over the last thirty years, the United States has been taken over by an amoral financial oligarchy, and the American dream of opportunity, education, and upward mobility is now largely confined to the top few percent of the population. Federal policy is increasingly dictated by the wealthy, by the financial sector, and by powerful (though sometimes badly mismanaged) industries such as telecommunications, health care, automobiles, and energy. These policies are implemented and praised by these groups’ willing servants, namely the increasingly bought-and-paid-for leadership of America’s political parties, academia, and lobbying industry.” – Charles Ferguson – Predator Nation
The Federal Reserve released its Survey of Consumer Finances last week. It’s a fact filled 80 page report they issue every three years to provide a financial snapshot of American households. As you can see from the chart above, the impact of the worldwide financial collapse has been catastrophic to most of the households in the U.S. A 39% decline in median net worth over a three year time frame is almost incomprehensible. Even worse, the decline has surely continued for the average American household through 2012 as home prices have continued to fall. Median family income plunged by 7.7% over a three year time frame and has not recovered since the collection of this data 18 months ago. Even more shocking is the fact that median household income was $48,900 in 2001. Families are making 6.3% less today than they were a decade ago. These figures are adjusted for inflation using the BLS massaged CPI figures. Anyone not under the influence of psychotic drugs or engaged as a paid shill for the financial oligarchy knows that inflation is purposely under reported in order to keep the masses sedated and pacified. The real decline in median household income is in excess of 20% since 2001.
The destruction of the blue collar jobs has been underway since the early 1970s. And the relentless decline in real blue collar wages has followed a bumpy downward path for decades. Sadly, the average person doesn’t understand the insidious destruction caused to their lives by the Federal Reserve generated inflation, as they actually believe their wages today are higher than they were in 1973. The reality is the oligarchy has used foreign wage differentials and the perceived benefits of globalization to ship manufacturing and now service jobs to Asia while using their captured mainstream media to convince the average American that this has been beneficial to their lives. Using one of their 15 credit cards to buy cheap foreign goods made by people who took their jobs was never so easy. I wonder if the benefits of being able to buy cheap Chinese electronics, toxic dog food, and slave labor produced igadgets outweighed the $2.3 trillion increase in consumer debt, 27% decline in real wages, 7 million manufacturing jobs lost since the mid-1970s, 46 million people on food stamps, $15 trillion increase in the National Debt since 1978, and a gutted decaying industrial base.
Not only have the oligarchs gutted our industrial base, resulting in enormous job losses among middle aged industrial workers, but they are now in the process of impoverishing the youth of this country by sucking them into crushing college debt with the false promise of decent paying jobs when they graduate with a degree in feminist studies from the University of Phoenix. The fabricated mantra that a college education guarantees a good paying job and a better future is not borne out by the facts. There are over 4,800 institutions of higher learning in this country, with only about 50 considered elite. There are another few hundred top notch institutions, with a few thousand mediocre schools and hundreds of for profit on-line diploma mills exploiting the easy Federal government debt to lure millions into their profit scheme of bilking unemployed naïve middle aged dupes and eventually the American taxpayer. The average student loan debt per student is $29,000. Student loan debt outstanding has risen from $200 billion in 2000 to over $1 trillion today. The Federal Government is blowing another bubble. They are the issuer, regulator and guarantor of these loans. They are making the loans with teaser rates to the ultimate in subprime borrowers – students without jobs going for worthless degrees at mediocre schools. The taxpayer is on the hook for the billions in loses that will surely follow. The payoff for this quadrupling of debt has been an 8% real decline in wages for college graduates since 2000. The monetary policies of the Federal Reserve and bipartisan fiscal policies of our government have led to this dreadful job market for the middle class.
The mainstream media dutifully reported a few key highlights from the Federal Reserve report and moved onto more important issues like Snooki’s pregnancy and the octomom’s new porno gig. We certainly couldn’t expect business journalists at Bloomberg, CNBC, NYT, or CNN to actually analyze the data, produce an intelligent dialogue of the causes, and reach a conclusion that the affluent and influential on Wall Street and in Washington DC caused the average family in this country to endure tremendous hardship while the oligarchy plundered and pillaged the countryside, stuffing their pockets with ill-gotten gains. Each of the ideological camps within the oligarchy trot out the usual suspects to blame the other ideological camp, while doing nothing to change the existing paradigm. Krugman and Carville are assigned the task of blaming Republican policies and dogma for the demise of the middle class. Obama and his minions already had their press release prepared, blaming George Bush and claiming the median family has made tremendous strides since he assumed command in2009. Mitt Romney (worth $250 million), whose pocket change exceeds the annual median household income of $45,800, feels the pain of the average American family and proposes a tax decrease for billionaires and less overbearing regulation on the honorable Wall Street banks in order to help the average family. It’s nothing but Kabuki Theater as the characters play their assigned parts in this elaborate display. Gary Wills cuts right to the chase:
“Yet while the rest of the populace was suffering, the rich just got richer. In 2009 and 2010, years in which millions were unable to find work, the top one percent reaped 93% of the ‘recovery’ income, and corporations are making more than they ever did. And the Republicans can still propose even further cuts in the taxes of ‘job creators’ whose only job creation has been for their own lawyers and lobbyists.”
What you will not receive from the corporate mouthpieces in the mainstream media is an explanation of where the money went, who stole it and why it happened. The theme from the media is the loss in net worth and decade long decline in household income was unavoidable and due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. This is a false storyline perpetrated by those who have stolen your money. It’s been a bipartisan screw job and it was initiated by Clinton, Rubin, Gramm and Leach, who deregulated the banking system in 1999 by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, but made it clear the Greenspan Put would always be in place to protect the banks from their own recklessness, greed and hubris. As a result, Wall Street could go ahead and take irresponsible financial system destroying risks in pursuit of vast riches, knowing they could count on the unlimited checkbook of Uncle Sam if things went south, and that’s exactly what happened. Heads they won, tails you lost. It’s good to own the politicians, regulators, and media.
Dude, Where’s My Net Worth?
“Sometime around the year 2010, Xers will hit a hangover mood like that of the Lost in the early 1930s and the Liberty in the late 1760s: a feeling of personal exhaustion mixed with a new public seriousness. The members of this forty- and fiftyish generation will fan out across an unusually wide distribution of personal outcomes, reminiscent of a night at the bingo table. A few will be wildly successful, others totally ruined, and the largest number will have lost a little ground since the days of Boomer midlife.” – Strauss & Howe – Generations – 1991
Neil Howe and Bill Strauss wrote their first generational theory book six years prior to their epic Fourth Turning prophecy. It appears they nailed it. Generation X households saw their net worth crushed, with a 54% loss in three years. The Baby Boomer households also took a beating in this banker engineered financial collapse. The Silent generation has survived this downturn relatively unscathed. Most of the Silents traded down from their primary residence at or near the top of the housing boom. As Neil Howe points out:
“Most sold or annuitized their financial assets at a much better moment in the history of the Dow. Even if they didn’t, they are more likely than Boomers or Xers to be getting retirement checks from defined-benefit corporate or government plans that are unaffected by the market.”
The Millenials and late Xers did not lose much because they didn’t have much to lose. Most did not own a house or stocks. As the economy continues to deteriorate the generational tension builds. The Silents and Boomers, who vote in large numbers, have not and will not vote for anyone who attempts to reform our entitlement system and make it economically viable over the long-term for young people just entering the job market.
The false storyline about the 2007 through 2010 being an aberration in the long term path to prosperity for the average American family is refuted by the following chart.
This chart paints a long-term picture of generational inequality that has been going on over the last three decades. Over three decades the Silent generation has seen their median real net worth increase by 133%, while GenX has seen their median real net worth decrease by 55% compared to the same age cohort in 1983. Only those 55 and over have seen a real improvement in their net worth over the last 27 years. Considering this period encompassed a seventeen year bull market and the GDP grew from $3.5 trillion to $15.7 trillion, a 450% increase, a few bucks should have trickled down to the average household. Even on an inflation adjusted basis, GDP has risen 125% since 1983. Evidently the economic policies supported by both parties across decades have not floated all boats – just the yachts. Age is only part of the equation. Class is the other piece. There is a class war being waged and the Buffett, Dimon, Blankfein, Romney, Clinton, Koch and the rest of the ultra-wealthy oligarchs are winning. We are now in the midst of a Fourth Turning and the corrupt, dysfunctional, amoral social order will be swept away before the climax of this Crisis.
“Through the Third Turning and into the initial stages of the Fourth, the Silent will prosper, Boomers will cope with declining expectations, and Gen-Xers will get hammered. Throughout history, we have argued, inequality both by class and by age reaches its apogee entering the Crisis era. Indeed, part of the historical purpose of the Crisis is to tear down dysfunctional institutions, vacate positions of entitlement and privilege, rectify the inequality, and create a tabula rasa on which the rising generation can build something new.” – Neil Howe
The reason for the epic collapse of middle class net worth is quite simple when viewed from a 10,000 foot elevation. The great descent in net worth was primarily due to the bursting of the Federal Reserve created real estate bubble. The Case Shiller Home Price Index plunged 28% between 2007 and 2010. The wealth destruction was concentrated among the working middle class because their homes accounted for the vast majority of their household net worth. For the wealthy, housing is a fraction of their vast net worth, while for the lowly poor; homeownership is now only a dream. Of course, between 2000 and 2007 anyone that could fog a mirror was encouraged by George Bush, Barney Frank, the National Association of Realtors, Alan Greenspan, and Wall Street shills to “own” a home. With home prices having fallen an additional 7% since 2010, the middle class has seen a further decline in their net worth. Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke’s ZIRP, QE1, QE2, Operation Twist, and the upcoming “Operation Screw the Middle Class Again” have succeeded in expanding the net worth of millionaires, billionaires and the bonuses of Wall Street bankers, while destroying the fragile finances of little old ladies and middle class risk adverse savers.
Once you dig into the details beneath the thin veneer of Bernaysian obfuscation, you realize the corporate mainstream media storyline of middle class decline has a veiled storyline of a powerful, connected 1%, enriched at the expense of the middle class.
In Part 2 of this three part series I will examine who stole your net worth and in Part 3 why they stole your net worth. Part 4 will require pitchforks, torches and a guillotine.
WHO DESTROYED THE MIDDLE CLASS – PART 2
In Part 1 of this three part series I addressed where and how the net worth of the middle class was stolen. In Part 2, I will tackle who stole your net worth and in Part 3, why they stole your net worth. Now let’s zero in on the culprits of this crime.
Dude, Who Stole My Net Worth?
“Thus far, both political parties have been remarkably clever and effective in concealing this new reality. In fact, the two parties have formed an innovative kind of cartel—an arrangement I have termed America’s political duopoly. Both parties lie about the fact that they have each sold out to the financial sector and the wealthy. So far both have largely gotten away with the lie, helped in part by the enormous amount of money now spent on deceptive, manipulative political advertising.” – Charles Ferguson – Predator Nation
When you dig into the charts and data supplied by the Federal Reserve generated report, the data which goes back to 2001 tells a story not addressed by the deceptive, manipulative, political propaganda that passes for investigative reporting by the captured mainstream media. The chart below compares the median versus mean income growth from the last three Fed consumer surveys. Overall, it reveals a lost decade of negative income growth for the average middle class family. In the early part of the decade the average middle class family made some progress as jobs were relatively plentiful and the internet crash mostly impacted the rich, who own most of the stocks in the country. This is why the median income rose while the average income fell. The wealthy have a large impact on the average because they own the vast majority of assets in this country. The stock market debacle was unacceptable to the oligarchs and their money printing puppet Greenspan.
Both the liberal and conservative wings of the ruling oligarchy were in complete agreement. A new bubble needed to be blown in order to refill the coffers of the ruling class. Paul Krugman spoke for the liberal wing:
“To fight this recession the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.”
Greenspan and his handpicked successor Bernanke represented the conservative wing by reducing interest rates to ridiculously low levels, failing to carry out their regulatory obligations, encouraging recklessness, and purposefully failing to acknowledge and deflate the greatest housing bubble in world history:
“American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage.” – Alan Greenspan – February 2004
“House prices have risen by nearly 25 percent over the past two years. Although speculative activity has increased in some areas, at a national level these price increases largely reflect strong economic fundamentals.” – Ben Bernanke – October 2005
“With respect to their safety, derivatives, for the most part, are traded among very sophisticated financial institutions and individuals who have considerable incentive to understand them and to use them properly.” – Ben Bernanke – November 2005
The master plan worked like a charm from 2004 through 2007 as you can see by the tremendous surge in average income. The stock market rocketed by 75% between 2003 and 2007 and national home prices shot up by 50%. Wall Street creatively invented no doc, negative amortization, interest only, subprime mortgages and generated a frenzy of demand from anyone that could scratch an X on a loan document, just as Greenspan had demanded. Being “sophisticated” financial institutions, they were able to assemble thousands of shit loans that were certain to default into one big derivative package of shit and their captured lackeys at the “sophisticated” rating agencies stamped a AAA rating on the smelly pile of feces. Always looking out for the best interests of their clients (aka muppets), the upstanding Wall Street firms sold the derivative piles of shit to them as can’t miss investments. Wall Street profits went off the charts. Billions in bonuses flowed to the rich and powerful Wall Street titans. Mega-corporations generated record profits as consumers utilized the Fed induced tsunami of easy debt to buy BMWs, 72 inch HDTVs, home theaters, stainless steel appliances, granite counter-tops, Caribbean cruises, Jimmy Choo shoes, and Rolex watches in a mad frenzy of consumer delusion.
What you might also notice in the chart above is that median household income somehow declined during this decadent orgy of corporate fascist pleasure. How could this be? Table 2 from the Fed report makes it clear. The vast majority of households in this country generate 75% to 81% of their income from wages. Virtually none of the income generated in 85 million households (the bottom 75%) comes from interest, dividends or capital gains. You need money to make money. The top 10% only generated 46% of their income from wages. The report does not provide details on the top 1%, but wages most certainly account for less than 20% of their income. Interest, dividends and capital gains represented 22.2% of the income for the top 10%, while it represented less than 1% of income for the bottom 75%. This data is the smoking gun that proves that Federal Reserve policy and control fraud on a grand scale by the titans of Wall Street was designed and executed to benefit only the wealthy elite billionaire class and their co-conspirators. All the income gains during this time accrued to the psychopathic amoral financial oligarchy. The average family saw their real wages decline and anyone lured into the housing market during this time frame by the “sophisticated” financial experts at Citicorp, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide, Washington Mutual, Wachovia, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and the other members of the Too Big To Fail criminal syndicate was set up for epic loses.
As expected, the psychopathic banker class could not be satisfied with the results of their looting. Their gluttonous voracious greed culminated in a historic collapse of the worldwide financial system resulting in a housing implosion, stock market crash and 8 million middle class Americans losing their jobs. The Fed report does show that average household income declined more than median household income after this historic financial oligarchy created collapse. One look at Table 6 from the Fed report will explain why. Only 15% of families own stocks and only 50% have retirement accounts. Approximately 50 million households in the country have virtually no stocks and less than 30% have retirement accounts. The top 10% wealthiest households, with a median household net worth of $1.2 million, proportionately own 3 times as much stock as the average family and 90% have retirement accounts. Therefore, the 57% crash in stocks impacted the top 10% to a greater extent, while the average family was most impacted by the 28% drop in home prices.
Despite the fact that the median net worth of the top 10% actual rose from $1.17 million in 2007 to $1.19 million in 2010 (while the bottom 80% saw their net worth decline by 36%) the losses in the stock market were intolerable to the banker predators and their captured government parasite politicians. All the “solutions” to the Wall Street induced financial debacle have been designed to benefit those who committed the crime and should have done the time. The singular design of those pulling the strings was to replenish the treasure chests on Wall Street, engineer a stock market rally to pump up the net worth and capital gain income for the 1%, and protect the vested interests of the financial elite. All the obscene criminally generated profits created during the boom were privatized into the grubby hands of the financial predators, while the subsequent gargantuan losses were socialized onto the backs of the American middle class taxpayers and future unborn generations.
TARP was rammed through the captured Congress by the oligarchs despite a 300 to 1 opposition from the public in order to protect obscenely wealthy bankers, stockholders and bondholders. The $800 billion of debt financed political pork, disguised as stimulus, was doled out to corporate contributors, union thugs, and a myriad of other special interests. Zero interest rates are specifically geared to generate billions of risk free profits for Wall Street and to force retirees to gamble their dwindling retirement funds in the rigged stock market. Bernanke and Paulson threatened the limp wristed pocket protector CPAs at the FASB into allowing Wall Street banks to make up the value of their loan portfolios in order to mislead the public regarding their insolvency. The tripling of the Federal Reserve balance sheet from $950 billion in September 2008 to $2.9 trillion today was done to remove the toxic assets from the balance sheets of the Too Big To Fail Wall Street cabal at 100 cents on the dollar. QE1, QE2, and Operation Twist have had the sole purpose of providing the “sophisticated” financial elite with the funds to pump into the stock market using their high frequency trading super computers.
The subsequent Federal Reserve contrived 100% increase in the S&P 500 has repaired the damaged balance sheets of the moneyed interests, while the average middle class family has sunk further into debt and despair. The powerful entrenched sociopathic marauder class cares not for the average middle class American. They can barely conceal their contempt and disgust for the masses as they blatantly flaunt their hegemony and supremacy over our decrepit decaying corrupted economic system. M. Ramsey King described the disgusting display last week:
“Jamie Dimon’s appearance before the Senate Banking Committee was a sickening display that clearly demonstrated that Congress has been thoroughly corrupted by Wall Street. Instead of grilling Dimon, Senators acted like overly affectionate puppies fighting each other for an opening to smooch their master.”
The destruction of the middle class has been methodical and systematic. The top 10% of earners had a median net worth of $1.19 million, or 192 times as much as the median wealth of $6,200 of those in the bottom 20% in 2010. In 2007, the top 10% had 138 times as much wealth as the bottom 20%. In 2001, it was 106 times as much. With the continued rise in the stock market, declining real wages for the middle class, and further home price declines, the gap between the top 10% and the bottom 20% has continued to widen. The level of pain being experienced by the middle class has reached an unprecedented extreme. A few data points from David Rosenberg make that clear:
· Forty-six million Americans (one in seven) are on food stamps.
· One in seven is unemployed or underemployed.
· The percentage of those out of work defined as long-term unemployed is the highest (42%) since the Great Depression.
· 54% of college graduates younger than 25 are unemployed or underemployed.
· 47% of Americans receive some form of government assistance.
· Employment-to-population ratio for 25- to 54-year-olds is now 75.7%, lower than when the recession “ended” in June 2009.
· There are 7.7 million fewer full-time workers now than before the recession, and 3.3 million more part-time workers.
· Eight million people have left the labor force since the recession “ended” — adding those back in would put the unemployment rate at 12% instead of 8.2%.
· The number of unemployed looking for work for at least 27 weeks jumped 310,000 in May, the sharpest increase in a year.
I would add a few more data points to David’s list of woe:
· Over 7.5 million homes have been foreclosed upon by the Wall Street bankers since 2008.
· The National Debt has increased by $5.7 trillion (57% increase) since September 2008, while real GDP has risen by $305 billion (2.3% increase) since the 3rd quarter of 2008.
· Interest income paid to senior citizens and savers has declined by $400 billion (29% decline) since September of 2008 due to Ben Bernanke’s ZIRP.
· Government transfer payments have risen by $500 billion (32% increase) since September 2008, while private industry wages have risen by $200 billion (4.7% increase).
· The price of a gallon of gas has risen from $1.70 in December 2008 to $3.53 today.
· Food prices have risen by 7% to 10% since late 2008, even using the falsified BLS data. A true assessment by anyone who actually goes to a grocery store (not Bernanke – his maid does the shopping) would be a 10% to 20% increase.
The middle class has a gut feeling they are being screwed by somebody, they just can’t figure out who to blame. The ultra-wealthy elite keep up an endless cacophony of propaganda and misinformation designed to confuse an increasingly uneducated and willfully ignorant public while blurring the facts for those educated few capable of understanding the truth. They have been able to keep the masses dumbed down through government run education; distracted by sports, reality TV, Facebook, internet porn, and igadgets; lured by mass media messages of materialism; and shackled with the chains of debt used to acquire the goods sold by mega-corporations. We’ve become a society oppressed by a small faction of ultra-wealthy masters served by millions of impoverished, uneducated, sedated slaves. But the slaves are getting restless and angry. The illegally generated wealth disparity chasm is growing so large that even the ideologue talking head representatives of the elite are having difficulty spinning it. Even uneducated rubes understand when they are getting pissed on.
“Senator, don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining” – Fletcher – Outlaw Josey Wales
The situation is growing increasingly unstable and has left the country susceptible to an extreme outcome when this teetering tower of debt topples.
The moneyed interests have brilliantly pitted the middle class against the lower classes through their control of the media, academia, and the political system. They have cleverly blamed the victims for their own plight. They have convinced the general public that millions have lost their homes to foreclosure because they were careless, greedy and stupid. They blame the Community Reinvestment Act. They blame others for taking on too much debt when they were the issuers of the debt. The Wall Street moneyed interests created the fraud inducing mortgage products, employed the thousands of sleazy mortgage brokers, bullied appraisers into fraudulent appraisals, paid off rating agencies, bribed the regulators, bet against the derivatives they had sold to their clients, threatened to burn down the financial system unless Congress handed them $700 billion, and paid themselves billions in bonuses for a job well done. But, according to these greedy immoral bastards, the real problem in this country is the lazy good for nothing parasites on food stamps and collecting unemployment, who need to stop complaining and pick themselves up by their bootstraps and get a damn job. It’s a storyline used against Occupy Wall Street and anyone who questions their right to plunder what is left on the carcass of America. The vilest fraud in the history of man was perpetrated by these evil men and not one executive of these firms has been prosecuted. Obama, the champion of the little people, has proven to be nothing but a figurehead for the powers that be. Proof that the Wall Street syndicate is winning the war couldn’t be any clearer than the fact that the top six criminal banks now have 40% more of the nation’s assets in their vaults than they did before they burned down the economy.
The demonization of the victims continues, while the perpetrators prosper. The sociopaths appear to be winning; just as they seemed to be winning in the later stages of the Roman Empire.
“And we often fall into this bias on the prompting of con men and sociopaths of the predator class who use it to justify their own criminal actions and personal injustice. They are not burdened with empathy for their victims, and even delight in their misfortune. But they must find ways to make their actions more acceptable to society as a whole that normally does have such concerns for equity and justice.” – Jesse
“Are we like late Rome, infatuated with past glories, ruled by a complacent, greedy elite, and hopelessly powerless to respond to changing conditions?” – Camille Paglia
I think you know the answer to this question.