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don’t be fooled by the economic ‘good news’

September 13, 2013

I’ve heard recently from a variety of places that ‘the economy’ is showing signs of ‘recovery,’ that the stock market, home prices, and corporate profits/consumer spending are rising while unemployment is falling (albeit relatively slowly). What I don’t hear too many people talking about, however, is the shape of the so-called recovery or the effects on economic social relations, health, and well-being it’s having.

For example, technically speaking — utilizing the statistics that economists and policy makers focus on like GDP, employment numbers (never mind the fact that the majority of those jobs are low-wage and/or part-time and official unemployment numbers are misleading in that they neglect under-employed people, those who have given up looking, etc.), inflation, etc. — the economy is improving and in recovery. The DOW is up and unemployment is down, after all.

That said, few seem to be noting that last year, the top 10% claimed half of total income. That’s pretty staggering. The top 10% of earners took in more than half of all the country’s total income—the “highest recorded level ever.”

Another statistic that hasn’t been mentioned much is the fact that the top 1% captured 95% (almost all) of the income gains between 2009 and 2012 (or 86% if we go all the way back to 1993, which is still massive). So from the end of the recession onwards through the recovery, while the working class was losing pensions, facing wage cuts and unemployment (or ‘stagnating’ in neoclassical terms), the top 1% was cleaning up and regaining their losses, further widening the income gap.

The bottom line is that wealth inequality in the US is at a historical high, with the rich getting richer, the working class still struggling to attain or re-attain some modest level of living, and the poor being completely fucked and forgotten.

And when you realize that money isn’t just a means of exchange and storing value but also a form of social power, the dynamics of the disparity become even more concerning as far as its unegalitarian effects on economic social relations, health, and well-being go, not only on a broader political level but on a day-to-day, worker-employer level as well.

Sure, by one measure, the economy is on the upswing, which should be good news. (It’ll all trickle down eventually, right?) But I think all of this really only serves to point out the lopsided focus of heterodox economics and mainstream economists in general since the underlying reality is the top 10% is making more and regaining lost assets while the rest of us working-class jags are, in very real terms, still struggling. Which is why I think people shouldn’t be fooled by all the economic ‘Good News.’

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