Saturday, February 18, 2017

Jeremy Grantham: ‘Twas Capitalism That Killed Capitalism

Via Macrobusiness:
From the always essential Jeremy Grantham’s latest note:

An extraordinary, large exit poll run by Reuters/Ipsos in which 45,000 people participated took place in the early evening on election day in the US. To say this was a detailed poll is an understatement. The spreadsheet for each question in small print runs the length of a generous dining room table, 11 feet! It will tell you how the American Hindu sample of 172 voted. The poll’s early results of 9,0002 inputs also revealed on the night before the election, when the bookies’ odds 3 against Trump were 5 to 1, that the odds were wrong. The critical statement polled, in my opinion, was this: “America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful.”

From my perspective, the pushback against the rich and powerful for several decades has been very unexpectedly wimpy. “Occupy Wall Street” aside, the average voter had sat still for a series of major tax cuts for the higher tax brackets and on capital – capital gains and dividends. The lowerincome workers had paid the cost of outsourcing and labor-saving technology but had received no material help, while corporations and corporate officers and owners were the beneficiaries. In fact, money spent on worker training and education declined relative to foreign competitors. This shows up clearly in declining educational standards where today the US global rank is, to be friendly, mediocre.
Most scarily in this regard, the average Chinese 20-year-old now ranks 2 full years ahead of his American counterpart in math proficiency! So, all in all, we can say that global forces pushed wages down and politics pushed them deliberately lower. The combined result is shown in Exhibit 1: The share of GDP going to labor hit historical lows as recently as 2014 and the share going to corporate profits hit a simultaneous high. Similarly, Exhibit 2 shows that the share of all income going to the top 0.1% rose well beyond any previous record and approached 100% of all the recovery in total income since the lows of 2009!
The “rich and powerful” not only increased their share of income and capital at an unprecedented rate in recent decades, but they also increased their grip on politics through a rising tide of political spending, including lobbying and the new Super PACs, courtesy of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United. Even before this ruling, Princeton University Professors Gilens and Page had reported4 on the complete lack of influence that voter opinion had on the probabilities of any bill passing through Congress. If favored by the public the average 31% chance of passing rose to a dizzying 32%. If not favored, it fell to 30%, justifying the nickname given to the influence of the average citizen: “Gilens’ Flatline.” When favored by the richest 10%, bills passed at a 65% rate – there is inertia after all. But when opposed by the wealthier and supported by inertia, the passing rate was essentially nil. Those hoping that there is any life at all left in representative democracy have to hope that some critics of this work are right when they claim that the data is complicated to sort out and the conclusions may be overstated. Anecdotal evidence on such issues as the minimum wage and gun laws, though, suggests that majority opinion is, shall we say, easily offset. Scarily, Gilens’ work does not include the post Citizens United data on political spending that is shown in Exhibit 3. I could not resist throwing in political contributions from unions, which are often cited by right-wingers as somehow balancing the books. And once upon a time they did. But, as unions have been severely weakened by the same combination of global forces and politics previously described, political contributions from unions have become a rounding error, offsettable by a mere handful or less of billionaires....