Friday, January 15, 2010

mangle of inequality actually sighted again! Excitement builds.

Well, it looks like economists are finally discovered what I - or my blog, Limited Inc - revealed two years ago: the housing bubble was derived from the real driver of our current collapse, increasing income and wealth inequality. What I have labelled the mangle of inequality, for it is a three sided mechanism.

Apparently, according to Alyssa Katz, this is the line of argument of University of Chicago economist, Raghuram Rajan's "upcoming book Fault Lines: “the initial causes of the breakdown were stagnant wages and rising inequality." Also see Rortybomb among my links. My first version of the mangle of inequality is here.

Here's a newsfromthezona post from February, for your dining and dancing pleasure:

Monday, February 16, 2009
I'm psyched to see that Paul Krugman is on the cusp, the very cusp, of LI's Mangle of Inequality thesis.

So I'll just quote the meat of the post here:

"The place to start, of course, is the seventies. Suddenly, after thirty years, we are starting to recognize the shift that began to occur then. Let me remind you – the shift consisted of 1., the crushing of the bargaining power of labor; 2., the de-manufacturing of America – which was partly connected to the fact that manufacturing workers were the most militant, and partly the inevitable effect of the ability of capital to find other, cheaper regions in which to place factories; and 3, the dissolving of traditional constraints on credit.

These events occurred in response to the most serious crisis in capitalism since 1945. Galbraith’s New Industrial state, the liberal Keynesian economy, had created structures that were supposed to resolve such crises. These included the management of aggregate demand by the state, the moderation of labors’ older, utopian demands for a slice of the power in return for a steadily rising paycheck, and management’s movement away from optimizing profits in exchange for lessened volatility. The Keynesian moment unwound for a number of reasons – labour, with increasingly less interest in the political dimension that originally animated unions, became much more vulnerable; the government management of aggregate demand, combined with the government dependence on War, had finally unleashed inflation; and the ROI of the Fortune 500 corporations was finally causing an investor revolt. However, of the three factors I am listing in the shift to the new, Reagonomic paradigm, one and three seem oddly disjoint. How is it possible to diminish the bargaining power of labor – which results in the stagnation of wages – and at the same time dissolve traditional constraints on consumer and other credit?

Of course, from the neo-classical point of view, that makes a lot of sense. Instead of the government actively managing aggregate demand, the private sector, with a freer credit market, can take over. And in fact, even if wages stagnate, household incomes rise. The house itself as an asset appreciates, for one thing; more investment vehicles are made available to the public, for another thing; and finally, there is the great entry of women into the labor market.

Credit, then, is the keystone. It is from this moment on that the financial services sector, which had been relatively unimportant in the Keynesian regime, returns in force. It is what I would call the mangle of inequality – playing on Andrew Pickering’s term, mangle of practice. Contemporary capitalism in America has to effect a straddle – the economy depends on consumption, and yet, the majority of the consumers engross less and less of the productivity gains accrued by the system. Freeing the financial markets had two effects – one was to re-vamp the consumer’s financial horizon. Instead of worrying about making a wage sufficient to live the good life, the consumer worries about making a wage sufficient to have a good credit history – which is the magical key to the world of cars, plasma screen tvs, houses, and all the rest. The other was to make the consumer a shareholder in the system. For simplicity’s sake, call this the 401k world – that stands at the symbolic center of a system by which the ordinary person was hooked into the market. And the market could, consequently, use vast flows of capital to keep easing credit. A virtuous feedback, so to speak.

It had another, symbolically resonant significance. The triumph of the state in the 20th century was in providing for retirement. The state successfully created, within a capitalist economy, a mass ability to finish one’s life without poverty or utter family dependence. It was the template for the structural goods that the state, in a mixed economy, could provide – when the demands of distributive justice could not be aligned with the price creating market in a good or service. Consequently, social security has earned a special hatred from the right. The American system of encouraging private investment was meant, on the surface, to complement social security, but the ultimate aim was always to replace it.

The mangle of inequality, then, was not – as in Marx’s time – a head to head confrontation between classes. It is a more complex machine, in which class interests are blent so that head to head confrontation is systematically differed. The political triumph of the system is that the blending disenfranchised populism, since it became unclear who would really benefit from populist practice."

Honest economists should be shocked by the Fed report, since it goes counter to the mainstream notion of the convergence between expanding the power of the private sphere and wealth for all - every man a king (of his own home equity loan).


northanger said...

is your new book called mangle of inequality?

roger said...

My new book?
I think my new book will be called, I survived as a bystander to NOLA, but I succumbed to rage watching the botch of the rescue of Haiti, and died. Rest in Peace. A long title, but a short book - that's it!

roger said...

North, how are we going to survive this era? Isn't righteous indignation going to give me a stroke?

northanger said...

well, why not start with Lies My Teacher Told Me. maybe some excerpts could give your righteous indignation some perspective?

roger said...

Actually, I think the book to read hefre, North, is Perrow's Normal Accidents. Although I am partial to the grand historical sweep myself, at the moment, the only thing that counts for countless people in Haiti is the present - and my rant about all this is over at LI. In a nutshell, emergency response is still using the structures developed in the forties and fifties, as though the internet never happened. IT HAPPENED! Time to use the information, or watch people die.

northanger said...

System accident. ok.

northanger said...

so what you're saying is the Response Chain doesn't need to become part of the problem. and one aspect of this problem ignores Internet communication. your Le Monde quote suggests what type of folks are communicating.

northanger said...

just occurred to me, everybody's phone needs to be kept turned on.

roger said...

Yes, North. The victims are the rescuers. The rescuers - from outside - should be dependent on the Haitians, rather than the Haitians being dependent on the rescuers. Not for reasons of political correctness, but from reasons of common sense.

northanger said...

righto. actually, the time to respond to Haiti was *before* the earthquake. 4 earthquakes in one year? children eating mud? homes built on top of one another w/o proper building codes? & now the NYT wants to solve Haiti's problems?

totally got your frustration.

northanger said...

sorry, that was 4 hurricanes.