The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: Employment and Unemployment Page 1 of 4

Why the Economy Is Bad for Most People and How to Make It Better

This is the second collation of articles on why our world is what it is, and how we can change it. Some of these articles are old, as I don’t write as much as I used to about economics, mostly because the decision points for avoiding a completely lousy economy are now in the past. The last decision points were passed by when Barack Obama announced his economics team and refused to try and get rid of, or bypass, Bernanke to enforce decent policy on the Federal Reserve.

However, this economy was decades in the making, and if we do not understand how it happened we will only wind up in a good economy through accident, and, having obtained a good economy, will not be able to keep it. These articles aren’t exhaustive; a better list would include almost five centuries of economic history, at least in summary, and certainly deal with the 19th century and early 20th centuries.

I was heartened that hundreds of people read the articles linked in my compendium on ideology and character so I dare hope that you will, again, read these pieces. If you do, you will walk away vastly better informed than almost anyone you know, including most formal economists, about why the economy is as it is.

The Decline and Fall of Post-war Liberalism

Pundits today natter on and on about income inequality, but the fundamental cause of income inequality is almost always determined by how society distributes power. As power goes, so goes income–and wealth. The last period of broad-based equality was the “Liberal Period,” which started with the Great Depression. You can locate the end of that era at various points from 1968 to 1980, but 1980 was the point at which turning back became vastly difficult. This was the moment when a new political order was born; an order conceived to crush those who were willing and able to fight effectively for their share of income and money.

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Why Elites Have Pushed “Free Trade”

Those who are middle-aged or beyond remember the relentless march of free trade agreements, the creation of the WTO, and the endless drumbeat of propaganda about how FREE trade was wonderful, inevitable, and going to make us all rich. It didn’t, and it was never intended to. Fully understanding why “free trade” has only enriched a few requires understanding the circumstances required for free trade to work, the incentives for free trade, and the power dynamics which make free trade perfect for elites who want to become rich (often by destroying the prosperity of their own countries). Free trade is about power, and power is about who gets how much.

The Isolation of Elites and the Madness of the Crowd

All societies change and face new challenges. What matters is how they deal with new circumstances. The US, in specific, and most of the developed world, in general, is in decline because of simple broken feedback loops. Put simply, ordinary people live in a world of propaganda and lies, while the rich and the powerful live in a bubble, isolated from the consequences their decisions have on the majority of the population, or on the future.

The Bailouts Caused the Lousy “Recovery”

This may be the hardest thing to explain to anyone with a connection to power or money: The bailouts are WHY the world has a lousy economy, not why it isn’t even worse. If people cannot understand why this is so, if they cannot understand that other options were, and are, available, other than making the people who destroyed the world economy even richer and more powerful, we will never see a good economy, ever again.

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The Rapid Destruction of Countries

You may have noticed, you probably have noticed, that most countries are becoming basketcases faster and faster. Some are destroyed by war and revolution, others by forced austerity. However it happens, the end of anything resembling a good economy through austerity in places like Greece, the Ukraine, Italy, or Ireland, or through war, in places like Lybia and Syria, is sure. Understand this: What is done to those countries, is being done to yours if you live in the developed world, just at a slower pace–and one day, you, too, will be more valuable dead than alive.

Why Countries Can’t Resist Austerity

Many of you will realize that much of the answer to this is related to the article on free trade. Weakness, national weakness, is built into the world economic system, and done so deliberately. The austerity of the past six years is simply the deliberate impoverishment of ordinary people, for the profit of elites, on steroids. But it is worth examining, in detail, why countries can’t or won’t stop it, and what is required for a country to be able to do so.

Why Public Opinion Doesn’t Matter

We live in the remnants of a mass society, but we aren’t in one any more (though we think we are). In a mass-mobilization society with relatively evenly distributed wealth and income, and something approaching competitive markets, public opinion mattered. If it was not a King, well, it was at least a Duke. Today it matters only at the margins, on decisions where the elites do not have consensus. Understand this, and understand why, or all your efforts to resist will be for nothing.

The Golden Rule

Money, my friends, is Permission, as Stirling Newberry once explained to me. It is how we determine who gets to do what. He who can create money, rules. This is more subtle than it seems, so read and weep.

It’s Not How Much Money, It’s Who We Give It to and Why

We have almost no significant problems in the world today which we could either not have fixed had we acted soon enough, or that we could not fix or mitigate today, were we to act. We don’t act because we misallocate, on a scale which would put Pyramid-building Pharoahs to shame, our social efforts.

Higher Profits Produce a Worse Society

No one ever told you that, I’m sure. Read and learn.

The Fall of the USSR

The USSR fell in large part because of constant and radical misallocation of resources. This misallocation occurred because those running the economy did not receive accurate feedback. Despite the triumphal cries of the West and the managerial class who pretend to be capitalists, a version of this exact problem is at the root of our current decline, and it would serve us well to understand how and why the USSR fell.

What Privatization Does

Of all the ideological bugaboos of our current age, one of the strongest is the idea that private enterprise is always more efficient and better. It’s not, but that belief is a very profitable to our elites, and understanding how the engine of privatization works is essential to understanding both our current economic collapse and how the fakely-bright economies of the neoliberal era–especially the early neoliberal period of Thatcher and Reagan–were generated.

What Prosperity Is and Isn’t

It is, perhaps, odd to put this article so far down the list, but it’s wonky and important and not very dramatic. Simply enough, what we define as prosperity is not prosperity, which is why we are sick, fat, and unhappy with rates of depression and mental illness and chronic disease which dwarf those of our forbears despite having so much more stuff. Fix everything else, but if we insist on continuing to produce that which makes us sick and unhappy, what we have will not be what we need or want, nor will it be, truly, prosperity worth having.

The Four Principles of Prosperity

Prosperity, at its heart, is an ethical phenomenon, as much as it is anything else. Without the right ethics, the right spirit, it will not last, nor be widespread. If we want a lasting prosperity, which is actually good for us, we will start by reforming our public ethics.

How to Create a Good Internet Economy

The internet is wonderful, but despite all the cries of “Progress, progress!” it has mostly made a few people rich, created a prosperous class of software engineers who often lose their jobs in their 50s, and has simultaneously overseen the decline of the prosperity for most people in the developed world. It has not produced the prosperity we hoped it would. Here’s why and how to fix it.

Concluding Remarks

The above is so far from comprehensive as to make me cry, but it’s a start. I do hope that you will read it and come away with a far better idea of why the economy sucks for most people, and a clearer understanding of the fact that it is intended to suck, why it is intended to suck, and how the old, better economy was lost.

(Author’s Note: This was originally published October 6, 2014. I’m putting it back up top, as I have gained many new readers since then.)

The Unemployment Rate Isn’t Used to Keep Unemployment Low (with Graph)

Years ago, I complained to my friend Stirling Newberry that the unemployment rate didn’t seem to track how good the economy felt, or how many people were in desperate need of employment.

The unemployment rate was, then, and is now, taken as a proxy for the health of the economy for ordinary people. However, I could see and feel that the economy was getting worse for ordinary people, and that fact was showing up in other statistics. Plus, unemployment rates that were considered a crisis when I was young in the 70s, were now considered acceptable.

(See: The Economy Has Not Recovered, With Graphs)

Stirling said, “You need to know who an economic statistic is designed for, and what they use it for.”

A little history is necessary here, about inflation. In the 70s, due to the oil crisis and other mishandled economic problems, inflation got out of control in the West. Very high interest rates were used to bring it down, by Chairman Volcker at the Fed. Western policy makers became obsessed with inflation. It was considered Enemy Number One. They decided that the worst cause of inflation was wage increases and called this “wage push inflation.”

To track this, they turned to a statistic called the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU). NAIRU was the rate below which the unemployment rate was assumed to cause inflation.

The unemployment figure measures the number of people actively looking for jobs, compared to those who have jobs, remember. Thus it measures the active demand, in the market, for a job. Therefore, theoretically, if there are too few people looking for jobs, employers are expected to have to raise wages to attract workers.

(This is, to be clear, when wages rise the most, which is something non-economists and non-oligarchs want to happen.)

If you are old enough, you will remember that during the 80s and 90s, and even into the 00s, when the unemployment rate would drop, the stock market would take losses. This is because stock investors expected the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, which is bad for the economy and bad for stocks.

So, the unemployment rate from late 70s and on, has been used to determine if wages should cause inflation, and to then raise interest rates to make sure they don’t.

Not incidentally, the result is also to crush wages, because, essentially, wages that improve are nothing more than wages that increase faster than non-wage inflation.

The unemployment rate not only doesn’t measure how good the economy feels for ordinary people, it was actually used, with purposeful action, to crush wages.

You’ve all been waiting patiently for your pretty graph, so here it is.

NAIRU vs Unemployment vs Fed Funds

NAIRU (Civilian Unemployment Rate) vs Unemployment (Natural Rate of Unemployment) vs Effective Federal Funds Rate

You’ll notice that while effective federal funds rates (the green line) increase during low unemployment periods (the red line) before Volcker, it is after Volcker that they correlate strongly to whether the unemployment rate is approaching or below NAIRU. Before Volcker, the unemployment rate is often below NAIRU and people get a lot of raises.

Note, in particular, and with amusement, that the flat, blue line rate (the natural rate of unemployment) in recent years shows a period where unemployment has stayed above NAIRU. Note that Yellen started talking about increasing rates as the unemployment rate came closer to NAIRU.

Your wages were crushed, deliberately, supposedly to crush wage inflation.

And this is why unemployment doesn’t have very much to do with how the economy feels for ordinary people, especially not now (it effects how the economy feels some, but not much). Unemployment has to get below NAIRU and stay there for you to get real wages.

I will point out, for completeness, that the idea that wages are the most important source of inflation is questionable, but I’ll deal with that at a later date.

(Read: A More Detailed Look at the End of the Post-war Liberal Era)

Originally published Feb 17, 2006. Back to the top because it is an actually important post. We just recently had another case of the stock market declining due to low unemployment rate figures. This is why.

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Yellen’s Legacy Is Doing Nothing that Mattered

So, Janet Yellen has been replaced as Fed chair.

Her reign was meaningless, she just kept the trends moving as they were, and was essentially no help to ordinary Americans. Yes, she kept interest rates low, but that meant little; all that money flooded into corporate bank accounts.

I don’t want to slam Yellen particularly hard. The person who was in place at the time when a real change could have easily been made was Bernanke, and he decided to bail out rich people and let ordinary people sink. He is responsible, with Bush, Obama, and Geithner, for the continued decline and stagnation of the US economy, and for the damage to much of the world’s economy.

If Bernanke had done nothing but allow banks to go bankrupt and the government to take them over, with appropriate support, we would be in far better shape now, though the couple years after the financial crisis would have been worse.

Yellen? Yellen is a drone. She had no idea what to do, so she froze for years in the headlights.

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How Much the US Economy Has Recovered for Most Workers

Basically, not at all.

Labor Force Participation Rate

So, around 1980, wages go off a cliff. Americans respond by increasing the number of two earner households, because from 1980 onwards, the Federal Reserve deliberately limits wage increases for most workers so they always come in under the inflation rate.

Then the 2008 financial crisis happened, and those jobs went away. Wages haven’t improved, for most people they are even or down.

In 2009, I predicted a collapse in incomes. I got it partially wrong. I held the labor force participation rate steady and expected reductions to come out of wages. Instead, the reduction came mostly from jobs just going away. (In retrospect this was a clumsy mistake.)

So, lately you’ve been hearing about how wonderful the economy is. It isn’t. It’s still shitty for most people and has been shitty since 2008.

Obama’s didn’t fix the economy. He froze it at approximately where it was after the financial collapse, minus a dead cat bounce, which is to be expected since he and the Federal Reserve and Treasury did everything they could to not allow price discovery to happen and to not allow capitalism to do one of the things it does well, when left alone: make bankrupt companies go bankrupt and wipe out bad loans.

Instead they made sure that companies and people who had caused the financial collapse, in most cases deliberately, were made whole and prevented from losing everything, while pushing the losses down onto homeowners who were minor participants compared to Wall Street and large banks.

This has played out as stagnation. It is exacerbated by a host of other issues, like monopolization, corruption and the declining era of oil, but at heart it is a simple refusal to let large, politically powerful actors take their losses and lose the economic power they misused.

Having done everything wrong from 2000 to 2008 except buy Congress, financial interests afterwards kept doing everything wrong except buying politicians, because they won big-time, and the most important rule of capitalism is: “If you’re making lots of money, keep doing what you’re doing.”

When making money is, in effect, guaranteed, capitalism stops working in anything close to a beneficial fashion.

This was, again, Obama’s decision. When TARP was first proposed it failed to pass and only did so because Obama bent arms, viciously, to make it happen. He was 100 percent on side with everything Bernanke did, and not only did nothing to stop him, but aided and abetted him in what were crimes by any reasonable definition of the word.

The economy is bad. It is has never recovered from the financial collapse, and it will not do so until both austerity and crony capitalism are dealt with.

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Federal Reserve Seal

Trump’s Coming Confrontation with Yellen and the Federal Reserve

Okay, so the Federal Reserve, coincidentally, now that Trump has been elected, has decided that the economy is at full employment and they’ve raised rates.

The funny thing is, it’s true. Sort of. The unemployment rate (u-1) is low enough to be considered “full employment.” What that means is that the labor market is tight enough that, for the first time in Obama’s reign, workers actually got raises in 2015.

According to the economic policy regime which has run the Federal Reserve, and the US, since Greenspan, that can’t be allowed. The moment employment starts causing “wage push inflation” (wage increases faster than the general rate of inflation) it must be stopped.

Of course, out of Obama’s era, there has been only one good year so far (though 2016 will probably come in as decent), and the only reason the unemployment rate has improved is because millions of Americans gave up on finding a job. As a percentage of the population, there are about as many jobs as there were at the bottom of the last recession.

There was quite a bit of growth, but it didn’t make it into wages. The only way it will do so is if the labor market stays tight for years, because there are years (decades, really) to make up for almost all the gains going to the top few percent.

So, Yellen probably “should” have raised rates six months or so ago. She didn’t, probably because she’s Obama’s appointee–the same way that Bernanke didn’t when he “should” have because he was Bush’s appointee, and wanted a Republican to replace Bush.

Under Barack Obama, the deficit (how much the US pays on its debt) dropped, but the debt increased by $7.917 trillion (not including the first year, which he didn’t control). The deficit dropped because the Federal Reserve kept interests rates extremely low for years and years and bought up a pile of debt as well.

But the debt is higher than it has been, in relative terms, since the WWII debt splurge. And if Yellen raises rates, debt service charges will start to increase (not immediately, much of it is in longer term instruments).

More to the point, higher interest rates are meant to make sure that wages increases stop, the unemployment rate increases, and that (in effect) the economy never actually recovers from the financial crisis.

So Trump has a problem. He needs cheap money if he’s to have a good economy, and Yellen is ending the cheap money era–just as he’s been elected.

It’s not completely a coincidence, but it’s not entirely not a coincidence, and if I were Trump or his team, I’d be livid, and it looks like they are.

Worse, Trump has a big stimulus plan. It’s a bad plan, but it’ll still create some jobs, and Yellen has said:

“I would say at this point that fiscal policy is not obviously needed to provide stimulus to help us get back to full employment,” Yellen said.

That’s Fed speak for “spend the money if you want, but we’ll neutralize every dollar you spend.” Which, by the way, has been orthodox Fed policy since Greenspan and arguably Volcker–almost 40 years.

So, Trump (and Bannon) if they want a good economy and their stimulus to work, have a problem: Yellen and the Federal Reserve Board. And Yellen has stated she won’t step down till her term ends, in 2024.

They can do two things. The first is to wait, not for Yellen, but for the terms of other Federal Reserve members, to expire. Two slots of the six (seven with Yellen) are currently empty, he can fill those. That gives him two. One, Powell, is a Republican and may be amenable; and Fischer’s term expires June 2018. So by late 2018, Trump might have a Fed willing to cooperate with him–or at least not sandbag him.

BUT that’s quite a while, and assumes that Powell is amenable. It gives Trump only two years to make the economy work how he needs it to work, and means his first two years will be sandbagged by the Fed. Trump’s followers are not going to care what the reason is, they expect results.

The other option is hardball. Governors can be removed for cause. Trump can say they have performed badly (it’s not a hard case, and people who voted Trump and many others will agree) and remove them. This can then go to the Supreme Court, which, if Trump is smart, will then be firmly in Republican hands.

I will be frank: I would absolutely do this. I would have done it as Obama to Bernanke (if Obama had actually wanted a good economy, or to have banks go under) and I would do it as Trump. For four decades, the Federal Reserve has sandbagged wages and made sure the rich got richer. This is not even in question, and the financial crisis was only the largest proof of it, not nearly the only one.

I think this is coming. The Federal Reserve bows (and Yellen has been very clear she won’t) or the resisting Governors get booted.

There will be screams from Democrats and “liberals” and I will ignore most of them. As with ending the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this is the right thing to do, and it’s something that should have been done decades ago. Appointed technocrats sandbagging Congress’s fiscal policy and deliberately crushing wages was always evil.

Get out your popcorn, folks.

Oh, and these sort of stakes are why there is such a huge effort, abetted by the CIA (and opposed by the FBI) to make sure that Trump doesn’t take office.

Like it or hate it, he’s going to have to destroy much of how DC has done business for the last 40 years, and many people in power really, really don’t want this.

Don’t defend the Federal Reserve if you claim to care about workers, the middle class, or anyone under the top 10 percent or so. They have acted unutterably evil for decades, and if it takes another evil person to destroy their power, I’m fine with it. Frankly, the Federal Reserve should be placed under direct control of Congress with four year terms at most, and every central bank in the world should lose its “independence.” They have misused that independence to do little more than make the rich richer for decades and they are profoundly anti-democratic.

It’s a pity so much that has to be done will likely be done by someone like Trump, and that he’ll do much of it the wrong way to support terrible policies like tax cuts, but that’s what happens when the Left allows the Right to be the populist party, and chooses to be the party of bailouts and technocrats.

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That Great Census News

That metropolitan-area household incomes in 2015 are up five percent is, indeed, good news, but as Stoller points out, men’s income is up 1.5 percent and women’s is up 2.7 percent, so what it means is that more people per household are working.

Household income is still 1.7 percent below the 2007 level.

Income being up indicates that the Fed can now crush wages, however. Let’s see how long this runs, or how long they let it run.

Overall, however, the job market is still trash.

Employment / Population Ratio

Employment / Population Ratio

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The First Task for Prosperity Is Ending Artificial Scarcity

We have more empty homes than homeless people.

We have more food than necessary to feed everyone in the world.

This is not an era of actual scarcity. It is an era of artificial scarcity.

We either already have, or we have the ability to create, a surplus of every necessity that is needed.

This includes housing, food, and clothing. We still have enough water, globally, if we are wiling to be smart about how we use it, and where there are geographical problems regarding access, the problem of access is easily solved. In general, we need to be a bit flexible in how we grow our food; we need to stop draining aquifers and help those farms that over-use aquifer water to grow crops that use less water, or help those farmers find other livelihoods.

Early research shows that intensive urban agriculture creates between three to ten times the food that traditional agriculture does.

We are also short of security. This is another artificial shortage, though it’s harder to fix. Most countries that have been destroyed recently were destroyed in large part because of outside intervention, whether from Western, Eastern, or Jihadi influence. We are in a cycle of blowback after blowback, with the first step being to stop doing things that will cause devastation.

Education is unequally spread throughout the world, but this is another problem which is solveable: We have the books, which cost cents to reproduce, the telecom networks are almost everywhere, and we can train the teachers. If we wanted to spend more money on teachers and less on finance, we wouldn’t have a problem.

Again, most of this “scarcity” is artificial. It is imposed through a money system where a few people have the right to create money, and everyone else has to access it from them. That money is nothing, more or less in this context, than permission to use society’s resources, whether it’s people’s labor or the results of that labor.

The only real restrictions on our ability to supply what people need are overuse of sinks (like carbon) and overuse of resources, whether renewable or non-renewable, but we either have the necessary technology to move away from that overuse, or we have scientists and engineers who would love to create it for us, but who can’t get the resources/money they need to do so.

But much of this is low hanging fruit; we already have enough food and housing and far more textile capacity than we need.

Dividing up the world as we do between countries is a huge problem in which our resources are wasted where they aren’t needed, while others go without. Colonial powers have drawn ineffective and nonsensical borders, as is the case with most of Africa and the Middle East.

By centralizing the production of various resources (and that includes both ideological and intellectual resources) in a few areas and to a few people, we have pooled necessities in places they aren’t needed and denied them to other people.

These are social problems, with social solutions. The idea that technology will “fix” them is somewhat (though not entirely misguided.) We already have the material means to care for everyone, we do not.  This cannot be laid directly at the feet of technology–we have had this capacity for at least a century or so.

Oh, and the shortage of spare time for so many; with the shortage of work for others? Complete social construction. We are doing too much of the wrong kinds of work, and too little of the right kinds of work, and those choices are also social.

In the end, scarcity of the goods humans need most is almost always, in the modern world, artificial: It’s a social choice.

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Why the Sharing Economy is Destroying Prosperity

Let us start with Uber drivers:

Uber has become like Walmart. Drivers now make less than the minimum wage when we do the math,” said Abdoul Diallo of the newly formed Uber Drivers Network, which opposes new lower fare rates set by the company.

The high-tech livery-service firm recently slashed passenger fares to compete with car services such as Lyft, Gett and regular yellow cabs, a move that drivers say takes money out of their pockets.

Some Uber drivers claimed fares — and their paychecks — had been chopped 25 percent in recent months.

Other drivers said they make less than a living wage, just $7 to $12 an hour after expenses and fees — far less than the $25.79 an hour Uber promises drivers can make by joining its fleet, protesters said.

Drivers began complaining that Uber was taking them for a ride back in July, when the company temporarily launched its less-than-taxi-rate Uber X service.

In late September, Uber ­extended those cuts permanently — outraging drivers.

Uber treats drivers like private contractors, saddling them with insurance, gas and vehicle expenses but the company has total control over fares.

In its essence the sharing economy is similar to offshoring and outsourcing in how it works.

Let us establish the basics: high income for individuals, absent government fiat, is based on a tight supply of whatever it is they are selling, and nothing else.

This can be a generally tight labor market, as in the late 90s or most of the years from 45 to 68, or it can be in a specific area.  If you have an occupation where most people can’t compete, you make more money.  This could be because you have skills they don’t have, it could be because of artificial scarcity imposed by regulation (most professions which require licensing), it could because of geography, and so on.

Hotels make decent money because any Joe or Jill can’t sell their rooms.  Taxi drivers (or, more accurately, those who own the licenses) used to make decent money because any schmo with a car couldn’t compete.  And so on.

In manufacturing terms, when those jobs pretty much had to be in a first world country, and the government enforced the ability of unions to strike by forbidding replacement workers, assembly line workers made good money.

So the sharing economy increases capacity.  It increases supply to areas which had constricted supply.

Supply increases, and the profits and/or wages of those in the old sector go down.  Spotify claims artists receive 6 cents to .84 cents per thousand plays.  That means 1 million plays will get you 6K to 8.4.  But there’s reason to doubt those numbers, Swift has refuted them, and earlier reports were lower as well, plus Indie labels get less.

All of these platforms: Spotify, AirBnB, etc… take huge margins.  Spotify takes 30%.  This is in line with what App Stores take, again, 30% being standard.

That number is one we’ve become numb to, but it’s essentially oligopoly or monopoly profits, a huge distribution rate. If you add that much to the cost of a product, it will sell far fewer copies and make far less money.  That percentage comes directly out of profits.

In most cases, one or two sites control most of the business.  Maybe three.  That makes them oligopolies or monopolies. You go through them, or you don’t make a living, and once they are established, they are essentially impossible to dislodge.

In the fifties or sixties this would have been recognized as clear abuse of monopoly or oligopoly power and they would have been busted up or regulated.

But they aren’t. Instead what they do is lower prices, vastly concentrate earnings (30% is a lot, and makes you billions if you control any reasonable platform, even if that billions is from equity), and they lower wages and earnings to everyone who doesn’t control the platform.

Now the sharing plaftorms would be ok (minus the oligopolistic abuse) in a genuinely booming economy where there genuinely weren’t enough workers, and where companies were competing for workers by increasing wages and treating them well (think how programmers were treated during the late 90s internet boom.)

Bring the extra resources online, let people earn some extra cash by driving occasionally, and move people over to the parts of the economy that are booming and need workers.

We don’t live in that world.  We haven’t, absent a few years, since somewhere between 1968 and 1980.

Instead what the sharing economy does is lower the value of specific types of labor and assets, allowing more people to compete, but reducing the actual earnings for those who are in that market.

Reduced prices might increase standards of living, and in any single case they do. The number of musicians who can’t earn a living under the new regime (not just Spotify) is much less than the number of people who can consume much more music.  People who want to be driven prefer to pay less to Uber.  AirBnB makes it cheaper to travel.  Etc… There are genuine gains.

But added to offshorng, outsourcing, oligopolistic storefronts like AppStores and Amazon, and with increase parts of the economy moving into the sharing economy, while in the meantime older jobs have been deskilled (all fast food is deskilling of cooks jobs, for example), and you reach a point where “there are hardly any good jobs”.  Prices are not dropping faster than good jobs.

The other effect of this is that because many of these trends are naturally oligopolistic or monopolistic (even fast food is, if you take a bit of time to think about all the small business restaurants they put out of business), they tend to concentrate wealth and income radically.  That leads to capture of the political process by the rich (yes, even more than already), and that leads to policies like, well, turning anti-trust law into a dead letter, or endless copyright extension, or vast numbers of anti-union policies.

As Stirling Newberry once pointed out to me the more humans are fungible; that is one human can replace another and do whatever that person is doing, the less they have value.  That doesn’t mean that fungibility is necessarily bad, it increases efficiency, can increase economic capacity, and so on, IF we choose to distribute the gains properly.  But absent trends moving in opposite directions it decreases the amount everyone except those who control the points of coordination of the economy make while vastly centralizing wealth, income and power.

The Sharing Economy really isn’t.  Sharing is the wrong word.  And for now, while some of us many win and get income we need for it, overall we’re losing.

The way we distribute resources; the way we distribute necessities and the good stuff of life is going to have to change.  Ultimately a market which  clusters into oligopolies;  deskills jobs; makes humans interchangeable; is not one which can produce widespread prosperity, let alone well being.  If we continue to distribute goods and power primarily by market success, even if we manage a fix, it will only last a few decades at most—and there is no guarantee, this time, that we will manage a fix.

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