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How and why Wall Street had to decouple from Main Street and the real economy

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What follows here is based on an article by Mike Whitney at

Bush, Greenspan and many other high-ranking officials understood the problem with subprime mortgages and knew that a huge asset bubble was emerging from them that threatened the real economy. But while the housing bubble was more than just an innocent mistake, it wasn't caused by any kind of "conspiracy," which Webster defines as, "a secret agreement between two or more people to perform an unlawful act."

No, it's actually worse than that, because bubble making has become the predominant endeavor on Wall Street, and is being used by the financial elite to bypass the inherent 21st century structural problems of capitalism itself, mainly stagnation.

The main stakeholders in Wall Street's bubble-making agenda didn't need to convene any kind of conspiratorial meeting to decide on what they wanted or how they were going to get it. They already knew what they wanted; all they needed was a process that would help them maintain profitability even as the "real" economy remained stuck in the mud. And that process quickly became obvious to all of them. UCLA history professor Robert Brenner has written extensively on this topic and easily dispels the mistaken view that the real economy is "fundamentally strong" (as claimed by former Treasury secretary Henry Paulson).

Here's Brenner's explanation:

"The current crisis is more serious than the worst previous recession (1979- 1982) of the postwar period, and could conceivably come to rival the Great Depression. Economic forecasters have underestimated how bad it is because they have over-estimated the strength of the real economy and failed to take into account the extent of its dependence upon a buildup of debt that relies on asset price bubbles. In the U.S., during the recent business cycle of the years 2001-2007, GDP growth was by far the slowest of the postwar epoch. There was no increase in private sector employment. The increase in plants and equipment was only about a third of the increase in the previous period, and was a postwar low. Real wages were basically flat. There was no increase in median family income for the first time since World War II. Economic growth was driven entirely by personal consumption and residential investment, which would not have been possible without easy credit and rising house prices. Economic performance was weak, even despite the enormous stimulus from the housing bubble and the Bush administration's huge federal deficits. Housing by itself (it's growth fueled by the newly relaxed requirements for getting a mortgage) accounted for almost one-third of the growth of GDP and close to half of the increase in employment in the years 2001-2005. It was, therefore, to be expected that when housing prices stopped going up and the housing bubble burst, wages, consumption and residential investment would fall, and the economy would plunge." (Wages were simply too low to allow workers to buy enough of what was being produced.)

(Source: "Overproduction, not Financial Collapse, is the Heart of the Crisis," Robert P. Brenner speaks with Jeong Seong-jin, Asia Pacific Journal) Click here

What Brenner describes is a "real' economy that's flat on its back, an economy that -- despite unfunded tax cuts, massive military spending and gigantic asset bubbles -- can barely produce enough to be described as "positive growth.'

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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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