Guest Post: Our "Let's Pretend" Economy

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

Our "Let's Pretend" Economy

There are two economies--the real one, which is in decline, and the "let's pretend" one touted by the State and corporate propaganda machines.

Children love to play "let's pretend." Let's pretend the economy is "recovering." Why does this "recovery" remind me of an addict who's conning his caseworker? (Yes, I'm really in recovery--those aren't tracks, they're insect bites....)

Let's play pretend that jobs are really really coming back, so please ignore this chart, or turn it upside down:

Also ignore that Big U.S. Firms Are Shifting Hiring Abroad.

Let's pretend that households, corporations and government are reducing their debt. To do that, we have to ignore that the debt-junkie (i.e. the U.S.A.) hasn't kicked the monkey off its back, it just keeps feeding it more debt. David Stockman dismantled all that propaganda about corporations sitting on trillions in cash--they're sitting on even bigger piles of debt: Federal Reserve’s path of destruction. He also takes out the claim that "consumers are deleveraging." Consumer debt has barely budged.

Never mind, let's pretend we're deleveraging. So please ignore this chart:

Excuse me but that cute little debt monkey on your back is actually an 800-pound gorilla.

Let's pretend that wages are rising. Except they aren't--household income is getting creamed. Real wages are back to the pre-dot-com bubble days of 1996--only the debt load on households and the nation have skyrocketed since then.

Courtesy of the always insightful Oil Empire and Peak Oil, here is a chart of the ratio of wages to gasoline:

Put another way: this is your wage priced in gasoline. Notice how wages tanked when oil hit $140/barrel in the summer of 2008, and how the brief plunge in oil around Q1 2009 caused a spike in the ratio. Now that the Fed is destroying the U.S. dollar, then oil is back over $100 and well on its way to $120 and higher.

Let's pretend your purchasing power isn't in a free-fall
. Have you eaten an iPad recently? Yum, crunchy!

Let's pretend unemployment is falling
. The only way to make losing 7 million jobs look good is to ignore this chart of the ratio of civilian employment to population. The ratio is back to the 1970 level, back before Mom, Sis and Aunty all went to work. This means there are fewer people working to support the population. Fewer workers means higher taxes on those still standing, and higher debt loads on them, too, as they have to service household debt, student loans, underwater mortgages and a Federal debt that's exploded higher by $1 trillion a year just since the "end of the recession."

Let's pretend corporate profits are the most important metric of our financial well-being.

Who benefits from the surge of corporate profits to record levels around $1.6 trillion, or 11% of GDP? The 21 million employees of global Corporate America certainly do, but then they represent about 16% of non-farm employment, roughly in line with government employment (22 million).

Too bad Global Corporate America is hiring where the growth is faster and the wages lower, i.e. overseas (Big U.S. Firms Are Shifting Hiring Abroad).

Let's pretend those great profits trickle down to the greater good. Only they don't. Corporate taxes (around $330 billion annually) cover less than 10% of Federal expenditures (Federal Budget 2009) and despite those record profits--surprise, Corporate Tax Receipts Plunge 31% in Q1.

The tax avoidance Panzer divisions of Global Corporate America are simply unstoppable forces of Nature, it seems. Corporate welfare queens never had it so good.

But let's pretend those profits increase the wealth of a broad spectrum of citizens. Oops, the top 5% of households collect 72% of the corporate profits.

In Who Rules America?, Sociologist G. William Dumhoff draws an important distinction between the net worth held by households in "marketable assets" such as homes and vehicles and "financial wealth." Homes and other tangible assets are, in Dumhoff's words, "not as readily converted into cash and are more valuable to their owners for use purposes than they are for resale."

Financial wealth such as stocks, bonds and other securities are liquid and therefore easily converted to cash; these assets are what Dumhoff describes as "non-home wealth" on his website Wealth, Income, and Power.

As of 2007, the bottom 80% of American households held a mere 7% of these financial assets, while the top 1% held 42.7% and the top 20% held fully 93%.

Never mind that, let's pretend the corporate profits trickle down via the "wealth effect" to pension funds that benefit workers everywhere. Too bad that according to the Fed flow of funds data, this rousing, raging Bull Market in stocks fueled by stupendous corporate profits has only brought total pension fund assets back to their 2007 level: $13.3 trillion in 2007 and $13.1 trillion in 2011.

Ajusted for inflation (as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), the pension assets would have to be over $14.3 trillion just to stay even with their value in 2007. So pension funds have actually declined by over $1 trillion in real dollars in the Great Bull Wealth Effect.

So the wage earner's pension assets have actually fallen. We got your wealth effect right here, buddy, right next to the "recovery." And the check's in the mail, we promise.

How much longer are we willing to play "let's pretend"? Eventually we'll have to return to the grown-up world and deal with reality.

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Rainman's picture

Let's pretend housing is setting up for a big comeback.

BrobamaReds's picture

Tyler, you have issues....maybe you should start a Fight Club to temper your aggression.... first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club.

Popo's picture

It doesn't even need to be said.  There's never going to be a way that we can compete with workers working for $10 a day.  Especially when they don't obey intellectual property laws, and they now have access to all our current technology anyway.  The keys to the kingdom have already been given away.


Furthermore.  We have created debts which can never be paid, and we have leveraged against those debts to insane mulitples.  The notion of restructuring is just silly.   There's no restructuring that can ever make an impossible-to-pay debt, possible to pay, without tanking the economy for generations.  The bankers are hoping they can 'slip that past us' with out us noticing.  


The price for profligacy must be paid.   And the era of arbitraging China's cheap labor against generations of accumulated American wealth has come to an end.


It's over.  The workers of America will be returning to a life of struggle.  The sad part of course is that most people in America don't realize that it is in fact, their families who *are* the workers of America.  Such is the curse of 2 generations of illusory wealth:  It breeds expectations of continuity, even when continuity was never actually possible.


It was always pretend.  Even when times were good.  That's the game of the banker:  Create debt, and before the debt collapses, take your money of the table.  Upon collapse -- either shield yourself behind complex legal and securities structures, or (more brilliant) shift your losses on to the public sector and rape the public a second time.


Of course, "Pretend" is a nice word.  "Criminal fraud", "deceit", "trickery" and "lies" are probably more descriptive.


velobabe's picture

the government is taking aim at day camps etc. that play risky games amongst the children. like kick the ball, red rover and next let's PRETEND.

GoinFawr's picture

"...Especially when they don't obey intellectual property laws..."

C'mon poppy, the whole 'China stole my mojo; schmmeeeeee' is wearing a bit thin, no? 'Sif the US wasn't built on stealing, or otherwise 'acquiring' all the innovation it could, just ask Tesla. 'Keys to kingdoms' are bought/stolen all the time, its a vital component of the 'free market' system you claim to so dearly love and respect; perhaps you just don't want to face up to the fact that you might have had a hand in giving them away?

You might as well get used to admitting that the REAl reason China got all your manufacturing jobs is because you and yours just had to have that dinner ware set for a dollar less than the lead-free one made in the US.

You sound to me like someone who has unwittingly shot himself in the face and is using what's left of it to look around for someone else to take the blame for his own asshattedness.

Gotta eventually bite the bullet if you're gonna put the barrel of a loaded gun in your mouth and repeatedly squeeze the trigger, IMHO.

Junks, hunh. Care to explain or are they just the result of the truth hurting so many dupes so very much?

Shock and Aweful's picture

You guys can junk this man's statements all day....but what he is saying is SPOT on.


centerline's picture

Give me break.  Saying that intellectual property laws being stolen is a key part of the free market system is advocating complete lawlessness.  That is one of the prime reasons we are in the place we are in.  Yeah, one could argue that laws can be designed to hurt as well.  And I would agree.  But, the subject is not binary.


GoinFawr's picture

I wasn't 'advocating' anything. Just observing...and mentioning black in contrast to white isn't denying the possibility of 'grey'.

CH1's picture

"Lawlessness" can be a very misleading emotional trigger.

Is copying a video the same kind of "lawlessness" as stealing a car?

Copyright and patent law are, at the minimum, way out of date. Shall we jail 15 year old kids who 'steal' songs and TV shows? And if not, why not? IT'S THE LAW!

centerline's picture

Agreed.  Is a grey area.  Would expect it would continue to be redefined as we evolve as a society in concert with technicological advancements, etc.  Hell, the internet really turned about to pandora's box in this regard (LOL).


unnamed enemy's picture

jail em i say - the same way we jail potheads, and imigrants on their way our - its the american way.

Kitler's picture

Truth does hurt and both posts were good.

Nice observation on the junks BTW.

Vendetta's picture

No one voted to get a dinner ware set for a dollar less.  The dollar less price was to blow out competition that remained in the US.  Its called product dumping to get market share.

GoinFawr's picture

You 'voted' with your dollars, then.

morkov's picture

'voted' ?? no one voted, you know... it doesn't look like a very personal choice to me, but what do i know... LOL

Banjo's picture

GoinFawr: Absolutely 100% spot on.

How the masses were ever convinced it was good to offshore one job and bust unions apart is beyond me.

It's like they have a desire to get raped (as long as it's someone else first, so they can grab that cheap t-shirt)  then one day when their livelyhood is on the line the light bulb starts to dimly go on thats somethings not right and of course it's China, the unions or someone elses fault.

I work in IT and I finally am loving the fact that good white collar jobs are moving overseas. Why because most of my colleagues thought they were untouchable :-) Think again if you "work" and there are thousands in your profession "your job" can be shipped anywhere so the top 10% can have even more money for iPads while you struggle to put food on the table and gas in the car.




centerline's picture

Come on guys...

At the base of the society pyramid it is all about resources.  Some people work directly with these resources (food, energy, etc.).  Some people work in industries that serve the needs of those who work directly with the resources.  And so forth into a complex society.  At the top of the pyramid are those who live completely off of the system below.  They have minimum requirements, just like any other part of the pyramid. 

Anyhow, the top of the societal pyramid own most of resources and the supply chains.  Where they no longer can extract their yield in a given environment, they take action.  In our case, years ago, in order to maintain volume at lower prices it necessitated finding cheaper labor, and environments to rape.  When that no longer works (e.g. now), they can choke supply and/or drive the prices up to maintain yield.  The lower portions of the pyramid are slammed in the process.  Along the way, we have all seen the decline of corporate pensions, decline of the “career”, shifting towards “freelance” employees without benefits, outsourcing, and so forth.  It’s all the same thing to the top.

One of the main reasons we travel this path is our debt-backed money system.  The shifting of the industrial base to China, outsourcing to India, etc. are simply effects of our system levering up on debt… taking advantage of people whose standard of living is much lower (those who have yet to be pulled into the same box)… taking advantage of environments. 

Note that the plans for this system were designed long before any of us.  It has been done before as well.  In some ways it is core to who we are.  But that is another subject altogether.  Nonetheless, the “planning” going on here is generations in the making.  Most people don’t have timeframes that long.  If you are middle class, I doubt you are looking more than a few years down the road at most.  If you are lower class, I doubt you are looking any further than a few weeks… maybe just towards the next meal.  Making claims that average people willingly participated in the decline of America is really painting poor picture of reality.  On the surface it could be argued that it is true.  And there is some minor truth there.  But really it was the bigger con that has perpetrated on the people.  An effect, not a cause per se.

GoinFawr's picture

"Making claims that average people willingly participated in the decline of America is really painting poor picture of reality."

Who is doing that? Certainly not me, I swear, and I still say that despite meeting scores of americans.
Reread my posts and look for key words like, "dupe", "unwittingly" or "asshat".


centerline's picture

Yeah, probably the wrong choice of words.  My bad.  I probably should have phrased it along the lines of "blaming average people for having an active hand in....".


GoinFawr's picture

Well, OTOH, your average American has had more than one opportunity to install a Ralph Nader led administration.

Now, while ol` RN and I don`t necessarily see eye to eye on every single little thing, I still have to wonder which he would have sold out in late 2008: Wall St. or mainstreet? The probable answer to that one question alone tells me how I would have cast my ballot, given the chance(s).

So you see, the `blame` can be passed around a bit, after all there are over 300 million in the US right now, if you all really felt the need to change something, why the hell wait?

Really, my original point was simply that the `blame` can hardly be placed on China for wanting to better the lot of its people by taking the opportunity dropped in its lap by avaricious plutocrats, an arrangement which was then supported by the stupid/duped.


centerline's picture

With you on the China point.  And in an ironic twist, it is our vices in part that allowed so many to be duped or stupified.  Herd mentality at it's finest!  Now the herd is corned and it's slaughtering time.  Not going to be pretty when cattle in back realize what is going on up front.

On the question of "why wait?" - I ask that all the time.  Then I look around and see two things... normalcy bias at play - and people that are run so hard so fast all the time that they lack the ability to focus on what is really going on around them anyhow.  Of course, there's also American Idol and Iphones.  LOL.  I struggle to call this blame though.  That is where you and I differ.  In my opinion, your position is akin to blaming a rape victim for walking unknownly (or distracted) into a bad place.

Andre's picture

You're young, I guess. Too young to remember things like the Teamster's Central States pension fund scandal, or the UAW scandals of the 70's.

Too young to remember "Ross for Boss" and the "giant sucking sound" which (along with "No New Taxes") made sure HW Bush was NOT re-elected (of course, Clinton signed it anyway, along with giving China MFN status).

Too young to have talked to people from all walks of life who have seen this coming for 20 years or more. They just didn't have degrees or the right connections to be taken seriously, but guess what?

It all came to pass, just like we thought.

The loss of manufacturing jobs creamed the local tax bases, along with the perceived value of education. Shop classes were closed, as people were told "thinking is the only valued doing" as they were "prepared for 21st century jobs". At this point, the US military can fight brushfire/colonial or all out nuclear wars ONLY. We have neither the economy nor the productivity to sustain a protracted conventional war.

This is not what "the masses" asked for, despite Walmart's advertising. Nobody asked, and nobody gave us a choice.

SME MOFO's picture

"arbitraging China's cheap labor against generations of accumulated American wealth"

I think about this often.  How did the accumulated wealth of the USA get sucked away?

I mean the real wealth, the means necessary to educate well, to keep people healthy, to keep them housed and etc. - hard to believe that it was simply traded away for seven hundred thousand containers of salad shooters and wrought iron garden furniture.

pan-the-ist's picture

We have Natural Resources and Food.  The rest of the economy is fluff.

centerline's picture

The rest is fabricated around the extraction and development of resources and the food required to fuel the enterprises.

gmj's picture

We are shipping both overseas.  We are burning through our topsoil and aquifers to reduce our trade deficit.  We are selling our coal and natural gas.  We are insane.

Village Smithy's picture

Nicely said. It is very sad when you consider the labor, good honest labor that went into building that wealth. I think it happens because always the ruling class has time on their hands to think about how to manipulate the system to their benefit, while the rest of us just get up and go to work each day so that we can care for our families. At one time in history people with money spent their time advancing science, medicine, mathematics, philosophy and so on. Now, "how can we twist the system to improve our financial status?" is the only philosophical question they ask.

SME MOFO's picture

good point.  people really did start taking seriously the inquiry, "if you're so smart why aren't you rich".  and when that mid level slide rule job at IBM no longer offered super security and status about the cul de sac, it became difficult even to get a suitable mate sans bling...

66Sexy's picture

You say "We"...

More like "They".... My vote never counted, the globalist agenda fooled the Baby boomers and what wealth was left in the country.


The unions bribe the politicians, so do the internaitonal bankers.

And that is the dynamic of a failed system.

European American's picture

It seems as though each of us must truly become self reliant, e.g. our own Central Banker, our own Master Gardener, our own Energy Provider, etc. No longer can we expect any help from those that previously were perceived as helping us.  We have the resources and technology to pull it off. The key is circumventing TPTB ability to "take what they please, when they please" from us. I think "community" i.e. United We Stand will be the tactic for accomplishing such a strategy.


Better to allow the process to be experienced naturally and automatically rather than having it force-fed to us.

GoinFawr's picture

Epiphanies like yours would have made Abbie Hoffman proud.

MSimon's picture

Wait until you have to compete with robots.

Soul Train's picture

This was a great article. USA does have a two faced propaganda machine. It is strong. It is a real problem.

Also, the legitimacy of the Obama holding office - get a grip on it, because you never know, this one could rock the stock market someday big time.

Read some of the posts on about the upcoming book to be released in May. The insights from the blogosphere are incredible. It's no wonder that Trump is on the scent. Stay tuned.

Here is the link - read through all the comments. Even the apparent fact that his legal name was never changed back to Barack Obama could be a bombshell - fraud - because the guy who holds office actual name is Barry Soetoro. He even lied about his name. Maybe not impeachable, but maybe it is. Plus of course all the birther arguments.


And check this one out - it is legit - you can click through all the links and see

It shows an archived East African newspaper stating that he was Kenyan born during his US Senate election. The website is not a fraud - click on the links and also the main page and this is one of the worldwide web history caches.

So the politics is just a timebomb, just like this propaganda economic system that makes no sense - no sense at all - except that it is gamed for the big boys to throw head fakes at us and get our money anyway they can.

Keep up the good work - ZeroHedge - and thanks.

velobabe's picture

hey soul train, you do good work. now hoping the Donald reads zerohedge, probably does and gets his birther ideas juicin'.

Soul Train's picture

thanks for the hat tip Velobabe. But ouch,  someone flagged my post as junk.

The message is that this birther thing could affect the markets very quickly if something comes down. It would not take much to affect our political system, and the market WILL react.

centerline's picture

Ignore those junks.  There have been some serial junkers around here for a long time now.  You brought up an interesting point, in my humble opinion.

That Peak Oil Guy's picture

That Kenyan newspaper article doesn't mean much on its own. We all know how often the media gets its facts straight.


Bárðarbunga's picture

A junk from me too. Just a small leap to grab a Snopes article and you wouldn't look so fucking smug.

flattrader's picture

Let's pretend CHS said something new...or even different.


Just more screaming at the rain.

buzzsaw99's picture

No matter how hard pensions get screwed they will never stop buying stocks. Perfect victims.

redpill's picture

Same with 401ks.  Which is precisely why the system was invented.  College savings accounts are the same way.  Any time you need a "bank sponsor" to participate in a tax deferred program, who also coincidentally limits your purchase options to a handful of mutual funds of their choosing, it's a pretty clear indication why the system exists as it does

Vendetta's picture

yep.  When the panic comes to get out of 401ks, the govt will get an influx of 30% right off the top.  They put a little cheese called 'employer contributions' in the 401k trap to lure the mice into the trap.

After contributing the minimum of 3% to my 401k as my trust was destroyed of our government and wall street in 2002/2003, it built up considerably ... uncomfortably so.  Since they wouldn't let me have my 401k money without quitting my job, I took half out as a loan and bought .... dare I say physical silver.  Needless to say my 30% penalty for the whole thing is already covered ... by 300% gains

Cynthia's picture

Buzz or anyone else here,

It is true that because commodities have a long proven track record for being highly volatile and thus very risky, most state pension funds are forbidden from investing in gold and other commodities?

If true, then this may explain why the TBTF Banks remain silent about their recent actions to dump equities in favor commodities. This is their way of returning a favor to the Obama Administration for continuing to bail them out, via quantitative easing and near zero-interest loans. If the word got out that the TBTF banks are no longer confident enough in the stock market to remain invested there, then the public would know without a doubt that the Obama Administration is lying about how the jobs market is improving and the overall economy is well on its way to recovery, thus reducing Obama's chances of being reelected in 2012.

X. Kurt OSis's picture

Lots of charts here but how exactly is this bullish for AAPL (which is what I assume is the point of all of this 'data')?  I can't quite find the punchline.

GOSPLAN HERO's picture

Let's pretend we can create money from thin air.

I am more equal than others's picture

....PUUUFFF....  here's $1,000,000,000,000. It is bernaked money.  Spend wisely.