Guest Post: Wealth Inequality In America, Understanding The Source

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Arkady of The Right Condition

Wealth Inequality In America, Understanding The Source

With the OWS movement leaving many Americans confused as to whether they should support or stay away, one thing is for certain, Americans are aware of a certain truth that is happening in our country.  We have a certain combination of events that is leaving many people struggling and asking very good questions.

The truth is this; We have structurally high unemployment, salaries are stagnant, debt burdens are rising, costs for education, health and energy are on the rise and we are increasingly overwhelmed with clear and present danger coming from every corner of the earth.

To make matters worse the ruling elite of this country and the very wealthy are continuing to benefit while the remainder of the population struggles.  This is the appeal of the OWS movement despite the fact that the members making up the movement are advocating entirely unappealing solutions in the form of wealth distribution, punishing success and other hard left ideologies.

Of course in a country where American Idol and the Jersey Shore are better known than who currently runs the Federal Reserve it is hardly a wonder that cries for Socialism just sound appealing.  To further exacerbate the overall ignorance of the populace our education system and emphasis on history and economics appear to be tilted in the direction that highlight correlation and anecdotal evidence rather that fundamentals.  I understand it does not behoove me to openly ostracize a large segment of the population, but until we address core understanding of our economy and core principles of what makes our society tick then the partisan rifts will continue.

So let us tackle this "explanation" of inequality which is now being circulated on the internet and shared on Facebook with proud posters feeling rather enlightened about their "discovery".  Unfortunately the explanations are nothing more than illusory and are further fueling the partisan divide and the protests against the "haves" of the society.  The explanations either blame capitalism or Congressional policy favoring the rich.

Consider for example:  Plutocracy Reborn by Business Insider which attempts to convince the readers that it is our policy that is causing another Great Depression in America. Without digging deeper than the surface they present for most people what appears to be a very convincing argument as to why the current Congressional taxation policy has created our wealth gap.  

Another example: It's the inequality, stupid by Mother Jones showing a combination of pretty charts, graphs and bubbles that all attempt to convince the reader that the policies of America are entirely responsible for all the inequality in this country.

Too bad both sources are wrong.  They are showing the effect, without any explanation.

It is easy to scratch the surface, notice a correlation and run with it.  So stick with me for a little bit and I will show you the simple truth.  Yes, we have inequality, but this inequality is neither driven by the free market nor by tax policy.

I have taken the plutocracy picture and placed two graphs under it:

What you are looking at:

Top - Average income and the uncanny relationships between inequality and economic calamity.
Bottom left - Monetary base from 1918 to 1930 (amount of money controlled by the Federal Reserve)
Bottom right - Interest rates from 1954 to 2010.

I have also added green and red lines that clearly demonstrate the relationship between the amount of money in the system and income inequality.

Unfortunately we only have interest rate data going back to 1954, so the monetary base will have to suffice for the earlier years and while this comparison is not exact - the idea is the same, price of money.

If you treat money as a commodity, which it should be, then like any commodity there is a price.  We can measure the price of money by either looking at its value as it relates to other money (Euro vs Dollar) or its purchasing power or the rate of interest.  Interest rates are always a measure of how valuable money is at any given time.  If money is scarce then the interest rate is higher, if money is widely available then interest is lower.  Right?  Good.

As you can plainly see our centrally planned authorities dictate the price of the most vital and precious aspect of our economy, our money.  When these authorities incorrectly price our money we develop massive distortions.

Why does this happen?

Because money is priced through the banking system.  That is, the quantity of money increases (when rates are low) through the banking system first and then into the general economy later.  Therefore banks benefit first and foremost as they are the recipients of newly created money, while the rest of us poor shmucks see this increase in money through price increases.  If you think about it, provided production capacity remains the same then the price of all goods invariable increase *if* the supply of money goes up.  Yes?

So what does that look like?

Observe the massive price increase that began to occur around the 1970s.  There were two things that happened in the past 40 years that contributed to this jump.

1)  1971:  End of Bretton Woods and the US Dollar disconnecting from any material store of value (gold).
2)  1982:  A thirty year prolonged effort of systematically lower and lower rates, thus making money/credit cheaper and more plentiful.  As you can see in the first chart, we have now reached the floor at 0% interest rates or in more simpler terms the price of money is the lowest it has been in history.

Are there other effects of cheap money other than price increases?

Yes, salaries tend to go up.

Unfortunately the rate of salary increases does not keep up with the rate of price increases.  You can tell in fact that at the moment of the writing real income is now lower than it was before the recession of 2008, yet price increases are at their highest!

Why does that matter?  Because of the following:


Rise in prices affect the lower income families the most.   It is useful to look at the expenditure ratio of things like gas and food because these items are required for survival.

You need food and energy in order to produce and build capital.  Without capital there is no wealth.

Visually the picture is starting to coalesce.  The lower income families are having a harder and harder time building capital because they are spending at least half of their entire income on survival!   The bad news does not stop there unfortunately because the price of money causes yet another distortion.  It forces people to move potential capital into acquiring tangible goods instead of actually saving the money for more prudent purchases or investments.

This is the sad state of our society over the past 30 years:

As money becomes cheaper and more plentiful the rate of savings declined with it.  This was happening DESPITE the fact that prices for all items were going up.  Essentially this means that Americans were spending more and more, but getting less and less for it while diminishing their capital formation (wealth).  
You could argue for instance that purchasing items can be translated into wealth, but that is only true to a limited extent.  Most items that you buy depreciate and this is is precisely why gold was always used a store of value, it never depreciated.   Housing was another popular item for storing wealth, but houses also depreciate and the past few years demonstrated just how sharply prices can decline in what appears to be a traditional "store of value".
So what is the conclusion here?
In order for more and more Americans to participate in the American dream, there needs to be an accumulation of wealth.  Wealth is accumulated through capital formation or more simply put, saving money. Saving money is effective only when the savers are guaranteed that the money saved provides the same purchasing power before the saving, as it does after the saving.  In a climate where the amount of money is constantly expanded the saver gets no such guarantee.  Incidentally, people chasing stocks, houses and other risky mechanisms for capital formation are doing so precisely to mitigate the hardship of saving in the western world.
In order for money to be saved there must be excess income generated after the staples have been purchased.  As we saw up above, due to massive price increases due to money expansion the amount of disposable income is constantly getting reduced.   The days where a man could provide for his family and send kids through college are long gone,  price increase cause this and nothing else.
The last consequence of cheap monetary policy, credit.  Because money is cheap, debt is spurred.  Therefore people can much more easily accumulate debt because the interest paid on this debt is "negligible".  So not only are Americans not saving, but they are spending more and more on goods that they technically should be buying.  Whether that is electronics, cars or houses matters not.  As you can see, the appetite for consumption has steadily increased: 
Credit expansion causing housing bubbles is nothing new,  consider for example the Florida housing bubble of the 1920s.
Unfortunately when large portions of income are spent on survival items, savings are destroyed and debt obligations rise - you are left with nothing, hell, nothing would be preferable to the mountains of debt that people have accumulated. 
This is the source of our income inequality, this is what happens when the free market and capitalism are replaced with central planners and cronyism.  This is our America. 
Now what will you do to change it?

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Seize Mars's picture

This is Austrian economics in action! (Bitchez!)

I am Jobe's picture

Are you sitting on a server somewhere to be posting number 1

bank guy in Brussels's picture

When I used to read Mish Shedlock's blog, there was a guy there whose user name was something like 'Thirdston Howell the 3rd' - and he did an amazingly good job of being the 3rd poster commenting on Mish's new posts.

That was real art - being third instead of just first. I don't know how he did it.

ZeroHedge doesn't quite lean in this child-like 'Me First!' direction, but I often have gotten a good laugh out of people claiming 'FIRST!' on blog comments and then others commenting on the 'first' ... rather like the post above.

('Thirdston' was a spoof on the name of a character in an old US television programme called 'Gilligan's Island', millionaire 'Thurston Howell III', played by Jim Backus who was the cartoon voice for 'Mr Magoo'.)

AldousHuxley's picture

That's a trick so that all the trolls expose themselves right from the get go as idiots.


That's like yelling "shotgun" when getting into a stretched limo.

Pegasus Muse's picture

Two excellent interviews/talks:


Austrian economist Thorsten Polleit talks to James Turk.  


Judge Napolitano: A must see...  A National Treasure, worth every minute of viewing!!


Seize Mars's picture

Well, I didn't intend on being first. In fact I have never been a first post before. But I am curious as to why it would bother you.

Anyway, the reason I posted is that I think this article is a great empirical study along the lines of the Austrian school's theory of the structure of capital. It is the only economics school that actually understands the role of interest rates and their effect throughout the "economy," that is, the structure of capital. In fact they are the only economists that acknowledge that capital has a term structure to it.

It's fascinating, and this empiricism seems to back it up.


slewie the pi-rat's picture

"The lower income families are having a harder and harder time building capital because they are spending at least half of their entire income on survival!"



MaxMax's picture

Thirdston pretty much stopped posting on Mish's site after his third posting trick get explained.  Something changed on Mish's site and Thirdston's script that monitored his site for new postings got screwed up.  Instead on posting a canned "pithy comment", part of his script got posted.  When you see someone always posting like that, you will notice that the comments are generalized because the comments were all writtten beforehand.

Seize Mars's picture

Well I didn't do anything like that. I couldn't script my way out of a paper bag.

My comments are real, and if I may say, correct.


Now, go forth and read Hayek, Hazlitt, Rothbard and von Mises!! This article is good because it is correct!!!

Ned Zeppelin's picture

Perhaps it is the content of your posts (which I enjoy) he finds disturbing.  

yabyum's picture

Mish blamed on the unions;)

sgt_doom's picture

The posers are out in force:

"They are really decent, good people; it's the system."  ---- Noam Chomsky,

discussing the billionaire bankers of Wall Street.

"They are decent people. It's the system."  ---- Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law,

discussing the US Congress (later he claims that "..Wall Street took advantage of a corrupt congress." – Riiigght!)

"They are just doing their jobs."  -- Richard Wolff,

discussing the Wall Street bankers, and others.

The disinformation specialists would have everyone believe this "just happened"  -- the meltdown "magically appeared"  -- it was all "an accident."

A forensic audit of the above three's consulting fees and other assorted fees over the past fifteen years would prove might interesting!

In 1921 or '22, an ultra-leveraged run took place, ending in the Great Crash of 1929, and securitization was later ended officially in 1933.

Starting around 2000, up until mid-2007, another ultra-leveraged run took place, resulting in the global economic meltdown.

Nothing magical about it, and well planned and well designed with much effort, thought and lobbying to enact predatory jurisprudence and predatory legislation to allow the banksters to sell $100 to $1,000 worth of debt for every $1 of debt on hand.

And they made billions upon billions selling hundreds of trillions worth of debt --- then want to blame the rest of us, while claiming no one is really at fault.

Bank Bernanke and this guy's blog post can ramble on about monetary policy all they want....but they can only obfuscate reality for so long until it becomes obvious as to the real causes and the real culpability.

'Nuff said.....

Bring the Gold's picture

Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner. Money supply was the accelerant but not the matches or fuel source.

Quixotic_Not's picture

Lech Walesa Not Attending #OccupyWallStreet in New York After Discovering Hard-Left Organizers

The Polish champion of freedom and liberty, founder of Solidarity, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, and first President of modern Poland Lech Walesa had been rumored to possibly be traveling to New York to stand with Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Based on our discussion and intervention, President Walesa is not going to get involved with the OWS.  He is not comfortable with the “organizations” behind the movement.

This spring, when President Obama visited Poland, President Walesa refused to meet with him.

America is a center-right country politically.  The Occupy movement, at its core, is a hard-left movement. If successful, America would cease to be governed on our founding principles of freedom and liberty. Thus, we react to the news that Lech Walesa will not support the OWS movement with much thankfulness.

Uncle Remus's picture

I'm guessing Lech Walesa knows a socialist pig gussied up with red, white and blue lipstick when he sees one.

Pure Evil's picture

I thought the OWS thing was just a chance for college kids to take a shit in the park.

AldousHuxley's picture

I'd pay to see some college fresh shit thrown at banksters still getting bonuses from tax payer bailouts.


hell, these screwed up banksters are probably into that shit pardon the pun.

Pure Evil's picture

Personally, I would prefer to see the college kiddies shittin' on the politicians heads inside the beltway, for without them the bankstas wouldn't be collecting any bonuses.

Phil Graham first of course, Alan Greenspan second.

Uncle Remus's picture

I'd pay to see mandatory military service before you can attend college.

Uncle Remus's picture

Well, we don't have a draft and we're still starting wars. Maybe Country Joe can get the band back together.

AldousHuxley's picture

freedom hater. big government lover.


that kind of thinking is what the American NAZI party needs!


WAR for all, all for WAR.

GCT's picture

Qix I think we got your point on the OWS thing.  Can you post something else this is getting old seeing the same ole crap in every thread!

Uncle Remus's picture

Actually, quite the opposite. And the Fascists are already in power.

Marley's picture

I'd pay to see the next war inductees indexed by daddy's tax bracket.  What they ow, not what they pay.  Top down of course.  Oh, oh, and their medical facilities wouldn't have any supplies, requiring amputation (from the neck up) for minor injuries.

I'd pay to see the top 1% shiver to death in a drafty alley.

I'd pay to see the top 1% go hungry for 6 days at a time.

I'd pay to see the top 1% drink contaminated water.

I'd pay to see the top 1% stranded on an island for a year without any supplies.  That'd be reality TV worth watching.

Hell, I'd pay to see the top 1%, "I worked for MY money," work.

Physical labor Bitches.


midtowng's picture

I guess you would think that if all you knew about it was from right-wing sources.

dizzyfingers's picture

They're being paid! The ad is on Angie's List.

AldousHuxley's picture

More than tea party folks by Koch bros?


More than lobbysts on K-St and CONgress representing bankster interests?


What is your priority? complain at college grads getting free food or bankster exec bonuses into millions?


When banksters are out in wall st. protesting that they get paid their fair share, then you can complain about college kids getting paid.

Quixotic_Not's picture

OWS: The Perestroika Deception Develops a Face

In recent weeks, every American has watched with morbid curiosity as swarms of hate-filled, sputtering communist loons and Hippie-wannabees have taken to the streets, shutting down cities and leaving a path of destruction wherever they go.  Although many Americans disagree with the stated agenda of these radicals, most think them harmless, dismissing their acts as pathetic attempts to resurrect the failed social movements of the sixties.

But this group of determined radicals is not to be laughed at.  Lisa Fithian, the primary OWS organizer, is an unrepentant communist and proponent of government and economic destabilization as a means of achieving totalitarian centralization along communist lines.  Writing for a socialist rag, Fithian once stated, “I have no issue with property destruction…We’re in a society where property is idolized, so a lot of people don’t get it yet that it doesn’t really matter.”

While this should shock Americans (and would, if the facts were being reported) this is nothing new.  This is just the latest tactic in a long-term strategy that has been quietly moving forward for decades.  I am speaking of a high-level strategy designed to thwart American resistance to communist infiltration known as “Perestroika.”

AldousHuxley's picture

yes because socialists and communists are in power and they own governments and banks and they caused the world financial melt down?


yes because socialists and communists own the mass media and is telling the truth about bailouts and corruption?


I don't trust RT (Russian TV) but on matters of finance and wall st. corruption, they have been reporting the truth rather than hiding it like the US mass media.


The real socialists are the banksters getting bailed out. What part of that don't you understand? Oh you must have inherited shit tons.

midtowng's picture

Since there is no official OWS list of demands, has it occured to you to question your sources?

Rynak's picture

Bigots do not question anything except of their imaginary enemies.

John_Coltrane's picture

"yes because socialists and communists are in power and they own governments and banks and they caused the world financial melt down?"

Yep, you get it unless you are being ironic.   Obama, Bernake and Geitner are all Fabian socialists as are their leftist NWO donors like Soros.  Indeed, they are in power.  Keynes was also a Fabian Socialist.  Their goal, own world centralized government with the elite (them) in charge of everything, especially the means of production and the creation of money.  Central banking cartels like the FED are their instrument, debt their method, and bailouts and wars part of the scheme to insure serfdom.  And, like Lenin, they believe the end justifies the means.  (Unlike, Libertarians who know the means determine the end!) 

Their enemy,  Libertarians and limited government types like Ron Paul and the tea party.  It is a fight to the finish:  the collective or the individual.  There is no middle ground, so pick your side.

Start by reading " the creature from Jeckyl Island".  Its better than Brave New World, Aldous, 'cause its not fictional.

s2man's picture

LIke we need communists to provide "government and economic destabilization"?  I think we're doing just fine on our own.

Ned Zeppelin's picture

Quix: what are you smoking? 

Rynak's picture


I think that about sums up his state of mind.

topcallingtroll's picture

Did you read the quote?

It makes you a communist if you think private property is meaningless.

prodigious_idea's picture

OWS has about as much interest in understanding modern economics as the Tea Party does understanding history and science.

ISEEIT's picture

Fail. Were that true then OWS would be targeting the FED and BOTH political parties. OWS demands authoritarian government and keynesian voodoo in spades.

AldousHuxley's picture

Does "FUCK THE FED" chant in front of Boston Fed sounds like authoritarian government to you?


Where is the tea party proof that they are not in bed with the status quo of Fed and bailouts?


If you don't understand OWS, you deserve to have the Fed to rip you off. BTW, they are considering QE3, WHERE IS THE TEA PARTY protesting this?


Tea Party is bunch of boomer idiots who wants Fed to rescue their overinflated homes, because they spent all the money treating homes like an ATM and didn't save for their retirement.

Pure Evil's picture


The mask of reason and tolerance has been ripped from the monster.

topcallingtroll's picture

Yeah this is aldous huxley's big government socialist twin.

Why pick the name of an anticommunist? To misdirect?

Missiondweller's picture

BTW, they are considering QE3, WHERE IS THE TEA PARTY protesting this?


The Tea Party helped elect people to stop the insanity in 2010. They're the reason Obama has only run up $5T in additional rather than $7T. Even now, they are preventing Obama from pissing away another $500B on another "stimulus". The TP has worked within the system rather than calling for a violent revolution and Marxism.

Fuck OWS. They're just a bunch of George Soros poseurs.

midtowng's picture

The Tea Party has completely sold out.

AldousHuxley's picture

Tea Party refinanced at lower rates (which in the long run is more money for banksters+refi cash now)and QE 1 & 2 brought their 201k back up to 401k.


Too bad they don't quite get the concept of INFLATION.





DaveyJones's picture

why support any political party. they all serve something else first.