American Idle

American Idle

A man…with no means of filling up time is as miserable out of work as a dog on the chain.

George Orwell

Yesterday, the rock and the hard place came closer together. CNBC reports:

Inflation surges 7.5% on an annual basis, even more than expected and highest since 1982.

…was even higher than the Wall Street estimate.

Consumer prices surged more than expected over the past 12 months, indicating a worsening outlook for inflation and cementing the likelihood of substantial interest rate hikes this year.

The Fed’s room for manoeuvre is narrowing. Inflate or Die. Either it allows inflation to continue (and get worse)…or it kills the bubble economy.

Most people believe the Fed will do ‘the right thing’ — after exhausting the other possibilities, it will raise its key rates, allow a bear market on Wall Street, and a recession on Main Street. We doubt it. The US’s ruling elites depend on the Fed to do the wrong thing; it is not likely to let them down.

But this week we’ve focused on the other side of the inflation equation. Money is what the Fed produces. Goods and services are produced by the economy. More money and/or less ‘stuff’ = higher inflation.

We’ve been looking at the men and women who produce stuff…and wondering why they don’t produce more of it.

Backing up…

The elite has been corrupted by power and money. Fed governors put in their buy/sell orders…and then make important announcements. Retired generals get cushy sinecures with Raytheon and General Dynamics. Journalists skew the ‘news’ to promote their favourite programs and try to cancel contrary opinions.

And as the Fed pumps more money into the stock market, they — the rich — get richer.

Naturally, ambitious young people want to join them. But most only become debt-enslaved janissaries — loyally protecting ‘the system’ as long as it keeps interest rates low and lets them borrow more.

A common plight

Meanwhile, thanks to more and more ‘transfer’ payments…and a growing disgust with being ripped off and despised…the working stiffs are staying home.

Here’s Andrew Yang on the plight of the common man:

Men now make up only 40.5 percent of college students. Male community college enrollment declined by 14.7 percent in 2020 alone, compared with 6.8 percent for women. Median wages for men have declined since 1990 in real terms. Roughly one-third of men are either unemployed or out of the workforce. More U.S. men ages 18 to 34 are now living with their parents than with romantic partners.

Economic transformation has been a big contributor. More than two-thirds of manufacturing workers are men; the sector has lost more than 5 million jobs since 2000.

People without much income don’t spend much money. You can see that playing out in the final sales numbers (fewer inventories). Despite press reports of a ‘healthy recovery’, final sales rose only 0.08% in the third quarter of last year…and only 1.88% in the fourth quarter.

David Stockman further reports that used car prices have continued to shoot up — by 85% over the last year. Unfortunately, used wheels are how much of the proletariat rolls. And now — with average monthly payments of US$500-plus — the average American cannot even afford a USED car.

The unhappy idle

But wait…didn’t Joe Biden just pat himself on the back for creating — CREATING! — 6.6 million new jobs in his first year? Of course, he created not a single job. The economy creates jobs. And lately, it is creating far fewer than advertised.

James Dale Davidson comments:

ADT, the private employment services company that calculates from real numbers, reports that U.S. companies SHED 301,000 employees last month. That is credible evidence of a weakening economy, not one in the midst of a growth surge.

Take a closer look at the government’s own statistics. The Labor Department’s official numbers don’t entirely black out the real picture. If you discount their “seasonal revisions,” which can be pure poppycock, the BLS data show that before adjustment, the economy LOST 272,000 jobs last month.’

The ‘hours worked’ figures are clearer. No jiggling. No joggling. Just count them up. The index of ‘aggregate hours worked’ is still lower than it was in 2019.

By our count, that leaves about 150 million adults — men and women — with a lot of time on their hands, including 90 million more unemployed adults than there were in 1970. What happens to them?

Andrew Yang again:

Not just coincidentally, “deaths of despair” — those caused by suicide, overdose and alcoholism — have surged to unprecedented levels among middle-aged men over the past 20 years.

If Freud is right, and work and love are the primary sources of human happiness, there must be a lot of idle, unhappy people.

With no work to fill their time, maybe love becomes more important? Alas, that too seems to be out of reach. Yang:

Research shows that one significant factor women look for in a partner is a steady job. As men’s unemployment rises, their romantic prospects decline. Unsurprisingly, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from 1960 to 2010, the proportion of adults without a college degree who marry plummeted from just over 70 percent to roughly 45 percent.

No work. No love. ‘No cream in my coffee. No sugar in my tea’. What is left? Here’s a headline from USA Today: ‘Fentanyl kills more young Americans than COVID…’

Do too many young people put that water bucket on the ground…leaving them with nothing to do and no reason to do it?

We don’t know. But there is always more to the story…and this must be part of it.


Brian Chu Signature

Bill Bonner,
For The Daily Reckoning Australia