A concise picture of our current bubble economy

Mike Whitney painted this one:

Assets bubbles require massive amounts of leverage. But too much leverage can destabilize the system, so it needs to be regulated. But Wall Street doesn’t like restrictions on leverage because it can make more money by borrowing like crazy, inflating a ginormous bubble, skimming off the profits, and cashing in before the crash. So, the Fed ignores Wall Street’s “gearing” operations and pretends not to see what’s going on. It becomes a bubble “enabler” by lowering interest rates, easing credit and waving-off tighter regulations. It’s all part of the game. The Fed works to help its core constituents while everyone else is put at risk.

But there’s another reason for bubbles, too. Stagnation is a chronic problem in mature capitalist economies. As businesses become more efficient in their various widget-making operations, demand for their products drops off making it harder for owners to find profitable outlets for investment. And when investment starts to flag, then grip of economic inertia begins to tighten. As author Robert Skidelsky says, “investment fills the gap between production and consumption”, so when investment hits a speed-bump, spending starts to wither and the economy slows to a crawl.

The Fed’s remedy: Zero rates, easy money and more bubbles; Professor Bernanke’s one-size-fits-all, magic elixir for sclerotic economies. In other words, the emerging stock and commodities bubbles are not a sign that the Fed is flubbing the policy. Bubbles are the policy, and have been for a very long time. Bernanke is no fool. He knows that each business cycle is weaker than the last, creating fewer jobs, more slack in the economy, and more anemic growth. His job is to endlessly tweak the process in order to maintain profitability for the people at the top of the economic foodchain, his real bosses.

What sound does this financial dinosaur make when it dies?

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