Don’t look for housing to rise out of the ashes and get back to 2006 production levels any time soon. The housing bubble was all about greed. Getting a bank loan, was robbery without a gun. While the drunken real estate orgy was in full swing, nobody bad mouthed bankers by calling them banksters. In this country, making a lot of money is a sign of intelligence, inversely, poor people are considered stupid. So if you are poor and not stupid it has to be somebody else’s fault.
From there we could claim that the large unemployment numbers are the result of the poor economy, but the problem is far bigger. The Information Age has bloomed and left many people unemployed. Back in the early 1900’s banks employed thousands of accountants to tally their books from day to day. The invention of the Burroughs adding machine made about half of the banking work force redundant.
In the early 1900’s, the agrarian (farming) economy employed 41% of the population. By 1930 it had dropped to about 21%. The mechanical combine harvester and the tractor changed farming forever. At the same time, the assembly line production increased worker efficiency and output. It was this shift in technology that added to the unemployment of the Great Depression.
Today, one computer and an excel work sheet can eliminate the bean counters in a large retail firm. Stores no longer need to check the shelves when ordering inventory. Theirs scanned sales totals give them the numbers for their replenishment orders. The gas and electric companies don’t employ meter readers any more, each residential unit is in direct communication with the utility. Today we have 20 million unemployed people that need to be retrained, in order to secure a new job. For a lot of these people, their old jobs no longer exist.
There is a question to ask yourself when you go into a retail store,” How many of the items on the shelf are made in the United States?” A future Smoot-Hawley type tariff could be used to entice offshore American corporations to return to the USA to produce their wares. Of course your flat panel TV produced in the US would be of low quality and probably triple the price of anything made in China.
Over a span of 60 years, the shifting of American production overseas has been so gradual that it was not noticed. The companies that used to be US based, don’t need the added aggravation costs of health care and retirement benefits. They can survive very well outside the US. These labor jobs are not coming back.
Bernanke’s quantitative easing is a method of paying back for what we have already borrowed; with no tangible results that I can see. Whereas government program to improve the infrastructure of the country (roads, sewage, etc) would be a positive step in the right direction. Plus it would be something that they have to do anyway no matter what the economy is doing.
The aspect of whether we are facing inflation or deflation has been a rather active topic on this blog lately in the remarks section. I didn’t get a pay raise this year (government pay freeze). My wife got a 10% pay cut and all of our household bills went up (gas, electric, water cable and trash). My son’s tuition went up $1,200. If this is deflation, why am I paying more and getting less in return? The real irritating thing about the increase in the water bill was we had to pay more for consuming less (there was a push by the utility to conserve water and they accomplished their conservation goal). Unfortunately they didn’t sell enough water to cover the fixed costs, so we got a rate increase. This points out the vulnerability of large companies trying to down-size from a drop in consumer consumption. Fixed costs don’t disappear overnight.
I went to Starbucks this morning for a large Coffee (It’s probably been about 4 months since I was last there). The price has gone from $1.80 to $2.15. At the Supermarket, my favorite candy bar is still the same price, only it’s about half the size it used to be. Gasoline has dropped 15 cents this month (of course it’s still a dollar more than it was last year).
So what lies ahead? Hard times. Of course, that doesn’t sell newspapers does it? Don’t expect a government solution; our government is a consumer of wealth, not a producer. We are earning less, spending more and getting less in return. I guess inflation is when the size of the product you buy stays the same, and the price increases. Deflation must be where you (cough, cough) get less for the same price ;>)