Yet to return to my initial criticism of cyclically finance-based as opposed to structural policy solutions, almost all remedies proposed by global authorities to date have approached the problem from the standpoint of favoring capital as opposed to labor. If the banks could just be stabilized, if the “markets” could just be elevated back in the direction of peak 401(k) levels, if interest rates could just be lower so that borrowers would inevitably take the bait, then labor – job creation – would inevitably follow. It has not. The explanation for why not must at least include the rationale that Wall Street and Main Street are symbiotically connected and if one benefits at the expense of the other, then both ultimately can falter.That there is a current imbalance is obvious from Chart 1, which shows before-tax corporate profits as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI). It is obvious that “capital” as opposed to “labor” – moving from 8 to 13% of GNI over the past three or even 30 years – has been the cyclical and secular champion. Why one or the other should be policy and politically advantaged is not commonsensically clear. Granted, the return on capital as opposed to the return to labor should logically be higher if only to encourage savings. But once an historical midpoint or range has been established, a relative equilibrium should be observed. Even conservatives must acknowledge that return on capital investment, and the liquid stocks and bonds that mimic it, are ultimately dependent on returns to labor in the form of jobs and real wage gains. If Main Street is unemployed and undercompensated, capital can only travel so far down Prosperity Road. Until recently, economic recovery has been relatively robust if one were a deployer of capital as opposed to the laborer who made that deployment possible. Near zero percent interest rates have allowed profit margins to widen even in the face of anemic end demand. As well, “productivity” has remained high, but only because of layoffs and the production of goods and services with fewer people. While that is a benefit to capital, it obviously comes at a great cost to labor.￼Ultimately, however, both labor and capital suffer as a deleveraging household sector in the throes of a jobless recovery refuses – if only through fear and consumptive exhaustion – to play their historic role in the capitalistic system. This “labor trap” phenomenon – in which consumers stop spending out of fear of unemployment or perhaps negative real wages, shrinking home prices or an overall loss of faith in the American Dream – is what markets or “capital” should now begin to recognize. Long-term profits cannot ultimately grow unless they are partnered with near equal benefits for labor. Washington, London, Berlin and yes, even Beijing must accept this commonsensical reality alongside several other structural initiatives that seek to rebalance the global economy. The United States in particular requires an enhanced safety net of benefits for the unemployed unless and until it can produce enough jobs to return to our prior economic model which suggested opportunity for all who were willing to grab for the brass ring – a ring that is now tarnished if not unavailable for the grasping. Policies promoting “Buy American” goods and services – which in turn would employ more Americans – should also be reintroduced. China and Brazil do it. Why not us?
Read the whole letter at PIMCO, Six Pac(k)in'
Gross is correct that it's the demand (income), stupid, but the answer is not, "Buy American" (basically, some form of protectionism). MMT shows why the problem is fiscal, and how to fix it by offsetting non-government saving desire with a corresponding fiscal deficit. But he is definitely on the right track in saying, "Long-term profits cannot ultimately grow unless they are partnered with near equal benefits for labor." It's about circular flow, after all.