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As economic diaries duel daily here at DailyKos, there seems to be an increasing disconnect between competing camps.

On one side are the Green Shoots crowd, who look at traditional economic recoveries and focus on Leading Economic Indicators to show that we're at an inflection point where economic growth may resume.

In contrast to them are many who feel that the news we're getting feels downright Orwellian.

In Orwell's classic Nineteen Eighty-Four, we met a Ministry of Peace fighting an endless war, a Ministry of Love in charge of torture and  a Ministry of Plenty tasked with rationing. Every claim of rising living standards made by MiniPlenty was false or exaggerated.

Orwellian propaganda comes easily to mind. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

In our era, the Oceanic government would add a slogan - Debt is Wealth.

Even those who see green shoots sprouting in the wasteland to the Great Recession admit, quite frankly, that there's a huge difference between an inflection point, where economic activity starts increasing, and a recovery that starts creating new jobs. Here's a representative comment from bondad.

So overall things are improving.  However this does not mean we are out of the woods.  There is no reason to think the expansion will be strong.  As I have stated growth above 2% won't happen for awhile and we can expect unemployment (which lags GDP growth) to be high for the foreseeable future.

There's another camp that sees our current economic situation as more of a reset or collapse, very different from any other postwar economic cycle. There are many skeptics, with many strong arguments.

The Ministry of Plenty

The skeptics are deeply distrustful of many of the basic numbers that come from the nation's economists, including the inflation reports, the unemployment numbers, statistics on the money supply, et cetera. And they have plenty of reason for their lack of faith. Employment numbers have been skewed for years by the Birth/Death adjustments, Inflation has been systematically underestimated, and statistics on the money supply are suspect since the government stopped reporting M3, the broadest measurement in 2006. I could go on, but there's a tremendous distrust of the lords of finance, kleptocrats who invited us to the dance, only to steal our shoes and amputate our feet.

A Collapse, Not a Recession

Beyond distrusting reports, some yellow shoots folks see fundamental problems that make this economy very different from past recoveries.

The arguments vary, but they center on the causes behind both the bubble and the downturn, where the level of leverage was so extraordinary, and the economic activity lost was so great, that we're looking at a major reset of our economy as we deleverage. We borrowed and spent exorbitantly at every level, on an individual level and a corporate level, here and globally, in a frenzy of greed-based insanity. We've nationalized some of that debt, but it remains, and the economic activity it spawned won't come back. Now we're tracking a Great Depression Scenario and ultimately The Economy is Worse Than You Think

I'm in the reset/collapse school of thought, but my viewpoint is heavily influenced by my extreme pessimism about the California economy, where I don't see a single sector that's turning. The huge job losses in finance, insurance, real estate, construction, manufacturing, transportation, et cetera, are gradually moving into another leg down as schools, local governments, retailers, restaurants, and service industries scale down to accommodate lower demand, in a cycle that shows no signs of ending.

Debt is Wealth

Unfortunately, California had a strong percentage of our economy based on something called mortgage equity withdrawal, people borrowing against their homes, serially, and spending the money. Nationally, this House as ATM phenomenon peaked in Q42006 at 9% of personal income, but it was at a much higher level in California, NV, AZ, and FL and some regional bubble markets where the bubble inflated bigger and faster, with a lot more phony equity to tap.

As MEW tapered off in 2007, and screeched to a halt in 2008, many homeowners lost a big earner in their household that had reliably been bringing money in every year. Then they started losing jobs and getting paid less for the jobs they had. That's one reason why the Golden State is in such financial turmoil. State tax revenues have been going down since Q4 2006 at an increasing rate, with sales taxes down 12% and income taxes down 20% in recent reports from the state controller.

State and local governments are responding by cutting spending far more than the stimulus dollars coming in, which then lowers overall economic activity, so more people lose their jobs and homes, and we keep spiralling downward.

Peak Oil

There's another group of arguments that center around the fact that our economy was built on inexpensive energy, and as the supply of easy-to-exploit petrochemicals has reached its peak production, while demand continues to increase, we have a completely unsustainable growth-based development model that will strongly limit growth. Peak Oil will throttle any recovery in its crib,


The Jobless Recovery

Finally, as one in five Californians, Oregonians, and Michiganers is either unemployed or underemployed, with no sector improving, there's a group of people who get really angry because they can see that a rising stock market, increasing consumer confidence, and a decline in the rate that we are losing jobs is completely irrelevant to what they call the real economy. After losing millions of jobs, what the hell difference does it make that we are now losing fewer jobs every month?

They may own no stocks, or have them tied up in retirement accounts, so they don't feel any richer when the markets go up, and they live in terror of losing their their jobs, health insurance, and their homes, frequently in that order.

They are struggling, and everyone they know is struggling, so it's like the economic news of imminent recovery is Orwellian double talk coming from the Ministry of Truth.

And so we beat on, boats against the current...

If you expected a prescription for action or a wow finish to this diary, I don't have one.

Personally, we're moving to a new frugality in our family, trying to adapt to a world with less, where we use and waste less energy, water, and stuff, grow more of our own food, move around using human power more frequently. We're debt free, our grown sons are debt-free, we're affluent, but we're still scaling back for a lower consumption of the world's resources, It's a different life, better and healthier in many ways, with some great little bonuses like the fresh smell of line-dried sheets.

Originally posted to Aeolus on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:34 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I hope you appreciated (7+ / 0-)

    That I didn't need no stinking graphs!

    There is a God, but he got an MBA. How else can you explain our world?

    by Aeolus on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:35:28 PM PDT

  •  The fact is that nobody really knows (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mnemosyne, linkage, penguinsong

    Economics is not a science

  •  Its dead wrong to say no sector (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    askew, linkage, Corwin Weber

    Is improving.  In OR for example our green jobs sector is still booming, as is healthcare.

    "Polls are like crack, political activists know they're bad for them but they read them anyways."-Unknown

    by skywaker9 on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:41:03 PM PDT

    •  No not really (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      phonegery, Ellinorianne, forgore, GeeBee

      Nursing jobs are scarce, elective surgeries are off, dentists and orthodontists report declining demand. This surprised me because people keep saying that health care doesn't shrink, but with declining incomes, fewer jobs, fewer people with insurance, and hundreds of thousands of kids being kicked off SCHIP, health care is shrinking.

      As far as green jobs, lots of talk, not many jobs.

      There is a God, but he got an MBA. How else can you explain our world?

      by Aeolus on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:51:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The issue with green jobs is that... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        linkage, Corwin Weber

        ...right now most of our "green jobs" companies hire in groups of, at most, 100.  While our companies shedding jobs?  Lose them at a clip considerably higher than that.

        "Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center." - Kurt Vonnegut

        by Mister Gloom on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:53:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  No Solar boom (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          phonegery, linkage, Ellinorianne, GeeBee

          No solar boom

          Due to the poor economy, project financing, the life blood of commercial solar has not flowed at the rate the industry requires. Investors and commercial buyers around the world, and in the U.S. are increasingly interested in solar PV systems, but are reluctant to purchase.

          Now midyear, 2009 is shaping up as a year of decline for the solar industry worldwide, or at best a low growth year. Together the markets around the world have been unable to grow at a rate that overcomes this confluence of events.

          There is a God, but he got an MBA. How else can you explain our world?

          by Aeolus on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 06:00:33 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  That's the New Economy job equation (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DBunn

          All the cool New Economy jobs that Clinton promised us are like that. Biotech, nano, green energy, even the New IT jobs. Small numbers of employees, often with large numbers of advanced degrees between them, working like crazy, being "productive" enough that more employees (domestically) are not needed.

          Productivity means doing more with fewer employees and/or less costly employees. That makes for higher profits, which we all know is the ultimate goal of this system.

          It brings all kinds of fantasy and science fiction stories to mind. Ultimately maybe we have one "knowledge worker" sitting at a computer making all the decisions and clicking the icons that send a million slaves off fabricating the chips in some third world superfactory while another million slaves mine the materials in some other hell on earth. (A more powerful version of the Head Librarian in Sean McMullen's Souls in the Great Machine maybe.) Perhaps that person could even double as the one who operates Cheney's and Rumsfeld's military space platforms, obliterating whole societies with concentrated laser cannon fire when the slaves get unruly or too many refugees are sitting on land where resources need to be pillaged. (Like the "Wizards" in Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman series.) Why worry about one person having all that power when the productivity equation is so perfect? (Mordor was probably a model of productivity, too bad J. R. R. Tolkien was too stodgy and blinkered to realize that—One Ring to Rule Them All was the efficient solution after all, the clear path to higher productivity.)

          I'm not sure who is supposed to be the customer in these scenarios, or how they are supposed to be able to keep consuming the products of all this productivity. In that sense the "innovative financial products" that the big banks were all playing with are a fumbling step toward a final solution—since they actually produce nothing, but can be bought and sold for many times the value of whatever physical assets they're loosely linked to. So they point to the next step of monetary evolution where money is free to disconnect from anything physical and keep multiplying in the form of more and more arcane instruments in an endless pyramid based only on itself and the imagination of its owners, with no need for (bad) customers or (worse) workers. The Holy Grail of the labor-despising class.

      •  Health care... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DBunn, linkage, glaser, Ellinorianne

        ...is also something you can't build an economy off of. It's a cost center. An expanding health care sector is bad, not good.

    •  That's a fraction.... (0+ / 0-)

      ...of the economy, tho.

      Tech is where the money is and tech is getting seriously fucked.

  •  I'm of a third group (21+ / 0-)

    which holds that the ongoing restructuring of the economy since the mid-70s has led to a situation where regardless of whether we're technically in a recession or a recovery, no gain nor benefit accrues to working class people who remain permanently mired in a marginalized, precarious situation, while any gains in productivity and economic velocity are entirely sequestered by the Ownership Class.

    "99% of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side." ~ Marshall Akhromeyev

    by ActivistGuy on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:42:20 PM PDT

    •  Good point (8+ / 0-)

      Many structural problems in the economy were ignored while we went on a collective borrowing binge.

      There is a God, but he got an MBA. How else can you explain our world?

      by Aeolus on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:54:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And the two are directly connected (5+ / 0-)

        The borrowing binge was the only means by which those being run over by the structural changes could maintain anything resembling their former standard of living.  The next period will be that of accepting the hard reality of the reduced circumstances of the overwhelming majority and the enormous privilege of our Owners.

        "99% of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side." ~ Marshall Akhromeyev

        by ActivistGuy on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 06:23:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't know if Americans (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mnemosyne, ActivistGuy, DBunn, linkage, GeeBee

          could ever overcome all their programming to begin to demand a more equitable distribution of resources along the lines of European social democracy aka <gasp> socialism.

          •  Americans... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            linkage

            ...would never, ever want a more equitable distribution of resources because it would mean an equalization across America and China. Every American, including the 'poorest' would be vastly negatively affected in that circumstance.

            •  Why would it have to mean (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              linkage, GeeBee

              complete equalization with China. European nations have a more equitable distribution of national resources than the US does without bringing China into the equation.

            •  Good Grief (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              GeeBee

              Too bad we dont have a "Bottom Comments" feature here.

              "Even the poorest wouldn't want a fair or equitable distribution of wealth... cause that would be communism"

              Take it to Free Republic. I see you drop these comments here and there. I know you are thinking that since you are not "called" on it, your stingy reality is somehow sanctioned. It's not. And it's noticeable.

              •  Huh? (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                DBunn, linkage

                My point is very simple: Americans are vastly, vastly richer and more resource consumptive than virtually anyone else on the planet. This process of 'depression' is merely bringing our resource consumption back into line somewhat with what the rest of the planet has now.

                And it isn't the rich doing most of the consumption (though their consumption is very visible and thus a good bread-and-circuses way to provide an enemy for liberals to direct their ire at... and I am a liberal). The consumption is being done mostly (on an absolute level) by the middle class, and thus normalization of global inequalities in wealth distribution are going to preferentially hurt the US middle class, which they are.

                Virtually everyone in the US is rich compared to virtually everyone in most developing nations. Poor people in developing nations feel exactly the same about Americans that Americans feel about the rich, and they want to (and are) solving their problems the way you want to solve them with the rich of this country.

                •  You certainly didn't (0+ / 0-)

                  make that very clear.

                  •  I apologize... (0+ / 0-)

                    ...for drive-by posting then and will endeavor to be more clear in the future.

                    It's difficult to make this point sometimes, but Americans are far richer than most other people, and those people have little regard for the 'problems' of losing your personal single-family house and the like. To everyone else, Americans are the rich, and I guess it galls me to hear people with the leisure time to post on a computer network from a personal computer that they probably own talking about the distribution of wealth between the rich and the very rich while ignoring the truly poor.

                    •  I agree with you point (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Sparhawk, linkage

                      that there is a process of leveling the global table. A similar process went on between the US and Europe in the 19th C. No single nation can completely control such a complex process. The US's share of the global pie has been on the decline and no doubt will continue to be. However, what we do have is also poorly distributed. That can be changed without necessary reference to external economic conditions.

          •  That's why I said (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            tgs1952

            it will be about "accepting" that bifurcation. Some, perhaps many, even a majority, will embrace total subjection, as it will be programmed socially, culturally and politically as the mark of patriotism and good citizenship, of civility and good manners.   A small minority will rebel, fiercely, eventually violently, but will discover that the era of revolt and insurrection will be brought to an end by omnipresent video surveillance, armed drones, total policing, and large-scale crowd-control weapons like the Active Denial System.  Our future is nothing but a hob-nailed boot coming down on our face over and over again until we completely capitulate to a status of total subjugation to the Ownership Class.  

            "99% of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side." ~ Marshall Akhromeyev

            by ActivistGuy on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 09:02:07 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, I would add (7+ / 0-)

      That yes if GDP grows, thats good. But if the growth occurs at the top 5% of income earners thats not so good.

      I wanna see happens when the next batch of ARMS reset. If they are dealt with in a proactive manner prior to the shit hitting the fan, great, if not The Obama administration will scrambling to mop up the mess.

      I'm becoming convinced that top tax rate needs to go back up to 65-70%, this will help focus GDP growth in the bottom 80% of income earners.

      FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 06:11:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes But That's Off the Table. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ActivistGuy, DBunn, glaser, Roger Fox

        If we can't do with trade what we did for 2 centuries and what every electrical distribution system has to do to prevent blowing out elements with mismatched capacities, and we can't restore the policies we proved over half a century that kept the top end from steadily increasing the percentage of its ownership of the country, there's really not much to talk about other than the pace of going where we're committed to ending up.

        We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

        by Gooserock on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 07:34:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Capitalism needs an underclass. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ActivistGuy

      If you let the lower classes get ahead, nobody's going to shovel shit.

      •  the difference being (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DBunn, Corwin Weber

        that the proportion of Americans being part of the most precarious lower classes is steadily growing, and that growth itself is accelerating in rate as the last vestiges of the era of unionism fade away, and as the globalist labor market arbitrage race to the bottom accelerates.  And without any sense of solidarity or class consciousness, American workers are entirely helpless to even slow the process down.  As the words of "Solidarity Forever" say, "What force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?"  

        "99% of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side." ~ Marshall Akhromeyev

        by ActivistGuy on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 10:08:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Didn't say it was a good thing.... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DBunn

          ...just something you always have to keep in mind when discussing capitalism.

          People that think the system is set up against them aren't paranoid and crazy, they're right.  It's set up against everybody that isn't already at the top.  Somebody has to be at the bottom or the whole system falls apart.

          Just bear in mind.... in the end, somebody still has to shovel the shit.  Those at the top want to make sure it isn't them, and want to get it done for as little investment as they can possibly manage.

    •  The OECD seems to agree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DBunn

      Adult height : Americans are not getting taller. The United States is the only country in the OECD where men and women aged 45-49 are no taller than those aged 20-24 years old, indicating no improvement in health and social conditions determining gains in height. All other 22 OECD countries are seeing greater height gains between these two generations.

      I have a scary hunch that what we're going through is more like a collapse than a recession or depression. The rest of the world will recover to a greater extent than the USA will. That is my guess.

      •  Typo? (0+ / 0-)

        Or maybe just poor writing/editing...

        The United States is the only country in the OECD where men and women aged 45-49 are no taller than those aged 20-24 years old...

        Why should the older group be taller than the younger group? For this quote to make sense, it should reverse the order of comparison.

        Assuming that the reverse is what the writer really meant... the information is not exactly surprising, more of a confirmation of what we already knew. There is no truer measure of wealth than what you eat. As a nation, we hit our peak 40 or so years ago, when those 45- to 49-year olds were growing kids. Over the next 25 years, we held to that plateau (sort of). Now, we're not getting taller, just fatter. Not sure what that means, but what it doesn't mean is that diet and living conditions have improved.

  •  not having money or a job (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, GeeBee

    is not Orwellian.

    I agree the people are easily manipulated because of their fear and hate.

    But recovery?, is far away and there is a scary underlying anger sweeping the country based on loathing for the politicians and the elite who most people see as the only beneficiary of the government.

    Something is bound to break within the next 12-18 months when it becomes clear the economy is totally doomed.

    It wont be pleasant.

    "but I would not be convicted by a jury of my peers. still crazy after all these years".....

    by JadeZ on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:49:36 PM PDT

  •  Nice diary, well done. (11+ / 0-)

    I am in the reset camp as well and I don't think we are close to being done with this mess. Americans still hold outrageous amounts of debt, housing prices continue to decline and the job market is going to be a big problem for both the country and our leaders. The markets valuation right now is almost laughable, even if we have bottomed current P/E ratio's are ridiculous. given the kind of earnings we are likely to see going forward. Yes, I maybe out to lunch and totally wrong, but I will be cutting expenses and spending conservatively going forward and I imagine most Americans will be in that boat.

  •  The American public (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aeolus, Mnemosyne, linkage

    has allowed themselves to be convinced that the 20 years following WWII was the way it was always supposed to be. Things were not that good for the US prior to WWII. As the rest of the world began to recover from the war the US faced increasing competition. That started impacting the US economy in the 70s. The recession during the Bush I years was a fairly major readjustment with a lot of jobs disappearing never to return. Then we had a couple of bubbles to distract us.

    I think what we are getting now is the  delayed shock of reality. People on Wall St. may well start raking in the bonuses again, but the rest of us are going to be tightening belts for a long time to come.

    •  There have been 3 middle classes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gooserock, linkage

      2 occurred in the US. Our revolution was born of an agrarian middle class.

      FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 06:13:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  These things don't just happen (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tgs1952, Richard Lyon

      There were many ways to handle the post-war situation. Truman's way was to create the military-industrial complex and pour a gigantic amount of money into this "military Keynesian" project. Every one of his successors has continued the same scheme, with all the huge government borrowing, subsidies for favored industries and frequent warmaking necessary to keep that project afloat. But it didn't have to be that way. It was a conscious decision on that part of George Kennan, Dean Acheson and their successors, implemented through specific policies and legislation.

      The same applies to our energy, agricultural, trade, labor and foreign policies of the last 35 years. Big Oil got its subsidies and tax breaks thanks to legislation passed by actual Senators and Representatives, not because of some natural order. Most of the stuff in grocery stores is corn-based "food substance" instead of food due to decisions by certain government officials egged on by their patrons in industry. The terms of the trade deals all favored the interests of the parasite investor classes over the interests of labor or the environment, and they were negotiated by specific individuals, not by historical forces. The looting of post-Soviet Russia was set up by Robert Rubin and other members of the Clinton team, no abstraction needs to be invoked to explain it.

      And so on. We had multiple opportunities to deal creatively with the problems of a rebuilt Europe and Asia becoming more competitive—in every case we sacrificed the general prosperity (which was not necessarily identical with madly compulsive consumption of trashy material goods) in order to boost the already insane wealth levels of the super-rich.

  •  Peak oil, resource depletion is a kicker (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage

    And the hail mary pass is Polywell fusion.

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 06:14:36 PM PDT

  •  Thanks (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, Ellinorianne, Fedallah

    Yes, it is hard to believe that we will be back to 'business as usual' in another nine months or so - as the 'green shooters predict'.

    What I do see is what I saw described as the 'South Americanization' of the US economy. In other words, the 'looting' is now getting back on track.

    No doubt, that is the fundamental meaning of the 'green shoots'.

  •  Excellent Diary! (4+ / 0-)

    You really tied it all in beautifully with your uncertainty about California and your own life. Impressive work. I sure hope it's rescued.

  •  here (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage

    we lost two employers this week
    no recovery apparent

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