But quantitative easing, of course, favored the rich: it did little to increase lending (especially for the middle class), and the economic buoyancy was most felt by those with money invested in the stock market. To wit, the S&P 500 was up 29.6% in 2013 (great for those who own securities), while GDP was up 1.9% across the whole year (not great for those on Main Street). This Main Street barnstorming is a curious elixir: white shoe considerations with elbow grease palaver.
And we're drinking the Kool-Aid.
Exhibit B: this past weekend's New York Times Style section featured a report from Jamie Johnson that chronicles his time at the "Next Generation" conference, an exclusive White House gathering of 100 young philanthropists who will inherit billions in private wealth. The intention of the summit, to strategize the best ways to allocate this vast capital, is magnanimous. But our knowledge of this gathering which featured "hallway hobnobbing" amid panels about "Climate Change" and "Millennial Healthcare" comes with a fitting twist, which the reporter (himself worth $610 million) reveals in a disclosure: "Although the event was closed to the media, I was invited by the founders of Nexus, Jonah Wittkamper and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company." Our confrontation of socio-economic disparity even comes with its meta-narrative: the account, our very eyes into the exclusive symposium, comes from the be-gloved hand of a one-percenter who achieved inside access by virtue of his wealth.
Sure, Johnson has explored, and to some extent implicated, the lives of the fabulously wealthy in his 2003 documentary "Born Rich" and "The One Percent," which explores income inequality. Still, there is something unseemly about the conveyance of this information about this anointed sect by one its own.
The sad ballad of Main Street continues with news that CUNY's Luxembourg Income Study Center, a research arm that addresses income inequality, will pay economist Paul Krugman $25,000 a month irony of ironies, roughly six times the U.S. median income. This is not a full-time gig for the Nobel Laureate, but he will "play a modest role in our public events" and "contribute to the build-up" of the inequality initiative. You just can't make this stuff up. Perhaps it is an inside joke in which we are all peanut gallery participants. And as Krugman well knows, President Obama believes inequality is "the defining challenge of our age."
But maybe this economic dysmorphia is to be expected as researchers at Princeton University and Northwestern University, in examination of 1,779 policy issues, determined the U.S. is an oligarchy, not a democracy. The study, to be published in Perspectives on Politics, found that "[w]hen the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." In other words, Americans have rights and privileges featured in democratic governance but that's something of a chimera; in reality they have little influence over what the government implements.
That leaves us with the current economic struggles for those of us on Main Street. The Republican Governor of Oklahoma signed a miniumum wage hike ban in her state last week. 70 million Americans
have no emergency savings, and nearly one in four would run out of money in 30 days.
In the U.S. companies have $1.5 trillion in unfunded or underfunded pension obligations, and almost half of Americans have less than $10,000 in retirement savings, with almost a third with less than $1,000. Americans are $6.6 trillion short of what they'll need to retire.
The average household has about $15,000 in credit card debt and $30,000 in student loan debt. In fact, 37 million Americans are saddled with $1 trillion in student loan debt.
With a median household income dropping 7.8% since 2007, the American homeownership rate dropped to 65% last year, the lowest point since 1995. Wages have glacially increased an average of 2% per year since the recession, and long-term unemployment is high with 3.8 million workers out of work for six months or more. 7 million part-time workers would rather work full-time but haven't landed a gig. The numbers, as Yellen well knows, tell the story of the people behind Main Street and their struggles.
But yet the record keeps spinning; the invocation of "Main Street" issues in American discourse is a continued demonstration of singing "Jungle Land" and then flying off in a private jet, a world away from The Stone Pony.
--Written by Ross Kenneth Urken for MainStreet