Fed, Not Capitalism, Responsible for Income Inequality

“Income inequality in the United States has been growing for decades, but the trend appears to have accelerated during the Obama administration.”                                                                                                 The New York Times

Today, America has the widest gap in income equality in history.

If capitalism is to blame, as French economist Thomas Piketty claimed in his bestseller, Capital in the Twenty First Century, how can that be?

During the past eight years, the federal government has virtually taken control of healthcare, the Internet (regs to come) and, to a great degree, the financial sector. The minimum wage has doubled in many markets and spending on entitlement programs such as the supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP) has skyrocketed.Gini Coefficient

In other words, America has moved much closer to socialism, with greater government control over our lives. Capitalism has ebbed, as fewer businesses are being formed and fewer still are going public.

President Obama made income inequality the main theme of his 2015 Economic Report of the President and his last two State of the Union speeches.  As Occupy Wall Street, MoveOn.org and other left-wing and left-leaning organizations have made income equality their rallying cry, the gap between rich and poor has widened.

How come?

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Inflation: The Fed’s Red Herring

If you wanted to boost economic growth, which of the following would you focus on?

If you picked low inflation, congratulations. There is a place for you on the Federal Reserve Board.

The Fed’s focus on inflation is a result of its mandate to reduce or stabilize the unemployment rate and the rate of inflation. But its seeming obsession with a 2% rate of inflation is nonsensical. As we’ve pointed out, 2% appears to be an arbitrary number. Will the economy function better if the inflation rate is 2% instead of 2.5%? Why not 1.5%?

Martin Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan, wrote in The Wall Street Journal this week that it’s nearly impossible to measure the true rate of inflation, given that the rapid pace of technological change makes today’s products much different than the products of even a year or two ago. How do you compare today’s smartphone with your previous cellphone? And if you can’t compare the two products, how can you determine how much prices have changed?

“The problem that consumers care about and that should be the subject of Fed policy is avoiding a return to the rapidly rising inflation that took measured inflation from less than 2% in 1965 to 5% in 1970 and to more than 12% in 1980,

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“When Free Enterprise Dies, America Dies With It”

Public ownership has historically been the lifeblood of the American economy. Going public produced funding for growth, while providing investors with an opportunity to share in the company’s success.

Not anymore.

In the peak year of 1996, more than 1,000 companies went public.  This year, we may not have 100 initial public offerings (IPOs). To date, only 39 IPOs have been filed—a 52.4% decrease from last year. Only 20 IPOs have been priced, which is a 65.5% decrease from last year. Only $3.3 billion has been raised from IPOs, a decrease of 68.8% from last year, according to Renaissance Capital.

In January, not a single U.S. company went public. And there was no polar vortex to blame. Through the first quarter, there were only 11 IPOs, which is the worst start to a year since 2009.

So tell me again about the booming economy.

In the past, the number of newly public companies far outweighed the number of companies that converted from public to private ownership, failed, merged, were acquired or were delisted because they no longer met exchange requirements. In recent years, though, the number of companies no longer trading on U.S. exchanges has been increasing just as IPOs have been decreasing. Public Companies

In fact, the U.S. now has half as many publicly listed companies trading on its exchanges as it did in 1996. As the chart shows, America had 7,322 in 1996 and, as of last year, that number had dropped to 3,700. That’s 1,000 lower than in 1975, a date well before the boom in IPOs.

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In Defense of Capitalism

“The problem is we don’t have enough free markets.”

                                                                  Ron Paul

The U.S. economy is operating with the invisible hand tied behind its back.  And that’s unlikely to change if we elect another President Clinton or a President Trump.

Unfortunately, capitalism has become unfashionable.  Media, academia, some members of Congress and others would have you believe that “profits” are bad and income inequality is America’s biggest challenge (Note: Socialist actors like Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and Jane Fonda also make plenty of profits and contribute little to the economy.  When are they going to equalize their incomes?).

When’s the last time you heard a presidential candidate—or any politician, for that matter—extoll the virtues of capitalism?  This year, we have a socialist running for president and millions of millennials supporting him.

Hillary Clinton reacted by moving almost as far to the left as Bernie Sanders.  She did mention capitalism in the nearly ignored Democratic debates, but only to say that we need to save capitalism from itself.  She’s half right … we need to save capitalism—from politicians, academics and the legion of “activists” who are clueless about economics.

You’d think that as a billionaire, presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump would be a die-hard capitalist, but he is a protectionist whose immigration policies, if enacted, would continue to stifle business formation.  Given that he has also personally benefited from eminent domain, his support of capitalism appears to be of the crony type.

Other Republican candidates have spoken out against “crony capitalism,” but we have not seen a lot of support for honest-to-goodness, free-market capitalism.  You know—the capitalism that made the United States the wealthiest, most successful country in history.

Why Capitalism Rules

The concept of capitalism is simple enough.

In a capitalist country, trade and industry are controlled by private owners, rather than by the state.  The more private owners succeed, the greater the profit they make.  Ada

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The Flim-Flam Economy

The absurdity of today’s flim-flam economy can be summarized when the events of the past week are considered together:

  • The U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of just 0.5% during the first quarter
  • Corporate profits are the lowest they’ve been since 2009
  • The current bull market is now the second longest in history
  • The Federal Reserve Board, to no one’s surprise, elected yet again not to raise interest rates

The conclusion that can be drawn is that, while the U.S. is not yet a socialist country, it is no longer a capitalist country, either.  There is a seeming collusion between political leaders and central bankers with the net result being more and more government control over our lives amid the illusion that all is well, because, after all, the stock market moves in only one direction. Equities

Mainstream media, with few exceptions, reinforce the illusion, cheerleading for the Obama Administration as it continues to break records for its ever-increasing volume of new regulations.  Burdensome new regulations reduce corporate profits, which should result in lower stock prices.  But the Fed has somehow managed to circumvent reality and juice the market ever higher. 

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