Monday, March 4, 2013

"Corporate Profits Are Eating the Economy"

Derek Thompson @ The Atlantic:
Here are two things that are true about the economy today.

(1) The Dow Jones industrial average is poised to set a new record as corporate profits stretch to all-time highs.

(2) There are still fewer working Americans today than there were before the start of the Great Recession.

The fact that these two things can be true at the same time might outrage you. But it shouldn't surprise you. In the last 30 years, there has been a great divergence between growth and workers' incomes, as the New York Times reminds us today. Corporate profits have soared, in the last decade especially, particularly because of three things:

Globalization has pushed down the cost of labor available to multinational corporations; technology has allowed companies to make more with fewer workers, in general; and Big Finance has gobbled up the economy, as the banks' share of total corporate profits has tripled to about one-third since the middle of the last century, according to Evan Soltas.

Here's the short story of corporate profits, GDP, and workers' income since the Great Recession. As you can see, corporations rode a wild roller coaster, but they quickly found their way back on top. GDP has been sluggish and overall labor income has struggled to keep up with even that sluggish pace.

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Here's the longer view. Zoom out to the turn of the century, and you can see that this isn't a "recession" trend. It's just a trend that the recession has amplified. Corporate profits starting eating the economy around 2003, around the time the housing market started delivering massive profits to finance companies.

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