Jan 8, 2012

Debt and Occupy Wall Steet

I liked this essay's explanation of the zeitgeist behind the Occupy movements.

I think there is a simpler story though to be told about modern economic growth being driven primarily by increased private debt levels.  (Update: my view expressed here is heavily influenced by Steve Keen's writing.)  It is less malevolent than the corruption of politics by money explained by the linked essay and simpler to address.  

My story would be that constantly increasing debt levels of the past 3 decades created false demand that was unsustainable when the debt growth stopped.  The extra demand smoothed out the business cycle while the debt grew creating a self fulfilling "great moderation" of stable dependable economic growth that allowed and incentivising high debt levels.

High debt levels benefit asset owners by driving up prices and lenders by increasing interest payments which also explains the shifts in wealth distribution.  There was also a kicker to the wealth concentration at the end of the debt build up where "the 99%" were convinced to take on large debt loads to purchase houses which, as an un-productive asset, require either the owners salary or price appreciation to enable the interest payments.

Recognising the current imbalances as a debt problem would add "eliminating tax incentives for debt funding" and possibly   add "managing the aggregate debt level" to the responsibilities of the world's central banks.  

I don't think this is a difficult narrative for people to understand and I imagine most are aware of the increased presence of debt in their lives.  While discussion of the government debt level is a popular media topic and the level of education loans is starting to make headlines there is much less discussion of the overall private debt level making me think that the majority of people are still looking for a return to the good old days of steady debt growth.

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