The Top 10% Is Doing Just Fine, The Middle Class Is Dying On The Vine

Please study these charts as a means of understanding the inevitability of economic stagnation and a revolt of the decapitalized middle class.

I've been covering the decline of America's middle class for over a decade with charts, data and commentary on the social depression that has accompanied the decline.

While there are many mutually reinforcing dynamics in this 45-year decline--demographics, global energy costs, financialization and globalization, to name a few-- one term describes the accelerating erosion of America's middle class: decapitalization.

To understand decapitalization, we need to start with the fundamentals of any economy between labor (wages) and capital and between investment and speculation. Although it's tempting to oversimplify and demonize one or the other of these basics (speculators bad! etc.), they each provide an essential role in a healthy economy, one which is in dynamic equilibrium, a state analogous to a healthy ecosystem with constantly changing interactions of numerous species, individuals and inputs (weather, etc.). This variability enables the order of fluctuations (to use Ilya Prigogine's profound phrase), a dynamic stability / equilibrium.

If labor's share of the economy drops too low, the workforce cannot consume enough to support their households and the economy as a whole. If capital can no longer earn an attractive return, investment dries up and production stagnates. If speculators are not allowed to take on risk, liquidity dries up and risk crushes investment. But if speculation becomes the foundation of the economy's "growth," then the inevitable collapse of speculative bubbles will crash the economy.

In modern social-capitalist systems, the core stabilizer of the system is the wage-earning middle class which provides the stable workforce driving production and the stable pool of consumers needed to borrow money and consume enough to soak up the production of goods and services at a profit to producers.

Without a stable, dominant middle class, capital has few opportunities to invest in productive capacity. Without a stable, dominant middle class, the economy stagnates and is prone to collapse as it is far from equilibrium.

The process of middle class decline is best explained as decapitalization because the middle class is fundamentally a means of transforming labor into capital via savings and investment. The traditional ladder of social mobility from the working class to the middle class is one of capitalizing work: time and savings are invested in higher education, in effect capitalizing future labor by increasing productivity.

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Disclosures: None.

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