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The Real Reason Wages Have Stagnated: Our Economy is Optimized for Financialization

The Real Reason Wages Have Stagnated: Our Economy is Optimized for Financialization

Labor’s share of the national income is in freefall as a direct result of the optimization of financialization.

The Achilles Heel of our socio-economic system is the secular stagnation of earned income, i.e. wages and salaries. Stagnating wages undermine every aspect of our economy: consumption, credit, taxation and perhaps most importantly, the unspoken social contract that the benefits of productivity and increasing wealth will be distributed widely, if not fairly.

This chart shows that labor’s declining share of the national income is not a recent problem, but a 45-year trend: despite occasional counter-trend blips, labor (that is, earnings from labor/ employment) has seen its share of the economy plummet regardless of the political or economic environment.

Given the gravity of the consequences of this trend, mainstream economists have been struggling to explain it, as a means of eventually reversing it. The explanations include automation, globalization/ offshoring, the high cost of housing, a decline of corporate competition (i.e. the dominance of cartels and quasi-monopolies), a failure of our educational complex to keep pace, stagnating gains in productivity, and so on.

Each of these dynamics may well exacerbate the trend, but they all dodge the dominant driver of wage stagnation and rise income-wealth inequality: our economy is optimized for financialization, not labor/earned income.

What does our economy is optimized for financialization mean? It means that capital and profits flow to the scarcities created by asymmetric access to information, leverage and cheap credit–the engines of financialization.

Optimization is a complex overlay of dynamically linked systems: the central bank optimizes the flow of cheap credit to the banking/financial sector, the central state tacitly approves the consolidation of cartels and quasi-monopolies, and gives monstrous tax breaks to corporations even as it jacks up taxes and fees on wage earners and small business.

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