In Part 1 I mentioned Piketty’s assertion that the trend toward low or no growth appears, historically speaking, to be a return to normal as opposed to a temporary blip.
Unfortunately for those caught up in the “return to normal” it certainly feels different. Those of us who are old enough remember the “good old days” when we could find a job to pay the bills by making a couple of phone calls. We remember the optimism that we felt in the Clinton-era when we said that we’d reached the “end of history”. We became addicted to the growth drug, and we didn’t see the crash coming.
Looking back, it’s abundantly clear that a crash was coming, though. Imperceptibly, over time, the growth became relatively artificial. Savings rates dropped… then turned negative. The price of goods outstripped the earnings of the people buying them. This was not a problem until the supply of credit tightened… which happened. Simply put, like all drug stories, our cravings eventually outpaced our ability to pay for the high.
What we’ve seen since is what we should have known all along… The post-war growth rates were inflated. France, Germany, the UK and Japan were all playing catch-up to the United States in recovering from the war years. America, meanwhile, was a huge supplier of necessary materials – and a GINORMUS consumer of the products they made.
Once these countries caught up to us, however, the music slowly stopped. There was a rising floor of prices in Japan, for example, which meant that they could beat the rest of the world on price for so long. Then they could only compete on quality for so long.
Take Japanese cars for instance. Remember when Hondas were not only the best made cars, but also the cheapest? Why would you buy any other compact car than the Civic??? (Dumbest thing your author ever did was trade in his Honda for a Chevy… I’ve been trying to unring that bell for 15 years.)
Look at the situation today… Kia and Hyundai have a firm hold on the value sectors. The highest quality non-luxury cars in the country are, arguably, made right here in the US. Hondas are an expensive, near-luxury option. Again, Japan’s growth sowed the seeds of its own annihilation. Once it became a large, mature capitalist economy, growth could only occur so fast as the innovations kept coming… Once that string reached its termination, growth slowed.
Part 3 will describe how war may be not just a happenstance, but a target at which the administration may be aiming.