Poverty Matters for Capitalists by John Mauldin, Mauldin Economics

Having taken Thomas Piketty to the cleaners a few weeks back (see “Gave & Gave … and Hay”), Charles Gave now redresses the balance with regard to the issue of economic inequality in today’s Outside the Box. He makes a forceful case that “poverty matters for capitalists”:

Every US recession that I can recall was preceded by a fall in long rates, and I doubt the next will be much different. As such, do not expect the next US downturn to arise from the Federal Reserve pushing rates higher, an overvalued dollar or even mal-investments. Expect it to result from a decline in the income of the working poor. Early warning signs are likely to show up in the shopping aisles of stores such as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT), average driving miles, and the price of houses at the cheaper end of the market. I suspect the lesson that will eventually be learnt is that in a modern industrialized economy there are few worse things a central bank can do than deliberately attack the spending power of the poor.

Charles is clearly tying the economic struggle of the working poor to Federal Reserve policy. As he says, “negative real rates amounts to the Fed imposing a regressive tax on the poor although it lacks the authority to collect taxes.”

Income decline among the least wealthy in US society is not just an economic issue, he asserts:

At a moral level, I would also question the validity of a system that no longer allows its weakest members to get by. This is why I contend that the post-2010 policy of ZIRP has had little to do with protecting the health of the capitalist system, but rather has been a ruse to protect the rich. The policy is not only failing to deliver growth, it is also immoral.

And that income decline has been drastic since 2000, and particularly since 2010. Charles has created what he calls a “Walmart CPI,” which tracks the prices of rent, food, and energy (the things the poor must spend nearly all their income on); and he uses it to demonstrate the effects of negative real rates on the poor. Since 2000 there has been more than a 15% increase in the ratio of the Walmart CPI to standard US CPI.

We can expect this deadly combination of rising prices for necessities and declining incomes to affect the stock market, too, says Charles:

Pretty much every equity bear market in the US over the last 30 years has occurred against the backdrop of the working poor experiencing a decline in living standards (the one exception was 1987 when the market was reacting to over valuation).

Strong stuff. But that’s Charles: never afraid to tell it like he sees it.

I am preparing to leave for Nantucket in a few hours, and I’m looking forward to the trip. I’ve never been there; and not only are my hosts providing very pleasant accommodations along the waterfront, they have also conveniently arranged for the weather to be nearly perfect. I have an iPad full of books that are all begging to be read, and of course a weekly letter will have to be teased out of my computer sometime in the next few days.

Wrapping up, two significant items hit my inbox this morning, including one from Andrew McCreath, who is a host for BNN in Canada. He uses data from my friend Bill Dunkelberg, Chief Economist of the National Federation of Independent Business (who will be visiting me in a few weeks here in Dallas), showing the correlation between certain aspects of the NFIB survey and wages. It will be good news for workers if wage hikes are in the offing, but that means that margins in businesses, which are sky-high right now, will come under pressure. This also plays well into Rosie’s (David Rosenberg’s) theme that we are going to see wage inflation soon, which he visualizes in interesting charts. Will this trend finally lead to some talk of interest rate increases? And yet I am told that Ben Bernanke, in his $250,000 speeches, is saying that we will not see much higher rates in his LIFETIME.

Poverty  wage hikes


Maybe Ben (who is still young enough that “his lifetime” means a VERY long time) was reading David Kotok’s latest note this morning, as David worries a few trout in Wyoming:

Gasoline prices have reached levels that (1) will be sustained for a while in all likelihood and (2) that are, in real terms,

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