America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Going to college and finding a good job no longer guarantee economic safety. Paying for a child's education and setting aside enough for a decent retirement have become distant dreams. Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, watching as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pink slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff.
My best guess is that the current upswings in economic output, confidence and financial asset prices are largely a reflection of the extraordinary fiscal and monetary juice provided by Treasury and the Federal Reserve, along with the natural rebound that occurs after a collapse in consumer and business spending like that which occurred in the first half of 2009. The surprising strength of the bounce-back testifies to the wisdom of the underlying strengths of the U.S. economy and the success of the policies, but is likely to peter out as the stimulus begins to wear off and the inventory correction is completed.
I think it is important though to recognize that if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the US economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.
The commercial real estate market craters, carrying with it hundreds of regional banks and exposing how much junk is still on the books of major Wall Street banks. This triggers a long-awaited "correction" in the Dow and pushes the nation into another recession. Job losses rise.
But if those calls are heeded, we'll be repeating the great mistake of 1937, when the Fed and the Roosevelt administration decided that the Great Depression was over, that it was time for the economy to throw away its crutches. Spending was cut back, monetary policy was tightened -- and the economy promptly plunged back into the depths.
It is simply not sustainable to have a 21st-century financial system that is governed by 20th-century rules and regulations that allowed the recklessness of a few to threaten the entire economy. It is not sustainable to have an economy where in one year, 40 percent of our corporate profits came from a financial sector that was based on inflated home prices, maxed-out credit cards, over-leveraged banks and overvalued assets. It's not sustainable to have an economy where the incomes of the top 1 percent has skyrocketed while the typical working household has seen their incomes decline by nearly $2,000. That's just not a sustainable model for long-term prosperity.
The conventional wisdom is you can't have back-to-back major financial crises. I think we're going to push that, we're going to have a look and see whether that's true. And the next 12 months could really be exciting. People could be very positive, but we are setting ourselves up for an enormous catastrophe.