Yes, ladies and gentlemen. There is, unarguably, an increasing disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. And, for the most part, the good folks residing on Main Street (situated somewhere between Lake Wobegon and Anytown, USA) are on the losing end of the misunderstanding, and will probably continue to remain so until a major disruption brought on by Peer-To-Peer lending and financing or crowdfunding takes place.
It seems that most everyone has something negative or nasty to say about investment bankers; sadly, I’ll confess to being conflicted in that both the critics and objects of their criticism are among my friends and acquaintances.
There’s a celebrated joke that’s made its way around business and financial circles over the years. It goes something like this:
An investment banker walks into a room where his colleagues are in a meeting. “I’ve got good news and bad news,” he announces. “The bad news is we’ve just lost $100 million. The good news is, it wasn’t ours.” An associate raises his hand. “What was the bad news again?”
It’s humor, but if you were alive during 2008 to 2009, you’ll know that there is more than a grain of truth to the tale. Whether we’re talking about brokers, bankers, or even your most trusted financial advisor, you are probably finding it increasingly uncomfortable to rely on anyone else to care about your money and keep it safe.
The primary forces which are driving prices ever-upward in the United States economy are entrenched flaws in the economic system, which I will endeavor to isolate, identify and describe in this brief “read it and weep” article. While the situation continues to worsen, economic policy steps and changes in consumer habits could go a long way to bringing prices for durable and non-durable goods and services back within the realm of affordability. Please read on:
Flaw 1: Too Much Consumer Credit Available:
While access to consumer credit does increase consumption and can indeed be economically stimulating, it also changes major consumer acquisition decisions regarding durable goods (cars, appliances, homes…) from being cost-sensitive to merely being debt/lease service affordable. If I can drive a $55,000.00 automobile for a reasonably affordable $350.00 per month, I will either lease or purchase the car on installments (regardless of the real “cash” price) without even stopping to think that a car of equal value would have only cost me $27,500.00 five years ago. We’ve become obsessed with monthly payments while becoming irresponsibly uninvolved with real costs, which continually rise in response to the availability of credit. Simply put: More credit availability leads to steeply increasing prices.
Flaw 2: Too Little Personal Saving
The average United States taxpayer saves less than 10% of his or her annual income due to cultural changes, the growing disparity between wages and household expenditures, and due to the irksome fact that an increasing percentage of what used to be disposable personal income is now going toward the servicing of consumer debt. This leads to increased borrowing, which brings us back to Flaw 1, above.
Flaw 3: Third-Party Reimbursement And Payment
Why should I decline a medical test (whether truly necessary or not) or any medical or healthcare protocol when my insurance company will pay for all or close to all of the cost? Medical costs (as well as healthcare insurance premiums) have risen astronomically because prices do not reflect the ability of individuals to pay, but instead, reflect the willingness of third party payers (i.e., insurance companies) to foot the bill. This third-party payment addiction (just like debt addiction) takes the focus off of the real cost and necessity per procedure, treatment or medication, and replaces it with a focus on “how much does my insurance premium cost and how good is my plan coverage?”.
Flaw 4: Too Many Monopolies Or Protected Territories
Without mentioning the names “Comcast” or “Xfinity” (two monikers for one of the least-beloved and most hated companies by users/consumers), government-permitted or inadequately-regulated trusts or constructive monopolies make competition all but impossible for new market entrants to offer better, cheaper alternatives to those offered by the Goliaths which dominate the cable/telephone/ISP service sphere, as well as the consumer spheres for most major utilities – all of which are necessary for ‘normal’ living. Impediments to fair and open markets invariably lead to lower quality and higher prices to consumers.
Flaw 5: The Notion Of “Too Big To Fail” And Resultant Bailouts And Subsidies
When governments selectively elect to print more money, allocate more of public funds or increase taxes in order to subsidize the inefficiency and provide cover for the mistakes and misdeeds of large institutions (under whatever guise that this is done), it activates cost-push inflation as these subsidies and bailouts are paid for by consumers and taxpayers. What is worse, is that these colossal corporate wastrels are all but encouraged to continue behaving poorly as there is absolutely no incentive (either negative or positive) for them to mend their wicked ways. These beached whales (with extensive ties to government policy and largesse) will always be pushed back into the ocean by the governmental administration. Consumers get poorer while the corporate elite continue to receive paychecks and bonuses in ever-increasing, stratospheric amounts. Unconscionable? Yes, indeed!
Flaw 6: Premeditated Obsolescence
The adoption of new technologies is a natural outgrowth of scientific advancement and market demand, and that’s perfectly fine; but when you buy a generational model of something that you use (either a product or a service), such as an iPhone 5 – just to cite one example – and the company which manufactures or provides the product or service stops supplying peripheral support for your version and all but forces you to buy the newer, more expensive version, prices are driven up as unwitting or unwilling consumer hostages line up to trade in the increasingly-useless older model for the shiny new one. This inflates costs (i.e., the new version is more expensive than the old), and increases the requirement to buy replacements, virtually turning a durable good into a consumable, depletable item.
Flaw 7: The Disappearance Of The Middle Class
As the middle class shrinks to an ever-decreasing percentage of the total population, the wealthy become wealthier and can afford to buy more, while the poor proceed to either rely upon government aid (quite inefficient and expensive) or live an increasingly leveraged lifestyle. Please refer to Flaw 1, at the beginning of this article…