The Commerce Department has revised the third quarter GDP growth rate up to 5%. People are happy. Ed Kilgore is happy. Paul Krugman is happy. Matt Yglesias is happy. But I’m not. Who really cares about increases in GDP when it has become uncoupled from wages?
It’s remarkable to think about this. Roughly four decades ago, the wages of American workers broke off from its strong correlation with GDP and flat-lined. But in that time no one has seemed to care. It goes along with the announcement of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is announced every night on the news. Does a smoking hot stock market mean that more people are employed? No. Does it mean wages go up? No. So why do we care?
The truth is that “we” — as in, actual people who work for a living — don’t care. But newscasters do. The power elite care. And that is all that matters in the land of the “free” and the home of the “brave.” It’s an outrage that people remember the 1970s because of the high inflation as opposed to the beginning of deregulation. It is an outrage that people remember the 1980s as “morning in America” and not the decimation of unions and the end of even small gains to worker standards of living. It is an outrage that people remember the 1990s as a good economic time instead of yet another bubble economy and the end of welfare as we know it.
Democracy is not just a matter of voting. In fact, it isn’t even primarily about voting. No one really thinks that democracy is where an autocrat is the only person people can vote for. But in America, where we get to vote from two (!) people with exactly the same economic policies, we do call it democracy. It isn’t. It is oligarchy. We let the prols decide how long they can abort fetuses — but not whether they can join a union at work. Have a good same-sex wedding — if you can afford it, which you can’t.
So a 5% increase in GDP is a good thing in theory. But it could be 50% or 500%. What does that matter to you?! Are you going to get a job or a better job because of it? Are you going to get a raise? No you’re not. Our GDP could be cut in half and most people would be far better off if the economy were more equally divided among the people. So who cares? Caring about this is just more indication that we see everything through the lens of the power elite. We need to stop doing that.