Source: Charles Hugh Smith.
Since the 1970s, wages have failed to keep pace with productivity, and Americans have maintained their material standard of living by borrowing. While this enabled Americans to buy good and services and keep the U.S. economy going, the ability to borrow has reached its limit.
This means a more frugal standard of living and slower economic growth. And, as I see it, there is no much anybody can do about it.
The chart shows the ratio of the total amount of American debt—individual, business and government—and total wages and salaries of workers employed by private industry. In 1960, total debt was a little over three times total wages and salaries; now debt is a little over nine times total wages and salaries.
What I think the chart shows is:
- Healthy growth in wages and salaries in the 1960s, keeping pace with debt.
- Stagnation in wages and salaries in the 1970s, without much growth in debt.
- A bubble in the 1980s, with the economy fueled by increased borrowing.
- Healthy growth in wages and salaries in the 1990s, keeping pace with debt.
- Another bubble in the 2000s.
- Maxxing out on debt in the 2010s. Those who can try to pay down their debts; those who can’t go bankrupt.
The fact that Americans are paying down their debts and trying to save is a good thing, not a bad thing. But it means that the federal government will be less able than in the past to stimulate the economy by stimulating spending and borrowing.
I think it would be a big mistake to try to start another debt bubble. Instead we Americans need to think about building up the real economy, and putting people to work doing the many things that need to be done.
The One Chart You Need to Predict the Future by Charles Hugh Smith.