Wednesday, March 08, 2017

We Need A New Measure Of Economic Health––A Misery Industrial Average

The DowJones is at record levels, likely because of mouthwatering promises to remove regulations on pollution and regulations against gouging consumers and other antisocial corporate behaviors, as well as further tax cuts and forgiveness on the 1% and large corporations that Trump has outlined or suggested or promised.

But a lot of Americans are not enjoying robust economic health or feeling economically secure. As pollution regulations are relaxed we can expect cancer rates and deaths to rise and deaths and illness from various mysterious causes downwind and downstream from industries to rise also. These ills will not be reflected in the Dow. As consumer safeguards go away lots of large companies will breathe easier and have a healthier bottom line because they will be able to get away with things they used to be prevented from doing. This will not elevate average Americans' feelings of well-being.

We need a different metric, another gauge of our economic health at the level working people feel it, not just at the level where the stock portfolios of workers lucky enough to have stock portfolios feel it. Regardless of what SCOTUS says, corporations are not people.

I am recommending what I call

The Misery Industrial Average

(compare DowJones and Standard&Poors averages)

Private prisons

Collections companies

Pawn companies

Private security firms

Predatory lenders


Payday lenders

Day labor companies

Weapons manufacturers

Gambling and casino companies

Porn companies (like Manwin)

(Plus other categories of publicly traded corporations who create or profit from the misery and vulnerability of working people.)

When these firms flourish it likely means that American workers are not flourishing. Their robust health comes at the expense of working people. Corporate lobbyists like to refer to working people in need as parasites, as unproductive, but these kinds of companies are the parasites because their profits subtract from working people’s standard of living.

This idea has been broached in various ways before, but not as a daily metric that people could follow the way they follow the Dow. They watch the Dow and figure its happiness and security is their happiness and security. Even when it isn’t. Even when the Dow might very well reflect the opposite of their own economic position.

This, from Upworthy, calls the private prison industry the Misery Industry

The right wing UK tabloid The Daily Mail equates the “misery industry” with the professionals who try to treat human misery and depression, because it is a “conservative” belief that nothing is wrong if we ignore what is wrong. Shut up and stress and fear and anxiety and depression will go away without costing the fortunate happy people anything.

But the pharmaceutical companies that provide the medication to treat depression and anxiety should also go on the Misery Industrial Average.

Something called the “misery index” was invented during the Johnson administration. It reflects the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate. President Carter called it "malaise" which described it pretty well. This malaise peaked during the Carter administration because the Arab oil monopolies tightened supplies which dramatically raised prices and depressed the global economy, which made people uneasy and threw people out of work.

Because the unemployment rate and the inflation rates are low right now, we’re fine, right?

But what if inflation is low and has become low and remains low because wages have been suppressed. We all know higher education and the cost of medical care and food and housing have risen more every year than the inflation rate shows, so how can inflation be low and how are depressed incomes among working people causing them to be less miserable instead of more miserable?

An actual index measuring the value and the profits and the scale of misery-related industries would be a better measure. When a town loses its local merchants because a Walmart goes in just outside the city’s tax boundary and begins paying low wages requiring its employees to obtain public assistance to live––that is misery. When the small town main street loses its local druggist and its local hardware store and those local taxpaying businesses are replaced by a Pawn America and Dollar Store and Payday Lenders, that is misery. When more of those businesses show up on main street those companies are flourishing, and that industrial average in share prices would be a useful, even a vital, measure of how hard American life is getting. When private prisons are supplying a captive and obedient labor force competing with workers not in prison that is a reflection of negative economic growth. But it seems likely that many of the business categories buoying the Dow Jones right now may be helped by the robust health of the misery industrial complex.

One more key driver of American misery is the right wing media, which provides a steady 24/7 diet of fear mongering and hate mongering and dark descriptions of where America is at that don't have anything to do with reality but serve to drive reality in that direction. People who watch FoxNews have a weaker hold on fact and reality and tend to be whipsawed by the indoctrination they receive from their preferred news media. They tend to be driven by fear rather than hope, by hate rather than love, by suspicion rather than trust.

Scientific American summarized the differences between the right wing mindset and the liberal mindset

There is a tendency toward fear and anxiety among conservatives. There is also a tendency for Red States, Republican run states, to be less successful and less happy by a whole range of measures, and yet those citizens held captive by those beliefs and by their Republican leaders continue to elect them and perpetuate their misery. In a recent study, discussed in USAToday, the ten most miserable states to live in all fall into the Republican column.

This NPR interview addresses the odd paradox of how Red States where "family values" are a core issue are failing in those areas

Red states hate the federal government yet they need it more than blue states do because their systems are failing in so many key categories, in the education rate, the domestic violence rate, in family stability and income stability

This NPR story discusses how the Red States who distrust and despise the federal government the most also need it the most

So in the Red States where Republicans rule and right wing media promotes its mixture of fear and anger, we find a vicious cycle: negative policies create negative results.

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