The biggest economic lies we’re told

You want to measure economic success? Go to the kitchen tables of America.


In America, it’s expensive just to be alive.

And with inflation being driven by price gouging corporations, it’s only getting more expensive for regular Americans who don’t have any more money to spend.

Just look at how Big Oil is raking it in while you pay through the nose at the pump.

That’s on top of the average price of a new non-luxury car — which is now over $44,000. Even accounting for inflation, this is way higher than the average cost when I bought my first car — it’s probably in a museum by now.

Even worse, the median price for a house is now over $440,000. Compare that to 1972, when it was under $200,000.

Work a full-time minimum wage job? You won’t be able to afford rent on a one-bedroom apartment just about anywhere in the U.S.

And when you get back after a long day of work, you’ll likely be met with bills up the wazoo for doctor visits, student loans, and utilities.

So what’s left of a paycheck after basic living expenses? Not much.

You can only reduce spending on food, housing, and other basic necessities so much. Want to try covering the rest of your monthly costs with a credit card? Well now that’s more expensive too, with the Fed continuing to hike interest rates.

All of this comes back to how we measure a successful economy.

What good are more jobs if those jobs barely pay enough to live on?

Over one-third of full time jobs don’t pay enough to cover a basic family budget.

And what good are lots of jobs if they cause so much stress and take up so much time that our lives are miserable?

And don’t tell me a good economy is measured by a roaring stock market if the richest 10 percent of Americans own more than 80 percent of it.

And what good is a large Gross Domestic Product if more and more of the total economy is going to the richest one-tenth of one percent?  

What good is economic growth if the way we grow depends on fossil fuels that cause a climate crisis?

These standard measures – jobs, the stock market, the GDP – don’t show how our economy is really doing, who is doing well, or the quality of our lives.

People who sit at their kitchen tables at night wondering how they’re going to pay the bills don’t say to themselves

“Well, at least corporate profits are at record levels.”

In fact, corporations have record profits and CEOs are paid so much because they’re squeezing more output from workers but paying lower wages. Over the past 40 years, productivity has grown 3.5x as fast as hourly pay.

At the same time, corporations are driving up the costs of everyday items people need.

Because corporations are monopolizing their markets, they don’t have to worry about competitors. A few giant corporations can easily coordinate price hikes and enjoy bigger profits.

Just four firms control 85% of all beef66% of all pork, and 54% of all poultry production.

Firms like Tyson have seen their profit margins skyrocket as they jack up prices higher than their costs — forcing consumers who are already stretched thin to pay even more.

It’s not just meat. Weak antitrust enforcement has allowed companies to become powerful enough to raise their prices across the entire food industry.

It’s the same story with household goods. Giant companies like Procter & Gamble blame their price hikes on increased costs – but their profit margins have soared to 25%. Hello?

They care more about their bottom line than your bottom, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile, parents – and even grandparents like me – are STILL struggling to feed their babies because of a national formula shortage. Why? Largely because the three companies who control the entire formula industry would rather pump money into stock buybacks than quality control at their factories.

Traditionally, our economy’s health is measured by the unemployment rate. Job growth. The stock market. Overall economic growth. But these don’t reflect the everyday, “kitchen table economics” that affect our lives the most.

These measures don’t show the real economy.

Instead of looking just at the number of jobs, we need to look at the income earned from those jobs. And not the average income.

People at the top always bring up the average.

If Jeff Bezos walked into a bar with 140 other people, the average wealth of each person would be over a billion dollars.

No, look at the median income – half above, half below.

And make sure it accounts for inflation – real purchasing power.

Over the last few decades, the real median income has barely budged. This isn’t economic success.

It’s economic failure, with a capital F.

And instead of looking at the stock market or the GDP we need to look at who owns what – where the wealth really is.

Over the last forty years, wealth has concentrated more and more at the very top. Look at this;

This is a problem, folks. Because with wealth comes political power.

Forget trickle-down economics. It’s trickle on.

And instead of looking just at economic growth, we also need to look at what that growth is costing us – subtract the costs of the climate crisis, the costs of bad health, the costs of no paid leave, and all the stresses on our lives that economic growth is demanding.

We need to look at the quality of our lives – all our lives. How many of us are adequately housed and clothed and fed. How many of our kids are getting a good education. How many of us live in safety – or in fear.

You want to measure economic success? Go to the kitchen tables of America.


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Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.