Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Rentiers

Just some quick thoughts on the economy of the rentier class. I have been thinking about this for sometime in the back of my mind and Michael Hudson's essay in counterpunch yesterday helped to clarify it (once again). The problem with the modern political-economy is that it is one that has been captured by a class that makes its living merely by extracting income from productive sectors of the economy. Like a landlord who simply sits on his property collecting rents from his or her tenants. The property channels the income from the renters labor into the landlord's pockets. The landlord does no work, but generates income anyway. This is a form of parasitism.

Banks who make loans at interest are no different. They extend credit (i.e., allow people to pull forward their earning from the future into the present) that allows people to make needed or desired purchases now that they could otherwise afford. By charging interest the bank also acts to siphon its income off of the income generated by productive labor.

Now, where the loan is made such that it enhances the future value of labor, one can potentially see the value of making such an investment against future income, and gladly pay interest on the loan so long as that interest does not wipe out the gains in added value to ones productive labor (or, so long as the person who does the labor retains the value of the added labor and not the bankermen). One can even imagine a labor friendly loan contract that essentially guarantees such an outcome, forcing bankers to assume more risk of the failed investment (and incentivising more prudent lending).

But in the current economy, banks are extended credit mainly for the purpose of aiding the rentier class to set up commercial and domestic "venus-flytraps" to capture the income of productive labor through extractive rents (and, up until recently, for the purpose of allowing speculators to pull that potential for future rental income forward by developing and selling these spaces at tremendous profit -- or engaging in securitization which promises the same only in a much more abstract form). This is true both in residential real estate (a racket since the New Deal of the 1930's) and in commercial real estate (roughly the same period). A whole economic sector emerged in service of this particular economy.

The problem, of course, being that the whole inverted pyramid is based on the value of productive labor. You know, people that actually make and do stuff and exchange that stuff with other people who make and do stuff. When the value of that portion of the economy stagnates or declines (as it has since the early 1970's on an individual basis -- for men and certain core industries in particular) then the ability to realize the income that one has already "pulled forward" to purchase houses, cars, clothing or office space diminishes greatly leading to an increased inability to service the contracts with the banks, landlords, and insurance companies.

What is interesting about the current situation is that the USG has been completely captured by the rentier class. So, as the FIRE economy of the rentier begins to collapse, the federal response is to pull forward (technically pull back) future tax income (remember the government is also an extractive entity) and shovel this money into failing FIRE institutions. Of course, their efforts can only fail because such actions DO NOTHING to shore up the value of labor, either in the present or, through productive investments, in the future. In fact, it is much worse, because it adds additional, crushing debt that future productive labor must pay (with a diminishing value due to the complete absence of productive investment --- this is a recipe for government insolvency).

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