Since the U.S. began collecting data in 1967, only twice has it seen three-month stretches of waning retail sales in non-recessionary times. This is puzzling. Why would consumers spend less as the economy picks up steam? And why haven't consumers gone shopping with the one percent extra income that collapsing oil prices have handed them?Consumers are still "doing their part" to support the economy, in spades. However, special interests have already laid claim to the average dollar that gets spent - in multiple respects. As a result, much of what exists in consumer budgets is anything but discretionary. What's more, many spending commitments occur in large chunks which take a toll on other, more incremental spending options that were once taken for granted.
This now affects both Main Street and Wall Street, not to mention governmental budgets as a whole. Is Washington paying attention? Governments need to remember how they have defined already existing consumer obligations. These requirements now contribute to the "high bar" that is increasingly necessary for economic engagement. College degrees - for instance - are considered practically mandatory for the kind of economic access that provides a "normal" lifestyle. However, as another Bloomberg article notes,
While 61 percent of adults believe education beyond high school is available to anyone who needs it, only 21% agree that it's affordable, according to the poll results released on Thursday.Perhaps governments are coming around to the realization that they are holding too many of the cards for wealth creation, for younger generations to advance their lives on the "required" schedules of the present. As these individuals put off home buying in order to tend to already existing educational burdens, other aspects of the economy are getting bogged down in the process.
Between Washington and Wall Street, choices for producers and consumers have been captured in ways that now limit both competition and participation. The need for more incremental forms of growth, access and participation are quite real. But where to begin?
For one thing, the conceptual framework of investment needs to extend beyond those who are now participating in investment strategies. Not only does investment need more direct and active meaning for many participants, it often needs be take place on more personal terms. As capital has become less tangible, more forms of capital are aligned with human capital than the marketplace has yet evolved to acknowledge. Any consideration as to the decreased investment patterns of the early 21st century, need to take this into account.
Incremental growth also means finding ways to generate incremental ownership. In other words, local groups would seek to profit from investment which doesn't raise the bar for economic access if it's not necessary to do so. Time arbitrage also provides means for gradual growth on the part of individuals and groups, in that equal time use allows all participants to assist one another within the time frames they actually have.
One benefit of this process, is that individuals would once again have reason to come together for purposeful economic activity. All too often, a lack of economic activity at local levels contributes to a loss of trust. Only consider the loss of trust in recent decades which has been observed and documented. Eventually, the new economic patterns that time arbitrage could make possible, would also mean much needed gains in societal trust.
With new means of access that allow space for incremental growth, generational divides could become less of an issue in the decades ahead. In order to make this a possibility, both living and working arrangements need to occur on more flexible terms than the institutional requirements of the present.
Another important aspect of incremental growth, is the need to be free of having to make debt commitments just to take part in ordinary economic activity. Credit and debt both have their place, but they should not be necessary as tools for basic economic access and daily life. More business formation and living arrangements need to be possible, based on the realities of one's time and the resources that actually lie at one's disposal.
Governments and lenders will always be anxious to "up the ante" and make the most of prosperous times to their own benefit. Just the same, they both need to give citizens the chance to proceed on more realistic terms. No government can maintain economic stability for the long run, if it is not willing to allow its citizens to pursue real economic stability. Financiers need to be willing do the same.