The Story of the Greater Recession of 2021

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Buyer Beware! Now the story of the wealthiest country in the world who lost everything and the one (two?) generation(s) who had no choice but to keep all Americans together.

New York, NY–

“The fundamentals of our economy are strong. They’re getting stronger.” — 2008 Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

A sentence uttered that along with the events of the financial collapse, ended the competitive portion of the 2008 Presidential election campaign. Oh, how far the country has fallen since those days….

This site has often analyzed through its different formats the culture war and generational politics. While we have differed often on if the so-called “culture war” we have been relatively unanimous in agreeing (often loudly) that the country and especially the Democratic Party needs serious generational change in its leadership and downward. I won’t get into the particulars of those arguments here.

Throughout some of the Obama years it looked like we were legally settling many of our long-standing culture war issues, which is ultimately where they should end up (freedom wins out across the board, etc.) but the events of this past week have thrown that into severe doubt, if not outright professionally wrong. Make no mistake that if President Trump nominates a reactionary “conservative” that waxes philosophic about originalism, landmark decisions like Roe are likely to be overturned or at the very least, severely chipped away at. If you live in a state that doesn’t have the abortion right codified on the books, as is the case in the “blue state” of New York, I’d start lobbying your state legislature now.

With the once seemingly dying “culture war” getting exacerbated with sheer fire and brimstone by the 2016 Trump campaign, his subsequent presidency, and perhaps most accurately, the internet, where do we go from here? When does the slow pace of generational change finally overwhelm our political system? When can we move on from this 50/50 everyone hates everyone, but civility only selectively applies nightmare? For one, I think this is the new “normal” for a long time, so for your own well-being, batten down the hatches and prepare for the long storm. Finally, let me propose a thesis that will get us all thinking about the economics and foreign policy issues that dominated the 2008 presidential campaign primaries and general election — not the Great Recession, but the upcoming Great(er) Recession of 2021 to… we’ll see.

In a previous article I alluded to the grave political mistake Democrats have made in conceding to the President and GOP that this is a good economy. It is foolish to concede this because not only is the economy not good, this is unfortunately the best it’ll be for some time. We’ve had unevenly distributed secular sluggish growth for nearly two decades now, which will only fuel billionaire and millionaire appetites for more corporate tax giveaways. See below.

US GDP (00-09)US GDP (10-17)

President Bush was the first modern day president to never preside over 4% annual growth in GDP.

President Obama was the first modern day president to never preside over 3% annual growth in GDP.

For comparison sake, below is our robust post-war period of relatively shared prosperity.

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Admittedly, much of it was made possible because the rest of the developed industrialized world had been devastated and war-torn.

A regression and slowing of the post-war growth was inevitable, but the structure and soundness of the American economy going from a middle-out economy to what we have today was not. It was preventable.

President Trump, despite his boasts, will also fail to preside over 3% annual growth whether he serves one term or two. See below.

The Greater Recession
2021….just after the 2020 Presidential election, because of course it is.

The only thing that I would amend is the guarantee that 2018 will be as strong or stronger than 2017, because this forecast did not account for the effects of the tariffs, which have especially hit the areas where his strongest supporters reside.

Make no mistake — the fundamentals of this economy are not strong and have not been strong for decades unless you’re a billionaire or a comfortable member of the new professional class aristocracy.

So what is the story behind these numbers and why will this recession be even greater?

These five things I think will happen:

  1. The Dodd-Frank partial repeal (of small-to-mid-sized bank lending ceilings) will continue to spur new real estate, housing, and mortgages (and by extension, mortgage-backed securities). The job market and unemployment being low will work in tandem with this. This is a good thing right?
  2. No. It’s just more short-sighted and short-term thinking. It’s more of the same: socializing the risks and costs, privatizing the gains. Risky lending has now returned under the law. And all those riskier mortgages will be concentrated throughout even fewer big banks this time (because contrary to popular belief, some did die and were not bailed out during the 07-09 Great Recession, while others merged, and my underlying assumption here is that two of the big five banks being critics and skeptics of the Trump “boom” economy see what I’m seeing and will therefore be appropriately cautious and less over-leveraged, at least in theory).
  3. At some point between now and 3 years from now, because they can, the powers that be will repeal Obama-era student loan reforms, which will have a far greater effect over time than the final trigger to the crash. Student loan debt, unlike mortgage loans, is not dischargeable. The student loan bail out that this country and at least two-generational cohorts need will be a decade too late. So the mortgages will be what people decide to unload, because what choice is there? It’s a no-brainer for them. They wouldn’t dare repeal these reforms you say? Yeah…. we keep saying that about a lot of things. The MO of this administration has more or less been to repeal anything Obama did. These relatively obscure reforms in comparison they’ll eventually get around to. After all, just another chance to “stick it to the libs” (liberal arts degrees in this case).
  4. Just like in 2006, when the housing market was a bubble that few would say would burst into pain, others said would be fine, while the vast majority argued for a soft landing somewhere in the middle, economic optimism was too high (just like today), and jobs (but not wages) plentiful, unemployment superficially low. What happened then? In 2006 the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. In 2018, the Fed raised rates to 1.75 up from 1.5 and signal two more raises will be coming. This will effect flex-rate mortgages, not nearly as common as fixed-rate mortgages but common enough to trigger the underlying problem in-tandem with the fundamental unsoundness of the U.S. economy and fiscal health of the country. With all of the repeat conditions in place and confidence surging too high, we’ll be in for a repeat. History is one damn thing after another, and it often rhymes, like poetry and the Star Wars saga.
  5. If the GOP still has majorities and is led by people philosophically disinclined to do anything. President Trump, not a candidate, but THE president, and also an economic illiterate, surrounded by self-interest, kleptocrats, and professionally wrong economic advisors, will dispense of the ridiculous myth that those who have had business success know things about the overall economy and economics. If in office, like President Bush before him, President Trump will actually be the most likely to do something just because we’ll be reeling and perhaps finally, his perpetual lying will run up against the reality of physics and economics for even his most diehard supporters. He’ll need Democratic votes to do anything, and time will tell whether the fall of ’08 W. Bush and Democratic-led bipartisan bailout effort will commence. If the GOP holds both houses of Congress, which is very well possible if ’18 is a disappointing midterm for Dems, and Trump is re-elected, may be their response will be pure-Hooverville. Who did respond, but too little, too late. Combined with the longer term automation problems that neither party has a plan for, wages not rising fast enough, if at all, and a still ineffective opposition party (but a slowly improving and learning grassroots movement outside the party desperate for reform) — we’ll enter a deep and painful Great Recession. The Great(er) Recession of 2021–?? With all of these predictions, it goes without saying that I hope I’ll be wrong. Why am I so certain?

Human nature mostly. Think of what housing entails, think of the chain of established relationships from buyer to broker to seller. From lender to developer to manufacturing to construction. Everyone is an optimist in that chain, wanting to make something happen for both themselves and their clients 

Real estate agents. Lenders. Salespeople. The dream of home ownership. The collision of self-interest. The pursuit of happiness if you will. And if it is not self -interest, it is forced consumerism.

Think of the history of the post-industrial age. Titanic. WWI. Great Depression. WWII. Every time there was a chorus of wild-eyed optimists excited for the future, and every time they were professionally and horrifically wrong.

Think to our own time, after the Cold War had ended and the Soviet Union was breaking up, one of the finest and most famous political scientists and political economists of our time had announced our great triumph. Liberal democracy has triumphed as the final stage of human organization. We’ve reached the “end of history.”

Think of 2016. Clinton will definitely win.

All of them very serious people, all of them very disastrously and professionally wrong.

A good economy they will say, don’t be so negative, etc.

But this isn’t a good economy. It’s a fictional one. Sluggish growth for nearly two decades now. Instead of the Great Depression, think the original Great Depression–the Long Depression.

I point to a quote from Gandhi about seven things that will destroy us to back up my assertion that this is a fictional economy.

The top one — Wealth without work.

GOP politicians love to wax philosophic about work but they cannot see fit to agree to a tax code that treats wealth-based and passive income the same as labor income. If you work you are taxed more than if you don’t work in this country. The GOP doesn’t value work, they value wealth. Citizens United has created few incentives for elected officials to put the interests of workers ahead of the interests of organized wealth and money. Only a government in D.C. that challenges concentrated wealth and money can stem this tide at this moment in our history.

The truth is that we’ve been doing wealth without work for some time, and it’s that truth that has continued to erode at our democracy, and as we’re seeing this week — our rights.

7 Things That Will Destroy UsAnd this is why housing and real estate is the key, and a middle-out economy essential. It’s entirely possible, as some believe, that all U.S. growth the past few decades can be accounted for through real estate, which itself has contributed to and driven increasing economic inequality, as the rapid rise in real estate values have created obscene levels of wealth in some major cities, sending homelessness levels to a crisis point, as well as creating an affordable housing crisis along with it, especially in the tech-hubs, while creating “sacrifice zones” elsewhere. Real estate is a great investment throughout human history, the most reliable one. But there is an ocean of difference between that 1985 home purchased in NYC, LA, Seattle, or San Francisco and Detroit, St. Louis, etc.

Rural America has not faired much better than the sacrifice zones, with some small towns disappearing off the map entirely. Family farms being sacrificed to corporate farming. Wall Street winning out over the concerns of Main Street time and again.

This unsoundness to the American economy isn’t a weather pattern. It’s been in our choices, in our policies and budgets, in our media and culture, and was warned about on the horizon by President Jimmy Carter, a crisis of confidence that lingers with us today and has been exacerbated, a speech that many still deride as the “malaise” speech. But President Carter was right. I’m not here to tell you what you want to hear. You have President Reagan or President Clinton for that, and while they were smiling and making you feel better, their policies were setting the stage for the current era in which we live.

President Trump may similarly make some people feel better that America is back and can be great again. But once again, his policies have doubled-down on exactly what got us here, have set the stage for making things worse in the long run, and his lack of adherence to democratic norms and traditions, combined with a consistent need to drum up increased fear and hatred within his base, make the next economic downturn a potential catalyst for even worse and unthinkable events. But we can do better, and we can go another way. If we can only summon the courage to stop lying to ourselves.

Ultimately, like the election of Trump itself — the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. 

The Greater Recession: Party’s End and A New Beginning.

generations-voting
Generational change, or the lack thereof, proved to be a chief driving force of the “bottoming out” of the Democratic Party this year. This is not news to “Agreeing Loudly.”  We’ve predicted this and built a site partly on this fact for 16 months. The early returns are not good — Democratic Party leadership is not reading enough Thomas Frank.

New York, NY — (the capital of national Democratic Party incompetence, cluelessness, and cultural excess).

The beating heart of America and the state of New York (like every state) is the people. And the people have been betrayed. While the GOP celebrates, and all Americans should be protective of those most vulnerable and commit themselves to being the best person they can be, it is time for the Democratic Party to take these next six weeks and actually do some introspection. I have no doubt that introspection is going on in the hearts and minds of voters and supporters. However, it is rarely going on in the minds of boomer-heavy Democratic Party leaders. And that will not change until we demand that it changes.

Permanent Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is not going to suddenly discover his populist voice at the age of 65. Permanent Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is not going to suddenly discover her populist voice at the age of 76. I do not bring up their ages to be an agist. Far from it. Because the war on the young and the war on the middle and working class has been going on ever since their generation came to power via Watergate in the mid-70s. I bring up, what in the end are mere numbers to highlight the concept of subsidiarity: let those that are closest to the problem, and are more likely to know the problem — solve the problem.

The problem with the party is neoliberalism and corporatism. The problem is empty and soulless “high society” and “status” liberalism. The problem is an irrational appeal to moderation, compromise, incrementalism, and the idea that leaders (and especially the President) can just solve anything. They can’t and they won’t. We must do it. We the people. Welcome to the third and final part of the story of the future Greater Recession: Party’s End and a New Beginning.

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In 18 to 36 months, because it is a fact of the business cycle, and for reasons cited in Parts One and Two, this country will be in another “bubble” recession. The recession is inevitable. The pain caused to human beings because of short-sightenedness, corporate greed and grift, and government sponsorship of it, is completely avoidable. Were it not for the fact that elections, a lack of vision for the future and a good message, and voter apathy having consequences.

It would have happened if Hillary Clinton had won too. Don’t forget that former incoming Majority Leader Schumer had a stated top legislative goal of corporate tax cuts to get after overseas tax shelter-corporate profit dollars in the coming session. Now that Donald Trump has won, it will still happen. In some ways it’ll be the same, in others worse. The difference now is how the powers that be will react to it, and how we the people will react to it. Life is ten percent what happens to you, ninety percent how you react to what happens to you.

The big financial institutions and investment banks are already lining up and betting for the market to fail. Hiring freezes have commenced. All the indicators are there.

Despite all of his populist rhetoric, and many commentators citing that it was a farce and fraudulent in advance, the incoming Trump administration has already tapped a Goldman Sachs banker as the next Treasury Secretary. It might as well be enshrined into the Constitution at this point. Doesn’t matter who wins–there’s going to be a GS Treasury Secretary.

Bizarrely, this Greater Recession will not feel greater than the great one. Why? Because working families and working people have not made up what was lost economically for them in 2007-09. My ancestors barely felt the Great Depression in the 1930s–why? Because they were already poor to begin with. If/when the market fails and there are more bail outs of banks, but not people–get ready for the student loan “bubble” to burst too. Mr. Pres.-elect, it’s up to you what you want to do–I recommend doing the right thing.

For anyone who thinks the intra-party civil war within the Democratic Party can save us all from this fate, or if you think there will be an inevitable electoral backlash, think again. And then read Thomas Frank. Then get back to me. Then go read Thomas Frank again. Then listen to the “Margin of Error”, then branch out from there.

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After the 2016 Election — the two party power structure in this country looks like this:

Presidency: GOP (the first elected President in American history without any political or military experience prior to the Presidency)

US Senate: 52 GOP, 48 DEM (+2 DEM)

US House: 238 GOP, 194 DEM (+6 DEM)

US State Governors: 34 GOP, 15 DEM, 1 IND (Alaska) (+3 GOP)

US State Legislatures: 36 GOP/GOP-caucusing, 14 DEM/DEM caucusing in State Senates | 32 GOP/GOP-leaning, 17 DEM, 1 IND (Alaska) in State Houses.

After 2018 Midterm Elections — this is a realistic possibility:

The GOP faces a very favorable Senate map in 2018. 2016 was actually the last time in a long time the Democrats had a realistic chance to pick up the Senate absent a wave and a complete re-organization of the Democratic Party. Now we have the following seats that will still likely fall, or very well could.

GOP gains: IN, MO, MT, ND, (Joe Manchin holds on, but switches parties), 59 seats.

The situation will not improve much in the US House in an era of gerrymandering, voter ID, and key provisions of the Voting Rights Act gone.

Therefore, the next two years should be a legal battle in key states and 2017 should be about actually voting in progressive major US city Mayors so we can stop looking so hypocritical when corporate Democratic Mayors engage in tax giveaways to subsidize sports stadiums, and real estate projects, etc. We can stop looking so hypocritical when it comes to education achievement gaps, etc.

Lessons have not been learned and the liberal boomer establishment is mostly not getting it.

The Democratic Party will still have a DCCC that dictates to local units their “expert” opinions and sophisticated numbers over the local knowledge of people who have lived most, if not all, of their lives in their communities.

Most of the chairs and public elected officials of the Democratic Party remain unchanged. And already the Keith Ellison for DNC Chair (which I support, with some small reservations) momentum is slowing down because the “donor class” doesn’t want him and mostly, doesn’t like him.

We have no evidence since the year 2006 that Dems will magically turn out in a midterm when they do not hold the White House. 2006 was certainly a wave, but it was a wave that was created by the Iraq War and the Bush Administration being historically unpopular. It is likely that Trump will be unpopular, but when you have Democratic leaders like (permanent) Minority Leader Schumer in the Senate, and (permanent) Minority Leader Pelosi in the House vowing to make Donald Trump more popular, and vowing to work with him on some things, in stark contrast to how the GOP leadership behaved after an *actual* landslide in 2008, the jury is very much still out on the so-called coming 2018 Democratic wave.

2018 should be focused on the states and localities. Gubernatorial and state legislative campaigns. Party-building begins locally and it begins personally. Think local.

If the GOP maintains most of what they hold or even slightly improve (via winning the MN and PA gubernatorial races, a distinct possibility if nothing changes), not only are they knocking on the door of a filibuster-proof Senate, but they are also knocking on the door of a Constitutional amendment proof majority in the states (3/4ths, 37 states needed to pass and ratify proposed Constitutional amendments).

Not only will there be no wave if things do not change in a hurry for the party, but there are many areas past the above mentioned Senate map looking brutal, where we could lose ground further.

New York Democrats are currently prepping Chelsea Clinton to run for Congress in a long-held but only slight Democratic district in the New York-17th. I predict the GOP goes out and gets an Iraq Veteran who delivers lines like this across the district:

“While Chelsea Clinton was getting groomed to run for Congress and join the family business someday, I was dodging bullets in the Middle East.” – the Eric Greitens of the New York 17th. 

I’m sure Chelsea is nice, this is not personal. But I ask our readership to please get an early start in starting the human rights watch campaign to free Chelsea Clinton from what Democratic Party insiders and the Clinton cabal of advisors keep asking her to do. Go into careers that she does not want to do and is not a natural at doing. It’s insulting to her humanity, it’s insulting to the electorate, and I can only hope that she does not run. Enough with the Dukes and Earls, whether political or economic.

The 2020 Presidential Election — here are the early, talked about candidates:

One of the Reagan-baby Gen-X heavy GOP deep benchers (Rubio, Sasse, Cotton, Haley, although probably not Speaker Ryan as he’ll be too politicized) wins the Presidency, replacing Trump, who limits himself to one term citing political success and victories, or because he is impeached by a GOP congress, bringing us briefly, a President Glen Allen Walken…I mean Mike Pence.

Meanwhile, here is what the Democratic Party is countering with as of now, or at least this is what the early chatter is in the Beltway.

Sen. Cory Booker (NJ).

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY).

Sen-elect Kamala Harris (CA).

Gov. John Hickenlooper (CO).

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN).

First Lady Michelle Obama (Will reside in Washington D.C.).

I wanted to give everyone the proper amount of time away but now it is time to be honest.

Michelle, I have no doubt would be great. But she has stated many times that she has no interest in electoral politics. The Obama family has served their country enough. Leave them alone.

Sen-elect Harris will not run, and while she has a bright future, she is also from California, which has never produced a Democratic President and looks unlikely to do so in this current climate. Lets see what kind of Senator she is going to be first. I have high hopes that at the very least she’d make an excellent AG or VP candidate, then perhaps President after that.

Furthermore, every- single-talked-about candidate was only analyzed in terms of fundraising abilities, not potential message or vision for the future. The amount of people who do not get it in the political, media, and intellectual elite is alarming. For the most part, only the folks and their supporters are getting it. A quick note on the rest: Booker and Gillibrand (as well as Cuomo) may very well run, but they won’t win. If Sen. Klobuchar or Gov. Hickenlooper run, see Tim Pawlenty.

Thanks for sticking with us. Let’s get organized team future, we’re the last, best hope and it’s time to accept that. 

The Greater Recession: Boomers and the 401(k) Cash-In

birth-rates
“Those born between roughly 1946 and 1964, are now 52 to 70 years old. Starting in 2015, more money is coming out of the 401K retirement market than will ever be going in for quite some time.”                                                                               Source for Birth Rate Graph: Wikipedia 

Months ago during the Presidential primary election, during the peak of this nascent website’s readership (so far, perhaps forever), I wrote about what could be appropriately called the “Greater Recession.” It’s detailed focus was on the millennial generation (those born between circa 1980/81 and 1998 or so) and housing and the role that will play in contributing to the next recession. At the end I teased that housing will not be the chief driving force however behind the next recession, rather it will be the fact that baby boomers, retiring en-masse starting a few years ago, will be cashing in their 401K’s and this outflow will outpace the money that is going into retirement markets. What sounds alarmist now and overly complicated will sound stupidly simple when history is written: retirement accounts need money in them. Duh.

In the wake of the silliest U.S. Presidential Election and national conversation on record and for a country whose youngest working generation and middle class is still reeling from the previous Great Recession, it’s completely understandable why no one wants to hear or read about the next one (don’t worry, they won’t). But demographics are still destiny.

They are a chief driving reason Italy cannot grow more than 1 percent annually because Italy cannot replace its own population. Birth rates. If it were not for their relatively more modern and diversified economies, France and Spain would suffer from similar systemic growth problems because most of Europe is suffering from historically low birth rates. The United States has its own birth rate crisis too, but at the other end of the spectrum. The post-World War II baby boom from 1946 to roughly 1964.

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As of mid-2015 withdrawals from 401K plans exceed new contributions, a shift that could shake up the U.S. retirement industry and a trend that will continue well into the next decade and perhaps beyond. Three to four million baby boomers will be retiring every year between now and 2020, and it is expected to accelerate beyond that. The direct result will be on asset management firms and the retirement portion of investment banks being squeezed of large amounts of money because they rely on fees charged to employers and investors as their chief profit engine. Before I move on, let’s go through a quick primer on the history of 401Ks.

401K retirement plans came into wide usage in the 1980s as more companies embraced them as a replacement to their more costly pension fund counterpart. In other words, 401Ks are the privatization of pension plans. Along with the general erosion of big labor and private (as well as some public) sector unions in the U.S., this trend has contributed to declining and stagnant middle and working class incomes. The financial capitalism model that rose in the United States in this decade coincides with globalization ascendent generally, with the post-War political and economic consensus fading into history. Pensions were out. Privatization was in. The prevalence of 401K plans coincide with the major working years of the baby boomer generation, the largest cohort in American history until millennials.

A 401K bubble, unlike the housing bubble, will be far more fundamental than Senator McCain could ever conceive of because it will be demographically and systemically driven. We have seen so many cracks in globalization’s inevitability this past year, whether it is Brexit, the rise of nationalism generally, or the entire 2016 Presidential Election cycle. The final nail in the coffin to its inevitability may very well be another recession, which will no doubt have global implications as well because nearly everything does now. If we’ve learned anything since 2007-09 it’s that globalization and interdependence is failing, and will likely keep failing, rightly or wrongly. We have also learned that nation-states still matter and they matter the most. Rising nationalism that borders on jingoism and xenophobia in some quarters is frightening to anyone who has read history, but at the most basic level–the primacy and importance of national leadership and its ability to control and secure national interests is still incredibly relevant. Much of this development is political and populist in nature, and often very much to the chagrin of the global system, especially those in the financial community.

It has been said, and I think this is still the best case for globalization (although slipping a bit each year), that countries that trade together and are dependent on one another will not fight each other. A free trade and globalized world order is a peaceful world. With each passing year though, this gets harder and harder to believe. When Iraqi civilian casualties are 1/4th the total of the holocaust, you know instinctively that you are not living in a more peaceful world. Rather, you are merely avoiding the most dangerous parts of the world.

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In fairness to those who would call this alarmist thinking, there are three economic developments and one political, that could at the very least, stem the tide. Starting with the most unlikely to succeed.

1. Millennials putting enough money into their own retirements (very unlikely).

Despite the demographic ability to do it, millennials are squeezed out of good paying jobs still and even if they obtain those jobs (a big “if”), significant student loan debt and other costs will limit our ability to save for retirement in the years to come.

 

2. Asset management firms reinvesting a good potion of boomer-held wealth back into the market (more likely).

This may not be enough either though. Aging costs money and boomers are not nearly as wealthy as we all think they are. After all, their entire working lives coincide with America going from an FDR / New Deal / “We take care of our own” – model to a Reagan / “trickle-down economics” / financial capitalism – model.

3. Wall Street downsizing (most likely, already happening). 

 

An interesting facet of the Greater Recession could very well be the great irony: just as the Great Recession could be characterized as Wall Street driving an economic recession that left millennials with few paying jobs, the Greater Recession could be characterized by millennials lacking the assets, paying jobs, and income to prevent an economic recession that will in turn, leave many on Wall Street without their high-paying jobs.

And then there is the political solution.

We all saw how swiftly both parties acted in the wake of the global financial meltdown in 2008. But even in success, we also saw how readily evident it was that the United States has a public policy that is so incredibly friendly to wealthy elites and corporations that more and more publications are taking to calling the United States an oligarchy. Furthermore, political gridlock in the Obama years has made another swift action in response to an economic crisis harder to imagine. It’s far more likely any political response is an incredibly partisan one, carried out by a Republican Party in complete control of the United States government after 2020.

Therefore it’s far more likely that social insurance programs get privatized due to the political winds of the time, bad luck, and poor party-building and planning by the Democratic Party, which will be the chief purpose of the third and final part of the Greater Recession article series.