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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

October 20, 2009 at 10:05 AM

A new bubble’s here, and you won’t even get the leftover change

Top of the News: What’s that noise? It’s the latest bubble.

There’s little mystery behind the Dow’s rise, the huge profits for some Wall Street banks — leading to plans to pay record bonuses — or the “recovery,” such as it is, of the housing market. It’s a temporary and highly artificial boom caused by the enormously costly federal bailout of the financial sector, zero interest-rate lending to banks, the first-time house buyer credit and other desperate measures out of the other Washington.

If average Americans saw little gain from the last bubble, this one is even more exclusive. Aside from the small minority of house buyers — if they can even keep paying their mortgages — most of the gravy is going to the financial elite. “Titans like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are making fortunes in hot areas like trading stocks and bonds, rather than in the ho-hum business of lending people money,” reported the New York Times.

On Main Street, joblessness keeps rising, wages in many cases falling, foreclosures and bankruptcy a continuing crisis. It will take years for average Americans to recover. The tax cuts included in the federal stimulus for political reasons have had little effect on the economy, most of it going to savings or paying off debt. Infrastructure investments such as high-speed rail that would pay off in the future and create a new productive economy are mostly afterthoughts.

This will be a short bubble. The trading and derivatives driving Wall Street will collapse again, even harder this time. Toxic balance-sheet items have been pushed forward or otherwise concealed. And most of the banking sector — America’s premier industry now — remains very sick.

The top finance players will be out of the market and have their personal wealth protected when the roof falls in. American taxpayers will once again absorb the losses — only this time, in a much deeper fiscal hole than even in 2008. As Bob Dole said, “Where’s the outrage?”

The Back Story: The Greater Seattle Chamber holds its regional leadership conference Wednesday through Friday at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum. Tops on the agenda is expanding the clean energy economy here and creating jobs.

Among the topics to be discussed: biofuels, renewable energy, smartgrid and energy efficiency. I hope the business leaders can also make time to understand the huge benefits to the Northwest from building a high-speed rail line between Portland and Vancouver, B.C., as well as strengthening the Amtrak Cascades and adding more light rail. These are proven technologies, successful worldwide.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Boeing downgraded

Will executives take stock

Or blame the workers?

Comments | More in Aerospace/Boeing, Bailout

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