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Times Are Good–for Investment Bankers, Anyway

(Photo: flickr / cc / Alex Proimos)

Time magazine (7/17/14–subscription required) has some good news for you, courtesy of investment banker and former Clinton Treasury official Roger Altman: "Surprise: The Economy Isn’t as Bad as You Think."

After noting that "in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 63 percent of respondents said the US is on the wrong track," Altman insists that "despite the pessimistic mood, America is experiencing a profound comeback."

Some of his evidence for this claim may sound familiar to regular FAIR readers. "Total household net worth is now well above its 2007 peak," he writes, "driven by the recovery in stock prices and home values." This is the similar to the claim USA Today (3/7/14) made earlier this year that Americans were $9.8 trillion richer than they were last year–before acknowledging that the richest tenth of America owns 80 percent of its stocks, which are largely responsible for this boom (FAIR Blog, 3/7/14).

Altman goes on to note that housing prices and housing investment are both up, without mentioning whether people are able to find housing they can afford–proving once again Sarah Jaffe's point that for corporate media, housing "recovery" is about markets, not people (Extra!, 5/14).

Coal Exports and Imports

Altman includes as evidence of economic "recovery" the fact that US oil and natural gas production is soaring. Given that the burning of fossil fuels is creating a climate disaster that will devastate the economies of the entire world, this is shortsighted at best, but Altman claims that vastly expanded carbon extraction is actually "a plus…for climate protection," since "gas is being substituted rapidly for the dirtiest fuel, coal."

This assertion fails to take into account the fact that US coal exports have more than doubled since 2009, as coal producers simply ship the coal that's not being burned here to be burned abroad. But that's not really something you'd expect a banker whose firm has close ties to the fossil fuel industry (FAIR Blog, 10/25/12) to point out.

Finally, 11/12ths of the way through the article, Altman acknowledges that for most people, the economy is still doing quite poorly: "Median household income is still 8 percent below the precrisis level." In other words, the average American has a standard of living that is well below what it was in 2007. Interestingly, this is introduced with the statement, "Our country's biggest challenge now is the plight of lower-income Americans"; apparently when you're an investment banker, "lower-income Americans" and average Americans are the same thing.

If, like Altman, you're part of the elite that has benefited from a soaring stock market and a climate-wrecking energy boom, you may well be feeling optimistic right now. If you're part of the majority that's still hurting after six years of "recovery," thinking that the US is on the wrong track isn't pessimism–it's realism.

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Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

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