Our “Make It Look Good” Economy Has Failed

When rigged numbers are the basis of our success, we have failed.

The essence of the U.S. economy is make it look good: never mind quality or long-term consequences, just make it look good today, this week, this month, this quarter: make the pink slime look like meat, make the company look profitable, make the low-quality product look good enough to close the sale, make the unemployment rate low enough to justify re-electing the toadies currently in power, make the body count of bad guys look good, and on and on–just makes the numbers look good now, the future will take care of itself.

This is, of course, an attractive lie: the future is a direct consequence of present decisions and actions. It is remarkable how quickly we latch onto the notion that an endless parade of lies, manipulations and deceptions will magically produce a warm and fuzzy future of organic growth fostered by sound investments.

Alas, an economy that relies on an endless parade of lies, manipulations and deceptions has only one possible future: failure–abject, total, undeniable, devastating. Equally remarkable is the current conviction that absurd extremes in manipulation–the billions of dollars of corporate buybacks pushing stocks higher, the socialization of the U.S. mortgage market, where privately issued mortgages (unbacked by government guarantees) have virtually vanished, the ginned-up unemployment number (remove enough potential workers from the count and the unemployment rate is soon near-zero)–will magically lead to an economy that no longer needs extreme manipulations to sustain itself.

All these lies (if we are bold enough to call a lie a lie) and manipulations cannot possibly herald in an economy of honest reporting, market discovery of price and sound investments.

This is equivalent to doing nothing but eating junk food while playing martial-arts videogames for months on end and then expecting to beat Tony Jaa in a real-world sparring match. Only people who’ve lost touch with reality would think that getting fat and wheezy playing videogames while eating Happy Meals and Ho-Hos would create a future that required an entirely different set of decisions and disciplines.

America is completely out of touch with reality: gaming statistics and making credit free to financiers doesn’t create jobs, any more than stuffing one’s face with junk food and playing videogames prepares one to avoid getting beaten to a pulp in a real martial arts match.

The misguided individual who reckons that foisting make it look good cons will magically create productive investments soon discovers that cons, lies and manipulations are all one-way streets: a make it look good con has only one future: a bigger con, to cover up the disastrous consequences of the initial con.

The U.S. economy won’t fail in the future: it has already failed. Just as the delusional coach-potato who stuffs himself with Happy Meals and Ho-Hos to prepare for a real-world sparring match failed at the first bite, so too have we failed with the first lie, the first gamed statistic, the first Federal Reserve manipulation, the first fudged “profit.”

Liars often entertain the fantasy that the initial make it look good illusion can eventually be replaced with real numbers and real integrity: but that too is a lie, a lie the liar tells himself. A house of cards constructed of lies, manipulations, fudged numbers, ginned-up statistics and cleverly constructed deceptions cannot suddenly become a structure built on integrity, accountability and honest reporting of facts; it will always be fragile, for a single truth and a single unvarnished fact can bring down the entire contraption.

This is where our endless parade of lies, manipulations and deceptions has led us: to a future of more lies, manipulations and deceptions because untruth is a black hole; once our first manipulation pushes us past the event horizon, there is no way back to honesty, accountability and factual reporting.

Officially sanctioned lies, manipulations and deceptions erode trust in institutions and the bedrock belief that honesty, integrity, accountability, hard work and productive investments are the keys to advancement.

Once a people have been trained to swallow an endless parade of lies, manipulations and deceptions in order to get their share of the system’s swag, they lose the ability to practice accountability, integrity and honesty. Their own complicity renders them incapable of trusting the system or anyone else playing the make it look good game.

Eventually they lose the ability to even recognize accountability, integrity and honesty, much less live them.

America’s economy has already failed. It failed when our leaders turned to lies and manipulation to make it look good, and it failed when we bought the lies because it was so much less risky than demanding a factual accounting.

When rigged numbers are the basis of our success, we have failed. 


Want to give an enduringly practical graduation gift? Then give my new book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy, a mere $9.95 for the Kindle ebook edition and $17.76 for the print edition. 

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  • Dee

    I don’t totally disagree with your conculsions, but I have some quibbles with how we got here. I think the causes are more small “d” democratic that you seem to imply. Companies buying back stock is not exactly one sided .. somebody has to be willing to sell , and sell at the offered price.. and yes buying back stock can raise the price of a stock, but it can also cause a loss of confidence in the company and drop the price of the stock, not often, but it can. And companies usually say they are going to buy back so many dollars of stock, they have a budget, and they don’t have to spend it all .. they can only buy what is for sale and only spend as much as they got.. in fact under some conditions, such as a company wanting to go private ( usually so they are not so driven by the days or weeks or quarters results and can take the long view, kinda ironic huh?) they benefit by the stock price going down so they can get more of it for less money.
    I don’t think it is the cheap credit the big guys get near as much as it is the expensive credit the small guys stack up until it sinks them, making ninja loans legal is bad, but not as bad as folks using the ninja loans and instead of being honest, willfully acted in creative way with their numbers.. and when things crashed folks who would have gotten away with it and made some serious bucks or had awesome equity by lying, got burnt. So did some “honest” folks who were merely excessively aspirational. But that is not the point.. government stupidity is not actually particularly harmful unless it is acted on by We the greedy People. Or folks taking on debt or obligations ( and I’m not just talking loans, I’m talking absent parents , probably even more importantly absent parents) without understanding what it means or how they can get into or stay out of trouble. And who’s fault is that? Nobody warned them, nobody suggested they only do contracts with a lawyer present if they don’t understand, how many times in a closing do somebody get asked “do you have any questions” .. saw a poll once, no idea if it was true or how the question was phrased .. but it said two thirds of Americans spend more time choosing dinner from a menu and ask more question of a waiter than they spend making decisions about money or asking questions of knowledgeable advisors.
    Times are hard, risk is higher, mistakes less forgivable , competition is more competitive. counterparty options are greater, not just on the corporate level, but on the individual level as well. I see a lot of folks blaming stuff higher up the food chain, while they are getting their legs , yeah yeah legs, not some other body part, bit off because they don’t seem to realize or want to accept that it is harder risk is higher , personal decisions matter more at the personal level.. there is less safety net and going to be much less safety net simply because we can’t afford it. Folks got to start taking personal control of their lives and quit waiting for somebody to fix it. And just get started by fixing their own lives.. you will still have time to complain about government or the 1% or the scapegoat de’jur and agitate for the changes needed there. All your examples have another side and a counterparty/ conspirator to make the picture complete. And everybody is going to have to realize and accept their own little bit of the responsibility if anything is ever going to change for the better.
    remember they only think folks need to do to get American Jobs is to, to the maximum extent possible, but American made stuff, and if you can’t find what you want made in America agitate for somebody to make it. There really doesn’t need to be any new laws, there doesn’t even have to be some labeled organization with dues and lobbists.. just a personal decision by some significant portion of the consumer economy. Folks complain about the propaganda and advertising and temptation and the status thing.. well just don’t buy into it.. you set your priorities and needs and live accordingly. Doesn’t mean you can’t still trash talk others and other oh so effective and useful activities.. but if you lived your values you would actually be doing something meaningful and change things, while you whine and complain about how unfair everything is.

    • Randall Miller

      Feel free to disagree with this hate filled troll. He’s another standards bearer of propagnda – another newsmaxx employee quitely automating old conservative hatred. Automated pornography from market fundamentlists. On a good day, when the teams aren’t lying reflexively to gate keep any and all resistance to mafia capitalism, quite a few Chamber of Commerce youth work to craft a seductively appealing essay of rambling hostility about some lazy slob who’s getting over easy. Meanwhile corporations engorged on welfare remain busy robbing you blind, spying on you and strip mining your dignity and privacy, it’s their military too, around the world protection to rape resources and treasure, and everything in sight. Wonder boy libertarian, in between spats of hate, also promises that you too can join the club by starting your own “small business”. The propaganda evenutally goes so far right, you’ll have a large contingent of information technology dedicated to collecting data under the auspices of resistance to the staus quo, and lies about free speech.

      • Dee

        Hmmm, I guess you didn’t have any facts or opinions on the subject matter..
        You know, sometimes what people have to say about other folks, says more about the speaker than about the other guy.

      • Chris Butler

        Actually, I’ve read both Dee’s comments and your reply and I think I’d rather disagree with you. “Automating old conservative hatred”? Good. Get going on that tired old saw. It helps when you don’t have an argument. Define “market fundamentalist.” Defender of markets? I’ll defend the market process. What? You don’t like the way the market allocates scarce resources? First look to see if the market you’re analyzing has been hijacked by forces outside the free participation of individuals. If not, you’ve got no argument with market fundamentalists. You’ve got an argument against intervention. If you see no such intervention or prohibition, and you still don’t like the way the market allocated scarce resources, too bad. You lose. Move on. Clearly, more people preferred the way the market did allocate those resources, or they wouldn’t have been allocated that way. You’re the minority. Sorry. What about “libertarian” (small “L”) makes you recall images of hate? And which libertarian source has in any way supported the things you seem to hold in such disdain (corporate welfare, militarism, etc.)? Finally, and most amusingly, You seem to roll your eyes and sigh as you cite hostility toward “lazy slobs getting over easy.” You support lazy slobs getting over easy? Probably not. Nobody can retain any degree of respect by arguing we should all be lazy slobs getting over easy. So your point must be that there are more important issues to concern ourselves with? Like corporate welfare and infringing on the privacy rights of citizens? Ummmmmm, do you even know the definition of libertarian? And by the way, I own a small business, so I guess I was victimized by the right-wing propaganda. For what it’s worth, I don’t feel duped. It’s a pretty fun way to make a living. And to think I don’t have to “rape resources and treasure” to do it. Kind of boggles the mind doesn’t it? I purposefully left out my spats of hate because I know it offends you. Next time, though, watch out! I’ll be coming at you with a big ol’ hatred cannon!

        • Mary Johnson

          Big morons sure love their cannons. Anything big will do to make up for what appears to be small. Trying being big on literacy first, it will help you write your “come backs” with some sense of coherence, the scratch above is more unclear than the original o.p. that compelled you to respond.

          Big business runs government in advanced capitalism. There is no free market, there never has been. For decades the redistribution of wealth from ordinary taxpayers to the political chosen, mammoth corporations and their small business bottom feeders is fundamentally how the market has worked – period. They don’t care about your small plumbing business or body shop, they’ll sell you your materials. And they don’t care about your taxes, as long as you pay them and they don’t, and they support your right to pack pea shooters, quite a few people kill themselves and each other. Libertarianism, a label for Ayn Rand’s simplicity has an appeal to someone who either prefers a simple intrinsic belief system or is unable or unwilling to critically think. But cheerleaders are needed, or brown shirts, someone has to fight for organized corporate titans. Why not some Stooge who does roofing all day, we can get him to hate the gov’mint or brown people, or the lazy, or the fat, or himself.

          We have no idea what free people making voluntary exchanges might do. We never have. The conservative argument is that we do or did. “Jethro” Hugh Smith, for example, continues to write the same blather daily, a compartmentalized series of paper doll cut outs that aren’t worth even commenting on because they belong in a coloring book for children. The first 100 years of this country was about killing people for real estate, that’s the free market tradition.

          • Dee

            You have no idea what free people making voluntary exchanges might do? What involuntary exchanges are you being compelled to make? And who is compelling them?

            The problem with folks that rant the rant you rant, is that there is a stereotype of young folks who can’t seem to manage their money and come out of college mired in debt. And because this group didn’t understand money, credit, and debt, rather than just admit their mistakes and ignorance and learn how money works and try to do better , and how money works is knowable and learnable, claim that the whole world is unfair. The evidence is all around you, most folks own homes and most of those that do have positive equity , in fact about 40% of the homes in America are paid off free and clear. The vast majority of folks have jobs and lot of those people have middle class jobs and middle class life styles..

            The world is a meritocracy, those with marketable skills get recognized, The skills that make money are known, Monsterdotcom has over a million jobs listed BLS.gov can tell you what is in demand and what will be in demand in the future, over 3 million jobs are looking for qualified applicants nationwide. The 23 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales. But it is a meritocracy, you are in competition with other folks based on the jobs skills needed for any job. Your ideas for a business or career are in competition with other folks ideas , but it is not and never has been a zero sum game..

            if it makes you feel better, blame the system.. but that isn’t going to fix your personal problems. Sometimes you got to check yourself , sometimes the problems that keep folks from getting ahead are personal problems that only they can fix, could be basic jobs skills, could be attitude, could be gaps in skills or knowledge.

            We have somewhere between 1.1 and 1.3 million college graduates each year about 3/4th of them find jobs, and we have about 1 million legal immigrants from other countries that come here each year because of the opportunities , many of them start with next to nothing and still work their way up to the American dream and success.

            There is about 1/5th of the potential work force that can’t seem to make the system work for them … from what I can tell , a lot of those folks don’t understand that they personally have to make the system work for them, the system doesn’t automagically just take care of them. And that is only because so much of the system that you seem to be upset about is both voluntary and open ended to allow for maximum freedom of choice on how you personally wish to participate. But you do have to have a goal, you do have to understand the requirements and skill needed to achieve that goal, and it is your responsibility to acquire those skills and requirements for the goal you have. Nobody nowhere and at no time prepares you for your personal goals but you.. you get an education in general knowledge and basic life skills that prepares you only to be able to pick goals and to be able to acquire skills to fulfill your own agenda on your own. 80% of people get this.

            This concept of starter jobs for the unskilled as a career path and needing career wages capable of supporting a middle class life style is a pretty new concept .. in the past very few people wanted a low skill. no skill job as a career. Now many seem to want that .. and I support that, if that is what they want. But that path comes with hazards.. there area lot of no skill/low skilled folks competing for ever fewer no skill/ low skill jobs due to automation making such jobs easier and cheaper to fill with machines.

            The world and most the people in it are not going to stop progress and change just so those who don’t want to keep up can be secure, Most folks get that the world changes and with every change new opportunities needing new skill open up and those that choose to get those skills and apply them succeed.

            there are a small number, comparatively of web sites that have this , the world is unfair and “big fill in the blank” is keeping you down.

            This is probably going to come as a shock to you but MSNBC’s highest rated show Rachel Maddow only has about 3/4 of a million viewers Foxes top shows only have about 2 million. http://www.mediabistro.com/tvnewser/category/ratings

            All up, network and cable, it is a good night if 30 million Americans watch any news at all http://stateofthemedia.org/2013/network-news-a-year-of-change-and-challenge-at-nbc/

            That is only about 10% of the total population, total population over 16 is about 244 million so if you just count over 16 as potential viewers about 12-13 percent of the population watch the news.

            Folks get into these rather small, as these things go, groups and think the whole world agrees with them .. it is called “Conformational Bias” It makes it possible to think you are winning or the majority when if fact 90% of the world doesn’t even know you exist, or if they do know you exist, they don’t think much about it, or care much about it. they have their own lives, own problems , own entertainments, own little circles of thought support .. barely a majority of folks even vote http://www.statisticbrain.com/voting-statistics/

            And when it comes to primaries .. 17% vote http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/primary-voter-turnout-stays-low-but-more-so-for-democrats/

            And those percentages are for total voters .. and the votes are pretty much split just a few percent one side or the other of 50/50. And when you break it down by issues significant to the voters http://www.gallup.com/poll/1675/most-important-problem.aspx gap between rich and poor 2% and corporate corruption gets a “*” for less than 0.5%
            I am not saying this to discourage you.. but I am saying that if these issues are big issues to you , then you are pretty much on your own, nobody , no popular groundswell is coming to save you, at least not any time soon.. I would encourage you to find personal solutions to personal problems if you want them solved.
            I obviously care about these issues, I watch the news and I vote, but I also read or survey a wider political spectrum of blogs and news sites .. I do not want to discourage you from your efforts .. but sometimes folks who think their victory is inevitable need some context and a glimpse at the larger picture.
            By all means continue to fight and agitate for social justice as you see it and rail against the great evils of the world as you find them.. but take a little time for your personal problems and issues and realize that sometimes fixing the world will not fix your personal problems as well as or as fast as directly fixing the issues in your own life.
            I wish you nothing but well, and good luck, sorry the world sucks for you.

          • Steve Valentine Smith

            The author calls the economy a total “lying, deceitful failure” then you follow up with a response stating that the glass is triumphantly half full. Whom is blaming the system? Sounds like both he/she and the author are blaming the system. It sounds like your feelings were hurt by the previous poster, he did sound unecessarily condescending, that always happens. It may be beneficial for people to at least “feel” the economy is fine and dandy.
            Hey, maybe you and the other poster can get it on somehow, by posting email addresses or something, you might have more in common than you’d think.

          • Dee

            Simple Question “What involuntary exchanges are you being compelled to make? And who is compelling them?” Would it kill you to answer that? I just want to know who you think the bogeyman is.

            “total “lying, deceitful failure”” Just sounds a little strong to me.. I didn’t paint a picture of a flaming successful economy.. just gave the current situation. And it only matters in the same way the lack of prominence of the issues being offered in the mind of the public matters. the economy is what it is.. and public attention and concern on these issues is what it is.
            I am all for fighting for social justice, I support the $15 minimum wage.. but I am not for folks suffering and waiting for the basic world social order to change when there are options for some, even most.. I am not against options that do work, but have their own limitations, that may even be “playing the game” or “selling out” in some folks estimation.. if it works , it works, and by that I mean folks get to work. I am not for standing on principle, if that principle means you do not do your best to improve yourself or your life, or your families life.
            Everybody is for the ACA .. but we don’t have enough doctors or nurses or hospitals or staff to actually improve the standard of care when we are planning to add, when all is said and done, a number of Americans to the health care system that equals the population of Canada, and we are going to need the infrastructure of a medical system the size of Canada’s to serve them. Monster has job listings for Nurses.. many where the hiring hospital either pays off tuition bills/ student loans to one degree or another, or has some inhouse financing arrangements that makes getting the degree easier.. other professions have similar .. Unions.. everybody is big on Unions? Right? they have learn and earn apprentice programs for a lot of trades .. I know it costs me $100 an hour for plumbers and electricians .. I figure take home pay must be pretty good .. They have TV shows doing competitions to finance folks who want to open a restaurant now.. but long before that their were and are venture capital outfits that specialize in financing restaurants, they not just finance but help you do the whole business plan and how to start a business thing. There is venture capital for almost anything, not to mention the SBA, and now there is the internet and various funding options.. Of course you need an idea .. something you want to do.. but it is there. There are options. Society isn’t in a mood to extend the social safety net.. even when it is needed the most. It’s a little gritty out there for everybody, but there are options and there is hope. I am not saying folks can’t wait for the revolution if they want to .. I am just saying they don’t have to. And I am just providing a little context as to how restricted the impact is of these issues and how the issues are perceived by the public.
            Folks get themselves into a preferential bias loop .. the alarmist hyper disaster pending collapse presentation is clouding the slow decline that will sneak up on folks in it’s own time… Folks will eventually go to some place they like to shop, or eat, and it will be closed.. and somehow that person will look around and finally notice all the other closed shops that they just didn’t see before or notice, and wonder when did everything change?
            The glass is half full, but only because it isn’t completely empty. It a competitive world and success is still based on meritocracy , and a lot of folks do start on third base and think they hit a triple … but that doesn’t change the fact that you can’t make money work for you, if you don’t know how money works …
            It is all well and good to identify a problem.. but it’s better to have solutions .. you can still fight the good fight if you get a good job and move to suburbia.

          • Mary Johnson

            Buy a house a move to suburbia. That’s exactly what people aren’t doing in ever greater numbers. Incidentally, that might be the worst possible advice at the current time, But before you turned the thread into your personal advice column, telling everyone about “that’s just the way it is according to me”, your droll commentary about nothin’ at all, doesn’t say nothin’ at all. Widespread layoffs, massive home foreclosures and loss of retirement savings and other assets are simply some benevolent result of meritocracy. You may have solvent induced brain damage, or may be drunk and stupid, but that’s no excuse for not thinking. But, like a good tasting enviromentally destructive piece of meat, parasitical takers find social darwinism most comforting, After nearly destroying the planet, which eventually it may still, finance propoganda has doubled down on Darwinism by adding Randian idiocy, but avoiding discussion of religion, since that incompatibility would harm their deceitful purposes. Indeed, as Atlas Shrugged a large swath of generally confused people, those who are not
            wealthy but nonetheless signed up to the scheme, have been conditioned
            to view the burden of a ball and chain as a privilege. Basicially out of no where, following the financial crisis, a number of blogs gave lip service to market failures and perhaps regulations, but what they mostly did is attempt to elude responsibility The preachers of ‘personal responsibility’ are ducking for cover. It’s beyond amusing, moreover tragic, that many conservatives are themselves quite poor. ‘Simply save and invest – that will get you on the road to riches.’ Bahaha!

          • Dee

            Okay, lets say everything I said is wrong, and everything that you say, except the environmentally destructive piece of meat ( the weather today is Ideal for grilling in suburbia ) is right.
            How does that change the ground truth of the situation? Who does it help? What options for folks to improve their situation does it provide? and what change from the current reality does it foster? What Hope does it bring? Will it cause any rain to fall in drought stricken California?
            Is anything you say a solution for anything? Is there any solution you would find acceptable?

    • Blanche

      Unions are needed, labor needs to break up Banks, Wall Street and ultimately militarism.
      Wall Street is going to destroy jobs , obliterate lives, build more prisons, steal more land, and declare war faster than a heroin junkie chasing a bad case of withdrawal. The liars will insist organizing will never work, that it is some how immoral or illegal to fight for your rights. It may take the peaceful equivalent of euthanizing a few big oil companies in order to save humanity and cut the Pentagon off at it’s knees, but eventually they’ll be broken to pieces.

      • Dee

        I got nothing against folks organizing if they want to.. what is stopping anybody if they want to organize.. I’m just saying in the case of more jobs in America it can be done at the individual level .
        Do I think enough people will act individually in their own long term interest.. probably no more than they will collectively organize in their own self interest.
        And not because it is immoral or illegal to fight for your rights, either .. everybody is either waiting for somebody to save them or they write off the simple and practical and go for the grandiose one time fixes everything, or the hard slow way of educating the public without the hysteria… just getting folks to show up is a problem.

        that bit about euthanizing .. my point exactly

    • I’m not really sure what you just said.

      • Dee

        Didn’t say anything , I wrote it, that way it reads the same every time you read it.