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Robert Reich: A Story for May Day

May 3, 2013

The Fed, Apple, and Trickle-Down Economics.

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Image from Flickr via dkshots

By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich

The Fed’s policy of keeping interest rates near zero is another form of trickle-down economics.

For evidence, look no further than Apple’s decision to borrow a whopping $17 billion and turn it over to its investors in the form of dividends and stock buy-backs.

Apple is already sitting on $145 billion. But with interest rates so low, it’s cheaper to borrow. This also lets Apple avoid U.S. taxes on its cash horde socked away overseas where taxes are lower.

Other big companies are doing much the same on a smaller scale.

Who gains from all this? The richest 10 percent of Americans who own 90 percent of all shares of stock.

It’s a sump pump with the Fed on one end buying up bonds to keep interest rates low, and shareholders on the other end raking in the returns.

But little or nothing is trickling down. The average American can’t borrow at nearly the low rates Apple or any other big company can. Most Americans no longer have a credit rating that allows them to borrow much of anything.

It would be one thing if Apple and other giant companies were borrowing in order to expand operations and create new jobs. But that’s not what’s going on. Apple, remember, is still sitting on $145 billion.

The reason big companies aren’t creating more jobs is consumers aren’t buying enough to justify the expansion. And government is cutting back on spending.

Big corporations are borrowing simply in order to push stock prices up and reward their investors.

It’s a sump pump with the Fed on one end buying up bonds to keep interest rates low, and shareholders on the other end raking in the returns.

Get it? Easy money from the Fed can’t get the economy out of first gear when the rest of government is in reverse.

Trickle-down economics is the first cousin of austerity economics. Austerity is nuts when so many millions are out of work. And as we’ve learned before, trickle-down is a fraud. Nothing ever trickles down.

Robert B. Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

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