US Economic Pundits & Their Wall Street ‘Vibes’

The biggest problem, writes Les Leopold, is how to take the government back from the wealthy who dominate it.

Wall Street, 2009. (Dave Center, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By Les Leopold
Common Dreams

The economic pundits are freaking out again. A new poll finds that a majority of Americans think the economy is declining, when it is actually growing. Half of us believe the stock market is crashing, when it is reaching new highs. Half of us also believe unemployment is at a disastrous 50-year high, when it is sustaining record lows. 

Why are we Americans so stupid? Why are we so blind to a healthy economy? It’s all in our messed-up heads, we are told. We are bringing bad vibes to the good times, they say. 

Lee Drutman, in his Substack, wonders if our brains are hard-wired to be ever alert to threats, more than to good news. Perhaps social media has learned how to get more clicks by focusing on threat after threat, even imaginary ones.

Paul Krugman, who has been chirping on the “vibecession” for nearly two years, believes it relates to the polarization of American politics, also amplified by social media. The Republicans stir the pot by mindlessly attacking anything and everything Democrats do, he argues. All of this gets our animal juices flowing so that we reflexively see bad, bad, bad. 

I think these very savvy analysts are looking for love in all the wrong places. They are ignoring a key long-term trend: Fewer and fewer people trust the government. And probably even fewer believe what government-friendly analysts write. The bond between citizens and government was smashed long before Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene came onto the scene.

Krugman in 2023, during a meeting with President Joe Biden. (White House/ Adam Schultz)

When President Lyndon Johnson won in a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964, a colossal 77 percent of Americans had trust in the federal government.

The government had earned it through the battle against the crippling economic depression in the 1930s, the fight against fascism during WWII, and its stewardship over a prospering economy in the 1950s, when the gap between the rich and the rest of us reached historic lows.

Black Americans also saw the federal government as an ally in breaking Jim Crow in the South. And labor unions, which then represented more than 30 percent of the workforce, believed they had formed a permanent national partnership with government and corporations to improve the standard of living of all working people.

Government, in 1964, was viewed as a force for good. 

What happened? 

The federal government blew it. The best and the brightest in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations led the country into the Vietnam War and repeatedly lied to the nation about its progress.

In 1960 there were 900 American troops stationed in South Vietnam to prop up an unpopular government. By 1968 there were more than 500,000, and U.S. generals wanted to double that number.

More and more Americans started to believe that it was not possible, or moral, to use military might to interfere with Vietnam’s struggle for independence, even if the revolt was led by communists. Whatever your view of the war in Vietnam, there is no doubt that it tore our country apart. 

Johnson, who had pushed through historic civil rights legislation, as well as launching the Medicare and Medicaid programs, became a hated figure, especially in the eyes of young people subject to the military draft.

Yet even in 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated and troops were sent to put down riots in urban areas, a remarkable 62 percent of the country still approved of the federal government. The public may have wanted new leadership, but the government itself was still viewed positively. 

Johnson handing King one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964, at the White House. (U.S. Embassy New Delhi, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

The Vietnam War, however, continued for another seven years and ended in abject failure, further alienating millions of Americans, especially young people. And then came Watergate.

Journalistic and congressional inquiry revealed that President Richard Nixon and his key advisers were involved in a vast array of crimes and coverups of their interference in the rights of their political opponents, especially Vietnam War critics.

By the time Nixon resigned from office in 1974, government approval had fallen to 36 percent. At that point the leaders and the entire federal apparatus seemed untrustworthy to most of us.

Ronald Reagan, with his optimistic “Morning in America” nudged up government approval rates to 46 percent in 1985. But ironically, and tragically, he did so by attacking government itself.

In 1986, while running for a second term, he said at a press conference, “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Think about that for a moment. The president of the United States, near the peak of his popularity, was telling us that the government he is running stinks!

Gone was the 1930s understanding that government was needed to protect the people from corporate power. Gone was the idea that in hard times government should put people to work. Gone was the idea that Wall Street needed strict regulations. 

By the 1990s, policy leaders of both parties believed that whatever government could do, the private sector could do better. Bill Clinton put it more artfully in his 1996 State of the Union Address: “The era of big government is over.” Little wonder that trust in government fell to about 30 percent that year.

To make matters worse, starting with Reagan and accelerating during the Clinton years, financial deregulation became all the rage. “Greed is good” wasn’t just a joke from a movie, it was the dominant governmental theory of economic growth.

Money gushed upwards to the rich through stock buybacks, anti-worker trade deals and leveraged buyouts. Workers paid the price with their jobs. Mass layoffs, previously a rarity in non-recessionary periods, became routine, and the government did absolutely nothing to stop them. (For a fuller analysis please see Wall Street’s War on Workers.)

Reagan outlining plan for cutting taxes in a televised address in July 1981. (Reagan White House Photographs, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

After two decades of Wall Street plunder the financial system collapsed in 2008, leading to a loss of 6 million jobs in a matter of months. Government got another black eye when the financial barons who so obviously crashed the system weren’t prosecuted and didn’t lose their jobs.

Instead, nearly all their institutions were bailed out and astronomical executive pay packages continued. And the homeowner victims of the crash got nothing. 

It sure seemed like the federal government and Wall Street were partners in crime. Little wonder that public trust in government crashed to less than 20 percent, and it hasn’t changed much since. The last poll (June 6, 2023) comes in at a pathetic 16 percent.

Economists who keep harping about all the great governmental accomplishments are not trusted precisely because most Americans, except those at the top, are suffering.

Inflation is reducing our real wages even if we can’t accurately tell pollsters about how the stock market is doing. Mass layoffs are unrelenting, even if we don’t know unemployment trends. (See the rigorous work by Thomas Ferguson and Servass Storm for more on this.) 

The biggest problem, so often ignored by vibecession pundits, is how to take the government back from the wealthy who dominate it.

Politicians who tap into our distrust with “drain the swamp” are pulling a fast one. They only want to place their own cronies in positions of governmental power to further extract wealth from working people. 

It’s not a pretty picture. Expecting the political establishment to reform itself is folly. It takes pressure from a mass movement to force meaningful change.

We saw a glimpse of that power during Occupy Wall Street, when for a few months it seemed as if the political establishment might be successfully pressured to take on financial elites.

But there was no structure to hold that amorphous movement together. Social media, all the rage, was no substitute for concrete organizational structures. Wall Street walked away unscathed. 

Today, labor unions are the only organized groups with the resources to stop corporate dominance of politics and government before our cherished democracy is sold to the highest bidder.

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and author of the new book, Wall Street’s War on Workers: How Mass Layoffs and Greed Are Destroying the Working Class and What to Do About It. (2024). Read more of his work on his substack here.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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18 comments for “US Economic Pundits & Their Wall Street ‘Vibes’

  1. wildthange
    June 8, 2024 at 21:16

    But the military establishment has recovered to the point of declaring permanent war on the world for maximized profits in rebuilding doomed victim countries being helped by us. We are running a demolition derby western civilization for R2P, right to plunder.

    Our high tech civilization is facing massive inflation due to increasing military arms races while the planet itself is bearing down on us and the recovery costs of keeping the whole system running will are becoming unsustainable. The climate destruction costs are affecting all institutions as well as our world populations.

    It doesn’t take nuclear weapons time for a cyber attack to touch the heart of our country and others due to our Trojan Horse offered to the world by our MIC generosity either just like our development of nuclear weapons we know could have won WWII if the USSR hadn’t worn it first. Now we are still trying to figure out ways to profit from it.

    The military protection racket of human civilization may destroy us or bankrupt us rather than protect and save civilization.

  2. Rafi Simonton
    June 8, 2024 at 18:36

    I speak to this as someone who was a blue collar worker for 28 years. Also a local D campaign mgr back when the Ds still had a rank and file party and political campaigns were won by mobilizing large groups of volunteers. Not easy; try working a room with feminists and a Catholic men’s organization, union activists and small business owners, etc. But we all took seriously the idea of the common good and so did the leadership of the D party.
    Then the unfriendly take-over (which I fought) by what were then called New Dems, reformers. Who soon showed what they really were when they dumped the New Deal and abandoned labor. The elite Ds still talk as if they cared about us, the working class majority. But they are in practice neolibs, supporting an econ system that considers destruction of natural and human resources to be “externalities,” thus irrelevant. They’re perilously close to the dogmas of Milton Friedman’s Chicago School of Economics–inhumane, harsh, and intensely undemocratic effects very visible where these theories have been forced onto many countries world-wide.
    Consider the domestic situation. What did the D party do for the Rust Belt? And it was under Clinton that finance was deregulated, giving us The Great Recession of 2008 where working people lost jobs, pensions, even their homes. While none of the Wall St. vultures who caused the meltdown through dicey financial manipulations were ever held accountable and the lesson is too-big-to-fail corporations can do whatever they want.
    So yeah, the Ds are in trouble. I urge everyone to read Les Leopold’s book //Wall Street’s War on Workers (How Mass Layoffs and Greed Are Destroying the Working Class and What To Do About It)//. I liked it because of the stats showing we’re not the stupid bigots some intellectuals seem to want to believe we are to justify their disdain and neglect. If the D leadership would pay attention, they’d have a compelling issue to run on! These devastating mass layoffs are NOT because of anything economically justifiable–they’re done to create funds for stock buy-backs. Actions that enrich CEOs personally and tie up corporate finance so that nothing goes toward new production or job creation.
    Why would the Ds ignore this?! Well, they’d have to admit that doing away with the New Deal regs, like the ones reining in this Robber Baron behavior, might not have been a good idea. Worse, it would be viewed as obviously pro-labor and anti-corporate, annoying their big donors. Worst of all, it would call into question the whole sick system. The Market, an abstraction reified and deified, may possibly not be the perfect and omniscient entity the neolib and libertarian econ priesthood, along with their corporate and political acolytes, assert it to be.

  3. SH
    June 8, 2024 at 10:58

    We pretty much know how Big Money has hijacked the Gov’t, so the question is what do we do about it …

    Here’s the first thing we have to do – overturn the SC’s CU decision that said Corps are people and money is speech – and there is a bill that has been introduced in the House – HJR -54, to do that


    It has been signed onto ,by a growing number of House members, that would say, in essence. Corps are not “people” and money is not “speech” …

    We all need to call/e-mail, whatever, our Congress people and tell them to sign on to it – the message, to me, is quite simple, if you do not sign on, it is clear that you welcome the “contributions” of Big Money – and do not want to do anything that would curtail that flow and enable the return our Gov’t to us, we the people …

    This really has to be a bottom line – no vote from you, none from us –

    It would be nice if CN did a piece on this …

  4. Geoff Burns
    June 8, 2024 at 09:37

    “And the homeowner victims of the crash got nothing.”
    Well, actually homeowners did get something from their government during the housing meltdown of 2008-9: an eviction notice. Late in the Bush administration Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were nationalized, that is, they were under the direct control of the federal government. From the time they were nationalized until the height of the Occupy movement they foreclosed on 800,000 homeowners. So while the taxpayers were footing the bill to bailout the crooks on Wall Street, to the tune of $550 billion, the government was moving their personal possessions to the sidewalk. Why this story was never reported is a mystery to me.

    • Steve
      June 8, 2024 at 20:51

      “Why this story was never reported is a mystery to me.”

      Because the legacy/corporate media have sold their souls for access, and making the Washington establishment look bad is the surest way to lose it.

  5. selina
    June 8, 2024 at 00:35

    The Powell Memorandum ignited big money to own everything. It heeded the bugle call. Corporation, legally human, (insanity) has an abominable ethos. It may be human but everything else is a commodity. That is one steely eyed voraciousness that even the vagina dentata can’t match. One essential attitude is its aggressive hostility. How is corporate not the everlasting genie behind eternal war and climate catastrophe? Our lousy healthcare? Our decaying infrastructure? Our crappy kill happy militarized racist police? The recent drama of Big Money ownership of University Presidents? Academic freedom? What? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s touchy feely stuff. How are all our 700 military installations not at core a corporate scheme? What strong vibrant policies meeting the needs of our people could ever come out of a Congress where 50% are millionaires whose basic training has been in the corporate? Odd – how all those Congress people who actively participated in election denial were not kicked out for sedition?

  6. CaseyG
    June 7, 2024 at 17:58

    sigh—–hmmm—Well let’s see, I think those in power need to read the Preamble.
    YOU know, focus on things like “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty….” for EVERYONE.
    Maybe if this was seen to be working for us, maybe if those with thoughtful brains went back and thought about what that part of the Preamble was talking about—-hey maybe America would be a pretty good union of humans.

    • Steve
      June 8, 2024 at 20:47


      Way too much pandering to the base on both sides of the aisle, and demonizing/othering the opposition. Too many Republicans that clap like seals for policies that ‘own the libs’ and annoy blue state governments, and too many Democrats that want to ship ‘MAGAts’ off to re-education camps or straight to jail.

  7. Michael G
    June 7, 2024 at 15:01

    Spent $515.37 for a cart full of groceries the other day, a record.
    I lived in my car 2 out of the last 4 years. If your living in your car, you can’t move around too much, it’s too expensive, but if you don’t move around, you’re a magnet for the local constabulary. I would stay in a motel 2x a month +/- for a shower, but that was a financial stretch. I would sleep with an axe next to my right hand. It was way more comfortable to sleep in a tent some distance from the car, the bears are much more trustworthy than the humans. It’s getting to the point I need surgery again, but if you don’t have gap insurance to cover the 20% that was privatized when George W. signed it away, good luck. And even if you do have gap insurance, it’s no guarantee, the insurance companies are also between you and your Dr, so they have final say. So you may layout money you don’t have for gap insurance that doesn’t span any gaps. To cook a decent meal was a project, so I would only cook once a day if that. I ate a lot of beans out of a can.
    There are a lot of people out there like me.
    This is not meant to do anything other than illustrate something you can’t find on a google search, or scrubbed internet unemployment rates or job reports. And for most of us, to tell us how well the stock market is doing is just a thumb in the eye.
    But what I’ve just described is nothing compared to living in Rafah right now.
    Living in you vehicle does give you perspective.

  8. Ronald Ulrich
    June 7, 2024 at 12:43

    RE: “It sure seemed like the federal government and Wall Street were partners in crime. Little wonder that public trust in government crashed to less than 20 percent, and it hasn’t changed much since. The last poll (June 6, 2023) comes in at a pathetic 16 percent.”

    It looks like a typo to me. Shouldn’t the year be 2024?

  9. LarcoMarco
    June 7, 2024 at 12:04

    “I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” — Ivan Boesky {died 5/20/24}, 1986, Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley

  10. LeoSun
    June 7, 2024 at 11:09

    “The economic pundits are freaking out again. A new poll finds that a majority of Americans think the economy is declining, when it is actually growing. Half of us believe the stock market is crashing, when it is reaching new highs. Half of us also believe unemployment is at a disastrous 50-year high, when it is sustaining record lows.” LES LEOPOLD

    AND, *“there are 50 ways to leave your,” Party of Deception, Destruction, Death; &, all those WAR$!!!!! Every f/WAR, “WE,” the people pay for w/“our” monies! “Our” hard earned bucks that are NOT being invested in the “generating big f/returns” $tock Market. “We,” the people are inve$ted in National $ecurity, M.I.C.; &, in National Intere$ts, Corporations!!! “What’s in your wallet?!?”

    Who’d a thunk, the “RETURN” on “our” investment, “WAR,” would be the “COMMON DREAMS” of common Democrats’ schillin’ for the villains. Promoting, plugging, pushing the Democrats’ deception, destruction, and death, delivered daily, for 50 f/years!!!

    Instead of “savvy analysts” holding the Democrats, Biden-Harris, their Board of Executioners, i.e., Israel, Blinken, Austin, Sullivan, Matthew “Dracula” Miller, Yellen, Garland, Myorkas, Wray, M.I.C., F.B.I., C.I.A., DoJ, Congress, accountable for 50 f/years of deception, destruction, & death, the Democrats promote Democrats. Imo, fuhgeddaboutit, there ain’t no f/way what your selling, “Democrats, 2024,” the Consumer is buying. NOT yesterday! NOT, tomorrow!!! FJB!!!

    AND, it brings U.S., to BIDENOMICS…….

    “Today, labor unions are the only organized groups with the resources to stop corporate dominance of politics and government before our cherished democracy is sold to the highest bidder.” LES LEOPOLDO

    No, offense, Mr. LEOPOLD; but, I, LeoSun, CALL BULL-$HIT!!! Have ya met Sean Fain?!?

    …… “The labor apparatus does not “represent” workers but relies on the corporations and capitalist governments to protect its financial and institutional interests. In return, officials like UAW President Shawn Fain, Teamsters President Sean O’Brien and others enforce the dictates of the capitalist class, particularly at times, like now, of imperialist war.”

    …….. 5.22.24, “Philadelphia union head charged in dues embezzlement scheme to support Democratic candidates,”hxxps://

    Concluding, “Greed can make us do embarrassing things.”

    ….. p.s., “unemployment is at a disastrous 50-year high,” View Job Listings, Careers in the Armed Services, $ponsored by the Divided $tates of Corporate America.

    Onward & Upwards! Ciao.

  11. susan
    June 7, 2024 at 08:59

    I hope that labor unions can become strong and vibrant once again! We need to break up this marriage between government and wall street if we are going to survive as a society. We also need to tax the wealthy so that they pay their fair share instead of putting all of the burden on those of us just struggling to put food on the table…

  12. Frank
    June 7, 2024 at 08:39

    The economy is great. There are a lot of jobs.
    Now you can take on three instead of two to keep up.

  13. TP Graf
    June 7, 2024 at 07:53

    One point this labor leader overlooks from the last quarter of the 20th century is the distrust of labor leaders as well as the government. Just think of the high wages of GM workers turning out crap cars. Once Americans discovered Honda and Toyota’s reliability and GM and Chrysler’s financial failures did the US auto industry begin to try to improve quality. I don’t think it is too arguable that they still have not caught up to Toyota. In three Toyota vehicles I’ve owned, I never had a single mechanical issue. I contrast that to Fords and Chevys I’ve owned and there no comparison. Just sayin’…. we can always see the speck in someone else’s eye and not the plank in our own. If we are honest, there was and is plenty of “greed is good” in the rank and file. We never have learned the importance of humility and constraint.

    • John
      June 7, 2024 at 08:25

      Agreed. I can not tell you how many conversations I have had with working class men about the corruption they see in the Unions. This is probably because many, but not all the Union leadership are educated professionals, and have no connection to the men they represent. They see the Union bosses as no different than the management.

      • Steve
        June 7, 2024 at 18:38


        A big part of the problem is how unions choose to wield their political power and spend their money. Most private sector union workers are socially conservative and aren’t on board with the latest progressive social causes, but they see their union leadership throwing truckloads of money at progressive politicians whom the workers despise. And they see union leaders wearing $5000 suits and Italian shoes while rubbing elbows with the beautiful people in the halls of power, but they never see them wearing a hardhat and dungarees at a worksite or on the docks. Is it any wonder that they question their loyalties? I know plenty of conservative and independent blue collar union workers who are absolutely livid about their union’s political spending.

        Public sector unions are a different animal. They tend to be more progressive (except police unions) and their jobs depend on their union leaders buying off the politicians who approve their contracts and fat COLA increases and outrageously generous pensions. So of course they don’t have the same disdain for union leadership, since it brings home the pork that feeds them all. At least until their municipality goes bankrupt because it can’t bankroll their pensions anymore and has to cut whole departments.

    • vinnieoh
      June 7, 2024 at 13:08

      But was/is the inferior reliability of US autos compared to Toyota the fault of the workers or the designers/corp. execs? Many (most?) of Toyotas bought in the US are made here, albeit not in unionized shops. Regardless, I think you’re misplacing the blame, though it is absolutely true that symbiotic relationships developed between union leadership and corporate desires at the peak of US labor organization. Today, in the construction trades, anything that is “good for growth,” no matter how damaging environmentally or socially is endorsed and promoted by trade union leadership, as well as the rank and file.

      For the record, I was not unionized, but professionally licensed (Land Surveyor,) but I worked much heavy construction that was unionized and the union staffed projects were safer and better organized with competent workers than the non-union work I was associated with.

Comments are closed.