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Wall Street's up, Main Street's down

Commentator Robert Reich

KAI RYSSDAL: Of the last 24 trading days on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has finished higher than where it started 21 times. Today's close of 13,211 was yet another record high. The NASDAQ and the S&P 500 are on quite a run themselves.

But commentator Robert Reich would like to point out that raw stock market numbers really have very little to do with the economy most of us live in.


ROBERT REICH: I'm spending my spare time these days debating supply-siders who are convinced that the record-breaking Dow proves the correctness of the Bush tax cuts.

Yes, the Dow did reach a record high last week. But the Commerce Department also reported that economic growth slowed to its weakest pace in four years. Now how can investors do so well, while the real economy is doing so poorly?

My supply-side friends don't have an answer, but I do. It's because of two great decouplings that have occurred in recent years. First, the rest of the worlds' major economies have decoupled from the United States economy. China, India, Japan and Europe are now such large markets they can grow briskly even as America slows.

Second, America's largest corporations have decoupled from the United States. Their overseas subsidiaries are booming, even as their American operations languish.

General Electric expects more than half its revenue this year to come from outside the U.S. for the first time. More than half of Boeing's new orders are from overseas. Ford is struggling in America, but doing well in Europe.

The president's supply-side tax cuts are great for America's global investors, who have been investing their extra money around the world — either in foreign companies or in global American-based ones.

But little or nothing is trickling down to average working Americans. Half of U.S. households do own some shares of stock, usally through IRAs or 401ks. But the vast majority own less than $5,000 worth. Their equity is in their homes, whose values have slumped. They're paying far more for health insurance and fuel. And their wages have not kept up.

In other words, the Bush tax cuts have delivered for Wall Street. But they done zilch for America's Main Streets.

RYSSDAL: Robert Reich is a professor of public policy at the University of California Berkeley. He was secretary of labor during the first Clinton administration.

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