Das Krapital

Memo To Democrats: This Is Not 1994.

Yup, those were First World Problems…

Yesterday the New York Times ran an op-ed by Bill Clinton commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. "Since his death, not a week has gone by that I have not missed him," he wrote. "I loved him and his wife, Leah, very much." Then Clinton mentioned his own wife, Hillary, who forced the military hero to go out on the Truman Balcony when he wanted a smoke. Those were the days, right?

"A decade and a half since his death, I continue to believe," continued the fellow from a town called Hope, "that, had he lived, within three years we would have had a comprehensive agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians."

The chutzpah of that one, setting a definitive deadline by which a Middle East peace agreement definitely would have been brokered in an alternate reality! But to that end of course it's hard to think about the great dead statesman of Israel when his good friend and fellow statesman has shown up with his soothing tones at precisely the moment his the liberal intelligentsia was missing him most. They miss him so much! Mainly for the way he was such a hit with the lower-brow liberals, despite his epic betrayal of their economic interests. (And leave it to the liberals, they've already started re-Tweeting the latest revisionist history talking points about that part!) And to the liberal establishment's credit, in contrast to Yitzhak Rabin or Barack Obama, Clinton is decisively alive. Which makes it a lot more comforting to have him to focus on while we're being told to click our eyes and just imagine it's 1994, knowing what we know now about how that turned out two years later for the Democrat.

Now: I more than anyone would love it to be 1994 right now. But how to put this as emphatically as it needs to be said…had Kurt Cobain not died that year, had he instead devoted the next three years to recording sequels to "Rape Me" he still would have failed …THIS IS NOT 1994.

But you do what you can, so I tried to marshal some statistics to drive home this point, keeping in mind that the problem with statistics is that they are near-universally manipulated and debauched by the number crunchers who know hacks like me will take whatever numbers they can come up with to sound "authoritative" enough to get the bosses off our backs. (You'll remember this if you happened to take the SATs around 1994, the year before they were "re-centered" to make it appear as though America's children was learning more than they actually were.) So I tried to find numbers that were as unsullied as possible, without too many percentages, averages, subtle changes in methodology or adjustments for inflation. The consumer price index says that $1.00 then bought what $1.47 gets you today, but I've got a Washington City Paper from 1995 right here chock full of 75-cent draft beer specials and dozens if not hundreds of classifieds advertising Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant housing shares in the under-$300 price range.

You may notice that the most profound change in the numbers is the amount of income and wealth possessed by the very and extremely rich. Both the Clinton and Bush Administrations promoted this trend with near-identical rates of enthusiasm; the income raked in by the top 1% of households surged an annualized rate of 10.3% during the Clinton Administration economic expansion and, following the stock market crash and 9/11 recession, resumed growing at an annualized rate of 10.1% during that that occurred under Bush. For the rest of us, the past 16 years have pretty much been one long, slow and decisive suck. That is probably part of the reason we miss 1994 so much.

THEN (1994, unadjusted for inflation)

Median household income: $32,264
for households headed by holders of bachelor's degrees: $52,370
And speaking of college…
Tuition, room and board at a 4-year public university: $8,990
Private: $18,784
Ivy League grade "elitist"-type institution: around $25,000 (there were a lot of alarmist "six figure college degree" trend stories this year)

Population: 260 million
Number who voted Democratic in the last presidential election: 44.9 million
In prison/jail: 1.5 million
Without health insurance: 42 million
On food stamps 27 million

GDP: about $6.9 trillion
"Income" portion of that: $5.59 trillion
Income earned by top 1% of households: about $838 billion
…and top .01% of households: about $139 billion
Income earned by bottom 90% of households: $3.41 trillion
(Average household income of bottom 90%: $34,795)

National debt: about $4.2 trillion
Consumer debt: roughly $4.5 trillion
Annual health care expenditures: 949.4 billion

NOW (Roughly 2010, with some extrapolations based on 2008-2009 figures)

Median household income: $49,777 +54.2%
…in households with bachelor's degrees: $67,840 +29.5%
Tuition, room, board etc. at average public university: $16,140 +79.5%
Private: $36,993 +97%
Ivy: about 50K +100%

General population: 307 million +18%
Number who voted Democratic in the last presidential election: 69.5 million +56.2%
Prison/incarcerated population: 2.4 million +60%
Uninsured: 50.7 million +21%
On food stamps: 42.4 million +57%

GDP: $14.3 trillion +126%
Income portion of that: $12.1 trillion +116%
Of that, earned by top 1% of the population: $2.783 trillion +226%
…and top .01% of the population: $726 billion +422%
Income earned by bottom 90% of the population: $6.05 trillion +77%
(Average household income in bottom 90%: $52,609 +51%)

National debt: $13.6 trillion +224%
Annual health care spending: $2.524 trillion +165%
Consumer debt: $11.7 trillion +160%


  1. #1

    I don't know if Kurt Cobain would have failed (depends on the definition, I guess), he would have been a whole lot better an icon than fucking Billy Corgan, Dave Grohl or Courtney Love. He was pretty "authentic" as rock stars go, which is probably why...

    Anyhow, I enjoyed this.

  2. #2

    So are the 2010-ish numbers unadjusted for inflation as well? These numbers are meaningless, if so.

  3. #3

    @ Mrs. D: All the numbers are nominal. You can apply the 47% rise in CPI since 1994 to all of them as a rule of thumb, but as a show of how wildly manipulable those indicators can be I used raw numbers, allowing you to imagine, say, the pros and cons of stuffing dollar bills under the mattress vs. using them on a liberal arts degree, and that sort of thing.

  4. #4

    come on, this is really sloppy and meaningless. aside from the inflation issue, why can't you show the statistics about people as per capita? sure, we could plug it in ourselves, but we aren't paid columnists. graphs or tables would have been even better.

  5. #5

    and the example about rental prices in two of the most changed and gentrified neighborhoods in one of the most (*the* most? - again, i don't have time to research this myself) expensive urban real estate markets in the country is pretty goofy too.

  6. #6


    The basket of goods comprising the CPI is regularly rejiggered in ways that make inflation appear more benign. Additionally, I realized in the entirely too laborious process of tracking down these numbers that the internet is redolent of bogus statistics, in large part because the methodology seems to be constantly shifted in what after awhile starts to seem like a deliberate conspiracy to prevent people from accurately comparing the present with the (much, much better for the vast preponderance of American households) past. Since most of us were around in 1994 and have at least a general working notion of what things cost back then, I thought it would just be easier to cull together raw, nominal numbers that could allow people with graphing capabilities and that sort of thing to plot the trends themselves.

  7. #7

    You do know there are other measures of inflation out there, if the "official" CPI doesn't do it for you, right? And that the CPI you're looking at is national? I mean, I can still go buy many things in my hometown for almost exactly what I paid for them in 1994, because no one wants to live there, so things are cheap (but no one has a job, and hasn't since about 1977, so they're really not that cheap). Like, everyone, including undiscovered alien life forms, wants to live in DC, so things go up in price...that's just the way the cookie crumbles (except that incomes are higher here than the national average, so you have to take that into account, too).

    I mean, if you're going to say that you think the national CPI is low-balling inflation, why not mention that the $32,000 annual income in 1994 is AT LEAST equivalent to $47,500 today, making middle-class income growth, AT LEAST, almost non-existent. Most people aren't all that great at math or statistics, and don't necessarily know how to figure these things out. They'll see that the "rich have gotten richer" at a faster pace than middle-class incomes have grown from the percentages, but that's not an accurate reflection of what's really going on.

  8. #8



  9. #9

    Mrs. D: preaching to choir here; really the only way to do this is graphically. I didn't want to use an alternative measure of inflation because I don't want to come off like some stevia-buying hippie.

  10. #10

    You should check http://www.shadowstats.com for actual accurate inflation rate data. Its run by a dude with no axe to grind and just provides the data as a taste for his pay data which is much more extensive. Its eye opening to say the least as the govt CPI shows around 3% inflation for 2009-2010 while shadowstats shows its to be more like 9.8%, which definitely fits my sense of inflation (hey I invented a new sense! ;). Anyhow, shadowstats has some eye opening data on the real unemployment rate as well. Go check 'em out!

  11. #11

    if it's just showing relative change of prices of stuff the inflation thing doesn't matter too much... i.e. she's showing the price of college is growing a lot faster than people's incomes are growing. same with healthcare and same with debt, national and consumer.

    interesting to me, considering the way that 'for profit' colleges have been treating the federal governments student aid programs sort of like the mortgage lenders treated the federal governments housing aid programs: as a gigantic pile of free money to take, while putting 'consumers' into perpetual debt bondage, and while lying to investors about the quality of the 'assets'.

    the thing about the 'student loan debt market' is that student loans are not wiped clean by bankruptcy. houses? houses, get wiped clean. student loans are there for life. this is an incredible bonanza for the lenders, all they have to do is sucker enough kids to sign up 'for the american dream: education', just as housing lenders found suckers to sign up for 'the american dream: houses', except this time there will always be a possibility of collection.

    then you add in the guys buying credit default swaps against bundled student loan debt, sort of like the 'big short' against housing debt. i.e., guys who make money gambling that other people will fail. some of them will claim they are just betting against 'a system', like Steve Eisman., then again if he cared so much about it, perhaps he could take the millions he already made shorting subprime and hire investigative journalists to write about subprime education instead of trying to make even more millions by shorting it too. but who knows.

    it is enough to make me join the tea party, if they actually believed in small government, which i kind of doubt, since a lot of those 'mom and pop industries' are wholly dependent on military contracts, especially in the 'red states' like south dakota where massive portions of the economy depend on the military bases there.

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