Second, when you see leading indicators about the economy, particularly the big three—GDP growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation—keep in mind that some compelling evidence is emerging that all three have been manipulated by both Democratic and Republican administrations dating to at least the 1980s to make the economy appear much healthier than it actually is. I’ll have more on this in another post.

Third, resist the temptation to see the current state of the economy, the wealth distribution, the stagnating middle-class incomes, and non-stagnating middle-class debt levels, as in anyway inevitable or a natural outcome dictated by the market’s invisible hand, or unrelated to government tax, trade, and regulatory policy choices, or, for that matter, to the ideological preferences of the major political parties.

Fourth, and a corollary to three, remember that not only does it not have to be this way, it wasn’t always this way. As economist and writer Jeff Madrick and many others remind us, the great postwar expansion was also the most broad-based.

Fifth, the best economic writing seems to include extensive on-the-ground reporting, which can provide information of surprisingly prescience.

1. Another Chapter: New Group Swells Bankruptcy Court: The Middle-Aged —- Job Losses, Illnesses Can Push White Collar Over Edge; Delay Can Make It Worse —- Mr. Hester Takes a Mall Job;
By Suein Hwang;
6 August 2004;
The Wall Street Journal;

2. Debt Bomb: Inside The ‘Subprime’ Mortgage Debacle —- Day of Reckoning — ‘Subprime’ Aftermath: Losing the Family Home —- Mortgages Bolstered Detroit’s Middle Class — Until Money Ran Out;
By Mark Whitehouse;
30 May 2007;
The Wall Street Journal;

Read parts one, two, three, and four of this series.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014).

Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.