ELI5: There are a lot of ways to measure whether our economy - what we call the jobs and work and money part of our country - is doing well. This article shows a whole bunch of measurements nobody is really talking about that indicate our economy isn't doing well and is on the verge of doing much, much worse.
ELI10: Most people only know what the news tells them about the economy. The news, meanwhile, only tells what's simple and easy to understand. However, there are any number of less-simple, less-easy-to-explain problems with the economy that doesn't get any news coverage. Part of the problem is that economic performance is inextricably tied to sentiment: if you think the economy is going well, you are more likely to spend your money rather than save it. As a result, good news - no matter how obscure or esoteric - tends to get press from financial firms that make money when everyone feels like investing while bad news only gets publicized when it's obvious. For example, "the dow shook off fears of the Chinese pandemic to rise 400 points" is much more likely to get publicized than "the dow dropped 500 points on fears of the Chinese pandemic" despite the former was yesterday and the latter was the day before.
ELI15: Economic news and economic measurement is largely biased towards the past and towards the institutions that profit from its dissemination. This has created any number of "Cassandra complexes" whereby the few people willing to publicize the problems are ignored and ridiculed, at least until everything goes pear-shaped and five years later Michael Lewis writes a book about how they're lone geniuses in a horizonless sea of idiocy. Predictions that are wrong tend to get forgotten and predictions that are right tend to get lionized and held up as individual exceptions that prove the rule because we do not like to grapple with the fact that our economic news is far more boosterism and advertisement than dispassionate analysis.
ELI20: The models and measurement used by central banks and investment firms are largely flawed. Due to changes in the makeup of the economy, troubling and unprecedented trends are visible through a modicum of data analysis: the stock market is at an all-time high, for example, but if you factor in carried debt, the stock market is flat. The problem is, history doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme so there's no agreement whatsoever about the metrics. Nobody ever got fired for going along with the status quo so there's a great deal of inertia behind the idea that if we all agree things are fine, things are fine. Major change is rarely achieved by consensus but is instead universally the product of disaster. Those on the sidelines are actively looking for that disaster and are getting increasingly strident as they've been predicting it since 2015 and "success" keeps climbing higher.
ELI40: The fact that the chosen metrics and the challenger metrics are so far apart is, frankly, the thing that troubles me the most. We've never before had a market where nine out of ten participants are high frequency trading algorithms swapping game tokens back and forth hundreds of times per second using money printed by the government in order to maintain the illusion of normalcy. Two years ago 85% of trades were algorithmic. Six months ago 57% of institutional investors were in cash. Unemployment doesn't count you if you delivered a cheeseburger for Taskrabbit two weeks ago. 51% of employment in the United States is in firms of over 500 employees. China's market is up 1% today but it was down 8% yesterday and they've banned short-selling and they pumped $200B worth of cash into their repo market to hide the fact that nobody wants to lend. Yet the best answer you're likely to get out of anyone with any authority is "if those numbers mattered we'd be tracking them." Whenever anyone says "this time it's different" someone else says "the only constant in economics is reversion to the mean" but both sides of the argument have a lot of facts on their side.
We are all blind men. But I'm no longer even sure if it's an elephant.