Is OnlyFans Breaking the US Economy?
Economists on Both Sides Totally Miss a New and Powerful Economic Force
(And it is About to Cause a Disaster)
The number of people currently employed in the Western economies is far below the pre-Covid level. The August jobs reports in the USA missed even the most pessimistic economist’s predictions by an unprecedented margin. [Source: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf ]
Job openings have reached record levels; companies big and small are offering record incentives to recruit new employees; yet there are virtually no takers.
How can unemployment be so high when so many jobs are in desperate need of being filled?
Like just about everything else these days, the way economists explain this phenomenon depends on their political leaning. Unfortunately for both conservatives and liberals, it seems their representative economists must not spend any time on OnlyFans. If they just subscribed to a few sexy channels, they might have more insight into what’s happening in the real world and realize that their Ivory Tower theories no longer apply.
Conservative economists argue that overly generous government payouts, particularly the new programs put in place to mitigate the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic, have disincentivized people from taking jobs. Basically, they argue that the government is paying people not to work, and so people are not working.
These economists contend that things like the expansion and increase in unemployment payments, along with child tax-credits, increased food stamp payments, rent subsidies and eviction moratoriums all add up to a basket of welfare payments that is so generous that people would prefer to get their “free money” by not working than to try to earn more (and maybe actually make less) by working at a job.
Liberal economists point to studies [source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/22/cuts-to-unemployment-benefits-didnt-get-people-back-to-work-study-finds.html] that purportedly disprove these claims, and instead argue that the reason jobs are going unfilled is primarily because of the Delta variant and the fourth wave of Covid that has potential job seekers staying home. They argue that many potential workers are afraid of getting sick at work, and these health concerns override their desire for work. This camp also contends that the lack of child-care, or parents’ concern for putting their children into a setting where they could catch the virus, forces many adults to forego work in favor of tending to their kids.
There is merit to both explanations. Both hypotheses make rational sense and seem logical. All other things being the same (economically speaking), the combined positions afford a good explanation for the lack of demand for jobs.
But all things are not equal economically, and both sides miss the fundamental issue: the Federal Reserve has broken the economy. The reason jobs can’t get filled is because of the easy money policy of the Federal Reserve.
Until now, near zero interest rates and perpetual money printing have supported the economy with relatively minimal damage because much of the newly minted money was dammed off from the real economy in investment accounts and real property where it largely didn’t move. The dam prevented the new money from sparking inflation. But that dam has begun to crack. Inflation has found a brand-new monetary transmission mechanism. Until the Fed recognizes what is happening and then fixes the problem, none of the arguments from liberal or conservative economists can begin to matter.
The Problem in a Nutshell:
The world’s central banks have printed tens of trillions of dollars in less than two years [source: https://www.yardeni.com/pub/peacockfedecbassets.pdf ]. This is a massive amount of money, and it was printed out of thin air. It is easy to present an academic argument that printed money is sanitized with third party bond buyers, but in the real world the only thing that is important to understand is that after this money is spent, it does not disappear. Instead, the act of spending it puts the money into the economy.
There is no place for this amount of money to hide. It does not go into cash in a cookie jar. It ends up in bank deposits, money markets, and mainly in investment assets like real estate and stocks.
We are taught that stock prices go up when good companies earn more money (profits) and they go down when companies lose money. That’s not the way stocks work in the real world (any more). Stocks go up now because TINA (there is no alternative). $120 Billion of new Fed money is printed each and every month, and it all has to find a home. Whether companies earn a profit no longer matters. The newly printed money has to go somewhere, and there aren’t any other options. Almost all of this printed money winds up in one of two places: the stock market or the housing market. It is no surprise that both of these asset classes have skyrocketed in value since the pandemic began.
In the last 18 months, the S&P 500 has gone from 2600 to 4500! That’s a gain of more than 73% in just a year and a half, and during the worst health crisis in more than a century [source: https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/quote/%5EGSPC?p=%5EGSPC ]. Home values are up on average 21% over the same period [source: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/CSUSHPINSA ]. This alone is evidence that the Fed has broken the system, but it doesn’t tell the full story.
If you’re wondering how money printing could be responsible for the low levels of employment, the answer is just two words: Wealth Effect.
The wealth effect is an economic concept that argues that when people feel richer, they spend more money; and when people spend more money, the economy gets better so people feel even richer.
If ever there was a wealth effect, it must be right now. Even though most young Americans don’t own their house, overall, about 2/3 of American households do own their home [source: https://policyadvice.net/insurance/insights/home-ownership-statistics/ ] and about 56% own stocks [source: https://news.gallup.com/poll/266807/percentage-americans-owns-stock.aspx ]. These asset owners have seen an unprecedented windfall, courtesy of the Fed and its massive money printing!
The massive wealth created in just 18 months has done what all the easy money policies have failed to do over the prior decade: it has cracked the monetary dam, and cash is now flowing into the real economy. When fully understood, it is clear that this hot money is the true cause of the labor market crisis.
Suddenly Houses and Stocks have Become the Transmission Mechanism for Inflation Thanks to OnlyFans (and Other Virtual Platforms):
The skyrocketing value of homes have turned them into ATM machines once again. 2/3 of households own a home, and they all have friends and relatives. If you own a home, you’ve seen the value increase massively over the past year. So if you’re afraid of catching Covid at work, it’s not government checks that keep you out of the workforce — it’s your rising home equity. Parents can pay their kids to “stay safe” at home, by using their ballooning home value, or worst case, by cashing out some of their stock market profits.
If you’re close to retirement age, your retirement is so much better funded than it was pre-Covid that you retire early, stay safe, and live better than you had expected.
The massive increase in value of the top asset classes can easily explain why more senior members of the work force might be opting for early retirement, and that alone is weighing on the labor market. The most skilled members of the work force are leaving positions that require the most talent, so these vacated jobs will be the most difficult to fill. But the wealth effect is undermining the workforce in a much more insidious way than just enabling early retirements.
The homeowner and investor class can not only afford to retire by using their profits, they can live so well that they can easily also afford a safe and young sexy plaything (or a few)! For a few hundred bucks a month (far less than they earn just watching their house and stocks go ever higher), passive earners can connect with dream companions online. OnlyFans alone pays out more than $300 million per month to these virtual entertainers [source: https://variety.com/2021/digital/news/onlyfans-ceo-porn-ban-banks-creators-1235047714/ ].
The problem for the Fed is that it is not only the owners of the assets that are benefiting from the frothy prices. Throughout the economy, a new breed of company has made it easy for money to move from the investor class to the working class, while generating no productive output.
When more money can be made by being non-productive than by being productive, the economy crashes into hyperinflation.
If somone is sexy, charming or just outgoing, they can easily earn more money online doing what they love than they could ever dream of earning at a “real” job. In this case, the most ambitious and talented members of the workforce move en-mass to non-productive segments, leaving huge holes in the productive economy.
Just what does this look like?
If you’re ok with being sexy online, OnlyFans and many similar services can make you anywhere from a good monthly payment to a super-wealthy millennial, all from the comfort and safety of home.
If sexy isn’t your thing, there are so many other ways to get paid for virtual work, that no job could possibly attract anyone but the least talented or creative people around (without paying much more than a few bucks an hour).
If you play video games, Twitch.tv could turn you into a star. Subscribers watch you play your favorite games and you get paid. Even if you don’t start out as a serious earner, time and hard-work(play?) will build your brand and future earnings.
It would be hard to attract young workers to a real but productive job when they can spend time “building their social media brand and followers.” Building social media brand is how you increase your future earnings, so just as with a “real” job, workers can expect their income to grow over time, depending on how much effort they put in. And when the job is playing games, gamers will put in a LOT of effort!
Gaming not your thing? You can always do a daily podcast on YouTube and grow your brand. Superchat lets viewers pay to have their comments highlighted, and the Podcaster gets most of that money. Talk about what you love, build your followers and get paid.
With so much wealth-effect cash sloshing around, sites like ETSY have enabled millions of youth to work for themselves selling and reselling their new and old clothes, purses, jewelry, artwork and junk.
And speaking of junk, billions of dollars are being paid for NFTs. Make a digital image and sell it as an “investment” online. Flipping NFTs is easier and much more profitable than flipping houses, and everyone is getting rich doing it.
The options for earning cash online are truly extensive, and the offerings keep growing every day.
Why would anyone in their right mind go looking for a job today? Unless you don’t like to make money and enjoy getting abused by an angry public, the opportunities to cash in online are massive and compelling.
The problem, of course, is that with no (competent) people filling critical jobs, the real economy is falling apart.
The ports, where most of the food and goods come into the country, are more backlogged now than ever. A shortage of workers who are able to unload and move the goods out is a major contributing factor to this congestion.
Once goods are unloaded, a critical shortage of truck drivers is adding serious delays in getting the goods to their destination.
Labor shortages are forcing companies to pay premiums on shipping, and to pay more to fill critical jobs. As the costs of labor and transport increase, the cost to the end consumer must rise too.
Look around any major city and you’ll see almost every business and retail outlet desperately looking to hire qualified employees. What most don’t realize is that they are competing with the flood of free money that is paying people (very well) to play at home. In order to close the employment hole, wages will have to rise dramatically.
Already prices on everything from food and energy to cars have begun to increase substantially. The skyrocketing value of homes is also starting to show up in much higher prices for rent. In short, when no one is willing to work in the PRODUCTIVE part of the economy, the result is inflation. And not just a little. We are about to see hyperinflation like we have never experienced before in the USA.
Imagine this: if everyone is rich, and no one works, then who will you pay to get your (fill in the blank — food, clothes, services…). Everyone can’t be rich at the same time. When everyone has too much money, money becomes worthless. You can’t give it to anyone in exchange for goods or services, because they already have lots of their own. Either you have to pay much more (which means your money is worth less) or they simply won’t give you what you need.
The Federal Reserve has a serious problem, and they don’t understand what’s actually happening.
The Fed says that they need to see full employment before they will stop printing money (currently $120 Billion every month).
But in reality, it is the money printing that is the heart of the problem. The money that is printed ends up increasing the prices of stocks and houses. This causes a wealth effect that allows richer and older people to stay out of the workforce, and it also gives them the cash to pay to their dependants and to finance virtual entertainers.
Virtual entertainers earn more online than they could ever dream of earning in a productive job, and so the productive needs of the real economy are going unfilled.
Because the real economy cannot function properly with so many critical jobs being unfilled, the prices of everything that is not digital increase, and these prices will continue to go up faster and faster as more people leave their productive jobs to earn more by being unproductive.
In the end, the Fed’s problem is that its money printing is no longer dammed off in bank reserves and investment accounts. These funds have cracked through the dam and are entering the real economy. The transmission mechanisms are the stock market and the housing market profits that are now, for the first time, being sent into the pockets of the working class.
The bind for the Fed is that it cannot stop this money transmission without dropping the value of houses and stocks. That is the only way to kill the wealth effect, slow down payments to non-productive sectors of the economy, and thereby encourage productive jobs to be filled.
In the end, we see that the Fed is digging its own grave. It says it must keep printing money because jobs are not being filled, but it is precisely because the Fed is printing money that no one is taking these jobs.
Until the Fed understands that its own actions are the cause of the problem, the problem will only get worse.