What has vanished over the past 40 years isn’t just Americans’ rising incomes. It’s their sense of control over their lives. The young college graduates working in jobs requiring no more than a high-school degree, the middle-aged unemployed who have permanently opted out of a labor market that has no place for them, the 45- to 60-year-olds who say they will have to delay their retirement because they have insufficient savings—all these and more are leading lives that have diverged from the aspirations that Americans until recently believed they could fulfill. This May, a Pew poll asked respondents if they thought that today’s children would be better or worse off than their parents. Sixty-two percent said worse off, while 33 percent said better. Studies that document the decline of intergenerational mobility suggest that this newfound pessimism is well grounded. The extinction of a large and vibrant American middle class isn’t ordained by the laws of either economics or physics. Many of the impediments to creating anew a broadly prosperous America are ultimately political creations that are susceptible to political remedy. Amassing the power to secure those remedies will require an extraordinary, sustained, and heroic political mobilization. Americans will have to transform their anxiety into indignation and direct that indignation to the task of reclaiming their stake in the nation’s future. Harold Meyerson ☀
great republican depression
The most telling illustration of the decline of Americans’ work life may be that drawn by economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. They calculated the share of good jobs Americans held in 1979 and in 2010. If only because workers in 2010 were, on average, seven years older and more educated than their 1979 counterparts, they should have been doing better. The two economists devised three indices of a good job: that it paid at least the 1979 male median wage ($37,000 in 2010 dollars), provided health benefits, and came with a 401(k) or pension. By those standards, 27.4 percent of American workers had good jobs in 1979. Three decades later, that figure had dropped to 24.6 percent. The 40-Year Slump ☀
He was seeing beyond the surfaces of the land to its hidden truths. Some nights he sat up late on his front porch with a glass of Jack and listened to the trucks heading south on 220, carrying crates of live chickens to the slaughterhouses—always under cover of darkness, like a vast and shameful trafficking—chickens pumped full of hormones that left them too big to walk—and he thought how these same chickens might return from their destination as pieces of meat to the floodlit Bojangles’ up the hill from his house, and that meat would be drowned in the bubbling fryers by employees whose hatred of the job would leak into the cooked food, and that food would be served up and eaten by customers who would grow obese and end up in the hospital in Greensboro with diabetes or heart failure, a burden to the public, and later Dean would see them riding around the Mayodan Wal-Mart in electric carts because they were too heavy to walk the aisles of a Supercenter, just like hormone-fed chickens. The Unwinding ☀
George Packer’s The Unwinding is a minor masterpiece of the social-disintegration genre—a beautifully written, clinically observed story of the slow-rolling economic transformation that has, over the last 30-odd years, made vast parts of America into a destitute wasteland while lifting a fortunate few to a kind of heaven on earth. Following the lives of a handful of characters, Packer manages to bring together such varied phases of the disaster as the deindustrialization of Youngstown, Ohio, and the epic boom and bust in Florida real estate—he takes us, in other words, from a landmark disaster of the Carter years to a vision of bony cows wandering among abandoned suburban houses during the Obama administration. He tells us what life is like on an auto-parts assembly line; how money gets its way in Washington; and what it sounds like when a Tea Party leader contrives to kill a public-works proposal that would put her unemployed engineer husband back to work. Storybook Plutocracy ☀
subversivetendencies asked: In your previous post you say that Paul Ryan and Republicans are hypocrites for not addressing military spending (I agree). But with that logic wouldn't Democrats and Liberals also be hypocrites for not wanting to address Entitlement Reform since Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and unemployment benefits make up 58% of what our government spends?
What would you do to reform medicare/social security?
No. It is a false equivalency.
First, social security, has operated with a $2.6 trillion surplus since 1983. Yes, since the the onset of the 2nd Great Republican Depression, social security is not accumulating such an overage. But the doomsayers and fear mongers, in reckless haste, accept dire predictions as gospel truth. If there is any adjustment needed, measures such as increasing the earnings cap (presently set to ~106K) or removing the extremely affluent from the rolls collecting retirement payouts should be applied.
On Medicare — it could be entirely funded by hitting up the top 1% for about a third of its income. Or, by implementing less costly ways to provide the same or higher quality care. I have not the expertise in this realm, but if it is a given that a large proportion of health care cost is in a person’s final year of life, then there must be some ideas to chop that cost (without the ill fames “death panels”) while still providing for the patient.
But back to the your point on Paul Ryan and the Republicans being hypocrites — let us not forget that it was the Republicans in 2003, including Paul Ryan, that championed the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, then regarded as the most reckless giveaway of public funds in human history.
In case you are a little foggy on the whole 2003 GOP Medicare fiasco:
Then there’s the small matter of public policy itself. From its inception, the Republicans’ Medicare prescription benefit was designed to fail. With its confusing and costly “donut hole" limiting payments for beneficiaries and its prohibition on direct government price negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, Medicare Part D was a headache for recipients and a windfall for the drug companies.
For starters, the White House and its GOP allies on Capitol Hill insisted that the final December 2003 Medicare Drug bill prohibit the government from negotiating prices directly with drug companies, a key demand of the pharmaceutical lobby. The same price leverage enjoyed by the Veterans Affairs Department and its program beneficiaries was surrendered by Medicare, with the predictable results described in a 2006 House analysis.
I fear that George Santayana was right and that we are doomed to repeat the Great Depression over and over again because we appear to have forgotten the lessons it taught us. I fear that Milton Friedman is right and that this is a “game” to some. I fear that Adam Smith is right and that “as merchants their interest is directly opposite to [the public] interest.” And I fear that misplaced tea bagger rage, unlike misallocated capital, is more newsworthy, more interesting and more understandable than CDOs and the ways in which Gyges gains unearned power and wealth, hidden behind the opacity of complex investment instruments. The rules of the game must be changed. They must be changed now. And they must be changed in ways that serve the public interest. Investment banks and bankers must be regulated. Leverage, transparency, size. I’m sure there is more. Toxic assets, toxic instruments, and toxic casino-like speculation are no different from toxic patent medicines. They harm us all. Maxine Udall ☀
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