Wednesday, February 13, 2008

america's demise?

this is a fantastic little op-ed piece i just read: Totally Spent, describing how america's current "recession" is in fact the inevitable culmination of a number of factors over a period of basically 3 decades.

i recently also finished reading "STRAPPED: WHY AMERICA'S 20- AND 30-SOMETHINGS CAN'T GET AHEAD" by Tamara Draut and together the nytimes piece and the book make so much sense. There have been trends in public policy leading to this eventual demise of america's greatness, the heart of what makes america so different and special and wonderful, our strong middle class.

all the usual culprits are there, the loss of fantastically benefitted union jobs, automation and outsourcing, increased low-wage service sector jobs, the increasing cost of a college degree, the startup costs of grownup life no longer supported by jobs that were once guaranteed to be for life.

america HAS been increasingly polarizing into a kindof inverse bell curve with a huge lump at the poor end a lower middle class slump rather than a bump and a sharp sudden spike at the rich end. (am i a huge nerd?) and we are currently dealing with the first effects of the backlash of this kind of society.

Here's a concise little excerpt from the nytimes piece:
The problem lies deeper. It is the culmination of three decades during which American consumers have spent beyond their means. That era is now coming to an end. Consumers have run out of ways to keep the spending binge going.

The only lasting remedy, other than for Americans to accept a lower standard of living and for businesses to adjust to a smaller economy, is to give middle- and lower-income Americans more buying power — and not just temporarily.

the next part i quote basically summarizes like half of Draut's book:
"The underlying problem has been building for decades. America’s median hourly wage is barely higher than it was 35 years ago, adjusted for inflation. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago. Most of what’s been earned in America since then has gone to the richest 5 percent."

Reich gives 3 main solutions that americans have turned to in the face of what i just quoted: women going to work, americans working more hours, and borrowing against their homes.

here is his best solution:
"The only way to keep the economy going over the long run is to increase the wages of the bottom two-thirds of Americans. The answer is not to protect jobs through trade protection. That would only drive up the prices of everything purchased from abroad. Most routine jobs are being automated anyway."

maybe i'm a huge socialist (or something, i dunno i'm not good at the labels) i am totally a fan of capitalism in the sense that anyone who knows me knows how much i love shopping and i'm a huge consumer. at the same time, i've also been a fan of european countries with govt health insurance, less super rich, more of the median, and universal childcare and education type programs. im not saying america should adopt all of those, bc that IS a certain european style and we can't do that, it definitely takes away from our americanness of being able to make your own wealth and having no TOP LIMIT is basically pretty american. but i think we SHOULD have a bottom limit.

there was one country (belgium or holland or denmark or somewhere) that actually mandates each household can have no more than 1.5 employed workers. this means one fulltime and one parttime worker PER household. so that there is less unemployment. sharing the wealth (aka this plan) would NEVER work in the US and i'm not saying it SHOULD, but there is a sense of too much individualism and fend for yourselfness in america that i'm not so much a fan of.

we should start being more considerate of our lesser off neighbors and countrymen and stop hoarding and only worrying about ourselves. americans need to start taking care of "our own" in a much LARGER BROADER sense of the phrase, not just me, not just my immediate family, but the great vast network of diversity that MAKES america what it is.

i heart this country so much it hurts me to see how it could eventually just be ripped apart by class divides and the capitalism that made it was it is.

am i jus super sappy bc i'm going back tonight? i think not. this is what i've been studying for the past 4 years of undergrad and now since i'm outside the "ivory tower" and the academic bubble, and i'm actually going to be joining the workforce and all those struggling 20-30somethings, it really matters.

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