The Era of Declining Expectations

People are more angry and discouraged now than they have been in a long, long time, as much as they have been ever as far as I can tell. What is going on?

Living standards have been declining for most people since about 1970. My father was laid off from his job as a civilian scientist for the Air Force in 1970, starting my decline from modest middle-class comfort and promise into an economically and socially marginal existence. I only just realized that now; I grew up in an optimistic era, where the future was assumed to be better than the past, which was itself pretty good.

But why shouldn’t it be? From 1945 to 1970 things steadily improved for most people. People had bigger houses and more cars. They had good wages as blue-collar laborers or white-collar administrators. Public wealth increased as well as private. Schools and universities were built. The interstate highway system, and other transportation infrastructure was built.

Americans had become accustomed to the idea of a bright future. Optimism has been the American way for a long time, but especially since the era of westward migration. New land was available for farmers, new cities built for trade, new businesses to serve the new land. Farming is a hard life, and hard times and depressions came and went. The late 1800’s saw farmers express their frustration through the Populist movement. Activist government became more the norm, and the idea that it could ensure the future became common. The ultimate financial panic led to the Depression, capital “D” as we call it, and the permanent enshrinement of a paternalistic guardian government.

World War II seemed to prove the New Deal system was both capable and righteous. People could trust and depend upon it to deliver a better world. The US was the undisputed leader of the parts of the world that mattered, and the economy and living standards improved for most. People born in the late 40’s and early 50’s knew only prosperity and the assurance things would bet even better.

Jobs were easy to come by. A kid out of high school could go down to the factory and get a union job at a good wage he could expect to keep for decades. A college education, in anything, was highly prized. Corporations maintained huge bureaucracies, and a young man graduating from college could expect to join a large corporation and work there for decades.

There was a mild recession in 1969 to 1970, but it signalled the end of the 60’s boom. There was the oil shock recession in 1973 to 1975, a much uglier affair that signalled harder times to come. “Stagflation” ruled in the 70’s, with the theoretically impossible combination of high unemployment and inflation. Paul Volcker crushed it with a brutal recession in the early 80’s.

The idea of decline was something Americans couldn’t accept. In the 80’s there was a pop song called “My Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades”. The dude singing this was kidding himself. Things were starting to crack up just about them. Chrysler had its first bankruptcy. Japanese cars were increasingly an option, not just as economy transportation but with the advent of the Acura brand from Honda in the mid 80’s, as luxury cars as well. The giant conglomerate- a collection of unrelated businesses, typified by ITT- was ripe for breakup, and the elimination of its huge staffs.

Recessions are thought of by economists, and most Americans, as temporary setbacks in the inevitable march of economic growth and prosperity. Things get worse for a bit; but then they recover, and are better than before. In reality, I think, after each recession things have been a little worse than before. Rather than an upward-trending cycle, we have had a downward trending cycle. This has been generally ignored and covered up, but I think now it is dawning on people how bad things are, and that they aren’t getting better again soon if ever.

This has been very hard for people to cope with. Optimism has been our birthright, especially after WWII. Kids were taught to believe they could do almost anything, all they needed to do was go to school, work hard, and take advantage of the plentiful and inexpensive post-secondary educational opportunities. Jobs would be waiting. The idea of self-employment was promoted more in the 80’s as corporate employment became more doubtful; “entrepreneurism”, a new word, came into vogue.

But the degrees- even technical and engineering degrees- became less valuable. Defense was a big industry up until the late 80’s, employing lots of scientists and engineers, if not steadily. New industries, such as computers, rose and partially replaced these jobs, but even these industries offshored as that became an option. Life became less affluent and more precarious for most.

How have people missed this? One would be working mothers. Before 1970 women with children did not work outside the home; a lot of married women without children did not work outside the home. A poor woman with children might leave them with grandmother to work as a charwoman, but people of no level of security or respectability did this. A man of humble means could support his wife and family with only his blue-collar earnings.

Feminism was of course fine with the business community; it gave them a much larger pool of workers, increasing flexibility and decreasing wages. Roissy would add it gave the “alphas” of management more women to hit on, but that’s another issue.

So, without anybody really noticing or paying attention, two incomes became necessary to maintain the family lifestyle that one had before.

Another factor is debt. People had always borrowed for houses and cars, sometimes for furniture and appliances. But “charge” cards as they were called then were something only affluent people who traveled a lot had. People paid for things with cash or check.

A more insidious thing would be the increasing quality and quantity of consumer goods. The typical family of 1970 would be happy with a black and white TV that god five channels. A more consumerist family would have a color TV, but not cable. People had radios, a few audiophiles had expensive, high-end sound systems. Since then people have acquired more and more sophisticated TVs, sound systems, computers, and cell phones. A young woman at the Occupy Wall Street protest had her $5500 Mac stolen. A student of earlier times would have been happy with a notebook.

But just as the peasant of old times dreamed of a rent-free plot of land to call his own, the average person today craves deep down nothing more than a secure job. Insecurity is the human condition, and a desire to achieve security has driven humans from the mists of time- a hunting range with plenty of game, a territory free and secure from enemies, fertile land, capital improvements to make life easier. People are finally finding the distractions and substitutions of the last 40 years a thin gruel compared to the less superficially affluent, but more relaxed and secure kind of life they had before.

While the bulk of the population has lost ground, another large and important group has gained more and more money and influence- government and quasi-government employees. The payment has been made in response to imagined crimes of the past- the supposed abuse and oppression of public employees before they had unions, and the need to ensure benefits to minorities after they had the full force of the federal government and judiciary behind them. But even this is beginning to fray, as a stressed population has been tapped dry to pay for this. Even the legal industry, the overall biggest parasite, is peaking or contracting.

We don’t seem to be able to kid ourselves anymore. A kid with a liberal arts degree can’t get any job, not even the one that didn’t require a degree before but that he could convince himself he needed it for. If he has any significant student loan debt, he is well and truly screwed, and has been forced to face it.

People’s dreams have been dying and diminishing for a long time. The death of a dream is a terrible thing. It’s all the more awful if it was for a prosaic thing in the first place, like a good job, a modest middle-class home and a little disposable income.

There is simply no political solution to this. It would involve those in power giving up a lot of that power, which people in power never do. A country that can’t or won’t produce anything is doomed to terminal decline.

Advertisements

About thrasymachus33308

I like fast cars, fast women and southern-fried rock. I have an ongoing beef with George Orwell. I take my name from a character in Plato's "Republic" who was exasperated with the kind of turgid BS that passed for deep thought and political discourse in that time and place, just as I am today. The character, whose name means "fierce fighter" was based on a real person but nobody knows for sure what his actual political beliefs were. I take my pseudonym from a character in an Adam Sandler song who was a obnoxious jerk who pissed off everybody.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Era of Declining Expectations

  1. diebelyS@hotmail.com says:

    This is happening to us because we fly to close to the sun. When we reached a certain level we should’ve stopped and maintained it.

  2. Pingback: Thrasymachus on the Good Old Days | PostGygaxian

  3. mindweapon says:

    Thrasymachus,

    There is a solution and it is staring us right in the face. That solution is to eliminate waste and redundancies in the single-serving American lifestyle via house-sharing and car sharing, and to develop local industries and local farms and local food processing to replace (as much as possible) the things corporations do for us.

    The huge corporations aren’t growing any more, but they take in a vast amount of wealth. They have no more ceiling, but they have a LONG WAY DOWN.

    So the way for us plebes to have some economic growth again, at least for us, is to take it out of the profit margins of the large corporations. Lord knows, they’ve been taking it out of our hides for the last 40 years with the destruction of unions and sendnig the factories abroad and the Nixon administration’s Department of Agriculture policy “get big or get out”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Butz

    In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed Butz as Secretary of Agriculture, a position in which he continued to serve after Nixon resigned in 1974 as the result of the Watergate scandal. In his time heading the USDA, Butz revolutionized federal agricultural policy and reengineered many New Deal era farm support programs. For example, a program he abolished paid corn farmers to not plant all their land. This program had attempted to prevent a national oversupply of corn and low corn prices. His mantra to farmers was “get big or get out,” and he urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn “from fencerow to fencerow.” These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm.
    Butz took over the Department of Agriculture during the most recent period in American history that food prices climbed high enough to generate political heat. In 1972, Russia, suffering disastrous harvests, purchased 30 million tons of American grain. Butz had helped to arrange that sale in the hope of giving a boost to crop prices in order to bring restive farmers tempted to vote for George McGovern into the Republican fold.[1]
    He was featured in the documentary King Corn, recognized as the person who started the rise of corn production, large commercial farms, and the abundance of corn in American diets.

    The family farm absorbed a lot of employment, and made us more economically resilient and more food-secure. What we have now is a “just in time” system that provides only an illusion of food-security, and a wasteful abundance that strip mines the land and overuses non-renewable resources.

    So that’s why we are here — the country destroyed it’s manufacturing and it’s farming in the 1970’s. I personally think that the elites did this, hand in hand with liberalism, feminism and multiculturalism, to destroy America, quite on purpose.

    The big question is, will we retaliate? I got good news for you — economic retaliation is eminently possible. All the technology needed for it was invented thousands of years ago such as lactofermentation, fermentation, and of course subsistence agriculture.

    I got an example for you. I know a guy who is dirt poor. He has a low paying job and just barely makes his bills. However, he also drinks a lot of beer. He has access to a kitchen and PLENTY of time on his hands. He is in his 20’s, and his gf could help him. I offered him a beer making kit for free. He can make 5 gallons of beer for 30 dollars of ingredients, and I would have given him the ingredients for the first batch for free. That’s 50 beers for 30 dollars, or about 60 cents per beer. He could sell beers to his drinking buddies for a buck each, and get another batch of ingredients. A six pack of high quality beer for $3.60. He didn’t want to do it! Said he “didn’t have the patience.” So he could basically drink for free if he made his own beer, but he doesn’t want to bother.

    Every poor blue collar guy could be doing this. Think what would happen if MILLIONS of beer drinkers did this. The beer corporations would have sinking profits, and the missing money would be in the pockets of ordinary people, with a much smaller share of that money going to the companies that make beer ingredients.

    Also, housewives need to be doing processing again. If I knew some housewives that would buy from me in bulk, I would grow whatever they wanted — tomatoes, potatoes, beans. It’s pretty easy to grow a massive amount of fruits and vegetables. The hard part is having someone to buy it as soon as it harvests. That’s why I’d sell at a discount to housewives who would buy in bulk. They used to do this. I knew a woman in her 80’s who told me that until the 1970’s she would buy from local farmers in bulk and spend 3 weeks processing the harvest. I asked her if the supermarkets had a significantly smaller produce aisle in the summer and fall, and she said yes, it was mostly tropical fruits and such during the harvest time.

    Housewife needs to be seen as a legitimate career. If you have a co-housing situation, one housewife can make a full time, income producing job of processing and preparing food for the other 8 or 9 or 30 people in the co-housing unit or apartment building, and everybody benefits. And the housewife can stay at home with her kids, and even use her kids to help her! Children can be “pulling their weight,” at least a little bit. They would have much better characters if they were an integral part of the functioning of the household, instead of idle rug-rats watching the idiocracy box.

    Again, doing such a thing would take a painful bloody chunk of market share out of the Agribusiness, processing and supermarket corporations, which is 1 trillion dollars per year in the United States. That’s a long way to fall!

    More money for us, less money for them. This would also teach the corporations a lesson — they’d realize that their greed killed their profits. They would realize that they starved us out so much that we were forced to create our own local economies, which did not include them. Henry Ford had to pay his workers enough to buy his cars; modern plutocrats don’t think this way. They feel that we are no threat, and that we’ll take no end of their economic and political abuse.

    And we will keep taking their abuse, until we don’t any more. Who knows when that will be. It’s just a matter of social will. When my friend accepts my offer to brew his own beer, then I will have an indication that we are on our way. When I can sell 500 pounds of potatoes to one housewife for 500 dollars even, (a buck a pound), then we are on our way.

    • I follow your blog and find it very thoughtful. You’re actually doing something rather than just bitching like the rest of us, which I commend.

      I was house sharing/car sharing until recently, because I was unemployed and it worked great. The circumstances however require urban density and whiteness (https://deconstructingleftism.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/the-green-city-a-world-without-blacks/) which don’t exist that many places. The suburbs and suburban lifestyle are partly a desire to get away from excessive density, partly a result of consumerism, but largely come from a need to separate from blacks for stress reduction and safety.

      The manipulation of agriculture is one of the unexplored stories of the system. It’s the original “I get the profits, you get the losses” scheme. People have trouble understanding this because it doesn’t involve blacks, Jews, or communists, just “family farmers” who up to the 70’s were supposed to be one of the bedrocks of American society. You probably aren’t old enough to remember, but back then “protecting/saving the family farm/farmer” was a regular part of the political discourse. But the family farmer has always pretty crass about protecting his economic interest, because the American political system with the Senate allows them to.

      But home farming is definitely something people should do more of.

    • Another good point you make is about Henry Ford. Paying good wages wasn’t a problem for employers back then, but at some point- I can’t say exactly when, between the early 70’s and early 80’s- businesses decided to go with a low-wage model. Illegal immigration first became an issue in the early 80’s, leading tothe 1986 amnesty, so it seems like it must have started in the 70’s. This was at the peak of black crime, so hiring Mexicans was an alternative to hiring lazy, angry, dangerous blacks.

  4. mindweapon says:

    Yes, we could FORCE them to pay higher wages again by hunkering down and producing for ourselves and each other. 70% of the US economy is consumer spending. That’s a painful, bloody chunk we could bite out of them, and our benefit would be their pain. It would be friggin’ cool as hell. Also, more bartering/local cash economy would mean less tax revenues, and perfectly legal! We could hurt the System bad with a million little cuts if we could just organize ourselves. They would have to start paying a living wage just to tempt us back into their consumer economy.

  5. Plymouth Belvedere says:

    As much as I support local industries and local farms and local food, I have no desire to be a farmer. Farming is hot, hard, miserable work, and is best done by field hands, or robots, whichever is cheaper. My mother is the youngest of twelve in a sharecropper family and the thought of a person voluntarily pulling a tow sack down a cotton row instead of working in an air-conditioned office would be incomprehensible to her. Farming sucks. Fuck farming.

    And fuck house-sharing, too. Most people are fucking pigs. In fact, I’d prefer an actual pig for a roommate rather than your typical sports-jersey-and-knee-pants-wearing video-game fuckface. At least you can eat the pig when his stench and filth become unbearable. Sarte wasn’t kidding when he said l’Enfer c’est les autres.

    As for the beer thing: you’re kidding, right? Spend two weeks fucking around with yeast powders, sugar meters, bags, boilers, bottles, or grab a cold one from the fridge and pop a top. Gee, i can’t imagine why people drink canned beer. Sure, it sucks. It’s beer-flavored soda. The average moron couldn’t care less. It’s cold, it has alcohol, his favorite ballplayer drinks it — 100% win. Real beer lovers don’t drink that crap. Neither do they brew their own. Real beer lovers drink their beer at the local tavern, as God intended.

    Subsidiarity (look it up) is key. But no matter what form of society we choose, we have to fix the culture first. Bad people, bad culture. Bad culture, bad society. Bad society, bad behavior. Bad behavior, bad government. We are not going to fix our society by growing fucking onions or drinking our own squeezins. We are going to fix society by killing humanistic liberalism as a viable ideology and philosophy and by smashing its chief instrumentality, the atheistic and revolutionary State.

    PS – I’m a full-time homemaker and I love it.

  6. mindweapon says:

    Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority

    That’s very interesting.

    We are not going to fix our society by growing fucking onions or drinking our own squeezins

    Do you say that because you think it woulnd’t work, or it’s something you wouldn’t want to do? Americans often confuse their own preferences for “reality.”

    I understand your aversion to farming. Part of the reason is that people engaged in this field are treated very badly. Low prestige, low pay. It’s thankless. However, this can change.

    Also, there are some tricks to making it less unpleasant for the workers. Namely, working from the crack of dawn to midmorning, rather than in the middle of the day. Also, if they aren’t operating machinery, entheogens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s