Believe it or not, President Obama said something that I actually agree with when he stated that income inequality is the “defining challenge of our time”. We can expect to hear about this more and more often as the years pass as the problem becomes worse. One of my primary themes on this board is that we need to stop looking to political solutions and start looking to our families, friends and neighbors. More importantly, I believe that we need to seek to be the one that others can lean on in times of need rather than the opposite. In short, I believe that those who trust either of the current parties to fix our problems are doing themselves a disservice. The forces arrayed against a restoration of a solid middle class are growing in strength and impact and we need to focus on personal/local responses rather than political ones.
Check out this report which says that about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk (while production has continued to rise). Then take a look at this report by an Oxford academic which says that in the next 20 years machine learning and mobile robotics could even cut into a lot of careers (such as legal writing) that were previously thought to be safe. In other words, this portends an economically polarized society.
Now of course President Obama and I view this problem from two different directions. First of all, just to be clear, I am certainly not advocating perfect income equality or a classless society. (But believe it or not, I don’t think President Obama and the Democrats intend that either – they enjoy being wealthy). When I speak of “income inequality”, I am referring to the disappearance of middle income families and do not mean that everyone should be earning the same money as we used to hear in talk radio straw-man arguments. (I also predict that not only will this straw-man will no longer work but some of the professional conservatives in Conservative, Inc will even hijack the issue)
That said, from my point of view, while there is a massive income gap, wage stagnation and labor participation is shrinking as the demand for less skilled labor declines, I do not believe that there is a solution in the federal government to this problem (unless one wants to pass laws to outlaw technological advances). This problem is going to continue to exist whether there is a Republican in the White House or a Democrat.
This is a global phenomenon by the way. Spain’s overall unemployment for example rate is 27% (Spain’s unemployment rate for people in their 20s is more than twice that number!) and Greece’s unemployment rate is 28%. Corporations in those nations have no way to employ these people profitably. The USA unemployment number is relatively low only because more people are dropping out of the work force altogether as low skilled workers are being replaced by automation and corporations have less use for middle management due to automated means to manage and monitor.
President Obama and pretty much everyone else in Congress believe in the current “bread and circuses” solution and have for a while (anyone remember when President Bush told us to “go shopping more”?). Democrats believe that the elite must provide a robust welfare state for those left behind so that they can participate in the economy. The Republicans on other hand believe in “make work” (e.g. expansion of the military, maintaining military bases, weapons contracts) and accept the premise of the welfare state and call for one that is partially privately run.
Affluent Democrats/Liberals often say that high taxes are the price that they as rich people should pay for a stable society – and besides, the wealth that is redistributed ultimately finds its way back into their pockets anyway (e.g. Walmart did $14 in food stamp business in 2012). Otherwise, the “masses” will riot and/or crime will rise and there will be no civil society.
I agree that we can not sustain a functional society/economy where ultimately only a small population of affluent elites make excellent money and pay all of the taxes while the vast majority are unable to find work and/or are only finding menial work/hustling and/or getting some gov’t assistance to make ends meet. But the federal government has skewed the playing field so much that it is nearly unrecognizable. Many large corporations are now based on selling exclusively to the federal govt and lobby to make sure the spigot stays wide open. Then on top of that, the rewards of these corporations are privatized while the risk is socialized. We are witnessing the biggest splurge of government and business largesse in our lifetimes – perhaps ever. An era in which these political insiders are enriched while the regular people are sacrificed.
I predict that this issue of “income inequality” is going to be the major issue in the 2016 race (with lots of talk about it perhaps even in 2014). However, Democrats will simply call for much higher taxes and engage in class warfare rhetoric and make the word “rich” into a pejorative, while the Republicans will call for cutting spending. Neither side will offer any real solution as it will be business as usual in Washington, DC where the federal govt continues to “choose winners and losers”. Democrats choose their winners when they are in power. Republicans do likewise when they are in power. No matter what the “American Exceptionalism” dogma may state, hard work is no longer enough to be successful. These days, one often needs to be politically well connected too. Some people are in the business of simply helping people “make connections”.
The ruling class are far too powerful and I just don’t believe that either side will call for the real reforms that need to be made. The solutions are not going to come from Washington.
- Self-government, means self government.
We have heard for decades that we are on an unsustainable course where federal spending is concerned. Both sides know this, and while the Republicans have consistently paid lip service to the issue “limited govt”, none have really leveled with you on what this actually means. We hear speeches sprinkled with phrases such as “taking back America” (whatever that means) and “getting more Republicans elected” all wrapped in the rhetoric of limited govt. They do that because they know that quite frankly we are spoiled. Many, for example, claimed to vote against Ken Cuccinelli because they were angry about the partial govt shutdown in October. (Last I checked, Cuccinelli was not in Congress and was not running for that office, yet was punished for that by some) We can’t claim to want smaller/limited govt while at the same time desiring all the benefits of large govt.
Self government means that we have to learn to take control of our own neighborhoods. It may mean that some of us have to volunteer at the fire dept, attend the town hall meetings or even run for local office. It means that we will not be able to get a federal grant to widen that road or build that library. That means that if it is to be done, we have to do it locally. And if it can’t be done, we are not going to whine about it to Washington.
This also means that many of us may have to simplify our lives, acquire new skills and teach them to our children. Some are already learning to hunt, fish, raise animals, cure meat, plant and grow vegetables and preserve food. I know a wonderful family that is doing just that and sell the goods from their farm at the various area Farmer’s Markets. These are excellent skills to have. This may also mean less (or even NO) trips to the movies, canceling the cable subscription, eating out much less and other such activities and finding cheaper, more enriching family activities. May sound quaint, but it also means checking up on our neighbors and having that relationship where you can borrow that proverbial cup of sugar.
Here is some suggested reading I am reposting:
James Madison and the Making of America by Kevin Gutzman;
Rethinking the American Union for the 21st Century by Donald Livingston;
The Return of Common Sense by Eric Szuter
Give them as Christmas gifts for family and friends