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Roulette

April 20, 2012

I enjoy these slow mornings.  Kinda getting into the habit of writing when I get here.

http://www.thestreet.com/story/11480568/1/us-standard-of-living-has-fallen-more-than-50-opinion.html

This article (and the comments) is something I see once every couple of weeks.  People talking about how much better it was “back then.”  And citing ‘real dollars’ and inflation and median wage and how manufacturing jobs are gone and there’s overpopulation and unemployment and people need two incomes and our infrastructure is crumbling this and that.

Then another side says no way, look at all the cool gadgets we have and how people under the poverty line own a TV and computer and air conditioning, and anyone who needs food stamps can get them and all that didn’t happen 40 years ago, etc. etc.

The reason this is so maddening to me is, they’re having two separate arguments.  And really, they are both right.

Here’s the thing.  To any other civilization, anywhere, at any point in history, we live in a paradise.  We are specialized to the extreme.  We have a tiny tiny fraction of the population producing all the food.  Another comparatively small amount of people doing all the manufacturing.  And thanks to advances in technology, we can buy televisions and computers and smartphones.  Wealth is no longer such a prerequisite for being connected to information and people.

All of these things are true.  But it is equally true that the very rich are hoarding wealth and that the standard of living has fallen in the past few decades.  We don’t notice it all that much because as greed and collusion and corruption increase, technology increases all the more.

That’s why we shouldn’t be asking “how good do we have it?” but instead “are things fair?”  If we ask the first question, our expectations are lowered from the beginning.  In a free, high-tech society it’s ridiculous to even say “things aren’t getting that much worse!”  Of course not.  For the working class, things should be getting better.  If there’s more wealth being created, if the average person produces more than he ever has, he should enjoy the result of his labor.  Imagine if we had the technology of today with the opportunities of postwar America.  Imagine if gains weren’t so privatized, and someone really could graduate high school and work hard and get ahead.  I want my smartphones and high def TVs and I want to be able to work 40 hours a week and save up enough to make a down payment on a house.  I don’t want to work hard and scrape by.  I want to work hard and be wealthy.  I want to work hard and have enough to share.

And I think the reason it has gotten worse is, people are so afraid of a fair distribution of wealth.

Think about this: what does a person really mean when they say “everyone should be able to get a job.”?  It used to mean, “everyone should be able to make money, and get to keep a good amount of the money they make.”

In a high tech society that’s not sufficient anymore.  When a game-changing technology is invented and it replaces the jobs of a hundred thousand people–but actually increases the amount of wealth being created–how should that wealth be distributed?  Should it all go to whichever company snagged the patent?  Should it make a few dozen guys absurdly wealthy?  No, it has to do more than that.  Totally privatizing gains leads to a plutocracy, and that’s not the kind of country we live in.  We live in a land of opportunity.  For an economy like ours to function, we need a fair way to get wealth into the hands of people that will use it.

We don’t have that in this country today, and that’s why we have 20% unemployment while at the same time having so much idle manufacturing capacity.  We replace people and leave them to rot.

 

This weekend will be interesting.  No sports on TV, no plans to speak of.  Only ten or so hours to go.

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