Monday, June 24, 2013

Working on the Long Descent

Ed at Gin and Tacos, lambasts the stupidity of a Price Waterhouse study that criticizes "Gen Xers" for not getting with the program.

Tsk-tsking at the younger generations manages to magnificently miss the point.  This is what economic contraction looks like.  But no one wants to even imagine what the end of economic growth means, so we keep pretending to each new generation that they can have it as good or better than earlier generations.  If that's not working out, then there must be some mysterious flaw in them or their strategies.  They're not working or they're complacent or they're not as assertive as the union-members of the past.

But the contraction's been going on a long time and it's been working it's way up the through society, like water dissolving a pyramid of sugar.  It's reached people, who did what they were supposed to and got an education, who worked and sacrificed for careers, who even saved and invested - and who are much worse off than they'd expected to be.  And it's moving up past them - removing the possibility of the old imagined success even further away.  (Years ago someone like Ed might look around his milieu and see some people succeeding and some failing - but now he looks around and he sees no one who has built the kind of career they'd been lured on with.)

The powers that be keep printing money and flinging it onto the top of the pyramid, but it doesn't do anything there really.  It's not being invested in anything but financial tricks, because people down the pyramid not only don't have money to spend on some new product, but they are being idled and underused in an economy that doesn't know what to do with workers other than employ them to provide crappier and crappier services to one another at narrower and narrower margins.

Increasing income inequality may be speeding the spread of contraction, but I don't believe it's the cause.  It's the powerful trying to hold onto their privileges as the proverbial pie shrinks.  (We should push back or course . . . )

This is the second time already this week, I'll try to imagine advice I'd give, but I'm  getting restless with critique.  After all, I have a fifteen year old son, and what will I tell him?

Learn to do something that even people without much money will pay for.   Don't count on a wage to meet your every need.   If you don't have a family network to invest in and draw from, try to find a way to put roots into a social network.  Know that the older generation doesn't understand the economic world we live in even though they will judge you as if they do.  Take advice (like this) with a grain of salt and look around.   Find the things that you value - especially those things within your means.  Again, see what you can do with your hands and brain that people will value.

There's more I could say, but a 15-year old will only stand still for so much advice.

What would you say to a person setting out?


  1. Comment from Bev:

    I really appreciated your post today - this is what I tried to comment:

    I struggle with this all the time. I have a 16 yo, and I find it very difficult to speak frankly with her about the future as I see it. Like so many intelligent teens, she struggles with depression and anxiety, and I don't want to jeopardize her immediate well-being by giving her more to worry about. It's a big concern for me, because I also want her to be somewhat mentally prepared for a different world than the one promised by educators and the media. I suppose living in a "peak-aware" family (shorthand for so much), she'll pick up stuff by osmosis that many other kids don't. Or I console myself with that, anyway.

    I once wrote a blog post about how one should just be honest with kids, but I wasn't considering the real issue of teen mental health at the time.

    1. I think I solved it. Apparently Chrome doesn't like your comment system.

    2. I know what you mean. I feel I benefited from being sheltered a bit - I think I was given enough of a secure space by my parents to let me grow up with an inner security and resilience. So I do err on the side of giving my kids a sense of security and open vistas, rather than trying to impose my doubt and anxieties on them. I'm not shy about sharing what I think COULD happen - just not insistent. I guess we'll see.

  2. This is close to my heart as well. My daughter is 19, in her second year at university, and doesn't know what she wants to study. I'm torn between pushing her towards a money-making major (or at least one with potential) on the one hand, and encouraging her to go for her fine arts major, because it's her lifelong passion. With the prospects of a degree translating into actual money so uncertain, shouldn't she develop the well of creativity that will nourish her spirit, rich or poor though she may be?

    1. Aimee, no easy answers there. It's tough to pay the bills with an arts degree, but there's no guarantee that any other degree will be any better. In the end, I guess, they make their own path and ultimately all a parent can do is be a resource for them. Even if it means feeding her when she's a starving artist or gifting her some reminder paints and brushes every birthday when she's a too-busy lawyer. ;)