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Is it pensions, or wealth inequality that means we’re worse off than our folks?

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A recent article in the Guardian prompted me to ask an open-ended question on Facebook. What followed is the beginning of an interesting conversation, which I’d like to study further.

Here’s what I asked:

Is it just pensions, or is it because more wealth is in the hands of fewer people overall that we are worse off than our parents’ generation?

Guardian article:

Exclusive new data shows how debt, unemployment and property prices have combined to stop millennials taking their share of western wealth

cf.

Oxfam article:

62 people own same as half world.


Replies

Don Nalezyty:

I think it’s a combination of many factors. Concentration of wealth certainly plays a big role, but there are many more factors and the author hit on many in the article.

I think globalization in the last few decades has had significant impact. The math is pretty simple. If you allow free trade with countries where the cost of manufacturing is significantly less and those manufacturing jobs are lost, you can’t make up those lost blue-collar jobs with new technology or white-collar jobs. The crazy thing is that it’s self reinforcing – the cost of goods drops and the government is not concerned about overall income dropping for the average Joe, because everything costs less… it’s a fallacy that these economic arrangements have long-term benefit, but again the government doesn’t really care, because those benefiting from these policies are spending the big money to elect their peers and those willing to protect their interests.

The cost of education has skyrocketed in the US in that same time frame, but again their are fewer jobs to be had. It’s policy at many US based global companies to hire cheaper labor in emerging markets with preference over US citizens, because they cost too much to employ. There is often a preference for employing folks with H1B status here in the States for the same reason. It’s not that there are no US candidates in the market, but that they cost too much. So young folks that are spending two to three times more for their college education than I did are competing for fewer and fewer jobs that pay less.

I think that the great recession as it’s been called has not ended, nor have we seen the worst of it. I think this trend is going to continue until it hits some sort of breaking point. I’m not sure what form it will take, but it’s going to have to get much worse before the people start affecting real change in the political arena.

Zach Beauvais:

Yes, definitely. I think part of the breaking point can already be seen in the choices people make in the political arena – e.g. Trump (or even Cruz, for that matter) – and the rise of security-based rhetoric, which directly addresses fear. People are physically safer than at any time in the history of the world – for the most part – but they are uneasy, which leads to fear. And, security promises safety, which is a reaction to fear. I think the unease is partly down to financial security, but not all of it – and that’s where I’m struggling to find good reasons.

Another is in the choices we make about longer-term problems, such as climate change. We’re scared now, so the future (even the not-so-distant future) is a problem for later. Right now, we’re scared, and we don’t understand why we’re scared.

The problem with fear is that it short-cuts reason. Sure, we can publish studies that show violent crime is down, but we’re scared, so we retreat to fortresses and arm ourselves. This escalates tension, and we start looking for threats.

Which is partly why people are looking to blame the other – anything that’s not familiar. Immigrants, technology, even studies or education: all suffer from being distrusted and feared.

I think these are playing a role in authoritarian rhetoric, record sales in arms and defence budgets, and anti-intellectualism.

I’m reading about authoritarian rhetoric, and want to dig deeper into the discourse. I’ve got a niggle that the way we choose the things we read (watch, hear) is also affecting the way we talk about and relate to the world. We don’t watch the same news, like our parents did – we choose ever more-focused media.

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