Saturday, August 13, 2011



First, and emphatically:  I'm no economist.  I've looked at the ideas of a good many economists over the years, from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, and anybody who has immersed himself in contemporary history as I have can't remain completely oblivious to the underlying economic shifts, the tectonic plates which underlie the frenzy of politics.  Still, look elsewhere for professional comment.  For what they're worth, here are my ideas.

We may be passing -- and faster than we can deal with the upshots -- from one era during which certain economic arrangements kept things reasonably stable into another, a time when the implicit longstanding social and financial tradeoffs simply will not work going forward.  As a species we have done this before, as when we developed from migrating hunter-gatherers into farmers and ranchers, or feudal landlords into mercantilist adventurers.  Now -- riding on the explosive science and technology which are the great achievements and challenges of our time -- we may be attempting to contend politically with profound changes for which the old procedures are largely irrelevant, like people struggling to deal with a massive earthquake by passing a municipal ordinance.

The politics of our time is based on the interaction of different interest groups who elect public officials or influence public officials to give them the handouts they want. Everything we are fighting over -- the entitlement programs, subsidies for the oil boys, a bloated military and intelligence community and the constant itch to "project power" and rebuild other people's countries -- comes out of that.  Here in the United States we are living in the hollowed-out remains of a gigantic industrial and financial colossus that emerged from World War II, much of which we have relocated offshore or turned over to automated machinery.  Even in the white-collar professions, ambitious graduates get out of law school and find that the only jobs available are as unpaid interns, while underpaid clerks on the internet in New Delhi deal with the discovery research which once justified the American firms in taking on new associates.  Soon advanced computer programs will replace the flunkies in India. 

This sort of thing leaves a permanently underemployed and fast deteriorating middle class in America to find whatever existence it can on our economic margins, too often demanding public assistance. Because of radical advances in medicine our citizens are living perhaps twenty years longer -- assisted by expensive medical procedures -- and running up Social Security and Medicare obligations for the government.  Many trillions are now projected.  The fantastic profits resulting from these technological breakthroughs and the exploitation of world markets has drifted almost entirely into the hands of the most fortunate 5% -- some say 1% -- of our citizens, the most venal of whom utilize it to propagandise the susceptible masses, grab off more favorable treatment by their intimidated government, buy the Supreme Court, and stifle even the suggestion of a more equitable taxation pattern.

Liberal boilerplate, I know.  But all this is moving us toward revolution, quite possibly some sort of collectivist nightmare very few of us really want.  If radical change comes, the billionaires will go first.  Before that happens, perhaps we should think this through.  Why not a permanent, federally funded jobs program to rebuild our collapsing infrastructure and backstop the economy?  FDR did it. Why not a thirty-hour work week, like -- shudder! -- France?  If machines are increasingly doing the work, shouldn't the average citizen benefit to some extent?  There is quite probably a reason why the societies of Northern Europe -- which have let the public-private equation evolve while we have paralyzed our own political progress -- are excaping the current financial meltdown.  Not very long ago we went to the moon.  Today our bridges are collapsing.  When will we summon up the nerve to stop cannibalizing our young?



One last thing.  The reader who wanted me to validate a Ted Kennedy quote can reach me on my internet address,  I will reply.

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