The world we face in 2018

It’s a big, strange, complicated world out there. It feels like many of the painful pressure points building for years in our public life are approaching a breaking point, with sudden, wrenching transformations looming. Many of the big-picture trends impacting day to day life this year were described years ago in The Politics of Crazy, but a few of them have ripened very suddenly. Here’s a review of some of the forces shaping our lives, in a quick bullet-point format.

Nobody really cares about Donald Trump’s obstruction of justice. Since the Clinton era, issues like obstruction of justice or perjury, which amount to a breach of institutional norms, have diminished into nothing more than a partisan issue. What matters is the activities he has been trying to hide. Firing Comey and interfering with law enforcement won’t bring down Donald Trump. Money laundering might. Even then, our representative institutions are probably too weak to cut through partisan rivalries and remove a corrupt president, just like they failed to remove Clinton. Trump will be driven out of office by the threat to his businesses posed by disclosure of the true nature of his financial activities. Once his businesses cease to be a safe place to launder money, he and his family will be forced to retreat.

Governments don’t matter as much as they used to. Your employee badge or stock certificate are far more important for your success and security than your passport.

It’s time to prepare for the end of professional government. Trump was just the tip of the iceberg. The triumph of consumer ethics and the death of community life will kill off institutions that once produced semi-competent professional representation.

Don’t blame democracy for Donald Trump. He lost his election by almost 3 million votes. Republicans control the House after winning just 48% of the vote. And in the Senate, the “majority” party won barely a third of the votes in total, nationally. The government we are living under is not a product of democracy.

In a strange historical twist, the Democratic Party is now the party of America’s winners, those who are best prepared culturally and economically for our future. Republicans are the party of America’s losers, those who sat stock still over the past 30 years while the world shifted around them. If Democrats want to win, they need build an economic climate that will produce more winners, and create less pressure on losers.

Accelerating technological advance, beyond just robotics and AI, is destroying traditional forms of paid work. You’ll find the evidence not in the unemployment rate, but in the rise of low-wage service labor. Rising employment in jobs of declining overall value will probably obscure this trend for another decade or two, making it tougher for us to muster the will to respond.

The culture divide that produced the 2016 election disaster is bigger than the racism and bigotry which are its scariest drivers. On one side of that election were voters (a majority) who have adapted to a world of relentless transience, an environment in which nothing can be taken for granted. On the other side was an aging, mostly rural white electorate still angry that we no longer live in a world where uneducated white people who refuse to adapt to changing conditions can expect to thrive and prosper despite their complacent mediocrity.

Events playing out in the year or so after Donald Trump is removed from power will pose the most dangerous threat to our national survival since 1860.

We are quietly approaching a tipping point in the market for fossil fuels. The collapse of that market will be sudden and seemingly unexpected, with terrible implications for rural economies in the US. Solar and battery technology seem to have already reached levels necessary to challenge carbon fuels for efficiency. Downstream from that development, the mechanical simplicity and accompanying reliability of machines running on stored electricity will make internal combustion economically hopeless. Transformations resulting from that shift will likely drag with it a pivot toward autonomous vehicles and heavier general reliance on AI. That point may be a decade or two away, or we may reach it this year. No one really knows.

The next generation just launching into the world will organize their communities almost entirely around their work (which will not necessarily be a “job”) and their entertainment interests, rather than around their homes/neighborhoods. They will inhabit virtual communities with little or no relationship to geography.

Owning capital-intensive things like a home or car is fading from ordinary people’s lives. They were always economic dead-weight. Cars, homes and other capital heavy resources will be owned by businesses or collectives and purchased on an as-needed basis. Individual lifestyles and social mobility will be better for it. Local communities, on the other hand, will suffer from this transformation.

Gentrification is not as much about race as we tend to think. Gentrification doesn’t always eliminate diversity. A gentrified neighborhood is sometimes more ethnically or racially diverse than the displaced population. Gentrification destroys a neighborhood by replacing a geographically-centered community of people who know each other and share each others’ lives, with a community of people who have no emotional ties to a location. Gentrification replaces neighbors with customers.

Organized religion is dead, not just in the US and Europe, but globally. Nothing is emerging to fill the psychiatric void left behind by its death. That’s why fundamentalist movements like the Taliban, ISIS, the religious right in the US, and the Israeli far-right have emerged as such a threat to peace and stability. As organized religion rots away, these extremist cults will proliferate, harrying the margins of otherwise functional democracies with a persistent threat of religious fascism.

Wealth inequality is producing accelerating cycles of capital inflation, followed by sharp collapses in capital value. Those ups and downs have always been a feature of capitalism, but they are reaching precipitous extremes. With too much capital in too few hands, that hoarded wealth finds fewer and fewer productive outlets, tending to pool in casino-like inflationary markets searching for returns. Concentration of wealth is like a boa constrictor around the neck of capitalism. Unless we find ways to tax away superfluous dead-money, the system will deploy its own built in remedy to restore stability – war. Across history, war has been the reliable mechanism for destroying massive accumulations of wealth.

On a related note, we have entered the dumb-money phase of the current global bull market. When this market “corrects,” it’s going to break stuff on a monumental scale. The collapse of this administration might not trigger that collapse. An eight year economic expansion has continued uninterrupted by Trump’s election and it might continue through his removal. There’s a good chance that it’s only ended by some other factor independent of politics.

These changes may feel frightening, mostly because we carry a natural fear of the unknown. Though many aspects of this emerging environment seem disturbing or disheartening, life for human beings is improving on nearly every measurable axis. Humans are freer, wealthier, healthier and happier than at any point in our evolution. It may not seem like it, but the world is getting better.

69 Comments

  1. I can’t get past this post on the role of corporations. More broadly, what we are really talking about is capitalism. Or, maybe, we “should be” talking about capitalism. Is capitalism still working for our country as a system that enables people to lift themselves up? To find financial and personal security? Or, has it become exploited so thoroughly that it serves the interests of the few with the power to control access and the rules of engagement.

    I am discouraged by what I see happening. Here are two articles worth pondering on this subject. And, bear in mind, Larry Fink is one of the more responsible capitalists. I just don’t know anymore.

    https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2018/01/16/can-capitalism-be-saved-from-itself/?

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-finance-202/2018/01/17/the-finance-202-big-banks-debate-what-to-do-with-tax-windfall/5a5e730d30fb0469e8840196/?utm_term=.2dd856c75545

  2. I’ve ordered a book, “How Democracies Die”, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt because of this review and the separate Q&A with the authors. Of particular interest was their litmus test to determine whether a person is an autocrat before they come to power. Let me just say that DJT scored positive on all four.

    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/562246/how-democracies-die-by-steven-levitsky-and-daniel-ziblatt/9781524762933?

    1. And this piece today from Politico, which states: ““For far too long our party has focused on the presidential [election] every four years and hasn’t done what it needed to do on the state level,” said outgoing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who has pledged to spend the year campaigning for gubernatorial candidates across the country.

      That focus, he said, is finally starting to shift.

      “There’s a tsunami coming in 2018,” he predicted. “We saw it in Virginia with a record voter turnout. We saw it in Alabama.”

      Let us hope he is correct.

      https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/14/governor-races-2018-midterms-republicans-340218

  3. “An old, slow, relentlessly mediocre corporation like, say Johnson Johnson, will do more to improve your quality of life this year than your government.”

    I’m just not buying this, Chris. It doesn’t jibe with my experience.

    For the past few days, I’ve been considering investment options.

    The reason I have that luxury is because when I was laid off in 2010 at age 64 the unemployment was 10% for what seemed like a very long time.

    The federal government extended unemployment benefits. I (and thousands of others) did not have to dip into retirement savings.

    During that period of unemployment, I (and thousands of others) had a choice of no health insurance or COBRA, an expensive option not affordable on unemployment benefits.

    The federal government stepped in and covered a significant portion of COBRA until I (and thousands of others) became employed again.

    Because the Repub congress chose not to continue these two programs, former co-workers laid off only one week later than I had a different experience.

    Some lost their homes, most had to spend retirement savings to stay afloat.

    I see no national or individual benefit in that.

    Those families are not somehow better off because of the experience, no matter what some Repubs say about moral hazard and that BS.

    Corporations? They just kept on laying off their people. That’s what shareholders expect them to do.

    Government actions taken a few years ago mean that I am not living on some form of government welfare for the next quarter century.

    Corporations don’t give a fig about that kind of thing.

    1. Absolutely, Bobo. Without the proper environment which only government regulation can provide, corporations serve their own purposes instead of the interests of society which created them, and will inevitably begin to descend into dog eat dog competition that ends up breaking everything. In the original column, Chris says “Concentration of wealth is like a boa constrictor around the neck of capitalism.” Unrestricted capitalism has inherent characteristics that would destroy not only the environment but also decent society and itself along with them. Read Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation.”

    2. I totally agree. Corporations focus on maximizing the return to shareholders. Nothing else matters. At one time they also considered the other various stakeholders including labor and the community. That is no longer the case.

      Chris used the boa constrictor analogy. I use the phrase, “concentration of wealth is the Achilles Heel of capitalism”. Both amount to the same. We are now in the late stages of the wealth concentration phase. If something is not done, there will be a systemic collapse. That is what happened in 1929-32 leading to the Great Depression and WWII. The 2008 Depression would have had similar results if corrective action had not been taken quickly. That was possible only because from 2009-2011, the D’s had control of the Government. If the R’s had been in control no action would have been taken.

      1. I don’t agreee that if Repubs were in charge in ’08 corrective action wouldn’t have been taken; rather, as WX noted, they absolutely would have protected big banks and Wall Street. What they would not have cared about with equal concern, is the devastation that individuals and families experienced. Obama and the Dems – while authority was within their control, did what they could to help the little people, as BoBo noted. Compare that to this GOP Tax Cut Bill….taking it down the road to its terminus as opposed to the marketing, mid-term salves offered in the first 3 years.

      2. Mary, I was speaking in generalities there. You are actually correct. The first phase of TARP was totally directed towards Wall Street and the big banks. The second phase was much better utilized, though that was also criticized as I recall. Some of it was used to rescue to auto industry. However, regardless of the fact that I disliked Bush II and feel he bears a lot of the responsibility for the crash, I do believe that rescuing the banks was necessary. If they had been allowed to fail, the situation would have been far worse. I do wish some of the bankers had been imprisoned, but as I understand there are numerous reasons that did not happen. Perhaps Creigh can enlighten us?

      3. I was a little vague in my comment. I was thinking about Bobo’s observation about how lucky she was to receive some financial support for her COBRA whereas many of her colleagues were not…due to changes wrought by the GOP once they took charge.

        I will never forget the fact that Republicans refused to support Obama in a major infrastructure jobs program that would have helped so many people while achieving important repairs to our nation’s roads, bridges, etc. Spiteful budgetary control on a partisan level is just flat wrong. I believed that the stimulus was needed, but I also deeply regret that the banking/wall street perpetrators were let off the hook. There were people who should have gone to jail. I don’t know “whose fault” that was – Obama admin or GOP – but it was wrong. Just as with today’s Wells Fargo fraud, others should have been charged. It is sad to watch the dismantling of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that worked for years to build their case against WF. This goes back to our basic discussion here which is corporations have shielded themselves from responsibility and politicians have enabled it. And, that is wrong.

  4. Chris said: “And I can see the many ways that corporate influence is actually more democratic than any government we’ve ever conceived.”

    I have to ask: Do you work in some kind of workers’ Shangri la?

    Yesterday, a corporate overlord (Zuckerberg) changed the business plans of thousands of businesses by fiat.

    https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/11/16881102/facebook-news-feed-changes-meaningful-interactions

    Oh, the democracy. It’s making my eyes burn.

  5. Obstruction of justice “should” matter. The fact that our sense of right and wrong has favored capitalism and its interests, applies such partisan standards to our democratic norms, doesn’t make it right to ignore these problems.

    Will Trump ever be held accountable for his dirty deals? Little people like me can only hope. We have to believe that there is some modicum of respect for truth and justice in our public sphere – even if our corporations are seemingly impervious.

    https://www.buzzfeed.com/thomasfrank/secret-money-how-trump-made-millions-selling-condos-to?utm_term=.vbnkrlmZO9#.luQZrzA7Qy

  6. I have to agree with others, regarding government. A strong government is needed to counter the corporations. The reason that the corporations have so much power now is that they have over the years been able to buy influence and get policies and laws passed favoring corporations. There are too many people who do not fit into the corporate scenario – they need protection.

    The recovery from the coming collapse will necessitate reigning in the corporations. That is what happened following the collapse of 1929 – 32 leading to the New Deal and the Great Compression.

    The era of the robber barons and the 1920’s was not panacea for the common people.

    1. This may deserve a whole other post and bit more thought, but here’s an alternative way to looking at issues like this. Think of the question in an evolutionary frame.

      As between governments and corporations, which of these two institutions has proven more adaptable? I think that lands on a pretty unambiguous answer.

      That ignores the question of “which is better” entirely, and skips right to the question of which one is more likely to win out in an evolutionary competition. We’re unlikely ever to see a world in which neither exists, but we are watching as one that used to be dominant – nation-state governments, is steadily losing its power advantage to a new one – corporations.

      Another thing happens when you look at the question in evolutionary terms. My emphasis shifts from “how do I stop this thing from happening” toward what I think is a more productive response, “how should other institutions best adapt to this emerging reality to produce the best possible outcomes.”

      There are some very practical reasons why corporations are winning this competition that have nothing whatsoever to do with bribery or evil schemes. An old, slow, relentlessly mediocre corporation like, say Johnson Johnson, will do more to improve your quality of life this year than your government. And if your needs change, that lurching behemoth of J&J will adapt to your new needs far faster than any government you’ve ever seen, or ever will see.

      Governments are good at some things. Corporations are good at some things. In a climate in which individual material needs matter and people use currency to express their values, corporations will outperform any institution we’ve so far devised. We still need governments, but we already need them less than we used to. That’s one of the reasons people are becoming so indifferent to them. And the things we need them for, as they narrow, become even more critical for our survival – a scary paradox.

      Keep this in mind as well. Nothing ever wins forever. The triumph of the corporation will create a new environment out of which new adaptations will emerge. We may see new/old institutions, like modern day virtual co-ops emerge to meet all kinds of needs left unfilled by a shrinking, less effective government and money-centered corporations. We may see new kinds of community grow from virtual interactions that may produce challengers to the old corporate model. What seldom pays off is rolling back to outdated models. The future might look weird, but don’t panic.

      1. You have a whole lot more confidence in corporations and a whole lot less confidence in the integrity of government than I do. I don’t see this as a zero sum game, and I emphatically do not see corporations as bastions of doing more for the individual. I will look forward to a more full post on this topic.

      2. Currently, the sole purpose of corporate governance is to maximize the return to the share holders. The only reason a corporation such as J&J, will react to social injustice issues is that the reaction might jeopardize sales or to minimize litigation losses, and they arrange to get laws passed to protect themselves against litigation. If there were no controls on corporations they would enter into a jungle like corporation and some would become king of the mountain. This would lead to a total monopoly, which is not classical Adam Smith competition.

        That is what happened during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Only a strong government was able enabled the New Deal and Great Compression and caused corporations to modify their approach to include all the stakeholders, including labor and the community as a whole. That approach died during the 1980s.

      3. In my post, I apologize for poor grammar and using corporation when I meant competition. But, the enter got tripped accidentaly. I am currently sitting in a hospital room listening to my lifetime partner snoring. As I mentioned a few days ago, she is seriously ill.

      4. tmerrit, I am not one for prayers, but I do wish you and your partner the best luck possible.

        Now Chris: I am sure you recognize that the bulk of your current crop of followers/ posters are progressives. Can you provide any hope for dinosaurs like me. or perhaps Mary?

        All I know is that a dinosaur like me will not evolve, but go down swinging, and I think there are a whole more than you think. If the puppet tyrant nailed 30-35 % of the electorate based on race, economic dislocation, or general stupidity, there is likely another 25-40% who voted against him hoping that the various government institutions remain functional. If all hope is lost for that, and we are expected to rely on corporations to fill the gap for the next 10, 20 or 50 years, I would truly expect blood in the streets.

      5. Dins, I’ve been called many things, but “dinausaur” is a first (-;

        I prefer to think that I am capable of evolving on ideas that Chris’ well supported posts have suggested. I am open and accepting of change – even fundamental change in our institutions – as long as it was “fair”. Therein lies the problem. What I am not is a believer in unregulated capitalism and for very good reason. Nor do I believe that corporate interests without political intervention limiting their involvement, will ever be focused on what’s good for the individuals. I have long believed in the necessity of unions – not for a minute without acknowledging their abuse, but instead the pure concept of offering line workers a seat at the table. We are witnessing right now a few corporations marketing their worker bonuses in response to obscene future profits driven by their successful tax rate change. The very same corporations have been sitting on massive profits for the last decade and just now have such an embarassment of riches that they are throwing some to their workers? Give me a break.

        I believe in the value of government. I believe it should be efficient and effective and limited. Fundamentally, it should be fair. That’s not what we are witnessing. Consensus driven decision making at the federal level is not happening. Checks and balances are not happening. Why would we expect corporations who fundamental goal is to make money would rise above the fray ? We erred in granting corporations rights of individuals. We erred in elected one-party triumverate control. We are witnessing the results of these decisions and I do not like what I see and I will work to change it. But: I believe that divided government is fairer government. I do not want Democrats to be put in the same position of control that Republicans have. The people’s rights are best protected when regular order prevails. Our nation’s institutions are on oxygen but they are still standing – for how long, who knows? Count me as someone who wants stability, fairness and consensus-driven decision making – and if that is best achieved and maintained by institutional change – so be it.

      6. Hey tmerrit, I hope for the best for you two.

        With regard to corporations, I think we have reached a couple of problems:

        The Very Large corporations are a problem. When capitalism is working well, profits should be competed away, but that is not working well in America right now. It’s not entirely on account of regulation: there are market structure issues, too, e.g. the “natural monopoly.” Competition for labor also drives up wages. One might say there is no trickle-down: what there is, is competition.

        The other issue is the self-service of the managerial class. It starts at the top, with executives also serving on boards. This class owns a disproportionate amount of stock, and have predictably little interest in norms of cost control in managerial pay. (In contrast, cost control of individual contributors is still interesting enough to engage in collusion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust_Litigation) The rest of the shareholders have their will filtered by board members of this class, seldom able to press for reductions in manager remuneration. To top it all off, there is a coordination problem: for reasons that have less to do with normative forms of merit and much to do with structural factors, like switching costs, linchpin executives can demand, semi-rationally, eye-watering compensation.

        So, how to mitigate some of these weaknesses?

        I thought this Brookings idea interesting, to start with reporting, with an eye towards taxing, intra-firm inequality:

        https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2018/01/08/a-new-years-resolution-to-address-wage-inequality-in-firms/

        It would be interesting if there was variant of cap-and-trade, to make the tax rate setting adaptive, e.g. “inequality credits.”

        They’ve also written about firm concentration:

        https://www.brookings.edu/research/a-policy-at-peace-with-itself-antitrust-remedies-for-our-concentrated-uncompetitive-economy/

        While a good overview of the problem, it feels like a lawyer’s approach to solution. How about a market one, too? Tax concentrated corporate players. Tax them enough that their shareholders demand restructuring to avoid it. Also, ambitious executives might like the additional autonomy standing nearer atop their own independent company. Again, “concentration credits” are a way to think about making this adaptive.

        Finally, though there has been some literature about how horizontal ownership through passive investors (index funds) may theoretically reduce competition (most scoff that this effect is anything but virtual) and increase profits and concentration, what about effects running in the other direction? Would massive horizontal ownership eventually create an incentive, and a means, to squeeze management compensation, e.g. by having a governance policy across every major corporation? To hasten this along, a social wealth fund, or something like it, could be created to broaden the ownership base of our modern financial capitalism and bring about more shareholder power for the individual contributors in society.

      7. Very good points Daniel.

        The crux of the matter is that the giga-corporations must be reigned in along with the massive remuneration packages of the executives. Our economy at present is not functioning to do that. All wealth is being transferred to the top. A strong government will be required to rectify these problems. Perhaps that might be accomplished by taxation in some form, or perhaps a market based system could be developed, but even that will require a strong government to set and enforce the rules. Regardless, the present course can not last much longer. Adam Smith’s entire concept of capitalism and competition rests on many suppliers and many consumers. At present that does not exist.

      8. In combination with the Politico story about Alaska turning “purple” as a result of the efforts of 3 young progressive candidates, the story about Frerick and Ms. Salerno is most encouraging. I like what I see happening with so many young people pushing elective boundaries and, in the process, taking on corporate and partisan interests. Good article, Creigh.

      9. Chris,
        You’ve touched on probably the central issue animating both liberals and conservatives these days. Kudos to you for addressing it, but I disagree with almost everything you’ve said (respectfully 🙂 ). Sorry in advance for the long post but there’s a bunch of points I want to make.
        1) Corporations may turn on a dime, but only in response to their bottomline. Govts / politicians also turn on a dime in response to the possibility of losing their seat. Neither changes strictly out of a sense of duty to help ordinary people, but I would argue that even in this day with dysfunctional govt, it is easier to hold a politician’s feet to the fire than a corporation’s. Heck, most scholars of corporate governance don’t even think corporations are run for the benefit of shareholders. They are run for the benefit of the high-level executives, who are even harder to influence by an ordinary consumer or shareholder than the corporation as a whole. Making executives’ incentives align with their company’s interests, nevermind the customers’, is already harder than aligning a politician’s interests to their constituents’ interests (even in today’s govt).

        Let’s take your J&J example: people may not know that most of J&J’s revenue comes from medical and hospital products (as opposed to consumer health products like Tylenol). And they are actually an innovative, aggressive company that dominates many of those product segments (e.g. surgical devices). And yet, I’d argue it’s far easier for patients to influence Medicare coverage / payment decisions, which in turn massively influence J&J’s product strategies, than it is for patients to directly influence J&J. You take J&J as a lumbering slow company that’s still easier to influence than the govt. I’d actually make the opposite argument: J&J is a fast, responsive company (in the medical device realm) that’s still *harder* to influence than the govt. (One caveat: in the medical realm, the patient isn’t the direct consumer. The doctors and hospitals are. And J&J can be responsive to them. But even there, Medicare reimbursement decisions far outweigh any individual hospital’s purchasing decisions, and hospitals, being the largest employer in most of their regions, can often bend the ear of a Senator or Congressman to push Medicare their way).
        2) I disagree that govt these days can’t turn on a dime. It’s just a question of who’s dime? Our current dysfunction is actually what 48% of the American voting public *wanted* in the last election, and they’re getting it in spades! They are happy with the direction of govt. The Tea Party took over the Republican party within less than 8 years. You, I, and the other people on this blog may not like the changes that have occured, but we can’t deny that they occurred, quickly, and in response to voters’ wishes.

        For another example, compare the govt’s response to the financial crisis vs its response to our ongoing medical crisis. Our medical crisis has been going on for decades. In the 2000s, The Institute of Medicine undertook a detailed, multi-year, non-partisan study of our health system, and concluded that the cost to insure everyone with guaranteed coverage (didn’t have to be medicare-for-all; they didn’t advocate a specific political system) is ~$150billion. Every year, health advocates go to Congress begging for just a fraction of that and they keep getting told that there’s no money. It’s the epitome of unresponsive govt given that we’re talking about citizens literally dying due to inaction.

        In contrast, in 2008, when Goldman Sachs et al were on the brink of collapse due to their own incompetence and outright fraud, Congress wrote a blank check to Hank Paulson of $700bil. The deliberations took about 3 days. There was no discussion of where that money was going to come from. It was just done. Furthermore, the Federal Reserve and Treasury Dept. overturned numerous laws, norms, and regulations in place for decades within the span of months, all in the name of saving Wall St. IOW, the govt. can still be highly effective. It’s just a matter of who does it serve? (And even to this day, we have a better chance of getting the government to rein in fraudulent financial practices – as slim as it is — than directly boycotting or putting other sorts of consumer pressure on the financial firms themselves. Witness the Wells Fargo fiasco).
        3) People are *not* happy with having to move all the time. Until you have a few kids who are beyond the toddler stage, moving around is not a big deal. That’s still the case. But due to rapidly changing social mores (in part driven by economic insecurity), people don’t settle into their life until their late 30s or 40s. People are getting married and having children far later in life. So the reason you see people in their late 20s and early 30s happily moving around in search of economic opportunities is a) they have no choice; b) they’re not “adults” yet in the old-fashioned sense.

        You list when your parents bought their first “adult” home. That’s key. In their day, you entered the workforce, married, and had kids no later than 25. You were an adult. Nowadays, you may not even finish your education until your late 20s, then spend 10 years trying to find a stable job, then get married, and have kids. You may not become an “adult” until your early 40s.

        But once you do, the desire to stay put is just as strong. Except now, you can’t because your employer desires labor “flexibility”. Take a telling statistic: the single best predictor of where a corporation will move its headquarters is not local economic conditions, or govt incentives, etc. It’s where the CEO lives. If your corporation is based in Nebraska and you hire a CEO who currently lives in Chicago, odds are good that if you’re contemplating a corporate move, he will make sure the move is to Chicago, not the other way around (hello ConAgra).

        If your assertion is correct, as a member of this new high-flying economy, he should have no problem jetsetting to wherever is best for his company. But having the power to decide, he’d rather force everyone else to move, rather than himself. The only difference between us and him is we don’t have the power to do that.

        The gig economy is a great example of this: you’ve hailed it as the next step in labor mobility. Maybe for corporations and us as consumers. But the actual employees hate it. Do you think that Uber driver wouldn’t prefer a stable 9-5 job, even at [somewhat] less pay than Uber? Even most self-employed tech “consultants”, especially those over age 35, if you ask them how they got started, it wasn’t because they had a great new idea that would make them millions, or because they enjoy not having a boss. It’s typically because they got laid off from a regular job, couldn’t find another one, and are now forced to freelance at a fraction of their old salary, without health insurance, or even a guarantee of a paycheck the next month. If you offered them a regular, “boring” 9-to-5, most would take it in a heartbeat, especially if they have a family to support.
        4) Job insecurity is not defined by the quality / importance / uniqueness of the work being done. It’s defined by the political structure of your workplace. The most obvious political structure is whether or not you’re unionized, but it’s more than that. Just because a code jockey at Google has 2 STEM masters degrees doesn’t mean that he doesn’t worry about his job being outsourced to Bangalore, or that as he nears 40 he’ll get pushed out in favor of the 25 year old new college grad. IOW, he has the same concerns over abuse of power as the lowly manufacturing blue collar worker. The only difference is that the blue collar worker has a union that prevents those things from happening. So just because people have advanced degrees and are making 6-figures doesn’t mean they have more workplace power than a migrant worker in the Chicago stockyards back in the day (although workplace safety is definitely improved, mainly thanks to govt regulations).

        I’ve mentioned before that manufacturing used to be awful work: poor pay, bad safety, etc. etc. You only did it if you couldn’t get a job farming. What changed wasn’t the nature of the work, it was that workers unionized and fought for their rights. So now, despite being “easily replaceable” high-school level workers, they enjoy protections (and frequently wages) far better than college level workers doing more “difficult” or economically valuable work.

        To make my point stronger, let’s take the other extreme. Many proponents of the knowledge economy use movie stars and star athletes as extreme examples of how in this day and age, if you have unique, valuable talents, you can reap outsized rewards. These people are not replaceable like a high-school trained welder. They have unique skills that maybe a dozen people in the world possess. Moreover, people will go to the movies or watch a game specifically to watch *them*. We may not know or care who was the mechanic who made our car, but we care if our team trades away our favorite player.

        In this setting, it should naturally follow that they get paid big bucks. But it’s not natural at all. Actors in the Studio Age were locked into terrible contracts that essentially made the studio chiefs in charge of their entire career trajectory. Judy Garland was a great example of how even a worldwide icon could be held under despicable conditions thanks to the political structure of their workplace: https://timeline.com/hollywood-drugs-1930s-6b27a1404552

        What changed wasn’t that actors now are more recognizable by consumers or more responsible for box office revenue, or more talented than before. Rather a series of lawsuits broke up the studio system, and SAG, the actors’ union, was started. Without that their exploitation would have remained.

        Similarly, until players’ unions in sports, athletes were essentially owned by their teams, paid very little for their services, and had no control over their career. There was no free agency and once a player was drafted and signed his first contract, his team owned him nearly has completely as certain Southern plantations before the Civil War.

        My point is that even in these cases, which are hailed as the model example of the way the “new economy” allows people with unique, valuable, irreplaceable skills to rise quickly in this meritocratic utopia we live in, the truth of the matter is, people can be ruthlessly exploited. It all depends on the political structure of their workforce. And if such uniquely talented people as movie stars and athletes still need protection to avoid exploitation of their work, what makes you think the rest of us don’t?

        I know what you’re thinking: that type of exploitation can no longer exist in this economy, regardless of unions or not. We’ve moved beyond the early 1900s. Not true. Just look at college football players. They generate millions in revenue for their teams. People buy their individual jerseys and watch the game to watch their favorite players. At the top levels, they are really no different than professional players. And yet the players’ pay is limited to a scholarship (i.e. the university is paying the players’ salary to itself. Even the worst company store of old times was better than that). There are plenty of stories of players going hungry at night because they have no money to buy a late night meal after their practice because the cafeteria has closed.

        Even if a coach takes pity, they’re not allowed to pay for anything. One particularly appalling example: the NCAA sanctioned a school because its coach payed for a plane ticket for an athlete to go home. His mother had died suddenly, he had no money for a ticket, and the coach payed from his own wallet to let the athlete attend his mother’s funeral. This was considered an illegal payment. Meanwhile, the coaches make multi-million dollars and the colleges reap hundreds of millions in TV revenue. Not surprisingly, college athletes don’t have a union (a movement at Northwestern U. to create one failed after the University and the NCAA went to court to argue that they weren’t employees and that a union would ruin the “sanctity” of the student-athlete).

        Even outside the high stakes world of college athletes, look at Silicon Valley, the poster boy of the new economy. All those benevolent, “don’t be evil” companies like Google and Apple and Facebook with their foosball tables, gourmet cafeterias, and free bikes to get around campus? They were caught illegally colluding to keep engineer salaries low. Plus, it’s well known that once you hit your 40s (sometimes late 30s), if you haven’t moved up to management, you’ll be pushed aside and eventually fired in favor of the fresh college grad. And if they do that now, when engineering talent is in short supply, just wait to see their brutal tactics when the first downturn hits and laid off engineers are plentiful. That’s the real reason why most people in Silicon Valley always have an up-to-date resume ready to go…

        . So in summary, a) I don’t think corporations are more responsive than govt; b) I don’t think govt is all that unresponsive *today*. It just happens to respond to the people who hold the most power to keep them in office; c) just because people now move around doesn’t mean they like doing it, or that it’s their choice to do so; d) no matter how valuable, unique, skilled, or irreplaceable you are, your power in your job is still determined by the political structure of your workplace, not by the work you do. And that political structure is fundamentally at odds with your corporate master, which is why I’d take even an incompetent govt over a “good” corporation. At least with govt, you have a chance of getting it on your side, or even being neutral.

        Sorry for the long post, but I really think this is the fundamental disagreement between liberals like me and (sane) conservatives like you. While we both want what’s best for the country, I just can’t accept that even our current govt is worse than being ruled by the most benevolent corporations out there.

      10. Creigh – that was a wonderful explanation. Thank you…I tried to hit many of those points in my less articulate posts but all I needed to do was wait for yours.

        I realize you are painting in broad strokes here, but I don’t want to neglect what is and has been happening with women – who despite being educated, smart and talented, are under-represented at top levels of the corporate structure. I don’t consider myself a “feminist” but I definitely consider myself one who believes women, and all people, really – should advance per their inate ability and contributions. Re the “corporate mobility” issue, women are the least “able” to move around precisely due to their roles as moms – most of whom see this role as more important than corporate advancement. This furthers male dominance in so many areas….look at how few female CEOs there are in the US, how few women sit on boards of major corporations, and how few women serve in our state and federal legislatures. Why? Because literally, “he who has the gold, rules”.

        I agree with everything you stated and hope it will provide impetus for more indepth discussion about the real problems people are facing in America .

      11. People like Texan Beto O’Rourke inspire me. Good people are putting themselves out there, and they are campaigning in the old-fashioned way. I would probably vote for a wooden post rather than Ted Cruz, but to have such a genuine, good candidate to support is delightful. I post this purely as an example of what is happening at the grassroots level that is encouraging in the face of so much political discouragement.

        Start at minute 5:18.

        https://www.facebook.com/betoorourke/videos/1526450997404605/

  7. Frankly Chris, I don’t think I want to live in the corporatocracy you have described.

    If all the various institutions fall (don’t get me wrong, you are likely right), given that corporations are by definition sociopathic, that means an awful lot of first world citizens are going to live and die in misery. The sick, the poor, and the dumb will be criminalized. We are seeing that today.

    As you say, humanity, on the whole, may be better off than they were 20 years ago, or 50 years ago, or 100 years ago. But that is based on the implementation of the rule of law, the creation and strengthening of government institutions, and great charity by the rich nations. The liberalization of the economies in China and India may have a bit to do with that as well.

    But in the U.S., apparently the shining city on the hill, for the second year in a row, the average lifespan dropped. Imagine what happens to all of humanity when global warming really kicks it into high gear and entire nations are starving/ displaced, and the small cabal of leaders of these corporations are the ones making decisions, because the mainstays of decency, government institutions, are rendered impotent. All those gains in the quality of life for humanity will be reversed in an incredibly short time.

    Soylent Green does not become some dystopic movie, but a template.

    I imagine your comments about outside influences include this scenario: 2-5 years from now, the banks crash again, due to gutted regulations, again, and this time there is the puppet tyrant in charge, or a more evil version of him. There is no great bailout, due to ideology and incompetence. The next Great Depression begins. The Houston’s, Florida’s and the Puerto Rico’s are by then occurring annually. Are we to believe that the Jeff Bezos’ and Koch’s of the world are going to bail out these cities or countries, or will they simply buy them at reduced rates?

    Oh, last thing: apparently half of Puerto Rico’s residents are still without power, over 3 months after the hurricane hit. What will be the first major U.S. city (that people actually are aware of) that will experience those conditions when the crash comes?

    1. I agree with you Dinsdale. I’m not as sanguine about a future full of powerful corporations and weak govts. We had that during the age of the robber barons. It wasn’t so great for the vast majority of people.

      To be fair to Chris, I don’t think he wants that either. I think he’d agree that it’s far better to have a functioning, competent govt that’s responsive to citizens’ needs. But since we don’t have that, we’re going to be left with corporations, and maybe our best option is to try to get them to be as “good” as possible.

      1. WX, the problem is how “good” can a corporation be?

        Individuals can be good. Individuals running small mom and pop shops, who are face to face with their customers and employees daily, can maintain empathy. But what percentage of large companies have people at the highest level of decision-making that are altruistic? Anyone who reports to a board of directors and shareholders can’t last if they have empathy. That is not the way corporations work.

        I don’t think that when Chris refers to corporations stepping into the place of failed government institutions he is talking about the mom and pop shop. I believe he is talking about the giga-corps, who are the ones with the economic clout and reach to alter policy.

        You know, one person who must be reveling in this era of destroying the government is Grover Norquist. He must be rubbing his hands and cackling, like the Emperor in a Star Wars movie. He is on my list of people I would kill with my bare hands.

      2. How “good” can a government be? At the end of the analysis, it’s one institution or another. Outcomes depend on a pattern of incentives and disincentives. Right now, today, corporations operate on a democratic playing field more balanced and even than our government. And they turn on a dime when conditions change.

        Searching for scapegoats in a representative system is like a snake eating its tail. Every evil scheme ever cooked up by Grover Norquist or Karl Rove went up in flames when the good, wholesome volk down at the Carrier plant voted for Donald Trump. Don’t delude yourself with the comforting narrative that someone is pulling strings here. Line up every Norquist against some dirty wall and nothing changes. Nothing. A system produced this outcome. Some people have slightly more influence over that system than others, but the most successful people are the ones who surf it, not the people who try to steer it.

        I’m not thrilled about the declining power of governments and the rising power of corporations, but I didn’t choose it and neither did anyone else, not even the people on the boards of those corporations. And I can see the many ways that corporate influence is actually more democratic than any government we’ve ever conceived. And I can see the very disheartening ways in which that relatively extreme form of economic democracy threatens some things I value. We all work at the edges, you, Grover and me. We do our part toward an outcome that none of us can specifically plot out, yet we all contribute toward. We are both tiny and mighty.

      3. Why does it have to be such a binary choice, Chris? Isn’t the underlying premise of Democracy the recognition of compromise? Why can’t this apply to corporations? As for corporations having to “live” in this same cesspool we ordinary folk find ourselves in…they – corporations – have been working for decades to get exactly where they are today: 21% tax rates; elimination of regulations; access through their huge and sustained investment in lobbying.

        As for lining up people like Norquist against a wall….I’d sure be interested to go down that route and see where it led. There has been so little consequence for corporate influence and employee malfeasance, for the benefit of stockholders, board members, CEOs, and their lobbyists, that I’m ready to see just what good might come from holding these secret power brokers accountable.

        I’m interested in more explanation of your statement, “corporate influence is actually more democratic than any government we’ve ever conceived”, because, I.just.don’t.get.it.

        We can all lament what is happening politically, but it is obvious who the consistent winners always are. And, it is not John Q. Citizen.

      4. Chris, you are far better read and eloquent than me. So what follows sounds like something written by a trumpite who operates on “it feels like this is true” rather than someone working from objective facts. But in my heart I know it is true.

        In this age of rising power of the giga-corps, and the erosion or outright loss, of the social safety nets, how is this going to play out 20, 30, or 40 years from now? Corporations are running away screaming, as fast as they can, from providing pensions for their workers. (How many pennies on their pension dollars will all the Sears employees get when Sears inevitably goes bust?) Union-busting is common practice across just about every part of the political and economic spectrum. Giga-corps move jobs to the lowest cost center with zero thought to the damage done to the families they leave behind.

        Yet somehow, the average guy is going to “surf” through these massive upheavals where they have to depend on the non-existent largesse of said corps, if heaven forbid, they or family members get seriously ill or outlive their savings.

        You say that corps turn on a dime when conditions change. Well, one thing that remains intractable is that corporations have one ultimate goal, maximize profits and squeeze every cent from a resource. Once that resource is used up, discard it, and forget it. People, water, and land are treated the same way.

        Do you seriously think that the decision-makers in these corporations, ESPECIALLY if there is far less regulations governing their actions, are going suddenly recognize any kind of debt to past employees or the environment? And please don’t suggest that the “market” will weed out the bad actors and reward only the most benevolent corporations. Tell how Goldman Sachs made out after the crash. ALL, and I reiterate, ALL giga-corps are run by people that are ruthless, and sociopathic. That is the only way they could make decisions based solely on the premise of maximizing profit. So even if consumers via buying choices influence the decisions of businesses, they will simply choose the best of a bad bad batch.

        Further, I believe you overestimate the ethics of the consumers, especially in hard times. I will paint a scenario for you. Pretend that Chevron said, “as good environmental partners, we are stopping all fracking and selling of fracked oil, and we are committed to a 100% remediation of all sites where we have drilled. Oh, it will cost you, the consumer, 10 cents more a gallon.” Meanwhile, Exxon keeps on rolling with business as usual, supplying gas 10 cents cheaper than Chevron. Now you have some guy who just watched his job at Carrier head to Mexico, saying, “Sorry Chevron, can’t afford that extra 10 cents”.

        As for the “system” being at fault, and not powerful individuals, sorry, but bollocks. The economic and political structure we all live under IS created and maintained by a small handful of people. When I say handful, it might be a million, it might be 100 million, but no more. 1% of all humans control over 50% of all wealth. Are you seriously trying to say that they don’t use that wealth to exert power and influence the “system’ to their advantage??? You think the kochs are not richer because of the tax changes just made? You don’t think they did not help that along by supporting politicians for decades who made those changes happen? They don’t “surf” the system, they drive the changes made to the system.

        I am tired of people referring to corporations as faceless entities that have no humans steering them. Human beings drive every decision made by a corporation. When Carrier sent all those jobs to Mexico, a person, or very small group of persons, made that decision. When Goldman Sachs decided to con the entire world by bundling bad debt to partners and then bet against that bad debt, a small group of people made that decision.

        If people on the outside started holding these decision-makers accountable for destroying so many lives, given that the legal system does not, then the decision-makers might just factor that potential into their calculus.

      5. I agree with you, Dins. I do believe the term “sociopath” as it applies to corporate action is too strong, but I totally agree with the selfishness and coldness with which corporate America makes decisions. Very well thought out and presented.

    2. Has anyone read Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” series? It’s set in a future where corporations basically serve as islands of government and security, amid a chaotic world. Like all dystopian novels, it takes a current trend and exaggerates it to the extreme to create a collapse (here biotech and genetic engineering). The three books in the series are a good read, and a good evocation of a post-national gov’t world.

  8. Wow! A lot to digest in this piece. While I do not have time to comment on much, as I’m writing from my partner’s hospital room, the comment regarding wrenching changes strikes a chord.

    “Events playing out in the year or so after Donald Trump is removed from power will pose the most dangerous threat to our national survival since 1860.”

    I’ve felt for many years that we would have an existential crisis around 2020-2025. Our present system of governance is not functioning to address the systemic problems. There are numerous trends building to a head – economic, ecological, social, geopolitical, etc.

    Capitalism is fast approaching a crisis stage, with the extraordinary inequity. Ultimately that is its “achilles heel.”

    Global warming is not going away. It is going to cause severe dislocations.

    The social dysfunction is apparent for all to see. White supremacy and misogyny is not compatible with our current world.

    The global geopolitical system needs to be reset. China has to be accomodated. Other rising powers need to be accomodated. Russia is the major declining power and it needs to accept its diminished state. Ironically if it were to liberalize it could be a global power. Europe is over represented in the UN. The U.S. is not a global hegemon, and needs to accept that.

    These are just a few of the trends that will probably come to a head in the near future. Assuming there is no nuclear winter, I believe humanity will work through these. The US political system will need to make some significant adjustments. I suspect that the electoral system will need to change, with a diminished role for the rural areas and perhaps a much greater emphasis on parliamentary features.

  9. Chris
    When you are talking about change and communities I believe that you are deceiving yourself about what it used to be like

    I have just finished reading – Austerity Britain
    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/may/19/featuresreviews.guardianreview11

    It is very interesting in itself but there is a lot about
    “trying to rebuild the communities”
    Along with a lot of surveys and information from the actual people – and my conclusion is that the “communities” that they were trying to rebuild simply NEVER actually existed
    The town planners looking from their own locations deceived themselves about what was actually going on in the working class neighborhoods – seeing “communities” when the actual situation was more of micro-communities of one or two families

    If you deceive yourself about what it used to be like it is very difficult to plan for the future

    1. That’s really interesting and I’ve put the book on my list. Reminds me of Orwell’s observations from The Road to Wigan Pier in the 30’s. And of course, Durkheim described this breakdown and social cohesion in the 1890’s. He called it “anomie” rather than transience. Here’s an important distinction, though.

      In every historical source I’ve ever been able to find, this transience or anomie is associated with poverty. In our time, for the first time ever as near as I can tell, it is the domain of the affluent. Think of it in this context.

      My parents bought their adult home in 1977. My father still lives there even though he shouldn’t. He’ll die there if he doesn’t land in a hospital first. My mother’s parents bought their adult home about 1950. My grandmother finally left that home for a care facility in 1986. Her parents were tenant farmers in Arkansas, but they managed to buy a small home for themselves in the 1890’s. They died in that home, and it remained occupied by family members until the 1970’s.

      My mother’s father’s family were blacksmiths. They held their home, a shack really, until the last family member to live there died.

      Contrast that with my Dad’s family and you get a picture of what I’m describing. His father lived the life of an itinerant laborer. He probably had thirty residences, only owning a home for a few brief years. He was a bit of a trainwreck.

      Revisiting the neighborhood in which I grew up, you see this pattern again. Almost all of my childhood friends’ parents still live there. All of the remotely successful members of my generation left. Only the least successful still live there. It gets more interesting when you look at the lives and habits of those successful offspring. I don’t think I’ll ever occupy the same address for more than seven or eight years. Looking up and down the street where I live now you see the same pattern. The most affluent people treat their homes like a car, and own one for about the same length of time as a good car. And that’s odd, because this is a neighborhood that until a couple of decades ago was dominated by lifers. The last of them are on their way out, replaced by affluent transients who pretty much just sleep here, like a dorm.

      I’ve never heard of anyone paying off a mortgage, or even heard someone describe it as a goal. What an insane waste of money. And by the way, my parents’ home in East Texas is worth today almost exactly what they paid for it in 1977, and that’s in absolute dollars. In inflation-adjusted terms, that home is worth barely 25% of its 1977 value. Staying rooted in a place and paying off a mortgage was an economic calamity. No one in that neighborhood (or anyone in the region) is turning a profit on their decision to stay put.

      Patterns of geographic movement typical of the most affluent members of my generation match the lifestyle of a desperate blue collar family in the 50’s. I’d be very interested to see a critique of this observation. It seems like a very strange development, one consistent with what we’ve been seeing from people who study social capital. If this is accurate, it has powerful implications for democracy in the model we developed in the US.

      1. As one of your oldest contributors here, I have some thoughts and questions on this topic which have a more sociological focus. My adult children (in their 40s-50s) have not moved around as much as many in their generation – which has certainly benefited me and my husband and allowed us to be an integral part of their family. They have professional degrees and have moved within and among companies but stayed pretty close to the regions in which they began their careers. I suspect that is related to their occupations and dual spousal employment (who’s salary is dominant?) and their desire to offer a stable environment for their children – such as they experienced. Educational attainment is a very strong influencing factor on the aspirations and qualifications of a mobile generation. When one has skills, there is more “choice” as opposed to sheer necessity of following the job. Many of today’s young adults benefit from generational financial security as well as the explicit expectation and preparation for higher education. It is planned for and provided by parents at great sacrifice for their children, and grandchildren in many cases…..Even if they, as the older generation, made it up the career ladder without the advantage of advanced degrees, parents understood the value of education and job preparation. That was one of the reasons it was so shocking to many mid-life professionals to lose their careers during the Great Recession. They “had” prepared, made the sacrifices to attain educations, but economic forces beyond their control mattered more. Alternatively, those in blue collar professions simply had to follow the job or accept poverty, and many have remained mired in this situation. Too few who had the prescience (despite the warning signs all around them) to understand what was happening in their post-industrial sector, prepared themselves with new skills training or went back to school. They were, therefore, highly energized by a presidential candidate who appealed to their base fear with false promises. Predictably, their situation is worse now with the changes being wrought by a party that abhors the social safety net and has little real use or interest in this working class except for the votes they offer. Yet, how many members of the working class “get this”? If you look at polls, not nearly enough. (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/11/us/politics/trump-approval.html?_r=0)

        I wonder how many young people from their 20s through their 50s can relate in any meaningful way to the Great Depression? More may relate to the struggle their parents faced in the Great Recession as jobs disappeared, family security teetered, and kids suddenly had to assume massive debt to secure the higher education that was once expected and provided. It’s no wonder that there is a generation that will have difficulty investing in a home, but it may be more credit-related than desire-related. Our capitalistic-driven society emphacises certain standards of living…which, sadly, can become a negative if it is not prudently managed. It is interesting that while some eskew permanent, long-term housing choices, that trend appears to be changing for Millennials. Real estate reports that as they age out, Millennials are purchasing more property, whether it is from a familial situation, employment stability, or investment driven – they are planting roots….even, as noted, they may “move” as need/opportunity calls. Doing business by computer and phone is a new reality, but it is terribly isolating.

        I am deeply concerned that America is not preparing for its aging population – which those of you who are the ages of our children, need to be as vigilant about as you are about employment. Recent exploitation of and partisan shifts in social responsibility have exacerbated this situation – particularly as it relates to housing, but also, importantly, health and retirement security. How will your future be impacted by this looming problem? Republicans sought to strip eligibility of medical deductions from their omnibus tax plan – which many families utilize to help offset huge costs for nursing homes, assisted living costs, and/or home care that allows the elderly to remain in their homes. That is not always the “best” option but for many elderly, it is a simple matter of cost-avoidance if their homes are paid for, aside from the personal comfort of living in a familiar home and neighborhood. Moving around for one’s career seems remote to these aging concerns but, I promise you, they will come.

        Which brings me to this question: why are people moving around so much today? Is it career advancement? Job necessity? Financial gain? Will this more transient lifestyle result in stronger families, a better society, happier individuals? What is being lost in the process? Will it be a less caring society on an interpersonal level? How integral to the family unit is housing? Telecommunications? What impact does mobility have on generational interdependence? Are we losing more than we are gaining in our quest for climbing the ladder of capitalism?

        Likely not the focus of your comment, Chris, but it is an important conversation that relates to all aspects of our lives, is highly driven by our political choices, and offers inescapable challenges to ones senior years.

      2. Isn’t the fundamental difference between the geographic movement of affluent members of your generation and that of desperate blue collar workers of the 50s one of “choice vs necessity”? Isn’t that the whole point of acquiring a skill set or education that offers one the flexibility to move or not?

        Also, call it a 50’s/60s phenomena if you will, but paying off one’s home for my generation was a goal and it has endured. In the age-restricted neighborhood in which I live, 85% of all home purchases are cash….which is not to say that people are bankrupting themselves to avoid mortgages, rather it is that homes were/are seen as assets that appreciate. Granted, you choose well, but having a home that is paid for offers many older people a sense of security and satisfaction. I guess when one is younger and still making their way up the ladder of success this may seem quaint, but it’s also pretty nice way to secure your final years if you need to cash out.

  10. You know how to get votes for you punching in faster than a gambling addict at an electronic slot an in an Indian Casino? Request W4 workers log online with the IRS each month to make sure they’re paying the right amount of withholding. The ways in which Republicans have simplified our tax code is so edgy, they’ll be opening for Lady Gaga next year 😉

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/new-tax-guidelines-rely-on-workers-to-double-check-their-paychecks/2018/01/11/234088c4-f700-11e7-b34a-b85626af34ef_story.html

  11. Chris has been pretty consistent that Trump will be removed from power, but that seems to cut a bit against his idea of the executive becoming less relevant. Isn’t the most likely scenario just a muddling through? Maybe with a paralyzed gov’t from 2018-2020.

    In that case, with quasi-government roles being performed by corporations (passports, speech rights, etc), do you see the mega corps (Amazon, Facebook, etc) continuing to grow bigger, or is there an inflection point in their future?

    1. If Trump was an ordinary politician who had just disregarded legal constraints in pursuit of political objectives, then I don’t think our institutions could stop him. He’s not that.

      He’s the head of a small organized crime family. His bizarre decision to go into politics placed the entire family’s income and well-being in jeopardy. You couldn’t manipulate Bill Clinton by threatening to seize his hotels or drive away his sources of illegal finance. And no one was in a position to threaten to put his kids in prison. Trump is uniquely vulnerable.

      What’s scary is what Trump will leave behind – basically scorched earth. Nothing will be functioning, and the Republicans who slip temporarily into authority behind him will be just as incompetent and delusional as Trump. Unlike Trump, who took office in a moment of supreme national prosperity and calm, they’ll be inheriting a nightmare scenario. Corporations are likely to be the only major public institutions still functioning in a somewhat healthy manner. You’ve got the right idea I think.

      1. You assume that “Republicans” will “slip into power” behind T’s removal? In all my years (and I have a bunch of them watching politics) I have never been so disgusted with a party’s abuse of the political process. I cannot abide thinking they will have any role at all but that is probably wishful thinking on my part. To a one – Ryan, McConnell, Grassley, Graham, Corker – they are all rotten to the core. I wish them nothing good and wish them gone.

      2. I agree with you. When shady financiers around the world realize routing money through Trump’s empire is inviting too much scrutiny, they’ll pull their money out. At which point Trump’s financial “empire” will fail.

        In my mind, the only question is: does he stay in the Presidency long enough to completely destroy his business empire, or does he bolt before then? I actually hope for the former. It’s only a difference of maybe 6-12 months, and I’d love to see him reach the same economic status as his supporters. The best part is, a pardon may keep him out of jail, but nothing will bring back the dirty money train. And for a guy like Trump, I suspect being poor is a fate worse than incarceration.

        It’s already happening with Kushner’s deals. Kushner bought an aging Manhattan office building in 2006 just before the bottom fell out of that market. They’ve been going hat-in-hand for years trying to find investors to pay back their 10-figure loans. They almost had a deal with Anbang, a Chinese insurance company with close ties to the communist party. But they withdrew thanks to the increased scrutiny.

        Pencil in Feb, 2019: that’s when their $1.2 bil loan comes due. As that day approaches, I wouldn’t be surprised if an increasingly desperate Kushner solicits a foreign investor in ever more flagrant fashion. Hopefully he puts himself in enough legal risk to face jailtime, while still not getting the deal done.

    2. Call me skeptical but I still don’t see how Trump gets pushed (or leaves voluntarily) from office. All his crimes depend on Congress or the Justice Dept to prosecute, and neither seems likely to me. If the Mueller report comes back showing criminality and pardons follow, will Congress act? They’ve laid the groundwork not to. As Trump’s new US Attys take over, will they pursue cases against him? Who can make them if they refuse? A Dem Congress post-2018 can investigate, but what enforcement power will they practically yield vis-a-vis the DoJ?

      I don’t want to turn this into a thread into impeachment or whatever, but I think there’s a missing step in the logic chain of how Trump leaves office. That’s why I think muddling thru is the likely scenario, and one that we need to realistically be prepared for. Part of the reason I enjoy this blog so much is that the alternate power structures that Chris identifies are one of the only real attempts I’ve seen to think thru what that looks like.

  12. I agree the next bust is only a matter of time . Which is why I cashed in some of my retirement account to pay off my debts. That is usually a big no no . But assets are up now. Better to cash some in now and reduce liability .

    With power (electricity) becoming more decentralize and production become down to made to order cheaply with automation centers great wealth is going to mean less. If your average redneck can live in the woods , off grid and have what she needs made to order and delivered cheaply the powers that be have little power over her.

    Many people are already living full time in RVs of different kinds, getting their power off the sun boon docking for free. A few part time jobs during the year pays for all their meager needs if they are not retired or living off of capital. We are going back to the future as this is similar to how tribal people live. If my wife was more adventuresome I would already be doing this. And I am a well off senior. The money saving is not what appeals to me. As always some of us will adapt and land on our feet while others will just give into grievance physiology.

  13. Another piece of good news: federal Court strikes down NC gerrymandering:

    https://www.google.com/amp/amp.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/article193892639.html

    Although I’m sure it’ll be appealed to the Supreme Court, it will probably stand because the republican in charge of the plan made a gaffe when he publicly stated his goal was to maximize R districts. The definition of a gaffe is when a politician accidently tells the truth? 🙂

    I do like Eric Holder’s quote though. If his boss hadn’t presided over the loss of a thousand legislative seats and a dozen governorships with his mediocre governing, we wouldn’t need to be relying on the courts to bail us out…

  14. The world’s “older” societies are teaching America that “norms” matter….even as these countries battle their own forces of change. Truly, people abroad must be wondering how the people in America can allow the atrocious actions they are witnessing in our political arena. It must be disturbing and concerning.

    “This is the Netherlands — you have to answer questions,” another reporter said.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/10/trumps-ambassador-to-netherlands-was-asked-to-name-a-person-burned-because-of-islam-he-couldnt/?

  15. Wow…trying to get to “the world is getting better”…

    A few points. Unmentioned but important is the role of family…how are changes in this area going to sustain people as society shifts into this different role? Community is still important but it has become threatened by economic and social disarray for too many who struggle to make it through life. With rising secularization, what takes the place of organized religion for “normal” people? In other times, a strong moral center would be the obvious alternative.
    I don’t see that happening in our politics nor in the way in which people treat others….the hope may arise when brown people and women assume sufficient majorities. Given the scenario you describe and the reality on the ground so many people cope with daily, how are their lives going to be “better and happier” when they lack so much control over their environment (broadly speaking) ? Educated, financially secure people have always had more options – which has been the driving reason to attain these goals. Having children, health issues, equality of opportunity (ERA anyone?) have a way of distilling life into its most critical elements.

    I hope you are right about “better”, but the divide in America isn’t just economic, it’s aspirational and it’s rational coherence. Institutional change is not a “bad” thing in the hands of responsible people. I question if that is possible given such a large proportion of America thinks so differently about the value and role of responsible government. We can debate all day about what government should look like, but we should be able to agree that responsible regulation is a necessary and important component to a healthy, functioning civilized society….

    Then, there is the political structure. It seems to me that our political structure is a major area needing change. It is not working for America. Protective legislative protocols have been subjugated to the advancement of party goals with careless abandonment. The players are huge contributors to this problem but it is also likely that the system, itself, is archaic and needs change. I’m not advocating a Grover Norquist philosophy but I do believe that there is a need for fundamental change in how government works even if those changes require constitutional amendments and a wholesale shift in function. Yet, when crisis hits, it’s nice to have a government that has the resources and capability to respond. Climate change is testing that capacity as weather events become more extreme well beyond any individual’s ability to manage by themselves.

    The one thing I have come to realize with the advent of DJT is the danger of the presidency because of the power America vests in its executive. Absent a check from the political system, a president seemingly has unbridaled authority through executive actions, appointments, regulations, and sheer arrogance. We have taken that system for granted because the players within it have respected the institutions – until now. There is a special place in Hell in my mind for those in the Republican heirarchy who are full and complicit partners in what they are allowing to happen to our country right now.

    Finally, I think this article is an interesting accompaniment to your post. The map is especially interesting for the story it tells about the post-industrial change we are living with.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/opinion/trump-robots-electoral-college.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20180111&nl=opinion-today&nl_art=5&nlid=41048410&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0

      1. What’s sad, of course, is that those whose concerns were/are economic are blaming the wrong people….political tone-deafness by Clinton didn’t help but at least she understood that coal jobs are not coming back and didn’t lie about it…nor to factory workers. Reality checks are tough for each of us but more so for those whose options are so self-limited. These factory workers and others have known for decades what was happening but they didn’t (or felt they couldn’t) prepare an alternative even though they probably hope their children will. Blaming others is not a solution, but it is an emotion that manipulative parties have effectively stoked. How anyone could look at T’s life and feel he could relate to their needs as industrial workers is beyond me.

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