Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Going Underground: Five Signs That We're Marching Backwards In Time

Some people might say my life is in a rut, 
But I'm quite happy with what I got 
People might say that I should strive for more, 
But I'm so happy I can't see the point. 

Somethings happening here today 
A show of strength with your boy's brigade and, 
I'm so happy and you're so kind 
You want more money - of course I don't mind
To buy nuclear textbooks for atomic crimes
--The Jam ("Going Underground")

As the old saying goes, the only certainty of history is that it always repeats itself. What goes around, comes around. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior...and so on. If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard all these cliches, I'd be living in a mansion somewhere in the south of France.

Even so, there's no going around the fact that we're living in some of the most regressive times since the 1980s...a feeling that's hammered home by five negative social trends that keep the commentators' tongues wagging. Without further ado, shall we roll the credits, then?

1. This Just In (America Has Officially Joined The Hamburglar Nation): Doubt persists about whether we've finally spent our way out of our economic doldrums, though some of the usual established voices have apparently decided that's so ("Slow U.S. Economic Recovery Is Gaining Momentum": Wall Street Journal, 6/24/13).

However, the number of part-time jobs (read: 35 hours or less) has grown by 2.8 million since the Great Recession officially kicked off in December 2007, according to The New York Times. By contrast, the number of full-time jobs has fallen by 5.8 million.

Also, if you add two significant subgroups -- those who want full-time work, but have to settle for part-time, and those workers who have up looking -- the official unemployment rate effectively doubles, from 7.7 to 14.3 percent.  Get the rest of this cheery memo here:


2. Permanent Fiesta For The 1 Percent Department.: Most analysts agree that those pesky little 1 percenters have enjoyed quite a party since the 1980s, when everybody seemed to strut around with oversized portable phones, and sweaters stuffed with big shoulder pads, waiting for their share of the wealth to trickle down their direction...today, the crickets keep on chirping, and they're still waiting.

How one-sided the party became isn't always apparent, though, until you read the Economic Policy Institute's May 2012 report, "CEO Pay And The Top 1 Percent," which states that U.S. workers' compensation grew by just 5.7 percent between 1978 and 2011. By contrast, CEO compensation swelled by more than 725 percent during the same period.

When stock options are included, the overall CEO-to-worker compensation ratio grew from 18.3-1 in 1965, to 411.3-1 in 2000, and presently sits at 209.4-1 in 2011 (a reflection, presumably, of the backlash that greeted such fripperies, once the economy flew south). Read the remainder of the bad news for yourself here:


I'm going underground, (going underground) 
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound 
Going underground, (going underground) 
Well let the boys all sing and the boys all shout for tomorrow 

3. At Least Keith Partridge Had Something To Fall Back On: The One-Paycheck Household has faded into a relic of "The Partridge Family" era...when the widowed bandleader (Shirley Jones)  could sleep soundly, knowing that she and her velvet-clad pop combo could cover all their monthly bills, plus Keith's college education tab, and have a few shekels left over for the occasional meal out.

Nowadays, however, Shirley and company would have to whore themselves out on the fast food or retail McJob Circuit, because their concert guarantees wouldn't keep up with the runaway cost of living.  This phenomenon is well-documented in The Two-Income Trap (Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers Are Going Broke).

As the authors note, married couples with children are twice as likely to file bankruptcy as their childless counterparts, and about 75 percent more likely to fall in foreclosure: "The problem is that so many fixed costs are rising -- health care, child care, finding a good home -- that two-income families today actually have less discretionary money left over than those single-earner families did." Keith Partridge, eat yer heart out!  For the rest of the story, go to this link:


4. Your Wallet (In The College Industrial Complex's Crosshairs): As even our mainstream media friends have finally acknowledged, educational debt has reached astronomical levels in this country, to the tune of $1 trillion, with roughly $180 billion in some kind of default or others. We've actually reached the point of generational debt, which promises to keep future lenders out of the cold, and off the street corner.

"Wait a minute," you say, "didn't President Obama and his minions sign some type of law regulating interest rates on student loans?"  Well -- as USA Today makes clear -- even with the changes, the feds stand to pocket $175 billion in profit from students over the next decade. As Ogden Nash once remarked: "Professional men, they have no cares/Whatever happens, they get theirs":


5. Read My Lips, Bud, The Needle Hasn't Moved A Millimeter Around Here: As of 2009, an estimated 50.0 million nonelderly Americans lacked health insurance. According to the Employee Benefit Institute, the figure represents about 18.9 percent of the populace. Except for dips in 2004 and 2007, the number and percentage of the uninsured ranks has continued to climb, making the Clinton-to-Bush-era transitional low point (15.6 percent, in 2000) seem awfully quaint, indeed. You can find additional interesting information about this topic here:


What you see is what you get 
You've made your bed, you better lie in it 
You choose your leaders and place your trust 
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust 
You'll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns 
And the public wants what the public gets 
But I don't get what this society wants 
I'm going underground, (going underground) 

Released in March 1980, "Going Underground" marked the first of three instant chart-toppers for the Jam, and still stands up as one of the most potent blasts of social commentary that Paul Weller ever unleashed.  What kind of society, no matter how prosperous, allows the scenario of "kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns" to occur, again and again?  In short, this song is all about prosperity versus priorities, with the average person falling considerably short of the finish line -- then, and now.

For yours truly, "Going Underground" became one of the handiest songs to blow off some steam, and a marker of hope that -- some day, somehow, somewhere -- the majority (whoever they were) would finally wake up, and shake the cobwebs off their brains...once the hangover of failing to get rich quick set in.  That never happened, of course.

As even many conventional Democrats are loath to admit, the Clinton era set dizzying new standards for go-go finance that would have made Reagan-era fixtures like junk bond king Michael Milken -- or his silver screen counterpart, Gordon Gekko -- wet their knickers with joy. Realpolitik, in it all its grimy, joyless variations, was the order of the day.

Whenever anyone dared to ask, "Isn't all this go-go business gospel getting slightly out of hand?", they'd hear the Status Quo Police respond: "Shut up! As long as we can print more money, it shouldn't be a problem." Other times, you might hear something like this: "Shut up! For most folks, debt's a way of life now. As long as they can buy their latest toys on credit, it shouldn't be a problem."

One common denominator ties all these statistics together: they represent snapshots of the choices that American society -- at its leanest, meanest, most mindlessly Darwinistic, and socially regressive -- forces citizens to make on a constant basis, whether it's food versus medicine, or child care versus earning a living wage...and so on, and so on, and so on.

This is a situation that makes no bones about community, with no other ethic laid out on the table beyond survival of the fittest. How the average person navigates this dog-eat-dog maze, of course, is strictly up to them...but, as these figures suggest, they're continuing to lose the battle...and don't even think about attempting to win the war.  --The Reckoner

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