Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Future?

Imagine a future in which real wages for most workers decline year after year; a future in which  jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession won't be coming back; a future in which young Americans either squeeze into an increasingly wealthy elite or tumble to the bottom, with fewer and fewer in what we once called the “middle” class.

Many Americans have stopped looking for work. The official unemployment rate of 7.2 percent reflects only those who are still looking. If the same percentage of Americans were in the workforce today as when Barack Obama took office, today’s unemployment rate would be 10.8 percent. Meanwhile, 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent. The real median household income continues to drop, and the number of Americans in poverty continues to rise.

Economist Tyler Cowen of Virginia's George Mason University in his book, "Average Is Over," projects current trends out over the next 20 years. "Our future will bring more wealthy people than ever before, but also more poor people," he writes. "Rather than balancing our budget with higher taxes or lower benefits, we will allow the real wages of many workers to fall — and thus we will allow the creation of a new underclass."

He's merely forecasting based on current trends: jobs being eliminated by automation and outsourcing, downward pressure on wages for all but the most skilled, growing inequality between the wealthy and everyone else, and elected officials who don't seem capable of slowing those trends, let alone stopping them.

Cowen foresees a future in which employers constantly measure individual workers' performance "with oppressive precision," the better to weed out underperformers quickly; a future in which retirees, their savings exhausted, move to newly built shantytowns (like "the better dwellings you might find in a Rio de Janeiro favela") in low-cost states like Texas; a future in which the new underclass, instead of rebelling against the elite, consoles itself with online entertainment and scientifically improved narcotics to make life palatable.

The economic elite to grow to as large as 15% of the population — people who will "live like millionaires," even if they aren't making a million dollars a year. They'll include the elites of today, plus technologically adept professionals in fields from robotics to healthcare whose jobs can't be shipped overseas, plus an upper servant class of service workers to the rich. "The best yoga teacher in town is going to do very well," he said. The third-best yoga teacher, not so well.

Cheap online education will make it possible for the most gifted and motivated in the underclass to rise. But they'll have to be both very smart and very diligent; because of constant performance testing, there will be few second chances for those who don't get it right the first time.

Inequality will increase. And maybe that's OK, Cowen says. "I don't think we know the causal relationship between inequality and happiness," he told me. If people have decent low-cost housing, food and healthcare, they might even be happier”

Subsidies to Big Oil, who are enjoying record-breaking profits, totaled $523 billion in 2011. Agriculture subsidies $1.5 trillion a year. 
However, subsidies in form of tax loopholes to the top 0.2 percent earners dwarf oil subsidies. Mitt Romney paid 14.1 percent tax on $22 million. A middle class couple pays 20 percent on $50,000. Tax loopholes cost the US $1 trillion a year.

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