From Adam Weinstein, Fuck You. I’m Gen Y, and I Don’t Feel Special or Entitled, Just Poor. This article is a nice expansion on why memes like “Old Economy Steve” have gotten such traction.
They had room to advance and buy things. Yes, even the creatives. I once listened to a professor, who is in his sixties, read us the first published piece he’d been paid for, in the late 1970s. A thousand words or so. The rate, he says, was something like two bucks a word.
Even if they still paid $2 a word, the value of money has dropped by about a factor of five, or more if you think the SGS Alternate Measure of Inflation is a more reliable measurement. I could probably name a dozen examples where the value of work done for someone else has declined since the 1970s even as people misguidedly praise the superhuman efforts of those who still “succeed” in this era.
It’s the disconnection between the world the Old Economy Steves used to live in and the New Economy Sams* have to inhabit today. Even back in the 1990s, some people, like James Carville, Lester Thurow and James Galbraith, could already read the signs and were point out that the US economy in particular stopped rewarding the efforts of workers unlucky enough to run into the drive for profits, profits and more profits. Carville’s political solution was to invest in more education, and while the Clinton Administration tried to do it, they had to deal with a generally hostile Congress and the overarching need, in the political realities of the day, to bring in balanced budgets.
As for Thurow and Galbraith, their diagnosis was more complex but the basic solution remained that the US Government needed to do more for people, and it hasn’t done that in over a generation – at least not enough to prevail against the inexorable drive to transfer wealth into the hands of the already-rich, as opposed to the poor.
The declines of empires don’t go in straight lines, but I think history will look back at Obama’s Presidency as an ultimately well-meaning but ineffectual attempt to arrest the trends that began under Reagan and accelerated under Bush Jr.
And that is ultimately bad for the American worker, for whom the world of Old Economy Steve may very well never return.
* It’s a name that can be applied to either men or women, so I like it.