Friday, September 7, 2012

It's Closing Time

The kids are alright.

Well, they're not doing well by our usual objective measurements, but it's obvious that they are more perceptive and grounded than their established, self-righteous and blathering elders.  The Millenials, as analyzed in a September 2012 article in The Atlantic, are responding to the beginnings of fundamental change by becoming "the cheapest generation."  They're not into or buying cars, not establishing family households, and not buying homes.  Since the vets returned in 1945, the car culture, abundant fuel and the buildout of surburbia have been the engines of the economy which created the middle-class America we know, the reality we see as the normal.  But the sudden roadblocks they've encountered such as unrealistic student debt, far too expensive housing, and automation and overseas outsourcing eliminating the jobs they were expecting, have lead to a different mindset.  They are looking to sharing rides (Zipcar), moving to closer-in small multiperson housing, and valuing interconnectedness (smartphones) over acquisition (why are Toll Brothers and Hovanian still building McMansions?).  Unlike the older generations, they feel a change coming and are responding rationally.

Elder blathering pundit George Will (it pains me to even write his name; it's like summoning the devil) ridiculed the still-startling 1972 book The Limits to Growth in a recent column, since shooting the messenger is an intelligent response to disturbing news, right?  Stalled growth is the big topic now, as it should be.  Neither George nor any other rigid ideologue can look forward and backward far enough to see that all things are born, grow, change and pass away, proving the adage that the person with a conventional mind can't believe anything to be true if it threatens his paycheck.  Even the mainstream National Bureau of Economic Research, no radical thinkers, states in a recent research paper that the era of economic expansion is over.  The growth era in human history was a somewhat brief anomaly, they say, from about 1750 to now, after which there will be little to no growth for the 99%.  It is projected there will be, worldwide, about 93 million unemployable low- or unskilled workers.  We're at the end of the third phase of the Industrial Revolution, due to quickly diminishing resources and returns on technology. Mr. Will and his ilk will never wrap their ossified minds around that, but people in coming years will be desperately engaged in finding ways to cope with the world having reached hard limits.  Overwhelmed, in shock and rage, they'll forget that leading bloviators like Will or our Senator Toomey (previous head of the Club for Growth, a group dedicated to the proposition that eliminating taxes on the wealthy is the formula for growth and thus your future prosperity!) were dead wrong, and may well turn in fear and panic to authoritarian leadership, as has happened so often before.

At the other end of the social spectrum from our young Millenials, the superrich are seceding from society also.  Like the aristocrats at the end stage of every empire, they have spread distrust of and undermined government, promoted savage selfishness as pure virtue and are dedicated to privatizing what we held in common.  Estimates are they have about $23 trillion stashed away, or about the total GDP of us and two other leading nations combined.  Gated communities, unconstitutional detentions and private security are already here.

The current young adult population may be creating some new way, as every thesis contains its antithesis and a dead flower is really seeds for next season.



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