The American Economy and The Future

There are two Americas: those with skills and those without.  And by skills, I don’t mean those who have a college degree: I see tons of college grads looking for work who don’t really have any skills.  If you want to be successful in our economy, you must be creative, innovative, hard working and on the cutting edge.  You have to work harder and be more innovative than workers in other countries.  Or you must be willing to do jobs that nobody else wants, but require skills (plumber, electrician, etc).  Simply getting a college degree doesn’t guarantee you anything anymore and may in fact be harmful to many people since college costs so much these days.

Right now, people with skills are doing ok, and in many cases really well, but those without are not.  The demise of the US factory worker has been well documented, but I think we are now seeing the demise of the midlevel, but well paid, white collar worker.   Because of a convergence of technology, globalization and higher productivity, companies are realizing that they can get along fine without as many people in house.  I think the days are gone where you could come out of college, follow orders and keep your head down and make a good living.  Seth Godin says that there are two recessions, one that is cyclical and the other that he describes below:

This is the recession of the industrial age, the receding wave of bounty that workers and businesses got as a result of rising productivity but imperfect market communication. In short: if you’re local, we need to buy from you. If you work in town, we need to hire you. If you can do a craft, we can’t replace you with a machine. No longer.

The lowest price for any good worth pricing is now available to anyone, anywhere. Which makes the market for boring stuff a lot more perfect than it used to be. Since the ‘factory’ work we did is now being mechanized, outsourced or eliminated, it’s hard to pay extra for it. And since buyers have so many choices (and much more perfect information about pricing and availability) it’s hard to charge extra.

Thus, middle class jobs that existed because companies had no choice are now gone.

It started with factory work, but has moved into accounting, medical transcription, IT and a whole host of other industries.  I think it’s pretty clear that Godin is right.

So what does that mean for us?

We’re living through a time of tremendous upheaval.  People are scared because they don’t think they can control their lives anymore.  Many don’t believe that if they work hard, they will be successful. They might even find themselves on the unemployment line.  Global forces of competition are hitting Americans at a time when we’ve become fat and lazy (literally and figuratively) and accustomed to living the good life on credit.  We’ve gotten to a point where many Americans believe that a large percentage of jobs are “beneath” them.  Most people who are alive today have never lived through hard times and now 1 in 6 Americans receive some form of government aid.

Our government is filled with a political class on both sides of the aisle that are pretty much the same.  The current republicans may claim that they want less government, but their actions don’t demonstrate it.  Both parties just want to stay in power.  They raise hot button issues like don’t ask don’t tell, gay marriage, abortion and other red herrings to gain political points, but don’t tackle problems like our massive federal debt, unfunded liabilities like Medicare/Medicade and the Social Security Ponzi scheme.  They don’t make sensible policy changes because neither side can score political points. Instead, they spend and borrow from China.

The tea party is a reaction to people being scared of our changing times and I don’t blame them one bit.  It’s a classic reaction to changing times.  There’s been tremendous upheaval over the last 10-15 years, culminating the recession that started in late 2007.  We’ve lost our manufacturing base.  China, India, Brazil and others are growing in strength.   We’ve commoditized human labor for a huge percentage of our workforce.  Unemployment is over 10% and we (government, citizens, businesses) have spent trillions of dollars that we don’t have.   People want to believe that the good life is coming back, but deep down, I think they know that our standard of living can’t be as high as it was through the 90s and 2000s when we lived the high life on credit.

When people are scared and don’t believe that they have any say in their lives, they can lose hope and sometimes turn to violence.  Muslim terrorists are generally well educated, just like you and me, but lack any outlet for their protests other than violence.  Repressive regimes forment violent opposition because they take away all other forms of protest.  The US system is not repressive because the government is taking over our lives.  Instead, because our politicians all want to stay in office and follow their own self interest, our government has become dysfunctional.  Nothing gets done and people are losing hope.

So how do we fix this?

We need a leader who is willing to tell Americans the truth and use common sense to get us back on the right track.  We need someone to tell us that we need to sacrifice if we want to continue to be a world leader, rather than pander to interest groups.  We need a leader who is willing to enact policies that will piss off teachers unions, the military, trial lawyers, the intelligence community, wall street banks, public employee unions and other interest groups equally.  We need someone to simplify our government and reign in spending and align our incentives so that innovators can create jobs.   Even though I didn’t vote for him, I was hopeful that Obama might be the right guy, but he hasn’t been (I didn’t vote for McCain either).  His policy is to exert more government control and then spend our way out of problems.  I don’t see anyone in the republican or tea party besides maybe Paul Ryan who is willing to tell it like it is, but he’s been marginalized by the party of no.  We can’t just keep the status quo or we’ll be bankrupt.

What do you think?  Am I right, wrong, crazy?  What do you see in the US’s future?


  • Agreed, the country is run like the people who live in it. Individuals continued to spend even when they didn’t have the means, living the high life on credit as you put it. The country has been doing the same – we have run up a trade deficit every year for at least the last 2 decades.

    Politically, the conversation is controlled by the extremes, which is great for media sensationalism but awful in terms of reaching consensus or moving legislation. I’m encouraged by the “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Colbert’s parody, aimed refocusing politics for the majority of Americans who don’t subscribe to extremist agendas but still care enough to see the country dragged out of the sh*tter. The problem, as you put it, is that there’s no clear “leader” (read: candidate).

    It will be interesting to see if the movement picks up or tapers off after the rally. It’s pretty obvious our current trajectory isn’t sustainable, and challenging times are when evolution is most rapid. We’ll probably see some pretty drastic changes both economically and politically in the next few years.

    • That’s a great point about the extremes. You’re right, the conversation is
      being controlled by the people who have the strongest opinions: the far
      right and the far left or those motivated directly by direct self interest
      (read: they can make money for their opinion). How can we motivate middle
      of the road people like me and you to push for policies that will help the

  • Your post is altruistic.  It, however, is misguided.  America is finished.  We cannot out compete what we have started overseas.  Basically, we have a huge revolution on the horizon in the West.  Our problems are so rampant that it is not even worth posting in this blog.  It is over.  It does not matter who you put in office.  We have been living pay check to pay check for 6 generations.  We are responsible for all of the wars and military actions of the last 5 decades.  There is nothing left.  The average American is stressed out, overtaxed, burdened unjustly, without decent medical services, lied to, and has little future.  This is one American who has just given up.  Why?  There is no point.  

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