by Julian Edney
Cheating and corruption widespread and widely accepted today. Mandeville’s theory, inspiration for Adam Smith, argued crime and corruption are good for the economy. Is a society ever under control? Ferguson’s theory: societies cannot be steered; but greed and love of luxury always predict national decline. Malthus’s essay, with contempt. Inspiration for Darwin, it established the suffering of the poor as a good. The modern disappearance of the common good: Ayn Rand in our crosshairs. She vigorously campaigned for selfishness and for the demolition of the common good, and her ideology saturates modern policy making. Materialism: research establishes its threat to family values and to the individual. The zero-sum debate. An American theory explaining how the wealthy enrich themselves at the expense of the poor: Henry George explained how progress produces poverty. Recent research shows that social inequality kills. In cities or nations with marked social inequality, there is less happiness, more violence, shorter life expectancies. The discovery of a class living sub-poverty. The rich now retreating into gated communities.
After thirty years of deregulation, cutting back social programs and promoting free market ways, elements of a frontier-style economy are reappearing in America. The profit line, and uncertainty, rule. This, according to Peter Gosselin, is the result of the laissez-faire ideal which has been promoted since the 1970s and was accelerated under President Reagan (1). Its drive to privatize and to lighten government has been so effective as to change the way we earn our living. Americans now find their personal finances going through wild swings. Work has become precarious.
More Americans find they cannot rely on their employers. Some, even executives, suffer layoffs in cycles. To stay employed, many have to change their line of work four or five times in a lifetime. At the same time support and retraining programs have been scaled back, and the worker has to dig into his own pocket to finance these layoffs. In the past he might have appealed to his union for support, but union power is at low ebb. There is little security and even less sympathy for today’s workers, with fewer companies paying medical insurance, and no honor for time served. Pensions are a crap shoot.
Free marketers proudly point: there is freedom in this new volatility. It is a more open system so each person can rise on his merit. But these personal boom-and-bust cycles leave less in the bank. Caught in a downdraft, with rent or mortgage still due, the worker must borrow. Across the nation, personal debt is up.
This unpredictability breeds anxiety; survival means a short-term mindset.
Grab what you can, while you can.