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Internalization of the Death of the American Dream: A Maine Microcosm

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An incident last week stuck with me. Novelists go to some effort to find naturalistic-looking ways to present key messages. Perhaps as a derivative, journalists fetishize using anecdotes to draw readers into what otherwise would be a dry recitation of facts and statistics. So it’s odd to be going about one’s vacation and, like stepping on a rake and having it whack you in the face, stumble into a vignette that apostrophizes how much young people have internalized the fallen state of the American worker. And in a further bit of synchronicity, this little story dovetails with Lambert’s “My Favorite Job” post.

But to understand the story, it helps to appreciate a bit about Maine. This liberal but poor and rural state lags the nation in many trends by anywhere from 10 to 20 years, and some bypassed Maine almost entirely. Maine is decidedly older (the Census lists the average age of the year-round population of the island I’m staying on as 56), with less engagement with technology and the Internet than most of the rest of the US (vast swathes of the most affluent part of Maine, the coast, have no cell signal). It’s also decidedly unfashionable. Women up here don’t color their hair, wear much or any makeup or invest in stylish haircuts. Plastic surgery? Fuggedaboudit.

Community matters Down East. Some of it is that the lack of population density means you need to rely on the locals rather than big impersonal service providers who are often too distant to be much use. As Lamber, who lives in a town of 7,000, says, “Even if you hate your neighbor, you’ll help him if his boiler breaks down.”

One of the striking ways Maine has been behind the rest of the US is in its comparative lack of class stratification. Yes, there are some rich enclaves, such as Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor. But the wealthy folk are almost entirely summer people (in Casco Bay, “highlanders”) and aren’t seen as part of the local hierarchy. My pet theory as to how this came about is that the long-established culture of self-sufficient households (farmers and fisherman) escaped the domestication of Big Corporate America. The town fathers of Portland, the biggest city in the state, rejected Ford Motors’ plans to build a factory there in the 1920s. Until perhaps 15 years ago, that decision seemed woefully provincial, that of small-minded, entrenched interests refusing see their status erode, even if it meant less local wealth and income.

Maine remains underdeveloped, and as a result, hasn’t suffered much from the hollowing out of American manufacturing. The biggest plants in Maine were those of papermakers, and a typical paper mill is a little fiefdom run by a mill manager. Since each mill is largely autonomous and not all that large, hierarchies are fairly flat. The union-member mill workers typically see only two layers of supervision between him and the local manager. My guess is that the other types of small manufacturers that were and are still here (B&M Beans and in its heyday, Dexter Shoes, which was killed by a misguided LBO), would have similar management structures.

Also keep in mind that what might now seem like modest jobs provided a good lifestyle 100 years ago. For instance, my great grandfather Black was both a lobsterman (as in he hauled traps) and a lobster broker. He made enough during the short fishing season to build a house and acquire additional land on Bailey Island. But schools on the island went only to 8th grade. So he would rent a house in Portland in the winter and work there while the kids were in high school. So there was enough demand in the economy in the early 1900s that men in coastal Maine could find well-enough paid work for them to own property and also pay for a rental home for 3/4 of the year.

Now to the story from last week. I was on a short cruise of the Portland harbor. In the last seven years, since my father died, I’ve been on lots of tours, since my somewhat infirm mother can’t travel by herself and she likes tours. Tour guides (with varying degrees of success) entertain their charges by providing historical and/or scientific background on the various sites. Most seem to see themselves as mini-ambassadors, out to put the best face on their port of call to encourage tourists to spend locally and visit again.

I listen to the guides’ patter see how much reality seeps through, say, whether they comment on national politics or ethnic strife. For instance, when I was in Dubrovnik in 2007, our escort gave a vivid, detailed, and pretty evenhanded account the Bosnian war. Last year, when I was in Spain, France, and Portugal, all the guides (save the one in the French Basque) felt compelled to mention how bad unemployment was, yet also clearly did not want to dwell on the lousy state of the economy.

I don’t go much on tours in the US and tend to dial down my listening for political and economic subtext when I do. Yet I couldn’t not notice it in this Portland session. The guide (who was excellent, this was one of the best talks I’ve heard in a while) was a man in his early 20s that I assumed was going back to college (he mentioned that this was his last week, but it could also have been because fewer tours are given in off season).

But even though he was brimming with youthful enthusiasm about the various harbor sights, his lack of optimism about his own future was palpable. It felt like seeing a poor kid with his nose pressed against a toy store window. And it’s not as if he was poor by any objective standard, but that he’d been robbed of one of the entitlements of energetic, healthy young people, that of a sense of possibilities, of worlds to be explored and maybe even conquered. The saddest part was that every time he talked about dreaming for something, it was clearly something he knew he’d never have.

Some examples:

We rode by Cushing Island. It has long been largely privately owned and became fully private after the residents bought the decommissioned Fort Levett and the land around it in 1970. Our guide said the island’s status was a “sore subject” with Portland residents (not explained, but I’d hazard because it had gotten and/or continued to get services disproportionate to what its residents paid in taxes). Members of the Cushing family had acquired much of the island in the 1800s and planned to turn it into a summer resort. A Cushing engaged Frederick Law Olmsted to develop the island. One of our guide’s dreams was that the Olmstead-designed parks would become open to the public.

We got a view of Cape Elizabeth, the wealthiest community in Maine, where houses sell for $1.5 to $6 million. Our guide pointed out the one he would buy if he won the Lotto (as in he could not conceive of another way he’d be able to afford a place like that). He also defended the Cape Elizabeth residents, saying that they were low key and unassuming. One of his roommates lived there, the scion of a family that held a valuable patent. His discussion was tantamount to “most nobles are bad, but our local nobles aren’t like that.”

We saw the site of the South Portland shipyard, which operated from 1941 to 1945 building vessels for the US and British navies during World War II. It employed 30,000 people, including 3,700 women. I was struck on how our narrator talked about these jobs in a way that placed emphasis on how they were important and temporary. When I’ve heard previous accounts of war-related efforts, the focus was on the scale and speed of mobilization (“X people worked here”) with no concern about what happened to the laborers later (it was just assumed the women went back to domestic duties and the men found other work), not on paid employment as a scarce and valuable commodity.

Now on one level, it should be no surprise to learn that people in their 20s are acutely aware of their poor work prospects and have ratcheted their expectations for the future downward in a serious way. But on another, it’s also not hard to see how people are imprinted by their first encounters with employment. I know that my bearish bias results from starting out on Wall Street when the economy was in an acute recession, interest rates were sky-high, and securities markets were in the tank. But even though that time seemed badly off keel, it didn’t dent the foolhardy optimism of young people very much. By contrast, it wasn’t hard to see through this young man’s cheerful, professional mask to the fear behind it. And people who are afraid are easy to exploit and manipulate.

If this tour guide is representative of our educated youth, he’s been robbed of the main wellsprings of their creativity and energy, which is hope and faith in their ability to influence how things work out for them. And while harboring modest aims is now entirely rational, it also assures modest results. While these fledgling workers are the biggest losers, the rest of us suffer too, with the exception of the top wealthy, who profit from having a compliant labor pool with modest demands. If the US and Europe has a a half generation or more that has come to see terrible job conditions and a poor outlook for income growth as normal, they won’t demand better from policy-makers and the business elite. One has to assume that that suits them just fine.

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133 comments

  1. F. Beard

    Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go. Isaiah 48:17 NASB [bold]

    But contrary to Calvin, Scripture denigrates usury, except from foreigners (to subjugate them, I suppose.)

  2. ambrit

    Maam;
    As I wrote in a comment to the Syria post preceding this one, the ‘popular uprisings’ in other world locals are seen to be dependent on surges in basic food prices. America hasn’t got to that point yet, but, I believe will. Your point about the manipulability of the devolving population segments is my takeaway from your post. Major political upheavals are generally the case of an elite group seizing an opportunity to advance their agenda. “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste,” comes to mind. The Right has a track record of success in this regard. What about the Left? Cabals may be secret, but movements must be public.
    Time for a “United Front.”

    1. susan the other

      I like the spirit of your comment. Just thinking about the brutal way the US government dispatched what was left of the United Front. The HUAC did this job with a vengeance just after the war, when the Nazis had been defeated – the Nazis posed the biggest threat to American Capitalism ever – so in 1948 until the early 50s they attacked the other threat to capitalism, our former allies – the American Socialists. Or Communists, whatever. So what is at stake and what will the oligarchs do next? More importantly, what is the Oligarchs’ plan to make things right? I’m pretty sure they are bereft of ideas.

    2. susan the other

      I like the spirit of your comment Ambrit. Just thinking about the brutal way the US government dispatched what was left of the United Front. The HUAC did this job with a vengeance just after the war, when the Nazis had been defeated – the Nazis posed the biggest threat to American Capitalism ever – so in 1948 until the early 50s the US Government attacked the other threat to capitalism, our former allies – the American Socialists. Or Communists, whatever. So what is at stake now, and what will the oligarchs do next? More importantly, what is the Oligarchs’ plan to make things right? I’m pretty sure they are bereft of ideas.

  3. Clive

    I don’t think anyone should ever feel like they’re not offering something valid by using anecdotals. If nothing else, they act as straw men which as a minimum elicit either a “yes, I think that too” or “no, that’s way off beam” reaction. The point is, you react.

    So, excuse already made, I’ll offer my own young-person-starting-their-employment-experience tale.

    I live in a fairly prosperous medium sized town, which has low-ish (like, 5% or so — not quite full but not desperately deprived) unemployment. But that’s adults. For the young, it’s a different story. this story though isn’t one of a young person not being able to find employment.

    My next door neighbour has two sons, one early 20′s, the other just turned 18. I wouldn’t call the family “academic” — the father is a skilled manual worker. The mother, who has less influence on this male orientated family unit had a high paying job in the FIRE sector, got sick of it and took a generous severance package and now works for a charity, not badly paid but not as well paid as she was.

    The oldest son works in construction, doesn’t earn a huge salary but enjoys what he does. The youngest son left the UK equivalent of High School, having completed it but not in the top quartile by any means. Not a disaster, not though really cut out for college. The oldest son still lives at home, on what he earns he will have to continue doing so for the next 10 years to even be able to think about affording a modest house of his own in this pricy area. His parents are now starting to worry a bit about this because it can put a strain on relationships having older (adult) children living at home not because they want to but because they have to. That’s a comment for another time however.

    The youngest son, wisely you might feel, does not want to go to college both for reasons of not being cut out for academia and also because the debt burden (now up to £40k) makes it a dubious proposition unless you get a high paying job at the end of it, and the realisation is beginning to dawn that that isn’t guaranteed. But neither of his parents are content to have him sat around the house doing nothing.

    His mother pulled a few strings to get him a job with the FIRE sector employer (the biggest in the town by far) in a clerical position. The salary wasn’t huge, but it wasn’t bad either for an individual with high School but no degree or experience. It was a fair bit above minimum wage.

    The son barely lasted a month. He was, in a huge embarrassment for his mother, let go due to poor performance. My initial judgement was, what a silly thing to do. We’ve all got to start somewhere and at least he was earning money — and getting used to the world of employment.

    But then I found out a little more about what had caused this young man to, essentially, engineer his own dismissal. This typical FIRE TBTF employer subjects its clerical workers to the following regime:

    - 5 minutes (timed) bathroom breaks
    - No talking on the job unless it is work related
    - Vacation time must be agreed 6 months in advance and not always honoured
    - 30 minute lunch break (the only food available is a busy on site cafeteria which in the middle of the day gets queued up, by the time you’ve got there, got food, you’ve got 10 minutes to eat it. the centre of town is a 10 minute walk each way so not really an option)
    - A surveillance-software managed work routine with real-time quality and throughput target adherence monitoring, no discretion and no variety
    - A set of processes and procedures which are supposed to be rigorously followed but often are not in reality fit for purpose (i.e. they don’t produce the correct outputs for a given set of inputs) which becomes the fault of labor. If you advise a supervisor of this, explain what’s broken and how it needs to be fixed, you get classed as a “troublemaker” with “the wrong (not “can do”) attitude”.

    The chap in question decided, this becoming clear when I’d spoken to him, that if this is what life in the 21st Century is all about, then you can stick it where the sun don’t shine.

    Having myself endured such delights in the world of work for the past 25 years, stuck at it and made my peace with it as best I can, my instinct was to judge the young man harshly indeed.

    But almost immediately, I began to wonder. Is this (the job in question) dignity ? Is it a good life ? Is it happiness ?

    No.

    There is nothing wrong with the job per se. But there’s everything wrong with the petty minded, deliberately demeaning, incompetent employer offering it.

    So, one despairing set of parents wondering just how much to ratchet up the discomfort they will have to impose on their son to make “working” the least-worse alternative to “not working”, one superficially cocky 18 year old in England who I think beneath the surface is actually deeply disappointed at their lack of choices in life and one commenter on NC who is left wondering what, precisely, we are we offering the next generation.

    But, nevertheless, just an anecdote.

    1. anon y'mouse

      tell the young man to find a skilled trade he’d be interested in, take whatever gov’t training program he can get for it, and seek out mentorship/apprenticeship with someone familiar with the “old ways” of perfecting skills over long periods of time, combined with real responsibilities and real agency over them, where the “right way” has been distilled over time and practice and many generations, and not dreamed up in the MBA halls of management merely to provide the correct “metrics” to grind the people down under them even harder and remove any skill and autonomy and expertise these people would ever claim to have.

      the goal is to make EVERY industry like fast food—automated, no choice for the employees to make, long chains of “rules” for no other reason than some Excel cruncher determined you can shave off 3/10ths of a cent here and 5/8ths of a minute there whether it impacts the people (employee & customer involved) or not, or truly satisfies everyone.

      the powers that be have determined that they can let the old ways go to hell because they cost too much, and customers keep buying anyway without them. tell him he needs a job where real skill and attention to detail keep him invested/interested. or tell his parents.

      the only problem is, do such things still exist in the UK?

      your neighbors’ plan to ratchet up the discomfort sounds like misunderstanding the problem, and blaming the victim.

    2. TimR

      Holy &*#@. This country is insane. Hard to believe anybody would put up with that list of constraints. It’s like some sadomasochistic prison complex.

    3. craazyman

      Clive if you see this young man in the neighborhood, tell him (and I say this with total sincerity) that there is one person in America who heard his story and that person thinks that he is a hero.

      People in power who arrange workplace situations like that should have it shoved so far up their asss it comes out their mouth like a second tounge.

      I was talking just last week with the security gaurd in our building. He has a stool he can sit on. but he said a building a few blocks away won’t let it’s gaurds sit down, not once, during an 8 hour shift. Can you believe this? It’s true.

      1. JTFaraday

        “People in power who arrange workplace situations like that should have it shoved so far up their asss it comes out their mouth like a second tounge.”

        OMG!! You must be psychic. Just yesterday I kept thinking just that about the next person** who yaks on and on about the dire economic necessity of multiplying by many thousandfolds my history of pink collar wage slavery.

        Except in my case, it was my foot and it was going to be coming out his pie hole.

        **and it’s usually a white collar male economist or would-be liberal policy entrepreneur, posing as my lord and saviour. It is not only Lloyd Blankfein out there doing God’s work.

      2. aaronsinger

        I absolutely can believe that. My grandmother many decades ago worked at a cosmetics counter of a popular suburban department store (she was “Jean Stanley” in Studs Terkel’s Working). Like the security guard of your description, she had a job standing in one place for 8 hours; stools and sitting were not allowed.

      3. Kunst

        The corporate employers of the world dislike having to employ humans at all. The ideal employee is a machine, a computer, that does exactly what it’s told to do, has no opinions, and is simply a tool directed by the master, expendible at any time. All possible jobs will be automated. Those that have to still be done by people, well you see it here. Treat them like machines.

    4. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

      You said that the entry-level job was in the FIRE TBTF sector. We know that CEOs at the TBTF institutions get princely compensation. Surely, managers must know quite well the great disparities in working conditions and compensation from entry-level jobs to more cushiony jobs at their TBTF institution. Doesn’t it cause these managers remorse to enforce drastic work conditions on those at the entry-level, all the time knowing the good packages of compensation/conditions of TBTF bankers?

  4. Bobito

    I’m a university professor in Spain and I can’t imagine owning a house except by winning the lottery. Unfortunately I know better than to pay a voluntary tax.

    1. armchair

      References to ’1984′ are almost as overused as anecdotes, but one of my favorite details of the book was the description of the proles playing the lottery. Orwell was spot-on as usual about the fools-game, or “voluntary-tax.”

      1. swendr

        The lottery may indeed have long odds, but what if it were the best available chance at moving far up the social ladder? I’m not ready to say we’re there yet, but it’s obvious many people feel this way and spend accordingly.

        1. anon y'mouse

          a lot of people in the intelligentsia like to disparage lottery playing indivuals as petty and greedy (seen it here w/my own eyes on this site). the truth is, way down here amongst the lowly, the dream of winning is the dream of having security enough to live without kowtowing to someone who can and will eliminate your employment if they can either find someone or some machine to do it more cheaply for them, and treats you the entire time like YOU are the problem that they just haven’t figured out how to solve yet.

          every year, more time & pay cuts, worse or no medical insurance, no hope of real vacation (simply “time off” if you are lucky, sitting around your house and doing the spring cleaning you had no time to do before) and the dream of retirement seems as distant as the lottery.

          I say, playing is the one of the only things keeping hope alive for many people, and has been for years. it was in our house, growing up.

          the lottery represents being able to pay off (or even yet, to simply purchase) a home, get long-delayed medical issues taken care of, get a more reliable form of transport, send one’s kids to school for something worthwhile to do with their lives, and not have to eat cat food in old age. if that is the American dream (also poohed on this site by many who think it is Only about material excess) represents to people from my side of town, I hope they never wake up to the American nightmare. at least they still have hopes, however dim, of future improvement.

          1. anon y'mouse

            apparently, i’m having a “get your other pair of glasses” kind of day today.

            Fill my eyes with that double vision…

            1. from Mexico

              You are indeed having an “i’m having a ‘get your other pair of glasses’ kind of day today.”

              I for one would encourage you to keep having them.

          2. Bruno Marr

            A report on “This American Life” (PRI radio show) indicated that 1/3 of lottery winners (1M or more) are bankrupt within 5 years. It seems many fail to ignore the siren call of “more!”.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Lotteries are taxes on people who are bad at math.

          I have heard a defense of lotteries nevertheless. that they are the equivalent of buying a lifestyle magazine. You aren’t paying for the odds of winning, since they are so insanely low as to not justify spending the money. You are paying for being able to fantasize about what you’d do if you won.

          In addition, suicide rates among lottery winner are really high. Winning often wreaks havoc with their social networks (as in people around them expect money from the winner).

          1. anon y'mouse

            most people I’ve met who played knew that they hadn’t a chance in hell of winning.

            you’re right; they were playing for the fantasy.

            I find that fact sadder than someone who mistakenly thinks they’re going to win. if you’re left praying for security to fall in your lap because no matter what you do or how hard you work, it always seems to elude you, then that dim chance is one of the few things keeping hope alive.

            rather like that “meek shall inherit the earth” thing.

          2. swendr

            “Lotteries are taxes on people who are bad at math.”

            I think many people realize that and STILL buy the tickets. As people work harder and harder without getting ahead, a lottery ticket starts to look like a good deal after all, at least the best one available. My guess is if work was available and rewarded sufficiently, the lotteries would be out of business.

  5. Skeptic

    Internalization of the Death of the American Dream: A Maine Microcosm -

    On my journey out of the System, I attended the Common Ground Fair held in Unity, Maine back in the late 90s. I was looking for ways to get out faster and better. It was wonderful, a very diverse group of alternative interests bucking the established mode of living. At that time, Maine had the strongest organic organization in the US and probably still does. I also attend NOFA conferences in Western Mass. Both provided a lot of motivation and information and entertainment. There are still a lot of intelligent, resilient, independent folk about.

    That Fair is coming up September 20, 21, 22:

    http://www.mofga.org/TheFair/tabid/135/Default.aspx

    There are solutions out there for individuals.

  6. craazyman

    sounds like this dude might have bright future if he goes to Apex Technical School. I see their subway ads all the time — welding, automotive repair, HVAC stuff, electrician work.

    This is the stuff people will pay for. When everything built by the FIRE sector starts to burn (i.e. fall apart at the seams, not literally catch fire), and it will, they’ll be money in being the fireman (i.e. the dude who fixes it).

    how many 1% types can fix their own car? How many can even pump gas?

    Power plant work will be another money field. Not just natural gas plants but wind farms, solar plants, even old coal plants with emissions controls. Also doing line work and working the transmission towers. These are also manly jobs. Not the metrosexual nonsense that you have to endure as a white collar office worker on a team implementing efficiency-enhancing projects that consist mostly of Powerpoint slides and meetings while things fall and get worse with each slide and meeting. And end up even more fkkked up than they were when your team was handpicked from all the talent around you.

    Nobody will know how to fix any of this stuff. Nobody knows how to do anything anymore. I know I don’t. I basically don’t know how to do anything. Somehow I make a living in the investment business. But the reality is I have no productive life skills whatsoever. And I know guys (and women) who make over 1 million dollars a year and who basically have no idea how to do anything. If you’re the person in the toll both when the cars drive by, you’re the one who gets the money.

    But at some point, the entire toll system begins to fall apart and then you need the dude from Apex! If somebody wants to go to college, there’s always the University of Magonia and it’s free.

    1. Clive

      Ha craazyman, thanks, you made me laugh anyway. While reading your comment, I was reminded of a particularly god-awful “team building” day we all got sent on. Amongst us pond life, naturally the great and the good sub C-level were there, to show that they really can connect with us, are interested in our work and what makes is yucky, how valued we are, in short, how much They Really Do Care.

      One of the organisers thought how marvellous it would be to have a Pub Quiz (not sure what the internaltional cultural equivalent is or if that notion “travels” but read up on it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pub_quiz). The teams comprised us Joe Schmo’s and the execs.

      It was toe-curly and revealing in equal measure. The C-suite reports demonstrated a total lack of awareness about society, general knowledge, culture and especially, a sense of humour. They couldn’t name obvious football teams, didn’t reality TV stuff you’d have to have been in a cave to have avoided, Royal Family trivia, weather news, children’s stories, popular cars, current affairs. It was obvious they inhabited this strange parallel existence where all they did was live, breath, eat and sleep the politicking and concerns of a vary narrowband division of a company in a particular, specific, sector of the economy in a small-ish country in a big wide and complex world.

      No, I don’t suppose any of them could have fixed a dripping tap*.

      * then again, ashamedly, neither can I

      1. psychohistorian

        I have a problem with your description of what constitutes current “social knowledge”. I couldn’t tell you sports team names, nor players, have never watched “reality TV” and feel the better for it.

        But I think I fairly well know what is going on in the world. And I can do plumbing, wiring, gardening, techie stuff and fix anything broke except our society.

        What are the “social knowledge requirements” going to be for a human in your world? I sure as hell hope TV watching is not one of them, because I will fail at life then.

      2. craazyman

        faaaak, I’d have no idea about any of that stuff. The kind of team building quiz I’d ace would have questions like:

        In recent cattle mutilations, the main suspects are:
        a) the Greys
        b) The Nordics
        c) the reptilians
        d) the Ferengi

        The correct answer is “c” but most people would pick “d” because of Star Trek: Next Generation

        If you lay down inside a crop circle, you:
        a) disappear into another dimension
        b) get dirt and hay in your hair
        c) see weird balls of light
        d) see Jesus

        the correct answer is “c”, although some people might chose “b” just to be snarky.

        A dimensional gateway is a place where:

        a) time and space condense to allow passages into other dimensions
        b) NFL football players run through out onto the field on Sunday
        c) you need a space ship to get to
        d) you might see Bigfoot running around.

        The correct is “d”, since “a” is only speculation and can’t be conclusively proven by scientific experiments.

        If somebody got 2 out of 3 I’d be impressed. They’d get the little prize that usually goes along wtih these contests, like a $20 Starbucks gift certificate, but they might frighten their co-workers if they got all 3 right. That would be weird.

    2. casino implosion

      I’m an Apex Welding grad and I recommend against it. It’s just a mill designed to milk a steady stream of government loans.

      1. craazyman

        Interesting. I can certainly understand that sort of situation — for-profit schools are notorious for that –and sincerely did think about it as a possibility.

        I used it more as a metaphor, I admit.

        But eventually, though, all the sh*t built up in recent years will fall apart way before its sell-by date and it will need fixing. Hopefully there will be a way for folks to learn how and make reasonably good livings doing it without being scammed.

        1. Cameron Hoppe

          We hear all the time about the “skills mismatch” and retraining from the lap-dog media. How if people go (or go back) to school and study chemistry, or engineering, or welding, or computer science, or nursing…..Just retrain! Employers are dying to hire qualified people.

          I’d suggest you search through some of those ads. Those millions and millions of job openings first. What you will find is that less than 5% will even consider a new graduate. About 1% will actually hire one. All those welders, plumbers, engineers–many of them are walking a financial plank. The skilled, qualified employees being sought are those with “3+ years of increasingly responsible experience”. Not new graduates.

          I live in the Phoenix area. We hear all the time about shortage of nurses, study nursing, get into healthcare, get a good living! Guess what–less than half of newly graduated nurses in the Valley are getting hired into nursing jobs. The average time to hire for those who do is more than a year. Many do volunteer work for 15 months or more before getting their first paid hire. If 24 months lapse between degree and hire, the degree becomes obsolete. Nursing is a rough major–virtually no one can work and do the last couple years of a BSN with any kind of decent grades–they live on loans the last couple years of their education. Mathematics, Physics, most engineering majors are in the same boat. What is one supposed to do with an obsolete degree and a pile of student loans?

          College graduates are in the same boat as other workers–no matter their skills or good attitude very few employers are willing to give them a chance. Except for the debt. Think I’m kidding? I’d suggest you do an experiment–create a few experimental resumes for new graudates in engineering, mathematics, nursing, welding–whatever you think is such a great idea. Start applying to jobs with it. You’ll find few takers, if any.

    3. Lambert Strether

      craazyman, here’s an alternative. Elmore Leonard, Gold Coast, Roland Crowe speaking:

      “Deal only in personal services. Not things. No lifting, no heavy work, no overhead, no machinery to speak of. Look good, listen carefully, take a minimum of shit, live close to the Beach and always make yourself available to people who called and said, Roland, there’s this man owes us money. Or, Roland, we believe this man is going independent on us. Or, we believe he’s telling us a story.”

      Good country people are the salt of the earth! Besides, we all have different ways of doing, it takes all kinds to make the world go ’round. That’s life….

      1. Jed1571

        I confess that I’ve never watched Gold Coast, but isn’t that guy Roland a mafia thug? I suppose it’s a better career choice than that office gig Clive was describing…

  7. profoundlogic

    Perhaps at some point this younger generation will grow tired of the “grand bargain”? Looking at the age of Snowden, Manning, Assange perhaps they are already growing weary of the constant micromanagement of the surveillance state. If more young people start to question the definition of success and what they’ll be doing as a productive member of society, that may provide the best hope of all.

    Even in 1997, there were some educated young adults catching on to the con. Matt Damon (in Good Will Hunting) gave us one of the best monologues ever summing up the dysfunction in America….

    http://youtu.be/UrOZllbNarw

  8. Bob Spencer

    I am “from away”, but will comment anyway.

    I live in western Maine where, according to my neighbors, things are continually getting worse. Maine has innovative ideas and efforts, but evidently not at the scale necessary for development.

    One interesting efforts is at the U of Maine’s offshore wind project. http://composites.umaine.edu/ I wonder if the wind power generated can make Maine’s production costs more competitive. Will any savings be enough to save remaining manufacturing and even help retrieve a few lost job producers? If any prosperous outcomes were made clear, would we see more intensity in making it happen?

    1. Otter

      Depends how many rentiers and banksters manage to insert themselves between the power generated and Maine.

      1. Lambert Strether

        Otter, ding ding ding ding! That is exactly it.

        Small-scale, municipally-owned wind power would transform downeast Maine, but there’s no money in that for Big Wind, and so it’s not even on the table. So one of the few things we’ve got going for us, the viewshed, is being destroyed so we can get a few construction jobs and a little tax revenue, with the great majority of the revenue sucked out of state by whoever finances these monstrosities. Exactly like landfills, mountaintop removal, fracking, and frack sand, if you come to think of it.

          1. Lambert Strether

            The “East-West Corridor” is in essence a real estate deal. They could run anything on it they want — pipelines, power lines, shipping containers full of medical waste from Europe. So far, the project seems to be on entirely on hold because it’s wildly unpopular — nutty Beltway goo goos like the Sierra Club wanted to replace the highway with rail — thanks to local resistance, a good deal of which is in our nutty right wing governor’s base. However, the forces behind it could, ultimately, buy the land and run a private highway across it.

    1. Dirk77

      So I’m not the only one. I look around the USA and it seems all jobs for science phds involve destruction: Wall St, MIC (military industrial complex), MSC (military surveillance complex), big data, fracking, big pharma. And even these aren’t hiring much. There are others, but it seems for those you need to make your own way.

      1. Generalfeldmarschall Von Hindenburg

        It’s actually a good sign that scientist want to emigrate from the US as it gives the lie to this fantasy that’s been propagated for far too long that everybody in the world is just crawling over broken glass to be in America. Once europeans and Japanese graduates realize they can’t take the education their semi socialized homelands paid for and come to f_ing California and make eight figures working for the military industrial complex then maybe that same complex might get a touch of the panic they’ve been using for 60 years on the mass of population. They’d be afraid for once at a palpable sign of a problem that more violence and more control and emotional manipulation can’t either solve or put off twenty more years.

  9. mad as hell.

    I talked to an twenty-five year old artist yesterday, actually a muralist who was painting a large mural of Lake Michigan. The conversation briefly touched on the economy. The artist looked on his future endeavors as quite positive. He told me that with so many cities around the country slowly crumbling many of the local city fathers were eager to paint large murals around their towns in an effort to beautify an otherwise cash strapped municipality. He said he had enough work to keep going for some time. The biggest employment worry he had was all the paint fumes he was inhaling.

  10. Noonan

    “So there was enough demand in the economy in the early 1900s that men in coastal Maine could find well-enough paid work for them to own property and also pay for a rental home for 3/4 of the year.”

    Early 1900s: no income tax, no FED, no environmental regulations, no gigantic military deployed around the world. Also no Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Leviathan government and real growth are mutually exclusive.

    1. jonboinAR

      Ya, are lyves are recked ‘cuz ‘a Soshul S’curity an’ ‘cuz they stopped from havin’ brown air in LA an’ the rivers in Ohio cetchin’ on fire. Dam com’nists! Libtards!

        1. James Levy

          Growth from 1946 to 1973 was remarkably robust, while growth from 1929 to 1940 was sluggish or non-existent. I think that factors beyond “big government” may play some role in all this. And no one in their right mind wants to go back to the Triangle Shirtwaist Company days of no regulation–or are you queuing up for a job in Bangladesh or booming Fukien, life being so much better in those low-tax, low-regulation workers paradises?

          1. from Mexico

            @ James Levy

            Noonan’s call for less government is tantamount to the mob bosses of the various crime families calling for less law enforcement.

        2. jonboinAR

          Well, I’d say no it isn’t, but if you want me to respond literally, I’ll say that it seems to me that one who suggests that Social Security and environmental protections are the source of our problems must be either profoundly ignorant (hence my sarcastic complete dip-shirt pose response)or be trying to disguise another agenda. Rivers were catching on fire, for Pete’s sake. Our signature wildlife such as the peregrine falcon, the bald eagle and the brown pelican were quickly approaching extinction. This country was fast becoming an environmental hellhole just as reports are that large areas in China are now. Environmental protections instituted by the government, much of it federal, stopped that. Nothing else.

          Before SS, many old folks lived in a direly impoverished state. You want that to return? I don’t understand.

          1. jonboinAR

            Or what’s the alternative you’d recommend? Mine is that we institute protectionist policies against imports built in countries that disregard environmental damage or pay their workers pauper wages. You’d say those countries will get really upset with us? I’d say, what are they going to do about it, stop buying our goods? Oh wait!…

            1. psychohistorian

              SS is/was a very conservative INSURANCE program.

              Why are people now thinking of it as welfare? My answer to that is they have been brainwashed by TV and the owners thereof.

    2. Massinissa

      I have an honest question:

      Do you REALLY want to breathe the kind of air they have in the industrial regions of china?

      Like, seriously?

    3. JGordon

      Rather than getting into an ideological trap over this, it might be better to compare and contrast the reality of the physical constraints on the economy of that era and today.

      For example, in the early 1900s the population was much less. There was still a great deal of cheap and abundant energy available. All the low hanging-fruit of resource extraction and technological innovation had not been picked yet. The environment at that time nowhere near as decimated as it is today… all of these factors would of course combine to make life potentially much more pleasant and productive per capita than is possible today with our depleted natural resources, toxic environment, and (still) exponentially rising population of some 7 billion people.

      Basically, we’re at the end of our rope. No matter which ideology becomes popular in the next few years, unless there’s a dramatic shift towards sustainability and care for the earth soon, the human population is going to be decimated. The only question is whether or not we sterilize the biosphere on our way out as well (which is entirely possible thanks to nuclear power/weapons).

  11. Tyler Healey

    Yes, I do think the wealthy are attempting to break the backs of the 99 percent. The economy was stabilized in 2009 and the federal government has not done much since then to create jobs.

    In addition, President Obama showed that you can get reelected when the Labor Force Participation Rate is 64%, which is two points lower than what it was when Bush was reelected.

    1. Justicia

      I think Obama won by default. If the Republicans weren’t so obviously contemptuous of working people, so intolerant (gay rights, women’s rights, civil rights), and so mean Romney might have been a viable competitor.

      Democrats win by being the Walrus who weeps for the little oysters he’s gobbling up, while the Republicans are the Caprenter who doesn’t bother to feign concern for the food.

  12. Sam Adams

    Since the student loan mess was created to protect the financial industry and until the return to Statute of Limitations and full Bankruptcy dischargability. This generation will the consigned to debtors prisons as the USA slowly unwinds. Without generational ability to take risk, fail and start fresh, despair and nihilism will eat this generation’s soul.

    1. They didn't leave me a choice

      Let’s just hope that that passive nihilism turns to active in short order. Otherwise we are all screwed.

    2. JGordon

      Well, I’m learning Chinese so I can get out of this Fascist, sinking hellhole while it’s still possible to do so. For those I personally know who are taking on student debt, of course I’ve been recommending that they do the same.

      Learn a foreign language and flee after you get your degree. That’s the way to go.

  13. charles sereno

    Just some words inspired by “lobster cages” (whatever they are). I wouldn’t know coming from tropical waters.
    From coral trellis
    To brackish water
    And elders caging eels.

      1. charles sereno

        I promise this’ll be my final improvisation. Meter and the vowel sequence in the last line (front; low to high) I think are important though I don’t know exactly why.

        Brackish water
        To coral trellis
        And elders caging eels.

  14. sharonsj

    I live in northeast Pennsylvania–supposedly made richer by all the fracking. I drove to a flea market Monday, passing through the county seat, and was surprised at the increase of For Rent and For Sale signs on commercial buildings as well as private homes. If there is more money here, then why are so many businesses failing and so many people looking to leave?

    All the happy talk about recovery is nothing but a lie. And every time I go to the supermarket and spend a lot of money for just a few items, I know the claim of low inflation is another lie. I just wonder what it’s going to take to wake up America to how crappy it really is?

    1. Lord Koos

      Signs of inflation are everywhere – it’s not only the prices.
      The quality of most manufactured goods has declined noticeably in the last ten years. Then there is also the smaller packaging. What used to be 16 oz is now 14, what used to be 12 oz is now 10, etc. Fewer tissues in the box, less aspirin in the bottle, and so on. I also see a lot of low quality food for sale — it has gotten so that now when I see something on sale at a discount, I wonder what is wrong with it. Discount stores are everywhere now, full of things like frozen Tilapia from China. (I used to be able to afford salmon occasionally, but no more). I guess nowadyas all the decent produce goes to upscale markets such as Whole Foods. At any rate, I spend a lot more time returning shoddy products these days than I ever used to.

      1. Stallworth

        Very true. I also remember that in the late 90s early 00s outlets like subway were more edible. Now it is all acidic and artificial. 5 dollar plastic footlong.

  15. diptherio

    We need a new narrative in this country about what a “good life” looks like. The old story about working hard, saving money and then buying a house and a bunch of consumer goods is no longer adequate. For one thing, that story was always rather crass and unfulfilling; reducing human endeavor to chasing after material objects. But at least in earlier generations that shoddy dream was actually obtainable for a goodly percentage of the population. Now, however, the possibilities for obtaining what society still insists is the good life (i.e. lots of crap filling up your over-large house) are moving ever further out of reach for most people.

    What we need is a new story, a new sense of what success means that is both feasible and fulfilling. Our myths of individualism and consumerism are wearing thin, but as yet nothing has emerged in the mass psyche to replace them. The despair that you see is the result of this conundrum. Many young people understand that they will probably never be able to obtain the current definition of a “good life” and they don’t, as yet, have any other definitions to fall back on.

    We need, imho, to start seeing success in terms of thriving, sustainable communities, rather than in terms of wealthy individuals with unsustainable consumption habits.

    1. Otter

      Key narratives (plural!) will show individuals who are themselves, sharing of themselveswith other individuals… contrasted to suspicious consumerbots clutching pathetic hoards of plastic beads.

    2. Bill M

      “Our myths of individualism and consumerism are wearing thin, but as yet nothing has emerged in the mass psyche to replace them.”

      Xenophobia and war should be just the ticket.

  16. BITFU

    Your description of Maine is pretty good, but for one glaring omission:

    It’s the rich enclaves of Maine that give it the Leftward lean. Extract these groups, and you get a much more complicated picture of Maine politics.

    [If you ask a Mainer who's not living in Portland about Portland, chances are you'll get something to the effect that "there's a lot of Mass-Holes down there"...referring, of course, to those lovable transplants from Massachusetts who tend to move exclusively to Portalnd, Kennebunkport and Bar Harbour.]

    This article from the Bangor Daily News (far from being a Conservative newspaper) outlines the mixed nature of Maine politics. The key take away is that Mainers tend to vote the person, rather than the party.

    http://bangordailynews.com/2013/02/01/politics/gallup-more-mainers-call-themselves-conservative-than-liberal-or-moderate/

    So what’s my point? I’m not sure…but, of course, I’m not sure what your point is either. You’re on vacation, “blissfully away from it all”, when you accidentally step on reality and–like a rake–it slaps you in the face.

    Sure, it’s just a loose vignette of anecdotal observations. But your anecdotes fail to capture the key insight of this deep-dig into your introspective quarry: Namely that those within the wealthy, separate, dare-I-say elitist enclaves tend to be Strong Left (except one George Bush). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

    And here you are– writing a post on “the death of the American Dream” with the backdrop of an Exclusive Harbor Tour which makes it a point to show pronounced examples of “the American Dream realized”.

    if understanding your post requires “an understanding of Maine”, then understanding my comment requires and understanding of Naked Capitalism.

    Day after day you fight the good fight against inequality viewed through a Left-leaning prism.

    Now, you’re writing about the Death of the American Dream, which when you get down to it, entails inequality. Yet you don’t see the contradiction.

    Even worse, for a Leftist thinker with a mantra that “the Right causes inequality” is that while on vacation basking in the glow of The ONE PERCENT, you are not amongst some evil cadre of GM and Ford executives that achieved this exalted status by squashing unions. Rather these “Dream-Realizers” are a special group of people with strong Liberal values, A LOT of wealth and vigilant defenders of the environment–so long as they don’t have to look at any of those unsightly wind mills.

    Yet you missed it. Not a shred of cognitive dissonance–even after getting whacked upside your head by a rake.

      1. from Mexico

        Yep. I kinda picked up on that too.

        It seems like BITFU had to go through some pretty rigorous fact combing, if not outright fact manufacture, to come up with his “key insight”: “Namely that those within the wealthy, separate, dare-I-say elitist enclaves tend to be Strong Left.”

        There’s absolutely nothing in the article that speaks as to where Maine’s self-identified “liberal” voters live, whether it’s in the “wealthy, separate, dare-I-say elitist enclaves” or the more modest neighborhoods. So BITFU appears to have invented that part out of whole cloth. Trying to paint the “Strong Left” as being predominately wealthy seems to me to be quite a stretch, to say the least.

        And then there’s the other issue the article raises, which is that in Maine a person’s ideological identification doesn’t seem to be a very good predictor of the way that person will vote:

        Despite that ideological breakdown [36.2% conservative, 25% liberal], Maine voters last year swept Democrats into majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, re-elected Democrats to U.S. House seats by wide margins and replaced Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who retired, with independent Angus King, who ran as a moderate and was targeted by attack ads paid for by national conservative groups.
        Maine’s tradition of voting for individuals rather than party or political philosophies explains the apparent disparity, according to Dan Demeritt, a political consultant and former communications director for Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

        The passage about how “Maine’s tradition of voting for individuals rather than party or political philosophies,” after being processed through BITFU’s fact-sifting machine, came out the other end: “The key take away is that Mainers tend to vote the person, rather than the party.” Which raises the question: If ideological identification is not a strong predictor of voting behavior in Maine, then why BITFU’s obsession to classify the wealthy as “Strong Left”?

    1. James Levy

      My problem here is your definition of Left. That many wealthy people, especially those who have moved up via their educational attainment, are liberal on social issues is not too strange. But the idea that they represent, as you seem to want to represent them, as being capital “L” Leftist is absurd. This rather vitiates your supposed discrepancy between their attitudes towards civil rights, environmentalism, and inequality. Anyone who is not an idiot can see that destroying the ecosystem around you is a bad idea. That insight has nothing to do with the defense of privilege that is the cornerstone of all forms of conservatism.

    2. Massinissa

      Liberal =/= Leftist.

      Im a socialist: These sorts of ‘leftists’ are even more repulsive to me than the right wing, if only because they have the balls to pretend they have the balls to pretend that petty bourgeoisie like themselves are to the left of ANYTHING.

      Liberalism is clearly a center right, pro capitalist ideology, so I dont really understand why they complain about inequality myself, especially when many of them benefit from inequality so blatantly. At least the conservatives are honest about what part of society their real interests lie in (the top part).

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      First, this was not an “exclusive harbor tour”. This was on boat with 70-90 other people on a tour that runs 4 times a day. Puhleeze. Tours with lots of people where you have to stand on line in advance of the tour, hand in tickets, and scramble to get your spot are the antithesis of exclusive.

      Second, you are unaware of the fact that my family goes back on my father’s side in New England for 8+ generations through one grandparent and for fifteen generations on the other three, and all of them moved to the Casco Bay area as soon as it started to be settled. The 8 generation line is descended from the original settler of Bailey Island, a half-black freed slave known as Black John who married a white woman but was run off the island by Reverend Bailey. My family is old but completely undistinguished. Don’t try treating me as someone who knows squat about Maine. I can beat you cold on this front.

      And Maine is liberal. Portland, Bailey Island, Orr’s Island, Freeport, Brunswick (the anchors were the airbase and Bowdoin), which are all not at all wealthy, are liberal. Lambert will tell you the same about the Orono-Bangor area, where he has lived for 30+ years. And even the Economist calls Maine liberal. You appear determined to deny that such a phenomenon exists in nature.

      1. Mark S

        I’m so glad you’re from an old line family. Like the Roosevelts. We need people such as them who can go toe to toe with these upstart LBO/HedgeFund/Financialproducts wizards.
        I wish we had a leader thus. Its not America in decline, its her leadership in decline; this country has always had very great resourses.

  17. LillithMc

    My Depression-era parents never used credit, kept cash on hand and never forgot their past. The US economy of the past 40 years has been based on short-term profit-taking over long-term sustainability. Perhaps the young will ignore national boundaries by forming physical and virtual communities that work better than being part of a “boom and bust” system that profits only a few while wasting their seed-corn for the future.

  18. Justicia

    I’m finding similar stories here in New Orleans. While the cost of living here is lower than in many places good food costs as much as in NYC and because public transportation is so spotty and unreliable, owning a car is a necessity. Here are just two examples of people I encountered this week:

    A very bright young woman who just finished her master’s in anthropology and now works as a sales clerk was telling me that she lives on $11K a year (no benefits) and has $90K in student debt. She is just scraping by, with a little help from her (under-employed) parents. Saving money is impossible and home ownership isn’t even a day dream she can entertain.

    Another man in his early 30s who does odd jobs for me hasn’t had a job “on the books” since he was laid off from his admin post at Tulane. He, too, has tens of thousands of dollars in student debt and is behind in his payments. No savings, no medical insurance, no social security.

    The future we’re handing “the best and brightest” in this country is appalling. These are the young people who are smart enough and disciplined enough to complete college and earn advanced degrees but there is simply no work for them. We’ve turned them into debt peons with little hope and fading dreams.

    1. James Levy

      You hit on a key fact of our time that economists won’t even contemplate. For most of the last two centuries the Industrial Revolution has, despite a few short crises, created as many or more jobs than it destroyed. There is no guarantee or immutable law that this should be so, or will continue to be so. What I fear is that we have passed some tipping point where technology now destroys or deskills more jobs than it creates. That the promise of machines providing less work and more leisure will turn out to be a future of mass unemployment and immiseration. With all the power being in the hands of capital, they have no reason to give us fewer hours and shorter work weeks and more vacation. They can pocket the surplus value of badly paid workers always at odds with the army of the unemployed. No mechanism exists to turn technological advances into well-paid jobs. It may just turn those advances into super-profits for the owner/investor class. That may be what we are seeing all around us.

      1. jonboinAR

        That’s why we have to break the libertarian movement that provides the very rich a weapon to destroy suggestions that they have to share. We have to somehow convince the Tea Party rank and file that they’re being used very badly against their real interests.

        Then we have to develop and promote the sharing methods you suggest and get the majority to support them.

  19. Sublimejah

    My daughter graduated in 2012 with a BS in Urban Studies from NOLA, Magna Cum Laude. She works three jobs to support herself. I was asking her if she wanted me to send some of her things from our house and she told me, “No, its about not having possessions.” The youth are not us and many of the youth are living in more co-housing and communal groups than ever. They don’t want to be us, they won’t buy houses and have families early. What will they miss out on? Not a lot from here where I sit upon my throne of debts.

  20. TC

    Seize the Fed!, young man, as there is more work to be done than you can shake a stick at, and not one solvent mega-bank with power over credit which to finance the many productive undertakings awaiting a worthy citizenry who in truth have no choice but break from a pathetically weak minded status quo cowering in the face of a self-imposed bankruptcy, while crumb-grubbing hacks dominating the mainstream, some of whom possess a most expensive sheepskin, suggest this state of affairs is anything but intentionally imposed by an enemy to every principle for which the United States was formed, desperately clinging to fantasies as far fetched as today’s hopelessly insolvent Federal Reserve having power to save us from suffering another Great Depression. Seize the Fed! and raise hope from this body’s damnation possessed by the living dead who otherwise have no business leading a bowling league, let alone any institution underlying the greatest republic ever (this at least on paper)…

  21. susan the other

    I’d feel worse about the young tour guide if he lived in a god-forsaken place like Texas. Where ever he lives, he deserves a living wage, affordable and nutritious food, decent housing, and single payer medical care. If he cannot repay his student loans they should be forgiven. Until we can decide what we all want to be when we all grow up.

  22. Waking Up

    I last visited Maine in the spring of 2010. At that time, I found the people to be truly “down to earth” types and the landscape one of the most beautiful places in this country. It may be the cold and snowy winters which “save” Maine from overpopulation (and the very wealthy becoming year round problems). It’s disheartening when the younger generation just gives up on their future by assuming the status quo is all there is to look forward to at best.

    Although many will say it is cheap labor for the state (and it is), I found fantastic pieces of woodwork by prison inmates at the Maine State Prison showroom in Thomaston, Maine. I always hoped that some of those prisoners would get together and start a cooperative for their woodworking projects once they got out of prison.

    http://www.state.me.us/corrections/industries/birds/index.htm

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We were in that showroom yesterday! They have kitchy stuff but the better work is very nice, and you get the feeling that the prisoners preserve a measure of dignity by making hand crafts. They also let some of them work in the showroom.

      1. Crazy Horse

        Well Yves, when we succeed in putting the financial criminals in prison and release the petty dope dealers that will put an end to any creative craft products being produced—-.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I know, it still feels weird to be looking at work produced by people in prison. Given the state of the world, one wonders how many should not be there. So I found myself really conflicted just walking through the store. But at least this one does not contract out prison workers to Big Corps and displace jobs.

  23. Dan Kervick

    One thing that jumps out at me about your story is that you great grandfather was doing a lot of extra stuff because he had dreams for his children. I wonder what that young tour guide on the boat will want for his children?

    There is something more being lost than personal dreams. There is also a declining sense that the whole society and culture are moving forward in some way. People often work hard and make plans for their children so that the kids can “get ahead”. But that only makes sense of you have a feeling that “ahead” is a good place.

    Lately my wife expresses dreams about having a farm and owning a donkey.

    1. Dean

      I know I won’t be able to pay for my kids college education, nor do I want them to go into massive debt, so I’m going to impart to them my knowledge of ‘the way things are as I see them’ and give them the tools to navigate this new normal: eschew debt, eschew cable television, live simply, eat whole/natural foods, find pleasure in the simple things life has to offer, and your job does not define who you are.

      My goal is to at least make them a thoughtful cog in the wheel of the machine, if not a grain of sand in it.

      1. Erik

        Exactly! I’m expecting my first (a son) in December. My wife and I have worked all our professional lives as consultants (well-paid ones) but chose to move out of NYC as we contemplated kids because even when you’re in the top ~5% it’s unaffordable and we did not wish for the NY suburbs and 1+ hour commutes.

        We’ve always lived well below our means and eschewed “stuff”, staying in a small, affordable apartment in NYC and then moving to a small, affordable rental in the Boston metro. Now, however, we have shifted our life to other priorities in a much more meaningful way. Less stress, more time, more healthy cooking and exercise, and more time to devote to our son when he is young.

        The rat race was always a rat race but it’s gotten a lot worse in the past 15 years. The sociopaths were left in charge when they replaced, out-competed, forced out, or scared away the decent. This is something I’ve seen from the inside at many Fortune 500s in my consulting career.

        In the 80s layoffs became more commonplace when demand slowed with no attempt even made to ride it out. But at least hires were (re)made when demand picked up. By the late 90s the new ticket to “shareholder value” was to try to make this a permanent fixture. Offshoring, union-busting, and so on. Keep the working stiffs scared and cheap.

        Then in the 2000s “they” added the super-rise of the asset-based FIRE economy. (When I say “they” I don’t literally mean any mustache-twirling individual villains but rather the amalgamated outcome of all the many proponents of neoliberalism.) Housing prices took off. Hooray for those that owned (and had equity, and weren’t sucked in by various sketchy mortgage products ), but too bad if you were a first-time buyer (like me).

        Then, finally, came 2007-2008 and some sort of return to reality, but after that, no one was selling! It was a buyer’s market, but good luck finding a seller not hopped up on the dream that things would just re-inflate. And thanks to the Fed and their commitment to FIRE, in many markets it has! Add to that the concentrated wealth boomeranging to shovel up real estate assets through various REITs and “hedge funds” and now I am trying to outbid wealthy investors when I am trying to buy a home and they are just trying to purchase a financial return.

        The forces of the rising elite also funneled most colleges down the path of needed to build luxury campuses to pamper prospective “clients”. That, plus the government-sponsored and government-profiting graft that is the over-availablity of student loans created a ratcheting in education costs that has left students with crushing debt.

        Few jobs + few decent wages + extreme housing costs + extreme (and unforgivable) student debt is leading to a generation that is actively checking-out of the “American Dream”. The few “good” jobs out there generally require people to sell out their ethics and principles to the elite project as well as to enter an on-call, anxiety-based servitude to the sociopaths left when everyone else is gone. These are the jobs that my wife and I, believe it or not, are trying to get AWAY from when most others would kill for them. We’ve re-examined our values and are treading carefully so as to not hurt ourselves, but we can’t stand playing for the wrong team anymore, especially when it entails grinding psyches into a fine powder for crazy Partners.

        I see Yves’s anecdote above as a positive thing. The more young people realize the false promises and the more people walk away sooner and figure out new paradigms, the better off we’ll all be in the long-run and the more resilient the US economy will be. I strongly believe that this dynamic is the driver of the local small business “craftsman”, “artisan”, farmer/chef craze of the last 10 years. People in their 20′s and 30s are walking away from gross materialism and trying to rediscover community and meaningful hard work. The top 5% clearly have a similar yearning because we’ve been willing to pay a premium for to transact and interact with these people over the mega-corporations that we’ve been conditioned to worship.

        I’ve now been reconditioned to view all advertising with suspicion. 5% is truthful, 35% is misleading, and 60% consists of outright lies.

        I was raised to believe that hard work was what it took to get ahead in America and that you could roll up your sleeves and do that hard work without hurting anyone. It wasn’t a zero-sum game. I was raised to believe that the government protected its citizens in some basic ways, such as making sure that new products aren’t poisonous or that new drugs won’t hurt you. I was raised, for the most part, to trust the TV (not really, but I wasn’t really told otherwise and when then exposed to TV that’s the net effect). My life experience has shown me that none of these things are true.

        None of this will change until we have a tidal cultural shift. I think that will happen demographically when the young man in this story and his cohort are in their 40s and the generation of Reagan Democrats are either dead or disillusioned (non-retirees).

        Of course, even if our national consciousness shifts in the next 20 years, I still don’t know what the solution will be, but I feel for this young man and know that he is hardly alone.

  24. albrt

    The mobility formerly promised to our young people had a number of downsides. It justified the immoral activities of the rentier class, it coopted the natural leadership of the downtrodden to the extent the mobility actually existed, and it misled the remainder for whom it didn’t really exist.

    Young people who are acutely aware of their poor work prospects may be able to develop the class consciousness that has been missing from American politics for several decades.

    Or I suppose they could just play games on their phones until the whole thing comes crashing down.

    1. They didn't leave me a choice

      Eh, I plan on doing both. After all, that conciousness is more than a bit useful once we get to rebuilding the world our idiot parents ruined. But until then, I’m going to extract any and all pleasure I can, because there will be zero to be had once the collapse starts for real. No expectations, only suffering then.

  25. Ishmael

    This young man could go get a Petroleum Eng degree and after graduating (4 or 5 year program) be making between $90,000 and $120,000 a year. Probably plenty of intern jobs for the summer making good bucks. Chemical Engineering degree slightly below that.

    1. Flask

      I dunno, my old college roomie did fine with a history degree. That’s the way to go – get elected president of Ivy Club, then get a job with your Fortune 500 family firm and then run it. Then if you need some petroleum-engineering arms & legs, you ship em in from China or India.

    2. Lambert Strether

      Yeah, and the heck with the rest of ‘em. Unless you’re saying that all the young men like this young man can go get petroleum engineering degrees.

      * * *

      Why is it that there’s always a market for jobs that absolutely wreck the planet, anyhow?

    3. Crazy Horse

      Before someone takes your advice to follow the oil (er money) I suggest they should research the life cycle expectancy of a fracked oil or gas field. Apart from the morality of choosing a career that is destroying the world’s climate and ecosystems, it might turn out to be in no more demand than a degree in Art History within a couple of decades.

      1. RanDomino

        Except that only one of those professions will result in a destroyed spinal column and cardiovascular system and off-the-charts cancer risk. And, this being a resource extraction industry, they’ll just bankrupt the company to “shed” (i.e. “fuck you”) the pension and future liabilities (i.e. lawsuit settlements).

    4. DanB

      Wikipedia reads: ” Exploration, by earth scientists, and petroleum engineering are the oil and gas industry’s two main subsurface disciplines, which focus on maximizing economic recovery of hydrocarbons from subsurface reservoirs.” Fracking shale plays are basically all that’s left of this :”career” because the conventional light sweet crude has past its peak of extraction. This is not a bright career future. I suggest you are making a linear projection based upon conditions that are even now changing.

  26. allcoppedout

    I bought the American Dream growing up as a kid in England. You guys were more democratic, had a better legal system and so on. I was amazed to find you were intensely patriotic and a range of other tribal stuff like that, including segregation.

    It’s time to look forward to establishing what my generation failed to do – democracy and fair law. All we had was the dream – and it prevented us from looking reality in the face. Don’t let the nostalgia do it to our kids. We were both stiffed and failed. Movers and shakers we were not. Even in seeing off the Nazis we played a bit part (the USSR exhausted 90% of the Wehrmacht) and tell me, hand on heart how many wars we have fought since for what purpose? Why did the Nazis, a tiny quasi-religious cult, get so much Anglo-American finance, some as late as 1942?

    We failed today’s youth entirely. We should step down and let them do something new. Instead we take fees they pay for in debt. Who could have engineered such lack of faith in the young other than us? Top marks to the kid who blurted out in class the other day, ‘If any of this theory works why are all the jobs somewhere else and our country down the toilet’?

  27. ScottS

    What’s so great about working yourself to death? I say it’s about time people gave up on the American dream. It was a farce anyway — work and don’t enjoy life until you’re used up and nearly dead trying to please a family that barely recognizes you, just to have your pitiful nest egg stolen by Wall Street criminals for their own amusement.

    From The Demise of August:

    “Not so long ago—well within the memory of half the American population—August was the vacation month. It was a time, much anticipated and much appreciated, of leisure, languor, lassitude and lingering at the beach well into suppertime… What we’ve done to August has made it the cruelest month: infuriating work and inescapable school obligations amid intoxicating weather.”

    Goodbye and good riddance to the American dream. Let’s wake up and make the best of reality.

  28. Lune

    “Dexter Shoes, which was killed by a misguided LBO”

    Actually, that wasn’t misguided. Isn’t that the point of an LBO? Take a healthy company with a clean balance sheet and good, productive assets, then strip-mine the company, sell off all assets, force the company to load up on debt, use the proceeds from the sales and debt to pay yourself a hefty dividend for your good work, then push the carcass through bankruptcy and move on to your next target.

    Sounds like Dexter Shoes had a perfectly guided and executed LBO…

    1. anon y'mouse

      the faces of all of those men was beautiful.

      you meet uglier, sadder and more lifeless people roaming the streets today.

      thank you for that.

  29. RobM

    Now Caucasians keep finding out what African Americans have known since day on in America. Some people never listen or pay attention to what is happening to them

  30. Kim Kaufman

    Most of the young and youngish people I meet totally get it that the system is rigged against them. They have the optimism of youth – but not much else. They are the ones I see who will be the activists of tomorrow – they have nothing to lose.

  31. Kunst

    Folks, sooner or later this is all going to come crashing down, and very few of the “skills” that are valuable in this fundamentaly flawed economic/social system are going to matter. We’re all dancing on the deck of the Titanic as the floor tilts ever more steeply. At some level, we all know it. It’s only a question of when. I’m old enough to possibly miss the Fall. The younger you are, the greater your chances of still being here when today becomes way different than yesterday. Until then, I guess we have no choice but to keep rowing. If you want to be one of the survivors, your priorities should probably be in a completely different direction than most of what’s talked about here.

  32. JGordon

    I am really enjoying seeing the progress you all are making here at NC. Near on six years ago you all were so full of misguided optimism with regards to repairing our current economic system and improving upon it. Now however I am seeing a lot more realism in your link selections (such as the Automatic Earth) and in the posts you all are putting up lately.

    Now in order to further your journey into reality even more, I’d like to suggest a couple of other sites and people you should start keeping an eye on for cross posting and linking purposes. If you don’t like these guy’s writings already, at the rate you all are coming along you’re going to love them soon regardless:

    Dmitry Orlov’s blog: http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/

    James Howard Kunstler: http://kunstler.com/writings/clusterfuck-nation/

    And my personal favorite, Charles Hugh Smith: http://www.oftwominds.com/blog.html

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I think things have actually gotten MUCH worse. It’s not just a matter of my point of view changing. The crisis was an opportunity to rein in the banks that Obama chose to pretend he didn’t see. And then the banks were absolutely shameless, paying themselves record bonuses in 2009 and 2010 right after being rescued!!!

      We did have a chance to make considerable reforms when Obama came in. He had a mandate for that, lest we forget. But instead he gave us the biggest bait and switch in history (recall Snowden seeing the same on the surveillance front). What has been appalling is how many people among what passes for our elites have either applauded or given tacit approval through silence or weak and infrequent complaints.

    2. Funonymous

      Orlov and Smith used to pop onto my radar fairly often, though I have not seen them crosslinked from my daily blog reading in a while. Thanks for the reminder!

      1. Funonymous

        Now that I think about it, the nexus was most likely exiledonline, as I haven’t gotten into Ames’s new rag yet.

  33. Ep3

    The young ppl I know just assume that social security and Medicare are already dead. They expect to work until they die, not by choice. But they are also expecting a big payout when the parents die. It seems to me they already have that money spent.
    I also see that they have this optimistic materialistic obsession. They seem to believe that as long as the next iPhone is better than the current, then all their needs will be met.

  34. Funonymous

    I see this sentiment often, the one that Clive mentioned further up; either keep your mouth shut and not only tolerate, but pretend you enjoy horrible, depersonalizing treatment at work by your superiors (half of which are now techonogical monitoring structures), or get the Scarlet Letter of ‘Not a Team Player’, as well as the disrespect of all of the people who have managed to put up with said horrible conditions thus far.

    Heaven forbid if your critical stance towards a piece of software or an organizational structure might actually improve things, you are thinking above your pay grade and you might get the natives restless about their timed bathroom breaks! Nevermind that a timed bathroom break says to anyone with a brain that your job does not consider you a full adult able to manage the minutes of your day, but an idiot child who needs to have their every moment monitored for reasons to punish them.

    With the fear of shame on one side, responsibilities to dependents on the other, the reserve army of the unemployed beneath, and supervisors with stop watches and performance monitoring software on high, can there be a more pyschologically destructive set of controls in place? Who in their right mind can walk into a job interview and pretend they want a job like this unless you know smiling and sucking up your feelings and opinions is the only way to feed your people?
    If you factor in that the past few generations (at least in the US) have higher levels of education and expectations than any generation in history (we got that way because that is how we were raised), is it a wonder that anyone under 40 would experience a daily social working life like that as a special personal hell? Factor in again that even intimiating that you hold an opinion along these lines will earn you the disrespect and ire of your working peers, and a dismissal letter if the bosses catch wind. How did it become that so many of us have become Proud of how well we can handle being treated like either work animals or machines?

    1. anon y'mouse

      your post is full of poetic, and horrible truths.

      even if you can square all of this as necessary–to continued survival–it is very demoralizing to have to fake enthusiasm for being treated this way. why can’t we call slavery what it is? why must all of us lie to everyone, and ourselves about what is going on? why should we lap up the shit, and effuse over how it is a great repast?

      so the latrine needs shoveling out. do we need euphemize (?) with newspeak into “waste management facilitation” and then thank our bosses for this great learning opportunity to refine our efficiency in delivering such vital services?

      once they invent a pill (the rose-colored glasses pill) for that, we will all be required by law to ingest it AND the cost will not be covered by our crappy insurance.

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