Predatory precarity

I was reading Matt Stoller’s newsletter this morning:

To put it into words, the problem we have is corruption in the government contracting world, aided by immense amounts of useless overpaid make work. In 2011, an antitrust attorney did a report on how we overpay for government contracting. In service of ‘shrinking government,’ policymakers chose to set up a system where instead of hiring an engineer as a government employee for, say, $120,000 a year, they paid a consulting firm like Booz Allen $500,000 a year for a similar engineer. The resulting system is both more expensive and more bureaucratic.

Here’s one example I grabbed from a public government contracting schedule. The rate negotiated by the government’s General Services Administration for Boston Consulting Group is $33,063.75/week to get a single relatively junior contractor.

I’m certainly with Matt on general disgust at the gorging of the trough by the contactor-consultancy complex, and have long favored rebalancing government employment away from contractors, back towards directly employed civil servants. So, yay. That’s the correct position, and it’s an easy one to take, so I take it.

But it is a bit too easy. The Boston Consulting Group may be charging $33,063.75 per week for the services of a single kind-of-bright conformist straight out of business school. But that kid, he isn’t getting paid $1.7M a year. He’s probably “only” paid 10% of that. From that take, his managers and their managers, their assistants and his, not to mention of course the firm’s shareholders, are all getting a piece of that sweet government slop. And all those guys and gals, they are living in places like Arlington, VA, and some of them have families and mortgages on houses they indebted themselves perhaps millions of dollars to inhabit.

There are people at the top of the American food chain who are stupid rich, for whom questions of making ends meet and financial security are laughably distant. People like that, they are easy to deal with. If it was “us” (whoever the fuck we are) versus only them, politics would be easy. We’d have taxed the billionaires to pay their fair share a long time ago.

But most of the people towards the top of the American food chain are not stupid rich, but stupidly rich. They “make” sums of money that by any fair reckoning, obviously in a global context but even in an American context, are huge. But they plow that affluence into bidding wars on incredibly (if artificially) scarce social goods. Nobody “needs” to live in Arlington (or my own San Francisco). No one’s kid “has” to go to private school (or for the more woke among us, notionally public schools rendered exclusive by the cost of nearby housing). If you make price your first priority in, say, shopping for preschool or daycare, perhaps you can find something reasonable.

But most of us, if we are no longer free, young, and single, if we are rich enough to pay the vig you have to pay to be sure your kid’s preschool will in fact be “safe” and “nurturing”, well, we pay it. If we haven’t rigged our housing choice so that the local public school is good enough, we pay up for a private school. If we can afford to be choosy, if we are really rich, we pay up for the private school that devotes significant resources to the searches and scholarships that deliver, in Nikole Hannah-Jones memorable words, a “carefully curated integration, the kind that allows many white parents to boast that their children’s public schools look like the United Nations.” It is extraordinarily expensive to be both comfortable and some facsimile of virtuous. You’ll never see as many rainbow flags as you see in Marin County.

The point of this is not that you should have sympathy for the Arlingtonians (or San Franciscans). Fuck ’em (er, us). But you are missing something important, as a matter of politics if nothing else, if you don’t get that the people who are your predators financially are, in their turn, someone else’s prey. Part of why the legalized corruption that is the vast bulk of the (dollar-weighted) US economy is so immovable is that the people whose lobbyists have cornered markets to ensure they stay overpaid are desperately frightened of not being overpaid, because if they were not overpaid they would become unable to make all the absurd overpayments that are now required to live what people of my generation (and race, and class) understood to be an ordinary life. It’s turtles all the way down, each one collecting a toll and wondering how it’s gonna pay the next diapsid.

Perhaps the most straightforward examples of all this, much more sympathetic than Boston Consulting Group swindlers, are doctors. It’s well and good to rail against health insurance companies and big pharma, and really, fuck ’em so hard they disappear into perpetual orgasm and we never have to encounter them again. But we know that healthcare in the US is exorbitantly expensive compared to anywhere else, and we also know, even if it is not shouted as loudly in political stump speeches, that a big part of this is that doctors are paid roughly twice as much in America as they are paid elsewhere in the developed world.

But what would it mean, really, to cut US doctors’ salaries in half? In theory, if you are the most imperceptive sort of economist, it means they could live as well as doctors do in Europe, which is not so bad. US doctors are paid twice as much in what is imaginatively described as “real terms”, so they should be able to purchase the same goods and services with their income as their European peers do. Where’s the problem?

But economists’ “real terms” do not measure the realest terms at all, the social relations in which the dance of our production and consumption is embedded. If you cut doctors’ salaries in half tomorrow, they would have to sell their mortgaged, absurdly expensive homes. At half their present salary, doctors would no longer be able to afford to live amongst “peer” professions like lawyers, management consultants, middling corporate executives, and the employees of surveillance monopolists. Doctors would fall precipitously from the social class, embedded in geography and consumption habits, to which many of them even now cling only precariously. More calamitously, they would lose the capacity to produce or reproduce membership in that social class for their children, often the most expensive amenity American professionals seek to purchase.

Doctors in France don’t have this problem because they live in a society less stratified than the one that we are unfortunate to inhabit. In societies in which the lives and prospects of the rich and less rich are not so divergent, people can afford to be a bit less rich. After all, even in the United States, the problem is not scarcity in a straightforward economic sense. We can build, to a first approximation, as much great housing as we want. The skills required to care for and educate kids are reproducible. They could be elastically and economically supplied. The scarcity of a slot at Harvard (and that slot’s many antecedents, all the way back to birth) has little to do with some ingrained incapacity to educate wonderful teachers.

The solution to the problem of “positional goods”, which are inherently zero-sum and inelastically supplied, is supposed to be the infinite multiplicity of social dimensions over which we can measure our positions (ht Arjun Narayan). The most famous exposition of this view is perhaps David Brooks’ from On Paradise Drive:

“Know thyself,” the Greek philosopher advised. But of course this is nonsense. In the world of self-reinforcing clique communities, the people who are truly happy live by the maxim “Overrate thyself.” They live in a community that reinforces their values every day. The anthropology professor can stride through life knowing she was unanimously elected chairwoman of her crunchy suburb’s sustainable-growth study seminar. She wears the locally approved status symbols: the Tibet-motif dangly earrings, the Andrea Dworkin-inspired hairstyle, the peasant blouse, and the public-broadcasting tote bag… Meanwhile, sitting in the next seat of the coach section on some Southwest Airlines flight, there might be a midlevel executive from a postwar suburb who’s similarly rich in self-esteem. But he lives in a different clique, so he is validated and reinforced according to entirely different criteria and by entirely different institutions… [H]e has been named Payroll Person of the Year by the West Coast Regional Payroll Professional Association. He is interested in College Football and tassels. His loafers have tassels. His golf bags have tassels. If he could put tassels around the Oklahoma football vanity license plate on his Cadillac Escalade, his life would be complete.

It’s hard to know, from this excerpt, which of these two is richer, the anthropology professor or the payroll guy. Both crouch together in the eternal middle class of unreserved coach seating on a Southwest Airlines flight. And in that skyward netherworld, On Paradise Flight, Brooks would be right. When there are not objective correlates of anyone’s definition of positional status, each of us can choose whichever measure of position flatters us most. We need agree only that is it gauche to try to impose our values on others for us all to live as happiest and best, quietly pitying our inferiors even as we cheerfully pass along a bag of pretzels.

But what it means to live in a stratified society, precisely what it means to live in a stratified society, is that there are objective correlates to position along dimensions that individuals and communities cannot themselves choose. There are positional dimensions whose importance is a social fact, not arbitrary, but real as social facts are, by virtue of their consequences. In such a society, positional goods with desirable correlates, inherently scarce and inelastically supplied, become extremely valuable. In some societies, those goods may be rationed by custom, or by heredity, by caste or race. But to the degree that a society is “liberal” and capitalist, they will be price-rationed, as they largely (but incompletely) are in our American society.

In a stratified, liberal capitalist society, the ability to command market power, to charge a margin sufficiently above the cost of inputs to cover the purchase of positional goods, becomes the definition of caste. When goods like health, comfort, safety, and ones children’s life prospects are effectively price-rationed, individuals will lever themselves to the hilt to purchase their place. The result is a strange precariot, objectively wealthy, educated and in a certain sense well-intended, who justify as a matter of defensive necessity participation in arrangements whose ugliness they cannot quite not see. In aggregate, they are predators, but individually they are also prey, and they feel embattled. So long as the intensity of stratification endures, they will feel like they have little choice but to participate in, even to collude to entrench, the institutions that secure their market power and their relatively decent place.

Reforming government contracting, controlling medical costs, breaking up big-tech, opening the professions to international competition, these sound technocratic, even “pro-market”. But under present levels of stratification, the consequences of these things would be a revolution, whole swathes of society accustomed to status and political enfranchisement would find themselves banished towards a “normal” they used to only read about, opiate crises and deaths of despair, towards loss of the “privilege” it has become some of their custom to magnanimously and ostentatiously “check”. Did I say they? I mean we, of course.

But of course, not doing these things means continuing to tolerate an increasingly predatory, dysfunctional, stagnant society. It means continuing deaths of despair, even as we hustle desperately to try to ensure that they are not our deaths, or our children’s. Even for its current beneficiaries, the present system is a game of musical chairs. As time goes on, with each round, yet more chairs are yanked from the game.

The only way out of this, the only escape, is to reduce the degree of stratification, the degree to which outcomes depend on our capacity to buy price-rationed positional goods. Only when the stakes are lower will be find ourselves able to tolerate, to risk, an economy that delivers increasing quantity and quality of goods and services at decreasing prices, rather than one that sustains markups upon which we, or some of us, with white knuckles must depend.

Lower the stakes.


p.s. While I was writing, the wonderfully pseudonymous “Lester Burnham” tweeted me this, which seems related.

 
 

28 Responses to “Predatory precarity”

  1. Nicholas Weininger writes:

    This is certainly a popular narrative these days, and of course one can find anecdotes supporting it, but as a member of the class you and that Atlantic article purport to describe, I can say that it does not even remotely correspond to my economic or psychological life, nor the lives of anyone I know. It’s not clear that any of the chroniclers of these sorts of anecdotal cases have bothered to examine the real complexity and variation among the people they want to paint with such a broad brush.

    In my experience, there certainly is plenty of institutional resistance to expanding the production of goods that our regulatory regime (subsidizing demand and restricting supply, as Arnold Kling has aptly put it) has made unnecessarily positional. But that resistance has mostly come from people who don’t have any of the anxieties you describe, because they’re retired. This impression is certainly also anecdotal, and influenced by many frustrating hours arguing about housing development proposals with my neighbors. But it’s actually a much closer fit to an earlier, and clashing, narrative you told about who opposes monetary easing that would stimulate job creation but risk inflation. In reality, of course, the world is fundamentally more complicated than either of those narratives capture.

  2. Diapsid?

  3. wh10 writes:

    Maybe this was implied but the other issue with lowering doctors’ salaries is whether quality of care would suffer because higher skilled labor would leave to more financially attractive industries. Uwe Reinhardt most famously made this argument. I cannot find it now, but there is data out there that shows US doctors lie in roughly the same segment of the US income distribution as do doctors in other countries that we frequently compare ourselves to.

    This recent article dovetails nicely with your post as well –

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/09/meritocracys-miserable-winners/594760/?utm_campaign=the-atlantic&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_term=2019-08-19T12%3A00%3A26&utm_content=edit-promo&fbclid=IwAR1pL165V9apSiU-Az7GC3UfblKzpaPQzElSeqZcezQCCluRUtPhC6OTdLc

  4. Rick writes:

    Huh. Interesting essay, but I agree with the comment about diversity in this population.

    I’m in the professional 10%, born into a place somewhere way down on that scale, now retired.

    Avoided the McMansion Mortgage, worked part time almost all my career, successfully (personally) raised two offspring, had a good time, currently enjoying not working with a modest but comfortable income.

    I decided not to join in that “dance of our production and consumption”, and it was quite easy as it turned out.

    We do need to fix some things, important stuff like healthcare and the predatory nature of US economy, but much of the angst this essay describes is self inflicted. Maybe we can import some of the Dane’s “pyt”.

  5. orinda writes:

    For book length treatment of this issue, see ‘The Inner Level’ or ‘The Spirit Level’ by Wilkinson and Pickett. The greater the inequality in a society, the more toxic and harsh it is, on just about any metric you look at.

  6. […] precarity” [Interfluidity (JB)]. I apologize for the length of this extract: “There are people at the top of the American […]

  7. Detroit Dan writes:

    A related concept is that of Bullshit Jobs, as described in the book by David Graber.

    In Bullshit Jobs, American anthropologist David Graeber posits that the productivity benefits of automation have not led to a 15-hour workweek, as predicted by economist John Maynard Keynes in 1930, but instead to “bullshit jobs”: “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”[1]

    The author contends that more than half of societal work is pointless, both large parts of some jobs and, as he describes, five types of entirely pointless jobs:

    – flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants

    – goons, who act aggressively on behalf of their employers, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, public relations specialists

    – duct tapers, who ameliorate preventable problems, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags don’t arrive

    – box tickers, who use paperwork or gestures as a proxy for action, e.g., performance managers, in-house magazine journalists, leisure coordinators

    – taskmasters, who manage—or create extra work for—those who don’t need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals[2][1]

    Graeber argues that these jobs are largely in the private sector despite the idea that market competition would root out such inefficiencies.

  8. […] heads made career plans based on the idea that Clinton was a lock in 2016. Now, it turns out that life is more precarious for them than they imagined. they’ll have had to cut back on positional goods. No braces for […]

  9. […] heads made career plans based on the idea that Clinton was a lock in 2016. Now, it turns out that life is more precarious for them than they imagined. they’ll have had to cut back on positional goods. No braces for […]

  10. […] heads made career plans based on the idea that Clinton was a lock in 2016. Now, it turns out that life is more precarious for them than they imagined. they’ll have had to cut back on positional goods. No braces for […]

  11. GW writes:

    This is thought-provoking, and more convincing than the similar Atlantic article (which to my mind, seemed to treat the extremely hierarchical world of big law and a few similar career paths as far more representative of the upper class professional world than is supported by the reality).

    However, I’m still not fundamentally convinced of the key thesis: that the stakes are actually that high for the highly educated and compensated professionals you describe. People with that kind of social and professional capital have a lot of options that aren’t anywhere near as dire as “opiate crises and deaths of despair.” The whole world isn’t actually divided into Akron and Buffalo on the one hand, and Brookline and Bethesda on the other. There are lots of other places where well-educated professionals can do well – Houston and Boise and New Hampshire and Salt Lake City. There are slightly more distant suburbs (places like Columbia, Maryland or Langhorne, Pennsylvania). There are slightly smaller houses or apartments. There are less brand-name school districts, where the kid of college-educated professionals with significant social capital will nonetheless (statistically speaking) do fine.

    Obviously that’s not how a significant share of this class perceives things, and as you point out, that perception creates its own realities. But I worry that the framing of this post (and even more so the similar Atlantic article) tend to reinforce a destructive and irrational panic around positional goods that then has pernicious consequences across a range of domains (as you point out). Conversely, I think some deconstruction of some of these unspoken but understood folkways of the upper class could be very helpful.

    In particular, I think some mythbusting around the intergenerational mechanism of transmission of privilege might be healthy. In particular, I’m quite skeptical about the efficacy of the contortions of privileged parents are particularly effective at actually much improving economic/educational outcomes for their kids. It’s not that I doubt that parents’ status has a powerful impact on kids lives: the data is clear that it does. It’s just that I suspect a lot of the private schools, enrichment activities, tutoring, etc. serves as a kind of ritualistic voodoo for privileged parents, with limited marginal impact, while the more powerful levers are social norms and understandings communicated at home, stable families, the ability to cushion / prevent kids’ adverse events (criminal justice involvement, mental health issues, etc.), and (particularly at the high end of the scale) direct inheritance of wealth. In other words, I think it might be good for upper class parents to hear – “Good news – just by virtue of who you are your kids will probably do fine, and anything you actually do above and beyond is going to be pretty marginal. So don’t sweat it!”

    All that said, while I think the general panic around positional goods is overblown (and it would be good for society if it were defused), I think the cost of housing is a special case that deserves to be treated as a top tier problem, and is the one area where I think “lowering the stakes” (i.e. lowering the cost of housing in expensive metro areas) would really be valuable. Set aside the (ultimately more important) case of working class families who simply can’t access opportunities in New York, San Francisco, or DC, because of the cost of living. Even for highly-educated upper class professionals, this is a real and powerful problem worth solving. Not everyone can (or wants to) move to Boise or Houston. Some people have extended family in New York or the Bay Area. Some people want to work for the federal government or the national media. Some people love the Red Sox. Some people are married to people for whom one of the above constraint binds. For those people, the sense of “precarity” is not completely unjustified, and I at least am a bit more sympathetic to the defensiveness and risk aversion that results. So this is just one more way (albeit not the most important way) that building a lot more housing and a lot better transit in those few intensively expensive metro areas would go a long way towards making this a better country.

  12. […] precarity” [Interfluidity (JB)]. I apologize for the length of this extract: “There are people at the top of the American […]

  13. Joost van der Mandele writes:

    GW’s comment at 11 is actually a really nice comment on it. While I have no experience with the spend-all-to-stay-afloat life at the top, it might be good to actually pick apart whether the attitude ‘works’. I.e.: /IF/ your your aim is to keep the next generation at ‘the top’, is the spend-all-to-stay-on-top through spending on private schools and neighborhoods indeed the best attitude to accomplish that?

    And even /if/ it is the most efficient route, second question would be whether you aimed for the right target. Will your kids actually live a happier life? Will they be better equipped to make the world a better place?

    One can be doubtful about both. One thing I am convinced of is that a spending rat-race is in nobody’s interest, at any level.

  14. Mira Parker writes:

    Dear Mr. Waldman,

    I just read the above post and feel compelled to write you with a question. I live in San Francisco with my husband and teenage son in a one bedroom rent-controlled apartment. My husband owns a café in Hayes Valley, and though he loves his business and the café is popular, he can’t seem to make the numbers work. In order to actually make money (while still serving quality foods, such as organic produce and handmade baked goods), he would have to raise prices to an absurd level—one well beyond the means of most of his customers. I suspect similar cafes in this city are cross-subsidized by the high tech industry (i.e., Sightglass Coffee), which is why they can afford to have such slick interiors, fancy equipment, and plentiful staff. In contrast, my husband’s café is a scrappy operation and very much in debt (our adjusted gross income last year was a little above $17,000!, and my son and I are on Medi-Cal).

    My question for you is why can’t a business like his at least break even? It seems as if traditional market dynamics are not applicable to our situation. The café is reasonably busy and popular with the neighborhood, so why can’t it at least break even? Why does it feel like there is some invisible economic force out there trying to shut us down? We are happy to pay the higher living wage to our staff, and in no way resent having to do this. We refuse to blame our situation on the working class. I highly suspect there is something very funky going on with cross-subsidizing, monopoly, high-tech finance, and real estate in San Francisco, and I would love to hear any comments/advice you have on this topic.

    Thank you in advance for your insight.

    Mira Parker

    P.S. I emailed you an invitation to one of our monthly community nights.

  15. Jesse writes:

    It is an old, old story.

    “People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage. Intellectual myopia, often called stupidity, is no doubt a reason. But the privileged also feel that their privileges, however egregious they may seem to others, are a solemn, basic, God-given right.”

    John Kenneth Galbraith

    “…the hamptons are not a defensible position. The Hamptons are on a low-lying beach. Eventually the people will come for you.”

    Mark Blyth

  16. Headquarters-and-Tigermoms writes:

    @GW: sure there are places like Houston and Boise, but certain types of well-paid high-status jobs are “headquarters roles”, and headquarters tend to move to capital cities. There is only one Silicon Valley, there is only one Route 66, only one Hollywood, and there are only a few cities with big-bank headequarters, or stock exchanges, and all the relevant support roles.

    There is also something that our blogger does not explicitly say because it is “politically incorrect”, but a lot of the status race is driven by tiger-moms and tiger-wives, who are in the fortunate position that their investment in their sons (and husbands) has many downsides for their sons (and husbands), but not for them, and those tiger-moms (and tiger-wives) share only the upside (both positional and material).

  17. Headquarters-and-Tigermoms writes:

    @GW “building a lot more housing and a lot better transit in those few intensively expensive metro areas would go a long way towards making this a better country.”

    That is based on a common assumption which is really wrong: that high housing costs come from a lack of supply, because demand is fixed, because people just want to live in Manhattan because of Manhattan, just like they want to live in Florida because of the sunny climate, the easy life, etc.

    Actually demand is not fixed, and high housing costs are caused by demand not for housing but for jobs. High housing costs in SF, NYC, LA, DC, etc. are the direct consequence of top headquarters jobs being concentrated in those place. Some financially independent people do move to those cities just because they like them, but the vast majority are not financially independent and are looking for jobs they cannot find elsewhere.
    For example because there are few suich jobs in the “Rust Belt” areas, which were wrecked to extirpate the infection of worker unionism their industries had.

    Adding more infrastructure and housing supply to “those few intensively expensive metro areas” would simply make them even more attractive to businesses for their headquarter roles and increase jobs in those areas, and thus increase housing costs even more. The only solution is to spread job opportunities around, and this would also greatly reduce the opportunity for positional good creation, or at least make positional goods much cheaper in a smaller community.

  18. Michael Fiorillo writes:

    Excellent piece, but a quibble: I have my doubts about the good intentions of many of these people.

    As a public school teacher during the dark years of corporate education reform (still happening, but not receiving the same uncritical support from liberals, paradoxically thanks to De Vos and Trump) I saw these people infest the public school system in their billionaire patrons’ drive for union busting, privatization, and social engineering. Whatever false stories they told themselves, and vapid social justice cliches they mouthed, they were ignorant and arrogant at best, and vicious, nasty pieces of work, at worst.

    I imagine people in others fields could say similar things about their experience.

  19. DENISE SZCZUCKI writes:

    Doctors (many) make more in the USA butI cannot disocunt the growth of administrators in healtcare as a major contributor to healtcare costs. Acvording to the Bursu of Labor statistics there has been an over 3000 percent growth in the number of healthcare administrators since 1970. A terrible situation, and administrative costs (at direct care level) are a major factor as well.

  20. William Maliha MD writes:

    Please do read this even as I must start by saying that “you are incredibly wrong”. I have worked both inside of government as a bureau director, and as a physician both as an employee and a contractor.

    As a physician contractor, I am medical director for a school district. I do roughly 800 school and teacher physicals a year. Additionally, I write all medical policies for the district, attend their football games, and oversea all clinical activity. For this I am paid $31,000 per year from which I pay $6000 in malpractice, and 15.4% FICA.

    You intentionally fail to take into account the following:
    physicians study until an average age of 30. They pay med school tuition of roughly $300,000 much of which is financed with loans at 7% interest which is not deductible. They work roughly 60 hours a week. The average primary care physician makes about $180,000 in NYS. Do the math. It works out to be about $40 dollars per hour when you take into account loans, deferred salary, interest, prolonged hours of work, malpractice, and self employed taxation.

    As for government contracts; as a Medical Director for the NYS Department of Health, I negotiated contracts with contractors on a regular basis. All was done by open bid. All were fulfilled at less cost then hiring an in house employee. All were negotiated to less then market costs.

    You are in a nutshell, a propagandist who is either poorly researched, a liar, or just plain full of shit.

    William Maliha, MD

  21. benign writes:

    Here is a link to Wilkinson’s TED talk (re: comment #5): https://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson

    Inequality correlates with a vast number of social pathologies. What appears to be causal is a lack of “solidarity,” as in Ibn Khaldun’s original concept of ‘aṣabiyyah, which has been translated as “social cohesion”, “group solidarity”, or “tribalism”. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_Khaldun

    This is not to say that all inequality is bad, but that there is probably an optimal level of it that we are well past.

  22. Deanna Johnston Clark writes:

    This all adds up to saying our culture places no value n the wonderful intangibles that truly make life worth living.
    Basically you’re saying most of us openly despise those whose polo shirts bear a fox or a saddlebred horse instead of the polo player.
    We’ve been brainwashed because it’s just a evil fantasy. A priest told me that when people are dying they never wish they’d worked harder or spent more time at the office. What you write about is vanity.

  23. Martin writes:

    Thumbs up to Deanna. The big lie is its “success” is when you leave everything good behind and take on an absolutely gigantic debt to get a higher salary in DC or NY or California. Once there you work enough hours to destroy your family and health and must spend the entire huge salary just to get back the quality of life you left behind. You’re the meat, the cities are the grinder. Beware.

  24. c1ue writes:

    Excellent article.
    It is ironic that so many commenters disagree. It would be interesting, however, to see just how these commenters actually live – or more importantly, if these commenters are actually part of that middle class that has been described.

  25. Dropout writes:

    People ask me if I am retired….(age 63)…I often reply that I am not sure I ever got started. As a young man I looked around and decided…thoughtfully decided, that you can set the world on fire, but it is not an easy ball to burn. Many times, like trying to burn a dead wet elephant. In exchange for living a frugal life, I have owned myself. Worked less, enjoyed my health and had time for friends and family. I sailed, traveled a bit, and chose a rural life after age 35. I would do it again. This system will suck the marrow out of your bones if you let it. My relationships and literature have made me a wealthy man. Not in any sense of money or property, but in a sense of having had a meaningful life personally. I have been fortunate. My health so far has been good and that is the foundation of any satisfying life. I have never felt deprived. I have never been to bed hungry in all my years. Yes, I shop at thrift stores and drive an old jalopy. But it still runs the road at 65 mph. Fast enough to get me there. I realize it’s not for everyone, but it has worked for me.

  26. john writes:

    re MMT controversy

    As a finance guy it is obvious most all the disagreement is over financing, and especially the tiffs among the mainstream.

    Yet financing is irrelevant. A capital asset does not care how it was paid for, neither does it care who owns it, or who gets the benefits. A needed bridge is always worth more than its cost, often many, many multiples. These things create growth, full stop.

    The politics is we are choosing to run the economy cold through meagre investment. The economics should be, just build the stuff–it pays for itself.

  27. […] heads made career plans based on the idea that Clinton was a lock in 2016. Now, it turns out thatlife is more precariousfor them than they imagined. They’ll have had to cut back on positional goods. No braces for […]

  28. talha writes: