Beyond Blue 5: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Published on: February 20, 2012
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  • This is veritable policy paper material. I hope certain somebodies in NYC, Albany & DC are reading your blog (!)
    What I fear most, in the US just as in France, is a doubling-down on industrial policies harkening a return to the post-War Fordist model, only to get shellacked by the BRICs. That could represent a lost decade or more.

    But there is that point on an economy based on information & services, and no manufacturing. I’m somewhat dubitative. We’re in full post-manufacturing/ services-based economy mode as it is, and it does not provide much for the working class.

  • Anthony

    Entrepreneurialization (what a word) – the future is up for grabs!

    WRM implies our present holding pattern cannot continue; but imponderables are unpredictable. However, the change WRM urges may rest generationally (Millennials) because they definitely have longer time horizon and generational outlook compatible with proffered social/economic rearrangements.

    Finally, a professor informs that three interrelated concepts – power, history, and the state – shape societal change. WRM proposes realigning a major intersection (property relationships) connecting the intersection of state and economy (property underlies all social and economic relationships and is defined and enforced by the state). Thus when the state (government) is not regulating or administering economic activities, it is yet creating the conditions where they take place. Most importantly (considering our current troubles), different social actors have different abilities to benefit from technological and organizational innovations therby modifying somewhat this potential entrepreurial push….

  • Anthony

    correction on last line: entrepreneurial….

  • Palinurus

    With big government, big business, and big labor all in favor of the status quo, and the agents of change small and scattered, how smoothly will this “transition” be effected, if it even occurs at all?

    Perhaps you think that the failings of the old model, and the pressure of innovation, will be sufficient to force change. Perhaps that change will come with a minimum of dislocation, a sort of social-economic-cultural “velvet revolution,” in which the ancien regime cedes the field or withers away with time.

    But that seems to me overly optimistic — to be sure, it’s not inevitable. Along with the forces arrayed against change, I see another roadblock in the sputtering and unsuccessful efforts at entitlement reform. The body politic has been changed, some might even say corrupted, by the security and freebies of the modern welfare state. They have decided, decisively, in favor of security over liberty.

    The big blue model was itself ushered in with massive social and political change, dislocation, and conflict – the Great Depression and World War II. Your post raises the question of whether similar massive upheaval and maybe even conflict, something far more traumatic than a social revolution, will be the necessary catalyst, or concomitant, of the change you envision.

  • Chase Crucil

    Very interesting. But all of this means that some kind of national health insurance is a must. If most people are self employed, and if the circumstances of their business are going to be inherently unstable, they will need health insurance they can depend on.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The jobs are there, waiting to be created, but the Government Monopoly is sucking up so much of the economy’s operating capital every year, there isn’t any money left to create the jobs. The Government Monopoly has become like a feudal robber Barron, taking all the peasants food without a thought for tomorrow, and forcing all the merchants to give them all their money and leaving them to pray they will get some of it back one day after a haircut. We peasants are left to pray for a Good King that knows the proper husbandry for the realm.
    Obama, Democrats, Establishment Republicans = Robber Barron
    TEA Party = Good King

  • John Alsina

    If, by “national health insurance” you mean insurance that offers nationwide, not state-by-state coverage, then yes, by all means. The collusion of health insurance companies and state insurance boards to eliminate nationwide competition is a scandal that deserves more attention.

    If by “national health insurance” you mean insurance provided by the national government, then, no, that is not a must. We don’t have national auto insurance or national homeowner’s insurance, and compared to health insurance, those services work quite well. The solution is for employees to buy their own health insurance, according to their means, needs, and risk tolerance. The government can backstop the insurance companies in case of bankruptcy, just as the FDIC insures bank deposits.

    Pensions can be handled the same way. As an employee in Europe, I was required to pay into a private, government-guaranteed pension plan of my choice. One of my employers went bankrupt, but that was completely irrelevant so far as my pension is concerned: at age 65, I will receive benefits in proportion to what I paid in. Simple.

  • Mrs. Davis

    This is a future not of jobs, but of gigs. And social media will be a critical part of it. No Facebook (or descendent), no gig. It will arise out of the lack of old style jobs for the networked young, which is for them Palinurus’ massive upheaval as far as they are concerned.

    But all of this means that some kind of national health insurance is a must.

    What about food insurance? And shelter insurance? The coming generation is learning that risk is reduced at a cost. And ultimately the cost is much higher than advertised.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Could one of the interns install a preview mechanism?

  • Steve Jenks

    The model of employment as a series of personal projects as opposed to long term employment tied to a single employer already exists in a basic form. Hollywood, movies, television, music and the various related special services, (i.e. writing, filming and recording, makeup, wardrobe, etc.) all come together to produce a movie, television episode, or song. Each provider is utilized on a variable basis in the amount required to complete the project. No more, no less. When the writing for a television season is complete the writers are dismissed even though filming and editing is far from complete. When the filming is complete the crews are sent home, and so on until the production company that once numbered hundreds is reduced to a handful. Specialists flow between projects and have periods of “hiatus”. It is an environment where each individual is responsible for creating their value every day.

    The entertainment industry model is obviously not for everyone, but we could learn how to re-shape some existing inefficient industries such as law, healthcare and education by observing the fluid structures and variable processes utilized in Hollywood.

  • Andrew Allison

    There appears to me to be be one very significant omission in WRM’s essay, namely that we must reset expectations to bear some relationship to what’s realistic. Whether or not WRM’s vision of a flowering of small business comes to pass, it seems likely that the need for semi-skilled workers will decline and the need for skilled workers will not increase nearly enough to take up the slack. Continuing to tell everybody that they are entitled to a college education and a lucrative career is, in my opinion, a prescription for disaster. See Greece.

    And, as a somewhat careless typist, I heartily endorse Mrs. Davis’s suggestion.

  • M. Report

    ‘Oath of Fealty’ describes the future
    socio-economic unit; A self-contained,
    self-sufficient city, barely accepted
    by the surrounding welfare state for
    the revenue it provides.

  • Fred Z

    Nice post.

    I was a bit surprised to see the national health insurance comment, but I guess that lot hijacks every discussion.

    I live in Canada and we have national health insurance, provincially administered. check the “Canada Health Act” for well done Kafka-esque Orwell-speak.

    It is, like all ‘free’ government services, neither free, nor cheap, and it is crap. It is double crap with bells on, and a side of fried crap. If all you damn lefty Americans like state run health care so much, how come there is no medical tourism from the USA to Canada or the UK? C’mon up lefties, and get your ‘free’ dirty, slow, lazy, backwards and non – technological medical care, perhaps with a touch of C Difficile.

    My vision of the future has lots of self insurance and a thousand competing insurers able to sell their product anywhere.

  • Dave Moelling

    WRM, as a NYS resident you don’t have to travel far to one of the devastated areas of Upstate. Blue model workplaces have been absolutely ravaged and NYS corruption has reduced entrepreneurial to about zero in the official marketplace. But look closely and you do see a new model developing around the traditional rural mode of multiple jobs. These could be a summer lanscaper/lumber operation coupled with a winter snow removal and a year round parttime prison or county job. Not the best mix, but one that could be improved dramatically with some help from the state.

    1) Government needs to facilitate all kinds of individual medical insurance policies with equal tax benefit to employers. Reduced regulation and meddling are an essential. So is availability of catastrophic must-issue plans, but with a substantial penalty for the first year or so of coverage following uninsurance.

    2. A flat tax is the only one suited to variable and seasonal incomes. Make it so.

    3. Reform torts so as to minimize insurance costs for the self employed.

    4. Simplify and Facilitate Interstate work. It should be easy to take a job across a state line for a week or a year if required.

    5. Make school vouchers standard and transferable across state and local boundaries.

  • AD-RtR/OS!

    Perhaps it will only change when the class of self-employed entreprenuers restrict their activities to mostly within their own community until the PTB change their ways after realizing how much innovation they are being deprived of?
    A Modified Going Galt, so to speak.
    But then, Congress will just pass a law invoking the authority of the Commerce Clause, complelling everyone to deal with government, whether you want to or not.
    At that point, we will all be vassels of the State.

  • Tom Holsinger

    This is a pipedream due to compliance costs even assuming reduced government regulation.

    WRM assumes far more energy and intelligence than possessed by most Americans. He needs to get out more.

  • Neville

    Or we could become a zero-growth gerontocracy like Japan (which is substantially more likely).

    Economic dynamism persists when motivated young people can vote with their feet (‘Go West’, etc.) or where the regulatory state’s reach is limited because it is currently embryonic (e.g. China today, Germany and Japan after WWII). High cost regulatory states, once established, often talk about change of the sort you describe but in fact stay the way they are (even Margaret Thatcher proved unable to reverse or even halt the rise in government spending as a percentage of GDP).

  • Don Bollman

    What interests me is the transition.

    I think it unlikely so many invested in the status quo will be the source of the necessary change. Any change from the “Bigs” will only come when they see no alternative. All the sturctural issues Professor Meade describes will (for a time) worsen.

    As they worsen I predict that the natural home for the types of entreprenurial actions he describes will be in the underground economy. Whether it be home schooling, off-the books business, or unregulated health care the underground economy will grow as it provides products and services the particpants can’t afford in the above ground enconomy.

    As people find traditional alternatives disappearing the underground economy will grow. Because it’s unregulated and informal the “Bigs” will find trying to control it like punching jello.

    The government in particular will find itself perceived as it was during Prohibition. The Bigs true believers will become more zealous in their support, some opponents will actively oppose the Bigs but most will quietly do their own thing. With the “Undegrounders” perceiving less and less benefit and as that group grows the lessening of financial and philosophical support of the Bigs will crescendo.

  • I just read the blurb quoted on Instapundit. I’m the owner of a very small start-up and I will affirm that you’re dead-on. While the company is doing well and capable of further growth, I just recently decided to voluntarily reduce the size of my business to the point where I don’t need any employees. Sure, I’ll make somewhat less money, but it’s well worth the savings in headaches.

  • My emergency physician group would love to hire college student ‘scribes’ to follow us and help with our (also imposed) onerous charting requirements. But we understand that the very act of hiring a hungry, enthusiastic college pre-med student would require extraordinary vigilance in arranging benefits, etc. So, the students don’t get the experience that could shape their careers, and we don’t get the help that would add longevity to our careers. Madness.

  • Gerald

    I would prefer that Government did not favor any size or type of business or employment. I have worked for very large corporations and as a small business owner/operator. The best course would be for politicians, regulators and regulations to be neutral to size or type of business – and to keep out of it as much as possible. This is not likely as it would greatly reduce the power and income potential of politicians and bureaucrats, but it would be desirable. If we ask government to favor small business, it is likely to do more damage than good. Government does not know enough to help more than hinder.

    The other point I would make is that it requires discipline, courage (to take risks), talent and sometimes high intellect to start and operate a profitable business – whether as an individual or as one who employs others. In my 50 years of work experience from factory laborer to Senior Executive, I have not encountered many people that have those attributes. We are going to have to think very carefully about how to deal with the segment of the population that will not be capable of making the transition to the environment that you forecast.

    Finally, it is not just the changes that we are encountering, but the rapidly increasing pace of those changes that matter. To be capable of adding value in the near future, one will have to commit to a lifetime of learning and risk taking. That is a daunting challenge and may partially explain the increasing number of people who are simply giving up, dropping out and hoping for government support in some way.

  • DarkHelmet

    Good post, Mr. Mead, and good comments following. I agree with your premise. However, I would be careful about actually “favoring” small business startups. It would be enough to stop disfavoring them along the lines you suggest. Portable “benefits” including health insurance of some kind and retirement savings schemes would be necessary. Whacking the self-employment tax down to size would certainly help, or eliminating it completely. Worker’s comp, unemployment insurance, etc. would all require significant reform.

    The payoff: more self-reliant individuals, more innovation, more competition, more interesting and satisfying work.

    Such a new era of entrepreneurialism may be the only thing that allows us to get back to the 3-4% unemployment we would like to consider normal.

  • Steve

    “… the self-employed pay both the employer and employee halves of Social Security and Medicare taxes…”

    Do you really think that people who aren’t self-employed only pay the employee half? A little disingenuous, methinks.

    The entity that writes the check is not necessarily the same as the entity that pays the tax. This is one of those situations.

    HR departments calculate the total burden associated with a prospective employee and make their hiring and compensation decisions based on this number (among other factors).

    Whether that money is paid to the employee or a taxing authority (or a health insurance company, for that matter) is utterly irrelevant to the employer.

  • “But in the labor market of the future, workers are less likely to need bargaining agents who improve their working conditions and pay through a rule-making process at their long-term employer. They are more likely to need a kind of career agent who helps them negotiate work contracts for short term gigs and develop a long term plan to keep their skills sharp and move with a changing economy into new fields.”

    You’re not joking are you? Suppose I have an IQ of 100 or less — will there be a place for me?

    “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.”

  • How low will real hourly take-home pay have to go before Mead decides that maybe there is a problem?

    Would he object to a return to child labor? A ten hour day?

  • A monk created pretzel logic to explain the Trinity. The abstract solution to a systemic problem has to be a network money maker that dumbfounds the rainmakers.

    An architect of ruin pissed me off. Transferrable delivery system idea started formulating. It requires some explaining but it is for real. A number of states are interested in the creating the Pretzel Delivery System but the more in the network the better. It is a different way of looking at things I never imagined coming up with. Things are still a little rough but you can

    Google ContractorBall or the Pretzel Delivery System. The PDF is better than the website.

  • It is neither fair nor right to expect average Americans to compete with the Chinese. Why not? Are we not as good as they? Or is it that there are so many of them and they work for so little?

    In theory free trade and free capital mobility can be good for everyone. That’s because the gains of the winners are such that they can be taxed to compensate the losers, leaving everyone better off than before.

    But that’s not what we are doing, is it?

    Let’s do a little arithmetic. There are five times as many Chinese as Americans, and they are willing to work for a tenth as much (actually less). If there were an instantaneous adjustment (which of course there isn’t) we could expect the new equilibrium wage in America to be what?

    One-fifth as much as it is now? Less than one half? I’m too old to calculate anymore.

    But I do know this. Way before the new equilibrium is reached, if there is no compensation of the losers, there will be a groundswell for protectionism in this country of the old-fashioned kind, with unpredictable consequences for China and the world.

    American policy leaders are going to have to decide which is better: steeply progressive taxation and wage subsidies for the working poor, or a return to high tariffs and limited trade.

    Will it be englightened self-interest or short-term greed? You WILL have to choose.

  • Let me correct myself: there are only four times as many Chinese as Americans, and I meant to write “steeply progressive taxation of the winners to subsidize the wages of the working poor,” whose numbers will grow and grow and grow and grow for the next forty years.

  • Marty

    The previous 4 installments were good but this one knocks it out of the park.

    But I fear there can be no doubt the interests entrenched in the blue model will do everything in their power to prevent this necessary evolution, and cause immense waste and suffering for decades as they do. They may even win the political fight, kill tehn future in its cradle, and turn the US into the 21st century’s version of Argentina… or worse.

    The boomers (my cohort, I am sorry to say) are hopeless, it’s up to Gen X and the Millenials), which means the time is not quite ripe–maybe by approx. 2020 the demographics of the electorate will permit this fight to be fairly joined, if the blue-modellers haven’t already made a majority slaves of the state–which is clearly their plan.

  • Sexypig

    The working class will have the same jobs they have now, and MORE, because as Asia gets richer, more manufacturing will become viable here again. Keep in mind, its not just highly automated production we do in the USA, but also highly custom. Outsourcing to low cost countries only works when you have a large volume of labor intensive work – nobody has a guy in China weld them a grate cover.

  • Jeremy, Alabama

    I opted to go independent contractor 18 months ago. In addition to my lowest gross income in 22 years, I get stuck with both sides of the social security insurance, no tax deduction for my family’s health insurance, I have to buy professional insurance, I have to buy a business license from both the city and the state, and pay business taxes on expected income up front for the whole year.

    The US is a SICKENING place for a supposedly free man to do business. I just read on a camera website I follow that Pennsylvania did an internet sales tax grab, which basically shut down blog funding for writers in PA. This from a Republican governor – Republican, mark you. Who is left to vote for, exactly?

  • teapartydoc

    The key paragraph is the one that discusses the ties between employers and employees and how the blue model ties to strengthen these. This, and the fact that we have classes of people who are virtually guaranteed sinecures, means that we have both a nobility and a serf population, that society in the 21st century is feudal in many respects. The “blue social model” is in fact nothing new. We have trod this ground before (Heraclitus is proved wrong). As in late antiquity, we have a failing model that will not admit it’s failure, and will go on trying to maintain a status quo, regardless of what facts it faces. Those in power will attempt to strengthen even further the ties between employee and employer in a holding action designed to delay collapse until the model can be re-established in its former state of glory and the greater glories it thinks will follow. The nobles and knights of today are falling back only to reconnoiter and form up in creative ways that will prolong the rule of their class. Our elites are not looking at the situation of today with the rose-colored glasses that professor Mead sees it with. The problem for those of us who look upon our ruling class the way Angelo Codevila taught us to is that if the ruling class is successful, we can look forward to greater degrees of serfdom, and we worry that those who will likely suffer from this in the worst ways may be the ones who sell us into it while seeking protection from those very lords.

  • teapartydoc

    I should have closed in saying that the ones who are likely to sell us into that same serfdom are people who think like luke lea.

  • swingout

    Great post. Read the comments, and it seems obvious no one commenting has pre-college age kids in the system.

    after Occupy (pick your place), does anyone get it? Decades of [dumb] courses offered in easy schools have cone nothing ue easy dollars for these institutions.

    Teach your children well. Use this as a blueprint. The times,they already changed.

  • You’re not joking are you? Suppose I have an IQ of 100 or less — will there be a place for me?

    “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison.

    Luke, you don’t have to be a MENSA member to prosper in Dr. Mead’s scenario … but you do have to take charge of your future, and do whatever it takes to realize it.

    The problem, as Palinurus noted, is that too many of us have been conditioned by decades of Progressive-molded conventional wisdom to outsource that management to “experts”, and expect them to shape a good future FOR us as we plod along in our eight-to-five worlds, instead of, say, working WITH Dr. Mead’s agents to chart our course, with their advice and our active control combining to launch us into the future.

    Our Ruling Class (BOTH parties) has a vested interest in keeping us within the Progressive paradigm, which goes beyond the wage slavery Dr. Mead mentioned … and they will not likely cooperate to move from it.

    But that is EXACTLY what needs to be done … everyone, regardless of IQ or circumstance, needs to stop believing in the Biggest Lie of All and instead take responsibility for themselves first, their neighbors right after that … and DEMAND that government concentrate on its primary mission: securing our unalienable rights, so we have the liberty to move into the future under our own initiative.

  • Peter Evans

    It is not so much that small businesses are the “agents of change” and the “bigs” (govt, labor, corporations) are “agents of the status quo.” The blue model is failing under the weight of its own inefficiency and unsustainable cost, not because it is being beaten at its own job by better blues. Small enterprises are better-placed to survive the collapse of “as we know it.” They are not so much bringing about the demise of the old as they are light enough to remain afloat when the current Titanic sucks so much of the existing order down when it inevitably goes under.

  • Milwaukee

    About “the rest of America sinks into a post industrial quagmire as lawn boys and parlor maids.

    While day laborers can be found for yard work, usually the homeowner is contracting with a landscaping contractor. The wealthy can host a dinner party by contracting with a caterer, who then brings in the help to prepare, serve and clean up. Otherwise, the position of parlor maid has been eliminated for all but the very wealthy by regulation. Limits on working conditions, hours and wages make parlor maids very expensive indeed. We have regulated household help away. Too bad. Those were honorable jobs, and employees could find positions which matched their skills and compensation demands.

  • gooch mango

    I’ve got question about this new model… what are the other 70% supposed to do?

    This “bright” future you’ve described will be wonderful… for about 10% of the population. They will find themselves in demand (or creating their own demand), and will be able to bring enough to the table (for a long enough time) to have a comfortable life all the way through retirement.

    Another 20% or so will do well… until their 40’s. Then they will be replaced by a twentysomething willing to work for half their wages. If they’ve managed to save furiously, and didn’t do anything foolish like reproduce, then they can perhaps cobble together a hand-to-mouth existence until retirement… when the hand-to-mouthing gets serious.

    And the rest of us? “Dickensian working poor” about sums it up.

    Thus endeth the post WWII technocracy – from “good jobs for all” in the 50’s and 60’s, to “good jobs for all technocrats” today… and in the end, the technocracy eats itself.

  • Tom Holsinger

    Don Bollman’s No. 18 outlines what is IMO the only way WRM’s scenario might happen, which is the collapse of the on-the-books small business economy as it goes underground to escape regulation and taxes. WRM’s model could work only outside the law.

  • Tom of the Missouri

    This article is spot on. Especially the part about the burdens of trying to make a living as a small businessman in America. The burdens are real and I think unimaginable to most of my fellow Americans that have never done it. And as some have pointed out it is true that the state and local burdens are just as bad or worse than the federal ones. Last year I spent a month of my time on a Federal tax audit. The worst thing for me though is how all the burden’s have simply broken my spirit. I was once a young idealistic libertarian who thought being a private business man creating wealth and jobs was a great moral calling. It is certainly no longer any fun and barely possible. I dream of doing a John Galt and saying the hell with it. I have spent many hours studying how I could liquidate my investments and studying other countries where I could move. I have advised my only child, a recent college graduate, to seriously consider living her life somewhere else on the globe. I would have already left had I not been economically devastated by the current Obama depression. I won’t even go into the incredible regulatory and financial burdens that have secretly been implemented in recent years for anyone contemplating renouncing their citizenship and taking their wealth with them. In short financial Berlin wall of sorts has been constructed making it almost impossible to leave with one’s money.

    It is great to read Mr. Mead’s article for it is comforting that someone publicly describes what it is like. His only error is that he just scratches the surface. Prior to this though Victor Davis Hanson wrote a very brief piece on a small businessman in Greece that I could totally relate to. My business is real estate investments and management which is very similar to the one Hanson describes.

    Here is that story:

    The key to that man’s “success” of course is that he simply hires no one, does almost all the work himself, and ignores or breaks the law. I do exactly the same with my small collection of properties, for it is the only way I can survive.

  • Kris

    Re Gerald@21 and DarkHelmet@22 objecting to the government favoring small business, I am reminded of the proverb: “Neither your honey, nor your sting.”

    1. This will obviously go on until the top 1% receive 350% of the total national income.
    2. Our host hasn’t addressed the issue, but nothing he has written so far rules out the possibility of a safety net.

    “Suppose I have an IQ of 100 or less — will there be a place for me?”

    It is indeed a mystery to me how we managed to survive until the evolution of the “Blue State.”

    As to your comments regarding free trade; For the love of God, man, just when was this golden period when Americans were better off? And I certainly hope you don’t intend to point to the short and highly anomalous post-WW2 era.

    Jeremy@31: “Who is left to vote for, exactly?”

    In keeping with the spirit of this series of posts, we need to become more entrepreneurial and take an active role in the political process, instead of expecting that a political elite will provide us with palatable alternatives.

  • For tomorrow’s working family I proposes we build factories in the countryside and run them on four-hour shifts. Under this arrangement both parents would be employed half-time outside the home, and in their free time would work on their houses, cultivate small gardens, raise their own children, do their own cooking and cleaning, and care for their aged parents when they were no longer firm. Instead of retiring at 65 they would go on working as long as they were able.

  • TaxBill

    Mr. Mead,

    I almost always find your posts cogent and correct, but as a tax attorney, I must point out that it is simply not true that the self-employed pay the employer and employee portions of employment tax.

    If you look at line 6 of the Form 1040 Schedule SE, you will see that the self-employed get to deduct the employer portion from employment tax.

    That said, I agree that the IRS looks askance at the self-employed, thinking they are not reporting what they should through connivance or incompetence.

  • @ #21:

    “The other point I would make is that it requires discipline, courage (to take risks), talent and sometimes high intellect to start and operate a profitable business – whether as an individual or as one who employs others. In my 50 years of work experience from factory laborer to Senior Executive, I have not encountered many people that have those attributes. We are going to have to think very carefully about how to deal with the segment of the population that will not be capable of making the transition to the environment that you forecast.”

    Excellent points – besides being a breath of fresh air in what seems (to me anyway) an increasingly stuffy room. But I keep sensing your advice is much too humane and sensible to be taken seriously by the bulk of our future movers and shakers (at least if our present, “Christianity = PRACTICAL irrelevance” intellectual trends continue). So much cooler to strengthen our evolutionary prospects by ostracizing the unfit – i.e., by ridiculing and stigmatizing those who fail to measure up to our evermore exacting and punishing standards of talent and intelligence. After all, haven’t repeated studies shown that human excellence is simply a matter of exercising sufficient WILL (“I tell you those idiots just aren’t TRYING hard enough, dammit!”)? As for those reprobates who question even the POINT of trying – well, we may need to be especially brutal in our social exclusion of folks whose native talent, discipline and intelligence don’t run in entrepreneurial channels. And that regardless of how socially useful their gifts may otherwise be (assuming, of course, such an oxymoron could even exist).

    Anyhow, here’s an interesting CULTURAL continuity of, say, the past 40 years or so. One that’s little enough noted, it seems to me, though its influence may go a long way towards explaining much of the way we think nowadays about freedom, economics and efficiency. For a number of decades now we’ve spent a lot of energy trying to teach all sorts of people how to believe passionately in themselves. And you must admit, if there’s one thing NOT lacking in the bulk of our modern leaders and would-be leaders (political, economic, technological), it’s self-belief. But now suppose the trends outlined by Professor Mead were to start shifting into serious overdrive. And that they continued to proceed, as is much the case today, with little or no serious critique from outworn, economically useless and irrelevant canons like the Sermon on the Mount. In that event I can imagine our New Order demanding even more herculean, if not monstrous, levels of self-belief – or at least self-promotion? – on the part of everyone. Everyone who wants to eat, that is. Which in turn, we can only hope, would enable us to be yet more honorable and less opportunistic in our dealings with each other than we are even right now. Not to mention better equipped to govern ourselves and one another. And yet we’ve been disappointed before.

    So tell me what you think:
    If we’re going to bring out the BEST in our people – including their best WORK – doesn’t it help for us not to be oblivious to the good that’s already there (however entrepreneurially unfit that good may be)? I mean, assuming we’re also GOD’S creatures (and not JUST Almighty Man’s), isn’t it reasonable to suppose that He created each of us for a reason of HIS own too, in addition to all our busy, urgent reasons? And that therefore, in a sense, He believes in each one of US? And that He’s even passed something of that capacity to believe – AKA love – on to us? What I’m suggesting is that perhaps our mighty, two-generation-old juggernaut of Self-Belief is finally reaching its limits of effectiveness. And that, just maybe, it’s time we had a Sabbath from trying to teach other people how to believe in themselves. Or even, perhaps, started teaching ourselves how to believe in – i.e., how to see the God-given worth of – other people?

  • Luke … and Gooch …

    It doesn’t have to be a “race to the bottom” … higher productivity justifies higher wages for the productive. That includes productivity derived from innovation.

    We are fortunate we live in a nation that still allows personal initiative — even in the face of the blue social model — to prosper, for those willing to refuse the Blue Pill and exercise the initiative to “do it better”.

    The lack of encouragement for personal initiative in authoritarian nations like China is a competitive disadvantage on their part.

    What is scary, is considering the scenario where the Chinese leadership wakes up, and begins to actually secure the rights of their people in the same ways our rights are secured here … while we continue to struggle with the transition out of the Blue model.

    The liberation of personal initiative, combined with the work ethic of their culture, would make China today look like a 98-pound weakling with respect to economic strength.

    The question is … could we, as a culture, keep up with them, with the lead weights of the Blue Model still tied to our ankles?

    The future is ours … and theirs … and anyone’s, as long as they have the initiative to shape it themselves … instead of looking to others to shape it FOR them because they’ve been told they lack the mental capacity to shape it themselves.

    One percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration …

  • South Dakota Joe

    While the author’s comments remain true in many ways, and while lots of people believe that what he is saying is merely the writing on the wall they have seen coming for years, I have a question for him. What, exactly, does he propose as a fate for at least half of the population who cannot really read his article,comprehend it, nor have a desire to read it – – nor have a desire to read much of anything at unless it’s news on their favorite pop star? “They need to become more educated…” Well, sir, both private and publicly funded attempts toward that end are meeting with a lot of frustration. Are you saying they should be damn poor for the rest of their lives? That we need to enforce a cultural change through mass pain, a cultural change that, given all historical evidence, simply will not happen in most of these people’s lifetimes – – or their children’s? What is the protection of this massive number of unsophisticated citizens wanting to contribute to the US economy, now that unions are destroyed, automation is king, and government help being subject to cuts for years to come? The failure to answer that question in ANY meaningful way, ANY meaningful way, except through vapid theorizing with a [nonsensical], unbending ideological view is the biggest major reason why Republicans are still scratching their heads trying to figure out why they are losing to Obama, an ostensibly weak president with an unimpressive track record, in the polls.

  • Interesting claim made by one commenter who said that he couldn’t get his money out of the US due to recent regulations. That was true of the UK in the 70s and Germany of the 30s. Not a good sign. That said I’ve been waiting to to see where WRM would take his ideas about a new economy and I thoroughly and enthusiastically agree. I also find most of the comments add excellent and often cautionary notes to the picture. I grew up on a farm in the 50s at the end of rural entrepreneurial America. So I think the Tea Party, if and when, it develops into a true national force is the cutting edge of just the changes WRM is predicting. The bigs can and do buy Congress, a broad based coalition like the Tea Party can potentially elect congress – or enough of it to stand a chance of enacting the kind of reforms WRM proposes. In my own family I see this pattern emerging. My son and his wife both work from home. She as a VP for a ‘Blue big’, while he works for himself in his own growing Internet service business. I have a lot of faith in American ingenuity and determination and think it will take all of it to avoid going down with the collapse of the old models. It is certainly this kind of optimistic thinking and can do spirit that will avoid the US expiring under a mountain of debt like I am afraid Europe is bringing upon itself. Best post yet WRM.

  • Brett

    I’m not convinced that the small businesses are going to be the Wave of the Future. We’ve had nearly two decades of technological advancement and creative destruction in the US (particularly in the Computer Industry), and what has instead happened is the rise of a Winner-Takes-All “Superstar” Economy. The internet didn’t create an internet market of a thousand different retail vendors – it created a single leviathan (Amazon), with the smaller guys carving out tiny spaces between Amazon and the other big retailers. It didn’t create a web with thousands of different social networks, each catering to the specific needs of a group – we got the utterly dominant Facebook, and a handful of smaller networks that got into certain areas because of timing (Orkut in Brazil) or niche service (LinkedIn).

    The “Gig Job Market” is another story, but I doubt it’s one that most people will ever be comfortable with as long as they depend almost entirely on job income to make ends meet. Very few people like instability, and particularly not the people with few margins for problems.

  • EvilBuzzard

    W =Edt

    Work equals energy over time. If you don’t have any energy, you do not have any work. The US either becomes energy independent (which can only happen in the near term with coal, natural gas and oil), or we get used to looking at a lot mor butt than we did back when we were still the lead dog.

  • Pscalynn

    The author misses one significant change driver–the lengthening lifespan. There will be a continuing shift of jobs at all levels to servicing our elderly population. Someone in China cannot change bedpans or perform a knee replacement. How to pay for this will be a challenging personal and political issue but there will be lots of jobs.

  • Yisroel Orenbuch

    I call it the “Centralized administration of information”. Great thoughts put to paper.

  • lobeeonly

    I agree with Dr. Mead future with one major concern. It would appear as long as the U.S. can borrow cheap money, no real change will ever take place by either political party. Once cost of Govt is unsustainable, the change may take place so quickly the socall “transition” may be much more worse than we can now apppreciate.

  • TaxBill

    Mr. Mead,

    Further to my last comment, I wanted to compliment your coverage of some of the foot faults that local governments make possible like unincorporated business taxes and metropolitan transit district taxes. These are excellent ways of making cab drivers divert attention away from their work.

    I also like the idea of having estimated taxes automatically run through bank accounts. This would eliminate 90 percent of the ways people get themselves in trouble with the IRS. Keep up the good work.

  • @ #48:

    You have no idea what a refreshing breeze of sanity – and even wisdom – it is to hear somebody describe the world we’ve actually come to LIVE in, over the past two decades. As opposed to the world that was promised and prophesied – and rhapsodized over – at the start of it all.

    And also, come to think of it, as distinct from the usual visionary platitudinizing about the glorious world we all COULD live in – every ONE of us, I tell you! – if only we had the GUMPTION to take hold of it. (“But understand, young [wo]man, you’ll have to be STRONG – stronger than you’ve ever been in your life – whether you like it or not! Even if it makes you – even if it makes your ‘precious’ family – miserable as you’ve never been miserable! Because if there’s one thing God [AKA History] detests, it’s poets and sentimentalists!”)

    And why not? When you think about it, what’s anyone’s small modicum of happiness worth – or even the smallest child’s sense of being loved – compared to this limitless Tower of Productivity we COULD be building, if only we had half-an-ounce of character? (So now imagine what that same world will be like when we muster all 12 ounces. At all events, I don’t think I’d care to be a child in it for very long. Then again, would anyone let me?)

    PS – A warm thanks to #50 for some very useful and helpful reminders.

  • Kris

    I am having trouble deciding whether some of the commenters (i) suffer from reading comprehension and thus believe that WRM advocates that everybody becomes an independent senior software engineer, or (ii) are so unbelievably paternalistic that they believe their fellow citizens (even those in the bottom intelligence quintile) cannot get through life without Big Brother constantly holding their hand.

  • Frederick

    Hey, we got free medical care now, food stamps, welfare, housing assistance, no taxes and lots of other benefits. WE DONT NEED YOUR STINKEN JOB!

  • Brett


    The author misses one significant change driver–the lengthening lifespan. There will be a continuing shift of jobs at all levels to servicing our elderly population. Someone in China cannot change bedpans or perform a knee replacement. How to pay for this will be a challenging personal and political issue but there will be lots of jobs.

    This. Despite Japan’s best efforts, we’re still nowhere close to replacing human care-takers, and the next couple of decades are going to have a combination of a ballooning elderly population with a shrinking work force as birth rates continue to decline world-wide. We’re already seeing that trend in many ways, with growing employment in the Health Sector of our economy.


    Thanks for the praise.


    “Very interesting. But all of this means that some kind of national health insurance is a must. If most people are self employed, and if the circumstances of their business are going to be inherently unstable, they will need health insurance they can depend on.”

    No, it is not. Health care is a commodity like any other…not a right and most definitely not a government responsibility.

  • Can Mr. Mead’s vision of an entrepreneurial economy ever take hold as long as we cling to an 18th century mindset of risk aversion? I’m referring, of course, to insurance, the provision for which a number of posters mentioned as an essental hurdle to be crossed. To be sure, a person’s or family’s future could be wiped out by an unpredictable catastrophic accident or illness, but more often today we expect insurance to pay for routine visits to the doctor, erectile dysfunction, and pregnancy prevention. It just strikes me as incongruent to on the one hand want the government to provide us with a backup plan that protects us against financial hardship, and on the other hand believing we have the pioneering spirit to chart our individual futures.

    To some extent I feel the same way about the embryionic techies being nourished in one of the thousands of incubators established across the country by Chamber of Commerce types or municipalites. It seems to be the dream of every one of them to have their genius discovered by an “angel investor,” someone who will underwrite the risk of entrepreneurship. You can even get a degree in entrepreneurial management, though I have no idea what students are being taught in that major. How to write and market a business plan to angel investors?

    I don’t mean to sound cynical, but for a large portion of the population I’m afraid I am. I think the cream will rise to the top as it always has, but I don’t know what that portends for everyone else.

  • “God must love the common people, he made so many of them.”

  • James Woolsey

    Well done.

  • “”If you’re willing to put in the work, the idea is that you should be able to raise a family and own a home; not go bankrupt because you got sick, because you’ve got some health insurance that helps you deal with those difficult times; that you can send your kids to college; that you can put some money away for retirement,” Obama said recently in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

    “That’s all most people want,” he said. “Folks don’t have unrealistic ambitions. They do believe that if they work hard they should be able to achieve that small measure of an American Dream.” President Obama

    Perhaps Mead would disagree?

  • j

    its bad enough out there already…with people undercutting “pay” to obtain work…or businesses taking the people that want the least amount…this style has already causes a lot of harm in the market regarding pay/compensation/livelihood….hence wealth/income divide……

  • thibaud

    A view from Silicon Valley: what Meade is describing – armies of contractors, essentially, selling their services as free agents in ever-changing short-term business arrangements – already exists on the fringes of huge companies like Cisco.

    Well, here’s what that free agent life looks like, from one who’s lived it and worked it from both sides of the corporate fence:

    1) Chronic instability and salary interruptions. When one contract ends, if you don’t have another one in place, then the lone-wolf contractor’s income goes to zero. Also, holidays mean no pay, and of course there is no paid vacation or childcare.

    2) No medical benefits. Funny that Meade fails to mention the #1 reason that this change not only exists but is accelerating: because it frees huge companies of the obligation to pay healthcare costs. Of course, the government doesn’t pay, neither does the state, and even Obama’s health plan preserved a carveout for insurers to deny benefits to those of us with pre-existing conditions. Oops.

    3) Zero chance of advancement. Contractors are basically staff augmentation. That is, they exist outside of the management chain, do not have internal corporate champions, lack access to the most important information, and of course are not promoted. They are unlikely to receive any corporate-paid training.

    Are there moms and in-betweeners who will take these jobs? Sure, especially because frequent corporate layoffs create huge numbers of very experienced people desperate to keep money coming in the door and mortgages paid. But that only tilts the equation even further away from the interests of the contractor, whose wages are pressured and who has even less bargaining power.

    Ironically, this situation isn’t really good for the employer, either. Contractors don’t develop any institutional knowledge and can’t be trusted with really sensitive information; worst of all, the remaining staff, the ones inside the “lean” organization, become nervous, cynical and unwilling to make significant commitments to their colleagues and bosses because they know that they too can end up as free agents at any moment.

    What Meade, in his eagerness to equate progress and vitality with a nation of free agents, fails to notice is that the whole reason that the free agent/contractor system has accelerated is the crushing burden of health insurance upon employers!

    In other words, for his free agent vision to have even a shot – and it’s a long one, in any event – at working for the majority of Americans, we would have to sever teh link between health insurance and employment.

    And of course the only way to sever that link and not plunge most Americans into health insurance limbo is for the risk pool of insureds to become as large as possible. In other words, if you want to set people free from large corporations and government employers, then you have no choice but to move toward the vast risk pool that comes only with state-provided single payer health insurance. There is no way on God’s green earth that individuals contracting with insurers directly will ever attain remotely affordable, even halfway adequate health insurance.

    So Irony #2 is that Meade’s rather naive vision of a free agent economy is one that can only work if the state takes over health care insurance for the majority of employees.

    One more problem with Meade’s vision: the chronic instability for the individual in the above free agent model is mirrored by the lack of operating leverage for any corporation that would try to move toward an extreme outsourcing of its operations.

    Apple doesn’t use anywhere near the number of contractors that Cisco does, for a good reason: because Apple understands that business processes require strong organizational cultures and long-term employees who have deep institutional, process and market knowledge that can only come from many years of working together in the same domain.

    Irony #3, then, is that the free agent model would actually REDUCE overall productivity for the US economy. Contractors are notoriously inefficient. They need time to get up to speed even when they’re highly motivated, and even when they’re motivated and knowledgeable, they don’t always fit into the culture.

    To take one small example of how this works, consider Meade’s pat assumption that most corporate workers will use TelePresence to work from home. Well, Cisco owns that technology, and hardly anyone at Cisco uses it from home, for the simple reason that when you’re not meeting face to face with your colleagues and your boss on a regular basis, you inevitably slip outside of the loop. You become less trusted, you lose power, lack access to crucial information that’s transmitted in hallways and in closed rooms. Perhaps instant messaging will fill the breach someday, but even IM presumes that you’ve ALREADY built up a trusted relationship over many many hours of working side by side, face to face, sharing flights and car rides.

    In short, the free agent model flies in the face of how people actually work together to build trust and achieve operating leverage. It’s inherently limited and does not scale.

    Meade should be careful not to mistake short-term fads like BPO with long-term trends.

  • j far as “professionals” guiding an individual along the way for “stability”….we’ve had/have that in the market already..and look at where we’re at..lots of programs in the market already…and what is the problem now…

  • Richard Treitel

    As [email protected] and [email protected] point out, variable incomes will be painful for many people accustomed to the Blue model, or otherwise living from paycheck to paycheck. They will also be painful for governments who depend largely on income tax; I hear that California’s budget was inflated in good years by huge amounts of capital gains tax from Silicon Valley, and no-one wondered what would happen when the IPO frenzy came to an end.

    The answer comes when we conjoin this problem with shorter retirement and lifetime education: instead of creating tax-privileged savings accounts for these times of life, let all personal savings be tax-privileged and therefore accessible in any year without penalty. To achieve this with less, not more, bureaucracy, just tax consumption more and income less. If need be, let charities produce records of the consumption taxes they’ve paid, and give them refunds.

    The trickier part is to remove the stigma from being unemployed, but keep a stigma for being unemployed with no savings.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: I would disagree, to the extent that these ambitions have indeed become unrealistic.

    In health care, either through our own demands or through government mandates, we expect:
    (i) to have access to all of the latest and greatest medicine (beyond what was dreamed of a mere generation ago)
    (ii) to have our everyday health-related expenses reimbursed (it is actually generally impossible to buy true catastrophic health insurance of the kind seemingly described by Obama)
    (iii) to be unaccountable for our lifestyle choices
    (iv) to impose all kinds of non-essential expenses on the health-care system
    And to have all of that while paying low premiums. Sorry, but that’s unrealistic.

    As to college: not so long ago, American colleges were of high quality while relatively spartan, and our “kids” often helped pay tuition by working before and during college. It certainly is unrealistic to think that every American can pay for their “children” to attend a four-year luxury resort that also serves as an employment center for legions of paper-pushers.

    Now I certainly want decent medical care and college education to be within financial reach of most if not all Americans (one way or another), and I even think that this is a realistic aim. But it is precisely the Obama types who have, presumably through the law of unintended consequences, developed a system which makes this unrealistic.

  • Willy H


    Using a fancy term like the one above to describe a world economy of “hard knocks” through which future generations must navigate is rather patronizing in my opinion.

    The service sector and the information economy don’t run that well without cheap abundant energy fueling the production of goods.

    The manufacturing is coming back. Yes, it may not be in the same form as our post-WWII experience but it’s coming back all the same.

    Oil at $120+ a barrel prices Chinese steel out of the North American market. As “Peak Oil” constricts our ability to move goods globally more and more manufacturing will return from the east and south. We are going local whether we like it or not.

    This reality will also impact the quantities and types of food we import. This will indirectly result in millions of jobs in the agricultural sector and food production is repatriated. Labour intensive farming jobs will abound as they did for much of our nation’s history. They won’t pay well but they will provide steady employment for our youth.

    You continually down-play the role of government when America faces an unprecedented challenge. Adapting to world without cheap and abundant energy. The task ahead is daunting, we must somehow find a way to transition our auto-centered civilization into a more resilient and sustainable one. It’s a monumental undertaking similiar, although wider in scope than our efforts in WWII. Alternative energy investments are required, but that in itself will do little to mitigate the end of cheap oil.

    We are about to go to war against our consumption, high-energy driven lifestyle. War!

    Rugged entreprenuerial individualism did not win major conflicts and it certainly isn’t going to build us a new infrastructure in the coming “Age of Scarcity”. The battle was will be won with a communal effort involving many nations and millions of workers with a purpose, much like WWII.

    Currently our government and worse yet our citizens are oblivious to the problems we face in the coming decades.

    As for payroll taxes smothering small and medium sized business. There is a myriad of cheap software that can handle all of this for your business OR you can outsource to ADP and others in a heartbeat. Yes, the government could streamline deductions and simplify the payroll taxes but overall the system does not represent the impediment you imply. Hiring is not prevented because of payroll taxes or corporate taxes for that matter. Hiring is based on demand for your goods and services. Payroll taxes are the cost of doing business and corporate taxes don’t kick in unless you have net income. You don’t pay a nickel in corporate taxes until you start actually making money.

    Sadly, America is drifting in uncharted waters, dithering about our supposedly “exceptional boat”, plugging holes that are appearing one after another, while vast storm clouds (never before seen) shroud the horizon.

  • @67 Kris – I agree that not everyone should go to college. Everyone should get an education that is appropriate to their aptitudes and interests, which means a lot more training in the industrial arts starting in Junior High. They do that in Germany and it seems to work well.

    But manual labor has become stigmatized in the eyes of our elites. Maybe they ought to have some training in the industrial arts as well? It would put their feet on the ground.

  • Brett


    Thanks for pointing out some of the other issues, particularly Trust, Productivity, and Organizational Culture.

    You can get job markets where everybody moves back and forth every few years among the participants (Advertising is like that if I recall correctly), but it’s tricky.

  • Toni


    I have only a note to add about civic and political involvement. The only way to change Washington, state capitals, city councils, and school boards is to get active.

    Some 30 years ago, I asked a top GOP fundraiser to give me his pitch. He concluded, “If you don’t donate to my candidate, donate to another, and if you can’t afford to donate, volunteer.” At 27, I organized my local precinct (LOTS of phone calls) for a presidential candidate in the state primary, and won it, and would’ve gone to the state party convention if not for poor health.

    The Founders designed this country to be run by voters. Whatever change we want, we have to be informed and then donate or volunteer to take back our country, state, county, city and/or local school board.

    In light of this essay, we the voters need to get government out of the way of entrepreneurs of every size, from Apple down to the Alabama contractor who posted above and the free agents WRM sees arising.

    I think G. Washington, T. Jefferson, J. Madison, A. Hamilton and the rest would say the same.

  • Hench Ellis

    I certainly agree with WM’s essential thesis that “work” as we know it is undergoing a profound and historical transformation that post-Industrial Revolution economic and social models cannot accommodate. Call it what you will – the revolution is in full swing and you’re either on the bus or off the bus. If you’re on the bus, the ride may be a bit bumpy and your destination an uncertainty, but for those off the bus, God help you. The entire concept of traditional “labor” (which I loosely define as the application of physical and/or mental energy to produce goods and commodities that have value in a relatively open and fair economic market) is becoming an anachronism, like the Pony Express and smoke signals. To use a sports metaphor, Mead brilliantly identifies the Big Game’s historical context, capably summarizes the essential rules of the contest, and rightfully cautions us that the field conditions are so horrible that it is improbable, if not impossible, to foresee how the game will go on. My quarrel with Mead is not with his analysis and presentation of the historical conundrum we must confront; it is with his belief the economic model of the future will be forged by battle between two fundamentally incompatible ideologies. Mead writes, “The real political division in American today is between those who think the old days can come back if the government does the right things (tax rich people; pump enough money into state and local government, health care and the higher ed industry; raise tariffs high enough and sprinkle enough subsidies on enough industries to protect and rebuild the manufacturing sector) and those like Via Meadia who think that Humpty Dumpty can’t be put together again, no matter how many of the king’s horses and king’s men set up federal egg patching programs.” I agree that these two ideologies will no doubt continue to wage total war as they have done ever since the Dixiecrats got blind-sided by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and realized their political futures were best ensured by pandering to white voters’ racial anxiety, a cause cynically choreographed by Republican plutocrats and apparatchiks. Mead’s essay ultimately fails to persuade because he self-limits the spectrum of potential future outcomes to theories, slogans and sound-bites championed by the all-too familiar characters who make-up the ensemble cast of contemporary politics’ confrontational and predictable paradigm. What Mead fails to acknowledge is that the economic and social tsunami that is engulfing the American workers today is likely to also overwhelm American politics as usual and give life to quite different and unforeseeable outcomes.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: I have no objection to the views you express in this particular comment of yours, nor to those you ascribe to me. I just wish to clarify that the latter is not what I meant in my comment @67. What I was saying there is: everyone is welcome to go to college, whether they’ll benefit from it or not. But college should mean good ol’ fashioned lernin’, not the luxury resorts of today. I believe that the former should be within reach of most of the population, but the latter is unsurprisingly becoming a financially “unrealistic ambition.”

    Your second paragraph seems to allude to a point that you seem to have downplayed lately, and which I happen to hold: that the financial inequality in a country is not as important as the social inequality, and that (within reason) the former is a problem only insofar as it greatly increases the latter.

    Are we in agreement on this point?

  • Toni

    Luke, has it occurred to you that you can do something directly to help America’s less fortunate?

    I agree it’s our Christian duty. Right after I quit working, I volunteered at a homeless shelter. Volunteers worked as a three-person group to help an individual. My group could get assigned to one of two, a mother with three children or a thirty-something single woman. We got the latter, and I thought, “Great! Her situation will be less complicated!”

    Boy, was I wrong. The mother was excited to be getting her life in order for the sake of herself and her kids. I came to understand that our woman told us anything she thought we wanted to hear to string us along. Until the day she died an early though preventable death, she thought government should be responsible for housing and feeding her.

    As it happens, the mother was black, and ours was white. Government on any level can’t force people to take responsibility for their own lives.

    I recall a student demonstration not long ago at one of the Ivies, Harvard I think, for increased wages for its hourly workers. I thought, “Hmm. Would any of those students cross town to help a single one of those workers in person?”

    That is, you, Luke Lea, can donate and/or volunteer to help America’s less fortunate. (I do both.) Join a Boys or Girls Club to mentor at-risk youth. Tutor a kid from a local school. Volunteer at a hospice, to help families whose loved one is passing.

    Join a church, and you’ll be astonished at the donation and volunteer opportunities. Mine has blood drives, “Shoes for Orphan Souls,” helping isolated immigrant women get integrated into this strange new country, visiting M.D. Anderson patients, and many, many others. See

    That is, I believe you can make a bigger difference in person than repeatedly arguing here that GOVERNMENT HAS TO DO SOMETHING!

    Please think about it.

  • T

    Taxbill @43 above wrote:

    “it is simply not true that the self-employed pay the employer and employee portions of employment tax.

    If you look at line 6 of the Form 1040 Schedule SE, you will see that the self-employed get to deduct the employer portion from employment tax.” [Do you not mean line 27 of Form 1040?]

    Still, all the deduction does is reduce the taxable adjustable gross income. The self-employed STILL must pay the SE tax. If s/he is in the 35% marginal bracket, then s/he pays $750 of each $1,000, but s/he STILL PAYS $750.

    Not meaning to sound snarky, but if you truly are a tax attorney, I’m not telling you anything you do not already know. What am I missing here?

  • Jim.


    Brilliance, sheer brilliance!

    This is it, this is how to make it happen. Perfect!

    @Luke Lea–

    Chinese wages are climbing. A tech writer from India who five years ago would accept $22k/yr is now in a position to turn down $37k/yr. Things are changing, and changing fast.

    Perhaps Unionism can even survive. The Chinese learned how to make Mercantilism work; the world will change again if they can master Fordism. Environmentalists will cringe, as global consumption rises… but if they can be persuaded to pursue sensible ends, like fishery management, they can be a welcome and critical member of the team.

    There are reasons for hope. All may yet be well.

  • Kris

    Woops, I need to clarify my previous comment @73:

    I tend to believe that inequality in wealth distribution in a free market is not of particularly great concern (within limits). Social inequality, on the other hand, is.

    Whether the former leads to the latter is a matter of culture. What should be done, can be done? Dunno. Economics is easy, culture is hard.

  • @ Toni – “Luke, has it occurred to you that you can do something directly to help America’s less fortunate? . . .
    That is, you, Luke Lea, can donate and/or volunteer to help America’s less fortunate. (I do both.) Join a Boys or Girls Club to mentor at-risk youth. Tutor a kid from a local school. Volunteer at a hospice, to help families whose loved one is passing.”

    Thanks, Toni. You make me feel guilty. I’ve tried to concentrate my efforts on what I know best, which isn’t very much I’m afraid:

  • Toni

    Hi, Luke. I read your short story, and it’s clear you’re an idealist.

    So am I, and Christianity may have made me one. I recall, in toddlerhood, sitting happily under a Virginia willow tree singing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children” to myself.

    Like you, I suffer through short days. I still remember a year in college (late Seventies) when you could count on one hand the number of sunny days between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day.

    I think church would help a lot. At least once a week, it gets a body out and reminds him or her of the ideals to which the congregation aspires. You don’t think you’re good at anything, but how do you know until you try something? I can’t tell you what denomination; at least used to be pretty good at matching beliefs with creeds.

    I grew up reading the Bible, in big-hearted Baptist churches, and wound up returning to one. If there’s one near you, a big-hearted megachurch might work. A larger church has enough different classes and volunteer efforts (aka “missions”) to make finding a niche and making friends easier, I think. Some are non-denominational, like Rick Warren’s Saddleback in CA. He’s the one who wrote The Purpose-Driven Life and interviewed Obama and McCain in ’08.

    I say “big-hearted” because I think some megachurches have a narrower conception of Christianity than would suit me — narrower both left-leaning and right-leaning, if that makes sense.

    Luke, you can make your yearning for a better world tangible, I believe. You just need to find others who already are and join in. Christianity has always been about aspiration.

  • We need policies to sustain jobs, not just policies that create jobs. Our national leaders need to take note of new evidence from the 2010 General Social Survey which found that employees with employee stock ownership, which include the ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) model and other forms of employee ownership, were four times less likely to be laid off during the Great Recession than employees without employee stock ownership. Our national leaders need to understand that national policies to encourage employee stock ownership, and new policies to increase ownership among more working Americans, need to be considered as an effective way to ensure our nation remains competitive, and our employment rate remains healthy.

  • Jim.

    Now, after a decent interval out of respect for what this essay gets right…

    WRM, you’re completely insane for advocating deficit spending because “interest rates are low” right now. So what if they’re low now? Those rates are only good for 10 years, and so far no one has presented a credible plan for paying back, in full, what we borrow at low rates now.

    If we don’t pay it back IN FULL, then in 10 years we have to pay whatever interest rates are in force then. It’s effectively an ARM, the ultimate exploding loan. Can you guarantee rates will be low then? (If they’re kept low for 10 years plus, won’t we have even more ghastly trouble with bubbles over that time period?)

    Have you learned nothing from the crisis we find ourselves in?

  • T

    BTW, in my post @75 above my math is incorrect. In the 35% marginal bracket one pays $650 of $1,000 not $750 (but the fact remains that the entrpreneuer STILL DOES PAY 65% of the employers portion of SE tax). Sorry.

  • T

    No response yet from taxbill (@43 above). His error was fundamental, and one that no tax atty or CPA would make unless they were trying to intentionally mis-represent the facts. I submit that taxbill is a troll.

  • Thanks, Tony. I wish there were a church for me. But I’m an old man now (getting older by the day!) and don’t get out much anymore. I’m still crazy about Adam and Eve however:

  • Kris wants to know whether I agree with him that ” financial inequality in a country is not as important as the social inequality, and that (within reason) the former is a problem only insofar as it greatly increases the latter.”

    I could accept even more inequality if I thought the average American in the next generation (not just the quick and the nimble) would have a good chance to live a good life. For example:

  • Toni

    Luke, from your idealistic posts, I thought you were a moony 20-something! Calculating from Reed ’64, you’re 70. That’s not so old. It really does do a body (and mind and spirit) good to get out. Even introverts (just guessing) can make friends; one of my best friends is one.

    If you’d like to correspond directly, I’m at [email protected].

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