Another thing that you have to factor into your demise of the blue model is the corruption of the American elite and their separation from America in general as articulated by Charles Murray.
Puzzling essay WRM – so much about the futures (since there is never a singular future) lies in the realm of uncertainty. However, I take (as I reflect) three keys away from exposition: 1) we ought to bring production and accomplihment back at center of our value system; 2) education needs to be integrated with the priorities and purposes of life as young people experience it; 3) mass consumerism takes a toll on the autonomy and dignity of many Americans.
The double consciousness metaphor warrants further development. Jon Huntsman, just today, intimates something similar while suggesting a third way…
Correction: at 1) accomplishment.
At first I wasn’t sure if Professor Mead was channeling Karl Marx (on “commodity fetishism”), Friedrich Engels (on “false consciousness”), Herbert Marcuse (on the “One Dimensional Man” or Studs Terkel (in his famous book “Working” where Terkel said, “Work is about a search for daily meaning, as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying”)
But Marx, Engels, Marcuse and Terkel were all radicals, while Mead in his heart of hearts is deeply conservative which is why he can’t help but idealize the past even when he tries not to. Like all true conservatives (and their fundamentalist cousins) Professor Mead pines for a time that never was.
Why shouldn’t we identify by our interests and games? We only identified by our work in the past because we had to, but in a society where we don’t need to work as much (or where paid labor doesn’t have the stability and promise it once had), we can and should identify by other things. Bemoaning the youth of today for their apathy, disrespect, and sloth is as old as Sumeria – and never quite right for all its hand-wringing.
If anything, we need to get people away from the idea that simply working hard at paid labor is the way to prosperity. That doesn’t cut it anymore in the “Gig Economy” you’re predicting, and simply relying on “gigs” for sustenance is a recipe for fear and instability.
What we need is shared ownership, with broader, more direct stakes in the vast wealth creation that is currently going mostly to the very top of the 1% plus a handful of lucky professions.
Mead has a fascinating thesis here that sythensizes liberal complaints about worker alienation and the aimlessness of a consumer society with conservatives’ critique of statism and dependence smothering individual liberty and responsibility.
Lalalalala, I can’t hear you. We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the (blue) garden! (Which the wealthy plutocrats have paved over to use as a parking lot.)
“Marxists believed that overproduction was a chronic and irremediable feature of a capitalist system”
Well, they most certainly fixed the heck out of that “problem”!
I couldn’t get the link to “print” to deliver a printable page.
Within a few decades, “sufficient demand,” for basic manufactured goods will be as impossible as “sufficient demand,” for basic foodstuffs.
If the key problem is insufficient demand, then no attempt to think through the social arrangements of the future will get anywhere without noting that the trendline is going– irrevocably– in the wrong direction.
WRM, as I reflect on Beyond Blue 6: The Great Divorce, I surmise that you are asking Americans to grasp an ethos of social responsibility. You have sketched the workings of long-term social, political, and economic trends. In your essay, you are implying Americans need to take the long view as it relates to post blue social arrangements – such expectation WRM however overlooks our inclination towards shortsighted gratification. Further, you have mentioned how vital currents of economic and social life inure to family and, by implication, societal well being.
Finally, you imply that behind human (American) progress lies a complex process of innovation and integration strengthened by a maturity and sense of purpose that come with responsibilities in the real world.
As I understand your purpose WRM, the potential for innovation (shift away from blue model) as 21st century transitioning continues rests with the broad public (as it grapples to get balance between production and consumption right).
Right on! Right on! Right on! Isolating young people in education ghettos where the only adults are teachers who, for the most part, are profoundly alienated from economic production, leads to complete disorientation when finally they can no longer avoid working.
When parents and children spend their working hours in different places doing things that are mutually incomprehensible, the only thing left for them to share is consumption. These divisive work patterns are driven mainly by the need for ever greater productivity. Perhaps there is an inherent trade-off between productivity and human fulfillment similar to that between productivity and freedom. Perhaps both trade-offs are manifestations of the same thing, for how can there be fulfillment without freedom?
Thank you, Walter. This was a thoughtful piece of writing I thought, your best yet in this series so far. No doubt I think that that because (like Oscar Wilde) I agree with so many of the things you had to say — and because I admire your talent for saying them so well. I’d give anything if I could write like that. And God knows I’ve spent a lifetime trying.
Do take a fresh look at my site all the same. For the new information, not for the style. It’s totally revamped. As in here, here, and here.
A minor quibble about misplaced history:
Most of the things you attribute rather glibly to the whole of the 20th century, apply to the portion of it beginning sometime in the 1960s in the midst of the V.N. War. At least that is the way my city, friends and family experienced it. That said, most certainly the world wars of the first half set the stage fot the baby boomers’ adulthoods and that of their offspring.
I too find this essay a puzzle. The close is pure Naomi Klein sans climate change, no complaints from me there.
” The low rent cocoons of the welfare state — warehousing “surplus” people for generations at a time — are becoming unaffordable. We are being called — driven — to a new kind of life and a new social model that gives us another chance to get the balance between consumption and production right.
The lengthy attack on consumption (what one spends) is a new tack as well, taking us somewhere between David Owen’s “That’s the Conundrum” and Jared Diamond’s “Societies Chose to Succeed or Fail.” So parse on, WRM, maybe there is hope for you after all.
Some interesting analysis of the past, but I suspect a huge mistake with regards to the medium-long term future. Within our lifetimes – or at least mine – or at least members of my generation who are kinder to their livers and lungs than I to mine – I suspect we will reach a point where the necessity for human involvement in production, as currently understood, is very limited indeed. The future may look more like a slower-than-light Banksian Culture than a wormholeless Hamiltonian Commonwealth.
I wish I could be as optimistic as Professor Mead. But there’s a reason Nietzche called people like us the “Last Man.” We come at the end. Cultural rot set in about 1968. The causes were many but the results were inevitable. We’ve reached the point where people argue in serious journals for infanticide (http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2012/02/22/medethics-2011-100411.abstract). We are about to re-elect a president whose raison d’etre is a “transformation” of our country into a European welfare state and who will gut our national defense. We have beaurocrats directing everything from what we eat to what kind of light bulbs we use. Our schools are a joke, but teachers’ unions are strong enough to prevent any change. Marriage is, for the most part, a thing of the past. To quote John Derbyshire, we are doomed.
Brett: Exactly what do the takers bring to the table in your proposition for shared ownership?
Mr. Mead, an especially good essay today (if somewhat depressing). I echo Luke Lea’s sentiments.
I’m 53 and in my 29th year in a mindless, souless cubical-job that, to all intents and purposes, adds no value to anything. I could quit tomorrow and nothing where I work would be affected. But I have family depending on me to keep showing up and getting paid for make-work and I’m three years away from being fully-vested. Besides the fact that I don’t know how to do anything else. So I’m stuck.
Mead’s focus failed attempts to stimulate aggregate demand is a good focus.
Worth more emphasis – explaining failure of the “blue model” – is reasons why so many american manufacturing jobs went overseas: it was not totally due to Americans demanding more foreign designed and made products: think EPA and go from there.
So speaks Nietzsche:
“I tell you: one must have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.”
How different from the Last Man. Again, so says Nietzsche,
“Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.
‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and blinks.
The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest.”
Fukuyama uses Nietzsche in his book length treatment “End of History” because he sees the flaws in where we are moving and how it could end our illusions of the “End of History.”
No one wants to live as a Last Man if they can help it.
@Fred – be optimistic when you think of ‘cultural rot’ for new growth springs from the decaying mass of the old trees. Without their fall sunlight never reaches the new shoots. Uncharacteristically poetic of me, but I for one am inspired by Dr Mead’s essay to become a producer rather than a consumer. The barriers for entry as a producer have fallen dramatically over the last few years, even my friends who are the most wrapped up in blue elitism for their self-identity are starting their own businesses. Cry not over a time that will soon live only in our memories and imagination, but sieze the new opportunities their passings bring!
the shift from tariffs to personal income taxes…you left that out. that’s huge.
I thought our existential battle with communism was based more on ideas of liberty, human nature and the rule of law than which side could produce more goods and a bigger welfare state.
I do find it interesting that at the end it comes down to values, and would note how much time was wasted by blue man groups who valued intellect over values.
Excellent article/posting. While not a liberal Democrat, I always read what Mead writes. The “blue” model conflict he posits is just the conflict between the older, conformist New Dealism and new “lifestyle liberalism” of the professional middle class — a conflict so vivid in 1968 and 1972. It’s playing out again, in the Republican, with Santorum representing the disinherited working class Democrats who’ve largely left the party.
The “blue” model got into trouble once before, in the 70s, when false promises were addressed by money-printing and inflation. Realistic interest rates and falling inflation of the 80s eventually proved intolerable, though, so that by the 90s, after the Cold War and the LA riots, a strong push for mega-banks and cheap credit started, inflating the housing, financial, higher-ed, and state and municipal sectors.
While globalization did not begin until the 1990s, Mead has the broad contours of the Keynesian-stimulus-debt-consumption model right. Most of the changes in work he mentions are due to changes in technology and management. A few began in the 80s; far more began in the early 90s. Not coincidentally, the 1982-90 expansion had the last classical “V-shaped” recovery. The 1990-91 and 2001 recessions, while mild, were the first “post-industrial” contractions, followed by several years of “jobless recovery.” It was in the early 90s that technological and managerial rationalization started to radically improve productivity while holding down the number of workers needed. For those who do work, the split, between high-value-added and college-educated labor and low-value-added and non-college-educated labor, is the fundamental driver of income inequality today. (This is essentially Murray’s split.) It has been since the late 60s. But this driver did not become dominant until the last 20 years. Globalization has added significant but secondary force to this trend.
If it’s any comfort, the same trend is apparent in Europe. It started later there and hasn’t gotten as far. But, while not as extreme as the US, the trend is unmistakable. On a continent-wide basis, income inequality (although not wealth inequality) in Europe is about as large as it is here.
Until the 90s, the consumption-Keynesian model was largely confined to the US and UK, which has and had, respectively, the world’s dominant reserve currency. It is/was this position that allows/allowed massive borrowing, far beyond what other societies can get away with. Europe tried it in the last 10 years, to cope with the large gap between northern Europe and the periphery, and you can see the result. It’s the exact analogy with the last 20 years of artificially cheap credit, mortgage and other credit bubbles, and phony “risk management” supposedly keeping it all in check. The borrowers were different; the mechanism was the same, as was the motivation: low intrinsic growth in the developed world that the political class wants to mask with ever-increasing debt.
Canada and Australia lost their AAA status 20 years ago and had to abandon the debt-consumption model. It was tough, but they’ve done well with moving back toward a production-driven political economy. The UK is trying to keep the Keynesian model going by monetary means, even as they practice fiscal austerity. The price is the return of stagflation, almost no growth + rising inflation from a falling pound and ultra-low interest rates.
Canada and Australia, like Scandinavia and Germany, have shown at least some of the way to reforming the welfare capitalism model. Can we do it here, before bankruptcy comes?
Side note: there was an interesting recent article in the WSJournal about how absurdly long and isolated the transition between childhood and adulthood is now in the US and other developed countries. This is a result of the consumption model.
The essential foundation of the “blue model” has always been corrupt. To extract from some the wealth they created using the blunt force of government is theft. Dress it up however you like. Paint it with goals of doing better for more or fairness or social responsibility, but it is nothing more than theft.
While not a believer in “pure” capitalism, history has demonstrated that as we migrate away from that model we introduce inefficiencies and distortions. Eventually it becomes so inefficient and distorted that it becomes unsustainable. That is what we face today.
Your “comfortable blue couch” has become threadbare, dirty, and unsafe. Soon it will collapse.
The key question is how to rapidly teach the couch bound how to get off the couch, without having them set it on fire in response. Probably a good first step would be to remove the rose colored glasses about the real costs and damage that couch has inflicted on this nations people over the last 100+ years.
Or as a great sage with whom I once worked with put it: “Gilligan’s Island and a can of beer.”
Professor Meade, do you agree with Abraham Lincoln that the United States should maintain tariffs on imported manufactured goods?
A nice post (with pretty graphs and all) on the success of the Australian public policy model is here.
When I meet someone for the first time, one of the commonest questions is still, “What do you do?” I’ve never heard or asked anything that even approaches “What do you consume?”
WigWag@4: “Like all true conservatives (and their fundamentalist cousins) Professor Mead pines for a time that never was.”
As has been said before, one expects this from conservatives, but this attitude is more surprising coming from progressives.
Anthony@10: “I surmise that you are asking Americans to grasp an ethos of social responsibility”
Heck, I’d be happy if we could get Americans to accept individual responsibility.
Excellent essay. I’m going to try to get my high school age boys to read this, after all they’re going to have to live it.
The Blue Social Model was built on a series of ideas which are beginning to fail. It was the culmination of the Progressive (or Reformer) ideal: a Heaven on Earth via governmental edicts.
But, that control by the State is breaking down. Keynesian Economics stopped working during the Stagflation of the Carter administration. Consumption only seems to grow an economy; Says law indicates that items must be produced before they can be consumed. Yet, we are attempting to consume more without concerning ourselves with production. In the coming currency crisis when the Dollar stops being the World’s Reserve Currency, oil from Venezuela will become too expensive to feed the refineries at Port Arthur, Texas. But, a pipeline from our largest trading partner, Canada, can be blocked for bogus environmental reasons.
The Debt based economy is on the verge of collapsing now. Public entertainment is tedious and politically correct. The Mass Media is becoming bankrupt as people find alternative sources on the internet. As many people became educated beyond their intelligence, they stopped producing anything of worth. The Public School System could be replaced by home schooling which does a better job. Meanwhile, technology has undercut the necessity for an elite. The knowledge explosion has opened up occupations which before required specialized training. They can be replaced by a computer program.
It is clear that the Blue Social Model is emotionally unsatisfying. Any scheme which replaces it must incorporate the four areas, according to Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s, where Americans traditionally gained their independence and self worth: community organizations, local government, family and religion.
Man does not live by bread alone; he must labor to provide an environment worth living in. Nihilism is no panacea; people need to feel that they are necessary and their lives have meaning beyond selfishness.
re: conservative soul. Interesting, I suspect Meade is more libertarian than “I’d like to return to the days before penicillin” (save for a respect for social traditions as worth preserving because centuries of trial and error put them there).
re: 19th century America politics being local. As are the 21st century Swiss cantons. Services can be mostly software. There’s long been no efficiency reason to write checks from Washington when taxes can be collected and spent locally much more efficiently. With local sovereignty (like the Cantons), along, say, congressional district lines already gerrymandered into like-thinking people most conflict will disappear (as it did between the German, French, Italian and Roma in Switzerland) and these political entities will sort things out, and competition between them for the free citizen and their enterprise will solve the rest. And any special interest that can sell their agenda to half of these districts as individuals by definition is no longer “special.”
Returning government to the people will fix all these issues for at least a generation or three, and then the pendulum may swing back to fix whatever pathologies this new-old system develops. Call it change (for change’s sake and) to shake off the flees.
@29: Kris, au courant but WRM’s implication and essay implicitly assumes IR – but specifically more IR in America would be welcoming.
re: 19th century America politics being local. As are the 21st century Swiss cantons.
Was the American Civil War a matter of local politics?
Services can be mostly software.
So we’ll get all our health care and elder care via software?
I just shake my head and laugh at some of the comments here. I see a lot of bruised egos.
Professor Mead, your piece was brilliant. For those with limited understanding, he wasn’t trying to give an exhaustive and comprehensive history of US sociological, economic, and political movements. He was describing in broad terms the changes that took place over time to many (perhaps most) people. Stop taking yourselves so seriously because nobody else is.
More to life than watching The Simpsons and eating chips? Like working in a factory outsourced to Calcutta, India maybe?
This article is what we would characterize as “Tory romaticism” in Britain (and of any American can give me the US equivalent, I’d be much obliged). There is so much in here that is wrong that I don’t know where to begin but here are three holes:
1) family farm/rural idyllic. The reality is, when people get the opportunity to leave the family farm and work in the factory, off they go. Factory life is safer, less exhausting and pays more. This was true of the English rural labourers in the 18th/19th century and true today in Vietnam where Vietnamese peasant girls see working in the factories as a liberation from the paddy fields.
2)Religion. Until very recently, religion was undeniably a major component of most Americans’ identities. What church you attended was a major focal point of your social life — it probably did more to determine your choice of marriage partner, for example, than most anything else.
3)Sorry to be Mr. PC., but the relatively rigid stratification of American society by race and ethnicity from the 18th-well into the 20th century also did a lot to determine one’s career, where one lived, etc. While one can hardly mourn it’s passing without a doubt, it too gave people a sense of security and boundaries.
I’d also note the decline of America’s Anglo elite and their power to decide what exactly constituted American culture and behaviour.
I’d also submit that consumerism was at a manageable level in, say, the 1950s and 1960s (the credit card is a product of the 1960s) in a way it isn’t today.
But this idea of the rise of the industrial, commerical and urban society resulting in some sort of “last man” is old hat to say the least.
@34 David, there is no doubt that the future of healthcare will go hand in hand with software. Blood pressure cuffs for the ipad have already been developed and will be part of each conscious individuals little toys for determining their overall health. Gene sequencing costs have already gone down 1000 fold and will continue. In fact, I believe one doctor even suggested that 70% of current pathology can be attributed to our OVER-CONSUMPTION of alcohol, tobacco, and processed calories. Now we have entire websites geared at creating a healthier you. The future is bright for personalized healthcare thanks to the software development and the internet. Doctors may only be seen in cases of severe debilitation.
Worth remembering: ‘We become what we do.’ And on every level, too.
Why do you keep writing the same article again and again?
This must be the 5th or 6th article on the end of the blue model.
We get it. What’s next? What have you got?
Does anyone think that proponents and defenders of the moribund “Blue Model” will readily throw in the towel in the face of the obvious evidence that the model cannot be sustained? If so, please refer to this morning’s New York Times editorial advocating that “unionizing should be a civil right.”
“The general desire of men to live by their heads rather than their hands, and the strong allurements of great cities to those who have any turn for dissipation, threaten to make them here, as in Europe, the sinks of voluntary misery.”
Incredible. Quite the wise man, that Jefferson.
It appears to me that we are discussing a single comprehensive model which boils up from the bottom of society and is governed by the top-down forces in society. I submit that in a free and diversified society such as America there are many models in play from various sectors of our society.
There is Dr. Mead’s Blue model, the entrepreneur model of the immigrant and artist, the professional model of the Doctor, Lawyer and Indian Chief, the government servant model of the politician, policeman, fireman and teacher, the military model of the soldier and sailor, the entertainment model of dancers, and singers, the Church model of priests and ministers, the criminal model of the thief and burglar, the poverty model of the homeless, and many other models; not to mention the ethnic models of Amish, Hispanic, Asian, and European communities.
We each make our living by working for, working with, serving or stealing from another person or entity. The difference in America is that we had this ridiculous idea that such a diversified rabble could and should govern themselves. We embarked on the “American experiment” which has been rather successful in over 200 years with only one civil war and a few other minor skirmishes. We have learned a few things in our experience:
1. Problems are best resolved at the lowest possible level of the political structure, and the solution may be different in different places. Witness the 55 mile an hour national speed limit, and Prohibition. Yet we always have a cadre of people who want to solve problems at the highest political level so that it’s “fair to everybody”.
2. People should be free to pursue happiness in their own way as long as they do not hurt anyone else. Being “offended” is not being hurt.
3. Organization is required “, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”. However the organization required to win a two-front World War, is not the organization
required fight the war against obesity. Americans sacrifice their freedoms to organization. How much freedom they are willing to sacrifice has been and will be a matter that will be discussed to infinity. However, Americans will be free!
4. It is hard for the national government to get anything done in America. Our Constitution gives us three separate powers to check and balance the power of each other. These three powers are cross-hatched by 50 states, over 6300 counties, and many more cities, towns and villages. Any drastic change in the life style of Americans must be generally agreed upon by all of them. Those who try and change people’s lives from the top down by government fiat are usually doomed to failure. One side calls that “gridlock” while the other calls it freedom.
5. Now we have the internet which has enfranchised millions of people to express their opinions and exercise political action in ways undreamed of 10 years ago. It is also a place where a person can make a living. Millions of people are working out of their homes in various trades and professions buying, selling, advising, directing, serving, and stealing over the internet.
You are to be congratulated, Dr. Mead, for starting this conversation. I think that the comments to your series of essays on Beyond Blue are just as interesting as most leading web blog articles. The essays themselves are the most though provoking that I have read in years.
What’s beyond Blue? I don’t know, but whatever it is, will boil up from the bottom of society; will be lead by individual entrepreneurs a la Jobs and Gates, and will use technology as an enabler.
I submit that our task is to recognize the trend and consequences just as you have been doing in this series. If we have the good fortune to capitalize upon it all the better.
Thank you Professor Mead. It is as if you speak for me. Please continue to write on this the most important subject. I myself remain bearish on our prospects of regaining old norms – and quite often I find myself peering for the next good land. But where?
Here’s an interesting article on the demographic bust of the developed world and how consumption-debt-oriented economies like the US, the UK, and parts of Europe are going to have a tough time:
Japan has the worst bust, but also has a large cumulative surplus to cushion the blow. Nonetheless, that can only get them so far, maybe buying them about 6 or 7 years. The US and UK have a much more serious problem — the demographics aren’t as bad, but both countries have been chronically living beyond their means for decades, going back to the 70s.
The problem Mead writes about started then and was never really fixed, just masked with debt.
The character that most befits our age is not Homer Simpson but Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. He is caught in a balancing act between tradition and change. He is a liberal conservative. He is also a conservative liberal. He sees things on one and on the other hand … And on the other other hand.
Dr. Meade has reached a Tevye point.
And this is good.
My wife studied Latin in high school. Now they teach anti-bullyism and gay history.
My humble suggestion is to merge social conservatism with progressivism to create a new party. Both are crusades driven by men and women on missions from god. Their gods are different, but not so much so as they think: both are obsessed with moral posturing and spiritual preening and won’t take no for an answer.
The other new party then would then be fiscal conservatives from both existing parties. Then, with all things policital in a more proper alignment, maybe we could get something done in this country.
What we have to learn from the bust of the Blue Model is that specialization wasn’t as good to us as it was to Henry Ford.
Children that specialize in education learn not of the responsibilities that await them; line workers learn not of the needs in their families; community workers learn not of the world of commerce; and the elderly share not their lessons of multi-generational compacts. Everyone is trapped in a role, resenting it and unable to feel empathy for the others. Hopefully we will be able to implement more just-in-time management where individuals can step into a role, especially if the need is great, be appreciated and take away a lesson or two. Hopefully we can spend more time with children for their non-judgmental optimism is always just-in-time.
No rational person argued communism versus capitalism. One is a form of dictorial governance the other an economic philosophy. Its like comparing animal husbandry to auto machanics…unrelated except that socialism is the preferred economic philosophy for dictorial regimes because it breeds dependence on power where capitalism encourages gaining power through self-advancement. There are two reasons for the decline of american society. First, the rise was a false one. We came out of WWII as the only western power with its manufacturing base still in tact, in fact better than in tact, it was enhanced by war. No one in the world could compete and we could charge anything for our goods. Higher taxes no prob, lavish benefits no prob, nothing affected jobs because there was no competition. Those days are over forever. We must now compete in a world economy full of countries with manufacturing capacity equal to or greater than our own…The second reason for American decline is that we abandoned our captitalist philosophy and adopted the socialist philosophy of the soviet union and other dictorial regimes. The democratic party and its union bosses have used the tools of socialism for thier own gain while ensuring that workers never rise above their the station in life that the dems and unions impose upon them. Unions and social welfare are the kryptonite to the economy and to individual freedom to rise from poverty to wealth. It requires that every man get paid the same wage whether he produces equally or not and in that way steals incentive to be an achiever…we are now a nation of under achievers who still feel an entitlement to suck off the teet of the achievers…but there are so few of them the milk is drying up…for an example of where this all leads one need only to greece. The government of greece is broke and begging other countries to float it just a little more money. Her teets are dry and the socialist workers eh non-workers protest in the street.
Since the days of FDR the US has in fact moved towards socialism or social democracy but has had ideological trouble admitting this fact. It is like a man who earns his living by driving trucks but boasts to his neighbours that he is the director of a transport company.
The pretence can be kept up only so long. It is this fundamental self-deception about what it is and how it lives that makes the US despite all its good qualities such an immature political culture the rest of the world distrusts.
Mead, the US will mover toward socialism.
Excellent article. We are sneaking up on a solution maybe, back to human dignity one-at-a-time, away from groups and democracy as such. The only salvation for democracy in the past was foreign compertition. With all the globalization something else is needed now, places like China have essentially the same problems, people believing in and wanting things that are disasters when tried…
Wow. The best article so far in an outstanding series. Please keep them coming, Mr. Mead.
It seems to me that Mead is pointing out the consequences of the additional freedoms granted when the agrarian era ended. Freedom to leave the farm and work somewhere else, freedom to leave an abusive/drunken/lazy spouse, freedom to fool around without getting married … many people made bad choices once these freedoms were granted. The Blue Model effectively put people back in their cages: instead of working on the same farm until you died, you worked at the same factory until you died. Wives who divorced their husbands lost most of their income (and, I imagine, their right to Social Security pensions). So most of these freedoms became theoretical for middle-class people who weren’t rich, and they settled down again in their new cages. The achievement of the Blue Model was to pad the bars of these cages. Now the padding is wearing off. But is it safe to let the people out?
For tomorrow’s working families I propose factories in the countryside run on four-hour shifts. Under this arrangement both parents would work half-time outside the home, and in their free time would build their own houses, cultivate gardens, cook and care for their children, and pursue other leisure-time activities. They would care for their elderly parents instead of putting them in nursing homes, and not retire at 65 but go on working for as long as they were able.
I survived the 19th century farm life you describe and I certainly understood production by the age of 8 more thoroughly than my grandson who turns 21 this month. I think there is actually an opportunity to have a broad based economy of autonomous individuals if we empower small business by not taxing it so heavily aided and abetted by autonomous contractors who live by gigs. That is, a more fluid business and labor market. Perhaps we can also invent some new institutions as early industrial society built public infrastructure like Libraries. For example, there might be a movement built around the general idea of apprenticeship that that teaches not just how to practice a trade but also successfully manage it as a small business. In other words reconnecting education and production in new ways. But the new is already happening. My son and his wife work from home in Internet related work so they have a lot more contact with their kids than Blue Model parents did. I also notice as a result of this essay that they haven’t integrated the kids into production as I was on the farm. To be fair one can’t expect 8 year olds to function as high level knowledge workers. Nonetheless, I think it is likely that my grandkids will grow up with a very different view of work than either my children’s suburban childhood or my farm childhood produced. On thing is clear – they experience a lot of the adult world of work and are bound to grow up with a skill set different than their forebears.
What this muddled paean to a world of lost agrarian virtue fails to recognize is that the motor for social transformation in America has always been economic – and the imperative directing this change has been that of the maximization of profit as the means to sustain capital accumulation.
This economic logic is indifferent as to whether these changes improve or degrade the material or psychological wellbeing of the labour it employs. Our esteemed author reasonably contends that for most of the 20th Century the record for the former was mostly positive, but for the latter was deeply ambiguous. However, he appears to believe that, now that the material effects of this economic logic are no longer positive for most americans, some inexplicable law of equilibrium will deliver a compensatory positive psychological outcome for this same group.
There is neither reason nor historical precedent for believing that this will be the case. It seems equally – if not more – likely that the future will see americans both materially and spiritually impoverished.
Unless, of course, one subscribes to the ‘character-building’ virtues of hardship. A belief that elites have always been keen to apply to the lives of those whom they subjugate – but, curiously, hardly ever to their own.
Food stamps and cable tv – the staple of much of the (once) mighty America.
This was also the tactic of the Romans’ Bread and Circuses
ie give them free food and entertainment and the masses will stay content
The inexorable, irreversible trend is migration to the cities and personal and individual freedom all across the globe.
The new world will not conform to our yearning of what is lost of the past but drive and strive to the pull of the future.
Dear Dismal Scientist, I think social transformation in this country has been achieved either through the pursuit of liberty, or through the pursuit of economic interests. It was the former that lead to the Great Disruption of the 60’s and 70’s. But the desire to recapture some of the social structures of the agrarian society, as featured here, is indeed of an economic nature. That is, if you define economics as the balancing of resources to achieve a favorable outcome, one that individuals value. The trick is to identify where to isolate that value in dollars, as most transactions occur without currency and over generational time spans.
What role does population growth play in all this? And with that, demographics?
State-capitalism = socialism for rich people.
Collective armed resistance to Plutocracy (or other wealth & power concentrating schemes) has worked several times in anglo-american history.
For instance, there was a Labor war in the USA from about 1890 to 1915. The result was that Teddy Roosevelt demanded that the Plutocracy make compromises. By the time of FDR, those compromises consisted of legal protections of labor union activism.
At that point, significant hunks of the Spanish empire had been (or were being) taken by the USA, but the USA was not the global superpower that it became after WWII.
By the 70s, the traditional opposition to the concentration of wealth had been discredited because of the failures of the New Left, and the cultural problems of postmodernism (Michael Lerner of Tikkun). Many people felt deep fear that the postmodernists were driving the culture off the brink of an abyss of narcissism and nihilism. (Ken Wilber)
So, the question now is, can the american people find it in themselves to transcend the problems of postmodernism and again create a viable, possibly armed, movement of collective resistance of the increasing abuses of the Plutocracy?
At the moment, this blog article and the comments under it provide instruction:
There is not one single comment about things that people are doing in the real world to effect radical change. It is all abstract internet stuff and intellectual chat junk.
But, it is very high quality junk. We know that there is a significant number of very smart people that have access to very high quality social theory and data and the tools to understand the data intelligently.
What we do not have is a high quality of theory, or pragmatic action, around resisting the reanimated forms of the Old Order.
The intellectual classes, and their institutions (factory education), have clearly been assimilated into the state capitalist construct and the conformist “myths of the given” that arise from it.
Or have they?
Stewart Brand’s “Four Environmental Heresies”
(the Rise of the West is over)
Steward Brand states that one billion poor people in urban slums are building the future.