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The Next Economy
The End of the Working Class

A terrible loss that shouldn’t be mourned.

Appeared in: Volume 13, Number 3 | Published on: August 30, 2017
Brink Lindsey is vice president and director of the Open Society Project at the Niskanen Center. He is the coauthor (with Steven Teles) of The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality.
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  • Boritz

    “the progressive unraveling”

    Inadvertent veracity.

    • Jim__L

      Look at the credits at the bottom there — Soros’ “Open Society Project”.

      Lefties have shown themselves increasingly unable to address today’s most pressing problems. Trump isn’t the answer, but his election points to the fact that new things can be tried. We’re in for a bumpy ride, but at least we’re not going where Hillary would have taken us anymore. =)

      • Curious Mayhem

        It’s the Open Society Project at the Niskanen Center:

        “Established in 2014, the Niskanen Center is a libertarian 501(c)(3) think tank that works to change public policy through direct engagement in the policymaking process: developing and promoting proposals to legislative and executive branch policymakers, building coalitions to facilitate joint action, and marshaling the most convincing arguments in support of our agenda. The Center’s main audience is the Washington insiders – policy-oriented legislators, presidential appointees, career civil servants in planning, evaluation and budget offices, congressional committee staff, engaged academics,
        and interest group analysts – who together decide the pace and direction of policy change.

        “The Niskanen Center’s focus on policy change complements the work of existing libertarian organizations, most of which are engaged in other activities such as analyzing or criticizing public policy, changing public opinion, blocking ounterproductive regulation and legislation, and electing friendly politicians.”

        It’s named for William Niksanen:

        “William Arthur Niskanen was an American economist noted as one of the architects of President Ronald Reagan’s economic programme and for his contributions to public choice theory. He was also a long-time chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute.”

        • Curious Mayhem

          It’s the libertarian answer to the growing concentration of power in Washington — it is undoubtedly one of the factors in growing wealth inequality. It’s a result of crapitalism = cronyism + capitalism.

          Did you know that the Washington, DC, metro area now has the highest per-capita income and highest per-capita wealth in the country? I grew up there, and it was not like that when I was a kid. It’s become a true parasitic imperial city.

          There’s this book by someone at the liberal-oriented Brookings Institution:

          I don’t fully agree with it, but it does identify and analyze much the same problem, from a different point of view.

  • Gary Hemminger

    Uh oh. this sounds a lot like utopian thinking to me. And very much in the same manner as Zuckerberg and the guaranteed wage folks. What this means to me is happy sounding words for subservience to the elites in some sort of feudal society where former workers are busy worrying about “social justice” or some other such nonsense.

    No the only way that this article makes any sense at all is if the world population plunges (which it might). But between now and then, this is utopian thinking at best, and at worst a justification for elite dominance of a few important positions.

    • D4x

      It IS utopian thinking, borrowed from Edward Bellamy, “Looking Backward: 2000–1887”, 1888, while channeling William Morris’ counter-utopia, “News from
      Nowhere”, 1890.
      With a few talking points from too many to cite here.

  • Unelected Leader

    90 million Americans without a college degree. It’s more than 100 million if you include those with a largely useless college degree. that’s the working class. It has been crushed. More precisely, it has been crushed on purpose. Bad trade and bad economic policy have cost millions, in the plural, of jobs, and have not even replaced those lost jobs entirely, albeit with lower paying positions. Tradable sector job loss creates unemployment that depresses wages across both tradable and most non-tradable sector jobs.

    • Those jobs are in China;)

      • Unelected Leader

        You think I don’t know that? They are in Germany, China, Japan, Mexico, and really many other places. Of course the numbers in the US-china case are staggering compared to 800,000 lost to Japan, 850,000 lost to Mexico. With China were talking seven digits. But it’s all the result of bad trade and bad economic policy. Bad trade and bad economics = losing politics.

        • FriendlyGoat

          This nationalism debate is all fine and dandy, but those other countries need the jobs too and we would be wise to think toward solutions which include everyone, not just us and ours.

          • Unelected Leader

            It’s just economics and trade. There are good economic and trade policies, and there are bad economic and trade policies [for the US]. Indeed, bad deals for American workers could benefit someone else, somewhere else. It’s a bad deal when it entails money and jobs lost to an ally, like Japan. It’s the height of stupidity, and i would venture to say treasonous, when it’s to the benefit of a non-ally autocracy, like the CCP, that is pushing around US allies and supporting Kim Jong Un.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Okay. We make progress when we stop talking about everyone else eating our lunch and start talking about how we might be amenable to sharing the jobs pie with those nations of better behavior in their national governments. Long term, the challenge of what to do with people’s time and energy and how to compensate them to reasonably-decent living standards is a world challenge.

          • Unelected Leader

            That’s a national prerogative. Neither the German government, nor the Japanese government, nor the Chinese Communist Party are looking out for American workers. It’s not their job to do so, and they don’t. The problem, for Americans, are mega rich internationalists and corrupt politicians willing to sell them out, and they do.

          • EndOfPatience

            We could begin by eliminating the stupid (Leftist) notion that prosperity is a finite pie, and the only way for any given person or group to advance is at the expense of another person or group. In fact, the people advancing that position are only demonstrating their complete lack of understanding human economic behavior. They should be ignored since they have nothing constructive to add to the debate.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Nice try on flipping who argues what. Trump was elected on the negative claims of what awful things were being done to white Americans’ economic pie slice by minorities, illegal immigrants, incoming Muslims, and manufacturers in other countries. “Make America Great Again” was specifically about putting limits on all those other groups from enacting new discriminatory laws to deporting immigrants to building walls to abandoning trade agreements.

          • EndOfPatience

            Your words: “… start talking about how we might be amenable to sharing the jobs pie …”
            Your words: “… white Americans’ economic pie slice …”

            Flipping “who argues what”? You’re caught out by your own words lying about what I wrote.

            Blocked for stupidity.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Really blocked? Good deal. We won’t need to be arguing if you can’t see me. Great solution.

          • Phil Ossiferz Stone

            Piss on them.

    • rbs76

      Actually, free trade lifts all boats, with 2 caveats. First, the basic economic analysis assumes that the labor and business leadership on jobs lost is free to take on other biz and jobs. It does not assume that the government is systemically undertaking the destruction and crippling of small new and new industries, which has been happening for over a decade. It also does not presume the government is trying to make going to work at a new job a hostile enviroment and paying the unemployed to stay home.

      Second, quite a few beneficial free trades are on the table. It does not assume your government gets the worst one possible just to look good to some silly irrelevant constituency. Opening your market while they keep their’s locked shut and then taxing the crap out of businesses trying to bring money from outside the country in, well yes, it is hard, but the US govermnet does know how to make bad deals.

      No economist, no matter how pro-free trade, ever made the argument to do what we have done. It never occurs in theory that government chooses to be as malignant and destructive as it does.

      • Unelected Leader

        Free trade lifting all boats is an unsubstantiated claim. You certainly don’t have free trade between the US and China, or even the US and Germany. Can’t even talk about free trade until everyone is playing by the same rules.

        • rbs76

          I think I more or less said that. One way free trade deals are not free trade.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Ignoring for the moment that the problem extends beyond the USA, let’s drill down to thinking about how we can rebuild the “American Dream” beyond a sort of “half” of the people looking to the lotteries for their hope and the other “half” looking to the stock market as the fix for their futures. Both involve a bit of a mirage and are not substitutes for feeling capable, feeling needed, feeling responsible, feeling confident and feeling an inner desire to ACT smart, not stupid. We unquestionably WILL need to reallocate wealth from top to bottom and we need to find the metrics and rationales for doing so beyond any schemes which amount to just paying people because they breathe. Free enterprise is great, but we already know from the shortcomings of pure free enterprise in times and places of history that it alone is not a sufficient answer. Dickens already covered the subject in literature and Marx did not provide any viable answer to the problems despite his own opinion to the contrary. But neither are the current iterations of religion.

    We need only look to people who buy bottled water in a restaurant where a glass of safe water is free, to people with regrettable tattoos, to those obese and undernourished at the same time, to smart phone addiction, to the Chicago gun wars, to adoration of Donald Trump by marginalized people, to drugs ravaging rural-land to know we are near the fruitcake stage in matters of common sense NOW—-and that the tendency is quite wide-spread. Tell me how we are going to pay people for their contributions to having America go less idiotic, and I’ll tell you the direction we need to be heading. Telling me how you plan to not pay them at all doesn’t count, though. We need “the carrot” and Dickens’ time has already proven why “the stick” is not the pure cure.

  • leoj

    A more humane economy, and a more inclusive prosperity, is possible.

    Possible, you say. How?

    For example, new technologies hold out the possibility of a radical reduction in the average size of economic enterprises, creating the possibility of work that is more creative and collaborative at a scale convivial to family, community, and polis.

    And yet, what do we see when we look at actually existing economies where such thinking has gained preeminence?

    Unlike their often ruthless and unpleasant 20th century moguls, the Silicon Valley elite has done relatively little for the country’s lagging productivity or to create broad-based opportunity. The information sector has overall been a poor source of new jobs—roughly 70,000 since 2010—with the gains concentrated in just a few places. This as the number of generally more middle-class jobs tied to producing equipment has fallen by half since 1990 and most new employment opportunities have been in low-wage sectors like hospitality, medical care, and food preparation.

    The rich, that is, have gotten richer, in part by taking pains to minimize their tax exposure. Now they are talking grandly about having the government provide all the now “excess” humans with a guaranteed minimum income. The titans who have shared or spread so little of their own wealth are increasingly united in the idea that the government—i.e., middle-class taxpayers—should spread more around.

    Save yourself the trouble of reading this piece (which I can’t believe I’m still paying for…), and read the rest of Kotkin’s piece (which is free):

    • FriendlyGoat

      Looking at your link, who would today be the modern equivalent of the “early 20th Century progressives” now that so many people have been peeled off by religion to spend their energies SUPPORTING corporatism?

      • leoj

        How tuned in to the evangelical community are you today (as opposed to at some point in the past)? From what I understand, they are increasingly suspicious of Silicon Valley, new media, Hollywood, etc; although I imagine they still support an economy (even one of scale) that encourages work (skilled, labor). “Corporatism” is not some monolith, since it also exists to serve our early 21st Century progressives. Perhaps them especially…

        • FriendlyGoat

          My “tune-in” to the white evangelical community today is limited to the realization that 81% of it voted for Donald Trump and most of the high-profile ministries plan to stick with him no matter what. He, in turn, appears to be willing to give Silicon Valley and the entire entertainment and communications industries anything they could possibly want from tax cuts to deregulation to plenty of foreign techies (immigration on a “merit” basis, meaning those ready to work in intellectual jobs NOW at places like Google). As for Hollywood and so forth, the church has always griped about its supposedly-corrupting influences WHILE watching the fare. When I once attended the Church of the Nazarene decades ago, I learned that they had historically been against going to “movie houses”, but when VHS cassettes came in they were having a debate about whether renting the same movies for home would be different and therefore okay. Even as Fox Network produced some of the most anti-family-values programming ever seen on broadcast TV, they seemed to think Fox was a good-for-family company because of Fox News. Net, net, I do not expect church conservatives to be of any help whatsoever in any struggle against the takeover by tech titans—–as a result of complete cluelessness (even to their own brand name concerns such as alleged deterioration of “family values”, let alone larger issues such as monopolization.)

          • leoj

            So, no you aren’t tuned in…. Good to know.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The reason I no longer hang around with evangelicals after decades of doing so is that most of them went nuts with Ronald Reagan and have been promoting civic baloney ever since. The observable difference now is that the Trump shtick is actually worse, causing more evangelicals to be enamored with it. If any of them had wanted any reins whatsoever applied to Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, telecom, the entertainment juggernaut, and the likelihood of automation eating their jobs and lives, they would not have elected the policies they are about to receive from conservatism in government.

          • leoj

            Don’t worry, FriendlyG, it seems you’re still a good Calvinist–the most important thing being that no mistake (real or only imagined, from today or generations past) go unpunished.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Calvinist? I never wanted to be a Calvinist, even when I was in church, let alone since I left.

          • leoj

            It’s not about what we want to be, in which case most of us would be saints. Explain to me why you believe these people whom you no longer deign to associate with must suffer because you disagree with their politics. For the Calvinist, disagreement is sufficient occasion for the other party to be made to suffer.

          • FriendlyGoat

            For goodness’ sakes. I don’t want anybody to suffer. All I want from Christianity is for every person to have a chance to go to a prayer closet and say something like this in the heart: “Dear Jesus. I believe in you. Please come into my life, forgive my sins, help me to do right, to do better, and to treat others with love and grace. Thank you.”

            I believe this actually works to save people and to make better people, especially with repetition, and I think it works better than too much Bible or too much group church. THEN, we are to go forth trying to be what we asked Jesus to help us be. That will include not becoming shills for the modern collection of half-cocked and/or false claims made by Republicanism—–now Trumpism.

          • leoj

            But for you the most important fact in politics today is that some 80% of evangelicals voted Republican. For you, it is a fact that bears repeating no matter what the context of discussion. For example, the Kotkin article makes no mention of this fact, and yet for you it is the central concern of the discussion.

            Bad things happen to these people because they should. They have whored themselves out to Babylon and their black-eye is just deserts. In view of this state of affairs, it’s no wonder you bang on about these evangelicals!

          • FriendlyGoat

            I took church serious as a kid. I took the heart thing with Jesus serious. I still do and the profound SIMPLICITY of that part is the beauty of it. But now I have as indisputable evidence of the fact that too much of church is off the rails—–the 81% Trump thing with the white evangelical wing. It’s craziness for a heart Christian. It is right now the number one spiritual story in America and the number one political story in America. We need to get our “Christian nation” back to real Jesus—–with WAAYYY less “help” from the church-industrial complex. This is the reason I talk about these things nearly ALL the time. They are the most important things for America and for Christianity itself.

            As for whoredom and Babylon, they are OT concepts I never bring up and never would. Why did you?

          • leoj

            Right! And for you to have the moral high-ground, these faux Christians of the church-industrial complex need suffer. If the problem was more mundane, more secular, the bad guys running under Billy Graham’s banner might not get the message. And that message is divine retribution for Pilgrim’s wayward passage upon the elephant rather than the donkey. I think I get what you’re saying.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I think you don’t get anything but Trump in your ear and a desire to whack on anybody not in your current tribe. It’s surprising to me that one can talk with you about Jesus to no effect whatsoever. It seems that I might as well be talking to a brick wall. It would be nice, though, if you could stop lying about my alleged desire to make people suffer. That part is rather offensive. But, what’s new? All of Trumpism is predicated on being offensive. That’s the main trouble with it.

          • leoj

            Your love of Jesus is indeed inspiring. I feel it especially when you speak of your brothers in Christ, the evangelicals.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Snark is not better. I do not have to be a Trumpie just because some pastors are or some church members are. A great deal of them are following Donald as the de facto leader of church and they do not even know such a leadership shuffle has occurred in their lives. Somebody has to say so and I am one who will.

          • leoj

            But you said you no longer associate with them. Haven’t since Reagan (30 years now!). You only know this data point gleaned from fivethirtyeight, or wherever. For you it confirms it. Donald is the Great Beast, the false prophet sent to separate the wheat from the chaff. You, sir, are a veritable prophet!

          • FriendlyGoat

            When I say I do not associate with them, I mean I do not attend and attempt to participate in their churches. They don’t want me in my present mindset anyway. Seriously. I had a Baptist pastor recruiting on my front porch who told me “no” when I asked him if I might be a good fit for his church if I am a political liberal. Actually happened less than 10 years ago.

            As far as associating kindly with my evangelical friends and neighbors in real life—–OF COURSE I do that daily and I don’t rag on them about either their church or their politics. There is real life outside those church walls and outside these comment sections.
            You’d be surprised to know I am a very friendly goat IRL.

            Now, once again, can you leave off the “let’s play church” Biblical words dropped BY YOU to explain ME? You have no idea how absurd those seem when they are lobbed over like bombs after what I put into the exchange with you above. Bye, leoj.

          • leoj

            Absurd? I think I understand very well. A benediction: May you find peace with your fellow brethren for your sake and all of ours in the comment section here. Amen, FriendlyG!

          • leoj

            You continually silent-edit your posts even when we are still talking below. This is a questionable practice, my goat loving friend….

            Read St John of Patmos about whores and babylon and such. Though as you said, like almost everything in the NT it has its start in the Jewish scriptures, which you for some reason have a problem with. Perhaps this can explain in part your hatred of evangelicals.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I edited some of them to make them better, even as you were replying in fast-action mode. Sometimes your replies and my edits occurred at the same time.

            My main problem with what you call Jewish scriptures is that we are supposed to have learned by now not to take too much of them too seriously. Christ was necessary, after all, to straighten out what had become a religious mess at the time he appeared on earth. You are trying to paint me now as somehow against Jewish people when I am not, of course, for yet another jab and I do notice that, okay? But it’s not my fault that Christianity and Judaism are essentially two different religions with two different sets of guiding priorities. It’s not my fault that the NT supersedes much of the teaching of the OT and came along as a fix and a change. Trying to declare the two seamless when they are not is the root of a lot of theological confusion. It took me a long time to learn that.

          • leoj

            But it seems I’m right, this is another of your “problems with evangelicals,” this “theological confusion.” But is it confusing when I quote some Jew on an island who wrote something that is in your scriptures. You are the destroyer of seemlessness. You are the great divider. The one who separates between the true faith and the false. I’ll give that to you. Congrats.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m going to go out trusting Jesus. I can’t go out trusting “every word of this Bible is true” when most people know or should know that there is no particular reason to believe that. The Bible is fairly clear in a strict construction of it that we are living, for instance, in a young-creation or young-earth timeline. We aren’t and we now clearly know that we aren’t and why we aren’t. We also are not stoning people for religious infractions on the orders of any clerics—-regardless of OT writings lingering in the same “books” for the confusion of some Jews, some Christians and some Muslims. The mental reconciliation of this stuff is necessary for honest people. It is done by putting Jesus in the heart, but discriminatory sense in the head concerning scripture—-as needed.

          • leoj

            Some of this I agree with, some not. The fountainhead of one extremely important school of Christian hermeneutics was Philo Judaeus. He believed every “word was true” I’m certain but was the furthest thing from a young-creation intelligent design type of guy. Dispensation is not just a Christian idea but a jewish one, too, as you don’t really see rabbis stoning people either even though OT, and all that. I’m not saying there aren’t important differences, but I believe the similarities are just as or even more important. I think evangelicals could learn a lot from that, as well. Here there is likely greater agreement than disagreement between us. That too would be nice… 🙂

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, agreement would be nice. Blessings on you today in the here and now, leoj! Will that work?

          • leoj


          • FriendlyGoat

            Done deal.

          • Jim__L

            He’s said enough nasty things about the Old Testament that he really does qualify as anti-Semitic at this point.

          • Jim__L

            Well, we kept making fun of him for going on and on about top-end tax rates. He’s found a new hobbyhorse, apparently. Good for him, sort of.

    • D4x

      Brink Lindsey basically wrote a review of Edward Bellamy, “Looking Backward: 2000–1887”, 1888. “utopian future, in which production and society were ordered for the smooth production and distribution of commodities to a regimented labor force.”

      while channeling William Morris, “News from Nowhere”, 1890 “In this society there is no private property, no big cities, no authority, no monetary system, no divorce, no courts, no prisons, and no class systems. This agrarian society functions simply because the people find pleasure in nature, and therefore they find pleasure in their work.
      Morris reviewed the novel “Looking Backward” in the Commonweal on 21 June 1889.”

      I wrote my paper on the same utopias and dystopias in 2004, and can not believe I just read this, some of the phrases are almost identical.

      Just wish I had read both before embarking on a career based on believing the myth of “the educational credentials needed to enter the meritocracy,” along with ‘adapting to the value chain’, which did not matter because the credential requirement kept changing.
      Apparently the real key to entering that meritocracy was to play the stock market in the 1990’s on a steady diet of Soma “Brave New World”, ignore the career adaptation mythology.

      • leoj

        Ultimately, the education is for its own sake. It stays with you forever which is only slightly longer than the financial burden.

        I’m a big fan of William Morris, especially his translations of the Icelandic sagas. I’ve just been reading Aurel Kolnai’s work on the Utopian Mind. Well worth reading.

        Was away for the weekend, so I have some catching up to do. Hope all is well!

    • Jim__L

      Kotkin’s a gem. TAI should get him on board here…

      • leoj

        It would be great to read him here since there seems to be real affinity between Kotkin and Mead. But it doesn’t seem Kotkin has much trouble finding places to publish (Orange County Register, Daily Beast, Forbes). I’m hoping Mead finishes this book soon!

  • Anthony

    “Here then is the social reality that the narrowly economic perspective cannot apprehend. A way of life has died, and with it a vital source of identity. In the aftermath, many things are falling apart – local economics, communities, families, lives….

    If we pull back from a narrow focus on incomes and purchasing power, however, we see something much more troubling than economic stagnation. Outside a well educated and comfortable elite comprising 20-25 percent of Americans, we see unmistakable signs of social collapse. We see, more precisely, social disintegration – the progressive unraveling of the human connections that give life structure and meaning: declining detachment to work; declining participation in community life; declining rates of marriage and two-parent child rearing….

    The scale of the challenge facing us is immense. What valuable and respected contributions to society can ordinary people not flush with abstract analytical skills make? How can we mend fraying attachments to work, family, and community? There are volumes to write on this subject, but there is at least one reason to hope – we can hope for something better because, for the first time in history, we are free to choose something better.” (Brink Lindsey)

    The essay (Brink Linsey) makes poignant and thoughtful points; though citing (mentioning) effects of “neoliberalism” (supported by both Democratic and Republican policy makers) on facilitating working-class destabilization would also lend context to challenges presently faced by ordinary people not flush with….

    • rbs76

      People had more personal, private initiative in the past (50 years ago), especially with their hours outside the wage workplace. This added most of what you find missing, both outside the workplace and inside. Expecting some “power of society” to make people happier as if they are barnyard animals will only make them as happy as barnyard animals. Today’s primary schools enhance this, they do not glorify the rewards if personal initiative and responsibility, work, family, community come from what people in and of themselves put into it -to the extent it is believed that large scale social policy can provide this it can never exist.

      Mr. Trump is a bit whacked, but he knew how to keep most of his employees happy, and it was to publicly glorify their personal drive and initiative. If Obama had made that his central touchstone, he could have succeeded for the US instead of being a disaster. Even more depressing when you consider the lucky skills he was born with. Homogenizing individuals into groups undermines the chance of a better world.

      • Anthony

        O.K. But, I don’t believe Lindsey disputes your take. I would rather think you and he agree at the margins – just that he (in essay) extends both horizon and social place for meaning of working class.

  • pathman1066

    Excellent essay. But the fundamental problem is that a hefty chunk of the populace is simply not equipped to thrive in a post-industrial, information-based world. That’s not because educational opportunities are lacking, but because not everyone is intrinsically wired with the sort of attributes that this society now values more than ever. Indeed, the evolutionary pressures on our species were for robust physical constitutions and mindsets amenable to tedious farm work–traits that translated rather well to factories. While we still as a society value physical prowess, as evidenced by the millions we give to the very best athletes, it’s not going to pay the bills or provide substantial meaning for the vast majority of people.

    “What valuable and respected contributions to society can ordinary people not flush with abstract analytical skills make?” That’s the question left unanswered.

    • Jim__L

      What valuable and respected contributions to society can ordinary people not flush with abstract analytical skills make?

      – Being a good mom (or dad) — opportunity destroyed by feminists
      – Building real things — opportunity destroyed by environmentalists and offshorers

      That covers a whole lot of ground.

      The rest of pathman’s comment is pseudo-intellectual nonsense. “robust physical constitutions and mindsets amenable to tedious farm work–traits that translated rather well to factories” — assembly line work in factories, historically, leads to burnout in just about everyone. This sort of nonsense betrays immaturity at best, closed-minded idiocy at worst.

      There is no creativity in the bobble-heads that follow George Soros’ propaganda. Soros in his “open society” is making excuses for why everything is just fine, and we don’t have to change the current self-serving trajectory our elites have us on.

      Honestly, having a trajectory that serves the elites has been just fine at various points in history, and in fact is the way of the world for most of human history. I’m not sure it’s possible to “fight it”, exactly.

      HOWEVER — the magic of democracy — the reason we have elections like the 2016 election — is that when the self-service of the elites is bad for the bulk of the population, WE GO AND GET NEW ELITES.

      And democracy lets us do that peaceably. 🙂

  • Tom Scharf

    The working class wants respect and wants to be valuable members of the community and their family. The last thing they want is handouts like a working wage without work.

    Shoe factories didn’t get automated out of existence, they got sent to China. We still wear a lot of shoes. Globalist policy caused this problem in the name of cheaper shoes. Everyone wants cheaper shoes but if I have to pay more for shoes so the middle and lower class isn’t a miserable existence than I will do so.

    What’s lost in the economic equations is that the government’s purpose is to lookout for the welfare of its people, not maximize the GDP of the economy. For a long time those two things were almost the same, now they are diverging. Globalism has gone too far and attitudes like “the end of the working class should not be mourned” results in things like electing “incompetent demagogues”.

    It is incomprehensible to me that people ignore the decline of the working class and simultaneously be dumbfounded that somebody like Trump got elected. Kettle, meet pot. This type of stuff is why elite institutions are no longer trusted.

    The first step to solving this problem is actually caring about it. I find little evidence that a majority of the elite institutions care about anything other than their self perpetuation at this point. Solve the problem or you can expect a lot of experimental blunt tools to be used by the electorate to attempt to solve it themselves.

  • Stephen

    All that hold us back are inertia and a failure of imagination—and perhaps a fear of what we have not yet experienced. There is a land of milk and honey beyond this wilderness, if we have the vision and resolve to reach it.

    Well…Lead on Moses. Lead on.

    • Jim__L

      Lead WHERE? He provides no thoughts on that matter.

      • Stephen


  • rbs76

    In the author’ eye, each of these work life transitions is unique. But that is not the case. Early New England subsistence farming only looked good to someone who had been a field worker for a great estate or a tannery worker in England. Mostly it was endless back breaking labor one half notch above starvation, but, in the winter, you could sit in the dark with some heat for several hours a day and contemplate religion. Better than working in aN English tannery 14 hours a day.

    Midwestern cash crop farming only looked good to someone who had basically watched several generations in New England trying to survive by farming rocks. The upper successful half of midwestern cash crop farmers got to go to the market several days a month to fight for their life over crop prices, the rest of the time was dark to dark raw labor at a modest variation of tasks. The winter was a time to be a human backhow or a human driven sawing machine, a lot less time to sit in the dark contemplating religion. For the non-successful cash crop farmer, you could do the same (with fewer visits to market) and watch your family drift in and out of starvation.

    The factories brought more brutal exhausting tasks for more hours and no diversions -except it was one hell of a lot less likely you would actually starve. Big plus . . . Also, you could form unions to hold others down on the starvation farms and fantasize you had some “power”.

    But, the unions, net, net, only changed things when economic factors improved and things would have changed anyway, people who could stick it a an assembly line year after year were not that plentiful, companies did compete from time to time for fully “broke-in” labor.

    The author’s hoped for answer is exactly to throw off what he thinks was good in the unionized factories. We would have tens of thousands more small and more satisfying (if stressful) firms, but, regulations are killing this. Also, a growing number of these firms require a climate not of class solidariy, but fierce mental and work competition against your neighbor; small firms proliferate when people are tring new ideas to beat and make obsolete the concepts of your neighbor. Yes, education is important for these new firms, but much of the US higher education is of little practical value; selling success is as well educated in the street as minority studies needs an absence of such street experience to be studied and accepted. And this is just for simple small businesses.

    One thing missed by all these articles is that, fairly mundane jobs of today, say, data entry clerk, supply enough income to live as well as middle managers did in the fifties. Really. A top 20% manager in a good size corp in the fifties still found his wife making clothes in the basement and mowing his own yard, and spending most of the weekend hard at work maintaining a 1,500 sq. foot home. Today’s data entry clerk may not choose this constant labor, but they have the option to do so and live materially as well as that ’50’s manager. People worked all the time in the ’50’s, especially when the job day ended and they would work for themselves.

  • D. G.

    The working class has always been a joke, you are nothing but slaves to others. I left the working class at age 26 and never looked back.

  • Jim__L

    “If they cannot afford bread, let them eat cake!”

  • Publius Houstoniensis

    This is what happens when we eschew bourgeois values.

  • chunga’s revenge

    Hi Brink, I’m a longtime fan. You do a great job of describing the problem, but are a little short on specific solutions. I’m a liberal Trump supporter and the main reason I want him to succeed is that he’s the sole person out there, outside of Bernie Sanders, who’s saying none of what you describe here, and what most every expert is resigned to is somehow inevitable. The working class may disappear, but if and when it does it should be a choice. Robots and AI are great, but we should decide how, where, and when their deployed. I’d certainly support any law banning drones parked over my backyard, for example. The future is ours to control as long as we have will to fight for what we want for ourselves and for our children and it may be as fine as you intimate in your conclusion. Getting there means some form of protectionism, serious thinking about the power of Silicon valley, and a willingness to say no for a while to increased economic prosperity, if that’s the price of getting control over our lives.

    • Jim__L

      The law against drones parked over your back yard is found in the Constitution — it’s called the Fifth Amendment.

      The solution to the drone problem is also there — it’s called the Second Amendment. =)

  • Dantes

    “And this past November, whites in Rust Belt states made the difference in putting the incompetent demagogue Donald Trump into the White House.”

    Go. To. Hell. I’m a white male doctor, high income, and tired of the professional class demagogues like Obama whom you most likely worshiped. Trump is handling Korea and the Middle East better than your “competent demagogues”, and doing more for the rule of law, cutting government regulations, and all the rest of the professional class demagogues who’ve been getting us into the mess we are in for the last 50 years.

  • Bret Ashby

    Not one mention of the elephant in the room, taxes and tax policy. Strange.

    • Curious Mayhem

      And monetary policy. Artificially low interest rates don’t just subsidize TBTF banks, inflate the assets of the wealthy, and divert interest income from savers (including pensions and insurance companies, which are forms of collective saving).

      Artificially low interest rates and the explosion of bank reserves, in a low-growth environment, encourages resources to be put into speculation and reckless lending, not productive investment. The reckless lending includes the subprime revolution of the last 20 years, lending money to municipalities (like Chicago and Puerto Rico) which make reckless promises they can’t keep and which will never fully pay back what they’ve borrowed, and Germany lending money to anyone in the EU with a pulse who will buy their exports. Speculation includes technology companies with no earnings, more houses than anyone could need. inflating commodity prices and setting off revolutions in the Middle East, and … oh yeah … technology companies with no earnings, Part Two.

      Non-residential investment in the US never recovered from the DotCom crash of the early 2000s. It’s now a quarter or a third of its postwar average up to 2000. The consequences are inevitable: low to zero productivity growth, no “good jobs,” wave stagnation. Then the Fed, surveying the devastation left by its own insane policies, scratches its head and wonders at weak wage growth or poor capital formation.

  • Fat_Man

    Potted Democrat Party history of the world, with themselves and the their creatures, the labor unions, as the heros. The unions were created by the New Deal to be the muscle behind the ascendant order. Their success and spread was due to the political decsicions taken by the Democrat party to exempt the unions from legal supervision and allow them to physically beat anyone who did not passively allow the unions to control the shop floor. And the legal order that allowed the unions to operate outside of the anti-trust laws and to enforce the closed shop contract. They decline of the unions was caused by their killing of every industry they organized.

    The economic success of the United States in the generation after WWII was simple. The US had the only functioning industrial economy in the world after the war ended.

    As for what it holding us back from adapting to the new world order, it is socialism pure and simple. It is failing in the United States, jsut as it has failed everywhere. Its bankruptcy and collapse will come as no surprise to anyone.

  • Jim__L

    I would love to tear this to shreds piece by piece. It’s such a target-rich environment, as the saying goes.

    “Although the Great Recession knocked incomes downward, they have now recovered almost all the ground they lost.”

    What, eight years later??? Most recoveries, when not presided over by a Democrat that’s popular for no good reason, are MUCH faster than that.

    ” In England, where industrialization originated, a preexisting class hierarchy based on the enormous land holdings of the hereditary aristocracy made it easier for capitalists to think of their workers as a lower order who were useful only from the neck down.”

    And now we’ve got Hillary saying that anyone who doesn’t bobble from the neck up whenever she or Soros says something, is “deplorable”, fit only for… what? Destruction? Maoist re-education? Certainly not for electing their own government…

    ” H. G. Wells, in The Time Machine, speculated that class divisions would eventually sunder humanity into two separate species, the Eloi and the Morlocks.”

    … This is supposed to be something that doesn’t happen now? Eloi = creatives, Morlocks = everyone else, the “deplorables”.

    “The wages paid to industrial labor were always a bribe to surrender one’s brain, and part of one’s soul, at the factory gate.”

    So instead, you surrender all of your brain and all of your soul to unquestioning conformity to The Open Society’s propaganda and “morality”.

    “The low productivity of traditional agriculture meant that mass oppression was unavoidable; the social surplus was so meager that the fruits of civilization were available only to a tiny elite”

    What a failure of imagination this is! If the social surplus is small, this author believes it is inevitable that that surplus would be concentrated in the hands of an oppressive elite, instead of being kept by the people who produced it.

    In all this essay, I kept waiting to find the solution he’s proposing, the choices among which “for the first time in history, we are free to choose”.

    It just isn’t there.

  • Curious Mayhem

    One thing I can say for sure is that the semi-skilled labor of the working class back in the day was brutal. Not just the class domination aspects, but simply the physical demands. I still remember the stories I heard from my parents’ generation and before, of work in mines, factories, ships, and so on. You had to match your human rhythm and strength to that of the machines you were operating. Then you keeled over and died at age 60.

    The other thing I can say for sure is that, pace Trump et al., these jobs have not been disappearing mainly because of globalization or offshoring. Almost all economic study of the decline of such jobs since about 1950 puts the main blame with automation. Automation as we know it didn’t exist before World War II (sometimes people wrongly project it back into the 19th or 18th century). Before, you had design and intent in the hands of management and capitalists; intermediation by managers and floor bosses; and the final human control, with minimal intelligence required, exercised by the worker. Automation has been gradually eliminating the need for this division, by unifying intermediation and final control into single machines. Soon, automation will start taking some of the design and intent as well. Working class jobs disappear, and in the last 25 years, even some management jobs too.

    The sociological problem resulting is well-telegraphed by this article. A pride, a hopefulness, a path to a better tomorrow, has been lost, for all its soul-numbing aspects so perceptively anticipated in Adam Smith’s famous account. However, let’s not forget the purely economic loss. A whole productive way of life is its final stages. Will they all just end up on UBI?

  • Discriminating Palate

    The trades are dying for new recruits, but the Progressives taught us that if you don’t get a college degree and get a white-collar job, you are a failure.

    The tech industry is the new ‘Middle Class’, you can stop wondering where it went. And since we have a constant influx of New Poor who are more than happy to do the Jobs Americans Won’t Do, those with little ambition need do nothing.

    The big problem is, Progressives have taught us that ambition equates to upward mobility or intellectual connivance, rather than simply being content with what we have, and satisfied that at the end of the day you got out of bed and did what you needed to do to live the quality of life you choose to live. Oops, does that sound bad? Sorry, but the Progressive dogma is that anyone but oneself is responsible for his lot in life, and the worse his lot, the greater is the failing of others.

    I can’t look outside without seeing Latinos doing all the manual labor- be that washing dishes, cooking, managing the aisles of Home Depot, let alone working all the construction sites, be they general contractor scale, or super-urban high-rise projects. And do I resent them? Nope, they know what they need to do to get where they’re going. I resent articles like this saying people not destined for the college degree, white-collar path are society’s rejects. The trades are a whole socioeconomic group entirely ignored by the Progressive ideology. Thanks to the elimination of shop classes in schools, kids nowadays have no idea how to make something or do something with their hands, other than to type on a keyboard. They simply have no exposure to the concept of doing it yourself.

    The Progressive Globalist agenda is tantamount to the Russian Revolution or the Chinese Cultural Relolution- sow the seeds of discontent, foment class warfare and set us against ourselves. Divide and conquer, and as soon as we have forgotten the notion of self-worth and personal responsibility, they will place us under the yoke where no one works harder than the next, no one can dream of producing a surplus to better oneself, and power and wealth are the exclusive domain of the bureaucrats.

  • Joe Eagar

    ” And as mass affluence prompted a cultural turn away from mere material accumulation and toward self-expression and personal fulfillment as life’s highest desiderata, the terms of that deal only grew more excruciating.”

    That American elites can blithely write such drivel without shame is a travesty. Obviously people who aren’t included in mass affluence aren’t participants in the “cultural turn away from mere material accumulation and toward self-expression”, no?

    This is called acting in bad faith. Milton Friedman’s worst contribution to public life was his damn advice on that topic. It’s pretty common for people act in in bad faith. Assuming otherwise may be good for one’s mental health, but it’s not true. This author is acting in bad faith, and should be ashamed for it.

  • OlyJan

    Mr. Lindsey – this is a beautiful piece of writing – i felt at times like i was reading Dickens. It is in the simplicity of telling a human story that the pain seeps though the words. it brings to my heart the same feeling i get when i know so many people think going to jail is not nearly enough punishment – no blankets, tv, books, proper food! The loss of physical, mental freedom is so horrifying – what prevents people from knowing that? You paint the same picture of the monotony of factory work. What prevents people from knowing what the human mind endures before it ceases to be human? I really loved this piece – Bravo. I scribbled it up with my own notes and wrote about it in my study journals – it goes to the heart of what i abhor about the ‘study’ of economics – where are THE PEOPLE? no ‘math problem’ disguising itself as “supply side” can undo the human mind. We MUST demand to be SEEN and show a little compassion for our own humaness. Thank you!

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