Wisconsin 2022. Things have gotten bad since 2011. The economy recovered somewhat, employment didn't. Outsourcing, automation, productivity per person, and general economic stagnation have produced a dire economic situation, particularly among young people. The dream of productivity gains allowing people to work less has turned into a nightmare. It's more productive to have fewer employees than to let people work less. Few young people are getting married. Fertility is dropping. Resource prices, particularly for fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizer, just reached an all-time high.
What do things look like? I think in 2011 we are at a crossroads: how to could we deal with a potential "Lights in the tunnel" chronic structural unemployment situation? More and more, this looks like a future reality. A full-time job might not be available to everyone in the future. The job system might collapse.
What will we rely on then? I think this depends on the regulatory climate. I think a favorable realistic situation would be that more and more people become self-reliant for basic needs such as food. For income they rely on various odd jobs and gigs. I see many people moving towards this system right now, including me. Young people with part-time jobs have more time than money, so they are more likely to engage in things like urban homesteading. They cook more at home and care more about things like eating good food, spending time with their families, and exercising. They are likely to live longer than their wealthier hard-working Boomer parents.
Unfortunately, the government seems to want to ignore or quash this sort of thing. For example, a Wisconsin judge ruling in a raw milk case said: "Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice." He later went to work for Monsanto. Many government authorities are part of this revolving door that keeps the government in tune with corporations.
I wonder what sort of system that philosophy leads to? I'm afraid Martin Ford describes it in Lights in the Tunnel. It's a government-based economy where corporations produce everything and in order to keep the consumer system from collapsing (unemployed people are terrible consumers), people are supported by government subsidies that are tied to government-approved incentives. Ford isn't sure what those incentives would be, but thinks they might involve paying people to be eco-friendly or something. Sounds like a dystopia to me.
We are at a crossroads here. The Occupy Wall Street movement is a perfect example. I share OWS's distaste for the fact our government has largely been captured by a small number of elites and corporations. But what are we going to do about it? I have a feeling the government will put social programs in place to distract people from the fact it hasn't changed, that it's still captured. And those social programs are often cleverly disguised corporate subsidies. Notice they never fix the systems that are broken, they just pour more money into them. Universities fail to provide student with real skills, so let's pour more money into them so they can be the new beer and circus for the lost generation. Dairy farms failing? Put in place price supports and regulations that reinforce the failed high-capital industrial systems.
And then we have to "protect" people from everything under the sun, which is a great excuse for all manner of injustices. I wouldn't be surprised if by 2022 you can't buy non-irridiated raw meat at the grocery store because the government has to "protect" people who might not cook it properly.
I was looking at this gallery of photos of young people from China and India holding up signs and this one really struck me:
I looked at it and thought that this is why my creativity is crippled. I am afraid. I am afraid to invest in the things I love, because I know they can be unjustly taken away. I'd rather just not have them in the first place than have my heart broken.
I've eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge and it has poisoned me. I've read Mad Sheep, which is about a farm family that worked hard to bring a rare breed of sheep to the United States and build a business around them, before the government seized and killed them all based on seriously doubtful science. I've read about Joel Salatin's struggle to build a business in a world of regulations designed for giant corporate farms. I've seen footage of armed raids on small farms because people sold things that the government doesn't approve of. I've had friends investigated by Animal Control and Ag & Markets, because someone reported them. Their business suffers no matter if the accusation is correct or not, and the accuser faces no consequences. They can't even know who the accuser was. I've known farmers who lost land to eminent domain because the government decided they weren't important enough.
Why should I bother to work hard? Or to plant walnut trees on our farm in Wisconsin that won't bear nuts for twenty years? What if in twenty years everything has been taken away? It's no wonder young people are occupying wall street insteading of getting out there and building new and interesting things.
So yes, I'd like to see the end of crony capitalism, but let's be careful what we ask the Leviathan for.
Part 2 is here.