How many friends of yours are in some sort of trouble? How many friends of yours are struggling to pay bills… struggling to find a place to live… struggling with a health issue?
Is it just me?
Sure, many of my friends are like myself. Sometimes not the most practical people. Some folks I know have some other issues. You know. Still, I have been around some time now and I don’t recall any time when so many people I knew were going through so much stress. It seems like, in the past couple of years, the cracks grew into monstrous jaws and they are swallowing not just the derelicts… but also the educated… the hard working… even the “privileged”.
Stocks are up!
Employment is at record lows!
44% of the “employed” make about $18,000 a year.
I used to make ten bucks an hour. I never did get any dividends.
This isn’t working. This hasn’t been working for a long time. Way back in 2000, I started to take an interest in social economics. I think I was in an environment that fed into my interests. I was working in luxury condos and penthouses along the Florida coast. At night, I went back to my brother’s studio in the sketchy side of Sarasota. There was a housing project nearby and the cops circled the neighborhood like vultures.
I liked to take walks and I was constantly harassed for it. The cops would shake me down in the hood and when I ventured on Tamiami Trail old men in shiny black cars would ask me if I needed a ride.
I knew where they wanted to go.
The cops eventually gave me a ride to their jail. The residents inside the county jail were mostly black men from the housing project. It was just the sequel to slavery. These men would be bound to the state with sentences, fines, fees, and dead-end jobs they would be forced to keep or the cycle would start all over again.
Meet the new boss…
This was the new economy. While the Great American Myth would be perpetuated by heroes like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, the underlying economy was rotting. This paved the way not for the next great innovators but instead a new highway for a wave of predators and parasites.
America’s new growth market was not its “consumers”.
It was its victims.
Bring in the predatory loans… payday lenders… rent to own… debt collectors… conmen and their lawyers… quick money scams… fake colleges… police departments with military gear… private prisons.
Bring in Donald J Trump.
When I could get past the security with my bare feet, I would check out academic books on social economics from the library. It would seem an odd interest for a musician but I am odd on most accounts.
Inequality was certainly not new but more academics were sounding the alarm about how it was growing. The topic was not getting much air in the mainstream. No one was shouting about it in the election campaigns that year but people were beginning to feel less secure. The election of 2000 was defined not by hanging chads or Ralph Nader but by the betrayal of the “Clinton Democrats”. Under Clinton, the Democratic Party took such a hard right turn that it emerged virtually indistinguishable from the Republicans. Just like in 2016, the election was not decided by the people that voted but, instead, by people who felt they had no one to vote for.
With Democrats crowding their “pro-business” Reagan Republican space, the Republicans packed their bags and moved to Nazi-town. I mean, they had to differentiate themselves somehow.
This is a democracy!
Ten years later, Occupy emerged in the financial district of New York City. The Great Recession created a new urgency and the protest finally brought inequality some mainstream attention. It was no longer just the uneducated and the minorities that were falling through the cracks. Young people with degrees were finding no place to take them. Even people with in demand skills were finding themselves in contract work rather than full time employment or, worse, with an internship.
Today, almost a decade since Occupy, the transition to a Third World economy is almost complete. A large swath of the population that would, in previous generations, have been destined for the middle class now finds themselves no more than a week’s pay from ruin. Many of those that made it to the middle class find themselves in a tenuous relationship with it. The ground below them is not steady. New business models and new technologies are rapidly emerging that will render current valued skillsets obsolete.
I sit in an office today. It is an ironic place to find myself. Below my office, there is a warehouse. People down there get by. Some workers are only brought in during busy seasons. Up in the offices, desks are cleared… chairs are emptied. Decent paying positions disappear. The entire company faces an increasingly tilted market. So far, I am a survivor in our company’s Hunger Games but this will not likely last forever. I know I am not alone in this type of situation. I have had friends kicked out of cushy IT jobs and finding themselves driving forklifts to get by.
Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine came out in 2007. Since then, there have been some new twists such as the social media algorithms igniting ancient tribal feuds but the pattern is the pattern. People are increasingly terrified, panicked, full of dread, or living through actual crisis. This is Third World America. There is a ruling elite: Super-wealthy with golden parachutes, off shore accounts, and island retreats. There is a small professional class occupying the urban centers. And then there is a fight for survival for the rest.
An exhausted and terrorized population is a desperate population. I often hear people complain about how a homeless person wastes his money on cigarettes or a fix instead of saving up for rent. Sure, a pack of smokes is not a good purchase for a homeless person in the long term but if you are in constant physical and mental pain, there is no “long term”. Desperate people do not make good decisions. As more Americans find themselves in similar pain, they will similarly not be able to make good choices. They will be easy marks for conmen offering quick fixes.
This is where we are. It is Donald Trump now and those folks are celebrating prematurely over the damage he has done to our democracy because this country isn’t guaranteed to keep to the right. It could turn hard left just as easily. Both have terrible consequences but a suffering people has no energy to do the hard work it takes to bring this society back to health…
even though that is the only work worth doing…
even though there will soon be no other work for them to do. John Whipple
Ed note: (Barefoot) John Whipple is a musician, writer, artist and eccentric. On Twitter @jpwhipple On Bandcamp jpwhipple.bandcamp.com John is a contributing writer at The Meteor. The Meteor will share more from him in the future.