Preparing for the American ice age (part 4 of infinity)
The classic image of the United States is that of a nation and people who can do anything. A formidable, irrepressible, unstoppable force. This captures today’s image of World War II-era America and “the greatest generation.”
We forget (or were we ever taught?) that era followed the economic Great Depression, economic and physical dislocation – partly due to the prolonged ecological disaster of the Dust Bowl droughts, unprecedented government intrusion into and control over Americans’ lives (the New Deal), an imperial executive plan to increase the size of the Supreme Court, depraved indifference – or the dog-whistle approval – towards foreign despots (Hitler, Mussolini, Franco) running amok in Europe, and finally the December 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Don’t you hear echoes of that time today?
Key to our victories in the European and Pacific theaters was our collective determination to emerge from our stupor, mobilize, and activate our productive capacity. That means one core thing: We made stuff. We did things that made a difference.
Then, actual unemployment was official and it was epic. Actual unemployment is also considerable today; except that millions are not officially in the workforce having either dropped out, entered the gig economy, or likely dropped out of the legal economy (i.e., working under the table). What is different and much worse is the absolutely counterproductive and parasitic effect of millions more who don’t “do” anything; they are employed at a cost to the rest of us. These people may “work,” but they don’t add value. They just benefit from the redistribution of money from the productive sector.
America’s economy is now propped up by an endless game of three card monte. We rely on transfer payments (taxes and mandated health insurance) to fund the legions of government workers, and workers in certain “financial services” industries. Yet, these millions of people produce absolutely nothing! We have millions for whom Orwellian word games justify their make-work existence. We have fewer doctors and nurses. Instead we have “health care providers” whose fingers never touch a patient or syringe, but which the government-insurance apparatus would have us believe are necessary, although not sufficient for people to be cared for.
When is the last time you heard of a new hospital opening? Ever wonder why hospitals are always closing, nurses can’t get hired, doctors are selling their practices and retiring, and you can’t get a doctor’s appointment this month? It’s because we are not spending money on actual health care. We spend money – trillions now – so millions of people can do make work; make it look good and sell us on the notion that, without these transaction cost vampires playing middleman, everything will fall apart and people will die without real health care. No wonder Obamacare is mandatory.
Just like the inefficient street sweepers which move trash in a circle and claim with straight faces they’re cleaning the street, motion should never be confused with accomplishment, never mind with progress. We’ve become an economy dependent on selling, persuading or compelling the purchase of “services” with increasingly dubious value. Since we’ve run out of productive hosts from which to suck the lifeblood, our sales forces have been turning to virgin foreign markets. The activity does not obscure the central truth: America makes less and less, adds less and less value, and in that regard is losing ground to foreign competitors.
During the Great Depression the national industrial and manufacturing capacity was underutilized. The same is true – blisteringly true – today. The difference is that idle factories in 1936 have been replaced by the idle minds of 2016. Thanks to all sorts of drugs, the social acceptance of “therapy,” and a decline in resilience, today’s equivalent of the Great Depression might accurately be called the Great Entropy. Most of the nation is running on a collective treadmill; producing perspiration and looking good while going nowhere.
We need to rediscover our innovation. Our purpose. Our drive. Yet, in the midst of this new American Ice Age, there are green shoots. Emerging technologies – developed in America – were the key to America’s post-war prosperity. Out of the Great Depression emerged dominant automobile, aviation, and communications industries which transformed society and greatly improved our mobility, access to fresh food, and ultimately ushered in The Information Age.
Today, despite rampant interference from government and its collaborators in captive big business, innovations in fields such as block chain technology promise us freedom from the compulsion of forced trust in the once trusted institutions, which are now widely distrusted and whose existence may soon be in peril. Our minds have never been freer. Our innovators have never been more defiant of and determined to circumvent obstacles produced by the revolving door between government and its privileged allies in industry, the media, and higher education.
The attitudinal shift of this new and emerging American economic elite may be the cutting edge to a new era of prosperity, and ultimately to a renewal in America’s economy and society.