The fall of Rome with spoiled brats

I’m finally getting around to reading this months Atlantic monthly (you’d think for the amount of time I shill for them they’d throw me some swag or something) and hit upon ‘How a New Jobless Era will Transform America‘ by Don Peck.  It’s grim.  Basically, unemployment (and underemployment) is over 17% and we’re going to need amazing levels of growth over an extended period of time if we want to get at the ‘benchmark’ rate of around 5%.  But that’s not what caused me to write about the article.

Check out this quote:

“…the innovative potential of the U.S. economy looks limited today.”

“Dynamism in the U.S. has actually been in decline for a decade; with the housing bubble fueling easy (but unsustainable) growth for much of that time, we just didn’t notice…”

At the risk of appearing melodramatic, for some reason I immediately thought about the late Roman empire.  While I don’t think this the the end (or even the beginning of the end) I began thinking about how aware we might be to historically significant trends and events that might be going on around us.  Did Romans see the spread of the Laitfundium and the tying of people to hereditary occupations would lead to weaken the empire over the long term and eventually give rise to feudalism?  Heck, provided you weren’t in the way of the migratory nations would you even know the empire was ‘falling’ (a long, inevitable decline rather than just a temporary rough spot)?

“We haven’t seen anything like this before:  a really deep recession combined with a really extended period, maybe as much as eight years, all told, of highly elevated unemployment…We’re about to see a big national experiment on stress.”

So how might something like this affect the population and then what would the long term consequences be (if any) on the culture (political/social/economic) and international system?

That leads into my second point which is a bit more whimsical.  Peck makes it quite clear that it’s ‘folly’ to try to characterize entire generations with labels and stereotypes.

But, once that formality is out of the way, he takes a couple pages to generalize and slap around Gen Yers.  Normally, I’d really call him out on that but since I enjoy talking trash about them as well (Us generation  Xers are the only decent generation – everyone else is either too old or too dopey).

Well, all I’ve got to say is we’re in big trouble if Peck is right about these knuckleheads.

“…a combination of entitlement and highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and entrepreneurialism in many 20-somethings.  They’re used to checklists…and ‘don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.”

Peck then goes on to spread the gloom.  These economic conditions could also strike a blow to the institution of marriage as the poor put it off (too expensive and risky) but don’t postpone having children (which are seen as a ‘low cost way to achieve meaning and bolster identity’).  This leads one of Peck’s sources to say:

We could be headed in a direction where, among elites, marriage and family are conventional, but for substantial portions of society, life is more matriarchal.

One of the emerging stories of this recession has been that crime hasn’t risen as many people expected.  Some say this proves that ‘liberal’ theories about why people commit crime is flawed (lack of alternatives, economic shortcomings, etc.).  The argument in the article is that the impact of a distressed economy on the social fabric takes time to manifest (insert your trying to turn a battleship on a dime metaphor here) and will take a long time to recover from as well.

So…predictions of immediate spikes in crime were unfounded and treated society as much more nimble than it is.  For us, the worst may be in the pipeline.

Finally, misery won’t be a positive social bonding experience either:

…both inside and outside the U.S., lengthy periods of economic stagnation or decline have almost always left society more mean-spirited and less inclusive, and have usually stopped or revered the advance of rights and freedoms.

The article does have some problems.  It’s filled with so many ‘could’, ‘might’, ‘may’ phrases that it sounds like a a weather report (‘We can expect either rain or sun today so bring your umbrella and sun screen!’).   The article relies on various experts in the field (although the article doesn’t provide a lot of clues how reliable/credible these people are) and anecdotal evidence so it’s difficult to tell how much of this article is steak and how much is sizzle.

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