The bottom quantile of US households now has less excess savings than in 2019. Note that the top two quantiles represent over 61% of US consumption.
I have friends who are property developers that are absolutely salivating over the coming evictions. Talkin' onesie-twosie guys, not REITs; the same ones who were stretched over the rack buying lumber at Home Depot over the past couple years. I have a friend who's an ER nurse and yes indeedy "deaths from despair" are up, are ugly, and are not coming back down any time soon.
I just finished this chewy little morsel. It's written by this guy, who I found through this incredible thread on Twitter. Wallerstein has like a five volume set on World Systems Theory which I have promised that I shall attempt to read. I suspect it will be harder than this thing because Wallerstein does not write for thee or me. He writes in an academic register deliberately chosen, I suspect, to give undue jargonal heft to arguments that, on the face of it, are pretty hand-wavey.
He acknowledges the hand-wavey nature of his arguments by pointing out that the tragedy of the Enlightenment was that everything became "Science!" and that "Science!" needs a falsifiable hypothesis in order to be true. Which works well for physics but poorly for any study of human nature or civilization because the aspects that are falsifiable tend to be those that are isolated and unrepresentative of generalities. Thus, by insisting that anthropology must be studied the same as chemistry, we have blunted our insight into all things human, and particularly geopolitics.
Wallerstein is the un-Rand. His basic argument is that everything is connected, has always been connected, will always be connected, and that there are no externalities. It should come as no surprise that I find this exciting, as my principle beef with economics is the tendency to externalize everything that disproves your hypothesis. And he sees the world this way:
1) There are five kinds of income: Subsistence, piecework, work-in-kind, wages and influence
- Subsistence includes gardening at home or assembling Ikea furniture - it's stuff that you would have to pay for but you aren't.
- Piecework is selling shit on Etsy, breaking up cartons of cigarettes to sell on street corners, babysitting for your neighbors, anything you make money at but not regularly.
- Work-in-kind is anything that you would normally be doing except you can't because you're earning wages so someone else is doing it for you.
- Wages are paid employment from a regular employer, either by hour or by item.
- Influence is anything you do that makes you more valuable to your community, family or larger social unit, or that makes your community, family or larger social unit more valuable compared to others.
2) Social identity gyrates between the opposing forces of inclusion and exclusion, where increasing the size of the body politic by incorporating minorities or women increases job availability to employers but reduces the other four kinds of income while decreasing the size of the body politic protects wages for the traditional earners ("white men" then "men" then "men and white women" then "born citizens" etc)
3) Since the enlightenment, liberals have driven the world system through the power of capitalism, which runs most effectively on wages to the detriment of the other four types of income. As wage work increases, taxes must increase to pay for all the stuff that would be taken care of otherwise - you need a streets department if you've got people going to the shops and working in a shoe factory but if it's just your extended family in mud huts you pave your own. The social benefits available to a society become increasingly more expensive as that society becomes more developed.
4) Since the enlightenment, this tension is reflected in espousal of liberal values (see? you can't even read Wallerstein without getting all vocab on it) while seeking a return to prejudice and racism. The self-image of liberalism is, in fact, the thing that props up the racism because if all people are equal, yet blacks aren't paid fairly, it's an obvious conclusion that it's because they're inferior. This results in in-group out-group tension, where centrist liberals are pulled towards greater inclusivity and social structures by radicals and greater in-group exclusion and a lack of social safety net by conservatives.
5) The tension does not pull consistently, but by increments where steady-state persists and is disturbed, persists and is disturbed. Wallerstein, who wrote the book in 2004, put the most recent turning points as 1945, when the periphery was fully included in the global system; the "world revolution of 1968", in which the radicals yanked the world away from conservative capitalism and towards inclusive radicalism, and 2001, which the conservatives used as a reason to end globalism, acceptance of Islam and a return to "family values."
Wallerstein argued that these cycles take a minimum of twenty and often more than fifty years to resolve and repeat. He off-handedly referred to them as "thirty years wars." Which, in its own way, is Strauss-Howe Generational Theory without the generations.
What did Wallerstein think of 2016? Strap in:
Wallerstein died in 2019 so we can't ask him what he thought of 2020, 2020.1 or 2020.2. He did make the argument that Russia would invade Poland or Ukraine eventually (and he made it back in the '90s!) because, as he said in Russia, invading other countries is the only thing Russian society is good for.
So from my perspective? The one guy who actually looked at the whole system and came up with an explanation that doesn't dismiss everything inconvenient said "it's not going to work much longer." Which is basically where Aaron Bastani starts his book.
You want optimism? It's that book.
You could watch 35 minutes of an 85 year old man saying the world is doomed, or you can watch 2 minutes of The Expanse.
I entered the biomedical industry two years after Johnson & Johnson. I entered the music industry two years before MP3 and three years after the ADAT. I entered the movie industry a year after Netflix and publishing a year after the Kindle. On the one hand? I've got abominably shitty timing. On the other hand? I know me some churn.
“Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.”
- Winston Churchill
You know what I found out yesterday? There is no "banality of evil." Eichmann was into it, knew exactly what he was doing, and did it with relish. We know good guys, we know bad guys, and in general, civilizations prefer the good. That whole in-group out-group pissing match is always about who we assume is good by default, and what "good" means, and the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.
Shit's gonna get dicey. It can't help but do so. But for pure fucking self-interest, most people will take the path of least resistance that is most likely to keep a roof over their heads and food in their kids' bellies. And all the stuff that got us to this moment is under re-evaluation.
I'm optimistic. I'm fucking scared and nervous every goddamn day but as an armchair expert, things generally get better.