Monday, January 9, 2012

Envisioning That Better Future -- One: Living Well With Less

Stories are going around that "manufacturing is back" in the United States. Apparently manufacturers are hiring again -- at half the wages that industry workers were formerly paid.

As I've said many, many times on this blog and pretty much wherever else I've posted on the internets, it has been the policy of the United States Government from the beginning of this Endless Recession to force down wages and benefits for workers -- while at the same time boosting corporate profits and executive bonuses.

This has been clear as crystal from the get-go, but saying it is impolite, and because some people have not yet faced falling income and living standards, the fact that most Americans have been facing them for years doesn't register.

But it's hard to escape statistics. Half of Americans are now poor or officially low income, half. Almost a quarter of American children now live in poverty. The middle class is being decimated -- quite deliberately as a matter of policy from the top.

Maintaining high unemployment is policy.

Forcing down worker wages and benefits is policy.

Decimating the middle class is policy.

Supporting and expanding the power and reach of the Highest of the Mighty is policy.

And now that hiring is starting to occur in sectors that have long been written off, such as manufacturing, we're seeing wages paid that are no more than half of what was formerly paid in the same or similar sectors. Anybody who's been paying attention, though, has seen wages fall for many of those who have managed to stay employed during the Endless Recession, sometimes by half or more, but typically in the 10% to 25% range. And workers in practically every sector face constant pressure from the top to accept ever lower compensation.

This situation is not going to soon relent.

It is now customary.

We must "compete" globally, after all.

Universal poverty is the new standard to meet.

And they will call it The Greatest Expansion of Wealth in World History!!! Yay!

In fact, they have been calling it that for years. Of course, it IS an expansion of wealth for those on top.

So far, the global uprisings against these policies of governments (and their owners) have not been able to curb the trend, and some of the Revolutions that have taken place have turned out to principally serve the financiers and other wealth extractors they were intended to thwart.

What a mess.

Part of what has to be done in the process of envisioning is to recognize the way things really are, to understand what policies are really in place, and to effectively "shadow" -- if you will -- that reality with an alternative.

Wealth and poverty are relative things, not absolutes. One can get by on very little, one can live well -- and be generous to others -- on next to nothing, compared to the self-serving abundance of the hoarding elites.

In other words, impoverishment -- even the forced impoverishment of contemporary Americans -- is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning to live well on less can be good for the individual, for the community and for the environment. In fact, it is necessary and inevitable given the course of global climate change and other environmental factors.

We do well to envision a Better Future using fewer resources...

Those who have already been doing it for many years have an opportunity to step up to the challenge of helping and teaching others to do well with less. And the demonstration of how to do a great deal with far less money and material resources has begun in earnest all over the country. More of these demonstrations will be needed.

The next step toward envisioning and building a better future is to disconnect -- so far as possible -- from the financial sector that is sucking the life-blood out of communities and societies around the world.

We'll get to that in the next installment.


  1. I have certainly witnessed this process first hand in my industry: remodeling. In boom times, homeowners and the contractors that worked for them, with few exceptions, behaved as though the good times would never end. Even as homeowners splurged on Viking ranges and nickel fittings for their soaking tubs, they did so in the firm belief that such things were "investments," sure to pay off when the house was sold.
    Contractors, for their part, hired people, bought trucks and toys, and "invested" in properties, too, wanting their own share of the rapidly expanding pie.
    When the crash came, all were caught with unsustainable expenses and illiquid assets; few were prepared.
    Fortunately, I entered the industry during the first Bush recession of the early nineties, so I never thought the good times would last. Further, I lacked the income to buy when prices were low, and at a much higher income later, prices were just too high. This deprived me of the gains, but also insulated me from the losses, others have experienced.
    Living within one's means isn't so bad when everyone's doing it; it only seems a bit harsh when no one is.

  2. My memories of the Late Bubble are kind of stark and they parallel some of yours.

    My work involved tracking and documenting a lot of what was going on and watching rural fields be graded and "improved" to host thousands of new houses and tens of thousands of new residents. There were three such developments that I tracked for years. There were old timer real estate brokers who were really leery about what was going on -- they knew it was a bubble and it was going to burst sooner or later, and they were just grateful to be able to make some money for a while (and pay off their own mortgages and debts.)

    It was tough to witness when the bankruptcies started and construction ceased on numerous forlorn houses out in the fields. I lost count of how many construction outfits were going belly up. And this started in 2006.

    But why, I kept asking. They were making money hand over fist during the Bubble. Everyone was rolling in money -- or so it seemed. How could there be so many bankruptcies all of a sudden just because sales had slowed and finally almost stopped. What happened to all those profits?

    There was one sweetheart of a mortgage broker I remember who took the crash really hard. He sincerely believed that selling his crap mortgages was helping people, even if they took on more debt than they could handle, it would work out in the end, really. And when he started seeing the results, he was devastated.

    Of course, I saw too many naive families get sucked into that maw and lose everything, winding up on the streets in some cases. It was horrifying. They'd done everything they thought they were supposed to -- and took out bigger and bigger mortgages to pay for their nice new SUVs and their wide screens -- and to fix their place up, too. It wasn't just all toys.

    But I saw contractors going nuts with toys... oh man. And a lot of them wound up staring at the abyss.

    So many of them didn't keep their heads about them. You're lucky you did!

    In New Mexico the situation never got as wild as it did in California. But I've seen a lot of people who worked construction and remodeling there in real hardship since the Bubble burst.

    As for the Ché household, we're just getting by. We've long lived at a simpler standard and rarely felt deprived. But there have been temptations! Oh my...