Sunday, February 28, 2021

What "Normal" Are We Returning To? The Depression Nobody Dares Acknowledge

Perhaps we need an honest national dialog about declining expectations, rising inequality, social depression and the failure of the status quo.

Even as the chirpy happy-talk of a return to normal floods the airwaves, what nobody dares acknowledge is that "normal" for a rising number of Americans is the social depression of downward mobility and social defeat.

Downward mobility is not a new trend--it's simply accelerating. As this RAND Corporation report documents, ( Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018) $50 trillion in earnings has been transferred to the Financial Aristocracy from the bottom 90% of American households over the past 45 years.

Time magazine's article on the report is remarkably direct: The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90% -- And That's Made the U.S. Less Secure.

"The $50 trillion transfer of wealth the RAND report documents has occurred entirely within the American economy, not between it and its trading partners. No, this upward redistribution of income, wealth, and power wasn't inevitable; it was a choice--a direct result of the trickle-down policies we chose to implement since 1975.

We chose to cut taxes on billionaires and to deregulate the financial industry. We chose to allow CEOs to manipulate share prices through stock buybacks, and to lavishly reward themselves with the proceeds. We chose to permit giant corporations, through mergers and acquisitions, to accumulate the vast monopoly power necessary to dictate both prices charged and wages paid. We chose to erode the minimum wage and the overtime threshold and the bargaining power of labor. For four decades, we chose to elect political leaders who put the material interests of the rich and powerful above those of the American people."


I've been digging into downward mobility and social depression for years: Are You Really Middle Class?

The reality is that the middle class has been reduced to the sliver just below the top 5%--if we use the standards of the prosperous 1960s as a baseline.

The downward mobility isn't just financial--it's a decline in political power, control of one's work and ownership of income-producing assets. This article reminds us of what the middle class once represented: What Middle Class? How bourgeois America is getting recast as a proletariat.

This reappraisal of the American Dream is also triggering a reappraisal of the middle class in the decades of widespread prosperity: The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?

Downward mobility excels in creating and distributing what I term social defeat: In my lexicon, social defeat is the spectrum of anxiety, insecurity, chronic stress, fear and powerlessness that accompanies declining financial security and social status.

Downward mobility and social defeat lead to social depression. Here are the conditions that characterize social depression:

1. High expectations of endlessly rising prosperity instilled as a birthright no longer align with economy reality.

2. Part-time and unemployed people are marginalized, not just financially but socially.

3. Widening income/wealth disparity as those in the top 10% pull away from the bottom 90%.

4. A systemic decline in social/economic mobility as it becomes increasingly difficult to move from dependence on the state or one's parents to financial independence.

5. A widening disconnect between higher education and employment: a college/university degree no longer guarantees a stable, good-paying job.

6. A failure in the Status Quo institutions and mainstream media to recognize social depression as a reality.

7. A systemic failure of imagination within state and private-sector institutions on how to address social depression issues.

8. The abandonment of middle class aspirations: young people no longer aspire to (or cannot afford) consumerist status symbols such as luxury autos or conventional homeownership.

9. A generational abandonment of marriage, families and independent households as these are no longer affordable to those with part-time or unstable employment.

10. A loss of hope in the young generations as a result of the above conditions.

The rising tide of collective anger arising from social depression is visible in many places: road rage, violent street clashes between groups seething for a fight, the destruction of friendships for holding "incorrect" ideological views, and so on.

A coarsening of the entire social order is increasingly visible: The Age of Rudeness.

Depressive thoughts (and the emotions they generate) tend to be self-reinforcing, and this is why it's so difficult to break out of depression once in its grip.

One part of the healing process is to expose the sources of anger that we are repressing. As psychiatrist Karen Horney explained in her 1950 masterwork, Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Towards Self-Realization, anger at ourselves sometimes arises from our failure to live up to the many "shoulds" we've internalized, and the idealized track we've laid out for ourselves and our lives.

The article The American Dream Is Killing Us does a good job of explaining how our failure to obtain the expected rewards of "doing all the right things" (getting a college degree, working hard, etc.) breeds resentment and despair.

Since we did the "right things," the system "should" deliver the financial rewards and security we expected. This systemic failure to deliver the promised rewards is eroding the social contract and social cohesion. Fewer and fewer people have a stake in the system.

We are increasingly angry at the system, but we reserve some anger for ourselves, because the mass-media trumpets how well the economy is doing and how some people are doing extremely well. Naturally, we wonder, why them and not us? The failure is thus internalized.

One response to this sense that the system no longer works as advertised is to seek the relative comfort of echo chambers--places we can go to hear confirmation that this systemic stagnation is the opposing ideological camp's fault.

Part of the American Exceptionalism we hear so much about is a can-do optimism: set your mind to it and everything is possible.

The failure to prosper as anticipated is generating a range of negative emotions that are "un-American": complaining that you didn't get a high-paying secure job despite having a college degree (or advanced degree) sounds like sour-grapes: the message is you didn't work hard enough, you didn't get the right diploma, etc.

It can't be the system that's failed, right? I discuss this in my book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform: the top 10% who are benefiting mightily dominate politics and the media, and their assumption is: the system is working great for me, so it must be working great for everyone. This implicit narrative carries an implicit accusation that any failure is the fault of the individual, not the system.

The inability to express our despair and anger generates depression. Some people will redouble their efforts, others will seek to lay the blame on "the other" (some external group) and others will give up. What few people will do is look at the sources of systemic injustice and inequality.

Perhaps we need an honest national dialog about declining expectations, rising inequality and the failure of the status quo that avoids polarization and the internalization trap (i.e. it's your own fault you're not well-off).

We need to value honesty above fake happy-talk. Once we can speak honestly, there will be a foundation for optimism.



If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

AxisOfEasy Salon 38: Should social media platforms be open source public utilities? (56 minutes)

Local and Decentralised Economies: The Start Of A New Environmentalism (54 min)


My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, Shere C. ($10/month), for your magnificently generous pledge to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

 

Thank you, J.L. ($5/month), for your superbly generous pledge to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Terms of Service

All content on this blog is provided by Trewe LLC for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at anytime and without notice.


Our Privacy Policy:


Correspondents' email is strictly confidential. This site does not collect digital data from visitors or distribute cookies. Advertisements served by a third-party advertising network (Investing Channel) may use cookies or collect information from visitors for the purpose of Interest-Based Advertising; if you wish to opt out of Interest-Based Advertising, please go to Opt out of interest-based advertising (The Network Advertising Initiative). If you have other privacy concerns relating to advertisements, please contact advertisers directly. Websites and blog links on the site's blog roll are posted at my discretion.


PRIVACY NOTICE FOR EEA INDIVIDUALS


This section covers disclosures on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for users residing within EEA only. GDPR replaces the existing Directive 95/46/ec, and aims at harmonizing data protection laws in the EU that are fit for purpose in the digital age. The primary objective of the GDPR is to give citizens back control of their personal data. Please follow the link below to access InvestingChannel’s General Data Protection Notice. https://stg.media.investingchannel.com/gdpr-notice/


Notice of Compliance with The California Consumer Protection Act


This site does not collect digital data from visitors or distribute cookies. Advertisements served by a third-party advertising network (Investing Channel) may use cookies or collect information from visitors for the purpose of Interest-Based Advertising. If you do not want any personal information that may be collected by third-party advertising to be sold, please follow the instructions on this page: Do Not Sell My Personal Information


Regarding Cookies:


This site does not collect digital data from visitors or distribute cookies. Advertisements served by third-party advertising networks such as Investing Channel may use cookies or collect information from visitors for the purpose of Interest-Based Advertising; if you wish to opt out of Interest-Based Advertising, please go to Opt out of interest-based advertising (The Network Advertising Initiative) If you have other privacy concerns relating to advertisements, please contact advertisers directly.


Our Commission Policy:

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I also earn a commission on purchases of precious metals via BullionVault. I receive no fees or compensation for any other non-advertising links or content posted on my site.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP