Tag Archives: economics

Generation Serf, part 1

The growth of virtual communities and new models of collaboration ties in directly with Generation C – the generation that wants an active hand in creating its own future. First identified by Trendwatching.com in 2004, Generation C refers to a generation of content creators who are just as comfortable creating content (blogs, videos, wiki entries) as they are consuming it.

Trendwatching said the C stood for content; Oxford-trained anthropologist Jake Pearce (www.jakepearce.com) disagreed. He saw content as the symptom, not the cause, and sought to explain Generation C by their motivation. His hypothesis: it’s about control.

In this light the icon of Generation C is the iPod, with its ability to create your own playlist. Why, Gen C asks, can we create our own playlist of music, but not our own playlist of other parts of our lives? For example, careers, education, government, banking. Why can’t these services by customized and tweaked to an individual’s specific preferences?

Simon Young, “Power of Integration” in The Social Media MBA, ed Christer Holloman (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2012)

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin…

All generations want an active hand in creating their own future. Generation C is no different in this regard.  Everyone wants to be able to shape their destiny.  Where Generation C differs – if and to the extent that it does differ – is in how precisely it views that activity of shaping its own future.  And the answer that is offered up is basically… the iPod.  Shaping their own future is, for Generation C, equivalent to creating a playlist for their iPod.  To making a list of commercial music, either bought online from an extremely wealthy company, or perhaps illegally pirated from an overpriced CD, and listening to that list on an overpriced, heavily restricted piece of hardware, assembled under undersafe conditions by underpaid overseas workers in a globalized economic order designed to minimize workers’ rights while maximizing corporate profits. Shaping your future means consuming this as opposed to that.  Lady Gaga or Mumford & Sons.  Or maybe just which you consume first, which you consume second.

Playlists are an excellent example of the false freedoms and choices that are meant to substitute for genuine choice, to distract people from their increasing lack of ability to shape their future, their increasing lack of freedom. To be clear, for most people throughout history, freedom, choice, the ability to shape their own future, to have control over their own destiny, have been severely constrained. But… in the conditions that arose, in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world in the years after the start of the Great Depression, and especially after World War II, we grew accustomed to a different state of affairs.

Part of that new state of affairs was a massive expansion of consumption. And over time, we’ve become more a consumer society than a producer society. An immensely wealthy consumer society, awash in goods. The rise in consumption was part of a general rise in quality of life and economic well-being in the years from the end of WWII until 1979: a major expansion of the middle class, very high levels of college education and home ownership, health insurance and health care, literacy, declines in infant mortality, stable employment. To people coming out of the shtetls, out of the Great Depression, out of the rural post-slavery of the south, all of that look like freedom, felt like freedom.

Peace and prosperity – for most, particularly white males, and leaving aside such blips as the Korean War and various police actions and armed foreign policy adventures. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property, if you prefer the older, original formulation).

This was the heyday of the American Dream. People moved out of tenements and into suburban homes with lawns and washing machines. They bought cars. Everyone’s kids went to high school, and huge numbers went to university, often the first in their families to do so.  Those kids graduated, got jobs, and started doing better than their parents.  And they expected it to last. We all expected it to last. This was foolish, and quiescent. We were wrong.

Read This: Robert Reich, “The rich get richer, then buy elections” (updated)

Robert Reich has a powerful piece in this Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle on what he terms a “perfect storm” that is threatening democracy in America. It should be required reading.

Reich is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley – but he’s also a former US secretary of labor, so it’s not so easy to dismiss him as another looney Berkeley lefty or an ivory tower intellectual.

So maybe people will actually pay attention to the alarm call he issues at the end of the article:

We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.

The headline positions this article as about the increasing influence of the wealthy over the US electoral process – a very pressing topic in this election season, when you have some many extremely wealthy individuals trying to use that wealth to buy their way into high office.  It’s a real problem in California, where two tech sector businesswoman are trying to step straight from Silicon Valley into the halls of power: Carly Fiorina, former head of computer maker Hp, running for congress against Barbara Boxer; and Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, as Republican candidate for governor of California.

One of Reich’s key concerns is with the increasing lack of transparency and openness in campaign financing:

Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into advertisements for and against candidates – without a trace of where the dollars are coming from. They’re laundered through a handful of groups. Fred Malek, whom you might remember as deputy director of Richard Nixon’s notorious Committee to Reelect the President (dubbed “Creep” in the Watergate scandal), is running one of them. Republican operative Karl Rove runs another. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a third.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission made it possible. The Federal Election Commission says only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm election, 97 percent disclosed….

We’re back to the late 19th century, when lackeys of robber barons literally deposited cash on the desks of friendly legislators. The public never knew who was bribing whom.

But while the influence of wealth on the political process is a key concern of Reich’s, the facts and figures he lays out in the article speak to a larger notion of plutocracy and to a fundamental shift in American socity:

income in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than it has been in 80 years

The top one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us.

The marginal income tax rate on the very rich is the lowest it has been in 80 years. Under President Dwight Eisenhower (whom no one would have accused of being a radical) it was 91 percent. Now it’s 36 percent…. Much of the income of the highest earners is treated as capital gains, anyway – subject to a 15 percent tax. The typical hedge-fund and private-equity manager paid only 17 percent last year. Their earnings were not exactly modes. The top 15 hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion.

We have to pause there to consider that: an average of $1 billion in annual income.  What is the average annual income of everyone you know? For that matter, what is the COMBINED income of everyone you know? Now, how many times would you have to multiply that to get to $1 billion?

Or what about that 17 percent tax – how much income tax did you pay last year? Those billionaires pay much less in income tax than you do – and these are the guys (almost always male) who gave us the global financial crisis.

But don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying you paid too much, but rather that they paid too little.  I don’t like some of the things the government does with my tax dollars – but then I take the bus, or go to the library or a park, or use my public school education and I remember what other things taxes get used for. And then I look at how bad the public transit and public schools and public parks and public hospitals are getting and I worry.  Unlike those hedge-fund managers, I can’t afford private health care, private schools, private parks, and even private transit is perilous these days.

And as he points out, all this enormous shift in the distribution of wealth and massive increase in wealth at the top is coming at a time when “[most] Americans are in trouble. Their jobs, incomes, savings and even homes are on the line.”

You can check out what else Reich has to say on his blog at www.robertreich.org. His book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, is currently riding high on nonfiction bestseller lists.

A footnote: It’s not strictly true that no one would have accused Eisenhower of being a radical. In a recent New Yorker article on Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement, the founder of the right wing John Birch Society is quoted attacking President Dwight D. Eisenhower as “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy” who had been serving the plot “all of his adult life.” See: Glenn Beck, the Tea Party, and the Republicans : The New Yorker.


Persuant to Reich’s concern with stealth campaign funding:

Pro-Republican Groups Prepare Big Push at End of Races: “Anonymously financed groups are starting a coordinated final push to deliver control of Congress to Republicans.” (via NYTimes.)

Rove keeps on spinning to defend the secret donations to his GOP slush funds: “Media Matters – Oct. 24 (News Analysis) – On CBS’ Face the Nation, Karl Rove continued to defend his GOP-aligned political group from criticism that it does not disclose its donors by using falsehoods and obfuscation.” (via NewsTrust.)

Media Debates Anonymous Donors, Ignores Deceptive Ads: “care2.com – By Aaron Pendell – Oct. 24 (News Analysis) – The secret financing of thousands of television ads and other media by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, and other 501(c)(4) PACs will be debated long after Nov. 2 has come and gone, but there is a related matter of supreme and immediate importance that is going largely unnoticed: The content of the ads range from deceptive to objectively false.” (via NewsTrust.)



Read This: Downhill With the G.O.P.

Paul Krugman – Downhill With the G.O.P.: “the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: “No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.”… (via NYTimes.com.)

Really, you should just read everything Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times…

Have You Left No Sense Of Decency?: “30 years ago people with high but not super-high incomes generally felt ashamed of themselves for griping — or at least, felt that they would be ridiculed if they gave voice to their gripes. Today, all restraints are off… (via NYTimes.com.)

Read This: Anger is sweeping America…

Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away….

These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can’t find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they’ll never work again.

Yet if you want to find real political rage … you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.

read the rest from Paul Krugman: The Angry Rich and Taxes – NYTimes.com.