Governments can weasel out of recessions, depressions, and even wars, but they cannot afford an existential crisis where people just quit.
January 10, 2021
By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP
We get a vote, for example. Most people have a feeling of patriotic pride when they cast a ballot because they believe this is them participating in the process.
We pay taxes. That’s us doing our fair share to provide the basic amenities expected from the government like schools and roads.
We can protest in the streets and petition to redress our grievances. We can even attend town hall meetings where we get a 5-minute audience with a yawning, disengaged council.
We can engage the courts… for a fee… to hold others to account.
This sounds amazing, probably even more so to people who live under regimes where they can’t do this.
Yeonmi Park is a North Korean defector who is very vocal about the atrocities happening in the DPRK. Something she pointed out when she first arrived in South Korea was how she was sent to school to relearn Korean.
North Korea censored so much of its language, she wasn’t considered fluent enough in Korean. Words like “property” or “mine” or “owner” didn’t exist in her vocabulary. Words like these were erased entirely.
Obviously, North Korea is one of the more extreme cases tyranny. When people like me complain about the United States to people like Yeonmi Park who come from countries much worse off, a certain exchange inevitably emerges.
The first point is: While a Yeonmi Park looks at all the freedom in the US and admires how full our shelves are, I can remember when our shelves were much fuller in my short lifetime and lament the loss.
The second point is: While a Yeonmi Park certainly appreciates the much better circumstances of the US to that of North Korea, could she not also appreciate some of the similarities in policies to what she fled not that long ago?
There’s no clear and universal line that governments cross. In fact, when they want to push their authority, they do so gingerly to see if they can get away with it. They position it as a small trifle, and those who dissent as unreasonable.
If they skipped all that pretense they wouldn’t get that far at all. Likewise, some cultures are more inclined to go along to get along.
The key is to make it so people still can feel like they are still part of something good, and they can live a life that is satisfactory. That bar varies by culture. The line is on the other side of that feeling.
If I can’t get the things that kept me quiet all this time anymore, and you make it so that the things I was accustomed to having are now impossible for me to get, my stasis is disturbed and I start to question things. The average person wants to know that if they follow the rules, they can have a decent life. Move the goal posts too much, and you’ll have a revolution on your hands.
Or worse than revolution, you have apathy. Revolution implies some sort of hope for change. Apathy means people have given up, and that’s a rut even more difficult to get people out of.
What do I mean? We are seeing a sort of hopelessness pass through parts of society.
Trust in government is low.
This is a global issue for different reasons by country. But corruption and poor performance on matters that are most important to people are leading causes for the breakdown in trust.
In the US, they aren’t seeing anything to be hopeful about either. The sad part is, they were never really great numbers to begin with, and they still got much worse over time.
Debts are high, and not just student loans, but credit card debts, while savings accounts are depleted. And this is the middle class!
In November, consumer credit exploded by a whopping $40 billion, double the expected $20 billion print, more than double the $16 billion October number, and the highest on record.
Non-revolving credit (student and car loans) jumped by a solid, if not necessarily remarkable $20 billion, this was only the 7th biggest increase for the series in record.
Revolving, or credit card debt, which more than tripled in November, soaring to $19.8 billion from $6.6 billion in October, by far the highest such print on record.
Things aren’t as affordable as they were. Maybe it’s inflation? Maybe it’s the supply chain issues? Maybe it is unstable markets, high taxes and regulations, as well as inflation and supply chain issues all rolled up into one.
Meats, poultry, fish and eggs: 12.8% increase
Snacks: 5.9% increase
Nonalcoholic beverages: 5.3% increase
Coffee: 7.5% increase
Furniture and bedding: 11.8% increase
Women’s dresses: 8.6% increase
Jewelry and watches: 5.2% increase
Rent of primary residences: 3% increase
Things like gasoline and airfare saw giant price increases over the last year, in part due to prices being deflated because of lack of demand at the onset of the pandemic (used cars and trucks, for example, saw a 31.4% price increase from Nov. 2020 to Nov. 2021).
Wages are not keeping up with the rising costs just mentioned. We can again theorize about the factors that are leading to this lag, but it is nonetheless real.
For all the hype that wage growth has received this year, pay isn’t keeping up with price growth. Real earnings, or wage growth less inflation, turned sharply negative the last two months, after eeking out gains over the summer, consumer price data out Friday show.
Then there’s the unpredictable nature of how their particular jurisdiction will respond to Covid on any given day.
People will stop trying when they lose sight of a point. I wrote something back in August of last year about this where I talked about the “I Don’t Dream of Labor” movement and the general burnout younger generations are feeling toward having or getting a “job”.
There were valid concerns in there, albeit I disagreed with their solutions and analysis of the problem. We are seeing a comparison with earlier generations having a pretty simple set of rules, following them, and being able to buy a house and retire at a reasonable age to now, where the course isn’t so neatly set for everyone. I’m kind of glad this is finally being shaken up, but to be fair, these kids were sent to schools still archaically designed to prepare them to be good employees. They are not prepared to be free spirited gig workers or entrepreneurs.
Reddit has its own “Antiwork” thread that has picked up considerable momentum. Many of its members and followers still hold regular full-time jobs, but one of the main moderators gave up her career to start a small dog-walking business. Many others do something similar: they own a “micro-business” and work just enough to pay the bills.
Without a plan for the future or even so much as a “check engine light”.
It used to be that the job was at the very least a means to an end. Maybe you don’t like the job, but it does afford you a nice place to live, a semi-annual vacation with the family, and a generally comfortable life. Now that’s not even a consideration.
Then there’s the other end of the spectrum: the early retirement crowd. They certainly hope to retire by 62. Does that mean they will? Not everyone, but people are looking for a way out of the rat race, and they don’t know their options.
Apathy is a much more gruesome prognosis than just about anything. It’s a deeper funk than recession or depression. It’s not political or even at its core economic. It’s an existential crisis. It’s Sisyphus no longer dutifully pushing the boulder up the hill.
In Atlas Shrugged, people quit their productive lives in one place, but took that productivity somewhere else: Galt’s Gulch. That’s not what’s happening here. People are quitting, but they aren’t being productive elsewhere.
If you’re burnt out, looking for something other than punching a clock or working for someone else, don’t give up! There are options where you’re not just toiling at something you hate. Looking at where people are headed, especially in the wake of the all the Covid lock downs and mandates, now more than ever people need to learn how to carve out a freer life for themselves.
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