Are they better off today?

President Obama’s reelection and subsequent behavior is depressing. I am trying to look at the bright side, but I am thinking about my kids. They are coming into the labor market under Obama. I started my career under the great Ronald Reagan. I was luckier.

I got my first career level job in 1984. I didn't know at the time, but I would have nearly a lifetime of good opportunities thanks to wise policies enacted about the time I was getting ready to work. It was a great time to be starting out. I had lots of student loans and no money, but the world was open. During the next years, I progressed from the poorest 5% to the richest 10% thanks to the opportunities America offered. Some people say the poor got poorer and the rich got richer. I don't know about that, but it certainly was not my experience. With hard work and a little luck, life was good for the next quarter century. Of course, we complained that life was harder for us than for our parents who had it really good, but generally we were wrong.

What about my kids? They are entering a labor market with a similar level of unemployment. They are better off than I was in that they don't have any student loans and, unlike my father, I can help them financially. But I fear they will not have the opportunities.

Back in 1984, we talked in terms of opportunities. Lots of things were up to me and I responded to the challenge. I read books on how to improve myself and how to manage my money and my career. I knew that I could not and should not "just be myself" because that was not good enough. I needed to be better; I did not have the right to succeed, but I had the right to pursue success and I was reasonably certain that my "new and improved" self could prosper.

Today we speak in terms of limits and rights and not so much opportunities. Lots of things are up to government. People are encouraged to demand things from others, but changing yourself to make yourself better is no longer in style. Too many people want to stay the way they are and yet be improved. You are now called greedy if you want to improve your condition by hard work, savings & ambition, but if you demand that others do things for you and give you stuff, many call you righteous. This is exactly the opposite of what it should be.

My kids are smart, educated, hard working and self-disciplined, mostly at least. In 1984 this was celebrated. Today there is a vague sense that people with these characteristics are seeking more than their "fair share," whatever that means.

Maybe Obama will surprise me. I was pleasantly surprised in Bill Clinton after 1994. Clinton helped consolidate the progress of the 1980s and the usually critical press cut him a lot more slack because he often talked the liberal talk while doing the right things. Only a Democratic president could have ended traditional welfare or said that the era of big government was over w/o being crucified by the liberal media. I fear, however, that Obama actually believes in some of those leftist things he says. This is not good. There is a reality in the economy that doesn't favor liberalism, no matter how beautiful the rhetoric.

I want Obama to succeed because the future of my children is at stake. But I don't have much confidence in what he seems to be proposing. We should get the government back to the size it was in 1999 and tax to the level needed to support that. That should be the goal of all sides. If president Obama manages to raise enough taxes to support the bigger government we now have, it is a loss for all working Americans.

Some people say that it will make America more like some other places. I want America to be more like America, not more like France, Greece, Mexico, China or anyplace else. These can be nice places, but they are not our places. We are exceptional and should stay that way.

Government's main job is to create and maintain conditions that allow lots of its citizens to prosper. I don't ask for guarantees. I just want my kids to have the kinds of opportunities that I did in 1984. I didn't want my "fair share" and I don't want them to seek that. I wanted to be more than mediocre (i.e. average) and I was willing to work and improve myself enough to merit that. I don't want an America where everybody ends up equal. America has never been the land of guaranteed success; it has been the land of many chances. I want my kids and every other American to have the opportunity to earn prosperity and I hope they will deserve what they get, which in many ways is better than getting what they deserve. I recall my father telling me that I should not strive to win but rather strive to deserve to win. (I think it is a variation of Lincoln said, "Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.) Good advice, even if a little at odds with the culture of entitlement.

I love government and I believe that the American Federal government is one of the great achievements of mankind. But we have a strictly transactional relationship. Government cannot legitimately be my friend, partner or direct benefactor. It cannot create wealth and it cannot be the meaning of life. What it can and should do is create conditions where its free citizens can do do these things for themselves.

Posted by Christine & John at December 8, 2012 5:35 PM
Comment #358401

In 1984 I retired from one career and started on another. All I wanted then was to be able to support my family. As it turned out I did pretty good. I bought a convenient store. A couple years latter I bought a factory. I reckon I’m one of them that ‘profited unfairly in the 80’s’.
My youngins are grown now and all in the the work force. They’re doing OK. But it’s not them I’m most concerned about. My oldest grandchild is now 19. He’s currently in the Air Force. It remains to be seen if he’ll follow his granddaddy and daddy and make a career of it. But what if he doesn’t? Will he be able to get a job that will allow him to support his family? What about the rest of my grand youngins? Will they be able to live near as good as I have? I some how doubt it. And that concerns me. I’m not only concerned for my grandchildren. I’m concerned about all the youngins that’s gong into the work force today and in the future. With the way things are going they ain’t going to have the same opportunities that I had.
Unless something is done and done real fast, the land of opportunity is going to be the land of oppression.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 8, 2012 9:19 PM
Comment #358407


I think one of the most pernicious recent ideas is this one about profiting “unfairly.” Of course, it is possible to make money unfairly, but we need to understand that generally profit is a good thing.

During the 1980s, I started in make and invest money. I was lucky, but also smart and disciplined enough to amass a fortune enough to let me be comfortable. None of it was made unfairly and I paid my share of taxes and charity all along.

I resent the idea that success is built on the backs of others. That is a medieval idea and contributes to an ideology that keeps individuals and whole societies in poverty and misery. America has been exceptional in that this sort of medieval thinking has been weaker among us than in most other places. It helps explain our long-term success.

We need to be careful to keep it at bay. Envy is a strong emotion that people often dress up as justice.

America has been spared the worst of those benighted ideologies associated with communism, fascism and socialism. This was more than good luck. The mass of Americans have reacted against regimentation and collectivization required to make those sorts of things work. Our leftists were not very far left. Our union movement was hostile to communism. One of the goals of our progressives was to weaken the appeal of socialism. We take this for granted, but it is exceptional. We need to keep it that way.

I am an optimist. Much of the retrograde thinking is associated with the economic downturn and the Obama doldrums. When the economy begins to grow again and people feel more confident in their investments and the 401k accounts, the redistributive impulse will diminish.

That is another reason I hope the Obama succeeds in getting the economy going. Ironically, a growing economy will weaken the appeal of liberal policies.

Posted by: C&J at December 9, 2012 5:39 AM
Comment #358414


Like you, I worry about the future of my children (now in their 20’s and all three college grads). My daughter is in the electronic media advertising business and is doing well. She saves, invests, and plans. All the things her mother and I preached. My sons are a different story. The youngest is an environmental biologist. Low pay but doing what he loves. The eldest is in the outdoor adventure industry and has lived a life that I only dreamed of, but lives just better than hand to mouth… granted he does this in Uganda, New Zealand, and in beautiful wild places in the USA. These young men will have to deal with the conscious choices they made. I trust that they will make their way alright.

What is different is the investment and financial growth environment. When my wife and I married and began saving and investing in earnest, the DOW was around 800. We watched Wall Street Week every Friday and listened to the elves and wizards speculate whether it would break a 1000, ….then 1500!, …then, OMG! 3000!?!?! Well, you know the rest. We lived during an environment that I don’t think my kids will see. They’ll have to adjust.

You blame liberal and progressive policies. I blame Republican policies. The Republican and conservative Democrats pushed or went along with deregulation to an extreme. CEOs and Corporate boards have lost sight of long term investments in favor of often destructive short term strategies. Follow the money. The wealth is not flowing downward. The middle class is struggling. This is not because of our national debt (though that must be resolved, think Clinton). The economy is struggling because our wealth is landing outside the grasp of the masses… overseas to wars, cheap labor and manufacturing, and investments outside of the reach of US taxes.

When wealth reaches the middle class and the poor, the money is pumped right back into the economy. During the administration of Bush II, their argument that the economy was strong because of the financial market performance proved how false and mistaken this type of view can be. The market growth could not maintain as it did when we watched it blossom because the fundamentals changed. Instead of a consumer driven market growth, we have been watching investor/financial industry driven market growth. The former is sustainable. The latter is not. It is a shell game.

We need to wake up. We need policies which favor consumers, laborers, middle managers, and the true producers… not the paper traders. That crowd will figure out how to put money where the growth is. If the growth is in skimming and scamming the Average Joe, well guess what, that’s what they will do. If it is in investing in manufacturing, services, and commodities, they will go there.

When the working class can spend money again, we will be alright.

Posted by: LibRick at December 9, 2012 9:53 AM
Comment #358415


Whatever happened from 1982-2007 was pretty good for reasonably smart and hard working people in general. It was a good time to become prosperous. The ten years before that were not so good.

Everything requires adjustments. After twenty five years of success, it is not surprising that the prosperity might suffer some setbacks. In world history, there are few good times that last that long. We actually enjoyed two. The other one was 1948-1972, but for different reasons.

Through these good times, however, most Americans kept to the idea that what they did mattered and that their choices had a big role in determining the outcomes they achieved.

What I perceive in the last couple years is a breakdown of this and that scares me. We have to be careful not to let ideas equality trump excellence.

Re the “paper traders” - I agree. We should not allow institutions to become too big to fail. We should not bail out individuals and firms who have made stupid choices. We should not allow government to protect these clowns from market forces.

I don’t blame liberal or progressive policies for this. It is in the nature of all government to protect the status quo and protect established interests, which is why we need limited government. Progressives, in the original sense, believed in hard work and personal responsibility. Theirs was a very muscular ideology that despised and disrespected sloth and entitlement. Can you imagine what Teddy Roosevelt would have said to some guy sitting on his ass and asking for government help w/o trying to improve himself? Franklin Roosevelt worried about outdoor relief sapping the American work ethic. Kennedy told us to ask not what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country. These sentiments are your, mine and ours. Let’s keep and defend them, conserve them, if you like.

Posted by: C&J at December 9, 2012 10:13 AM
Comment #358427

I blame every from Reagan up to Obama for the situation we’re in. But most of all I blame Clinton.
It was while he was president that Fanny Mae, Freddie Mac and the private sector were pressured into making risking loans so that folks who couldn’t or shouldn’t get houses could get them. With all those risky loans given to folks that either couldn’t afford them or that had bad credit histories it was only a matter of time before defaults sky rocketed. That caused the bottom to fall out of the housing market. That effected Wall Street. And it effected the job market.
Neither Bush or Obama have done anything but throw money at the problem.

I was using Clinton’s words when I said that I profited unfairly in the 80’s. He seemed to think that anyone who made a profit did so unfairly.
Two of my grandyoungins are graduating from high school in May. My grandson says he ain’t worried about the job situation since he ‘knows’ that I have a job waiting for him.
My granddaughter is planing on going into nursing. She says that with the shortage of nurses she’s all but guaranteed a job.
I wish I could be as optimistic as they are.

The difference between a job and a career depends on how well you like what your doing for a living.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 9, 2012 7:46 PM
Comment #358539

I expect the near term to be very rough for me to my peers. In that sense, we have fewer opportunities than baby boomers who entered the workforce from 1965-1985. However, we do not have crushing inflation to deal with, so I guess that is good. I truly have no idea what it is to live with inflation like that experienced by the US during the ’70s & ’80s.

However, I think that my generation has more opportunities in the longer term. I believe the rate of technological evolution will continue to accelerate such that the economy of the 2020s or 2030s may reach a new equilibrium where almost all manufacturing is automated and most people end up employed in the service sector. It’ll be much easier if our government can smooth over the bumps as we make the transition, but once we are on the other side things will be much better than they were during the 20th century.

Posted by: Warren Porter at December 11, 2012 1:18 PM
Comment #358556


to you and your generation and that of my kids, I wish you all Godspeed. But I think the attitudes that Obama folks have brought to prominence will bring many of you to grief.

The fact is that in America people are not oppressed by the system. Ours in the most welcoming society in world history. Nobody has good reason to be angry and the rich are indeed paying their share.

The Obama folks have sold too many on the idea that we have an unjust society. This is not true, but it tends to create negative behaviors. Think of those occupy Wall Street clowns. Some of them really felt morally superior to good citizens.

You young people need to stand up to them, the way we did in the 1980s. Tell those purveyors of strife that they are full of crap and that honest work and good habit indeed are the way to succeed in America. We should try to succeed through politics. That is what the French, Greeks and Argentines have done and just look at them. We have built the greatest society in world history. It is largely free of systematic discrimination. We need to recognize our victory and move on, not divide Americans by their race or economic status.

Posted by: C&J at December 11, 2012 3:43 PM
Comment #358595

Unfortunately Warren, you have a crushing national debt to worry about. But I hope y’all can overcome it and your youngins can have more opportunities than you have.
Your right about the technological evolution. It’s going to lead to more automated jobs. That’s why its important for folks your age to keep up with it. If you don’t it’ll pass ya by and you’ll end up on the crappy side of the stick.
I don’t know how old you are but if I remember when I was here four years ago you were in high school. That would put you close my oldest grandson’s age. And I have a lot of concerns about well off him and his sisters and cousins are going to have it. That means I’m also concerned about how well the rest of their generation is going to have it.
I’m hoping that y’all can get the mess us older folks are leaving y’all solved and have good and prosperous lives full of the love only a family can give.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 12, 2012 12:11 AM
Comment #362151

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