Posts Tagged ‘living standards’

I think it was.  Having lived extensively in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, hopping back and forth since the early 90s, I can say that U.S. suburbia really smokes the competition.  Canada was not far behind, perhaps Australia wasn’t so bad either, but it always strikes me as being pretty far from everywhere and thus essentially a bit duller.

Let’s look at the possible competitors for ‘happiest place in history.’  Basically, it’s obvious that there is no competition between pre-WWII and post-WWII societies, since before the war in most societies the vast majority of people were miserably poor.  Even if it was happy to be a rich, or middle class, person in this or that country prior to WWII, postwar developments in medicine, (dare I say it) technology, and just general wealth and happiness have made rich and middle-class peoples’ lives much better since then.

So we can indeed restrict ourselves to post WWII, and to the post WWII west, since almost everywhere else was poor, miserable, communist, or some combo.  Japan was ok materially after the 1950s, but doesn’t strike one as being a super happy society.  Too much stricture, too much crowding, not enough space, too much patriarchy, relations between the sexes are strained, women are restricted, men are forced to play tough guy serious roles to prove machismo, not to mention workaholism.  So Japan is out too.  Which leaves us basically post-1945 U.S., Canada, western Europe, and we’re writing out Aus as a probable runner up. (more…)


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There is much hoopla at the moment about the decline of the American middle class.  I know all about it, since I have been close, but not quite managed to grab one of those hallowed academic jobs which would make my life finally comfortable after years of deprivation.   The numbers in the faculty are getting worse by the year; when I began graduate school in the late 90s, about 75 percent of all teaching was still done by full-time faculty, with benefits, but by the time I was a serious contender on the job market, in 2008, this had shifted to 75 percent part-timers.  Now, only 20 percent of teaching at U.S. colleges and universities is done by full-time faculty.  The profession has literally disintegrated out from under me.  We were told by our professors:  hey, the baby boomers are about to retire, so now’s a great time to be on the job market!  As it turned out, the MBA-efficiency people had figured out that they could downsize everything, and pay everyone virtually nothing, for the same work.  Great idea, right!  Except that the U.S. professoriate has been gutted; there are many geniuses with Harvard PhDs now waiting years to get a tenure-track job, if ever.

The real issue here is the disentegration of the American middle class.  It is now far harder to become a professor, something like 4-5x harder, than 20 years ago; so that the Chronicle of Higher Ed is running ads saying “Don’t to go graduate school.”  And the example of the professoriate is typical of a number of other former ‘professions.’  Most of the writing, editing, architecture, creative design, journalism, etc., fields, in which there used to be an ok number of permanent jobs with benefits available, have been similarly gutted.  Same with teaching high school or even elementary school.  Often the only places hiring are inner-city schools where there is no teaching to be done, but one has to be more of a warden than a teacher, and one is literally in danger of one’s life!  Hardly a middle-class lifestyle.  How many business people go into work fearing that their colleagues may pull out a gun… teachers have to put up with way too much stress, especially urban teachers.  And elementary schools on ‘lockdown’ all the time, because the stupid arse NRA has so much leverage, and has convinced half the populace that they will be safer when packing a pistol?  What is that, the wild west?  In England, almost no one has guns, and somehow, they don’t shoot each other.  In the wild west, everyone had guns, and they all shot each other.  The logic there is pretty plain.

So, the main point being, that many avenues into the middle class which were once mainstays of the populace, are now closed.  Being a professor is not possible, being a teacher is not possible.  Being an office person is about the only career path left.  And yet downsizing has made this much much more stressful than ever before.  Now, to keep a job, you have to literally work 70 hour weeks?  And get ulcers and the like?  Doing what?  Often, incredibly meaningless, tedious work, for no reasonable purpose.   (more…)

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So people in North America, and in Europe I think, tend to assume that things are more expensive in Europe because of ‘socialism.’ This assumption is held by just about everyone, from the average bumpkin all the way up to the policymakers in the halls of power themselves.  The problem is, that the term ‘socialism’ encompasses a whole host of different policies and variables, across the spectrum of human society – from politics, to education, to economic regulation in a wide range of areas. I think that we owe it to ourselves, as interested parties, to break down this monolithic and really rather useless label ‘socialism,’ and see which parts of it, in particular, might be responsible for making things more expensive in Europe (which in general they are).

Now, most of us assume that the main, number one, numero uno reason why things in Europe are expensive is because those darn Europeans are so lazy. They take off six weeks of vacation per year, and often times they only work, gasp, 40 hour weeks, or even 36 hour weeks! They get generous terms for maternity and parental leave, and the list goes on. American workers would very much like to believe that this is why Europeans live in tiny houses, and pay tons for gas, food, electronics, clothing, and in short don’t have nearly as much ‘stuff’ as North Americans do. (more…)

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So I was bumming around the LSE bookstore a few weeks back, and found Tim Jackson’s “Propserity without Growth:  Economics for a Finite Planet”  sitting front and centre as a “staff pick featured read.”

And I thought, thank gravy that someone in the establishment is actually beginning to talk about the relationship between population and economics in a way counter to the prevailing wisdom.  As Tim succinctly explains in the first chapter of his book, the current economic model is fundamentally grounded upon one basic mantra, which is that population growth is essential to economic growth.   Economists assume that as population grows, the economy will grow slightly faster, increasing per capita wealth, and thereby making everyone richer.  As Tim points out, however, we’re rapidly coming up against the limits that our planet’s quite finite resources can possibly tolerate, in terms of food growable, food fishable, biological sustainability, waste disposal, not to mention the still not at all solveable fuel shortage problem, and the global warming problem that the oil industry has so successfully spread misinformation about.  I’ve already talked about this stuff in my post “what is the ideal population of the earth.” (more…)

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I was watching a speech by Newt Gingritch, and he was repeating the old republican saw that:  “if you work hard and are a responsible adult, who doesn’t ask for handouts, then you will do fine for yourself.”

While this is of course a sound idea under some conditions, the republicans neglect to mention the rather obvious fact that under other conditions, you can work your fingers to the absolute bone, holding three jobs, and still find that you cannot feed your family or pay your most basic bills.  In other words, depending on the economic realities of the time, and a lot of other factors, it is quite possible to work very hard, and yet not do very well at all. 

For example, there there were many people in early twentieth-century America who worked fourteen hour days, six days per week.  They worked very hard; under much more difficult circumstances than any hard-working American today (because there was zero social safety net prior to the Great Depression), and yet, guess what?  They lived in filthy shacks, crowded ten to a room, with no running water, no sewer system, no social security, no ability to save, inadequate clothing, no medical care, and not enough food to eat.

In fact, it is far more common all over the world today, for people to work very, very hard, and yet somehow, they find that their wages are not nearly enough.  Hey, Newt, now why would that be? (more…)

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