Category Archives: Economy

Yes, I’m Defending the Millennials, Goddammit

Generational analysis, when done poorly, is half-a-notch above astrology: All the people born at this time are like this!

Of course there’s plenty of good generational research and analysis by demographers and other social scientists.  However, most people don’t delve into that stuff.  Most people simply absorb generational analysis from popular culture.  That’s unfortunate, because you can often get more penetrating insights from a Chinese restaurant paper place mat.

Worse yet, a lot of pop culture generational analysis is passively racist and classist.  You know who we’re really talking about when we say “Baby Boomers,” right? It’s hardly every American born between 1946-1964.  Black people? Latinos? Most immigrants? The deeply impoverished? Pushaw.  For the most part, we’re just talking about the white MCAU (middle class and up), and whoever can pass through their circles.  And we’re not even talking about them smartly.  By and large, we just rehash dumb stereotypes.  This generation sacrificed.  That generation navel gazed.  Bla bla bla.

For example, when I Googled “Baby Boomers are,” the auto complete came up:
selfish
the biggest
entitled

When I Googled “Millennials are,” the auto complete came up:
lazy
the worst
screwed

Indeed, pop culture generational analysis is often so shallow, haphazard, and/or commercialized, that it typically only blathers about every other generation.  There’s an accordion discourse, which fixates on alternating generations (Greatest, Boomers, Millennials) while largely ignoring the generations between them (Silent, X, Z).  As a result, Baby Boomers dominated popular discourse for a long time.

However, Baby Boomers have recently been knocked off their demographic perch.  There are now more Millennials than boomers in the U.S. population, and these relative youngens are increasingly the subject of America’s generational fascination.  As such, they catch a lot of flak, much of it head smackingly stupid.  I recently came across a stunning example of this vapid chatter while drinking a blueberry beer in a Lake Placid, NY tavern.

Yes, that Lake Placid, two-time Winter Olympic town and scene of the 1980 Miracle on Ice.  And yes, blueberry beer.  It was actually quite good, thank you very much, Judgy McJudgerson. Continue reading Yes, I’m Defending the Millennials, Goddammit

This Populist Moment

Last week, Barack Obama got beaten up on social media and called out by the press for accepting a $400,000 speaking fee from a Wall Street firm Cantor and Fitzgerald.  It was the day’s major kerfuffle, the non-Trump story of the week, and reactions to it by many of my smart, well reasoned friends surprised me somewhat.

They began with the stance that it simply wasn’t an issue.  Obama’s a private citizen now, so who cares? But lots of people did care.  When the story picked up steam despite their protestations, my friends then blamed the loony left for fabricating the issue, launching a general assault on fringe elements of the Democratic party and a firm defense of sensible liberal or centrist (depending on the friend) outlooks.  But of course it wasn’t just the left.  The right predictably piled on as well, without any prompting from the left.  The story also transcended the partisan divide as the centrist press ran with it.  Christ, even the BBC, the vanilla pudding of international news, covered it.

In the end, the defense of Obama that gained the most traction among my friends, and to some degree in the national media, was a racial analysis.  Some claimed that this brouhaha was another example of white people shaming a black man for earning a paycheck, the imposition of a racial double standard since white politicians and ex-politicians do this kind of thing all time.

This needs to be reckoned with.  Obama was always held to a higher standard, precisely because he was black.  He was always subjected to intense racism.  And the racist backlash to his presidency, as much as anything else, helps explain Trump’s victory.  So was this just another example of that racial double standard?  It’s an important question to ask.

In the end, I don’t think it was.  Which is not to say that Obama is no longer subject to racism and double standards; he obviously is.  And those issues are still at play here, but I don’t believe they’re the driving force.  Because to mark race as the reason for a vast public outcry against his acceptance of money is to ignore the most salient point: where the money came from.

People are not upset that he made money.  Private citizen Obama collecting a $400,000 speaking fee doesn’t violate anyone’s principles, even racist assholes’.  Rather, the problem is that he very specifically took money from Wall Street.  The proof is clear: There wasn’t nearly as much griping when he signed a $20,000,000 book deal last month.

Why did that eight-figure windfall spark nowhere near the outrage this five-figure fee did?  Because no one’s worried that publishing money has corrupted Washington.  No one’s bitter about the book industry crippling the U.S. economy ten years ago, only to reap a massive bailout from taxpayers, and now running amok again.  And thus, virtually no criticism of twenty-million to publish what will probably be the kind of bland, self-serving memoir that every ex-president of late has authored.  But $400,000 from Wall Street is different, if for no other reason than the general public now views Wall Street differently than it used to.

Why did Obama take the speaking fee?  Should he have?  Should people be upset about it?  None of those questions interest me.   Rather, I believe the issue worth considering is: Why exactly did so many people get upset about it?

That question speaks to the current political moment, which Obama seems to have misread, much as the Democratic Party mainstream he represents has been doing for over a year now. Continue reading This Populist Moment

Coal Mining or Arby’s?

There’s a Washington Post article making the rounds on social media.  The shocking headline blares:

The Entire Coal Industry Employs Fewer People than Arby’s

People see that and think, Gosh, what’s all the fuss about then?

Obviously this is a dying industry that has already lost tens of thousands of jobs, which are not coming back because of market forces (fracking and OPEC oil dumps) and mechanization (strip mining).

As the article points out, even the head of the nation’s largest private coal company says Trump can’t bring these jobs back.  And anyway, that’s probably a good thing since coal is such a dirty energy source.

It’s all true, of course.  But that line of thinking, devoid of any larger context, overlooks an important point.

Once upon a time, miners fought and died to unionize, transforming themselves from debt peons paid in company scrip to middle class wages earners.

Meanwhile, most of today’s Arby’s workers are essentially modern wage peons.

Continue reading Coal Mining or Arby’s?

Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

I’ve been writing blog posts at this website for over six years now.  Well over 500 to date.  But I’m not doing it today.  I’m not writing an essay today.

Why, you ask?  Why am I refusing to entertain my loyal dozens (and countless accidental readers) with yet another rambling jeremiad today?  Well, there’s a whole bunch of reasons, really.  Behold.

I’m a Lazy Bastard: My whole life I’ve loved nothing better than doing nothing.  Sometimes I come clean and admit my lethargy.  Yet people often refuse to believe me.  “You have a Ph.D.  You’ve published three books.  You helped negotiate the Peace of Westphalia.  You can’t possibly be lazy.”  I wave off their protestations.  I insist that I am really quite slovenly.  I remind them that professors are notoriously lazy, barely rousing themselves to fabricate random grades for their students.  But the skeptics just pshaw and in insist I’m energetic.

Yeah?  Well not energetic enough to write this essay.

There’s a Stray Cat on the Back Porch: I think he might be part Maine Coon.  He’s got pointy ears that sprout tufts of hair.  He’s not fully grown but looks to be getting quite large.  And he doesn’t seem to mind the cold.  Hell, I think he enjoys it.  A few weeks back it got down to 14F at night.  For you fancy people with your hip, scientific measurements, that’s some big negative number in Celcius. Continue reading Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

The Counter Revolution

The United States boasts a deeply conservative economic tradition.  From its origins as a colonial, agricultural society, it quickly emerged as a slave holding republic built on the ethnic cleansing and occasional genocide of Indigenous peoples.  After the Civil War (1861-65), it reshaped itself in the crucible of unfettered laissez-faire capitalism straight through to the Roaring ‘20s.  A post-Depression Keynesian consensus led U.S. leaders to reign in the most conservative impulses during the mid-20th century, but the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s set the stage for the current neo-liberal moment.

Consequently, ever since the industrial revolution, the United States has typically trailed other developed nations in establishing a basic social welfare system.  It has never fielded a competitive socialist or labor party.  It was the last major nation to implement an old age pension.  More recently, ObamaCare made it the last major nation to mandate that all of its citizens receive some sort of healthcare coverage, even if it’s quite wanting in many cases.

Amid its overriding conservativism, the United States has had only three presidents with any real socialist tendencies: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45), Harry S. Truman (1945-53), and most recently Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose presidency (1963-69) ended before half of current Americans were born (median age 37.9)

The election of Donald Trump as president and, just as important, the impending Republican dominance of Congress, make certain that the United States will not correct its social welfare shortcomings anytime soon.  Indeed, the nation may take significant steps backwards.

However, a quick review of America’s stunted progressive history suggests that the opportunity for a progressive counter-revolution may be closer than it appears at this dark moment.  And not because Trump’s victory represents the last gasp of an aging generation or the violent undulations of a shrinking white electorate.  But rather, because Trump and his Grand Old Posse have the potential to wreak so much damage and engender so much ignominy upon the national consciousness as to generate the kind of rare and extreme circumstances that have previously led the United States to make genuine progress in developing modern social welfare.  The chaos and horrors of a Trump presidency may yet produce opportunities for improving the nation. Continue reading The Counter Revolution

Talking to a High School Student about Racism

high-schoolRecently, a high school student contacted me because she had questions about racism in America.  Specifically, she wanted to interview me for a school project on the topic of institutional racism.

Institutional racism is a tricky subject, and I did my best to introduce her to the complexities and nuances of something that often flies under the radar.  Many white Americans are unaware of the issue, or have trouble understanding it if they are aware.  And so after I answered her questions, I decided to re-print our Q&A.

Here is my conversation with a high schooler about racism in America.

*

Thank you very much for helping me with my project by taking the time out of your day to answer a few of my questions on the following questions/topics.

How do you define institutional racism?  And how prevalent would you say it is in modern North American society?

We normally associate racism and bigotry with the intentional actions of an individual or group of people.  But institutional racism is the result of larger social forces that can be difficult to detect.  Instead of one person or a few people doing or saying something racist, institutional racism comes about when society at large expresses racism in more subtle and impersonal ways. Continue reading Talking to a High School Student about Racism

The Public Professor Site Redesign

cropped-Profile-Picture.jpgFive and a half years after its initial launch, this site is receiving a substantial update for the first time.  Some of it is aesthetics, with new colors, imagery, and font.  Some of it involves updating content.

The “Pages” at the top of the site (eg. “Me” and “Books I Done Written”) are not only renamed, but also updated.  Click inside and see.

In addition, I’ve added two new pages: “Books I Might Write” and “CV.”  The former contains brief overviews of book projects I’m working on.  Beyond the infamous Communities book that was responsible for launching this site but has yet to see the light of day, there are also working manuscripts on music and misadventures from the road.  The “CV” page contains my Curriculum Vitae, which is what professors call their resumé.  Is our pretentious Latin name for it better than your pretentious French name for it?  Who knows.  The bottom line is, we’re all pretentious.

Enjoy!

P.S. Yes, I’ll keep blogging here on the front page.  If you’d like to sign up for email notifications, or get them via Facebook or Twitter, that’s just to the right near the top of any page.  Viva la blog! (That’s pretentious Spanish for, “None of this stuff ends up on my resumé.”

Some of the People All of the Time (On Trump’s Legion)

Lincoln quotesYou can fool all the people some of the time
and some of the people all the time,
but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

For example, sometimes all of the people believe that Abraham Lincoln first uttered these famous words.  But he didn’t.  It originally traces back to a French Protestant named Jacques Abbadie in 1684.  The phrase doesn’t show up in American letters until some Prohibitionist politicians started using it in 1885.  Twenty years after Lincoln died.

Until recently, I simply took at face value the common claim that these were Lincoln’s words.  It’s not a very important issue, so what would push me to question it?

My decision to title this essay.

A little healthy skepticism is all it took.  After all, lots of famous quotes are misattributed to famous people, ergo the Yogi Berra line: “I really didn’t say everything I said.”  Which he really did say.

So before titling and publishing this rant, I looked up the aphorism at a reputable site with citations, just to be sure.  And presto: suddenly I am, at least in this regard, all of the people some of the time, and not some of the people all of the time.

You really don’t want to be some of those people who get fooled all the time.  Which brings us to Donald Trump. Continue reading Some of the People All of the Time (On Trump’s Legion)

The New Republican and Democratic Parties

DemublicansIn the 150 years since the end of the U.S. Civil War, the Republicans and Democrats have maintained a relentless stranglehold on every level of American politics nearly everywhere at all times.  While a handful of upstart third parties and independent candidates have periodically made waves, none has ever come close to capturing the White House, or earned more than a brief smattering of Congressional seats.  Likewise, nearly ever state and local government has remained under the duopoly’s exclusive domain.

However, in order to maintain absolute control of American politics and fend off challenges from pesky third parties, the Democrats and Republicans needed to remain somewhat agile.  The times change, and in the endless quest to crest 50%, the parties must change with them.

Since the Civil War, both parties have shown themselves flexible enough to roll with the changes.  The Civil War, the Great Depression, and Civil Rights era each upended the political landscape, leading political constituencies to shift, and forcing the Democrats and Republicans to substantially and permanently reorient themselves.

Now, several decades removed from the last major reshuffling of the two major parties, we may be witnessing yet another major transformation of the duopoly as the elephant and the donkey struggle to remain relevant amid important social changes.  The convulsions of such a shift are reflected in the tumultuous spectacle of the parties’ presidential nomination processes.

The Republicans are in a state of disarray, with inexperienced outsiders currently leading the pack while career politicians struggle to find their way.  Meanwhile, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, also faces a serious threat from an outsider, independent socialist Bernie Sanders.

Personally I very much doubt that an outsider such as Sanders, Donald Trump, or Ben Carson will emerge to claim the nomination of either party.  Party nominating procedures and the oceans of money flowing to mainstream candidates make it rather unlikely.  However, these outsiders’ surprising successes thus far may be an indication of something greater than their own charisma.  It may very well signal the fourth major shift in America’s two-party system since the Civil War. 

How and why is such a shift occurring? And what might the two parties look like after the dust settles? To answer those questions, we should be begin with a brief history of the duopoly itself. Continue reading The New Republican and Democratic Parties