Obama’s State of the Union and catabolic collapse

No, Obama didn’t say the US was due for catabolic collapse ;) You can just imagine the thunderous sound of jaws dropping if he said.

“Fellow Americans, State of the Union? Yep, the Union is in a right state at the moment, and it isn’t going to get better. We’re hooked on oil, there’s a load more people on earth wanting it and it’s been a darned old while since we last found major discovery.”

No. This is America, and with their can-do attitude you can’t go round telling them they can’t do anything. OTOH, perhaps he should have, Americans would kick up something rotten and then maybe we might get those thorium reactors and electric airliners that mean we can all carry on as normal.

He did, however, do a pretty good job of summing up what’s gone wrong with work of late.

“Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbours. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck, good benefits, and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company. That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful.”

That’s pretty much a dead ringer for my post Where have all the Jobs gone, Ma? I didn’t realise they read Simple Living in Suffolk in the White House ;) Okay, so the soi-disant leader of the free world tightened my post up somewhat.

Now the problem is this part

You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbours.

Last time I looked, they aren’t making people any smarter than they did a few decades ago. Globalisation has meant that we all have to run harder and harder just to stay in the same place, work-wise. And the trouble with that is we are ending up with a winner-takes-all world, where a few people get blindingly rich, while the rest of us fight over the dwindling scraps. There aren’t many decent manual and semi-skilled jobs nowadays, office jobs are becoming de-skilled with digital Taylorism (a fine example of that sort of management here)

The problem, as Obama pointed out, is that it is getting increasingly difficult for somebody of average ability to earn a decent enough crust to live a typical life that their parents did. For sure, they now have toys and trinkets galore to distract them from this fact – my Dad didn’t have iPhones and Xboxes. But he did get to buy his own house and own it outright at an earlier age than I managed it, and he did it largely on one wage (as I did, so the achievement is comparable).

And that’s the tragedy. Frippery like the iPhones and Manolo Blahniks distracts us from the unfortunate truth that modern capitalism is beginning to deny a lot of our fellow citizens self-determination in the very basics of life, while bamboozling them with cheap distractions. That would be okay if most people seemed to be happy with that, but if they aren’t, then we have to ask ourselves exactly what is our economy for? Is it so people like Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein can earn $13,000,000 while ‘doing God’s work‘ in 2010 while, as Obama told us, yer average citizen’s life becomes financially insecure? Why are we feeding this machine with our lives and our happiness foregone for so little return?

As Blankfein himself said in the WSJ

Is it possible to make too much money? “Is it possible to have too much ambition? Is it possible to be too successful?” Blankfein shoots back. “I don’t want people in this firm to think that they have accomplished as much for themselves as they can and go on vacation.

Why the hell not, Lloyd? What exactly is it that you’ve got against vacations? It’s people like you, punk, that have screwed up the vision I was offered at school that by the time I was 40 we’d be working a couple of days a week and have lots of leisure time.

What actually happened is too many people like Lloyd and his buddies are chasing the money god, and bidding up the price of the things we all need, like houses and stuff. So we end up having to work even longer to try and keep our heads above water.

We have ended up with a sociopathic economy that can’t employ people of average abilities, and then rubs their noses in it by letting Lloyd and his chums trash the financial system and get bailed out while they ‘do God’s work’. It’s about time that God sent his quality control inspectors in to the banks and educate these guys that just because everybody else is buying NINJA mortgages doesn’t make it all right for them to. Even I learned that chasing momentum was a bad idea after I had lost enough money.

Oh and Lloyd, stop being such a jerk about those vacations. A lot more vacations might let us all step back a moment and think about things for a change. Go easy on the boys okay?

Blast and double blast! ;-)
Believe it or not, I am slam in the middle of putting up my collection of random ramblings on the same topic and replying to some comments! Took the wind right off my sails there, Guv! :-P

Oh, and I agree about

1. Chasing momentum is like holding on to a tiger’s tail, the ride may be exhilarating, but eventually bad for your overall health! :-D

2. Your overall sumary of Lloyd and his ilk, and that “Lloyd being a jerk”(*) comment totally; I would have used a much stronger word, but as the missue likes to point out ours are a collection of PG-13 blogs, so well done on minding the language there.
(*) Couple of my friends living abroad got their teeth kicked bably due to the Goldman Sachs debacle!

Oh, and speaking of catabolic collapse, said John Michael Greer believes the onset of catabolic collapse of the USA started way back in the 70s itself.

And if doomsdayers (Peak oilers, Limits to growth, death-to-GDP, global warming) all agree on something it is that 2030 would be the bugle call of this collapse. You may have alreafy come across this PDF for sure, the graphs in the end tell a chilling story.

I wonder if we will live to see the times when Internet and TV will only “telecast/transmit” in the evenings from 5PM-9PM…. Wait a minute… I think that would be an cracking good idea :-D!

@Surio – I started this post thinking I’d go in the catabolic collapse direction, then Obama went and pinched my jobs post, so I figured he needed taking to task on that. Just kidding :) I’m glad that a pretty serious politician has named the Beast in the open – that people can’t do what most folk want to do – meet up, raise kids, have a good time, feel the roof over their head is safe, without being unusually talented and/or working themselves into the ground. He’s done a great service by identifying this issue, hopefully ordinary Americans will think “uh huh, and how did we get so it’s like this, do we like it, and if not, what can we do differently”

Chasing momentum, yeah, I learned that the hard way in the dotcom boom/bust, trashing just enough money that I sat up and noticed but not enough to wreck my future. There are some lessons many people have to learn the hard way, and I was one of them. I thought that Warren Buffett geezer was full f it, whaddya mean “when you buy shares you’re buying a company”. Just chase the numbers on the screen, dude ;) Great education that was cheap at the price, thought it’s why I don’t trust the finiancial system under some circumstances…

I am (just) old enough to remember when TV did not broadcast programmes in the day ;) Should that sort of time come to pass, I imagine we will lose the Internet altogether, all those power-hungry bits of networking kit to keep running…

Yes indeed, globalisation will inevitably tend to reverse horizontal (geographical) disparities of wealth, and perhaps (from a high altitude) that is no bad thing, but superior innovation in rich societies might tend to counteract this to some extent.

Vertical disparities and rising GINI coefficients cause discontent, but don’t seem well correlated with economic progress in the long term, possibly because of the elevated risk of revolution. The US GINI has remained remarkably stable over 80 years.

In some ways, we had an unusual sweet spot in the 60s, 70s and 80s, but these things don’t happen very often, methinks.

As for leisure, a lot of people have more than they want; not at Foxconn, though.

The seventies and the first oil shock changed the world you talk about. It was all downhill from there. Inflation and unemployment changed everything else. I saw it coming again when The Economist featured on its front-cover the phrase, Back to the Seventies. It’s funny, because most of the problems today were predicted back then, as were the solutions, but nobody paid any attention to them.Anyway, I decided to get out of North America before the sh*t hit the fan again. I knew this Big Recession ( Depression ) was on the way, so got out 3 years early. I thought it would come faster than it did. I thank God every day I made that decision.

@SG This chap seems to assert that the US GINI index has been increasing from 40 to 47 from 1967 to 2001 (the end of his data). I don’t know how significant that is in practice, but the assertion is that the trend will rub out the middle class in time.

> As for leisure, a lot of people have more than they want

I think it’s that they don’t have enough money ;) We seem to be trending to a world where the work and the money are both less evenly distributed than they were.

@g getting out of the US ahead of an oil shock sounds like a good move to me. However, I’m not sure I can think of anywhere that has taken Limits to Growth to heart as a guidance for policy!

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