I was commuting down to work with my colleague/boss the other morning listening to the news of the State of the Union address when I was suddenly struck by the fact that we might be living at a historical inflection point. To be fair, I frequently wonder about that sort of thing, and frankly it’s a silly question. After all, you can rarely tell what history will say about a moment until you look back at it. But I digress …
In the State of the Union, the President had mentioned the need to address economic inequality in the country. It got me thinking about the last hundred years in the US, and what had happened. Were we fooling ourselves into thinking that the “American Dream” is something achievable for the majority of the population? What had made it achievable in the past? It seems to me that in a globalized world economy we have seen the outsourcing of manufacturing (the backbone of the post-war economic boom, and the path many Americans took to the middle class) which, among many other factors, has made the path to prosperity much less accessible. It’s also made the economy as a whole shakier in my opinion. With this in mind, I was surprised to see this article in the NYTimes when I arrived at work.
The article discusses the book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which posits the inevitability of inequality as a result of free market capitalism. In essence, inequality is always going to happen, unless government action (in the form of market regulation, or tax structures, or what have you) put the brakes on it. This is less and less likely due to the fetishism of deregulation and small government, as well as the global nature of capital now. The fact that we even had a period where this was not inevitable was due to the historical and economic shocks of the World Wars and the Great Depression. That behind us, we’re living in a country much more similar to how it was in the 19th century than what it was in the 20th. Do we have the stomach to change it, and if so, are we even able to make those changes? Time will tell but I am not confident. We may be seeing a future with much more unrest like the less-funny-than-it-sounds Google Bus Riots of a few weeks ago.
But who knows? I could be wrong.