Posts Tagged Great Recession

Are you happy, Mitt Romney?

Well, it’s finally happened. Even the unlikely tag team of Eminem and Clint Eastwood, equipped with an unlimited supply of Chryslers, couldn’t stop Detroit from going bankrupt.

The fact that the Motor City is filing for Chapter 9 protection isn’t too surprising, but the fact that things were allowed to get this bad is.

Many factors contributed to Detroit’s decline: the globalization of the auto industry, a shrinking tax base, and corrupt city management. The result is a city that doesn’t just look like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it is one.

Detroit has become a city fit for the Road Warrior. Hundreds of buildings are abandoned, authorities can’t even afford to keep all of the streetlights on, and a major international border crossing is owned by some random guy.

How did people let things get this bad? When the photos of eerily abandoned buildings started showing up online, why was no one motivated to do anything? When reports showed that Detroit citizens were waiting almost an hour for police to respond to 911 calls, why was no one shocked that something like this was happening in the United States of America?

Of course, people have thought about it. There have been so many urban renewal projects proposed for Detroit that Popular Mechanics once collected them into a lengthy cover story. Titled “Detroit 2025” it proposed redeveloping the city around its waterfront and building an epic curved bridge to Canada.

However, like most things featured in Popular Mechanics, none of this is anywhere near happening. That would require motivation and money, two things Detroit, and the rest of the country, is short on.

Instead, Detroit is down to weighing the costs and benefits of more basic things, like it’s employees’ pensions.

Saving a city isn’t easy, but it’s still surreal that the story of Detroit is an American story. Who could imagine a city in this great country being reduced to sacrificing basic services, and the contract it made with its employees, just to put together some cash?

This scenario doesn’t require imagination anymore. Maybe it’s finally time for someone to do something.

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The ridiculed generation

Time fake cover 1I’m sure you’ve seen the Time magazine cover “The Me Me Me Generation,” and that many responses are already circulating around the Internet (and that Time appreciates the publicity). Something like this deserves a vigorous response, because young people need to stick up for themselves.

Saying that recent college graduates have no jobs and live with their parents purely out of laziness and narcissism ignores the obvious fact that there are no jobs to be had. The most frustrating thing about Joel Stein’s article might be that it’s forcing me to talk about the “Great Recession.”

Remember that? The media talks about it incessantly, except in this case.

It’s still going on, sort of. At the very least, employers are still using it as an excuse not to hire people, or to tinker with the definition of “employment.”

Many entry-level positions are being replaced with internships, or being occupied by temps and people displaced from higher positions. The desperation of workers young and old also makes it easier for employers to cut full-time positions down to part-time, throwing benefits out the window in the process.

I guess wanting a job instead of occasional work makes a person narcissistic.

It also means recent college graduates are competing with people who will work for free (isn’t that slavery?) on the one hand, and people who out-qualify them on the other.

But hey, this isn’t the Great Depression, right? Many young people are employed, so why don’t they move the hell out of their parents’ basements?

Well, unlike the people who get to write Time cover stories, today’s youth are saddled with student loan debt. In fact, with so many people spending so much of their (theoretical) income on loan repayment, I honestly can’t see how society will function when the Baby Boomers finally retire.

Some might view this as excuse-making; past generations have been worse off than this one, after all. Or have they?

Growing up in New York City in the 1970s, my dad had a much harder life than me, but he did get to go to college for free. He was also allowed to feel frustrated about his job prospects without being called lazy and narcissistic.

This generation isn’t the first to come of age during lean economic times, but it is the first to be ridiculed by the same generation that raised it.

Our parents told us to go to college, because getting an education is important. They tell us to enjoy our youth, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. How does following their advice make us bad people?Time fake cover 2

“Millennials” aren’t perfect, but they have nothing to apologize for when compared to the Baby Boomers.

The Boomers drank, smoked, and partied as much as anyone and, it’s hard to describe the hippie movement and other introspective fads of the 1960s as anything but selfish.

“Millennials” certainly don’t protest like them, but it’s important to remember that ‘60s anti-war and civil rights protests only involved a small minority of college students, who had a big incentive in the form of a military draft. Also, their parents thought this civil disobedience was narcissistic.

Those adults were wrong, of course, and so are today’s. It;s easy to peg young people as lazy or narcissistic, because that would shift responsibility away from the people who have made their lives so challenging. Sometimes, I am genuinely embarrassed by my generation, but that doesn’t mean we deserve to be scapegoated.

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Fighting ironic battles

Pearl Harbor posterI never thought I’d see the day when World War II became a source of irony. It was the definition of “good fight,” a time when the nation harnessed all of its resources to defeat what one of my high school history teachers called “made to order bad guys.”

Yet here we are. Barbasol is running a commercial featuring the viewer’s “ great grandfather” on the ground in a French village, perhaps Ste.-Merie-Eglise or St.-Lo, laconically comparing his attempt to stop Hitler with the current young generation’s obsession with tweeting and Facebooking.

Like “first world problems,” this is another example of a perverted form of thought. Its as if people think that, by noting their shortcomings in an ironic way, they don’t have to actually do anything about them.

It’s also a silly comparison. I’m not saying that my generation is perfect, but it’s not really fair to compare us to the “Greatest Generation.” We’ll never know how the social media-savvy would deal with a Great Depression or a World War, because we lived through a Great Recession and a pseudo-War on Terror.

Twitter and Facebook can lead to some shallowness, but we’ll also never know what our grandparents’ generation would have done if they grew up with these luxuries. I recently ate lunch at a restaurant packed with senior citizens, and most of them had smartphones.

Maybe we should cut back on the irony before we lose track of what we’re making ironic jokes about. This reminds me of a New York Times blog post I read recently called “How to Live Without Irony.” The author argued that too many people are using irony to avoid honest (and sometimes painful) emotional commitments.

That seems like what’s going on here. People need to accept the fact that they’re better off than others, including their own grandparents and great grandparents. That’s what those World War II soldiers were fighting for, after all.

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Highway robbery

CTS-V WagonSometimes, the best ideas come from history. Thankfully, the 2008 recession is starting to fade, but many people are still out of work and there is no legislation in place to stop the banks from going back to their old ways. What to do?

Analysts compared the recession to the Great Depression, and that is where the answer lies. Depression-era Americans hated banks as much as their descendants, so they weren’t too upset when outlaws like John Dillinger started robbing them. Why couldn’t that work today?

Several individuals sued banks for illegally foreclosing on the plaintiffs’ homes. Some even walked into local branches and took furniture as their payment after the banks were defeated in court and refused to pay damages. This seems like the next logical step.

Many people have criticized President Obama for bailing out failing companies instead of letting them fail, which would be appropriate punishment for their financial irresponsibility. But Obama’s bailout of General Motors and Chrysler actually gave us the tools to get our money back.

Dillinger may have been a Ford man, but GM and Chrysler make some pretty good getaway cars. The Cadillac CTS-V wagon has 556 horsepower, and plenty of room for loot. A Chevy Volt will get you across the state line while the cops are still filling up their cruisers. The Chrysler 300 looks like it was designed by Al Capone.

Obama hasn’t made much progress in prosecuting the financial concerns that caused the recession, or in passing legislation to prevent the same thing from happening again. He is obviously waiting for real Americans to take matters into their own hands, instead of getting the government involved. I don’t think he’ll be sending the FBI after the modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.

So go rob a bank; it’s your patriotic duty. Just remember: when choosing a getaway car, buy American.

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Corporate takeover

Most Americans agree that something is wrong with their country: joblessness and overall economic stagnation have made a lot of people angry since the “Great Recession/Lesser Depression” began in 2008.

However, before they can agree on a solution, Americans need to agree on the source of the problem. The two main suspects are corporations and the government, but the really interesting thing is that the debate has gotten this far. The fact that corporations can rival the government in debates over who has the most influence on the state of the nation means corporations may already be too powerful.

In order for a representative democracy to function, citizens need to participate: they need to vote, protest unjust laws, and generally keep an eye on their elected representatives. However, instead of urging people to participate in government, conservative and libertarian pundits tell them to destroy it.

Consequently, the duties of a republican citizen are transferred to dealings with corporations: Americans should use their “buying power” to convince corporations to change their policies, these pundits say. So if you think Wal Mart abuses its employees, don’t shop there. If you prefer your toothpaste anti-freeze-free, buy another brand. It sounds reasonable enough; everyone gets one vote, but they earn many dollars.

There’s one problem: corporations are not obligated to listen. They are only obligated to make money, and individual protests won’t do much to stop that. The chain store revolution means there isn’t necessarily a competitor to turn to. A few buyers could boycott Wal Mart, but many more will continue to shop there because it’s the only store in town and they don’t want their cat to starve to death.

It’s also possible for every corporation in a given segment to have the same policy. For example, if you lived in the 1960s and didn’t want to breath lead fumes, you were out of luck. Every car made in the United States ran on leaded gasoline, because engineering them to run on unleaded would have been expensive. Government regulations were required to remove leaded gasoline from the market.

That story will play out every time the American people try to make corporations change their ways. Sometimes, the government may not be paying attention to the American people, but corporations are never paying attention to them. There is a big difference between viewing someone as a consumer and viewing them as a constituent; at least we can fire politicians we don’t like.

Americans shouldn’t have to make civic decisions when they go to the supermarket anyway. The point of a representative democracy (as opposed to a direct democracy) is that average people can live their lives without also having to run a country. We have elected representatives, whose jobs depend on our satisfaction, to protect our interests.

The fact that we compare consumerism to our system of government at all shows that we may be taking that system for granted, or that buying stuff has become too big a part of our lives. I have a lot of negative things to say about the leaders of our republic, and I love the McRib, but I would never pledge allegiance to McDonald’s.

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America needs to be occupied

The amorphous protest movement known as “Occupy Wall Street” is spreading from downtown Manhattan to other cities, and everyone is taking notice. Media coverage has increased, and the protestors have a new ally: the unions. Occupy Wall Street is getting very difficult to ignore.

That is a very good thing for the people of the United States. When I first heard about Occupy Wall Street, I cynically asked “what will it accomplish?” I now realize that it doesn’t matter.

After years of economic stagnation and political bickering, it seems like many Americans have been convinced that there is nothing they can do to get corporations or politicians to listen to them. Instead, we’ve turned on each other. We denied teachers the right to collective bargaining because they get perks private sector workers don’t. We hesitated to give fellow Americans healthcare because it might be too expensive. We cheered at the mention of prisoner executions.

If nothing else, Occupy Wall Street will remind Americans who they should really be angry at: the people who ruined the economy, took our money, and greedily hoarded it at the expense of the non-CEOs of this country. We need to stop eyeing our neighbors suspiciously and start making life difficult for corporate interests. They only care about profits, but we need to remind them that doing business in the United States of America is about more than that.

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Can media narratives figure out London riots?

The gap between rich and poor is as vast as it has ever been. After years of ignoring the signs, politicians’ failure to act has unleashed the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. It sounds like the United States, but it’s actually the United Kingdom. Now, Britain’s economic troubles have advanced to a worse stage: three days of riots and looting that make the outskirts of London look like a scene from “Children of Men.”

Like the U.S., Britain has allowed the rich to get richer at the expense of national welfare. According to the Daily Telegraph, “Today, Britain is less equal, in wages, wealth, and life chances, than at any time since [the Great Depression.]” In Tottenham, the borough where the rioting began, 10,000 people are unemployed.

Mary Riddell, of the Telegraph, described the riots as a Bizarro version of the Arab Spring, saying that, “the Tottenham summer… is an assault not on a regime of tyranny but on the established order of a benign democracy.” These are people with no jobs, no opportunities, and consequently, nothing to lose. When asked by an NBC news crew whether the riots had accomplished anything, one participant said, “You’re talking to us.” Britain’s under classes have been ignored by their government and exploited by the wealthy; this is price of social inequality.

Not everyone buys this narrative. Jon Davis, a resident of Croydon, which was almost destroyed by rioters, won’t let them off the hook so easily. “Their only aspiration in life is to be like someone in a rap video or to win the Lottery,” he told the Telegraph, “all they want is a quick fix and that’s fueled by the media and by advertising.”

The rioters may have social justice on their minds, they may be sick of poverty, joblessness, and of being harassed by the police. But they are not attacking politicians, executives, or the police. They are attacking their neighbors. They are not changing anything; they’re just raiding stores for the swag they wish they could afford and torching other people’s property. If it was Rupert Murdoch’s house or car burning on the BBC, that might not be so bad. That’s not the case, though: the rioters are hurting people who just happened to get in the way of their rage.

There may not be an explanation to satisfy everyone; neither social justice nor social disease excuse the mob’s violence, and in the end, politicians and corporations are still crooks. Normally, when the police show up with plastic shields, it smacks of authoritarianism. However, no one wants to arrive at work in the morning only to find the building on fire. That’s the trouble with real life: white hats are rare.

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