Sadly, I’m seeing a lot more bankruptcy and foreclosure clients lately, and people in general are constantly complaining about money troubles. My sense: get used to it.
Now here’s my theory. Our society is increasingly economically polarized; our middle class is evaporating, and most of those leaving its ranks are becoming poor rather than wealthy. This is because our jobs behave like water during osmosis.
If you take two glasses of water, one full and one with just a little water, and separate them with a permeable barrier like cloth, the water from the full glass will seep across the barrier into the glass with less water until balance – stasis – is achieved. I’m just a humble sole practicing lawyer, not some fancy economist, but I think it’s the same with our global economy. The full glass was the U.S., the empty glass is China, India, the Philippines and such, the water’s the middle class and global trade is the permeable barrier. Our middle class jobs, long the engine of our economy, are migrating to where labor is cheap(er). We allowed this to happen because, according to New World Order Global Trade Theory 101, we benefit when goods are cheaper. After all, the really nice wooden console on which my TV rests would have cost thousands if made here in America, but it came from China and cost me $500 at Costco.
Trouble is, you need to make a living to buy things – even things that cost $500 instead of $5,000. So, where’s the money coming from now that blue collar is in the throes of death and a good segment of the information economy is real sick? The book Megatrends I read as an undergrad posited that our blue collar jobs would move to cheaper labor markets while we educated Americans would remain the beneficiaries of the new, information economy (“new” because, umm, it was the early 80s back when I was an undergrad). But Naisbitt, perhaps caught up in western hubris, apparently didn’t foresee (or I just dont remember him foreseeing?) that cheap information workers from Mumbai (with names like Nelson and Cedric) would move into the cheap information labor void (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKbWnvaRC8U), that developers in Costa Rica would code beautiful websites for $8 an hour, that Microsoft and Domino’s would set up call centers in Manila to handle customer calls: “Thank you for your patience, Mr. Sarkis. I can certainly help you with that one. Would you mind if I placed you on hold for a moment longer?” So there go the white collar jobs too. People laughed when Ross Perot talked about the “giant sucking sound” (albeit in the context of NAFTA), but you don’t get to be a self-made multi-billionaire by being a dummy.
The double whammy is that while we’re getting poorer, these Asian centers are gaining financial clout as their populations rise from real poverty to a middle class; the Chinese, just recently, bought more new cars than we did, and those cars need fuel which means more competition for cartel-controlled petroleum thus driving gas prices higher costing our middle-class remnants yet more. And when one energy price rises, others tend to do so too which might explain why my head spins when I open my LADWP bill.
God willing, I’m wrong in which case I’m just another keedem-chee Chicken Little. If not, our kids need to learn Mandarin. Nee how ma?