5 Dirty Secrets About the U.S. Economy
If there’s one thing I hate these days, it’s discussing the U.S. economy.
Will raising wages by seventeen cents destroy humanity? Will edible deodorant add 0.000007 percent to GDP? If we resurrected giant man-eating dinosaurs, could we use them to keep our warehouse pickers in line? Isn’t it awesome when the Dow hits a record high (but everything else flatlines or shrinks)?
I feel like I’m listening to a debate on the noble merits of true love between the Real Housewives and a bunch of broseph PUAs.
By my count, there are five dirty secrets about the economy we’re not supposed to know.
Number one. The biggest falsehood of all? That fixing it is something like teleporting to Jupiter: impossible! Beyond us! Science fiction!
Contrary to nearly everything you hear on the subject, my humble suggestion is this: fixing the U.S. economy isn’t impossible. It’s not even that difficult. It’s straightforward; about as complicated as tying your shoelaces if you’re wearing Velcro sneakers.
The US is a rich country that’s beginning to resemble, for the average person, a poor one. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Its educational systems barely educate. Its healthcare is still nearly nonexistent. I can take a high-speed train across Europe in eight hours; I can barely get from DC to Boston in nine. Most troubling of all, it is poisoning its food and water supplies by continuing to pursue dirty energy, while the rest of the rich world is choosing renewable energy. The US has glaring deficits in all these public goods — education, healthcare, transport, energy, infrastructure — not to mention the other oft- unmentioned, but equally important ones: parks, community centers, social services.
So the US should invest in its common wealth. For a decade, and more. Legions of people should be employed in rebuilding its decrepit infrastructure, schools, colleges, hospitals, parks, trains. To a standard that is the envy of the world — not its laughingstock.
Why? If the US invests in the public goods it so desperately needs, the jobs that it so desperately needs will be created — and they will be jobs that (wait for it) actually create useful stuff. You know what’s useless? Designer diapers, reality TV, listicles, reverse-triple-remortgages, fast food, PowerPoint decks, and the other billion flavors of junk that we slave over only to impress people we secretly hate so we can live lives we don’t really want with money we don’t really have by doing work that sucks the joy out of our souls. You know what’s useful, to sane people? Hospitals, schools, trains, parks, classes, art, books, clean air, fresh water … purpose, meaning, dignity. If you can’t attain that stuff, what good are five hundred aisles, channels, or megamalls?
So: invest in public goods; employ armies to build them; create millions of jobs. And they won’t be the dead-end, abusive, toxic McJobs that have come to plague the economy; they will be decent, well-paid, meaningful jobs which people will be proud to have.
Dirty secret number two: This is a bogus recovery—and it’s going to poison society, unless we are wise enough to recover from the recovery. The rich are getting vastly richer, to the point that it’s absurd that anyone should be so rich. But the average household is getting poorer; and the poor are getting trampled. The US is becoming a caste society; and the divisions between the castes are widening. Investing in basic goods is the only way—the only way — to lift millions out of the ruins of imploded lives, and into prosperity again. Yes; the only way.
Selling doggy dating apps for billions while the average household can’t afford healthcare and education isn’t an economy — it’s a travesty. Too many of our growth industries produce low-paying service “jobs” that amount to essentially being being maids and butlers to the super-rich. Sound like a healthy economy to you? I didn’t think so. Hence: invest in the basic building blocks of society — if, that is, it’s a functioning society we wish to enjoy.
Where will the money come from? Dirty secret number three: It doesn’t matter. Print it. Borrow it. Tax it from the super-rich, in whose coffers it’s merely sitting idly. It does not matter one bit. It’s a second order question. If the U.S. doesn’t invest in public goods, it will not prosper; and if it doesn’t prosper, it cannot pay off the debts it already has. Conversely, if it does invest in public goods, and creates millions of decent jobs, the source of investment will matter little; for the economy will have grown and people will be prosperous. We can debate until kingdom come whether to borrow; print; tax; and we should. But we are having a fake “debate” if we pretend that we cannot invest in society first; and then wring our hands that society is falling apart.
Key word: pretend. Here’s dirty secret number four. The pundits don’t want you to know any of the above. They want you to believe that fixing the economy is unfeasible. It’s not. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. It’s obvious. It’s a problem whose solution is as plain as the sky on a perfect summer day.
So why don’t the pundits want you to know any of that? Duh. Because if you did, well, then they might be out of jobs. Here’s what they’re already out of: ideas, time, options, and most importantly, credibility.
Every quarter now, for more than half a decade, pundits and economists have dropped their jaws and proclaimed that they’re shocked. Shocked! That the economy’s still broken!
If every month for years, your doctor frowned, and said, “I’m shocked! The meds aren’t working!”… you’d probably find a new doctor. Maybe it’s time we did the same with pundits and economists.
Remember this old story: a Soviet citizen arrives in the US at the height of the cold war. On arriving, he’s taken to the grocery store. He looks around, eyes wide, and exclaims, bewildered: “But there are no bread lines! How can this be?”. You see, everything he’d been told about the US was a lie. It wasn’t a land of decadence and barbarism; but, at that time, a land of plenty, of opportunity.
Now, in a grand irony of history, the shoe’s on the other foot. Here’s my new version of the story above.
I live in Europe and the US. I tell my friends in the US that in Europe, if you’re disabled, or seriously ill, or just elderly, many national health services will send carers to your house. That’s right; your house. To … care for you. Like the Soviet citizen of yesterday, my American friends of today say, bewildered: “But how can this be?! That’s impossible.”
Wrong. It’s not impossible. It’s precisely how real prosperity happens.
And in that parable is the story of how economies grow into prosperity. A job is created; and not just a McJob; the carer earns an income; the sick are nurtured; the economy doesn’t just grow; but it creates real human prosperity.
An economy is not just a bunch of Very Serious and Highly Intelligent economists debating how many angels can dance on the head of pin — sorry, I meant another variable in an equation in a model. It is lives. Human lives.
So here’s dirty secret number five.
We don’t live the lives we were meant to by merrily shoving Artificially Fried Chicken Flavored Dorito Slurpees down our gullets while watching our societies crumble. We live them when we build things. Great things. Worthy things. Noble things. And the greatest, worthiest, and noblest of all things that mankind has ever built are not apps, drones, corporations, or profits. They are societies in which every life counts. In which every life is truly, fully lived.
So here’s my challenge to you. You know all the dirty secrets now. Live like they weren’t.