Four years ago at the dawn of Hope and Change, the feeling that we might be able to implement new policies and procedures ( read “stimulus”) without taking into account the overall depths of the problem facing the economy gained some acceptance. Rather than admitting that it was badly broken and in need of a complete re-set, the cast was applied and upon its removal four years later we discover that we have the same break, now infected to boot.
In the meantime however another change has quietly emerged; one unlike the response the public has forged in the past. We’ve come to believe that things may not in fact improve and that what we see is the onset of a new dynamic; what some refer to as the “new normal”, the result of diminished expectations.
College students, many in debt to government student loan programs, unable to find any work resembling the degrees so hardly won, have resorted to returning home or taking any job available to make a bit of money, or both. The image of the home ownership and a solid career is now considered unattainable.
Workers exhausting unemployment benefits wait for the next government solution. The savvy ones are now entering the ranks of the permanently disabled; a category at historically high numbers and growing. A new base line for unemployment is being established. Unions are in decline ( See: What are Labor Unions, posted to The Allegiant) as the states of Wisconsin and Michigan rewrite the rules of engagement, the latest salvo in the “War on Unions”, resulting in what many believe to be the end of the American Dream.
I could go on but any casual observer knows these stories; I unearth no new knowledge here.
What is new , in my opinion, is the docile manner we have come to accept this new status quo. Having matured in the “malaise” of Jimmy Carter’s 70’s, I can remember the feeling that although we were in a bind, it would be temporary one. As we all know, it was. The Reagan Era ushered in the biggest and most long lasting economic expansion in the country’s history. Given the proper incentives, people felt they could “build that.” Today, there is an air of resignation; let somebody else build it.
I think there is still reason to be optimistic however. At some point, accepting the notion that in the near term, a return to the old “normalcy” is extremely unlikely, a new base can be established to build from. Maybe it will take a generation that will not live as good as their parents did, to do it; a new Greatest Generation. Rather disheartening, I know.
I offer one anecdotal piece of evidence.
While the world recently collapsed in once Union dominated Detroit, another piece of news broke that garnered very little attention in the media. General Motors, whose production facility in Canada has been responsible for the rebirth of the legendary Chevy Camaro, said it will shift production back to Michigan at the end of the current model’s run, citing “lower capital investment and improved production efficiencies” as key factors. Will new employees, be willing to work for less like their counterparts, working in the United States for Honda, and BMW, And if so will more US corporations consider repatriating their manufacturing?
If so, Diminished Expectations may only be the step back needed to go Forward, and not the New Normalcy.