State of the Union

Well, here I am at day 4 of my pinched sciatic. I’ve achieved crawling to the bathroom mostly unassisted and am looking forward to trying to bathe. I hate life. I feel trapped in disaster’s path as every day passes without being able to earn income. Outside, the -obvious absence of climate change- <cough, cough> has almost every street in Portland iced over. So my girlfriend has not been keen to Uber with my new car, despite the 3x earnings being available. Something about all the shit heads ripping around in their 4wd rigs sporting studded tires. I’ve had quite a bit of time to ponder life these last few days, and it seems like despite America’s best efforts to carry on there persists an air of underlying panic and maybe anger. The country seems split and if it is, I feel like I’m still on the fence.

The election. THE election. Before this year, rolling your eyes while saying that would probably have eluded to Count ’em Again, Florida! The fact is that the Republican party was nearly guaranteed to win. Do the math: in the 193 years that the Republican and Democratic parties have been independent of each other, the latter has held the Oval Office for 3 consecutive presidents exactly ZERO times; the elephants in the room have  done this twice, along with a 4 president run following the Civil War. A more simple metric to consider is that for the same period, 16 of those 38 presidents were democrats. That puts the ratio at about 2:3 and combined with the previous observation, the historical trends pointed straight to the Republican seat and whoever happened to fill it. My political opinion is not so much a subjective feeling of apathy, just the observation that Trump knew he didn’t have to win your vote, my vote, or the electoral college’s. He really only had to win the Republican nomination, the rest was all but in the bag.

But then, what I haven’t really understood is WHY the behavior. After all the reading and reflecting, I might take a stab at it. Suppose Trump wanted non-republicans to feel apathetic? What if he wanted them to disengage? What if he could just make the people who don’t back him not care about or even pay attention to anything he did? If that was his intention, he obviously succeeded.

I guess the burning question for everyone is just how to get out of this economic rut we’ve admittedly not escaped yet. Have we really not identified the pinch point? A great deal of people I speak to involved in real estate claim the market is healthy. Unemployment is down, but the GDP just hasn’t fully recovered yet. Gallup finds that productivity is lacking in the workplace even while a record proportion of the workforce claims to be happy with their jobs. A deli clerk I spoke to the other day was a math major and the sales clerk I bought my phone from had a background in software. The cost of living is squeezing everyone, but wages just aren’t giving way easily. It’s strange times for sure.

We all understand cycles and know that eventually, under one political atmosphere or another, it will get better. Through economic downturns, successful companies have figured out that the best thing to do is invest in research. That way, when economic forces eventually favor production again, the company (hopefully) has the technological edge, thus maximizing the return of said investment. As individuals, many Americans returned to school. When economic forces were favorable again, which individuals held the advantage and were able to maximize their returns? Well, the slew of highly educated folks working in industries paying far less than their own should be a great big red flag. Of course, it’s probably impossible to correlate labor data with education data to check that claim, but if anyone does, I’d like to know. I will boldly say that maybe, just maybe, we have created an economic bubble from education the way the housing market did before the new millennium. The companies that fall behind in the market cost their investors in value they already possess or in value they hoped to gain. When individuals can’t be competitive with their investments, it’s the lenders losing value that was never there. Nobody was granted student loans on the condition of having enough assets or income to support it. I watched my parents play that same gamble with postdated checks, and it doesn’t work.

Speaking subjectively now, it does feel to me like everyone and their dog was getting their undergrad when I was attending. A couple tactical moves from my school successfully drove increased enrollment, and it all seemed so exciting. Just a few years ago, it became a feeding frenzy for entry level jobs with real juicy content. Of course, those that didn’t come with a respectable salary up front promised so in short order. If I was looking for an entry level professional job today, I doubt I’d find anything aside from data entry or paper pushing. I’m not saying the good jobs went extinct, just that you have to dig for them. So, maybe we are getting to the root of this nerve.

Who has time to do the amount of digging required to find a good job that can effectively pay back their investment and keep them competitive in the job market? In my experience, I would estimate that time frame at 2 to 6 months of full time searching. Well, I’d say that whoever has the ability to take on job searching full time without the need to earn income for several months are the individuals with the competitive edge. That means married couples without dependants or medical issues and singles still living rent free with their parents, basically. All the rest of the indebted scholars either gave up trying to stay afloat or are working themselves to death hoping they don’t just die tired anyway.

Now that companies are making hay with their newfound knowledge seeded during the Great Recession, perhaps the only hope for those struggling individuals is innovation. I’d like to think that the spirit of entrepreneurs will bring this along, but that’s only partly true. The very real hazard of that approach is that even a good idea is hard to realize, and even harder to make a living on. Especially so anytime the political party in office favors corporate growth. This strange climate is probably the severe mismatch of talent with responsibility. People are simply not doing the jobs they are best at doing. Companies are strapped with individuals that got an awesome job with excellent pay, and could absolutely care less about job security because their life is stable enough without their job. They do the bare minimum to keep employed because there is little incentive to go above and beyond. Those suffering a lack of savings or financial support have no choice but to take the very first offer they get, which is usually not going to satisfy the bills. Sure, it’s not impossible to improve your station, but working 50 or 60 hour weeks doesn’t facilitate job searching either.

I don’t know what will break the rust off our economic gears, or if we’ll enjoy growth at all in the coming decade. I just know that student loan debt is everyone’s problem and there are too many degree holding workers not making the wage they need to pay for it.

There ya have it, folks. I am not a voting man, and never will be so long as I only get two options and they both suck. I don’t care for politics, either, so this will probably be my only mention on the matter.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to being back on my feet soon so I can share some more interesting and practical stuff!

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Author: Goose Andeluse

Compulsive maker and fowl carpenter.

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