The US mid-term elections were all health care and hate, but they also projected America’s insecurity and desperate need for a more sustainable world.
The age of ‘post scarcity’ began in the 1950-60s when, for the first time, pretty much anyone could afford go to a nearby grocery store and get almost any kind of food they wanted when they wanted it. This, and an above poverty level minimum wage, put a damper on our shared primordial fear of scarcity which has plagued human kind since, well, forever.
Regressing to the Age of Scarcity?
Fast forward to 2018
Most people have seen nothing too bad but not so much good from over eight years of economic ‘growth’ in America.
Between 2008 and 2017, the economy has averaged 2% growth annually. Unemployment is down to 3.5% with 7 million jobs going wanting for help. Wages have finally, albeit reluctantly, begun to rise.
Companies burn stuff they don’t sell to inflate prices, yes seriously…
So why, in an era of unparalleled ‘abundance’, is there so much unhappiness people are willing to swallow the most swillish political behavior at the highest and lowest levels?
Could it be because while conventional measures tell us there is hope, the real story is about people falling further behind?
Some figures: the average minimum wage job offers $1.25 less an hour than it did in 1968. In the early 1970s, minimum wage allowed a family to live above the poverty line (i.e., as it is meant to do). Today it barely gets the 79.9 million minimum wage earners , or 58.7% of all wage and salary workers half way out of poverty.
Scarcity in the Age of Abundance
Despite mangos and broccoli available in February, economic insecurity is on the rise, and there is little perceived hope for ‘better’. If more people were truly happy, many fewer would countenance ugly American politicians who bate our lesser selves into so much shameful behavior.
Unhappiness, and its vitriolic cousins Hate, Despair, and Suspicion should give us pause to think of ‘growth’ and ’employment’ as cures for our 21st century angst.
What will it take to make us happy, more patient, more tolerant, more positively curious about life and others? What will it take do more than simply acknowledge the existential threats of climate change and rapidly diminishing biodiversity that will so radically affect the welfare of our planet?
These are Big Questions which seem almost too cliché to even ask.
But something somehow feels different to ponder them in the post mortem weeks after the divided and divisive US mid-term election.
Was Trump sent from the gods to disrupt us to the point big questions became relevant for more than just academics, philosophers, and poets? I hope and think so, for if not, why on earth would we allow ourselves to suffer so?
Howls of the Hangry
One thing is certain, with an economy making folks feel they are going blindfolded in reverse, broad faith in liberal economic democracy is dwindling with ‘radical’ insurgents rising both left and right.
Like a five-year-old before snack time, the radicals are Hangry for change, while the rest are simply exhausted by unsatisfying centrist policy we know will never enjoy majority support and suspect are thirty years past their best-before date.
Has belief in the liberal democratic economic order surpassed its ability to address quintessential 21st century questions of Security (economic and community) and Sustainability? Given the minimal impact ten years of economic growth leading to near full employment seems to have had on these fundamental societal anxieties, perhaps not.
Residual belief remains, perhaps only because it offers some relief to growing political neuroses, but more likely for the absence of reasonable alternatives. But haplessness belief only amplifies collective angst, particularly in the sober light of the mid-term elections.
What will quell hangry howls and make us happy? In a phrase: want less and give more.
Stay tuned next week for some innovative policy ideas to address our hunger for security and its insoluble partner a more just and sustainable world.
Feature Image from Time.