Planet Of The Humans, Part 5 – Fizzle On The Launchpad

In the eighties and nineties, the cultural clichés about young people getting started in life were Hollywood’s fables about the young and gorgeous, weighing offers for competing top-tier business and law schools, on their way toward earning a solid middle class income straight out of school.

Tom Cruise in Risky Business was looking at Harvard, but would settle for Penn State as a safety school. The brat packers in Bright Lights, Big City and The Secret Of My Success and Breakfast Club and, worst of the lot, Saint Elmo’s Fire, slid from the inevitable Evanston that John Hughes froze in time, to Big Ten or Ivy League credentials, to jobs in the big city, whence story devolved into plot devolved into genre.

Real life was a little more pedestrian – but there was opportunity out there. I could pack up everything I owned and trek off to an affordable-enough city – which Minneapolis was at the time – and with little more than a dream, find a trade to ply. and start the process of building a life.

Now, on the one hand, I think when I was in high school and college, people were realistic; my English major advisor never told anyone a BA in English was going to pave your way to success, the way kids over the past fifteen years have been sold on the idea.

Kids today are, at least for the moment, embracing the far left. Socialism is seen as not merely viable but preferable by a dispiriting number of younger people.


Generational Failure

The education system certainly plays a role – kids today get twelve years of “progressive” indoctrination. If you did it to dogs, you’d get them taken away.

And the post-secondary system, which has spent years turning college into a semi-private wealth transfer that grifts kids into unrealistic expectations, plays its role.

But even with all that, between college debt and a bulge of baby boom workers still in the workforce and the perverse incentives that impel companies to work toward short-term return rather than long-term growth and prosperity, there’s a solid case that this is a tough time to be an entry-level worker.

And those perverse incentives – like the college debt crisis itself – are downstream of government policy. Companies chasing an IPO, or a valuation bubble to draw mergers and acquisitions, draw away from the kind of focus that used to lead to companies building for and working toward the long term.

This hasn’t surprised anyone who’s been paying attention. And while Democrat-driven regulation bears plenty of blame, the GOP focus on benefitting business qua business, as opposed business as part of a free, sustainable market, is part of the problem as well.

30-40 years ago, America’s most recent golden age was built by people whose prospects were, as a sarcastic but on-point song of the era pointed out, so bright they had to wear shades. The breezy optimism of John Hughes movies was a caricature, but not a sarcastic one.

And optimistic people b uild golden ages.

We’re lacking both today.

16 thoughts on “Planet Of The Humans, Part 5 – Fizzle On The Launchpad

  1. Trump approval per Rasmussen, likely voters: 51%.

    Just 21% of Americans now think the country is headed in the right direction.

    Go Joe, go!

  2. I don’t know if this changes your point, but 40 years ago, ie, 1981, Reagan was still in the depths of the fight for survival against inflation. Even six years later, 1987, mortgages were still going for 10+% (cuz I refinanced my 11.75% ARM from ’85). By ’91, ie 30 years ago, things had improved enough that the future indeed did look bright. Just setting things up for the Tech Revolution of the Clinton years (and subsequent Tech Crash).

  3. I’ll contribute a comment here constructive in tone, and if it doesn’t stay that way…. it’s not on me.

    I agree, I think that’s a big thing… real lack of obvious entry points for unremarkable college grads to make adult money on the low end of that scale.
    I’m just over 50, and the first adult job that I got, defined as one having a career path to upward mobility, was $8.65 as a call center wagee for a fortune 50 company that had a big office in the west suburbs…1995.  I wasn’t a great student from even a modestly prestigious college, I’d been a mediocre student at a state school.  But people I was hanging out with in the early 90’s that had gone to better private colleges and had business degrees weren’t getting more plum jobs, they mostly needed to be served by that same ecosystem of $10 clerical and phone jobs to get started in life.  And it worked, it was a good thing… you stay on that path, you’re 50 and making 80 or 100 or  120, maybe better than that if you ended up a gifted manager / engineer.

    So now, those jobs are not here anymore, they are offshore, and gone is the entry point for that career path.  I don’t know that Republicanism and its pro-business policies can be blamed for that… I’m receptive to it if the causality can be demonstrated unambiguously… I just think technology made it too easy and the domestic / offshore wage disparity became to great to keep those jobs here.

    Upshot is “college” isn’t the first answer to framing a career path now.  That may not be a bad thing.

  4. I hate that word,’sustainable’. What right do we have to tell the people of the future what they are going to Need?

  5. Biden and Trump voters would benefit from a national industrial policy that treats the USA as an economic entity as seriously as it’s treated as a political entity.

  6. Kids today are, at least for the moment, embracing the far left. Socialism is seen as not merely viable but preferable by a dispiriting number of younger people.

    The youth are always in the front line of the barricades, out of passion, naivete, or just because they aren’t as invested in the status quo as their elders. It might be the “revolution” du jour, but in ’68 it was also the college kids in Prague that were standing in front of the Soviet tanks, getting truncheoned by the plain-clothes secret police “rioters”, and setting themselves on fire in Wenceslas Square. Twenty-one years later it was the college kids again in the front rows getting gassed and beaten in the opening days of the Czech “Velvet Revolution”, but this time they were joined by tens of thousands more each day as Wenceslas Square eventually filled with half a million people and the Soviet scrambled away like cockroaches trying to keep from being crushed by the toppling statue of Stalin.

    May God bless and protect the generation to come.

  7. ^ That’s not the way I’d phrase it.  “Industrial policy” has a lot of baggage, rightly.

    Some conceptualization on how to prevent a race to the bottom ain’t bad.

  8. John K, your comment parallels an analysis I saw elsewhere which suggested that “free trade” necessarily includes “labor mobility.”

    The classic proof of free trade is David Ricardo’s Theory of Comparative Advantage which compared cheap cloth in England to cheap wine in Portugal. But Ricardo didn’t consider what Portugese workers would do if given the chance to move to England where wages were better for everyone.

    Similarly, our national obsession with “free trade” instead of “protectionism” may have lowered prices on imported consumer goods at the expense of exporting jobs which paid wages sufficient to buy those goods.

    The response of many middle-class parents was to insist their children go to college so they could get a good job and colleges chimed in by selling the dream while fleecing the flock. Now, thousands of young people have shiny new degrees, mountains of debt, and slim prospects. No wonder they’re disillusioned about America and ready for change. What do they have to lose?

    My son-in-law never went beyond high school, but he owns his own business as an electrical contractor and can’t keep up with the demand. He can’t hang onto journeymen because bigger shops keep luring them away with better wage and benefit packages. But how do you convince parents to send their kids to trade school instead of liberal arts school?

  9. JD brings up an interesting point.

    When I went through the Bloomington schools in the late sixties and early seventies, the schools used to consider that not all students will thrive in college settings. Consequently, there were a variety of shop (later rebranded as industrial arts) classes to offer alternative career paths. I learned quite a few skills in auto mechanics from my dad doing most of his own auto repairs, as well as basic carpentry skills. I took both wood and auto shop classes, beginning in my freshman year. The DECA and VICA programs allowed students to work in a chosen trade and get class credits, as well as getting paid. Several of my classmates, also parlayed what they learned in those classes into careers, with several owning their own businesses. Somewhere along the way, there was a switch where students were literally chastised as losers if they didn’t go to college. I still remember one of my classmate friends, who was called out by one of our teachers for stating that he didn’t want to go to college. He parlayed a shop class and tech school classes in Granite Falls in fluid power into a 40 year technical sales career. Yet another, sold his three auto body repair shops to ABRA a few
    years ago for just over $2 million. Still another, started as a bus boy at the old Eddie Webster’s on the old Bloomington strip, ending as head chef and running Hennepin County VoTech’s culinary arts program.

  10. Every country’s industrial policy is “import cheap goods & do the high skill, high value added stuff here & then export it.”

  11. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 01.20.21 : The Other McCain

  12. “import cheap goods & do the high skill, high value added stuff here & then export it.”

    Uh-huh, but that is not what China is doing. More like: use cheap labor and large scale production efficiencies to drive the competition out of the market thus acquiring monopoly power then doubling the price.

    Case in point: Chinese pharmaceuticals.

    BTW, puzzle me this. How can China own whole US companies, like Smithfield Foods but still prevent “foreign” companies to own over 50% of Chinese firms?

  13. How can China own whole US companies

    You think that’s bad MO, China owns most of the Canadian province of British Columbia.

  14. Regarding imports, the thing that’s stuck with me since I was in high school is the thought that if most of our tax revenue is via the income tax, the Navy , Coast Guard, immigration, and ports are going to be funded through taxes on the very people whose jobs are being threatened by inexpensive imports made available as the Navy, Coast Guard, ports, and immigration make this free trade possible.

    It’s time to go back to a revenue tariff so that we at least get revenue from those who are benefiting from the imported goods directly instead of taxing workers to benefit their competition. Say 10%–if it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for the government.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.