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WALLY'S WORLD: Recovery? We’re all waiting
Well, friends, we’re still waiting for the promised economic recovery. I suspect we’ll be waiting for a long time.
As pointed out a few weeks ago in another of these columns, globalization and new digital technology are raising hell with the U.S. economy and our standard of living. There’s been a basic shift, a revolutionary change, in the mode of production that’s undermining the traditional way we earn money. We’re experiencing something similar to the Industrial Revolution, but this time there’s not much industry; rather, it’s a revolution in computers and robotics.
Consequently, the middle class is caving in. There are fewer and fewer jobs, especially jobs that pay well, and middle class families can no longer afford to buy anything, whether houses or shoes. In order for the American economy to prosper, there must be consumers and a demand for the goods and services produced. When people stop buying it’s difficult to rejuvenate things.
For the past three decades, the income of the typical family has decreased after being adjusted for inflation. This, despite the fact more and more women have gone to work and employees are working longer hours, including second jobs. The only reason the past 30 years experienced some economic growth is not because people were making more money, but because people bought things on credit. The middle class ran up astronomical debt.
But now this option has been exhausted.
Still, as much as the new worldwide economic order has shaken the middle class, it’s had even worse, absolutely devastating consequences for lower-class families, reducing many to homelessness. The number of U.S. people living in poverty has now increased to nearly 44 million. That’s upward of 10 percent of our population, the highest poverty level in 51 years.
Yet, in the money-changing towers of Lower Manhattan, the multi-national corporations are, strange enough – or perhaps not so strange – making plenty of bucks. The owners – that is, the stockholders – are taking over more and more of the world’s wealth. (Our former bush-league president hit the nail on the head when he predicted that tomorrow’s money would reside with corporate ownership, particularly international corporations.)
Unfortunately, very few Americans own substantial shares in these business giants. Instead, the changing economy – the digital shift – has bestowed enormous wealth on a tiny few at the top of the ownership heap. A mere one-tenth of one percent of the U.S. population, a mere 13,000 households (the Paris Hilton crowd), have cornered more than 11 percent of the total American income. This, while 10 percent of our people are living on Skid Row.
Some of this warped distribution of funds may be due, in part, to the current recession. The middle class may stabilize and the wealth may become more scattered after the economy recovers a bit. But this may take a few years, perhaps several years, and I don’t think things will ever fully recover to pre-recession levels. (The negative consequences of the Digital Revolution are permanent and irreversible.)
Eventually there’ll probably be some improvement, however meager. At least there damn well better be. It’s not healthy for a society to have so much wealth concentrated in the hands of so few at the expense of so many.