The developing Progressive paradigm exploded with the Industrial Revolution; the congested cities, industrialized public schools and the historically bloated economic middle class are some of its products. Mass production required massed labor; that in turn required educated support and administration. The labor was pulled from the land, where it was replaced by machines and braceros. The managers, engineers, accountants, doctors etc. provided by the schools were in demand and commanded a premium for their services. Collective bargaining/politicization extended the wealth to those on the production lines while the spiraling purchasing power fueled further increases in production. Early mechanization took much of the drudgery from housework and the unemployed housewife became the symbol of America’s expanded middle class wealth. But while politicians can distort economies, they cannot repeal economics; their politically expanded price of labor invited competition.
Middle class wealth expanded upon monopoly and politicization; tge disparity with the rest of the world sucked competition from machines and lower cost foreign producers, much of it financed by capital that had supported the U.S. middle class. American housewives, emancipated when they traded their washboards for washing machines, then witnessed the replacement of the local laundry by a laundromat with a parking lot replete with foreign cars. Persistent inflation served to evaporate the value of wage gains while production moved offshore in search of cheaper labor.
The steady rise of the middle class reversed; the ex-housewives joined the workforce in the face of declining living standards, competing with ex-factory workers to expand the low-wage service economy. The economic decline was somewhat masked by advancing technology. Most of America’s nouveau proletarians have a TV, a cell phone, a car and a payment card accompanied by card and auto debt and often enough, a mortgage and/or a student loan balance. There is a signal lack of savings and too much debt; the material goods are enjoyed via the assumption of risk and the sacrifice of future income. The percentage of students guaranteed economically productive careers has declined as dumbed-down, politicized universities have repudiated their previous meritocracy in favor of politically correct mediocrity. To delay economic implosion, the politicians have expanded the economic interventions that had fostered it, deferring while expanding its inevitable finale.
When the American voters chose the progressives and their politicized economics, the were electing a Pied Piper whose satisfaction of current desires rested upon increasing compromise of future wealth. Worse, as succeeding elections demanded ever increasing government largesse, the piper’s path was a slippery slope. Not only were politicized mass wages unsustainable, the government’s preemptive spending rose from less than 10% of GDP in 1930 to 31% of GDP in2020, most ly sucked from the middle class. Worse still, while federal debt was 17% of GDP in 1930, by 2020 it had reached 125% of GDP. That amounts to some $227,000 per federal taxpayer. From there, the 2021 Federal budget projects a $3 trillion deficit resulting from the social and military spending seen by the politicians as necessary to keep them in office. These conditions are not unique; too many of the world’s economies are at equivalent risk.
The inevitable result will not be unexpected; plans are in progress. The progressive era has ended and the “progressive” politicians know it. Authoritarians and democracies share their economic problem; they contend with the same species. China’s government seems worried; itis promising to spread the new wealth wider while warning its officials of coming struggle. In the United States and Europe, governments are using a mild pandemic to forward the replacement of democratic lifestyles with de facto individual controls and rule by decree, supported by widespread surveillance, universal monitoring and probably digital replacement of most physical money. Social chaos accompanying financial implosion will probably accelerate the control measures, bringing governments East and West closer to their historical similarities.
That seems unsurprising; human behavior and its need for government remain universal. Only uneven development has perpetuated the persistent politico-social gaps and that is diminishing before the onslaught of human communications technology. It seems inevitable – as does its price …