It is true that many are out of work, and also true that our caving into the unions that chased these jobs out of America means that many of these jobs aren’t coming back. It isn’t as if things aren’t bad when compared to the 1983-2007 gravy train brought to us by Reagan-Clinton/Gingrich-Bush.
But let’s face it folks, this talk about the “next great depression” or that this is the “worst economic crisis since the depression” is just plain stupid. I was going to U of I in the early 80s, and that period was far, far worse than this downturn.
If 1991 and 2001 were speed bumps (and they were), this downturn is a big pothole that blew a tire. As soon as we fix the flat, we are right back on the road.
In the 2000s, these hard-to-measure sources of wealth represented a large and growing share of total wealth in all rich countries. As Thomas Lemieux has noted, more-educated groups tend to be more unequal than less-educated groups. One simple reason is that preferences vary, and two people who decide to become social workers and live together in Lexington, Kentucky are likely to have a far lower income than a couple that goes into high finance and lives in San Francisco. It’s not obvious, however, that the second couple is any better off, not least because the cost of living is so much higher in the Bay Area. Demographer Wendell Cox has pointed to another source of hidden affluence. Though the number of Americans moving between states slowed to a still-high 500,000 in 2009, it reached a torrid pace between 2003 and 2007, when it averaged 900,000. Americans were making the move from high-cost to low-cost metropolitan areas, thus leading to major increases in standard of living and time spent with loved ones. By way of example, a February study from the Center for an Urban Future found that $50,000 in Houston is roughly equivalent to $123,322 in Manhattan. A family could head south, cut its income in half, and still come out ahead. It’s hardly surprising that hundreds of thousands decided to do exactly that.
More dramatically, in the 2000s the explosion of file-sharing eventually forced a transformation of popular music, dethroning the small oligopoly of major record labels and empowering a new generation of DIY artists. Owl City, a kid from small-town Minnesota, began his spectacular climb up the pop charts by posting his homemade recordings to his MySpace page. A number of truly brilliant and bizarre musicians, like Chad Vangaalen, took a similar path, although not to the same radio-friendly destination. And that’s the whole point—new distribution channels have enabled a larger number of artists and musicians to find audiences and to support themselves by touring, or by adding a modest income from the sale of digital downloads to more-or-less tolerable day-jobs as web designers or prop stylists. This decade saw a turn towards a more diverse and more interesting pop culture.
And we haven’t even talked about Facebook, which is taking the youth of Generations Y and Z and melding them into a superintelligent hive-mind that, given time, will solve all of the world’s problems. Oh sure, the kids are just using it to gossip and play Sudoku. But social networking tools are allowing them to maintain enormously large circles of friendly acquaintances that transcend boundaries of race and geography, thus fighting the alienation that is inevitably part of a highly mobile, post-traditional society. Despite massive blunders by America’s elites, the rest of us have created a solid foundation for a healthier, more creative, more energetic country.