Strange and Dangerous Indeed
In contrast, in the present depression, the out of work and poor are as numerous, but both unhappier and yet far better off than prior generations. This is not the rant of some right-wing laudator temporis acti, or the death throes of an aging old white guy, but rather empirically based and shared by most of my friends in the ascendant Mexican-American middle and upper-middle classes, many of whom are becoming quite conservative.
The cars of our poorer brethren in our major discount stores are late model and often expensive. People get into them with full carts of food and clothing. Housing here is cheap and good. How to square this circle between official poverty and misery and the veneer of a well-off general public?
I’ve been discussing these disconnects with farmers, a professor or two from CSU Fresno, and local business people. All come to the same conclusions. There is a vast and completely unreported cash economy in Central California. Tile-setters, carpenters, landscapers, tree-cutters, general handymen, cooks, housekeepers, and personal attendants are all both finding work and being paid in cash. Peddlers (no income or sales taxes) are on nearly every major rural intersection. You can buy everything from a new pressure washer to tropical fruit drinks. For this essay, I stopped at one last week and surveyed their roto-tillers, lawn mowers, and chain saws, new and good brands.
New “restaurants” are sprouting all over the highways — mobile stainless-steel encased canteens with awnings and chairs set up along the road. And yet for all the cash economy, it seems almost everyone in the food stores and doctors’ offices are on food stamps, Medi-Cal, and rent subsidies. A carload of people drove in last week, inquiring about a house nearby; the occupants assured me that they had county housing vouchers.
A third ingredient is easy credit, whether for credit cards or late model cars. The result is statistically we are impoverished with near 20% unemployment; but in reality something stranger and weirder is transpiring. Prosperity and well-being are mostly assessed in relative not absolute terms. There is little appreciation of the wonders of the iPhone, whose computerized, and GPS-driven gadgetry would have been confined to millionaires ten years ago; there is frequent lamentation that the iPhone in question is not the latest model as others enjoy. A Camry is not worshipped as a wondrous machine that can get one 200 miles in 3 hours, in air-conditioned and musical luxury, only that one has a 4, not a 6 cylinder model, without leather seats and 6-disc CD.
The combination of 2 billion Indians and Chinese in the world marketplace, exporting cheap goods, has meant fewer jobs for Americans and far more material playthings now accessible to every stratum of society. Again, easy credit, combined with little shame or penalty in defaulting on what one owes, has allowed a superficial parity with the upper-middle class. Massive government transfers and relaxed eligibility have ensured households thousands of dollars in entitlements and subsidies. We have printed $5 trillion since 2009, and borrowed $1.6 trillion just this year. And the huge influx of easy government cash shows here.
Cash wages have meant augmented entitlement money and are competitive with those who are formally employed and who pay 30% of their money in payroll, health care, and federal, state, and local income tax deductions. The result is an odd sort of poverty, in which superficially the unemployed and poor to the naked eyed are almost identical to the upper middle classes.
And he closes thusly —
History’s revolutions and upheavals — whether the Nika rioting in Constantinople, the periodic uprising of the turba in Rome, the French upheavals, or the Bolshevik Revolution — are rarely fueled by the starving and despised, but by the subsidized and frustrated, who either see their umbilical cord threatened, or their comfort and subsidies static rather than expansive — or their own condition surpassed by that of an envied kulak class. Perceived relative inequality rather than absolute poverty is the engine of revolution.
These are strange and dangerous times. An insolvent federal government, an exporting China and India, and an almost complete indifference to federal immigration, tax, and regulatory laws have all combined to create a well-entitled but increasingly angry population, one “empowered” and made more, not less, bitter by the last two years of governance in Washington.
Another riches to rags story against California? Far from it. This same story is being played out in Houston, Denver, Providence, Atlanta and yes even my home town. I can take you over to a little area (approx 50 acres) that is not much different from what you might see in a open air market in Mexico City. There are some changes — roll door storage buildings for shops rather than carts, available electricity, private security even. But the similarities outweigh them. `No Englash` is a common refrain. Everything is cash. A Anglo stands out like a proud nail.
His observation as to the pre-revolutionary conditions we are currently in are spot on as well. Fact I am surprised he did not mention the Goths for he is light years more well versed than I. But still, in the waning century of the Roman Empire the Goths and the Huns were paid tribute by Rome. The gambit being in exchange the parties would patrol the borders and generally behave themselves. When the burden of policing combined with the waning value of the aureus manifested itself, they realized the value in sacking Rome directly rather than go for the percentage.
We are no different, in some cases worse. The Goths and Huns were on the outer reaches of the Roman Empire. Ours are inside the equivalent of `Italia`. We don’t send a treasure chest of gold to the leadership, we issue EBT cards to any qualifying party. The citizenship of which does not matter. And like Rome in its waning days the treasury is bare.