Are we Americans just a bunch of malcontents?


My friend Anne e-mailed me an article entitled Everything Is Amazing and Nobody Is Happy by Morgan Housel for The Motley Fool.  He says the American standard of living is just great, and American pessimism about the economy is not based on any fact.

Click on the link and see if you agree.  I don’t see it.  Housel’s basic argument is that we Americans live longer and enjoy longer retirements than in the past.  That is, in fact, true for me. But unless something changes, I don’t think it is going to be true for my niece and nephew, who are in their 20s, and their young children.

i_feel_fine_its_my_standard_of_livingWhat I see, as I look around, is (1) the evaporation of good jobs in manufacturing, (2) expansion of low-wage jobs in fast-food restaurants and chain stores, (3) evaporation of pensions and other benefits, (4) workers laid off in middle age who are surviving on a combination of part-time and temporary jobs, (5) young workers doing the same.   There are Americans in high tech and high finance who are doing well, but they are a minority.

A book (which I haven’t read) entitled Average Is Over by an economist named Tyler Cowen says the future economy offers little to most Americans.  He argues that high technology and automation will provide great opportunities for the most intelligent and enterprising 15 percent of the population, but the rest of us will have few opportunities except in service jobs providing for the affluent.  I don’t think his prediction is inevitable, but I certainly think it is possible.

Of course average Americans are much better off than their ancestors a century ago, and infinitely better off than child laborers in the sweatshops of Bangladesh or forced laborers in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan.  But our country is moving backward, not forward.  There’s no law of nature that says that, just because we’re Americans, we are guaranteed the “American standard of living”.

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