Friday, April 12, 2013

Where the Livin' Was Easy

Two snippets and a bit of context.  One, Chez Buce indulged (if you call it that) the other night in the first part of Ken Burns' Dustbowl.  It's a good reminder, if any be needed, that people through most of history had to scrape every day just to stay alive.  And forget about the hockey stick: some of the stark stories are pretty close to home.  

Which presents the second snippet: Trente Glorieuses.  You've heard the phrase before?  It's new to me. It's French; means "the glorious thirty," as in 1945-75, yesrs of ease and abundance and who could have guessed that France, with its own bleak history and inglorious war would recover so fast and so well.

We had our own glorioius thirty, of course, or perhaps "glorious 26" if you count 1947-1973.  Ease and abundance again, in the narrow sense that if your worthless brother-in-law fetched up on your doorstep around, say, the San Fernando Valley, you could have found him a job.  And not only a job, but a pretty good job, building cars, or airplanes, or highways, or big dams or whatever.   And even your worthless  brother-in-law would have been able to maintain a nice house with a stay-at-home wife and some kids and a lawn.  The echo of Homer Simpson is not accidental.

Remarkable how we really didn't notice at the time.  Some of us remembered the War, I suppose, but that was special and far away.  Some, to be fair, were haunted by memories of the Great Depression (of 1929ff; acgtually, the second Great Depression, after 1873-93, but pretty much nobody remembered that).  It's a human failing, I suppose: it takes a rare and special knack to recognize when you are well off.  And granted, there was the shadow of the Cold War: a looming menace so pervasive that it gave us reason to forget how well off we really were.

We're past all that now, of course.  Well: we pretend it will come back, but in the black of night, we feel a little bit like that billboard in Kansas that used to say "Please, God, Give Me One More Oil Boom--I Promise not to Piss It Away This Time." 

And not just us: some of the time we talk about how, oh it's outsourcing, the Chinese, blah blah. But no.  It's everywhere.  Fact is, we are beginning to realize that there simply may not be enough work to do, worldwide, anywhere.  

This cannot be wholesome.  I suppose it is a truism that you cazn infer the structure of a society from its military needs.  You fight on horseback, you need swaggering young thrill-seekers with enough of the ready to fit themselves out in full kit.   You need skilled longbowmen, you cosset them and treat them as a privileged class (and try to keep  them out of harm's way).  Somebody invents gunpowder: everything changes.  Ammo is cheap, weapons aren't that costly, and you can teach almost anybody how to point and shoot.  And the fact that they aren't too clever, that they're good at taking orders, is not  bug, it's a design feature.  Next thing you know, you've got a mass society where everybody has cell phone.  Point and shoot indeed.

Point and shoot indeed.  What sort of a society will you have when you really don't need anybody except the ones who fight your wars,  and when they are all tucked away in front of a computer screen in an air conditioned bunker in Las Vegas.

[Late-night rant.  I'll feel better in the morning.  It's the Perrier talking.]

1 comment:

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

There will be plenty of work. The desire to dominate others will never be satiated, no matter what our technology. We're just a few changing social mores away from a renewed servant class--you can watch the changes on the pages of the New York Times.

Mostly-full employment is an equilibrium to which society will always return. Compensation above the Marxist subsistence? Dignified employment? Well, those are conditional, and the conditions have passed.