Timing and (Mis-)Fortune

Peter Radford makes a very astute observation about the long road to inequality (boldface mine):

We became two nations.

One within which our elite led, and benefitted, from a steady change in doctrines extending across all sorts of domains of activity. Those doctrines led to the adoption of so-called market driven attitudes in many places that had been left untouched before, and they justified or enabled the massive shift in income disparity that now bedevils us. It wasn’t just the plutocrats who benefited from the epidemic of market magic ideas, the professional classes did too. Anyone graduating with a law, accounting, or business degree back in the 1970′s and 1980′s has ridden the wave. And since they comprise the leadership and our elite at the moment it is no wonder they cannot comprehend the devastation that the epidemic has caused down below.

To a considerable extent, I happened to be at Ground Zero–one of them, anyway, Washington, D.C.–when this happened. It’s probably hard for younger readers to understand what things were like before the rise of the neo-liberal state during the Reagan Era–conservative propaganda notwithstanding, Washington boomed during the Reagan Era and really became a very different place. Many lawyers, who were comfortable, suddenly were making, in 2013 dollars, one to two million dollars. Defense contractors–and their lawyers, MBAs, and accountants–did incredibly well. Call it the Wages of Kludgeocracy. Likewise, Wall Street, another place where one could make a very comfortable living, also boomed.

This same cohort was also blessed with impeccable timing. Many got into the housing market in the late 60s to mid 70s, and then have seen their houses skyrocket in value (often greater than 300 percent in real dollars). They also, if they had some surplus money, could take advantage of the Volcker era interest rates on T-bills (at one point, interest rates on ten year T-bills were above fifteen percent). And in the mid-80s onward, the stock market has risen overall: you basically just needed money and a pulse and you could wind up very wealthy.

While many of those who benefited from these historical factors would argue they worked hard–and in many cases they did–they also benefited from a lot of things that people years later would not: education was not cheap anymore, the stock market crashed in 2000, spending stalled out, and those professional degrees started to suffer from gluts (recent law graduates are getting hammered). Yet there seems to be little recognition of timing and the humility it should engender.

There’s even less understanding that the problems we face today are within their power to fix.

This entry was posted in Basic Human Decency. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Timing and (Mis-)Fortune

  1. Robert L Bell says:

    For thirty years I have been pounding the drum that says, directing half our ivy league graduates into financial services and consulting is a spectacular misallocation of human capital. It severely restricts our supply of top intellect going into science and poetry and doctoring and all the other important things that we need to have smart people doing.

    Yet the individual financial rewards have been so great that I can not argue that any given individual who entered the financialised sectors made a bad choice; in fact, I look rather stupid for having gone into science to earn my paltry middle class salary.

    Still and all, I have the sense that this is not going to end well for any of us.

  2. kaleberg says:

    I’m not sure if anyone remembers those golden years of the great Reagan military buildup, the crazy interest rates, the union busting, the real estate boom, the Soviet style free market cant and the growth of the huge national debt that we are still paying down. A friend of mine said that we baby boomers were going to eat our young. I didn’t quite understand at the time, but it is obvious now that she was right.

Comments are closed.