Thursday, May 22, 2014

The forest and the trees

We are definitely living in interesting times. It can be hard to see that from here though. We’re too close to it. We can’t see the forest. We’re too close to the trees.

Consider the whole Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, et al, explosion is only a few years old. Three D printers are cranking out body parts. There actually is a flying car on the market. The stock markets continue to hit new highs as some companies continue to reach record profit levels.

In average Joe land, things aren’t quite so fantastic. Unemployment (real unemployment) is still quite high, median income is dropping, grocery prices continue to rise as the official government position is that inflation doesn’t exist. Labor participation rates (percentage of people who can work that actually do work) are at historic lows.

What’s going on? Are these the best of times or the worst of times? These are transitional times. The people, by way of their elected government, have made hiring people more expensive, paper work heavy, lawsuit prone and generally less attractive than ever before. At the same time, technology has enabled companies like Google to earn more than most country’s GDP with just a handful of employees. Meanwhile, the people (again through their representative in government) have expanded the safety net, which makes the unemployed less likely to take very low paying jobs.

Where do we go from here? Eventually, there will be enough “gotta have it” new stuff coming to market that people are going to want to do whatever it takes to earn the money to buy it. They’ll also vote in more business friendly representatives to make getting the goodies easier. The economy will soar to new heights and whoever is in charge at the time will be hailed as an economic genius.

Stossel is right, things have been getting better over time if you take the long, or even mid-range view. It’s just more fun and better for ratings to focus on what’s wrong I guess. In fairness, you can’t let what’s wrong hang around too long, so it does deserve some attention. But, I think the only thing that could really do us long term harm is if we were no longer free. We’re still free enough to make mistakes, make adjustments and make new mistakes that in the long run, we get a lot of things right, even if we don’t realize it for a while. When we lose that ability to central control and force, game over.

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