Council on Foreign Relations: The Future of Democracy Symposium: Session Two: Economics, Identity, and the Democratic Recession: My job as the economist here is to do the numbers.
Over the past forty, fifty years we’ve seen some alleviation of—call them gender hierarchies. Women, even women who are high school dropouts are making more money adjusted for inflation now than women were back in 1981. And that progress spreads up the distribution, so that the group that’s done at least as well as anyone else are women with advanced degrees in America. For them, America is fulfilling the promise that people thought or expect to have of it...
..By contrast, men who do not have advanced degrees have been getting it in the neck over the past forty or fifty years—that their incomes now are barely above or are substantially below the incomes of their counterparts back in 1980. What they expected their lives would be like their lives aren’t like, and this strikes them as a substantial disappointment of rising expectations. And so it might not be economic anxiety but it’s that somehow some promise was taken away.
And it’s not in any sense that, you know, racial and ethnic hierarchies have been overturned. If you kind of look across the racial ethnicity groups, you don’t really see any one group that’s doing significantly better than one would have expected, given patterns of and differences of forty or fifty years ago, say, for black women with B.A.s. Black women with B.A.s are doing significantly better, it looks like, than pretty much any slice you have.
It’s not that things are being overturned in terms of the gap between black and white unemployment becoming less with the exception of the gender kind of thing. We, basically, are where we were forty or fifty years ago at least in terms of the economics, not in terms of a sociology. The economics may be less important.
But the fact that people—look, I mean, people believe that they have rights to a good life. People believe they have rights to stable communities that support them and that don’t disrupt and overturn their lives. You know, look at my neighbors south of Berkeley who are horrified at the idea that they might want to tear down a single-family house and build an apartment building for students.
People think that they have the right to the income that corresponds to the profession or the occupation that they have worked hard to become part of and people believe that they have a right to continuity of employment—that their job shouldn’t suddenly vanish because some financier three thousand miles away decided it doesn’t make a cost-benefit test. And, look, the only rights the market respects are property rights and the only property rights that are worth anything are those that help you make things for which rich people have a serious and unsatiated jones.
The fact that the American economy over the past forty years has not been delivering substantially rising living standards for everybody—that means that the market’s failure to deliver these other forms of nonproperty rights becomes the source of—call it economic anxiety—a big potential problem...
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