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What led to our current aggregate economic anxiety? [Penned before the recent market crash]
on February 1, 2009
Preface: This book was penned before the recent market crash.
Clay Shirky's 'Here Comes Everybody' was the best book that I read in 2008. Dalton Conley's 'Elsewhere, U.S.A.' may prove to be the best book that I read in 2009. [And it's only February 1st!] [Interestingly enough, both Clay Shirky and Dalton Conley are both affiliated with NYU.]
The two central questions that Dalton Conley raises and attempts to answer are these:
- When Mr. 1959 (depicted in William Whyte's 'Organization Man') attained a dignified level of professional success (i.e. established one's own dentistry practice, become a vice-president at a tire company, etc.), he often parlayed the accompanying level of income and wealth into more leisure time for he and his family.
- Whereas when Mr. (or increasingly Mrs.) 2009 attains a comparable level of professional success (i.e. rises to the rank of marketing executive for a multinational corporation, joins a prestigious law firm, etc), he (or she) increasingly does *not* parlay the accompanying level of wealth into more leisure time. Instead, he or she winds up working more hours with more economic anxiety.
- How and why did this happen?
- What are the ramifications of this change?
Throughout, Conley asserts that it was not one thing, but many that led us to this economic reality:
Here are just a few:
- Rising economic inequality between high and low wage earners, and self-imposed pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" in a post-materialist society.
- Technology that enables a 24x7 work week.
- Females earning more and remaining in the work force for longer spans of time.
- A lower marginal income tax rate for the top bracket.
- A greater recognition of the opportunity cost associated with "not working".
At the book's conclusion, Conley cautions the reader that it would be unproductive to use one's entire energy to rally against our new reality. In fact, Conley never labels the new reality as universally bad. Instead, he urges the reader to recognize the tradeoffs between what once was and is today.